March 2017 Bird Notes by John Parker
Locally, the most unusual bird this past month was a Varied Thrush that was at Ray and Linda Forrest’s yard along Deep Creek in Paradise Valley. The Varied Thrush was an erratic visitor, feeding on millet and finely crushed corn underneath their feeders from February 3rd to the 9th. This is only the fifth local record for Varied Thrush, during the winter period (Dec. 15 – Feb. 15).
On February 8th, Glenda Barnes saw a Northern Shrike at Headwaters State Park. The only Gyrfalcon reported from the Gallatin Valley this winter, was seen east of Manhattan on January 21st, by Jim Manning.
This past winter Roxanna McLaughlin has been feeding up to 200 Gray-crowned Rosy Finches at her house near Bozeman Pass. On February 9th, taking advantage of the concentration of finches, a Northern Pygmy Owl was able to catch one. Roxanna said that the owl took two hours to pluck and totally consume the rosy finch.
Now that we’ve left the late winter birding doldrums behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to the first bluebird of the year. The arrival of the first bluebirds in early March is the signal that the migration floodgates are about to open. I hope everyone has a chance to get out and enjoy the first waves of waterfowl and the calling Sandhill Cranes during this coming month.
November 2016 Bird Notes by John Parker
As you may remember, this past November was exceptionally warm, which kept all of the lakes and ponds from freezing until December. This was an opportunity to see some of our more common waterfowl for an extra two or three weeks, and maybe find some more uncommon ducks or loons.
There was a huge flight of sea ducks and loons across western Montana this past fall. In the southwestern corner this was limited to Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, and Pacific Loons, though Black Scoters and Red-throated Loons were reported further to the north and west. From Georgetown Lake in Deer Lodge Co. to Three Forks in Gallatin Co. at least 38 Surf Scoters were seen, including and amazing high count of 21 at Silver Lake near Phillipsburg on 29 October. On November 10th, while I was enjoying a calm, sunny day in the fifties at Dailey Lake in Paradise Valley, 4 White-winged Scoters landed on the lake. After long drinks of water, and some extensive preening the scoters began diving for crayfish. On November 29th after a stormy night, Drew Thate discovered 2 White-winged Scoters on Glen Lake at the East Gallatin Recreation Area. This was the same storm that pushed a massive movement of Snow Geese out of Canada, and across the entire breadth of Montana. From the Bitterroot Valley to Glendive people who were outside the nights of November 27-28 were likely to witness the spectacle of hundreds if not thousands of Snow Geese flying overhead. At least 6 different Pacific Loons were found on local waters this fall, the latest being seen on Ennis Lake November 27th by Stephan Turner and Bob Martinka.
A very late American White Pelican was floating on the Madison River near Three Forks December 11th. Ned Bixler said several cars were pulled over to watch this late season oddity.
The Red-naped Sapsucker that Vic Fesolowitz found near Ennis November 6th was a late record for this part of Montana, with only one later record east of the divide.
On December 2nd Tom Forwood found a Spotted Towhee at Lewis and Clark Caverns. Even more surprising was the Vesper Sparrow Andrew Guttenberg spotted north of the Belgrade airport November 30th, yet another lingering bird that is typically gone by October.
Though it was quite awhile ago by now, the Black-throated Gray Warbler Daryl Gustafson photographed in his Bozeman backyard October 13th is worth noting. This was only the twelfth time one has been documented in Montana.
October 2016 Bird Notes by John Parker
This fall has been rich with unexpected and interesting birds, from shorebirds to lingering songbirds. During mid October, there was a wealth of migrants from the Arctic that normally travel over the open ocean. The rarest and most oceanic was the Red Phalarope that Vic Fesolowitz discovered October 13th at Harrison Reservoir. This is only the 17th time that a Red Phalarope has been documented in Montana. That same day Robin Wolcott, Ed Harper, Bruce Hallett, and John Parker were able to find 4 Surf Scoters and 2 Pacific Loons scattered across Ennis Lake. The following day Tom Forwood and Andrew Guttenberg saw a Pacific Loon at Harrison Reservoir, and the day after that Tom found yet another Surf Scoter on the Three Forks Ponds. All of these trips to local lakes and reservoirs have certainly paid off for Andrew, who also found Sabine’s Gulls at Ennis Lake and Central Park Pond on September 24th and October 7th, respectively.
Helping with Sacajawea Audubon’s various bird counts and surveys guarantees an opportunity to enjoy many of this area’s expected birds and sometimes there’s a surprise waiting to be discovered. While participating on the October 15th Ennis Important Bird Area survey south of Ennis, Lou Ann Harris, Nora Miller, Raymond Burket and Suzanne Stevenson found 2 Rock Wrens and a Swainson’s Thrush. The Rock Wrens are a new late date record for the species in Montana. The Swainson’s Thrush is one of the three latest fall sightings for the state.
Sometimes you don’t have to leave your yard to find great birds. For two days in mid September Jeff Pentel had an exceedingly rare Eastern Towhee visiting his yard north of Bozeman. There has only been one previous record of an Eastern Towhee to be documented in Montana. Nearly annual in this area, the beautiful Chestnut-sided Warbler Tom Forwood found in his Willow Creek yard was a great find. A bird’s behavior is often a clue that a bird deserves a second look. While working in our yard October 10th, a fairly plain warbler flew past me and landed in a nearby bush. I was going to write the bird off as one of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers passing through the area, when I noticed the bird’s constant tail bobbing. On closer examination I confirmed that this warbler was an entirely unexpected Palm Warbler, which is known for its habit of bobbing the tail.
August 2016 Bird Notes by John Parker
This past summer and late spring produced a number of interesting bird sightings in our area. Most of these birds are fairly uncommon in southwestern Montana, but can be expected to be found occasionally. That being said, there were two notable exceptions. The first was a Mourning Warbler discovered along the Lewis and Clark Caverns Road, by Tom Forwood on the morning of May 16. This elusive warbler continued to be seen or heard by patient observers until May 30th. On June 6th Paulette Epple first noted an unusual hummingbird coming to their feeder in northeast Bozeman. After numerous observations and photos, this hummingbird was identified as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, though there is some speculation that it could be a Ruby-throated X Broad-tailed Hummingbird hybrid. This beautiful eastern hummingbird continued to come to the Epple’s feeders until July 19th. Both the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and the Mourning Warbler were the first of their kind to be documented in the southwestern part of Montana.
Several uncommon shorebirds were seen over this past summer during both the north and southward migration periods. With some adult shorebirds spending as little as 3-4 weeks on their northern breeding grounds, there isn’t much of a pause between the spring and fall migration. Earlier in the spring on May 7th Andrew Guttenberg and Neil Gilbert spotted 4 Whimbrels at Cottonwood Reservoir, north of Wilsall. This was only the third record for Whimbrel in our area, but it was the second year in a row that they have been found at Cottonwood. An American Golden-Plover that Vic Fesolowitz saw June 9th at Cottonwood Reservoir was a nice find, especially during the spring migration period. Sanderling is another shorebird that is uncommonly seen here during spring, so the single Sanderling Ed Harper discovered at Cottonwood Reservoir June 2nd was notable. Stilt Sandpipers are sometimes numerous migrants in eastern Montana and not unexpected here, but a flock of 8 Stilt Sandpipers observed by Tom Forwood, Robin Wolcott, and John Parker August 12th at Canyon Ferry Reservoir was a high number for southwest Montana. Short-billed Dowitchers are uncommon anywhere in Montana, so it was exciting to see that Andrew Guttenberg was able to identify and photograph a single juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher at Harrison Reservoir on August 14th.
During June, Ned Bixler came across two birds that are seldom found locally. On June 17th, Ned saw a Western Bluebird next to the Kelly Canyon Road, close to where one was seen the previous year. Even more unusual was the Northern Mockingbird that he discovered along the Old Town Road, northwest of Three Forks on June 26th.