A few weeks ago Howie, Kevin and I climbed Ashcroft Mountain. The hike was beautiful, the views were great and my peanut butter and banana sandwich at the summit was delicious. There were tons of awesome finds along the way, what may have been a bears den, some spectacular lodgepole pines, Howie narrowly avoiding an old tree crashing into his head and then later almost stepping on an elk calf and even some big cat tracks. But on the ascent down I made a find that trumps all the others. I know... at this point you are thinking that this day most certainly cannot get much better.
After a long winter, evidence left by local animals is beginning to show. With a receding snow pack, new animal signs are uncovered everyday.
One of the most common signs is the elk chew. When the snow is high and forage is buried, elk (Cervus elaphus) rely on the living bark of Aspens for sustenance. I can only assume this grove of Aspens off Castle Creek Road was given the attention of a herd for a good amount of time. These scars will remain far longer than the lifespan of an elk and this grove will bear the mark of a hungry herd for decades to come.
About 7:45 Sunday morning before heading to the West Buttermilk beach, I spotted the flash of a brown weaselly animal out of the laundry room window. I yelled for Jamie to quickly look out the bathroom to see what it was. She said it was carrying something and that it was headed back toward the hanging log bird feeder that has had a pine marten in it in past years. I caught up with it as it was going along by the kitchen window and around to the front of the house. Mink!
While some animals hibernate all winter, and some migrate to warmer places, others are active and thriving. We have recently seen pine grosbeaks flying around the mountain ash trees at Hallam Lake! This large and rare member of the finch family is eating the fruit off the ash trees and serviceberries right along the short driveway into ACES. Thankfully Lindsay Fortier captured these birds with her camera before they flew away.