It continues to be a very pine grosbeak winter. I'm hearing them in the Park, where they're feeding on buds in trees 100 feet tall, but I'm photographing them in town, where they spend the days in bushes and blissfully short trees. They are truly magnificent birds and quite tame. You can get within couple of feet of them.
So I was out in Glacier hiking on Thursday (the snow is as hard as rock, so it was hiking, not snowshoeing, not skiing, though if you want to ski, it's a very, very, fast track) and a cold front blew in. The skies went from blue to mushy gray and the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. So I headed back to town where I could see it was still sunny (and amazingly calm) to look for pine grosbeaks, one of my all time favorite birds. Good places to look for pine grosbeaks in Glacier are Two Medicine in the fall and in the south end of the Park (goat lick) and the Gunsight Pass Trail in the summertime. At any rate, there have been some nice flocks in town, but the light has been awful for days on end, with thick deep gray inversions. (An inversion is when cold air sinks in the valley and warm air rides over top of it. Things are all backwards, I know, but it forms fog, sometimes for weeks on end.)
At any rate, the cold front blew out the fog and the setting sun lit this male pine grosbeak damn near perfect. I took a handful of photos before he flew off.
Common red polls are common to Glacier, but can be tough to photograph, namely because they're usually fairly high in the trees, they're small, and they're transients — here one day, gone the next. They're a beautiful bird and the other day I simply lucked out. This one bird was busy feeding in an alder bush and was acclimated. I spent roughly two hours taking eight gigs worth of photos. I always like to try to get songbirds upside down. They do it far more than you'd think.
Got a shot of this buck near Lake McDonald today. Poor guy had shed one antler, was caked with snow, and looking pretty scruffy. The rut takes its toll on bucks, then add a tough winter and it's not an easy existence. He didn't even try to rub the snow off his face. I think he may have been partially blind.
While you folks were nursing hangovers on New Years Day, I was at the dump, thank you very much, photographing gulls. Here is an immature Iceland gull, which has been making local birders swoon since it showed up a few weeks back. I am working on a story and spread for the Hungry Horse News. The Flathead County landfill is a scavenger bird haven, full of ravens, gulls, starlings and the odd bald eagle. The place isn't exactly pleasant, but a heavy and persistent snow at least was covering things up. Many thanks to Dan Casey of the American Bird Conservatory for identifying the gulls as I photographed them and for giving me a tour of the place. The eagle is below. One of the most acclimated bald eagles I've ever seen, the bird could care less about me. It would swoop down and try to grab a gull every once in awhile.