Powell County, Montana Birds: Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous)

With a name like vociferous, you’d expect the killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) found in Powell County, Montana, to be a bird who talks a lot, right?  It turns out that really is why this “large plover” was given that name.  Okay, but to me, the call of the killdeer is pure music.  During my time at the ranch property today, I only saw one of the resident pair.  Is the female busy incubating eggs?  Seems a little late in the season for that.  Here’s hoping they’re both okay.  Regardless, that one called out his (I suspect he’s the male) dee-ee-ee! sound frequently  in his perfect, high-note, piping tone.

Love it.  The future dream home will overlook this killdeer’s established territory.  I could listen to that call 24/7, 365, without complaint.  It soothes me.  Uplifts me.  It’s always been that way.  I was hooked on the call of the killdeer from the very first time I heard it as a child.

Later in the afternoon, hiking around the acres situated west of Monture Creek, I saw and heard other pairs.  There is boggy slough-type ground available in more than one place, one swale harboring a plethora of cattails and a few red-winged blackbirds.

When  I headed out from Deer Lodge this morning, my goal (I thought) was to remove a big, old, rotted log from the future building site area.  It promised to be a challenge since I don’t have any heavy equipment to work with, but never mind that.

In the end it was the killdeer who changed my mind.

I decided to leave the log in place for now.  Why?  Two reasons.  One, when it’s time to build, the builder will have heavy equipment on hand and the log removal will be no task at all.  More importantly, the killdeer was waiting on the far end of the log.  He’s gotten somewhat used to me being around, I guess.  At any rate, he’s (a) been using that log as a sentinel post, watching for danger, and (b) he stayed around long enough for me to get a snapshot or two.

What a guy!

Rotten log.

Killdeer standing sentry on far end of log.

Killdeer in flight.

The decision to leave the log mostly alone didn’t happen for a while.  I’d already applied some pick-and-shovel work (which amazingly loosened up my back), tried jacking the log up with the bottle jack from the truck. and discovered that the old wood was so far gone as to act more like…rubber.

On the way into the property, checking out changes in the local plant life from last week, I’d gotten some pretty decent photos.  That was good.  Especially with the killdeer snapshots, the trip was already far from a waste.

The photo ops began in Deer Lodge.  I was barely out of the bathtub, the water having swirled down the drain, when Harvey cat jumped in there to prospect for little drops of leftover bath water.  Why he thinks that’s the cat’s meow, I have no idea, but Gato has learned this behavior from him.

Yes, Gato is fat.  Fat, fat, the indoor cat, yet when Harvey chases him he still can scat.  Without Harvey, Gato wouldn’t get much exercise at all.

Gato and Harvey, shortly after I exited the tub.

Also, Harvey is thoroughly irritated with me tonight because I won’t let him go outside.  Not long before dark, I spotted another (see “magpie” post) juvenile magpie on the ground in the yard.  The first one was dead within a day, likely killed by merlin hawks.  This one is clearly from the same nest, bigger and older, tail feathers grown out to at least three inches instead of one, in close communication with its parents (swoop, swoop), and almost capable of flight.  I watched it hop-fly several times, though it only made it a couple of inches off the ground and moved horizontally a foot or two.

Give that one a few more days and it’ll be mastering the sky.

But on, on, on to the ranch.

View over the entry gate at Holy Waters Ranch.

Thistle beginning to bloom.

Another angle.

Even henbane blooms.

Note #1:  Above photo shows current henbane blooms and also, in the lower right corner, dried seed husks from last year.

Note #2:  For whatever reason, there are more plants deemed by the state of Montana to be noxious weeds along the first hundred yards of driveway (as you come onto the property) than anywhere else in the 212 acres.  Why is that, I wonder?  These stands have been long established, certainly many years prior to my purchase of the property.  Cutting the driveway probably helped some of them grow; a lot of “weeds” like disturbed earth.  Yet they had to come from somewhere, and where was that?  Grazing cattle pooping seeds out?  Airborne?  Contaminated equipment back whenever?

Wild rose.

The rose bush was a true delight.  The lone blossom (so far; there was a bud lower on the bush that would bloom soon) was tiny, typical of wild roses, so the above photo is many times life size.

Hm, so what should I do with the rest of my afternoon?  It was only 2:30 p.m.  Plenty of time left.

One of the neighbor’s cows answered my question.  She’s a leader.  I’d seen her do this before, heading on down through my north-side fence.  She didn’t bring the whole herd with her, just a few.  Total of eight head or so.  I’d seen this before.  It was clear there was no impediment whatsoever in that part of the fence.  The neighbor is as good as they get.  He’s already updated a big chunk of that border fence between us, even though Montana is an open range state.

It was more than my turn to do some fencing.  But first, I had to know precisely what needed doing.  Fencing is not cheap.  Never has been.  With my wife having to live in Arizona for medical reasons, there just isn’t much extra in the budget right now.  I could maybe–maybe, mind you–afford the materials to repair a fairly small gap, ten or twenty rods.  If half a mile needed doing…hey, his handful of opportunistic bovines aren’t doing the land any harm.

I parked the truck near the southwest corner of my property and began hoofing it.

Note:  When I’d made the loop and got back to the truck, a gate that had been locked was standing wide open.  I figure the neighbor, at some point, realized I was out there on shank’s mare and left it open for me, should I need to drive up the driveway that runs right next to the fence on the west side–but on the neighbor’s side of the fence.  So:  Thank you.

Note again:  I didn’t take any fence pictures.  The exact situation is between us.

Generally, however, I discovered a number of things:

  • 1.  On the west side, the fence sags here and there but is functional.  Does not require immediate attention.  Also, where a couple of posts were leaning, gophers perched on top of them for sentinel duty, running down to their holes at the base.  Too quick for me.  No photos.
  • 2.  On the north side, less than halfway to Monture Creek, there’s one section of fence that could use a bit of repair and a fair amount of tightening.  Twenty rods or so.  But that’s not where the cows have been crossing.
  • Up high, there’s a big, beautiful swale that surrounds a sizeable area.  It’s the only place on the property where you have this incredibly expansive view (all grasses, no trees except in the distance), no view of a neighbor’s building, and no view whatsoever of the highway.  If it weren’t for the conservation easement that requires me to build in a designated area, the swale would appeal to me every bit as much as the bench overlooking Dick Creek.  It’s beautiful up there.  Absolutely beautiful.  Would love to have a picnic in the grass with my lady love, if nothing else.
  • Close to Monture Creek, the cow mystery was solved.  There’s a little, short section of jackleg fence, only about 10 rods, that has rotted plumb away.  Regular Chisholm Trail for the cows.
  • On the south (highway) side, the entire fence–a quarter mile or so–needs serious help.  Someone has cut the wire in at least two places.  Recent vehicle tracks run down the barrow pit; no one has driven onto my property by that route this year…so far.  Who did the cutting?  No way to tell, except that it wasn’t a rancher.  The neighbor’s cows, once they access my acreage from the north, have a wide open access to the pavement.  Never a good thing.  Thankfully, these particular bovines also have their own special route that goes nowhere near that south fence.

What a jackleg fence should look like. (Trust me, the section I need to repair looks nothing like this.)

Grass in the high swale.

Monture Creek from the west side.

Another pleasant surprise was the young adult male blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum.  These guys are so slender that they fool you into thinking they’re longer than they are.  I estimated this individual at two inches but online sites swear they don’t get much bigger than  one and a quarter.

Young adult male blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum

For the final photo, the one picture of “old fence” I did take.  The moss patterns made it irresistible.  This is part of the 1/4 mile section I need to seriously tackle (when the budget permits)

To add to the challenges, there’s a fiber optic cable buried right there, pretty much straight down the fence line for most of it.