Monday, June 14, 2010

*Idahooooh, oh oh oh Idahooooh


I couldn't believe the words that came out of my mouth.  I immediately had to rescind them.  "This is the best job ever!" said me to myself  (and yes, I was talking to myself as I am apt to do since I've been working these consecutive field jobs).  Seriously?  Hadn't I just spent five and a half months creeping around Yellowstone tracking wolves and elk, digging around in carcasses, and watching bears romp after bison?  Assertion rescinded...but...still half true!



I live and work in a beautiful place.  The Soldier Mountains (complete with a ski resort, hiking and mountain biking trails, and several hot springs) are right out my back door, literally.  The picture above is the road headed North to the house I am currently dwelling in (the BLM biologist's house).  In the more zoomed in picture below, the two buildings that you can see right-center, is that house.



And my room above the garage:

Looking Southward
Looking Northward
This job has made me love Idaho all the more than I already do.  Idaho is the bomdiggidy.  In the little explored, dry, sagebrushy, treeless Bennett Hills, where golden eagles make the canyon cliffs their throne and palace, I sat motionless as a brown mother black bear came tramping down the canyon with her two very small cubs, both trying very hard to keep up with mama (very similar to my brother and I when my mom is on one of her daily walking marches).  The trio passed not 30 yards from my perch, and never saw me, not even when mama sniffed my ungodly scent (at least I'm sure that's what they think I smell like) and stood up on her hind legs with nose scanning the airwaves.  My scent was so abhorrent that they high-tailed it up the canyon slopes, with the cubs putting their climbing and leaping skills into practice on the rock walls and ledges.  And of course, no camera = no pictures ;(

Camas Creek above Magic Reservoir


In the Camas Creek gorge, I watched from the top of the cliffs as river otters made their way up and down the stream, sliding through the riffles and pools, at perfect ease in their aquatic world.  It is not often that I ever see otters, and seeing them in these canyon stream-ways surrounded by a dry sagebrush environment is even more surprising to me, but maybe because I have only seen them in places like Yellowstone or Grand Teton.

Golden eagle chick in typical eagle nest
The most amusing part of my job is watching the golden eagle nests.  The nests are often very obvious, with large stick nests placed on rock ledges, whitewash (aka bird crap) surrounding them, and little dudes (aka eaglets) poking around in them.  But, oh the boredom those eaglets must feel!  Trying their best to amuse themselves during their nine-week incarceration.  Often, a hundred foot cliff wall on one side of the nest and a hundred foot drop on the other: no where to go and nothing to do.  All the chained-to-the-nest eaglets can do is flap their weak wings occasionally, nibble at a stick or two, and shift sleeping positions.  For nine weeks!  Can you imagine?  It's like being locked in a jail cell for 63 days...the only thing to look forward to is the clang of the lock and the creak of the door when someone comes to visit or brings in a bowl of mush to eat.  And indeed, the eaglets do get excited when their parents drop in for a visit...but they are usually only excited for the meal they bring, since I have never seen the chicks make any sort of verbal or physical gesture of "THANKS MOM!"  Sure, they make a lot of noise, but their eyes remain locked on the food.  The second the adult makes landing, the food is snatched by the chick and immediately inhaled, very similarly to how I inhale food placed in front of me by my mother.   


The canyons remain beautifully green and alive with flowers and birds.  Yellow-breasted chats, western tanagers, bullock's orioles, and yellow warblers supply the chorus from the stream habitats, while the vesper, lark, and brewer's sparrows, meadowlarks, and sage thrashers mount their choral offensive from the sagebrush.  All the while, the raptors are soaring on the high winds, sometimes for fun, sometimes in search of food to feed the very bored and probably very hungry chicks in the nest.




Great horned owl fledges, snapping their beaks at me and rocking back and forth (for what reason, I don't know)
The past week was spent searching for the elusive and secretive flammulated owl, a species of "special concern" but only because very little is known about it.  And being owls we were after, we shifted from day work to night work, and from the sagebrush desert to the Douglas fir mountain forests.  After much tripping, slipping, and falling up, down, and sideways on the steep, loose mountainsides over and around rocks, logs, creeks, and trees through rain, snow, and freezing wind trying to find our survey points and collect vegetation data during the day, we would wait for night to fall, and repeat the whole process as we returned to the survey points to hoot for the owls using a portable sound box.



On the weekends, I have been driving a lot: visiting my girlfriend in Billings, MT, meeting my parents at Craters of the Moon National Park, going to a wedding in Pocatello, ID, etc....so the following are a collection of photos from these weekends:

Black bear in the Beartooth Pass (Red Lodge) area.
Abby sees the bear!
Katie and Abby!  Beartooth Pass
The mama at Craters of the Moon, walking
The mama at home, walking
The DeVoe "ranch"

The Snake River at high water in Idaho Falls

A bit of over-topping the banks
Meeting the Pinson's for breakfast on the second beautiful day of the year so far.

***Blog title from Yonder Mountain String Band's "Idaho." Best song ever.  Check it out here!

3 comments:

  1. That music rivals our state song.
    Thanks for that picture of my gut. I had no idea and will get on it right away.
    Pa

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  2. Great entry - I wish you had been packing your camera so we could've seen the Idaho bear.

    Mark

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  3. Jesse, I just love the fact that there is someone like you out there in that beautiful country doing a job like this, documenting everything and learning what you can for us while it's there. The breathtaking photos and highly amusing commentary are frosting. Those owls looked to me at first glance like wild turkeys with fake owl heads stuck on for Halloween masks. How neat that you're tramping around seeing these things first hand. Thank you for reporting on it all.

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