If you're counting the days until spring, we're almost there. The Spring Equinox is March 20, a day after the Full Moon this month and a couple of days after St. Patrick's Day. But Bob Danley of the Bitterroot Outdoor Journal says some spring activity is already happening in western Montana.

Don't be surprised in the next few days to hear the distinctive call of the Western Meadowlark. The bird comes back to the valley this time of year and you can see it in open country. The meadowlark is grayish brown with a bright yellow belly, topped by a black V-shape (photo above). It's Montana's State Bird. And the little guy is very popular - it's also the State Bird of Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon and Wyoming.

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Bob says the backyard bird feeders might have a lot of Dark-eyed Juncos coming back to gather with the Juncos that stay here all winter long. You can also hear and see them near trails and roads in the valley (photo below).

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Dark-eyed Juncos, checking out the gravel. (Bob Danley photo)
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And, on the ice-free waters of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge near Stevensville, here comes the Wood Duck (photo below), which became more common in our area in the 1950s. The duck is one of the species included in hunting season. The duck is found all over the western U.S.

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Wood Duck at Metcalf pond. (Bob Danley Photo)
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Bob is noticing some wildflowers that are bringing out their leaves, getting ready for blooms in a few weeks. One of those is the Sulphur-flowered Buckwheat, which is green on top and wooly gray underneath in snow-free areas. Expect yellowish-pink flowers in May.

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Sulphur-flowered Buckwheat in early spring. (Bob Danley Photo)
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Bob has been highlighting lichen all winter. This week is the Frosted Rock Tripe lichen, which is pale gray, with some brown tones, and can be found on rockfaces. He sees lots of them at the beginning of the Kootenai Creek trail.

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Frosted Rock tripe lichen. (Bob Danley photo)
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The Bitterroot Outdoor Journal is heard Wednesday mornings at about 7:45 a.m. during the Bitterroot Morning newscast on KLYQ 1240 AM Radio, on www.klyq.com and on the KLYQ cellphone app.

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