Wilsall, Montana

As any of my regular readers, either here or on my forum know, I live in Wilsall, Montana.  Located in South-Central Montana, the scenery of the area around my home is striking.  If one can ignore the right-wingnut politics of rural Montana, which are rather like those of the communist-scare era of the early 1950s, but not as progressive, it can be a nice place to live.  However, because of the overabundance of nutcases, this is kind of  an odd place to be if one has any sort of decent liberal arts or science education; it keeps feeling like being transported to an alternate universe.  I keep wondering, “What is IT with these people?  The basic motto seems to be “On my honor to do my best to help myself and forget the rest.” 

I suspect the real problem is that many of the folks here haven’t had the dubious pleasure of living someplace else, so they don’t know how good they have it, and because of that it is easy for them to trash it by simple neglect and the inability to see that the government has a positive role to play in the process of maintaining the region’s well-being.  And –  shock of shocks!!! – that the taxpayers have a responsibility to fund it.  Not so for these dorks!   They want the ability to trash the place, and many of them are hell bent on doing so – and regretably they are succeeding. 

Fortunately, at the present time, at least, the process is still a relatively slow one.  With the increasing degradation caused by climate change, coupled with the inevitable population growth, the time will come soon enough when the children and grandchildren of the present folks will curse the lack of foresight of their progenitors.  And because, that time will mean the absolute loss through death and destruction of a lot that I hold dear about this place, I am glad I won’t be alive to see it.    

Oh well, for the present, here we are, and here we will stay.  Among things we simply can’t afford to move to anyplace else.    

The political and social environment aside, the area’s physical and biological environment is spectacularly beautiful.  Wilsall is in the Shields River Valley, which is bordered on the west by the Bridger Mountains and on the East by the Crazy Mountains.  The illustration below, courtesy of the remarkable software of Mr. Google et alia, shows the lay of the land pretty well.  The northern end of the valley is north of Ringling, Montana, where there is a watershed divide between the Shields River and the Smith River drainages.  The south end of the valley terminates in the  Yellowstone River valley, a few miles east of Livingston, Montana where the Shields merges with the Yellowstone.  I thought I would use the next few blog entries to showcase some of the spring and early summer scenery and wild (mostly birds) life found either in our yard in the small cowtown of Wilsall, or in the nearby region.  Some beautiful and interesting bird life is found in Wilsall, for at least the present.  And even though the changes for the worst are relatively slow, they are accelerating and are noticeable, so … that will not be too long, at all.

A Google map image showing the Shields Valley from south of where the Shields River empties into the Yellowstone River. Our house's location is shown by the small yellow marker. Wilsall is located at the east end of "Battle Ridge."

Sunset over the Crazy Mountains to the east of Wilsall, Montana. The highest peaks in this range are a skosh over 11,000 feet above sea level.


The Bridger Mountains to the west of Wilsall, as viewed from the Wilsall Reservoir a few miles north of town. As with the Crazy Mountains, the highest peaks top out at around 11,000 feet.

One of my favorite Wisallian birds – for that matter one of my favorite birds at all – is the Western Tanager.  Not only do they have spectacular coloration, they have neat behavior.  When I grew up in Great Falls, Montana, about 150 miles north of Wilsall, I had no idea such gorgeous creatures even existed, let alone could be commonly found at times within 100 miles of my home.  At the time of my youth, Great Falls was the city of small, brown sparrows.  It was home to a giant population of one of the curses of the North American avifauna, the damned English sparrow.   I pretty much thought that in a town, any town, about all one was likely to see were these small, nondescript or cursed ugly brown birds.   My dear wife disabused me of that stupid idea, and has shown me the absolute pleasure of looking at our little flying dinosaurs, for which I am truly grateful. 

With that background, you probably can imagine my wonder and delight at seeing my first Western Tanager here a few years ago!  I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.   Wow!!  I still can’t get over them.  NOR DO I WANT TO!!!  These lovies are here for a while in the beginning of summer.  This year we appeared to have 4 pairs which were here for about a month.  So for your viewing pleasure, in this post I have uploaded a few images of  some Western Tanager males.  Most folks know that there are some wonderfully descriptive names for the aggregations of some birds, probably the best known of these is, “An Exultation of Larks.”  After watching the 12 pairs of Western Tanagers that were around our yard last year, we decided that a fitting descriptive name for a small aggregation of this wonderful species would have to be,  “A Squabble of Tanagers.”  What feisty birds!!!  And how absolutely wonderful to watch their interactive behavior!!!

A Western Tanager Male, in our silver poplar tree giving me an askance glance while I focused my camera on him from within my office about 20 feet from him.

A Western Tanager Male in our "fly-through" bird feeder located about 20 feet outside my office window. I think these males KNOW how good they look! This year we had a series of males ranging from ones with almost no orange/red on the head to ones that looked like their heads had been dipped in brilliant red/orange paint. There was quite a difference in aggressiveness - and even the most "laid back" Western Tanager males are AGGRESSIVE!!!

A Western Tanager male checking out some food. Unlike a lot of birds, these guys (and their gals) tend to closely examine some foods with one eye or the other before picking it up.

Well, that’s it for today!

More soon, there are some nice critters found around here.

Until later,


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4 Responses to “Wilsall, Montana”

  1. rmartink says:


    I found your site because of my interest in taking photos of MT orchids, as well as birds and dragonflies. With your interest in most things wild, maybe you should take a look at Odonates. Th ere are only several of us in MT that active pursue them. I live in Helena and also received an advanced degree from MSU – in 1970.

    I also do some blogging at: birdmanbob@blogspot.com. Birds and dragonflies are my primary subjects with some travel thrown in occasionally.

    Bob Martinka

    • admin says:

      Hi Bob,

      Odonates are certainly wonderful insects. If I see any and have the opportunity to get images, I certainly will try to, and if I succeed, I will definitely let you know.

      It looks like we overlapped at MSU, as I got my undergrad degree there in 1970 from the old Z&E Department.

      Cheers, Ron

  2. Patrick_Burr says:

    Just started keeping my eyes open for orchids this spring and have run into a couple species. I have found the calypso in a few spots and today I found a cluster of small yellow lady slippers near bridger creek golf course. Do you ever do any lectures in Bozeman? I would love to hear you speak.

    • admin says:

      Hi Patrick,
      Glad to hear about the orchids!! Calypso is not uncommon, but the yellow ladyslippers are quite rare in our area, and I didn’t know about those. Thanks for that information.
      I last spoke in Bozeman about orchids about 8 years ago. Since then … nobody’s asked. I have lectured on any number of various things (global climate change; historical events with a scientific perspective, mass extinctions, and aquariums) in Livingston, mostly through the Adult Community Education program. For those lectures to go, I need five victims err students to sign up for the course. Normally my ACE orchid classes get the enrollment, but this spring when it was offered, there was only one person who signed up, so it was cancelled. I will probably try some more ACE courses this fall, and they typically get advertised in Bozeman, so…