Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Quest for Quail!

     Andrew Guttenberg, Tom Forwood and I got together Friday night in Missoula for a Saturday of birding in Ravalli and Missoula Counties. Our main target: California Quail. The California Quail in Montana have been introduced to the Bitterroot Valley as game birds for 2 decades, but have since grown to a healthy, self-sustaining population.  Just a few years ago, the California Quail was accepted as a countable species in Ravalli and Missoula Counties.  This is the reason for our Quest for Quail!

     We started Saturday, the 12th, at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge outside of Stevensville, MT.  Thick fog first concealed the majority of the waterfowl on the ponds but after an hour, the fog started to disappear.

Frost, frost in the field, field of frost
frost in the field

     We walked the Kenai Trail, and found dozens of Song and American Tree Sparrows! It was great to finally see so many sparrows after the last few weeks of a nearly sparrow-less Flathead Valley.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Among the many waterfowl on the ponds, were many Green-winged Teal. These are common breeders in Montana and often overwinter were food is available. They, along with most waterfowl, have just molted into alternate (breeding) plumage and are very bright! I couldn't pass up an opportunity to photograph a male in his bright colors.

green winged teal, teal
Green-winged Teal pair. The male still has some brown feathers on his sides from his non-breeding plumage. 
Several Trumpeter and Tundra Swans were also on the ponds at the NWR.
Trumpeter Swans
After getting our fill of birds, including two late Long-billed Dowitchers, a Northern Shrike, and a few Marsh Wrens, we left to look for quail!  You can view our entire bird list for our visit to Lee Metcalf here!

We started our search for the California Quail in the middle of Stevensville, and drove up and down the city streets watching for the birds in yards. We made our way to the roads on the edge of town, and continued through some newer neighborhoods. It wasn't long before Tom spotted a small group in a yard right off the road! We turned around and pulled over, staying in the car, and watched the cute birds for 10 minutes or so! They were feeding under a hanging birdfeeder and along a small hedgerow in a yard off Burnt Fork road.  I snapped away, hoping to get at least one good photo of the birds; and I did, just one photo came out while the rest were just a little blurry.

california quail, quail in montana, quest for quail, california quail in montana
California Quail
These birds were a new Montana state bird for me and Andrew, bringing me to 298!

Okay, so it wasn't much of a 'quest'.  It was pretty relaxed birding all day, but making the trip down to Stevensville to see the quail was a trip I have been wanting to do for a while, and it felt great to see these birds at such close range and for so long. We really got to enjoy their intricate patterns and colors.  It was great to add the the species to my Montana life list, but it was even sweeter to enjoy the beauty of these adorable birds! No matter what species of bird, I always appreciate a chance to share a close encounter with a bird.  Nature is wonderful!

The day ended too soon, and I was driving back to the Flathead that evening to prepare for the next day of hawkwatching in the Jewel basin.  I am looking forward to more birding with Andrew and Tom in the near future!

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