Is it summer yet?
Has our spring season finally transitioned into summer in the Flathead? Springtime in the Flathead and Western Montana can be a long drawn-out event.
This year with an open winter in the Flathead and early spring-like weather in March, then very cool and rainy weather in late May and June, one begins to wonder if real summer will ever arrive?
One of my favorite springtime outdoor activities is wildlife watching. My wife and I love to drive to the lower valley in the early spring to look at waterfowl which are migrating from their winter habitat in the southern United States and Central America, flying to their northern summer habitat to breed and reproduce.
Our south valley, with its abundance of farm land and wetlands, is a resting stop on their way north.
In May, I was sitting on the lakeshore at my cabin, just enjoying a morning cup of coffee, while looking at “my” lake. There was not another soul around. It was perfectly quiet and peaceful. Not even any traffic noise from nearby U.S. 2.
Over the past hour I watched ducks, geese and grebes on the lake. The adult geese had several young ones with them. Then, I was surprised to see two loons surface near my dock. What a treat!
Loons are not very good fliers and need a larger lake to take off, so they don’t usually frequent my small lake. I guess they swam in through the channel from an adjacent larger lake.
I enjoy springtime evenings in lake country when loons entertain us with their loon music. For a medium size bird, their various spring mating and challenge calls echo loudly throughout the neighborhood. Beautiful!
Another favorite spring wildlife observation place is my farm in Eastern Montana. I like to take a morning cup of coffee, a lawn chair and spend some time down by my pond.
The pond is small, only about two acres, but always has several species of ducks in the spring. Duck species usually include mallards, northern shovelers, pintails and blue wing teal.
I find it interesting that the ducks on my pond do not integrate. All four species of ducks on my small farm pond are members of the duck family, but they seldom integrate with other species of the duck family. They tend to stay clustered with other members of the same species.
Last fall, I saw whitetail deer, mule deer and antelope in the barley field on my farm. While all three of those game species were sharing the bounty of my barley field, they tended to each occupy their own corner of the barley field. The various species did not mix.
By now, another sure sign of summer is that most deer have dropped their fawns. At my farm, a whitetail doe has been hanging around my farmstead. While I haven’t seen her fawn this year, in past years, a doe has dropped and kept her fawn within 200 feet of my farm house. The next closest farm house and cluster of farm building is over a mile and a half away.
So, with thousands of acres of open, undeveloped farm and range land, why does this doe keep her fawn near my farm buildings? Does she sense that my buildings will likely be avoided by the most likely local fawn predator, the coyote.
If she thinks like that, she is probably correct. I, like all my neighboring farmers and ranchers, tend to shoot all coyotes.
There was lots of public discussions and letters to the editor when our legislators expanded wolf hunting and wolf trapping seasons this past winter. Some folks believe the expanded wolf killing opportunities will decimate the wolf population.
I think that is highly unlikely. I use the coyote as my example. In Montana, coyotes are an unprotected species. You can hunt and trap them year-round. Yet there is absolutely no shortage of coyotes. The same with other unprotected species such as raccoons and badgers. No shortage of raccoons and badgers. Are wolves any less wary?
Last week I was driving to town when a doe crossed the road in front of my truck. Following behind the doe was a newborn fawn. The fawn’s wobbly legs seemed almost unable to keep it upright. The doe crossed the road ditch and stopped at the edge of the woods, then turned around to watch her fawn.
The fawn stopped on the edge of the pavement, unsure of what to do next. We stopped my truck to watch the fawn. If any predator had come along, that fawn would be instantly dead and a meal for that predator. That is how mother nature works.
The strong, fast and lucky ones survive, and the young, slow, weak and unlucky ones get eaten.
So, enjoy the possible arrival of summer in the Flathead. As FWP says, “the outside is inside all of us.”