Christmas Bird Count Saturday 12/16/17

Christmas Bird Count, 2017Mark your calendars, set your watches, and get a good night’s sleep to be ready for the 2017 UMBA Christmas Bird Count (CBC). CBC counts are held nationwide and around the world from December 14 – January 5. It has become the world’s largest and longest running survey run by citizen-scientists. The counts take place in the same 15-mile diameter circle each year to ensure consistency. The results have been important in a variety of studies by conservation groups and government agencies to help guide conservation activities. The survey results can show early indications of environmental changes.

UMBA invites anyone interested in this year’s census to come to the December 11 chapter meeting, 7:00 PM at the FWP Regional Headquarters building (4600 Giant Springs Road). Beginners to seasoned birders are welcome to help. We’ll hone our skills by reviewing bird species which we may see on the count. Club organizers will assign participants to one of 10 area teams with experienced team leaders. Beginning birders can serve as the team scribe while learning to identify the birds. The leader packets will be given out at the meeting.

On count day – Saturday, Dec. 16 – dress WARMLY, bring a thermos with a hot drink and a lunch, binoculars, field guide and scope (if you have one), AND a sense of adventure. Most teams begin their count around 8:00 AM. Depending on the weather and size of their count area teams may finish in the early afternoon or others continue until sunset (it’s dark at 5 PM). If you can only participate for part of the day, let us know and we’ll find you a spot!

If you cannot go outdoors to count this year, we also need yard/ feeder watchers to report birds in their yard. If you are within the Great Falls circle, you can count those House Finches and House Sparrows as well as the Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Sharp-shin Hawks. Anything and everything you see on the day of the count, December 16th. You can email UMBA at umbaudubon@gmail.com your yard /feeder count tally and address. Easy to participate even if you aren’t outdoors December 16th.

At 5:00 PM, participants and other interested folks may join UMBA for the wrap-up session that includes a salad and pizza dinner at the FWP Regional Headquarters building (4600 Giant Springs Road). It’s the same room where we have our monthly meetings. Bring some holiday treats to share, if you wish. We’ll have hot water for coffee, tea and cocoa available (non alcoholic beverages only). Each area leader will report the number of species and birds seen that day and then give highlights of that area’s sightings. UMBA will pay for CBC participants’ dinners. The dinner cost for other attendees is $7.00, payable that evening. To make a dinner reservation, please let us know ahead of time by emailing umbaudubon@gmail.com by Wednesday, DECEMBER 13 at the latest.

Thank you for participating in Christmas Bird Count 2017!

BIRDS, BAIR & BEYOND Field Trip 11/11/17

At Musselshell River, November 2017UMBA’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.

Judith Guard Station Field Trip

One of the many Clark's Nutcrackers seen and heard. This one was busy with pine cones.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.”

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UMBA September Meeting

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.

Bair Ranch Field Trip July 15, 2017

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
Eurasian collared-dove1
Tree Swallow1
Warbler species1
flycatcher species1
Red Wing Blackbird7
Brown headed cowbirds4
Yellow-Rumped Warbler1
Cedar Waxwing3
House Wren1
Night Hawk3
Yellow-Headed Blackbird1
Sandhill Crane5
Turkey Vulture3
Yellow Warbler4
Bullock’s Oriole1
Western Wood-Peewee3
Grey Catbird3
Eastern Kingbird1
Blue Heron12
Red Tailed Hawk1
Canada Geese2
Golden Eagle1
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
Canada Geese6
Red Wing Blackbird1
Ruddy duck4
Eared Grebe6
Common goldeneye4
Barn Swallow1
Sandhill crane1
Red Tail Hawk1
Pine Siskin4
Clark’s Nutcracker3
Total  Birds on Road Trip 151
Species Count 21

Total Number of Birds for Bair & Road Trip: 236
Total Species Bair & Road Trip: 44