Thimble Berry. Photo by Keith Kuczka.


Wildflowers in bloom and birds on the wing in Kootenai Country

By Brian Baxter


Saturday, June 27 was a date that was picked as a good time to check out colorful blooming wildflowers and to catch the tail end of migrating bird season. A half dozen appreciators of nature gathered along the Kootenai River for a day of stop and hop field study at several private land locations.

Among the group were a music teacher, an ex-smoke jumper, a retired law enforcement officer, an elementary school teacher, a special needs children’s educator, and an outdoor educator. At the river, we discussed how to turn on our senses to all that the natural world might be offering that day.

Our field locations included large and small ponds, a small meadow with a creek running through it, a high elevation sub-alpine zone, a rocky outcrop ridge, a riparian corridor along a creek, and a larger lake / wetland area.

We stopped, hopped out, listened for birds, spotted avian life, identified wildflowers, noted wildlife sign, talked Native American use of plants, discussed local history, and did a vegetative study.

In that study we included wildflowers, trees, high, medium, and low shrubs, forbs, water plants, fungus, lichens, sedges, rushes, and grasses. At mid-day, we took a short hike into a beautiful small sub-alpine zone meadow. Here, we let the peace of the woods and mountains both wash over us and wash away the stresses of our modern times. Each participant had a break, and a chance to smell, feel, taste, identify wildflowers, and to generally take it all in on their own.

We kept safe spacing, working in strategic, loose formations and approached all wildlife carefully and consciously. In all, we identified approximately 80 forms of vegetation, fungus, and lichens. Some highlights were yellow pond-lily, American Widgeon, Red-winged blackbirds, snowberry, Great Blue heron, elk sedge, a muskrat, Northern flycatcher, horsetail plant, Mariposa lilies, Indian paintbrush, Beargrass in bloom, Wormleaf stonecrop, Alum root, Blue penstimon, and 22 species of birds in all.

At the end of the day, we were treated to a special gift of a male and female Common Loon with their one juvenile offspring. We quietly crept in and out of our observation spot, and on the way out, the female gave her haunting wail of a call, contacting her male mate.

There was magic in the air as the cool breeze gently blew, and judging by the smiles we had grown closer, and all seemed to appreciate the gifts the natural world had shared that day.

Our next Libby Hostel Base Camp Sponsored Outdoor Education Program will be on Saturday, October 3, and is entitled, “Interpreting Forest / Wetland Habitats and Wildlife Use.” For more information and to register email b_baxter53@yahoo.com or call 406-291-2154.