by Denny Olson

Locally, with the frightening uptick in Delta variant COVID cases, it would be easy to sink into the “not again!” cloistering depression of our past year. If you are tempted to resignedly wallow a bit, here are some alternatives I gleaned from our old FAS phenology calendars.

The key, as usual, is to get outdoors. Heck, people are demonstrably happier, heathier and smarter just by being near trees, according to some recent research – let alone spending time in the psychological care of the woods and hills. So here goes …

  • Early in the morning, find a place to listen to the ethereal bugling of bull elk. 
  • Follow a bull trout stream emptying into Flathead Lake and try to spot the big trout in their shallow redds (spawning places). 
  • Hike to the ridge south of Mount Aeneas in Jewel Basin and watch Golden Eagles flying by you blow your eye level! 
  • Look for the last warbler migrants, Yellow-rumps, heading south in little clusters. 
  • Take a thermometer to a nearby lake and determine when the surface water temperature reaches 39 degrees (That will be the day the lake “turns over”, when surface water sinks and bottom water rises.) 
  • Watch for groups of aspens turning color at the same time. Those are actually one aspen, connected by a single root system. The “trees” are clones!
  • If you hike high, look for mottled White-tailed Ptarmigans beginning to molt to their winter white. They will move down-slope into the smaller sub-alpine firs when the snow comes. 
  • Look for “scrapes” on the ground made by whitetail bucks near doe trails. They are also making “rubs” on trees, partly to mark their own parallel trails for night travel. 
  • The last of the Ospreys — usually juveniles — will head south. 
  • Bats are looking for hibernation spots and the insect population drops. 
  • Southbound Tundra Swans arrive in open water spots to joint their resident Trumpeter cousins in mixed flocks. 
  • Where there are still a few mature whitebark pines at tree-line, grizzlies will be digging up squirrel middens and black bears will be eating seeds above in the trees. Lots of bird species, most notably the Clark’s Nutcracker, will be there eating the seeds. Nutcrackers will be “caching” the seeds in the ground by the thousands for their winter food supply. 
  • Early in the month, mule deer will be hanging out with the other boys, play-sparring with clicking antlers. Later, the gang will dissolve as testosterone “poisoning” kicks in and they move off singly for the rut.
  • Press some falling leaves between pages in a book. As you pick them up and look closely, you’ll probably be astounded by the infinite color variety. 
  • Mountain Goat males will begin their breeding season by hooking each other in the rear-end to establish dominance. Then they will squat splay-legged and pull dirt on their belly hair with their front legs. To get it to stick, they urinate into the dirt as they scrape it toward themselves. I saw something like this in a bar in Northern Wisconsin once …
  • Bighorn sheep rams will leave their single-gender groups, mix with the ewes, and begin to smash heads at 30 mph. You can hear it 2 miles away. None of them enter “concussion protocol” because of the shielding effect of blood routed into their skulls from those large horns.
  • Check out the Orionid meteor shower on the 21st!
  • Grizzly females, some with yearlings and some with cubs, begin digging their dens. 
  • Black-capped Chickadees begin to disperse from their family feeding groups, and will roost in tree cavities on the colder nights. Their body temperature can drop each night by as much as 18 degrees in a controlled hypothermia, saving them an estimated average of 23 % of their energy needs! They have to shiver for nearly half an hour in the morning to warm back up. 
  • Get the bird feeders cleaned out and ready to put up! (But wait until bears have denned up before putting them up!)

So, all that said, if you are still complacent, bored and depressed in October, please see a professional. They will probably tell you to start by getting outside!