by Dan Kotter
Growing up as a very curious young scientist in Southern Indiana, I always held the migration as a magical event. I knew nothing about it. However, there it was. Every year, coming and going. I had no education to guide my way in the “why,” it just happened. Education programs were rare to explain these phenomena, so we are left with creative thought and local spiritual attitudes. Thousands of waterfowl overhead, Cardinals in abundance, loud Jays, the Robins are back, hundreds of Blackbirds eating mulberries leaving the purple splattered remains on the go-to school vehicles. It just “was.” For most people. I had questions…but I never really sought the answers.
Fast-forward to 2007. My first year in Glacier National Park. My third day of work (a VERY smoky Flathead summer…the names Chippy Creek and Tally Lake area fires ring a bell) in the Park up in Preston Park. I follow two female scientists up the trail, long term botanists in the park and quite excellent educators in all that is Ecology in Northwest Montana. The only option I had at that moment when we arrived in Preston Park was to listen. I was breathless from the new altitude and mountains, however, it was mostly because of the story I was being told. This story of the interconnected Clark’s Nutcracker, Whitebark Pine, and Grizzly Bear changed my life forever. It connected all of the dormant questions in my mind. The “why.” Connected Bird, Tree, Grizzly Bear, Soil, Earth, Geology Formations. I challenge anyone to find a better ecological story to expand the perception of trophic levels. Perhaps this day I evolved from a Curious Scientist to an Educated Ecologist. These are the stories and field excursions that can change one’s life, and perhaps evolve a Geologist into an Ecologist. Or, a local landowner into a hardy conservationist. There is power in story and connection to a place.
I returned from birding in Costa Rica for 2 months and met some amazing Aussies while in Corcovado National Park in 2012/2013. They visited me in Montana the following summer here and were lucky to share these birding endeavors seeing the Clark’s Nutcrackers in the Belly River and Golden Eagles and songbirds elsewhere in the Flathead for one month. We keep in touch and they still are enamored with the beautiful avian ecological interactions of Northwest Montana. Cheers to the Flathead and cheers to the beautiful ecological interactions that educate and inspire.