It started Friday morning. I was eating breakfast with the window open. It was a windless morning - rare in eastern Montana - and I could hear a bird song in the backyard. I figured I knew what it was, but firing up the rusty neurons of bird song ID in the spring always leaves me a bit unsure the first time around. So I grabbed my binoculars and headed out the door. It was coming from the near the top of a tall tree in the corner of the yard and I wandered around the tree a couple of times looking for the bird but just couldn't locate him in the newly leafed out branches. Then finally, there it was - a chevron of cherry red against a snowy breast. My first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the year.
I decided that I needed a bit of birding time by myself and used some credit time to spend an hour so down by the river before I headed to work. It was wonderful. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow Warblers, a few Orange-crowned Warblers and one Blackpoll Warbler and Northern Waterthrush rounded out the list of warblers. Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and Chimney Swifts were foraging in the early morning air above the old winter harbor that was once the winter home to barges that were used to construct Fort Peck dam. House Wrens were numerous for a bird that has apparently arrived that night. I even found one hauling small twigs into a nest box. There were many Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows as well. Least Flycathers were mixed in with the warblers flittting in the foliage along the river. On the way into Glasgow I found a Broad-winged Hawk in a small coulee behind the Fort Peck Theater. Broad-winged Hawks are rare but regular in eastern Montana during the spring migration.
Yesterday I completed the first of my two shorebird surveys. It was a bit windy and the habitat wasn't that great but I did find a few upland shorebirds on the route. There were many Baird's Sparrows, Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Sprague's Pipits when I found a patch of native prairie but the patches were few and far between. Much of the landscape was tilled and all I found at stops in that habitat were Western Meadowlarks and Horned Larks. There was a fairly large patch of native prairie along the Poplar River where I could get a sense of what the landscape must have been like before the plow, but it was too depressing to dwell on too long. Thankfully we still have large patches of native prairie left in portions of Valley County but on a larger scale much of the northern Great Plains has been converted to agriculture and threats to the remaining grassland continue to build with the new gold rush to biofuels and genetically modified corn. More on this subject to follow soon.