Quartz Lake Loop and Looning 2024

We wanted to go for a hike in Glacier National Park and the citizen science office needed Common Loon surveys done along the chain of lakes in the Quartz Creek drainage. So we set off to find some loons in Quartz Lake, Middle Quartz Lake, and Lower Quartz Lake. We found a lone loon in two of the lakes, but the fun surprises were the amount of Calypso Orchids (Fairy Slippers) and a Long-eared Myotis (bat) foraging in the middle of the day!

Dry trails are hard to come by in Glacier National Park, even in early June. The Quartz Lake Loop is one of those places. We went out to do a Common Loon survey to see if any of the loons had begun nesting at any of the lakes. After driving the bumpy road to Bowman Lake, we admired it’s mirror reflections of the mighty mountains, then headed east, crossed Bowman Creek and began the climb up Quartz Ridge.

In the past, we’ve done the loop clockwise but, anxious to get to Lower Quartz Lake first (Lower and Middle had the higher likelihood of finding a nest), we went counter-clockwise. (This route also gets the steeper up the ridge, then down the ridge out of the way while your legs are fresher.)

As we hiked, the warblers, tanagers, and other birds chirped. We spotted a Calypso Orchid and got all excited… then another one and another one! Throughout the day, we kept seeing more of these lovely orchids, also known as Fairy Slippers, in groups of one, two, five, and even 18! By the end of the day, we estimated that we saw at least 200.

Calypso Orchids (Fairy Slippers)

At the top of the ridge, we started our steep descent from the dense, younger lodgepole forest, into the more mature forest of larch, spruce, and fir. Each ecotype bringing different bird species from Orange-crowned Warblers along the ridge to Yellow Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes in the riparian areas along the lake.

We got our first glimpse of the lake as we wrapped around to the foot of the lake and then arriving at the outlet with the fun, log bridge. This is one of the best spots to look at the lake. Try as we might, however, we didn’t see nor hear, any loons.

After spending some time in the campground with our spotting scope out, we continued along the long lake, taking any peek at the lake to see if we saw anything. Other than an Osprey and some swallows, we were without our target bird. At the head of the lake, we bushwhacked down to get a look at that end of the lake and have some lunch. Other than a female Common Merganser, we found no other waterfowl.

We bushwhacked back up onto the trail and meandered up and down the gnarled terrain until we arrived at Middle Quartz Lake. Within minutes of our arrival, we spotted a loon about 50 yards out! It dove, then resurfaced further out. We scanned the shorelines for signs of a nest or another loon and came up empty.

After our second hour-long survey, we packed up, crossed over Quartz Creek again and traveled the super short distance to Quartz Lake. Just before the junction with the spur trail to the patrol cabin, we jumped a small forest hawk (either a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk) with lunch in its claws!

We stopped at the patrol cabin so that we could see that corner of the lake. Other than (once again) a female Common Merganser, we didn’t see a loon… until we spied one waaaaaay over on the other corner of the lake near the campground. We packed up and headed that direction.

Quartz Lake is a difficult lake to get a good survey due to its length that curves around a ridge and no trails along its shoreline. Thankfully we found at least this one loon. Moving over near the campground, we got a better look and I was able to tell that this loon wasn’t banded when it was preening (another important piece of information that we try to find out when doing our surveys).

While at the campsite, looking at the loon, I saw a shadow and thought, “that’s a big butterfly!”, only to turn around and see a bat, specifically a Long-eared Myotis, flying around and hunting in the middle of the day. What a treat! Kristen and I watched it fly around, catching insects, then coming over to the water near us (a bit too near us if you ask Kristen), where it would fly low over the water and skim water for a drink.

Long-eared Myotis

It landed on a larch and looked like it was squeaking out or chewing a bug or something, but we couldn’t hear anything (perhaps it’s ultrasonic calls?). It flew around some more, then landed on a driftwood stump near us, crawled into a crack and promptly fell asleep.

From there, we left the campground, climbed up Cerulean Ridge on a much more gentle grade than the way in. Once at the top, we traversed around the ridges, hopped over seasonal streams and began to descend. More Calypso Orchids and a trail that felt like it stretched out more miles than on the map and we were finally back on the shores of Bowman Lake.

We hopped in our cars and drove the bumpy road back home.

Quartz Lake

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One response to “Quartz Lake Loop and Looning 2024”

  1. Rosanna Morris Avatar
    Rosanna Morris

    Wonderful story! Thanks!

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