As the temperatures approached 80 degrees yesterday we ventured over to Swan Lake for the maiden voyage of our new inflatable kayak (The Manatee) and our second hand canoe (The Croc 11).
Great for exploring the marsh.
The wind cooperated and we ended up paddling for most of the day interrupted only to cool off in the lake.
Steady platform for jumping into the lake.
Works great for towing your little brother!
We had debated long and hard over the winter months as to the merits of an inflatable kayak and it turned out to have been a good purchase. It saved us having to put a new roof rack on our car, the price was very reasonable, and we didn’t find the set-up time consuming at all. We especially love how stable it is in the water. The kids can jump off of it and climb back in without the fear of the kayak tipping over. It seems to handle well and it is pretty easy to tow behind the canoe when the Younger Five’s arms tire out. Hopefully we will get some good use out of both boats this summer.
We have heard great things about Tally Lake in Flathead County, Montana and wanted to get a visit in before tourist season begins at the end of the month. As the temperatures rose into the 70’s this past Thursday we figured that there was no better time to make the trip.
Tally Lake is Montana’s 2nd deepest lake at 445 feet deep. The kids were prepared for a day of swimming, but as they rushed in for their first dip they realized how cold the lake still was. The fast rushing creek adjacent to the beach looked like it would be fun to tube down, but the snow melt that it carried made even our fearless cold water swimmer, Five of Hearts, head back to shore. However, the Younger Fives still found a way to enjoy the freezing water as they built rafts out of their boogie boards and managed to paddle the lake without getting wet.
The campground at Tally Lake wasn’t yet open and besides a few people using the boat landing we pretty much had the whole lake to ourselves. The lack of people near the beach area created the perfect environment for birding and we enjoyed watching Yellow Warblers and Rufous Hummingbirds. The Richardson Ground Squirrels were also a pleasure to watch. We ended up staying at the lake until well into the evening and had great difficulty getting the kids to leave. It seems that Tally Lake will definitely be at the top of our list for camping and swimming this summer.
Back in February Five String entered us into the Sharp-tailed Grouse Blind lottery at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t really think that we had a chance in winning as the spots are limited and the blind is only open to the public three days a week between April and May. So, we were super excited when we received an email a few weeks ago telling us that there had been a cancellation and that the April 28th spot was now ours if we were still interested.
During mating season male Sharp-tailed Grouse display in a communal fashion to attract females. They do this at a site know as a “lek” which is usually a flat area free of dense vegetation. The lek or “dancing ground” where the grouse blind is situated at Benton Lake was first observed in 1988 and Sharp-tailed Grouse have been returning to it every year since.
Visitors to the blind are required to arrive one hour prior to sunrise so that they don’t disturb the grouse. For us this meant leaving our hotel in Great Falls at 4:45am. The Younger Fives were troopers at getting up and dressed even though it was pitch dark outside. From the auto road at the refuge we then had to walk about 400 yards through the dark, avoiding ground squirrel holes until we reached the blind. The grouse blind was built by an eagle scout and has seating room and viewing windows for six people.
As soon as we reached the blind we could hear that grouse already on the lek. We tiptoed inside, took our seats, and enjoyed listening to the sounds of the grouse while we waited for the sky to lighten. In no time at all we were able to view the male grouse as they displayed. Their orange eye combs and purple air sacs are really quite the sight. We were all impressed by the noise that their feathers make as they dance. We stayed at the blind for over 2 hours and while it was a chilly 40 degrees outside we were comfortable inside the blind. During our visit we were able to count 45 males and 2 females. Five of Hearts put together a short video of what we saw, so that you can share in the experience.
It looks like the Younger Fives have started an new Easter tradition – taking an Easter plunge into the lake. Next year maybe they will convince Mom and Dad as well.
Testing the water.
Our vacation to the coast is over and we are back in Montana. While we miss the ocean we are excited to be back near the lake. The snow and ice are gone from one of our favorite state parks and we were able to spend a very sunny day sitting along the banks of Flathead Lake skipping stones and dipping our toes in the chilly water.
Hunting for the perfect skipping stone.
That one was at least four skips!
Letting it fly.
The big excitement of the day was building a bridge out to a few off shore rocks. Finally the perfect piece of drift wood was found and after much exertion it was put into place as the official bridge out to “Kids Only Island”. This definitely counted as a homeschool lesson for the day.
Measuring the distance.
Floating the wood down lake.
Enlisting the help of some muscle power.
Trying it out.
Admiring the view.