Bitterroot Bill says: 'Six more weeks of winter'

2013-02-02T17:28:00Z 2013-02-02T23:56:10Z Bitterroot Bill says: 'Six more weeks of winter'ROB CHANEY Missoulian The Billings Gazette
February 02, 2013 5:28 pm  • 

STEVENSVILLE – If you believe in this sort of thing, our local rodent prognosticator believes we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

“At 12:12 p.m., Bitterroot Bill saw his shadow,” Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge outdoor recreation planner Bob Danley said on Saturday. “This is one of the most spring-like days to make such a prediction, so it’s heartbreaking. The weather was awesome.”

The Metcalf has a yellow-bellied marmot stand in for Pennsylvania’s famous Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. Marmots are related to groundhogs, and the Bitterroot Valley bottoms and lower hillsides support a substantial population. The higher slopes and ridges attract the hoary marmot, a slightly different species also common in Glacier National Park.

The refuge welcomes visitors to search around a stone foundation barn where numerous marmots have their burrows, although it’s rare for one to poke out in February. As a backup, Danley has a paper cutout version with a Dixie Cup burrow.

Despite Bitterroot Bill’s winter-loving prediction, the temperature hovered around 40 degrees at the refuge on Saturday. A pair of bald eagles were busy rebuilding an old aerie after their regular one was toppled by a beaver last year. Golden eagles were also on the scene, hoping to feed on afterbirth from neighboring pastures where cattle herds are calving.

Danley said the 188-acre refuge’s ponds are constricted but not covered with ice, so lots of waterfowl are squeezed into relatively small spaces. Goldeneye ducks are doing their head-flipping mating behavior, and one visitor reported seeing a merganser duck attempting to swallow an oversized bullfrog last week.

Roads and trails through the refuge are open Monday through Saturday from dawn to dusk.

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