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Montana’s unique wildlife

After over a decade in the Nampa, Kuna region of Idaho, I was quite accustomed to the gray squirrels who had so successfully adapted to that urban and populated rural environment. Moving into the South Bitterroot last spring has delivered us into a new world. Elk and deer are so regularly sighted that they are about as likely to elicit comment as “Oh, LOOK, a Chevy” was where we came from.
I was so tickled by the transformation in my world that I dubbed these little guys “Dwarf Striped Scooter Squirrels” and continue to think of them in those terms even now. I mean, they are significantly smaller, move a whole lot quicker and, of course, have those nifty racing stripes.

Life on the Bitterroot River banks is delightfully different from anywhere I’ve been before. I am quite excited to see various ducks and geese wander through my riverfront vista. A couple of days ago I saw a splash, flash, blur and dashed to the window just in time to make out the profile of what was most likely a hunting Golden Eagle heading upstream between the trees overhanging the river.

Missy's new winter hatNow as the cold weather is coming in, I excitedly noticed the the first bits of ice floating down the river, getting trapped in the gravel bed of the shallows, then accumulating along the shorelines. They are, obviously, icebergs… and we are lucky enough to see them accumulate and grow right in our own front yard.

We do spend some time with our bird books and binoculars attaching agreed-upon names to our feathered scenery, but appropriate labels and information are often not forthcoming, or in our books at all. I’m certainly not a dedicated birder, have no written log of our sightings, but do enjoy observations of the variety nature puts in front of us.

A few days ago I spotted a fat little bird about Robin sized playing our river bank. He’s kind of a nondescript brownish-gray guy bouncing around on the ice next to the obviously cool river. I blinked and he was gone! Now I’m looking intently at the spot he had occupied when ZOOP! he pops out of the water and back onto the ice floe.

You have got to be kidding me. He doesn’t look like a water bird at all. And he most certainly doesn’t have enough mass to stay warm in the air, let alone all wet. Bounce – bounce – bounce – SHOOP – He disappears into the water again! Gone. Underwater. For quite a bit. Then ZOOP – back on the ice. Bounce – bounce – bounce – repeat.

I haven’t even tried to find him in our books. I don’t know where to start. He simply doesn’t look like a “water bird”, but sure doesn’t act like anything else.

Ah. I know. we now have in residence a rare Montana Gray Miniature Penguin.

Rare, except I think another one showed up this morning. But our resident chased him away …
It’s hard to be rare in a crowd of look-alikes.