Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Good day for a ski

It is a wonderful New Year here in Montana! Yesterday it snowed gently, but continuously, and this morning we woke to near a foot here in Billings. The sun peeked out by late morning, and the new snow is now sparkling from the Rims to the South Hills under a brilliant blue sky. The temperature is hovering in the single digits, but the sun and snow make the venture outdoors very appealing. During my lunch break I strapped on my cross-country skis and headed over to explore Norm's Island. I crossed several sets of red fox and cottontail rabbit tracks on my way down the road from the ACEC. I was greeted on the island by a flock of geese soaring overhead, followed by a mob of crows landing in the bare cottonwood trees.
The air was busy with the activity of songbirds. Black-capped chickadees flitted from snowberry bushes to cottonwoods to buffaloberry bushes. They called to one another "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" as they went about the business of collecting seeds and dried berries. They must eat plenty of food during the short days so that they have enough energy to burn in order to stay warm during long, cold winter nights. They will keep warm by finding a cavity in a tree. Some bird species will huddle in cavities with many other individuals to help stay warm, but not the chickadee. Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. See the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more information on chickadees.
Along the shores of the Yellowstone River, I heard the strange sound of several dozen Common Goldeneyes taking flight. These striking black and white diving ducks spend the winter on open water, as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Mexico. Their wings make a whistling noise in flight, which is what I heard as they took off from the river. To hear that sound, and learn more about them, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The photo in the upper right corner of this blog is of the Common Goldeneye male.
On my trek around the island I witnessed the diversity of creatures that are out and about, surviving winter in this cold climate. I'll highlight another one of these amazing creatures next time. Until then, Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like a splendid scene. Maybe I'll catch a glimpse of a fox next time I head that way. It's great to have the ACEC and Norm's Island in Billings' back yard. Enjoy the snow while it lasts!