Walking on the Wild Side
2023 Wildlife Highlights
Happy holidays to all and to all a great 2024. Those that follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram will have already seen many of these pictures. Learn more about each special encounter by reading through the entire blog.
Upcoming Events: During January some of my work will be on exhibit at Queen City Framing & Art Supplies. Everything on display will be available for purchase so be sure to stop by 400 Euclid Drive, Helena, MT 59601.
Photo 1: Baby bison (Bison bison) as seen in Yellowstone National Park. June is baby bonanza for so many of our wild creatures. Baby bison, often referred to as red dogs because of the reddish colored fur are one of the easier to find babies of Yellowstone. At birth they have an amazing amount of energy, as most kids do. I love watching them chasing each other about or just running for the sake of running. I actually took this picture while the vehicle was slowly moving.
Photo 2: Scot and I embarked on a trip to Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge in October on the search for finding bull moose in the rut. Having heard about the large number of bull moose which come down for the rut we spent a few nights near the area. While we saw several moose, both cows and bulls, we never had a great picture opportunity as they mostly stayed deep in the willows. The surprise gem of the trip was seeing this old badger (Taxidea taxus). As we often do, we took a rough dirt road to explore which ended at a washed out bridge. While out of the truck looking at the stream I heard this nasty deep growl. We were in the heart of grizzly country and a recent grizzly attack not to far from the area had my hackles up. Well.. turns out it was this old badger who was upset with us for interrupting his squirrel excavations. You should have seen the number of holes dug out by this badger.
Photo 3: Mid-October had us in Missoula floating a few of the big rivers with our newly acquired flycraft. There are many large rivers across the state which grant a different kind of access to see wildlife then by car or foot. This is just one reason we decided to invest in this light weight but durable boat. Below is one of what I hope to be many, many.. many more stunning pictures of wildlife along the rivers of Montana. What a nice looking beaver (Castor) who made and appearance and even posed for me as we floated by.
Photo 4: Early April in Montana is when we start to see the migration of birds coming through. Migrating birds will often seek out open water sources along their path. Due to a cold winter, open water sources were limited this past Spring. One small section at the Helena Regulating reservoir was open and this is where a small group of snow geese decided to hang out for a few days before travelling North. The geese is why I was there sitting along the shore line near the only ice free section of the reservoir. However, this killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) decided to steal the show. What I love about this picture is the snowy backdrop and the sense of action captured as it approached me.
Photo 5: A fledgling great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) with those oh so wonderful eyes! An owl's eyesight is top notch. Owls' huge eyes allow them to take in enough light to see in low light conditions giving them an advantage in those dark hours. Like us, their eyes face forward allowing for the field of view to overlap giving them a "binocular" vision with exceptional depth perception. This feature gives them the ability to accurately gauge distance and perfectly time their attacks. I found this one in Maclay Flats Nature Park near Missoula as I could hear it loud and clear as it was begging for food. A little bushwhacking through some waist high grasses and there it was staring down at me.
Photo 6: In February of 2023, after several Covid related delays, my husband and I were finally able to take our long anticipated winter trip into Yellowstone National Park. We booked a snow coach tour into the Canyon area, hoping to see a variety of wildlife. Lucky for us, our guide for the day knew of a pine marten that had been hanging around near our route, so he took our group by on the chance we might see it. While it wasn't around the fist time we swung by, as we were getting ready to head back for the day he passed by the area one more time. That is when we saw this cutie quickly scamper up a pine tree. That was my cue to jump form the snow coach and plow through the waist high snow to sweetly call to the pine marten (Martes martes) to come get its picture taken. As the small animals often do, it listened to me and peeked down from above to look me in the eyes. I have found that members of the weasel family, like the pine marten, are highly curious and often stop at the sound of my voice.
Photo 7: Late May in the Bitterroot Valley is one of the best times to spot the California Quail (Callipepla californica). This non-native species is less than a foot tall (9-11" on average) and are often found in or near thick brush, making them hard to spot. However, during Spring the male (pictured below) will hop on a prominent perch and call loudly to advertise his territory. Being an early riser I was able to locate this handsome fellow by his call and capture some great portraits before he went back into hiding in the thick brush.
Photo 8: Almost nothing beats having your own back yard fawn. The agricultural fields behind our home hosts super great habitat for the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). While not always easy spot, we have see several females with their young in the fields every year. This year one decided to have her fawn somewhere near our house and decide our yard was a great place to hide it while she grazes. I spoked tour young fawn when I went out the back sliding glass door not knowing it was there. Mom must of thought we looked harmless though as she kept parking her fawn at the same spot for the next week. Her favortie location was a shady spot right off the back porch among the native sunflower plants.
Photo 9: Okay, so the backyard fawn was special, but the ultimate wildlife encounter of the year/lifetime was this wolverine (Gulo gulo). As they say, "Never Say Never!". I have to agree, as literally days before this encounter I said to Scot that I would probably never see and photograph a wolverine in the wild. So glad I was wrong. What makes this an even more special encounter is that the original plan for the day had us hiking a really long, steep off trail stretch in the Pioneer mountains. Given I was leaving for a backpacking trip in two days I wanted to not do a very extensive off trail hike so we switched plans and did a hike in the Beaverhead Mountains instead. Ended up being an off trail trip anyway and we had the pleasure of a brief encounter with a wolverine.
Looking forward to seeing what 2024 will bring as Scot and I continue to explore parts of Montana by vehicle, foot or boat in order to bring you more wildlife encounter stories.
Wishing everyone the best for 2024,
Lea Frye - Wildlife photographer
www.leaf-images.com | Lea Frye, Wildlife Photographer | Helena, MT
Wild Animals / Wild Landscapes