Bird Sightings for November 2022

3 Oct – Six large Turkey Vultures perched on the spiky dead top of a spruce tree near our house, pruning and enjoying the last rays of the setting sun. A first for us here and unusual for a city residential neighborhood. A Crow and a Sharp-shinned Hawk also stopped briefly on nearby open tree tops while the Vultures were sunning themselves. – Marilyn Schneider & Wayne Phillips

30 Oct – It seemed futile, but I did an evening run out to Benton Lake this evening.  It was still blowing whitecaps on the lake.  All the ducks were very skittish and nothing was very close.  Coots would “run” across the water but went sideways instead.  There were hundreds of coots.  A lot of ducks and just 8 Tundra Swans.  I did see a Northern Harrier and my first Rough-legged Hawk of the fall.  – Beth Hill

31 Oct – It paid off trudging against the wind. In the middle of a raft of Ruddy Ducks and Lesser Scaup was a “big Ruddy” – actually a female Surf Scoter.  I found her twice today.  The raft was mid-river not far below the “big island”.  So equally hard to see from West Bank or East Bank (a scope really helped). This evening she spent most of the time sleeping, like all the others in the raft (probably exhausted from bobbing in the wind).  I did get to see her grooming and doing some wing flapping which helped nail the identification.  There were also a couple of nice-looking Barrow’s Goldeneye and a couple of female Red-breasted Mergansers. – Beth Hill

1 Nov – This morning (OK – it was between 11 and noon) I ventured out to the West Bank to see mostly gulls – with a twist.  There were a bunch of little gulls with dark bill, white heads that had a black “spot” behind the eye area – winter plumage Bonaparte’s Gulls.  They (33 of them) were walking and swimming between the Ring-billed Gulls.  I could see a dozen Barrow’s Goldeneyes and today there were some females with the natty looking males.

This evening I went back out for a quick check.  It was weirdly calm and warm.  Lots of gulls again.  No Bonaparte’s but there were 2 big, dark first year gulls – Herring Gulls.  It was about time to go in (the sun was below the horizon) when all the gulls scattered, the coots scattered, the geese and mallards scattered.  It had to be a Bald Eagle – finally there it was.  It circled through the milling birds several times.  I wondered if it was the same one that put a scar into the gulls yesterday then soared right in front of me to land in a cottonwood nearby.  It was almost eye level and 20 feet in front of me – I think we were both surprised. – Beth Hill

2 Nov – We have Snow Geese flying over our place, headed south.  Kris was out for about 30 minutes and saw 6 V’s with anywhere from 75 to 300 each.  Winter must be coming! – Kitty & Kris Knaphus

3 Nov – Did anyone else step outside this morning and see hundreds of Snow Geese headed south?  There were a lot after sunrise, but it kept up all day.  Interspersed were groups of Tundra Swans.  1000 plus spent the night on the Missouri in the refinery area.  We saw at least 500 leave and there were still maybe that many on the river about 8:30 am.  Giant Springs finally had some waterfowl.  A couple hundred Lesser Scaup with some Redheads in the mix.  We saw one Common Loon and several Western Grebes.

The West Bank area had even more Scaup and Redheads.  Lots of Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal and Mallards.  Finally, the Buffleheads had some competition.  I saw the same group of Pelicans I saw last night in the morning.  In the evening I saw the continuing Ross’s Goose.  There were a few stray young Snow Geese.

The next few days may continue this push of migration in front of that zero-weather expected next week. – Beth Hill

4 Nov – I saw 21 To 25 western grebes off Westbank around 3 this afternoon.  – Arla Eckert

5 Nov – Just had about 30 snow geese fly over…and then another 60. – Richard Mousel

6 Nov – 1,000 Snow Geese at Benton Lake; they were feeding in a hillside 1/2 mile south from pond 2. I would have missed them but the park ranger drove by and pointed them out. – Jan Wilson

5 Nov – Saturday evening there weren’t many ducks out on the river.  A bunch of Ring-billed Gulls, Buffleheads, a few leftover Lesser Scaup, the 22 Western Grebes, a Common Loon and a few Ruddy Ducks. There was one new arrival – a Long-tailed Duck.  The wind was still fierce at the time. – Beth Hill

6 Nov – Sunday morning – hundreds of ducks.  There were probably more than 400 Mallards, another 150 plus Lesser Scaup, always the crowd of Buffleheads, some Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, a few American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal and 2 Common Loons. I watched 16 Tundra Swans leave the area. I saw a report of a (female) Surf Scoter. The Long-tailed Duck was still hanging around.

The big group of ducks is probably best seen from the east side of the river (from the tennis court area). I wonder how long this fall-out will hang around with the bitter cold coming the next few days. – Beth Hill

6 Nov – Just had 19 swans fly over. – Kitty & Kris Knaphus.

6 Nov – I counted about 36 sleeping swans from West Bank at noon today.

The ‘fall out’ continues.  – Beth Hill

7 Nov – Lots of Snow Geese continue to fly over this AM.  We were doing other things outside and didn’t get counts but there has been a fairly constant parade of large V’s going over.  We have about 6 inches of snow here so far. – Kitty & Kris Knaphus

7 Nov – We’ve had a lot of snow geese flying over Fort Benton in the past week. – Wendy Kamm

9 Nov – It doesn’t take long for the river to freeze over in the West Bank Park section.  There was a little rim of ice yesterday but today the river was mostly ice.  A few birds in small pockets except one large pocket that was attracting Canada Geese.  I watched the numbers double between 4:30 and 5:00 PM Wednesday evening – from over 600 to well over 1200.  They were streaming to the river in large groups from the north.  I spotted one clearly Cackling Goose, it was barely bigger than the Common Goldeneyes (they are finally back in numbers).  There were several others that were on the pretty small size.  A few Snow Geese were arriving with the Canada Geese – I saw a total of 7.  It was neat to listen and watch them arrive at the only open patch on this stretch of river. – Beth Hill

9 Nov – Watched a black-billed magpie in hot pursuit of a small songbird this morning, doing an apt imitation of a raptor. The songbird dodged, but the magpie did, too. By now the action had gone from four feet above the snow to right in the snow, where the magpie pivoted, grasped the bird, and delivered a few blows with its beak. It ate, scattering feathers in the process, for about 10 minutes, then carried off the remainder of its meal to a more secluded place in the windbreak. I found a scattering of feathers on the snow at the fight site, after I bundled up to see if I could identify the victim’s species with a close look (answer: no). I think I’ll assume it was a house sparrow until I know otherwise. This is the first time I’ve seen a magpie attempting to capture a bird in flight.  – Liz Larcom

9 Nov – I have regular magpies under my feeders. I’d be horrified if they got one of my chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, or the solitary harris sparrow!  It’d be ok if they thinned out the house finches.  – Susan Hillstrom in Choteau

12 Nov Hundreds if not thousands of waterfowl at sunrise.  The noise was incredible. Mallards and geese were the greatest number.  They started leaving about 9 am, so if you came later in the morning, you would not have seen the crowd.  The several hundred Common Goldeneye stayed.  I counted over 200 Bufflehead and did not get all of them.  The Common Goldeneye were 2-3 times (or maybe 4times) as common as the Bufflehead.  There were Redhead, Lesser Scaup, a few Common and Hooded Mergansers, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Ducks, the obligatory hundred plus Coots.  A single Long-tailed Duck and a Pacific Loon (great photo confirmation showed the thin chinstrap besides the lack of the neck “notch”.  The pair of owls were located.  Little birds were harder to come by.  I added some seed to the feeder and had a Downy Woodpecker fly off the suet block, the Chickadees were grateful for the refill.  I also saw House Finches at the feeder. – Beth Hill

13 Nov – We had Cranes flying over, headed south most of the morning.  Never saw them, due to the low clouds but could hear them.  – Kitty & Kris Knaphus

13 Nov – Took a drive along the river yesterday – in a short time in a relatively close space on the river downstream from Giant Springs, I saw a pelican, a swan amongst coots, and a bald eagle on the ice feeding on a fish. I have a few faithful chickadees at my feeders, lots of sparrows, an occasional finch or two, and a pair of downy woodpeckers. Saw a northern flicker out front hammering in a Russian Olive tree, too. The Collared Eurasian Doves are hanging around en masse and chase the smaller birds out of the feeders and scatter seed onto the ground my squirrel friend brought a second squirrel to the squirrel feeder and then a third……..  I took all feeders down, including the squirrel’s nut/acorn jar and am just using one large glass dish filled with birdseed and a suet block that hang from under the metal porch roof. I don’t think the squirrels can get to it and hope they find a better buffet.  – Bev Axelsen

15 Nov – There were a lot of geese and mallards early.  Once they leave you can spot the other birds on the river.  There were 3 pelicans still around – 2 were traveling together.  The Pacific Loon surfaced very briefly and like before he gives you a couple seconds then he dives and 5 minutes later you still don’t know where it resurfaced.  Songbirds are limited.  I did hear and locate 3 American Tree Sparrows.  We didn’t find the owls Tuesday day, but the last time we saw both.  The bird feeder had a lot of activity from House Finches, Chickadees, Juncos (on the ground) and a Downy Woodpecker.  I saw 2 young squirrels scrounging for leftover.  – Beth Hill

22 Nov – We saw some interesting birds at our bird feeder at Giant Springs Tuesday, the 22nd.  An American Goldfinch and Harris Sparrow were surprises.  The usual House Finch, Chickadee, Junco mob and a stealthy Downy Woodpecker also showed up.

Turning around to watch the river we saw several different age classes of. And Eagles.  There are hundreds of Mallards and Canada Geese, but the numbers vary every day and with the amount of ice and whether there are hunters active.  A single Western Grebe and a couple of Pied-billed Grebes seem to be regulars.  Yesterday one of the Pied-billed Grebes came up with a fish as wide as its head….and it managed to swallow the whole thing.  I don’t know how it fit.  A tiny bit of tail hung out for half a minute, but then it went down.  I don’t know how it could move after that meal. – Beth Hill

23 Nov – A lone Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco has been hopping around on the ground underneath our bird feeder for the last few days, but never flying up to the feeder to compete with the 4-6 Black-capped Chickadees, up to 50 House Finches, a few House Sparrows, a daily visit from Downy Woodpecker, and an occasional Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Flicker, and of course the predatory visits by the Sharp-shinned Hawk. – Wayne Phillips and Marilyn Schneider

Wings Across the Big Sky—2023

Mark your calendars for June 9-11, 2023. Montana’s premier birding festival is coming to Great Falls next summer! Wings Across the Big Sky sponsored by Montana Audubon and co-hosted by our own Upper Mis- souri Breaks Audubon group is a 3-day festival that includes dozens of field trips, a kid-friendly family event, and a keynote presentation. This festival will be held in Great Falls June 9-11, 2023 and headquartered at the Heritage Inn. It celebrates Montana’s diverse birdlife while highlighting important conservation issues. UM- BA will be planning and organizing the field trips for the festival. We are looking for 1) field trip leaders 2) field trip suggestions with an emphasis on “family/kid/teen friendly” style field trips. Do you have some places you like to take the kids? We’d like to know. As we get closer we may be asking for volunteers to fill various roles, but the field trip planning is a priority. Contact Beth Hill—

November 19 Field Trip – Lake Elwell/Tiber Reservoir

November 19—Let’s explore something new this month—we will head to Lake Elwell/Tiber Reservoir in central Montana. We’ll check out the lake, the shore, the roads in between. This area has little reporting and few bird observing visitors. Sanford Park has a bird list of 172 species over the years. Tiber Dam and VFW Campground has a list of 103 species. There have not been many reports in November. The number of species and individuals were not high, but this fall has been different in terms of migration. It’s an area that needs more exploring. If you are interested, contact Beth Hill ( We will meet at 8 am.

Dress for the weather. Although we will be in the car quite a bit, we will have to get out to scope the lake or explore the parks. Bring food and water to tide you over until our return mid-afternoon.

*** All field trips meet/return at the parking area in front of Sherwin Williams on NW Bypass in Great Falls. Contact Beth Hill to reserve your space. If you need binoculars we can provide loaners – or 406-217-2364.

Red-tailed Hawk

Bird Sightings for October 2022

Sept. 28 – Howdy: Just to let everyone know. Beth, Alex and I setup a bird feeder at Giant Springs. We set it up in the lawn next to the bridge. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 1 – The rain had stopped by 6 pm so I ran out to West Bank to see if anything was happening after the 2 inches of rain that we had received (2 inches on my deck). The river was about 2 inches higher than 48 hours ago. At first glance there weren’t many birds. Closer exam revealed hundreds if not thousands of ducks. There were several significant rafts. More than 180 each of Eared Grebes and Coots, over 320 Ruddy Ducks, a group of 50-60 American Avocets standing shoulder to shoulder, 50 Gadwall, 50 Redheads, 25 American Wigeons, 150 or more Northern Shovelers and 20 Ring-necked Ducks. There were also 4 Great Blue Herons standing together at the upper end of one of the small river islands. It is always amazing to see what a good spell of “bad” weather will drop on the river. Yesterday morning as it started to rain there were a number of shovelers and teal and coots but that was about it. – Beth Hill

Oct. 3 – When I left the house today, I saw dozens of ravens down at the corner and when I came home, there were dozens in my pasture. Don’t think I’ve seen a single raven out here before. I was too lazy to walk out to the squirrel feeder in the wet grass and mud early this a.m., so I set a dish of oily sunflower seeds, acorns, grapes, and peanuts out on the deck. There are only shells left! And one grape sitting on the step. The cats went out with me and aren’t back in. I’m hoping the squirrel will get the grape after the cats come back in. I saw pelicans at Freezeout on Wednesday. Saw one Swainson’s Hawk out here but not in the trees where they’ve nested in the past. – Bev Axelson

Oct. 6 – Have our first Lincoln’s Sparrow this morning, we also still have several White-throated Sparrows. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 7 – Harriet Marble and I saw a magnolia warbler yesterday at Giant Springs. – Liz Larcom

Oct. 7 – There is fairly good birding at Giant Springs today, although I didn’t find the Magnolia Warbler. I didn’t really look very hard. There are fair numbers of Yellow-rumped and Orange Crowned Warblers a good bunch of White- throated Sparrows mostly in the first group of bushes next to the walkway. There is also a Hermit Thrush as well. Along with a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I also saw a number of Flickers, Russ Hill said he saw a Yellow-shafted one.

One of the owls is in a Cottonwood along the old road. I filled the bird feeder, didn’t see any activity at it.

Oct. 7 – several comments were made on the Trumpeter Swan that over-summered above the Black Eagle Dam. It started out the spring further up-river near the water treatment plant.

Oct. 7 – There are lots of White-crowned Sparrows in my garden in Ft. Benton eating my volunteer sunflowers. – Wendy Kamm

Oct. 9 – It was a perfect day today so Maria and I decided to check a couple of my Bluebird Trails, we did the Hwy 89 and Logging Creek trails. The trails include about 70 boxes. It appears to have been a pretty good year. The estimated Mountain Bluebirds fledged is 182 and 33 Tree Swallows. These trails contain about half of my Bluebird boxes. By the looks of the posts, I’m going to have to start bringing some new steel posts. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 11 – There is a good Fallout at Giant Springs. – Richard Mousel (lots of warblers, sparrows)

Oct. 11 – Palm Warbler at Giant Springs. It’s been hanging out near the parking lot in the Hawthorne Trees. Richard Mousel

Oct. 11 – Harriet Marble and I had a palm warbler out at Benton Lake yesterday morning, too! (Shelterbelt adjacent to the road stub to HQ.) Other highlights of the day were a white-winged scoter and a Bonaparte’s gull. Water level high and many, many waterfowl and other birds at the lake. – Liz Larcom

Oct. 13 – 3 or more Palm Warblers at Giant Springs this morning. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 19 – Shrike at Giant Springs chasing house finches. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 20 – A quick check from the West Bank side of the river this evening yielded few geese (they left early, probably because all the clouds made it much darker). A pleasant surprise was 2 Common Loons loafing together. Another was a single Sabine’s Gull still in full breeding colors (solidly black head still). I had seen it two days earlier. The Buffleheads seemed to have made themselves at home. A single Common Goldeneye. What will this cold front bring? Beth Hill Oct. 20 – With the latest wonderful fall weather Maria and I decided to check and clean the other half of my Bluebird Trails boxes. One of the highlights was a Northern Shrike. The Riceville Evans trail contains approximately another 75 boxes. The weather cooperated this summer and we had really good numbers of estimated fledglings. The tally is as follows:407 Mountain Bluebirds; 51 Tree Swallows; 16 Mountain Chickadees; 13 House Wrens. – Richard Mousel

Oct. 24 – I traveled the raptor route from Cascade to Ulm and was treated to a 10-minute tussle between a juvy bald eagle and 3 ravens. it appeared that the eagle had something in his claw and the ravens wanted it. Eventually the bald eagle turned the tables and chased off the ravens. 2 photos attached (the birds were so far and so photos not great). Saw 4 other raptors along this route and was only able to get close enough to photograph one. I think he is a roughie, photo attached. (It was – ed.) Lastly, saw 2 meadowlarks, they looked like juveniles. – Jan Wilson

Oct. 24 – It was not very close, but what I saw looked more like a Pacific Loon than a Common Loon at Giant Springs this morning. The bill looked small, the head looked ’rounder’ and the white on the neck was wide and straight edg- es. It just seemed small even far across the river.

We should be getting into fall “loon time”, so keep your eyes open. I’ve seen several already this fall. Otherwise there have been very few water birds the past week around Giant Springs. Today’s Bufflehead count was up to 15. One fly- by Mallard and no Canada Geese while we were there. Seems oddly empty. Beth Hill

Oct. 29 – Giant Springs. The river still has few waterfowl. We did see a single Red-breasted Merganser (female or young male), 25 Buffleheads and 18 American Coot. A flock of 34 Tundra Swans flew overhead just as we arrived. Their “tooting” gave them away. – Beth Hill

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September 2022

28 Sep Howdy Just to let everyone know. Beth, Alex and I setup a birdfeeder at Giant Springs. We set it up in the lawn next to the bridge. – Richard Mousel

27 Sep Because of the low river level while they work on the dam (and the hatchery) I noticed a lot of gulls and killdeer on the mud yesterday. So today, I paid particular attention to the gulls downstream (below the hatchery). I just “knew” I should find a gull that was not a Ring-billed Gull. Sure enough, it just jumped right out even though there were at least 300 Ringbills walking around. It was a slightly larger, but almost white gull with pink legs, dark eye, brown wing and tail markings (not black at all). Even though it closely matched a second-year Iceland Gull (by markings) structurally it looked like a Ring-billed Gull. Structure is a huge part of identifying gulls. In addition, if you look at the size it is nearly the same size as adjacent gulls. An Iceland Gull would be noticeably larger. I spotted it early in the morning. I went back with my husband at 11 am and we quickly re-found it – attacking crayfish right and left. It had a good appetite for those crunchy morsels.

There were at least 12 or more Killdeer. At least one Great Yellowlegs. I couldn’t find any other shore- birds, but I’ll look again tomorrow. – Beth Hill

26 Sep We drove the old highway between Ulm and Cascade this morning to check for cranes. We found them in the usual field 2.8 miles from the entrance road to the Dunes FAS. Got to the field about 9 AM and counted 100 cranes visible from our vantage point. We watched and counted for the next 55 minutes as cranes continued to fly in and settle in the field. By 9:55 we were up to just over 300. A few left during that time but not many. At 9:55 someone gave the signal and they started lifting off in groups of 3 to 25 or more. By 10:10 there were still some cranes left in the field but not huge numbers. It was a great show! – Kitty & Kris Knaphus

27 Sep Thanks Kitty for this excellent report! i drove to your spot this morning and there they were, on both sides of the road. we watched for 30 minutes then drove back to Ulm and headed up Beth’s raptor (river road) route. found 50 more cranes in a field to the right just before Lil Valley farm. hope to go back to both spots Thursday morning. Jan Wilson

I also went to your spot this morning about 9:30 and counted 150 Sandhill Cranes in the meadow across the RR tracks on the east side. By 10 there only a few left, just as you described. Wayne Phillips

27 Sep (We) have our first Junco of the Fall. – Richard Mousel

24 Sep We saw a flock of 23 wild turkeys on our way into town this morning. They were about half way between Ulm and River Road junction.

I’ve been meaning to report on the 3 Osprey nest platforms we watch. All 3 had pairs this year but the middle nest was abandoned by the middle of June. The other two (Ulm FAS and River Road) produced 2 suc- cessfully fledged young each. Kitty & Kris Knaphus

19 Sep Went to Giant Springs this evening, besides the Chickadees and Flickers I spotted a couple of White-throated Sparrows and a flock of Goldfinches with the fledglings begging for food. Also saw a couple of Cedar Waxwings. The highlight of the trip was a pair of Great Horned Owls, with the male feeding on a squirrel, was surprised to see that in the early evening. Found the owls because they were hooting, didn’t find them earlier because they were in the Cottonwoods. –Richard Mousel