Last Chance Audubon and Montana Audubon in cooperation with Montana FWP and the US Forest Service initiated a Golden Eagle Migration Survey (GEMS) site at Duck Creek Pass in the Big Belts after recognizing the high potential for high numbers of migrating raptors, particularly Golden Eagles. This is the third year of the count. On September 30, despite the forecast of clouds, wind and chance of rain, 4 members of UMBA made the trip to take part in the days counting. Official counting is done by 2 paid observers. A standard protocol is followed that includes the bird species, adult or non-adult and if possible sex. Weather conditions are also noted on a regular basis throughout the day. Counting typically will begin about 9 am and continue until 6 pm. This year the count started September 15th and will run until November 13th (weather permitting). The site sits near the radio tower at Duck Creek Pass, 8200 feet. There was still considerable snow at the site on the 30th from snows earlier in the month. The walk up the steep road to the site was still mostly snow covered. It is a 1.25 mile hike with an 800 feet elevation gain. It was a good workout for even for youngsters. When we arrived at the parking area, felt the wind and saw the snow we quickly donned the winter gear we brought. The day before in Great Falls it was 75 degrees and sunny – it was a little disorienting to prepare to spend a day in snow, 30-40 degrees, wind and probably cloudy. I know I could have used those insulated boots instead of mere Gore-tex. The daypacks stuffed with layers were quickly emptied. We stayed at the counting site until 2 pm when clouds had dropped below the level of the mountain tops and there were a few raindrops. The observers left shortly after as the cloud level dropped below the count site. In 4 1/2 hours that we were there 33 Golden Eagles were counted. Other raptors: Sharp-shinned Hawks 8, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Red-trailed Hawk 3 (one a very light colored bird), Rough-legged Hawk 1, American Kestrel 1, Merlin 1, Unknown buteo 1(probably Red-tail), Unknown falcon 1 (probably a Peregrine), Unknown Eagle 1 (probably Golden). Not bad for a shortened day. During 1 one hour period we had 14 Golden Eagles fly by. The day before was sunny and warm with a season high count of 63 Golden Eagles for the day. We also saw: American Robins, Mountain Bluebirds, Common Raven, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Northern Flickers, a Blue Grouse, Black-billed Magpie, Gray Jay, Rock Pigeons and starlings seen on the trip. Once again a really nice fall trip in the mountains (the colors were fantastic!). To learn more about the GEMS visit: www.eaglemigration.org
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