Fort Peck, MT - I have been working with grassland birds in northern Valley County for the last six years on a professional level, but I have known these birds since I was young. I remember taking breaks while stacking hay as a teenager, laying on my back trying to find the Sprague's Pipit I knew was somewhere above me because that unearthly song suggested it was so. It was a challenge to find this bird in the sky then, now it is a challenge to find this bird throughout much of it's former range.
I had originally planned on having this piece be a bit more about the plight of grassland birds but I know that with my crazy schedule the next couple of weeks that it just isn't going to get done well, so I am going to head in a different direction with this post. I am going to describe the results of the work I mention above in light of the birding opportunities to be had in the area and beyond that, the opportunity to experience the grandeur of a large expanse of northern prairie. If you are looking to find a few individuals of many of these species there are probably many more accessible places in the country to do so. But, if you are looking to find many individuals of most of these species in a vast grass landscape, often right next to each other, you cannot do better than Northeastern Montana.
Here is a list of the top six most commonly encountered species over the last six years of bird surveys in the northern part of Valley county in order of abundance:
The species listed above accounted for over 75% of the bird observations during our study. The next six most abundant species in order are:
Grasshopper Sparrow (still need a good photo of this one).
You can read the whole report here.
And this is just the grassland birds. In the southern part of Valley County, there are large numbers of Greater Sage-grouse along with readily found Mountain Plovers and large numbers of McCown's Longspurs. Along the Missouri River downstream from Fort Peck Reservoir there are Red-headed Woodpeckers, Least Terns, and Piping Plovers to mention only a few species.
Next time I will post on Steve Bodio's not so recent comment on the "eastern" birds we observe during spring and fall migration and the shorebird migration.