Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lesser Goldfinch!

     That's right! I got my lifer Lesser Goldfinch!  BJ and I spent the morning of July 11 birding my "secret spot" in Flathead County (see blog post below) and found a male LEGO!
     At the 1.1 mile of Cromwell Creek Rd, it splits and a lesser road goes left, and the main road continues right up the backside of the knoll.  It was here where we stopped and spent some time looking around at the mass of birds around.
     I noticed a small finch fly in to the bottom of a thick bush.  I assumed it was a Pine Siskin, but once it landed, I saw it had much more yellow on the body! I quickly raised my binoculars and instantly recognized it as a male Lesser Goldfinch!  I yelled with excitement and BJ ran over and we observed the bird for less than a minute before it left as abruptly as it arrived! We tried but failed for a photo.  Nevertheless, an amazing find and lifer for me! That makes my life list 405!!!

     This area continues to produce a plethora of birds, in diversity and sheer numbers!

Gray Catbird, a common bird in the dense shrubs along Cromwell Creek

a male Lazuli Bunting, common along Cromwell Creek

Flathead county's secret spot!

     Flathead County is a Montana's 3rd largest county, with 5,099 square miles.
It includes the parts of Glacier National Park, The Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wildernesses west of the Continental Divide; the north end of Flathead Lake, and large tracks of the Flathead National Forest up to the Canadian Border.

     The area that has become a focus of my interest lately, is the small section circled in green on this map.  The little "appendix" swings down and grabs some large areas of native grassland and dry pine forests.  It is accessed by highway 28, between Elmo and Hot Springs.

     This is the only large and basically untouched plot of this habitat in the county, so naturally I had to check it out.

     First was Thursday night, June 30th.  This is the best habitat in the county for Common Poorwill, and in my recent poorwill searches, I had to try for a county poorwill!  I drove down and took Brown's Meadow Road north from the highway, stopping ever so often listening for poorwills.  At about 10:45pm, I heard at least 3 birds singing from the hillside a few hundred yards away! Success!! This could be the first spot in the county to hold reliable and probable breeding Common Poorwills!

     As I drove back home that night, I planned my return in the morning.  The grassland area holds the prospect of several birds that would be found no-where else in the county.

     5:45AM July 1st:  I pulled off the highway onto Brown's Meadow Road, and go 150 yards before stopping to listen for whatever is out there.  My target was Grasshopper Sparrow, although, none have been reported there before, it was the right habitat.
Nearly first thing I heard was a singing Grasshopper Sparrow! New county bird for me!
I spotted it sitting on a small bush, and watched it sing a few more times before continuing on down the gravel road.

Where the Grasshopper Sparrows are: looking west, in the first half mile of Browns Meadow Road

     The next 2 miles had loads of Western Meadowlarks, and Vesper and Savannah Sparrows.  I even heard a few Horned Larks and a Long-billed Curlew!

Western Meadowlark

     After the first 2 miles, the road splits and Brown's Meadow Road (BMR) continues to the right. Along here, there are many small cliff faces and in them, Rock Wrens!  The whole while birding this area, I was looking for Lark Sparrows, but no luck this time.  In 2 miles (again) the road splits, and Cromwell Creek Road takes right as BMR continues left.

Rocky cliff faces along Browns Meadow Rd; where the Rock Wrens are first detected

     Cromwell Creek Road is the one to take.
Crossing the cattle guard, I only made it about 1 mile up in 1 hour and 40 minutes! It is loaded with birds! There are many the same birds I could find in the valley, but with this setting and lack of people, it was magical.  Also, it might be tougher to find a few species that seemed to be standards on this road.  Cassin's Finch, and Rock Wrens to name a few.

Along Cromwell Creek Rd.  Great habitat on both sides!

     The family of Rock Wrens I ran into were very entertaining to watch!  I even managed a few shots of one of the fledglings!

     The road makes it's way into a dry, Ponderosa Pine-mix forest as it climbs the hill.  Here, I had 3 Gray Jays and a few flyover Red Crossbills!  I ran out of time, but this forest definitely need more attention!

One week later, I make it down again.

     5:45AM July 8th:  Craig Hohenberger had saw a Lark Sparrow and Say's Phoebe on BMR on the 7th, both birds I had missed the week prior.  First thing, 150 yards up from the highway on BMR, I heard a singing Grasshopper Sparrow probably the same bird I heard last week.  In my search for Lark Sparrow, I end up locating 5 individual Grasshopper Sparrows!  They were all withing the first 0.8 miles of BMR on the west side of the road.  This is most likely the first and only spot in the county that they are reliable and possibly breeding!

     I continue up BMR, finding 4 Long-billed Curlew and a juvenile Prairie Falcon! This seems to be a reliable spot for curlew, which would be the only spot for the county also!

     This time, I try the first mile of Battle Butte Road, looking for the Lark Sparrow and Say's Phoebe. Same as BMR, its littered with Western Meadowlarks, Brewer's Blackbirds, and Vesper Sparrows are singing all over, but no Lark Sparrows this time.  On this road, I found a very squashed snake! It's hard to say but I believe it is a rattlesnake of some kind!

rattlesnake squished on the road

     Trying the cliffy stretch of BMR, I find another family (separate the first family) of Rock Wrens on the cliffs about 0.5 miles from the turn.  Watching them, I spot a Say's Phoebe!  County year bird #207! Driving to the cattle guard and back, I fail to locate a Lark Sparrow but I pick up a singing Brewer's Sparrow!

Along Browns Meadow Rd, after the right turn.  Cliff area to the left, sunflowers to the right.
2 Mule Deer along Brown's Meadow Road.

     What I am finding is a area rich in birds, several that are not easily (or at all) found in the valley!  It is proving to be a good spot for Grasshopper Sparrow and Long-billed Curlew, as well as Horned Lark and Say's Phoebe.  With the great habitat and little human use, I believe this is an area worth many more explorations!  Maybe even a Flammulated Owl in the forest above the grassland!

Eastern Kingbird - Brown's Meadow Road

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


     Whoa, what a long time it has been since I visited my own blog!  Life gets busy, and priorities change, motivation ebbs from here to there; I had forgotten about birding, and this blog.  

     Now, I am back!  After a few years of loosing track of my passion, a week long, cross-country road trip with my girlfriend (of 4 years!) and my sister has reminded me and my soul of where I should be and what I should be doing!  Since December, I have been birding constantly, making up for lost time, and I have been loving every second!

    That brings me to this blog.  I feel now that I am solid in where I need to be, I should start blogging again.  It is a great way to share my experiences with others and express myself.

     So, there it is! I'm beginning to blog again, and the next few posts will probably be recapping a few great sightings and trips from earlier this year.  See you all then!

- Great Gray Owl -

I photographed this bird on the 24th of May, 2016