Eastern Montana, A Birder's Paradise

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Follow the Northeast Montana Birding Trail to discover rare species and breathtaking sights.

It’s spring and that means Montana’s Missouri River Country is welcoming back the numerous species of birds that call the area home. The Northeast Montana Birding Trail provides experienced birders and amateur enthusiasts an opportunity to view large numbers of birds in a variety of habitats. Spring is the perfect time to visit since the returning bird’s plumage is brighter than ever. Late April through June is also mating season when the birds are most active and easy to spot. Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day on May 12 by exploring all the viewing opportunities the trail has to offer.

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect starting point to begin a birding adventure along the Northeast Montana Birding Trail. Established to protect Sharp-tailed Grouse and Pronghorn, the 1.1 million acre refuge is home to grassland birds, waterfowl and woodland species. Visiting in April offers visitors a chance to see the Sharp-tailed Grouse on their dancing grounds or leks. The male grouse assemble in open areas and dance to court the female grouse. This is quite a sight, with males white tails in the air, stamping their feet rapidly creating a drumming noise, rattling tail feathers, turning in circles and dancing forward. Between dances males make cooing calls by inflating and deflating the purple sac located on their neck to appeal to the females and chase off competing males. A typical dance takes place in early morning and features 8-12 males competing for the attention of one female. In some instances the dancing can be heard from more than a mile away. The Sharp-tailed Grouse is sure to fascinate, but also keep your binoculars handy for other species including McCown’s Longspur, hawks, eagles and owls. A complete bird list can be found at http://cmr.fws.gov.

The Medicine Lake Wildlife Refuge offers an observation blind near an established lek providing a perfect opportunity to get an up close encounter with this intricate mating ritual. The blind is free to the public but reservations are required. Reservations can be made by calling the Medicine Lake Wildlife Refuge Headquarters at (406) 789-2305.

Next, travel to the Little Rocky Mountains to search out forest species including Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Pinyon Jays, raptors, finches and wild turkeys. Take advantage of the camping facilities and wake up to a symphony of song from the birds that thrive here.

Established to preserve and enhance resting, feeding, and breeding habitat for migratory birds the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is designated as a Globally Important Bird Area. This site attracts waterfowl by the thousands, providing a
once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. The Refuge is home to more than 260 species of birds including the American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-faced Ibis, Upland Sandpiper and many more. Visit the website for a bird list and more information at http://bowdoin.fws.gov.

Montana’s largest body of water, Fort Peck Reservoir offers birders an opportunity to glimpse many rare warbler and loon species as they return during spring migration. The Missouri River and surrounding area provide a unique mingling ground of eastern and western species. Birders are sure to discover many unusual sightings in this area. The town of Fort Peck offers an opportunity to get advice on where the best viewing can be found and learn about the changes the Fort Peck Dam has made to the variety bird species in the area.

Although it only contains one and a half acres of deciduous woodland, the Westby City Park is home to many hard-to-find birds, especially warblers. More than 200 species of birds have been viewed in the park. Due to its size, birders don’t have to travel more than a few steps before being rewarded with up-close bird sightings.

Birding continues to grow as a recreational pastime in America. Its popularity is no surprise with the unique species, beautiful songs and thrill in indentifying new species. Montana’s Missouri River Country makes birding easy with the comprehensive Northeast Montana Birding Trail that guides birders to the best locations for viewing. The trail takes birders from rare prairie grasslands to wetlands and forests providing the opportunity to see a wide range of rare species. A map of the trail and information on each featured stop can be found at http://www.montanabirdingtrail.org. Eastern Montana truly is a paradise for Birders. For more information on Montana’s Missouri River Country and a complete listing of activities and communities, please visit missouririver.visitmt.com.

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Sarah Ziska
Wendt Advertising and Public Relations
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