By Tania Iretskaya
ASC Landmark Crew
It’s mid-February, and the prairie is full of sounds. There are huge flocks of Canada geese overhead exchanging loud honks and barks on their flight home. On the ground, prairie dogs are wide awake, some running quickly between their respective burrows and others providing loud, continuous greetings to intruders. It’s surprisingly warm. The first green grass has appeared, the days are getting longer and it honestly does feel like spring.
Not exactly how I imagined February in Montana. When packing all my winter / skiing gear, the mental image was nothing but snow, cold, strong winds and icy roads for two months. And the prairie did indeed greet us this way and kept on for the whole month of January. Then suddenly it surprised us. Here is the timeline of this unexpected prairie metamorphosis.
Our first week, beautiful, snowy and COLD, even for the furry animals.
Still winter. We have now become professionals at walking through snow, but none has fallen for over a week and the ground below is slowly becoming visible.
More Sun, more warmth. The prairie’s palette reveals new colors for us.
The rapid transformation is obvious while hiking transects. The ground changes in a matter of hours from skating rink to swamp, from ice to desert.
The Landmark crew learns new skills – how to walk with pounds of mud on your boots and how to jump across a variety of creeks on every transect.
New actors arrive on the prairie stage – Prairie dogs: active, hungry and very vocal.
Geese have arrived!
As incredible as it looks, the prairie is now truly grassland. The days are warm and long, and the transformation continues as we head into March.