Bob Danley of the Bitterroot Outdoor Journal recently walked out along the Bitterroot River at Maclay Flat. Doing so, he noted a bird, a mammal, a tree and a lichen to encompass a wide range of natural features in one easy-to-access location.

This Lolo National Forest area is mainly populated with Ponderosa Pine trees (photo below). The trees can grow up to 195 feet and they do best in dry soils. We see many of them on western Montana mountainsides. In fact, you can find Ponderosa Pine on about 27 million acres of the West, Bob says.

In the lower branches of the tree is a lichen that lives on the bare branch beyond the conifer needles (see photo below). The Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen grows year-round and is only about one and half inches in diameter. The bright yellow color is obvious. It has what look like brown eyes. That's where the reproductive spores are released. It is not a parasite on the tree and instead relies on rain and moisture to survive.

Also on the branches is the Red-breasted Nuthatch (see photo below). Three species live at Maclay Flat and Bob has seen quite a few on his visits. The birds can be seen on the tree trunks, climbing head up or upside down as they dig into the bark crevices for insects. The little blue birds with red-orange breasts also like pine cone seeds.

Scurrying around under the pine trees are Red Squirrels (see photo above). They don't hibernate, so you can see them any time of the year. When they see you, they start chattering. They build little piles of pine cones and leaves called "middens," which they use for food during the winter months. The Red Squirrel is indeed reddish with a dark stripe along its abdomen. It the smallest tree squirrel - only 7 inches long with a 5 inch tail attached.

That's just a brief overview of what you will probably see at just one location. Visit Maclay Flat by turning onto Blue Mountain Road from US 93 south of Missoula. And hear the Bitterroot Outdoor Journal every Wednesday morning about 7:45 a.m. on 1240 KLYQ and or on the KLYQ app on your cellphone.

lichen at maclay flat
Brown-eyed Sunshine lichen. (Bob Danley Photo)
ponderosa pine
Ponderosa Pine tree at Maclay Flat. (Bob Danley Photo)
Red-breasted Nuthatch on a pine tree. (Bob Danley Photo)

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