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We just returned from a winter trip to Yellowstone National Park. For some people, that might seem counter intuitive but for me, it’s been a long time coming – a real bucket list trip. Now that I’ve gone once, I can’t wait to visit there in the winter again.

While we saw lots of charismatic megafauna and I had opportunities to photograph many of them, my favorite photos from the trip are these of the Common Ravens in the Tower Junction area. This pair seemed to dominate the parking lot where there was a dumpster, recycling bins and toilets. I have no doubt that they are true scavengers living off what we humans leave behind. I think they also were very used to people and have probably been fed many times. When another pair of ravens flew overhead, these two hopped up and down on a snowbank making threatening calls. I think they were saying “Get out of here, this is our place.” They are beautiful and smart birds.

This female Western Bluebird stopped by here recently. She probably raised a batch or two of youngsters in one of our nest boxes this summer.

Lots of birds have successfully nested on our hillside this year – American Robins, Say’s Phoebes, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, House Wrens, Tree and Violet-green Swallows, Bullock’s Orioles and more. The biggest highlight has been our Nice Nests kestrel box hosting its first successful nest of American Kestrels. Four birds were raised and got out of the box and were standing around on branches up until a few days ago. That is the branchling stage. Now they are out doing flying and hunting lessons. I hope they stay here and work on our rodent population. And I hope they return next year. We have another kestrel box that hasn’t been used yet!

The hills are still covered with snow. And the floors in the house are covered with grit. My car is covered with mud. Yesterday it was almost sixty degrees, Fahrenheit. And there is snow in this week’s forecast. Spring officially, is only one week away. This is Mud Season.

The girls and I try to get out and walk early when the snow is hard enough to support our weight. Sometimes it supports them but not me. If we are late, then we only have muddy, and in shady places icy, roads to walk on. Yesterday we ran into our friends Frida, Quincy and Mary Ann, also hoping to find a good place to walk. It is a challenge this time of year.

Migratory birds are arriving everyday. One person has already seen a hummingbird in the valley so I put out a feeder. Both bluebirds, Say’s Phoebes, American Robins, Violet-green Swallows and other migrants are already here. They certainly think it’s spring.

Despite the heat and the valley full of smoke, animals are abundant. There is a mule deer with twin fawns that we see around our hill pretty often. All the young birds have fledged and are learning to forage with help from their parents. Ken’s bees are still out collecting pollen and nectar from our garden flowers. I do wonder how the smoke affects these animals and if they have shortened life spans because of it.

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