Visiting MPG Ranch

Life definately took a few left turns in the past few months or even close to year. I’m here in Monterey County. Still feeling a bit out of my element in a new location, even though I’ve lived here before. Looking through all the photos with Jeff at MPG Ranch last August, brings me back and makes me smile.

After a 10 hour drive to Florence just outside of Missoula I arrive to the amazing place that is MPG Ranch. It is a bit smoky from fires in the Bitterroot Valley, but that makes the sunset all the more dramatic.

With 3 houses on the property, I stayed with Jeff and a few others at the well appointed Top House. It has huge windows and the best views. The basement holds seed stock for habitat restoration, brewing the house hard cider and room for visiting researchers.  We are adjacent to the garden growing fresh vegetables ripe for help yourself pick-and-cook. I knew right away, this is my kind of place.

_MG_1274  Wild deer graze in view of the Top House.

P8240389 Leave the porch light on for moths.

Below the house Alfalfa grows and the wild horses graze in the field scattered with sulfur and white butterflies.

We go out after dark to look for critters including Porwill birds. They fly quickly and burrow into the roads and logs, they blend in so look carefully. Reminds me of camping when my uncles would take us out hunting for Snipes. “Umm, Jeff, are these things imaginary?” They are as real as they come and as elusive as they sound. We did find some along with a herd of Elk, Great Horned Owl and a friendly Garter snake. The snake taming might be better left to Jeff.


Searching the habitat along the stream for Blues and Coppers.


_MG_1290 Bald Eagle’s Nest at the stream.

Now Jeff is determined to make a birder out of me, so I spent some of our meals browsing the Audubon guide to North American Birds. I will admit I notice more birds now and can identify more of them too.

_MG_1329.jpgUntitled 4.jpg

Taking off: A Mountain Bluebird and a shy brown bird (I didn’t learn everything in 3 days!)

Jeff arranged for us to take a river float in Missoula with some of the MPG workers, guests and dogs came too.


He was very dizzy and lightheaded here , but we made it down the chilly river. Have more beer Jeff!

river float MPG

If there are butterflies, we will and did find them. Northern Crescent at the launch spot.


Exploring Mount Baldy in the morning. We found amazing birds, a Wood Nymph and possibly the evolutionary origins of pack ratting. Makes me wonder why it isn’t called “pack birding”.


Traversing Willows at the marsh, mostly for birds. I decided to take a look for Viceroy caterpillars and we discovered a Tiger Moth Wooly Bear, beetle and toad.

Exploring trails for Lorquin’s Admirals, fritillaries, skippers and Meadowhawks. We brought a Lorquin and female Great Spangled Fritillary back for some photos.

Turning logs for salamanders.

As we reviewed my plans for leaving Jeff tells me he’s going to the smaller facility, MPG North and I can learn transect surveys. Might be good to know and besides, I’m not nearly finished here. Plans changed – done.

Have you ever seen a Lepidopterist run like that Chasing Butterflies? Nevermind, shouldn’t have asked.

What an incredible few days. I really can’t thank Jeff enough for the experiences. This trip made my 2015 complete. In fact I’m so glad I put off writing this so I could relive the adventure. Here is to your next great season at MPG, Jeff.

Most photos by me Sara, all others Jeff Pippen.



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