UMBA’s trip to the Musselshell combined birding, touring the Bair Museum & soaking in hot springs.
The snow and evergreen trees were a festive sight as we made our way East to the Bair Museum. Although Lake Sutherlin and the Bair Reservoir on Highway 12 were already frozen for winter, a Roughleg Hawk was moving through the creek bottom. Two golden eagles were spotted at the Bair Reservoir dam. While watching the eagles soaring above, over 30 Bohemian Waxwings were spotted in the trees below. A spotting scope brings out the fine colors—making it easier to distinguish between the Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings.
The sun arrived just in time for the walk along the South Fork of the Musselshell River. We saw one red-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadees, a Red-tail Hawk, a Northern Flicker, and many ravens and magpies. The most unusual sighting was a porcupine right on the trail. While we all got a good look, by the time of our return, it was tucked away in a sunny spot for the afternoon.
As we made our way back to the highway, Nick Taylor, FW&P Warden from Harlowton, was there to greet us. Since it was deer hunting season, he was checking on permits. A quick glance on the group revealed plenty of hunter orange clothing, no rifles, but smiles all around.
Touring the Bair Museum was a treat, as the museum opened up for a behind-the-scenes tour of the downstairs home and the upstairs private quarters of one of Montana’s greatest philanthropic families. We all enjoyed the finely tailored clothing and the formal dining table set for fine entertaining. It was a special treat talking with noted artist, Harold Schlotzhauer. His solo exhibit: "Above and Beyond, Paintings as Kites, was eye catching and perfect for windy Central Montana.
Enroute to White Sulphur Springs, one bald eagle and several hundred deer were spotted. Some of the group enjoyed soaking in the hot springs, and a leisurely return to Great Falls. Although we were hoping to see more fall migrants passing through the Snowy and the Big Belt Mountains, everyone enjoyed the Bair, the birds and the relaxing hot springs. We are hoping to explore other parts of the Bair ranch next year.
October 15, 2017
The bird list might seem short, but the day was long in fun. The day couldn't have been much nicer for October 15th in central Montana. The sky was clear, the wind skipped over us for the most part and the temperature was pleasant. There were 11 on the trip - Carolyn, Candace, Velda, Kay, Aubrey, Emma, Sandy, Abby, Mike, Wayne and Beth. The group arrived at the guard station before 10 am and quickly assembled to head up the MIddle Fork of the Judith River to do some exploring. Wayne Phillips had put together a pretty good history of the cabin and the area - between the information provided by the Forest Service about the cabin and a personal oral history from Jean Setter. Jean has been a member of UMBA since 1981. She was born and raised on a homestead that eventually became part of the Judith Wildlife Management Area (WMA). As a child she took piano lessons from the wife of Ranger Myers at the guard station. She walked the 2 miles between the Setter homestead and the guard station. But more about that later.
Our walk up the river was punctuated by the calls of numerous Clark's Nutcrackers. There were either several dozen about or the same ones making circuits. There would be as many as 8 at one time. The Mountain Chickadees were more heard than seen. They were very active. Mike spotted a probably Hairy Woodpecker on our way upstream. On the return trip he scouted ahead of the group and found it on the same log. Everyone got a good look at it as it was grooming on a downed tree. Several Red-breasted Nuthatches were heard and seen. A nice look at a Townsend's Solitaire rounded out the observations. Common Ravens were heard as well as unidentified chips/tweets. Wayne and Abby both showed us how to identify a white spruce vs Engleman spruce, Douglas fir, snowberry vs wolfberry, willow vs birch and more. There were little surprises like several old wooden benches placed along the trail, an upside down rusted out vehicle, a coffer dam that had wooden slats (it apparently fed the ditch that led to a hay pasture next to the guard station). Somehow it was after 1:30 pm before we returned to the cabin and broke out the lunches.
We explored the cabin (3 bedrooms up, sitting room, office and kitchen down), ate then Wayne shared what he had learned about the cabin and Jean Setter. The cabin was built in 1908 from a forest service "kit". Even the box was used in construction - the lintel over one bedroom doorway had the shipping address - "Forest Service, Myers, Windham, Mont". The ranger paid for the front porch addition out of his own pocket. It was not a standard issue item. Apparently he had a choice - to purchase the porch materials or a level. The cabin has a porch. A barn had been built the year before and car garage was added later. Jean was quite involved in the restoration - sharing her knowledge of what it looked like when she knew the family and came over for piano lessons.
The willows along the river were checked out after lunch, but only more Mountain Chickadees were found. Instead of heading back at that point (it was already 3 pm - our planned departure time) we wanted to head over to see if we could find the route that Jean took to the station from the homestead and perhaps the homestead site itself. Our first attempt to find the homestead was still of forest service land and didn't look quite right. Another examination of the maps suggested trying a pretty rutted track that headed over to the WMA. It meant more walking. After we said good-bye to half the group - Wayne, Candace, Emma, Aubrey and Beth continued on. As we walked up the faint road some birds calling in the tree tops were suggestive of Crossbills - but couldn't be seen (darn). More Clark's Nutcrackers. Things kept looking better and better as we came to the property line of the WMA. A BIG open field that was surrounded by encroaching Ponderosa could easily have been a homestead that was running cattle. The grasses in areas were the non-native hay that would have been cut for horses and cattle. But where would you put a homestead? Candace spotted a faint road that curved around to an area that looked like it would have a water source and be somewhat out of the wind. We knew that the only thing left was the root cellar. Sure enough - root cellar, capped well head and probably an outhouse location were found. Perhaps the rocks that seemed out of place were part of the foundation or porch? Caragana planted in rows would have served as a wind break. Confident that we had found the old homestead site we took pictures to share with Jean and headed back to the car. Wayne was curious about the route to the guard station so Wayne, Emma and Beth headed down a draw that had been described by Jean. Sure enough - there was even a worn path all the way (game prints suggested that it wasn't used only by humans). She said it was about a 2 mile walk - which seemed about right - from homestead to guard station cabin.
Time to head home. Emma was staying the night - to enjoy the silence and starry night. It was already 5:45 pm. As we were buckling seatbelts Candace looked over at a fence post and asked "is that another nutcracker?". Beth put the binoculars on it and surprised everyone when she said - "No - that is a Blue Jay!" It was about the last bird we expected to find. All got a look at it. Behind schedule but satisfied with the day - everyone thought - "I'd like to come back again."
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
Four Current Conservation Stories Where Montana Audubon is Making a Difference
Monday, September 11, 2017 - 7 PM
Join Montana Audubon's Senior Director of Public Policy, Janet Ellis, to learn about four issues that are currently occupying her days: putting on a Russian olive/tamarisk symposium in the Fall of 2017 (both species threaten our native cottonwoods), working on the state of Montana's sage-grouse conservation program, developing strategies to prevent migrating Snow Geese from landing in the Berkeley Pit in Butte, and addressing the proposal by the Lake County Conservation District to have the state of Montana take over management of 60,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest. Four stories, each told in 10 minutes. Questions will be welcome!
UMBA gave Montana Audubon a gift of $5000 last fall ear-marked for public policy. Come find out how our gifts can make a difference for birds, for habitat and for us. The meeting is free and open to the public. We begin at 7 pm and try to end by 8:30 pm in the conference room of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Headquarters on Giant Springs Rd in Great Falls.
UMBA traveled to Martinsdale, MT to bird at the Bair Ranch. Despite the hot 90 degree temperatures with occasional clouds, UMBA members enjoyed our first trip to the Bair Ranch. We saw 32 species of birds, along with fox, deer and a lumbering raccoon near the museum. The walk was along the South Fork of the Musselshell River, with large trees, meadows, and blooming shrubs. After the mile walk, we enjoyed a tour of the Bair House and Museum. Many thanks to the Bair Museum, Elizabeth Guheen, and Deb Murphy for a wonderful and interesting trip to the Bair Ranch! We hope to return and bird again.
On the way to Martindale and back we stopped at Bair Reservoir and Lake Sutherlin on Highway 12 and returned via Highways 294 & 89. Overall, we identified 44 bird species and saw 236 birds.
Here is the bird count for the field trip:
Bair Ranch near Museum Hiway 294 S. Fork Musselshell July 15, 2017
Red Wing Blackbird7
Brown headed cowbirds4
Red Tailed Hawk1
Total Birds at Bair Ranch 85
Number of Species 32
July 15 & 16, 2017 Neihart to Martinsdale, & White Sulphur Springs
White Crowned Sparrow2
Northern Rough-Winged Swallow3
Red Wing Blackbird1
Red Tail Hawk1
Total Birds on Road Trip 151
Species Count 21
Total Number of Birds for Bair & Road Trip: 236
Total Species Bair & Road Trip: 44
MT Audubon Bird Festival had a bat walk at Giant Springs. FW&P staff Kim Linnell, Chick Taylor and Camile Waters provided hand held bat detectors that are sonar receivers to fifteen luck bird festival attendees. Thanks to FW&P for leading a fun bat walk!
Nice article in the Great Falls Tribune about the Bird Festival.
Birders to flock to Great Falls
Karl Puckett , email@example.com 2:25 p.m. MT May 30, 2017
Montana Audubon’s 18th annual bird festival, planned in Great Falls, will highlight protecting birds on the northern Great Plains and also the conservation organization’s 40 years of conservation work.
A few hundred birders from across Montana and even the country are expected, said Nora Gray of the Upper Missouri Breaks Aububon chapter, which is co-hosting the three-day event with the state chapter in Helena.
“It’s an eclectic group, but the common denominator is we really like to look at birds,” Gray said.
The festival is scheduled June 9-11 at the Best Western Plus Heritage Inn in Great Falls.
The statewide event was held last in Great Falls in 2009.
Wings Across the Big Sky celebrates Montana’s 400-plus bird species, and nearly 30 field trips into the prairies and mountains of northcentral Montana are planned over the weekend.
Some people will be attending specifically to see the area’s grassland birds such as McCown’s Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Marbeled Godwit and long-billed curlews, Gray said.
Birders also will get the opportunity to see American pelicans nesting at Lake Arod.
The public is invited.
“People are really excited to show new birders what the birds are,” Gray said. “When you go on a field trip you go with an experienced birder. Usually that person will have a spotting scope. It’s a good time. You don’t have to be a good birder to go.”
A bird-calling contest is planned, and custom bird-watching tours are planned Saturday and Sunday.
People can sign up to go on those tours at www.mtaudubon.org and click on the “Outreach” section to sign up for the events.
Guided excursions to the Rocky Mountain Front, Little Belt Mountains and local hotspots like the Missouri River and Giant Spring State Park are planned.
The keynote speaker is David Ringer, chief network officer with National Audubon, who will talk Friday evening about protecting birds.
That address will touch on conservation issues related to birds and habitat in the Northern Great Plains and northern Rocky Mountains region.
Additional presentations are planned on the public policy and conservation work of Montana Audubon, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary of conserving birds and other wildlife.
A 40th birthday party barbecue is planned Friday evening.
For more information
There are many activities to chose from at Wings Across the Big Sky, according to Montana Audubon. For a full schedule and registration information, visit the "Outreach" section of www.mtaudubon.org or call Montana Audubon at 406-443-3949.
As of May 30, 2017, the Missouri River post trip is full. However, people may have to cancel, so please call Candace at 907 306-6320 to check availability for the June 12 float on the Missouri River. The Bowdoin & American Prairie Reserve trip has a few slots still available. the trip leaves Great Falls on Wednesday June 7, 2017.
Do you read Central Montana's Signature MT Magazine? The 2017 Spring edition is just out. Go check out an article about the 2017 Wings Across the Big Sky Bird Festival on page 22. Thanks to Signature MT and to writer Amy Joyner on a great article!
Would you like to improve your raptor id skills? On 4/21 & 22 you can! No matter your skill level. The workshop is a 3 hour class on Friday and then an all day field trip on Saturday or Sunday. Steve Hoffman is the teacher for the workshop. He is the former Executive Director of MT Audubon and has authored over 30 papers on raptors. To register for this weekend's class go to www.umbaudubon.com and click on the link for the workshop.
Audubon Board Members maintain this blog of chapter activities.