I returned yesterday from a two day training in Butte, MT, an eight hour trip (one way) from Fort Peck. Although it is a long drive, it was a nice, albeit fast, traverse of the state with a good deal of windshield birding. On Tuesday when I woke up, it was -25 degrees outside without the windchill and after a day of blizzard like conditions on Monday, attending the training was in question. After consulting the weather reports and road conditions on the web I decided that I would go. It turned out to be a rather uneventful drive for winter in Montana as far as road conditions and weather go. The most obvious birds I found during my drive were raptors and there were lots of them along the way (probably because it is tough to observe smaller birds while traveling down the interstate, much less identify them). Rough-legged Hawks were the most widespread bird I found from one end of the state to the other. I probably observed between 50 and 80 individuals each way. Bald Eagles were the next most common and widespread bird I observed, from the more traditional habitats along the Yellowstone River to perched on small buttes and feeding on roadkill. Ravens and Black-billed Magpies were pretty common too but only west of Billings. Black-billed Magpies are still much less common in the eastern part of the state after a precipitous decline that occured about the time that West Nile Virus came through here and I suspect that much of the population around Fort Peck was wiped out at that time. Horned Larks were common in scattered flocks along the highways north and east of Billings. The most species I observed the most individuals of was the Canada Goose, with many large flocks wintering along the Yellowstone River from Billings to Livingston. I saw one haystack near Reed Point along the Yellowstone River that was covered with Wild Turkeys like a wildebeast carcass covered with vultures. Other raptors observed along the way included two Merlins in Billings, a number or Red-tailed Hawks along the Yellowstone, two American Kestrels, and a Northern Harrier.
This photo depicts a typical scene in Eastern Montana this time of year. Although this happens to be a Bald Eagle, more often it is a Golden Eagle perched on these knobs.