Saturday, March 1, 2008

March - the month of waterfowl

March in Montana is waterfowl month. First to arrive are the Northern Pintails, almost as soon as the ice begins to melt these sleek speedsters begin to show up. I found my first bunch today (Dad found them yesterday). Soon the rest of the group will begin to show up and the seasonal changes will begin again. The rather large flocks of Canada Geese have begun to pair off and squabble and Dad and I have been working on documenting the Cackling Geese mixed in with these flocks. A couple of weeks ago we even found one bird that appeared to be a Snow Goose/Canada or Cackling Goose hybrid.

I took this photo of Northern Pintails a few years ago and it is one of my favorites because of the second bird from the right who is completely inverted while participating in a courtship flight.

Today I went along the Missouri River below Fort Peck Dam to get recharged after being in the office all week and taking care of the boys last night. I found a nice spot on the bank where I could lean back into the bank and watch what was going on for a while. I had hoped to get some photos of Buffleheads or Common Goldeneyes flying upriver but they did not cooperate. I did hear a Ring-necked Pheasant's coughing hiccup upstream and then watched the rooster fly across the river and he crowed all the way across.

The best part of the morning was hearing my first bird song of the spring. Much like hearing the first penguin chick chirping after several weeks of monotonous adult penguin brays, the song of the American Tree Sparrows in the gray March light was uplifting in it's novelty and promise.

Our resident pair of Bald Eagles was perched together near their nest. After many years with no breeding Bald Eagles in this part of the state and a few more years with suspected breeding in a few places, this is the first year where we actually have a nest (and a quite accessible nest too) and what appears to be a pretty well established pair along the Missouri River near Fort Peck.

A walk amongst the buffaloberry shrubs, willows and cottonwoods along the river also produced a few other species like this White-breasted Nuthatch and a Townsend's Solitaire. The nuthatches will stay and breed but the solitaire will go somewhere else to breed.

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