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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.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.