It was sunny and calm on the 13th of August – quite a change from some of our recent field trips. We set out for Thain Creek after visiting with some gentlemen that were driving a nice looking Ford Model T out to Monarch for the opening of the restored train station. It holds 10 gallons of gas. Trips have to be planned carefully. It didn’t take long before we were pulling off to the side of the road to check out “bird!”. Along the Highwood highway it was primarily Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks. One Swainson’s was a dark adult – according to Sibley’s the combined dark and intermediate morphs are less than 10 percent of the population, more in the far west. Once we hit the gravel road the real fun began. From this point it was another 2 hours before we reached the Thain Creek trailhead – a lot of stops to get out and take closer looks.
A good portion of the road is along a cottonwood bordered creek. You have heard the story about how important the cottonwood habitat is to birds – this stretch of road is a good lesson. We could have spent the whole day. There were flocks of blackbirds (starlins, Brewer’s Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds), many Western Meadowlarks (more were in the grasslands before getting to the cottonwoods), and Savannah Sparrows. We heard and saw Western Wood Peewees at every single stop and along our walk at Thain Creek as well. Either they are abundant or we hit a mass of migrating peewees. We were seeing Belted Kingfishers along the creek where you would expect to see them and a couple of tree swallows. American Goldfinches announced their presence. One stop was a baby factory – on one side of the road were 3 perching Barn Swallows that still had some down sticking out and big yellow gapes – they hadn’t been out of the nest long. On the other side of the road were a family of Black-headed Grosbeaks begin fed. As we were watching a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds swept across the area – all females and young birds. More begging birds.
The traffic was light so it gave us the time to study the creek crossings just as we entered the Thain Creek area – we were rewarded with an American Dipper on the first and second crossings! What a thrill. We we left there were some children fishing and playing in the creek – no Dippers. Sandy kept asking “what is that high pitched buzzing noise?”. When we stopped and got out of the car at the trail head we looked up and saw 2, then 3, then 4 Common Nighthawks high in the air. The numbers kept increasing until we had 8 in sight at one time when we were as far as the beaver dams. How many did we see? At least 8 – maybe many more if they were moving through. There is no way to tell but we had them overhead for most of the walk. There were more peewees but also Western Tanagers (males, females, possibly some youngsters), some House Wrens and LOTS of butterflies. Sandy mentioned that “there were so many different birds – for August – who would have thought?” We added some flycatchers and a Lazuli Bunting (sitting in the road) on the way home.
It took another 2 hours to get back to Great Falls! Thain Creek is ony 37 miles away.
All in all it was a very nice morning (and early afternoon) of bird observation.