June Birds – A Surprise Lifer

Front and Center
Do you see the white outline at the corner of the mouth? There is no orange above the eye, just the small patch. And the tail – pretty long.

June was a big surprise.  June can be considered a “slow” birding month because spring migration is complete, many birds have stopped singing to spend time with nesting activities.  Fall migration gets going in July.  But, if you don’t look, you won’t see them.  What was seen?  To start off – I managed to observe 104 different species.  The furthest trip was to Arod and Freezout Lakes on June 12th.  The biggest surprise and mystery was the report of a Neotropical Cormorant at Giant Springs State Park the morning of June 23rd.  Less than a week earlier the very first report of one in the state of Montana was in Billings.  It was still being seen when this bird was found.  Alex Lamoreaux was with a group of birders that spotted it and quickly reported the rare sighting.  I found out about it while I was waiting for “quitting time”.  I dropped everything, locked the doors and was headed out within 15 minutes.  The location was clearly described as “upstream of Steamboat Island” in the mix of Double-crested Cormorants.  I grabbed a field guide and reviewed the identification on the way to Giant Springs (I wasn’t driving).  My husband and I searched the area for 90 minutes.  A group of fledgling cormorants didn’t make the task easier.  We were looking for a 23” cormorant with a long tail, slim body and lacking the big orange gular pouch.  Even the fledglings Double-crested Cormorants were adult sized (33”).  I finally spotted something down on the “gull rock” that caught my eye.  It took off and flew upriver towards us and landed in the river.  It did some fishing, then was gone.  It appeared to be smaller and didn’t have a big orange area.  It was too far for pictures and no bird next to it to compare size.  I told my husband “I think that was it, but I’m coming back at first light in the morning to look again”.  We quickly found it on the morning of the 24th.  It was on the rocks above Steamboat Island where there are frequently cormorants and pelicans.  We spent a fair amount of time trying to get some good pictures.  I’ve seen it a number of times since then.  How long had it been there?  It wasn’t hard to find if you were looking for it, but it is easy to pass over a group of cormorants as “just cormorants”.  It is found year-round on the coast of Texas and into Mexico.  There have been a few reports of birds in South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and other states around Montana.  It really wasn’t unexpected that it was finally seen and documented.  How long will it be around?  Will it return next year?  Are there others hiding in the state?  It is a “lifer” that I look forward to finding again.

There weren’t a lot of new birds to add to the year’s list this month.  The total is up to 162 species at the end of June.  Birds added were Common Nighthawk, Grasshopper Sparrow, Black Tern, Lark Bunting, Baird’s Sparrow, Neotropical Cormorant, Brewer’s Sparrows, Burrowing Owl, and White-throated Swift.

Summer Adventures

We have a few local (mostly Cascade County) birding trips planned this summer that you can join or use for inspiration to explore further on your own.  If you would like to join our group contact Beth Hill – grizhill@gmail.com for details, time, where to meet and get any last minute changes.


Walk and Weed – The weather has not been very cooperative for Saturday morning weed pulling.  Here is an incentive.  Beth Hill will lead a bird walk between 7 am and 9 am on June 5th, June 19th, July 17 and July 31 (all Saturdays).  Afterwards – at 9 am we will pull weeds for about an hour.  Bring gloves to protect your hands and a digging tool.  And binoculars for the bird walk!  Contact Beth Hill – grizhill@gmail.com if you are interested.  Of course, you can always come to weed and not walk.


First People’s Buffalo Jump – Saturday, June 26– Explore the prairie, cliffs and coulees.  This will involve walking.  We will start at the upper parking area and explore the lower prairie dog colony afterwards.  For details of when, etc.  Contact Beth Hill – grizhill@gmail.com


Sluice Boxes/Little Belt Bird Exploration – Saturday July 10 – this will be a series of short walks at several “birdy spots” including a level walk to the first stream crossing at Sluice Boxes.  Expect to find some summer residents of the higher elevations.  For details of when and where to meet – contact Beth Hill, grizhill@gmail.com.


Highwoods/Thane Creek – Saturday August 14.  Until we get to Thane Creek this trip will be a series of drive/stop/get out to look and listen.  There can be a surprising number of birds along the way if you just stop to look and listen.  Once at Thane Creek we can do some hiking – depending on the group and time.  For details of when and where to meet – contact Beth Hill, grizhill@gmail.com.

Christmas in April

If you are a bird watcher or maybe a bird lister it is notable when you spot you “first of the year” bird (FOY).  The anticipation of finding a “new” bird is similar to a child’s anticipation of Christmas morning.  April is full of birds showing up for the first time or showing up on their way to somewhere further north.  It is also a month when we say good-bye to some of our winter visitors, but you don’t know they are gone until you just haven’t seen them for too long.  Most of my observations this year have been from the West Bank Park area in the early morning or after 6 in the evening.  A few exceptions were a couple trips to Benton Lake NWR.  A quick look at my April 2021 list shows quite a few FOY’s (all from West Bank Park area unless noted).  April 1 – Short-eared Owl, Sharp-tailed Grouse (Benton Lake); April 4 – Tree Swallow (Giant Springs); April 6 – Franklin’s Gull; April 8 – Marsh Wren, American Avocet; April 10 – American White Pelican; April 11 – Black-necked Stilt; April 16 – Wood Duck, Horned Grebe; April 17 – Yellow-headed Blackbird, Long-billed Curlew, Cinnamon Teal, Ross’s Goose (Benton Lake); April 18 – Red-tailed Hawk; April 20 – Swainson’s Hawk; April 21 – Osprey; April 22 – Grackle, Marbled Godwit; April 23 – Willet, Mourning Dove; April 23 – Wilson’s Snipe, Common Loon; April 25 – Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-tailed Duck (although not a FOY – it was in late April plumage and quite remarkable); April 26 – Blue-winged Teal, Common Tern; Turkey Vulture; April 27 – Northern-rough-winged Swallow.

Christmas Bird Count 2020

What a crazy year this has been! Even the Christmas Bird Count is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic! Na- tional Audubon has requested chapters to choose to have their count or to cancel it this year. They have strict guidelines that participants will follow. Because of social distancing, we can’t have our usual carloads of participants, nor can we invite the public or even additional UMBA members to join us this year. No pizza party afterwards to share tall tales or short tales of the day’s sightings. Sigh.. …

Christmas Bird Count 2019

(above – Sarah and Jaye take a closer look at a Great Horned Owl at Giant Springs State Park during “count day”-photo-Beth Hill)

Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon 2019 Christmas Bird Count is in the books. It was UMBA’s 47th Christmas Bird Count and the 120th National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).