This post is a potpourri of photos from last week’s Montana trip. I’ll include shots of mammals and scenery so there will be no common theme that runs through all the images other than the trip itself. Travelogues are not my forte and some of these images aren’t of the highest quality but they illustrate some interesting behaviors that I wanted to share.
Eye candy similar to this greeted us each morning as we began the day’s journey searching for birds and other wildlife. We traveled far and wide in the western part of the state and the scenery was typically breathtaking.
One morning we watched as three elk jumped one fence, crossed our dirt road and then jumped a second fence in front of us. They weren’t quite close enough for quality photos but I still liked the behavior.
I have a lot of experience with Montana ground squirrels (Richardson’s Ground Squirrel in particular) but before this trip I’d never noticed them on elevated perches. We observed them sitting high up in sagebrush like this several times. This one is almost three feet off the ground. I’m not sure of the species but they don’t seem to be communal so it may or may not have been acting as a sentry. I wanted to ask this little fella “what part of ground squirrel don’t you understand?”
But ground squirrels weren’t the only rodents I saw on elevated perches. This fat and adventuresome Yellow-bellied Marmot was belly-resting on top of an old corral post. To me this seems like strange behavior indeed.
One morning a fascinating drama played out before us involving a mixed herd of pronghorn and a single coyote. When we first observed them the pronghorn were simply watching the coyote which was very close to the herd but after a few minutes the entire herd took off after the coyote and they looked serious about causing harm to the canid. The pronghorn chased the coyote laterally to our position for several miles and though they were almost a half mile away we were able to follow them well enough to see what was going down through our lenses.
Fawning season had just begun and for obvious reasons they apparently didn’t appreciate the close presence of the coyote. In this image you can see the harried coyote running hard in the middle of the herd as the herd bears down on him/her. Eventually the herd quit chasing and the coyote ambled off.
On one of our side journeys we stumbled across this lonely gravesite in a beautiful and relatively isolated valley. Buried here is Samuel A. Glass, a soldier in the Second Cavalry who was killed in 1877 during the conflict with Chief Joseph and the Nez Pierce Indians. He had been struck in the bladder by a bullet and was mortally wounded so the soldiers left him behind to be cared for by settlers until he expired two days later.
This grave was especially poignant for me. My great-grandfather, Joseph Smith Dudley (if you’re familiar with Mormon history you’ll recognize some significance in that name) was a freighter who hauled mining supplies and dry goods in a huge wagon from Utah to the gold fields in Helena and elsewhere in Montana from 1875 to 1879. Those trips were arduous and extremely dangerous and each trip took about three months. Joseph and his contemporaries passed through this very area each time they made the journey and he had several harrowing encounters with Indians. Perhaps Joseph and Samuel even knew each other – a long shot perhaps but I couldn’t help but wonder…
One of my goals for this trip was to get some decent shots of a badger but on the morning we left Montana I’d still come up empty-handed. But after 900 miles of driving mostly dirt roads and looking for critters I spotted this badger family less than a mile before we hit the interstate highway and headed for home. The badger in the middle is an adult and the other two are “teen-agers”. I was too close for my big lens so this shot is too tight but I was still happy to get it.
I still have more bird images to post from this trip but I thought I’d throw in a little variety this time.