Wednesday, September 14, 2011
While searching through my photo files for a particular image to use as an illustration for an article on my LOBO WATCH website, I came across the photo above - and it brought a smile to my face.
I shot the photo in early November 2009. Christy and I had camped for several days along Monture Creek, just north of the small town of Ovando, MT. It was the second weekend of the general rifle deer and elk season, and our goal was to put a big doe or two in the freezer. After a couple of days in camp, we had at least a dozen, or more, different Canada jays adopt us...especially right after we had finished a meal. And they definitely weren't bashful.
One morning, as I sat with my feet close to the fire, enjoying a hot cup of coffee while sitting in the 30-degree mountain air...one of the jays litterally landed on the top of my cap, and stayed there for several minutes. Too bad Christy didn't get that photo. She had to head back to Missoula for the day and evening, to return the next morning.
She had taken our three dogs back with her, which meant there wasn't any dog food out for these birds to rob, so any time I fixed something to eat...I immediately had company. I came in from my morning hunt at around 10 a.m., and enjoyed a combo breakfast-lunch (I don't use the word brunch) of sausage and scrambled eggs. I had plenty left over, and set the skillet away from the fire to cool. Ten minutes later, the birds realized it was for them. One or two at a time, they would fly down and grab a beak full of the eggs. It was an entertaining show. I had a front row seat, less than five feet away. In fact, when I snapped this photo, I was only about three feet from this pair of jays.
I was still snapping photos when Christy came pulling into camp. With the dogs back running around, the birds stayed close, but did not land in camp the rest of that day. As we had hoped, Christy filled her tag with a really big doe, taking the deer only about 100 yards from camp. I heard her shoot, and returned to get it field dressed and spread to drain. As the deer cooled in a light snow, we broke camp, then loaded everything up and headed for home.
As we pulled out of the camp site, I saw several birds drop down to the ground to pick up a few pieces of dog food where I had fed the dogs earlier. It had been a nice four-day break from the hustle and bustle of Missoula, a very busy city of about 70,000 people. While still small by most standards, it is the second largest city in the state. Fortunately, when it's time to get out of town for a few days, we can be into the mountains in just 15 or 20 minutes. The Monture Creek area where I took the above photo in the Fall of 2009 is barely an hour's drive from home. For several years, it was one of our most frequented camping areas, and this photo brought back some great memories.
Through 2008 and 2009, we most likely spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 weekends camping along Monture Creek. I work at home - and Christy works three days a week (Tuesday through Thursday) with Missoula County Animal Control. That allows us to camp Thursday evening through Monday morning when we want to camp that long, especially during the big game hunting seasons.
Our dogs love the area, and the long walks I take them on back along Forest Service roads, old logging roads, or a snowmobile trail that cuts through the area. On most evening walks in '08 and '09, it was common to see 20 to 30 deer, a moose now and then, and once they moved down from the higher elevation a handful of elk on occasion. Not any more.
Along with the good memories surrounding the above photo of those two Canada jays is also the realization of why we have not camped there at all in more than a year. There is no game to see any longer. The wolves began moving into that area in 2008, and by fall 2009 they were well established, with 5 or 6 recognized packs. Likewise, the impact they were making on other wildlife populations was immeditely realized.
Several weeks after hunting with Christy there in early November 2009, I headed back over to see if I could take a buck during the rut. I camped alone for several days, and even with a light 4 to 5 inch snow on the ground, and still hunting along the same trails where I would see 20 to 30 deer on any previous afternoon hunt...I failed to cut a single fresh deer track. In fact, the only tracks I saw during two full days of still hunting were a dozen or so wolf tracks, and one set of mountain lion tracks. Then, following a fresh 4 to 5 inch snowfall one day near the end of the 2010 deer season, I left home before daylight, drove over to the area and spent the entire day walking those trails and slowly driving along back country gravel roads...looking for deer tracks. And by day's end, covering a full 6 or 7 miles of trails and closed Forest Service roads on foot, plus driving at least 25 miles of snow covered roads (without any other vehicle traffic), I saw a grand total of 7 sets of deer tracks...five of which were being followed by wolf tracks, and one by the tracks of a mountain lion.
Just a few weekends before writing this, I took my two trail companions, my dogs Bob and Tully, for a long 15+ mile walk up a mountain trail and into the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, then back out. I was scouting for a possible early season rifle hunt for elk, deer, bear, mountain lion, and wolf. In all of that hiking and scouting, I saw one set of deer tracks. And that was it.
To read a report on the loss of wildlife in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, go to the following link...
It is good that I do have some great memories of this area as well..."The Bob" is dead...and I may never go there again. - Toby Bridges