Sunday, June 24, 2007

More June photos

Benton, Crean, and Max after a hard afternoon fishing

Black and White Warbler during a banding demonstration at the Glasgow Feather Fest. More photos here.

Common Nighthawk

Mule Deer (taken from the front porch).


Fort Peck, MT - Since a picture is worth a thousand words I decided to throw together a bunch of photos to explain some of the highlights of my June so far.
The big news here last week was THE STORM. It was a menacing green wall coming towards us last Saturday. We were with friends for a barbecue north of Glasgow and we watched the storm roll in from the west. It was one of the most impressive storms I have witnessed here. Lots of sustained hail and rain. In the areas that were hit hardest, very little vegetation was left standing. Leaves and bark were removed from trees. I did a BBS route yesterday that had the first few points within the storm path and bird life was noticeably diminished from previous years. As you might imagine there was plenty of damage to Glasgow and a few surrounding communities. Fortunately the storm moved north of Fort Peck so we had no damage to our house. The photo below is courtesy of the Glasgow Weather Service. More photos can be found here and here.

I have been doing a number of Breeding Bird Surveys. Some are official routes and others I have established to monitor bird populations in areas without official routes. These are photos of some Mountain Plovers I found during one of my unofficial routes in south Valley County.

Other birds found during these surveys include nesting Swainson's Hawks.

We have also started a bird banding project north of Glasgow. It is a station designed to monitor avian productivity and survival (MAPS) and follows a standard protocol as part of a national program. It has been tough getting it established with the record rains this spring (nearly 11.5 inches this year which is 6.1 inches greater than the yearly average to date).
Pictured below is Sabrina McNew, a volunteer from Pomona College in California and a few of the birds we captured and banded during our first banding day last week.

Sabrina with a Western Kingbird

Female Yellow-breasted Chat

Field Sparrow
I have also been spending some good time with my family. Benton played T-ball this year. Watching these youngsters learn how to play is good entertainment. Many of his games were rained out this year but he still had lots of fun in the games he did have.

We also went swimming last week. We all had a good time in the water.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Grassland Birds Part 2

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:

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Western Meadowlark

Horned Lark

Sprague's Pipit

Baird's Sparrow

Lark Bunting

The species listed above accounted for over 75% of the bird observations during our study. The next six most abundant species in order are:

Vesper Sparrow

McCown's Longspur

Marbled Godwit

Long-billed Curlew

Brown-headed Cowbird

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.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blog Changes

Fort Peck, MT - I have updated a few things on the blog. You probably noticed the header photo has changed from an Antarctic scene to an Eastern Montana badlands scene. I have also updated the photo of the month to a Bison. This starts the theme for the month of June - grasslands. I will be posting shortly on the of the Glasgow Feather Fest and also more on birding in Eastern Montana and the incredible opportunities to observe a wide variety of prairie birds on grasslands that are still quite large - probably larger than any other patch remaining in North America. These grasslands include two Globally Important Bird Areas. More to follow. Since I can't have a post without a photo (they just seem naked), here is one of my favorite photos taken a year or so ago of Benton and Addie.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

More bird festival photos

Here are a few more photos from the Montana Audubon Bird Festival in Ennis, MT from this past weekend. I really enjoyed being in Ennis and seeing places I haven't been for a while. I lived in Ennis for a few months many years ago. I was trapping and tracking eagles in the valley to assess their use of a proposed wind power project in the area and I have a lot of memories of my time there. I was also able to take my Mom to a couple of areas looking for some birds she wanted to see, primarily a Dipper. She also wanted to find a Red-naped Sapsucker, and we were able to find two males and one female at a nest site right in town just before we started home.

This coming weekend I am really looking forward to the Glasgow Bird Festival. This is the third year of our local festival and we continue to get better at it. In addition, my good friend Dr. Nina Karnovski and her son Max will be visiting. Nina is the advisor of my summer volunteer, Sabrina McNew, and we will be working together on a project for Sabrina, centered on a MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Success) station I am initiating here this year. It has been a long time since I have been able to visit with Nina and I am really looking forward to her visit. She is responsible for getting me on the best field research trip I have ever been on - a voyage to northern Baffin Bay with stops in Greenland and Nunavut, Canada aboard the Canadian Coast Guard ship the Pierre Radisson as part of the NOW research program. We also worked at the same location in Antarctica. We first met at a party in the hold of the Antarctic research vessel Polar Duke in the middle of the Drake Passage. Nina did a great rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee" at that party and after visiting a bit we decided that we would go birding together when we got back to Punta Arenas, Chile. We had a good time birding and better yet we enjoyed a nice lunch with Chilean red wine and chocolate where we both discovered that birding is good, but birding with good food and wine is even better. We also went on a small expedition on Greenland near the community of Qaanaaq. We were looking for a Rock Ptarmigan (a bird I have yet to see). We dipped on the ptarmigan but did have a good lunch of Danish beer, bread and caviar. We have been good friends since although we have rarely had time to bird together since then. We will certainly fix that this weekend. Our sons appear to have the same interests as well (Cars and Thomas the Train) so they should keep each other entertained too.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Montana Bird Festival photos

Here are a few photos from my recent trip to Ennis, MT for the Montana Audubon Bird Festival. These Gray Flycatchers and Sage Sparrows were new birds for Montana for me. It was a nice time and thanks to Nate Kohler for finding leading the field trip for these birds. More to follow.

Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Sage Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Sage Sparrow