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Random wildlife selfies

Don’t blame me for the focus on this photo. I wasn’t there. This whitetail buck took his own picture and then smashed his nose into my trail camera, which is now covered with teeth marks.

My family and I don’t use our trail cam for hunting; we use it for spying on our wild visitors. After a snowstorm last winter, I crisscrossed our land looking for tracks, then set up the camera along the busiest game trail. That first photo of an elk got me hooked. Later I aimed the camera at a retired fox den, which turned out to be a sort of wildlife crossroads, visited by skunks, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, coyotes, and not surprisingly, foxes.

My trail camera photos and videos are modest, all taken in my big backyard. But I couldn’t resist giving them their own Trail Cam page. (As I’m not on Facebook, where else am I supposed to share my blurry skunk pics?) If you want to see more impressive trail camera footage, visit the Mission Valley Grizz Cam. Amazing bears.

Kids’ events at the High Plains Bookfest

The High Plains Bookfest is coming up soon, with events taking place at various venues in Billings, Montana October 18-20 (complete schedule here).

If you have kids, please bring them along to the Billings Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 20 for a fun introduction to Glacier and Grand Teton national parks. Ellen Horowitz and I will be sharing our children’s books from Riverbend Publishing’s What I Saw series–Ellen’s What I Saw in Glacier: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, and my What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.

From noon to 2 p.m., This House of Books is hosting a High Plains Tea and Dessert Reception for children and children’s book authors. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone there.

 

Grand Canyon guide for kids

About 90 percent of Grand Canyon National Park’s visitors head to the South Rim, the most accessible area of the park’s 1.2 million acres. But even here, it can be hard to know where to start, especially when traveling with children. I kept that in mind when writing What I Saw in Grand Canyon: A Kid’s Guide to the South Rim, which is illustrated with photographs by Christopher Cauble (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). Many families have just a short time to visit the canyon. Where do you go? What opportunities are there for kids? How can you help your children make sense of this vast place?

What I Saw in Grand Canyon offers a sampler of many of the things families are most likely to see during their visit to the South Rim, as well as recommendations for easy walks and hikes. The book’s fun checklist format provides space for kids to record their own sightings while they learn about the park’s geology, wildlife, plants, and history. Back at home, they can use the book to share their Grand Canyon visit with family and friends.

The book, illustrated with photos by Christopher Cauble, is now on sale at Riverbend Publishing and on Amazon. It will soon be available at local bookstores.

I hope What I Saw in Grand Canyon will prove to be a good companion for you and your family on your Grand Canyon journey. May you have a safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable visit to the South Rim.

Red crossbill baby pictures

crossbilljuvie
Red crossbill juvenile, © 2017 Julie Lue.

Last year, red crossbills invaded my neighborhood, attracted by a large crop of ponderosa pine cones. We hadn’t seen any crossbills for a long time, then suddenly, they were everywhere, crowding the bird bath, flitting between the trees, prying apart pine cones to reach the seeds.

I was already curious about the birds, as red crossbills are one of those unusual species that can nest at nearly (but not quite) any time of year, including late winter. On days with weather so foul we just want to stay inside, they may be incubating sensitive eggs or caring for downy, delicate nestlings.

When the crossbills arrived, I moved my laptop near a window so I could watch them while doing a little research. The result is this Outdoors Portrait in the 2018 March-April issue of Montana Outdoors magazine.

Below are some additional details and photos of a red crossbill nest I found, by pure luck, while working on the article. I’m including them for people who are really, really interested in crossbills.

The first week in March, with snow still patchy on the ground, I saw red crossbills gathering bits of dried grass. One day when I was out walking, I watched a female carry a beak full of grass into a tree. She didn’t come out. I had found her nest.

The picture below, taken two weeks later, shows the female’s notched tail jutting out over the edge. It was cold that day, and she wasn’t going anywhere.

Red crossbill nest
Red crossbill nest, © 2017 Julie Lue.

I kept an eye on the nest but did not visit too frequently, as I didn’t want to scare the female off her eggs or young or attract predators. The nest was also near the end of a branch about 10 feet up a tree. Looking inside required a ladder balanced precariously amid the sagebrush. My husband took photos of the babies at a couple of stages of development. (He doesn’t mind standing on the part of a stepladder that carries a warning of impending doom.)

Red crossbill nestlings
Red crossbill nestlings, © 2017 Tony Lue.

The photo below was taken six days before they flew away, at the end of a very quick “childhood.” We saw three fledge; we don’t know what happened to the fourth nestling.

crossbillnestlings
Red crossbill nestlings, © 2017 Tony Lue.

By April 8, the nest was abandoned, and we lost track of these youngsters. But we were still visited by flocks of juveniles and their parents, which helped feed their young for a while.

With plenty of cones this year as well, we are now hosting another generation.

Free download: companion activities for What I Saw in Grand Teton

Schwabacher Landing, © 2016 Julie Lue.

If you are a teacher or homeschooler looking for ways to extend What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, here are a few activity ideas for you. My thanks to third-grade teacher Suzy Miller for “Safe Space”–a fun way to teach important lessons for kids living in or visiting areas with potentially dangerous wildlife.