Natural Observations–A winter hike















Earth and Beyond writer, host and producer Robin Song takes a walk along Montana Creek.


The snow has been taking its sweet time in returning to cover up the ice, which has blanketed our State for several weeks now. While the crust on the snow is strong enough to hold my weight most of the time, it’s too slick to ski, and I still have to pick my way carefully on my ice cleats, waiting for that moment when the crust gives way and my boot plunges through.


In mid-February I decided to be like my dogs and make the best of the situation and get out for a hike. I knew it would be slow-going anywhere I went, so I chose a trail I could drive to and hike in from the road. I went up Yoder Road and crossed the bridge, choosing to go up Luthman Trail. The trail got washed out in the floods but I could still get pretty far up what was left of it, and I thought maybe I could get out by Montana Creek, if the crust would hold. Lyra and Darby were game, of course, and picked their way up the trail with waving tails. I soon discovered that the trail was being used by moose and was carved up with deep holes where they had plunged through the crust. The dogs found easier going off the trail on the untouched snow in amongst the grand old cottonwood trees.


I was happy to find the first braid of a tributary frozen over, as its bridge had been washed away in the floods last fall. The dogs walked across the ice carefully, toes spread for traction. I was grateful for my sturdy ice cleats. From there we made our way through the forest on out to the shore of Montana Creek. A little run of open water gurgled its way along, carrying tiny icebergs until it went under the ice again. Fingers of lacey hoarfrost decorated stones around the open water. A boulder sat in the water with a two-foot crown of snow on it. The moose prints went deep into the snow on the shore where I walked, and I knew if I went through the snow that far I’d be in for a hard time getting myself out again. But, thankfully, whenever I did go through the crust, I only went in a few inches. I felt for the moose- they were having a far harder time negotiating this snow condition than I was.


I lead the dogs out to what is a sand bar in the middle of the creek in the summertime. It was much easier going, out there, and the dogs played “chase me” with each other across the snow. The main channel of the creek lay to the west of us and the open water rushed over and around islands of ice. Yoder Bridge was downstream and I took photos of it, having not seen it from this angle before. I was hoping to see a dipper in the creek, as I usually do, but I did not see nor hear any of the gray birds, on this trip.


After the dogs had had a good romp, we headed back into the forest and on back along the trail. It was a quiet day, wildlife-wise. Not even a raven graced the skies. I had to be satisfied with just studying the evidence of the creatures which inhabit this area. Out on the sand bar I had seen fox tracks along with the moose craters. Crossing the trail, heading back to the car, I came upon coyote tracks, as well.


It was not until I was driving along Birch Creek Road that I saw the first wildlife of the day: a two-year-old cow moose. She picked her way carefully on the ice of the road and on up the snow berm and into the forest while the dogs hung out the passenger-side car window, watching her as I cautiously drove on by. A few miles farther I spotted a Ruffed Grouse high in a birch alongside the road, nipping the ends of twigs while balancing precariously on slender branches. Nearing the ranch I starting hearing chickadees, and a pair of ravens flew by. Since I keep my bird feeders filled all winter, I’m greeted by several species of birds all around the cabin each day. By this time in the winter the ravens, woodpeckers and even a few chickadees and Pine Grosbeaks are beginning courting behaviors.


Even though my hike to Montana Creek was devoid of wildlife sightings, it was good to get out and watch rushing water and be amongst big cottonwoods again for awhile. That the lack of adequate snow has put a crimp in my cross-country skiing outings for the time being, just getting out for a change of scenery for a little while was a boost to my spirit. Later that night I received the crowning gift of the day; while returning from the barn I looked up at the stars and caught my breath to see the Aurora overhead. Pale green and white curtains shimmered in the velvet sky until cloud cover moved in at eleven p.m. That’s one of the things I love about winter-you just never know when the Aurora may put an exclamation on the day!

KTNANatObs-Winter Hike, by Robin Song–022314



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