Monday, November 22, 2010

"Seasonal" weather returns to the Bitterroot Valley

After a beautiful Indian summer, fall/winter has returned to western Montana. Snow (4-8") and cold (-9 F tonite) temps are in the forecast. Here's what things look like currently:
Lolo, Montana
While shoveling this morning spied a covey of gray partridge crossing the road heading uphill. American tree sparrow, Raven, starling, and rock pigeon are the only other avian species detected. At Maclay Flat yesterday photographed the Bitterroot river icing at the shore and

Bitterroot river shore icing up
 lichens on ponderosa pine.
Overall bird diversity was low except for the nuthatch species; all three species were very vocal and numerous. Contrast this with the lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas...saw zero nuthatches during the Birding Festival attended Nov. 10-14. However, did see very colorful birds,

Altimira Orioloe

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck


Mexican Bluewing
and dragonflies.

Roseate Skimmer

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 24 in western Montana

The neighborhood merlin (Falco columbarius) is back for the fall/winter. There are many mountain ash plantings attracting waxwings (both species) which are the main prey item for this species. Here are photos of the bird perched and in flight.
With success birding on the homefront, ventured to Maclay Flat, USFS property in Missoula, to see other cool stuff. This public land is great just for fall colors without seeing any wildlife.

Bitterroot river looking east towards Hellgate Canyon
Good find was a northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) hunting on far east side (large meadow).

Northern shrike on mullein
Continuing on the trail encountered a set of tracks in the dried irrigation ditch, any guesses as to identity?
Hint: I believe this is from the largest cervid in the world
Fininshing up my walk near the the parking lot, encountered a large group (~18) of Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) feeding on the ground. See the You Tube video of these birds in action at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dragonfly Watching still good, however…

Even up here, road to the Bass Creek Overlook, dragonflies can be found. Variegated meadowhawk is the most likely species to be found up the mountainside; research has found that they migrate via “hilltops”. So if they are migrating, is the dragonfly season winding down? Cool weather in this part of August may portend an early fall. Here is a photo of one 2 days ago:
Joining the many variegated meadowhawk at this altitude was a band-winged meadowhawk. This dragonfly is also very colorful, note the orangish bands on the wings:
Dragonflies are very interesting creatures to study and find; they are unpredictable frequently. Some live only several days as adults; some species have “flight seasons” that are only brief windows of time (sometimes only a month) in which they are out and about recognizable in the adult form. These challenges do lead one to a path of hard work (researching your objective) and employment of detective skills…ultimately one gets a huge sense of accomplishment at the moment of discovery of a new, colorful or rare species. It is great fun. Drop me a note of your field trip successes for these animals.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

3-toed and Black-backed Woodpecker @ Frenchtown, MT

Another cool and wet day in western Montana...not complaining as we really need the moisture. It worked out well for outside discovery as I did not get a soaking rain on me while looking for cool plant and animal life. Decided to visit Blue Mountain briefly for wildflowers...then transit over to Frenchtown to check out the "burn area" from the wildfire of 2.5 years ago. Had success in both ventures, photographed several "new" plants and found the two fire-dependent, code 2, woodpecker species. Video clip follows.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Home Migrants

The last two days I've found spring migrants (birds) feeding in my green ash at home. I imagine with the cold temperatures (down to freezing) birds are having a difficult time finding insects to eat. Our ash tree seems to be an is the home for aphid-like is a phenomenon repeated annually. Many times these insects are massed at the base of the tree trunk, a whitish-silver pile. Somehow birds find this single tree and find copious amounts of these bugs on the buds/twigs and lodged in crevices. Can you identify the bird species in the photos below?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Waterbirds put on show at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

Temperatures starting to warm closer to long-term averages, today low 60's. Shorebirds still a mainstay for wildlife watching as Pond 5 remains drawn down. Digiscoped 3 species today: white-faced ibis, long-billed dowitcher and Wilson's phalarope.

Ibis, along with herons, spoonbills, and storks, form the Order Ciconiiformes in the Class Aves. There are about 119 species worldwide. White-faced ibis are stunning to see with their glossy purple plumage...I can understand why ancient Egyptians worshipped them...for beauty of course :-)
I remember seeing my first Wilson's phalarope, a bird spinning like a top in a shallow wetland in Northern Illinois. It was just as Roger Tory Peterson described in the first field guide I owned. It was empowering!

Dowitchers, well, they are very challenging to identify even in high breeding plumage. Good looks with expensive equipment is usually a necessity. As usual, listening for diagnostic call notes can trump visual features for identification purposes. Today, a single short-billed dowitcher was feeding outside the main group of long-billed dowitcher...identification nailed down when I heard the mellow "tudulu" flight call.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher @ Lee Metcalf NWR

Shorebirds continue to trickle through on their way to Arctic breeding grounds. Yesterday was no exception as 10 species were detected on Pond 5 of Lee Metcalf NWR (Stevensville). Captured the long-billed dowitcher in action in video below.

On the margin of the shorebird mudflat is our most colorful blackbird...and nothing like a yellow-headed blackbird erupting with its' locomotive-like song.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Marsh Wren @ Lee Metcalf NWR

No FOY (first of year) migrant bird species were detected on the Refuge today. Still, observed some good birds for my month list with long-billed curlew flyby (giving the curlee' call) being a highlight. Was able to film a "gurgling" marsh wren fairly well. I'd like to say these birds are cute, maybe because they aren't seen as easily as heard. Enjoy the short "news reel".

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nashville Warbler Singing on Territory

Was lucky in filming a Nashville warbler while birding the Kim Williams Nature Trail (Missoula) yesterday. This trail is really good for birding (riverine and upland habitat), recreation and aesthetics.

It also good for flowers too!
Here's some shrub blossoms...

and wildflowers (two species of Rockcress...Nuttall's and Elegant)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cool, wet spring day in western Montana

Typically, these wet, cold weather spring days are pretty good for concentrating, and as a consequence, finding a diversity of bird species ranging from common to rare. Although no rarities found today on Lee Metcalf NWR, it was pleasant methodically searching for something different. Only one new species for the year, Bonaparte's Gull, found today...on Pond 5 of Lee Metcalf NWR. Good numbers of swallows around the wetlands (see embedded photos). Photos produced by digiscoping.

Also captured a Red-naped Sapsucker via camera/scope.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A visit to Bass Creek Recreation Area, just south of Florence, Montana (foot of the Bitterroot Mountains) provided early spring color in the form of Compton tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum). This butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae family (5,000 species worldwide), some of the world’s most eye-catching butterflies. The upper side of the wing is very colorful while the underside is cryptically colored for camouflage. Tortoiseshells, in particular, are known their fast and erratic flight. This species is identified by white spots on both the forewing and hindwing. Adults hibernate over winter in tree crevices or logs. Compton tortoiseshell habitat consists of openings and edges of forest. Aspen, birch and willow are important foodplants for larvae. Range maps indicate this species is somewhat restricted to northwest Montana.
Already (?) second butterfly species of year! Have you seen any yet?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cold, blustery spring morning in the Bitterroot Valley. Observed group of tree swallows perching in Siberian elm catching morning sun rays, video follows.

There are about 81 species of swallows/martins worldwide in the Hirundinidae family; on all continents except the Arctic and Antarctic regions. All North American species are primarily insect eaters, excepting the tree swallow which eats a quantity of vegetable matter...wax myrtle berries being a favorite. A study done by F.E.L. Beal in 1918 discovered that Diptera (flies) comprise ~40% of animal food taken.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday, March 28 was predicted to be a wonderful day weatherwise. Knowing that I had not seen a mountain bluebird or any winter finch yet this year made me decide to go "up" Highway 12 to Lolo Pass (~6th trip this way!...don't know if qualifies as ignorace or determination). Counted 9 Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) on the road shoulder on the way to the pass; am guessing they were getting "grit". 1st stop of day was abrupt about 25 miles from Highway 93...a large wet meadow (guessing about 6/7 football fields long and maybe 4 wide) when I saw a Mountain bluebird (Sialia currocoides) perched on a fencepost. Made a u-turn and parked at a Lewis & Clark Trail interpretive sign/pull-off. Filmed the two male living turquoise.

Finished drive to the Pass. Stood in the parking lot for 15 minutes listening for singing/calling winter luck. Got back in car, stopped at highway listening for traffic coming out of Idaho (don't want to pull out in front of an 18-wheeler going downhill) and hear a crossbill singing instead of traffic. Parked, ran over to stop with video camera and captured the following footage (good sound, poor image) of ONLY one lucky can you get.

Smiling to myself, headed downhill. Made couple of stops. Heard ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbrellus) drumming along wooded streamside. Stopped at a wet meadow opening in the forest listening for fox luck, but take photos of granite rock (igneous origin) unique to lands at and above (underlain by the Idaho batholith) the Lolo Hot Springs. After appreciating the frozen flow of rock, went to the Lolo Campground. Heard fox sparrow (Passerella ilica) singing somewhat continuously...also a fine spot for finding chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens). Last stop at Travelers' Rest State Park (!/pages/Lolo-MT/Travelers-Rest-State-Park/216753297384?ref=mf), sighted a Lewis woodpecker off a distance though diagnostic by flight/shape. A great day at 107 species for year and 91 species for month

Monday, March 22, 2010

First wildflower of 2010...

While searching the burn area of Blue Mountain (3/21/2010 at Missoula, Montana) for bluebirds and woodpeckers, found sagebrush buttercup (Rannunculus glaberrimus) in bloom on the dry east facing slope. Extensive information about this plant can be found at:

Did find western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) in numbers in the burn area. The birds were very vocal. Ralph Hoffman [Bent 1949] describes the vocalizations as "chu, chu, chu". Also in Bent, Grinnell and Storer described the song as "...simple notes uttered over and over again". Captured video, though dark, highlights a male/female with accompanying sounds of these birds.

Species not found on this trip or with any regularity in the mountains so far this year, evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), was found in the town of Stevensville by Deborah Goslin (3/16/2010). Made it to location on 3/19 and found the birds readily by listening. Video is here:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mount Jumbo and Snow Buntings

Climbed Mount Jumbo (elevation ~4600') on Sunday, March 7. Started at 11:30 am on a beautiful sunshiney day of 40+ degrees. Went up the Cherry Street trailhead in Missoula using the steep "L" trail for a gain of 1100 feet with the target being a group of snow bunting at the summit. Immediately spied horned lark in the grazed areas of native grasses. After 10 minutes or so heard a single snow bunting call. Walked closer to origination of sound, sat down near fenced pen area for sheep, and waited. Within 15 minutes a group of 10 snow buntings flew by (within 50 yards) calling real good looks at the birds...stunning black/white pattern. It is incredible to get these birds without going to the windswept frozen plains and serendipitously finding them in amongst swirling longspur or lark flocks feeding on minute seeds. So my thanks go to Paul Hendricks who posted his sighting of these birds on the Yahoo site of MOB.

Great views from on top. Wildflowers should be good in a while...some are greening up well. Thanks also to the citizens of Missoula for acquiring this land as open space not only for people, but for a great variety of wildlife also.

Get outside and take it all in...