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Tuesday, July 5
Well, out of the blue, I had a chance today to go look for my nemesis bird.† Last night, a woman posted on the local birding mailing list that there was a family of recently fledged young that could be seen in a neighborhood in Shoreline, about ten miles from here.† I emailed her and got specific directions, and this morning I made the trek over there.
I had only been out of my car for a minute or two when I saw my first MERLIN (lifer).† The Merlin is a small falcon, only about the size of a pigeon.† There were several of them flying around from time to time, always calling when they flew.† It was quite a show, and I took a lot of pictures.† I had hoped to get a picture of one of them flying, but I was never ready at just the right time. After a while, they settled down and didnít fly as much.† Others have reported seeing the parents feeding them (small birds, usually), but I didnít see that, sorry to say.† I have some pictures, but before I show them, here is a bonus picture of a male Northern Flicker that I like.† It flew in and perched on a pole, just after I got there.† A couple of the young Merlins made a half-hearted pass at it, but it is about the same size as them, so I doubt they could have handled it.
Moving on to the main attraction, here is a picture of one of the young Merlins.† It appears to me that it has a band on its right leg, seen just below the piece of greenery.† I imagine they banded the whole batch of young, as it is unusual for them to be breeding here.† Normally they are seen in the Lower 48 only in the winter, except for Eastern Montana, and they breed in Canada and Alaska.† Seattle is actually a little out of their normal breeding range, according to my field guide map.† I had hoped to see one in the fall or winter this year, but now I donít have to look for them then.
Here is a picture of two of them:
They were calling quite a bit, and I got this picture of one of them with its mouth open, calling:
And finally, one last picture:
In that last picture, you can see the white tips to the tail feathers.† This subspecies of Merlin is supposed to have faint white tail bands, and that is what I observed when they flew over me.
I just realized that this is lifer number 100 for me this year Ė a great bird to see, to reach that milestone.† This puts me at 355 species this year, of which 100 are lifers.† I finally got my nemesis bird, so now I guess I have to pick another one that has kept eluding me.† Maybe Northern Goshawk?† Iíll have to look through my field guide and pick a new one to obsess about seeing.
It seems like I just got back from the Yosemite trip, but my plan is to head out next Friday (the 15th) for Montana and Wyoming for a three week trip.† I hope to pick up another 20 or more species for my year list on that trip, including maybe another dozen lifers.† I plan to visit Glacier National Park, Devilís Tower, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park.
Friday, July 15
Iím off on another trip - to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks, and points in between.† This was originally going to be a three week trip, and I planned to get as far east as Mount Rushmore, which is in South Dakota.† I decided that was too much driving and too many days on the road at this point, though, and I shortened it to only 13 nights away, cutting out the eastern portion of the trip.
So, today I drove to Spokane.† My first stop was at the Roslyn exit (number 80) on I-90, to look for Townsendís Solitaire.† I had seen a report online that two of them were seen a couple of weeks ago at a particular place, and supposedly they were acting like they were nesting in the area, so I had high hopes.† My hopes got dashed, though, and I didnít see anything at all at that place.
Moving up the road to Bullfrog Pond, I used my iBird app on my phone to play the song of another bird that had been reported there.† After a while, I heard a number of responses Ė I am terrible at recognizing bird songs and calls, but after listening to this distinctive one several dozen times, even I could recognize it.† I looked around and eventually saw a bird I had especially wanted to see, a VEERY.† I had only ever seen one once before, and that was in New York, so this was a great way to start my trip.† I saw two of them (or the same bird twice), and neither one looked just like I expected, but the second one was singing the very distinctive song, so I knew I had it.
I had planned on stopping at another place in that same area, but I was concerned about the time, and I wanted to stop at a reserve near Spokane, so I pushed onward after that.† I got a sandwich at Subway and stopped at the next rest area to eat it.
Once I crossed the Columbia River, I was in territory I hadnít been in for 15 or 20 years, which is always something I enjoy.† In one stretch of farming country, they had signs on the fences, identifying the crops growing there.† There was quite a variety, and I learned something new Ė there are at least three different kinds of corn.† There was Sweet Corn, Grain Corn, and Field Corn.† I havenít bothered to look up the differences, but I imagine that Sweet Corn is for human consumption, Grain Corn goes to be ground into corn meal, and Field Corn is used to feed stock.† Iíll leave it to my readers to Google it and see if my guesses are correct.† (as if anyone could possibly care)
The time passed easily and quickly, as I listened to my Aussie country music, and I got to the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, near Spokane, about 3 oíclock.† It is a very nice place, not at all as I had imagined it.† It was open pine forest, with some meadows and some lakes, and some deciduous trees as well.† I drove to the headquarters, and there had been no birds at all up until that point.† At the headquarters, I did see a few birds, including a lovely Cedar Waxwing and a House Wren that seemed to have a nest in a nest box.† I also got this picture of a Red-tailed Hawk overhead:
Its tail looks kind of ragged in that picture, but here is another one:
Red-tailed Hawks are very common, but I like to get pictures of raptors in the air.
There is a 5.5 mile driving tour route at Turnbull, so I went on that.† It was a very good gravel road, so smooth that it must have been graded this spring.† I never saw another person while on the tour, which took me well over an hour.† I stopped 10 or more times, when I saw birds.† I saw several birds that I think were Willow Flycatchers, which is a bird I need for my year list, but they are hard to distinguish from Western Wood-Pewee, and both are common on the reserve.† I was going to count it, but eventually decided not to, when I got to my room and looked at my pictures.† I think that at least some of what I saw today were Willow Flycatchers, but I just wasnít quite willing to count it.† Iíll have more chances at that bird, later in the trip, I hope.
At one stop there was a family of White-breasted Nuthatches, and I took some pictures, but none are good enough for me to show here.† At one point I saw this little deer:
Finally, as I was nearing the end of the auto tour, and I was running out of time, I walked out on a boardwalk and saw an EASTERN KINGBIRD.† This is a species that I expect to see a lot of on this trip, but one I have only seen once before, in Minnesota some years ago.† Here is a very distant, blurry picture of the little beauty.† I expect Iíll get much better pictures before the trip is over.
So, that was my day today.† I boogied on in to Spokane, but I hit construction traffic on a Friday at rush hour, and it was almost 5:30 before I got to my motel.† Then, when I got here, there was a busload of tourists who had just arrived, and that slowed down the check-in.† They were an interesting bunch.† The men had beards without mustaches, like Quakers or Mennonites or something, and the women all had on long dresses and wore little white caps.† I wonder what their story is, and where they are going on their tour.† They must have a very different kind of life, in this modern world.
So, I was a little late for my drinkies tonight, but now I have caught up.† Tomorrow I plan to drive to Kalispell, Montana, which is near Glacier National Park.† I have a waterfall to stop at on the way, and maybe Iíll even see a bird or two.† There are a couple of parks in Kalispell that I want to check out, too, if I get there early enough.
Iím pleased to get two species for my year list today (Veery and Eastern Kingbird).† Both are ones that I had seen before in the east, but this was my first sighting of each species in the west.† I only expect about 15 species on the whole trip, so getting two on the first day is quite good.† There will be many days when I wonít see anything new, Iím sure.† I am now at 357 species for the year, of which 100 are lifers.
So, that is my story, as I start my Montana/Wyoming trip in the summer of 2011.
Saturday, July 16
Okay, this is not an actual report, because I didn't see a new bird today, but I just had a great experience I want to share, so you get this email anyway.
I slept fairly well last night (for me), but was up early and was actually packed up and away from my motel by 8. I took the scenic route from Spokane to Kalispell, Montana, going almost up to Canada on the way.
I got some lunch at a grocery store in Troy, Montana, and stopped at Kootenai Falls soon after that. I'm a waterfall freak, in case you didn't know that about me. There were quite a few cars there, which normally would put me off a place, but I was ready to eat my lunch and wanted to see the falls.
It was about a fifteen minute walk down to the falls, with a lot of climbing to get back to my car afterwards. I watched and listened for birds, but heard very little and saw almost nothing. I'm at the point now where there are so few birds I need to see that it takes a lot of the fun out of birding, actually. I did see a beautiful Golden Eagle flying down the river, while I was eating my lunch, overlooking the falls, but since I had seen one before this year, it just wasn't the same thrill as it would have been normally. I would have loved to get a picture of it, but I wasn't ready, of course. I guess I am now at the point where this Quest for Birds is actually something of a negative rather than a positive, as far as enjoying my birding is concerned. An interesting development, which I had not anticipated.
Anyway, after lunch, I drove on in to Kalispell and checked into my motel. It is a Motel 6, and is pretty much normal and average for a Motel 6. That means it is spartan, plain, and small. I had requested a unit with a microwave and refrigerator, but it turns out that is just a bogus marketing ploy, as they don't actually reserve a particular room, and none of the ten rooms with a microwave and a fridge was available when I checked in at 3:30 PM. There is a microwave in the vending room, though, so I was still able to heat up my dinner, and I'm keeping my cold stuff cold with ice, in my little cooler. I was feeling down about paying $64 plus tax for such a simple room for the night, until I checked the website for the Econolodge next door. It is $144 a night, plus tax, so I guess I now know why I reserved a room here. Kalispell is obviously an expensive city for motels, in the summer. Econolodge is maybe one step above Motel 6, but not more than that, usually.
To top it off, I feel like I'm "beating the system" by using my cell phone and its tethering app to access the internet with my laptop, rather than paying Motel 6 three bucks to use their connection.
So, I had my drinkies and my humble dinner, and since I have no pictures to process (other than a few of Kootenai Falls, which I plan to include in the next "real" report), I had some time on my hands. I had noticed an interesting business across the street, so I went over to check it out. It bills itself as a drive-through espresso stand, a package liquor store, and a "casino". I went into the "casino" part, and it was all machines, as I expected. I didn't want to throw 20 bucks down the rathole, and I didn't have a ten, so I asked for change for a twenty.
I bought into a machine for my ten bucks and selected to play a strange version of Hold 'Em poker. There was very little strategy or skill to it - you just bet or folded at various times, and God knows what cards the machine chose to deal to the players. As it turned out, I think I was quite lucky. I went up and down, but was rarely behind, and finally, after fifteen or twenty minutes of mindless play, I got up to 20 bucks of credit. I pressed the cash out button, and the girl brought me my twenty bucks. As I left, I laughed out loud all the way across the street back to my humble room. I beat the casino! What an absolute riot. I'm a winner!
So, that's the story of my day today. I am in the Mountain time zone now, so it is an hour later than it would be at home. I'll see how early I can settle down and actually get to sleep. Today the high temperature was about 80, I guess, and we had a brief thundershower and a large windstorm for half an hour, about 7 PM, but now it is still out there, and nicely cool. It is supposed to be 92 here tomorrow, though, and I am not going to enjoy birding in that kind of heat. What's more, the birds go completely quiet when it is that hot, so I don't know what I will see anyway. I'll see if I can get over to Glacier National Park as early as I can, to try to get a new bird before the heat of the day sets in. It is only about 45 minutes of driving form here to Glacier, but I need to get gas and some groceries on the way. I have a cabin booked for two nights near the west entrance to the park. No a/c, but there is a ceiling fan, supposedly, and it gets down into the 50's at night, so maybe that will be okay, even if it is in the 90's in the daytime. I'm supposed to have wi-fi, anyway, unlike the next two nights after that.
What a life! Maybe tomorrow I'll see a new bird and can make a real report.
Sunday, July 17
OK, this is a real report, so my faithful readers will know what that means.† First, though, here is the promised picture of Kootenai Falls, where I ate my humble lunch yesterday:
It isnít a real high falls, and there is actually a series of drops, but this is the biggest one Ė at least, it is the biggest one I saw.
I was up and out of my Motel 6 by 8:30 this morning, which was pretty good considering that is Mountain Time, and I lost an hour from yesterday.† I stopped at Mickey Dís for my brekkie, then got groceries and gas in Columbia Falls.
Once I got to Glacier National Park (and avoided the $25 entry fee with my Old Farts Senior Pass), I drove to the Quarter Circle Bridge, where a couple of rivers come together.† There was lots of birdsong, so that was very encouraging.† I saw a few birds, but nothing new at first.† I walked across the bridge and along the river, looking and listening.
I played the songs of a couple of my target birds as I walked along (just to get familiar with them, you understand, not to try to attract the birds).† At one point, I thought I might have heard an answering song to one of them, so I looked around.† Eventually, I saw a little streaked bird up in a tree, and he sang the song I had been playing a couple of minutes before.† I had NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (lifer), a type of warbler.† It was one of the birds that is supposed to be in this area, but I hadnít expected to actually see one so quickly.† It flitted to another branch and sang its song a couple more times, giving me a great look, before flying away.†† The day was starting out good!
Back at the
car, while getting ready to leave, a couple of birds flew in, and they turned
out to be a couple of Cedar
Waxwings, one adult, and one young one, which the adult was feeding.† Here is a kind of a poor picture, because of the backlight, but you can see the black mask they both have (the adult is on the left) and also the yellow tips to their tails:
After that, I went to the bridge across lower McDonald Creek.† It is a mighty big creek at this time of year Ė I would call it a river.† Here is a picture, with McDonald Lake just visible in the distance.
I drove on to the Fish Creek picnic area, and wandered around a bit.† I sat by Fish Creek on a rock for a while, and saw several birds and just enjoyed the beautiful sunny morning.† The temperature was great still, and it was very pleasant out there.† Some Cedar Waxwings flew through, and there were a couple of the ubiquitous robins in the area as well.
Then I saw a bird high up in a tree across the creek.† With my binoculars, I could see that it was very red, which got me excited, as one of my target birds for the day is red.† I took several very distant pictures, trying to hand-hold my camera steady at maximum zoom.† I still wasnít sure what it was, but then another bird flew in with what looked like nesting material in its bill, and based on the color of that bird (greenish yellow), I thought I might have my target.† Back in the car, I looked at my pictures on maximum zoom, and sure enough, I had RED CROSSBILL, another one for my year list.† The male is bright red and the female is brown with greenish yellow parts.† My binoculars are only ten power, while my camera lens has more that twice that much magnification, so the camera can be an important tool in identifying a bird.† I had seen Red Crossbill only once before, and that was on a trip to Canada, so this was actually my first US sighting of this species, and my second sighting ever.† Here are a couple of pictures of the male.† I wasnít quick enough to get one with the female in the picture, too.
In this second one, you can see his goofy crossed bill better:
So, two new birds before lunch.† I was on a roll.† Iíll spoil the suspense right now, and report that I didnít see another new species today, but I did see some very beautiful country and had a lovely time on a sunny blue-sky day in Godís Country.
I tried to go up the Inside North Fork Road (a rough unpaved road, by all reports), which is supposed to be good for birding, but it was closed.† So, I went up Camas Creek Road instead, which is paved.† I stopped a couple of places, but saw nothing new or interesting.† Here is a picture of McGee Meadow.† It was very pretty, but no birds except Red-winged Blackbirds.
I was getting pretty hungry by then, and it was past noon, so I drove on around to Sprague Creek picnic area, which is on Lake McDonald, and found a table where I could park in the shade and have a peek-a-boo view of Lake McDonald.† I got out my groceries and built myself a thick ham and cheese sandwich, accompanied by some tortilla chips, a Diet Coke, and some cherries brought from home.† Excellent.
While eating, I played the song of the American Redstart, another bird I was targeting today, and three birds flew in soon after that.† Two of them turned out to be a pair of Warbling Vireos, chasing each other around, and I only got a very brief look at the third.† Based on the color I thought I saw, it might have been my redstart, but I never was able to confirm that.† That will be my main target for tomorrow.
Here is a picture of Lake McDonald from that point:
I went on from there to the bridge over Upper McDonald Creek, the creek flowing into the lake, and then to Avalanche Creek campground and picnic area.† Avalanche Creek was ridiculously crowded, so I turned around there and headed for my humble cabin, my home away from home for two nights.† Here is a picture of Upper McDonald Creek:
Iím staying in a ďunit cabinĒ that is one of four units in a row.† It is knotty pine and very clean and fresh smelling, and Iíll be comfortable here, in the queen size bed.† I have a little fridge (with a little freezer compartment to freeze my blue ice for when I leave) and a microwave in my unit, so Iím all set.† The wi-fi works, too.† There is no air conditioning, and today it got up into at least the mid-80ís, so it is hot in here.† It was up to 82 in the room, so I opened it up just now, and I see it has actually risen to 83, although the breeze makes it worth having it open.† Iím sure it will cool down nicely at night, and there is a ceiling fan to help cool the room, once the temperature outside drops enough.
So far, I have been very fortunate with mosquitoes (knock on wood, no jinx).† I did spray myself today at lunch, as they seemed to be around, and I killed one on my arm, but so far, I havenít detected any actual bites.
I have two nights here, so tomorrow I plan to re-visit a couple of the places I went today, and maybe move a bit farther up the road into the park, where I plan to go on Tuesday, when I leave here.† My main target for tomorrow will be the American Redstart, as previously mentioned, but Iíll also be keeping my eye out for a couple of swift species that are possible here, as well as a couple of woodpeckers that live here.† It is really a different kind of birding when Iím looking for so few particular species.
Iíve had some nuts and a beer, and Iíll have a little gin and maybe some more nuts, and then heat something in the microwave, maybe some chili or one of my Hormel Compleats dinners.† A typical Old Rambler grazing type of evening repast.
Today brings me to 359 different species for the year, of which 101 are lifers for me.† This makes four new ones for the trip, a good start toward the expected 15.† What a life!
Tuesday, July 19
No report for yesterday, as I didnít see any new birds.† Iíll keep the reader in suspense about today Ė is this a legitimate report, or is it one of my exceptions?† Read on to find out.
Yesterday was frustrating.† No new birds, very few birds of any description, crowds of people, too many cars on the roads and in the parking lots, and way too hot to boot.† Way, way too hot for the Old Rambler.
I tried the Quarter Circle Bridge area again, first thing, but saw nothing interesting there.† Next I drove up the valley, past Lake McDonald, in an attempt to stop at Avalanche Creek, to look for birds there.† There were no parking places available, though, with lots of people circling around waiting for one.† I stopped several other places, and eventually came to a place called Packerís Roost, which was at the end of a 0.6 mile single lane gravel road.† I only saw two other cars while in there, so that was a nice change, and I enjoyed the woods.† I did see a nice male Western Tanager there, and then a pair of MacGillivrayís Warblers.† That is only the second time I have seen MacGillivrayís Warbler this year, so that was nice.† I even managed to get a very blurry picture, which shows the gray head, the yellow undersides, and the broken white eye ring.† The birds just wouldnít sit still, though, and I kept just missing the shot.
I walked up and down the road there a bit, but like everywhere else, it was pretty un-birdy.† I drove back down the valley and had lunch at the Sprague Creek picnic area again.† It was peanut butter, cheese, Triscuits, tortilla chips, and the last of the cherries brought from home.† A good Rambler lunch, put together on the spot.†† I entertained myself by watching all the various shapes, sizes, and varieties of people coming through the area.† No birds.
After lunch I made a stop at the Lake McDonald Lodge, because I wanted to get a picture of the red tour busses they use here.† They are refurbished 1930-era touring busses.† They have been in service for 70 years here at Glacier.† They were getting really run down by 1999, and they stopped running them, until Ford stepped forward in 2002 and refurbished the whole fleet of 72 of them.† Now they are propane powered and brought up to modern safety standards.† The top is canvas and they roll it back when it is warm enough outside.
Here is a picture of one, getting ready to leave on a tour:
I tried a few other places, including ones I had visited before.† It was a beautiful day, although much too hot for me, but very few birds of any kind, and certainly nothing new for me, or even anything to take a picture of.
Eventually I gave up and got back to my unit cabin about 4 or 4:30.† It was hot inside, but hotter outside, so I left the room closed up.† I took a drink and my book out to the yard and sat at a table in the shade and read and drank.† I had taken my thermometer out with me, and it was up to 92 when I got so overheated that I had to go in and take a shower.† The shower cooled me down nicely, but it was 84 or 85 in the room by then, so I heated up again fairly fast.† The sun finally went behind the mountain across the way about 8:30, and it started to cool down outside.† I read out on the porch until bedtime, as it was much more pleasant out there.† I only ventured inside when I heard that I had an instant message on AIM, but after my chats with Christina and my friend, Fred, I went back outside until it was time to turn in.† I slept fairly well for the second night in a row, especially considering it was in the high 70ís in the room both nights.† For those familiar with my various sleeping problems, my nose has been really good since I left Seattle (as it almost always is), so I sleep much better than at home.† I have been getting up only once or twice a night to pee, which is outstanding, and much better than at home.† I wish I knew what it was about being at home that makes the inside of my nose swell up so much at night.
So, finally we are up to today.† I was up and out of there by 8:30, which is very good for me.† I had a toasted bagel with cream cheese, stuffed with ham and cheese, some orange juice, and a yogurt for my humble brekkie.† They had a free continental breakfast at the place I was staying, so I could toast a bagel each morning, and they had little packs of cream cheese.† I had to supply the ham and the cheese, of course.
Today I got to Avalanche Creek early enough to get a parking place!† This was the fourth time I had tried, over a space of three days, and finally I was early enough.† I was planning on walking the nature trail there, hoping for birds.† Before I could even get started, though, from the bridge across Avalanche Creek, I saw a couple of American Dippers.† These are very cute little round birds that have a special significance to Christina and me.† They nest under bridges, usually, and catch snails and other underwater critters in fast moving streams.† They walk right into the water, then walk along underwater, looking for their prey.† Today I saw a recently fledged juvenile dipper being fed by an adult.† I took a lot of pictures, and now I am going to include an inordinate number of them here, as this bird is so special to me.† It isnít new for my year list, as I saw and photographed one back in January, over in Sequim, WA, but that didnít stop me from taking so many pictures.
Here is the recently fledged juvenile.† It is lighter colored than the mature one, which you will see later.
Here is the adult (on the right, much darker colored) and the juvenile:
Here is the adult on its own:
Here is the adult feeding the young one, with the prey in its bill.† Notice the wing flapping being done by the young one.† That is typical of most species - when the young want to be fed, they flap their wings.
And, finally, the young one flew across the creek and landed right below the bridge, and I got this picture:
Okay, so you have now been subjected to more pictures of American Dipper than anyone ought to have to endure.† I like the bird.† A lot.† It made my day to be able to witness the feeding procedure of a young one.
After that, I walked the Trail of the Cedars loop, or whatever it is called.† Very pretty, but no birds at all, except one robin at the end.† Glacier National Park has really been remarkably un-birdy, to my surprise.† There are way more birds at my local park or at Marymoor Park in Redmond.† I was really lucky to have picked up Northern Waterthrush and Red Crossbill yesterday.† I got the waterthrush by playing the song on my cell phone, and the crossbill was just a fluke Ė I happened to look in the right direction at the right time.
It was time to leave the western part of Glacier National Park and to drive up the Going to the Sun Road.† I think this road is probably the most scenic mountain road in America, if not the world.† The views are incredible, and the road itself is a marvel.† It cuts right across a sheer rock face for miles, and just keeps climbing, climbing, climbing, until you finally get to Logan Pass.† It was built in the early 1930ís, and they are in the process of upgrading it, but it is still narrow and right on the cliff face, with a little rock wall between you and a sheer drop.† A lot of it was one way at a time, as they were actively working on the road.† Because of the construction, it wasnít possible to stop at as many places as I would have liked, for pictures, and you canít really do justice to it in pictures, anyway, but here is one picture that shows the valley below and the mountains above.
There was a fair amount of traffic going up the road, less coming down in the morning.† Lots of motorcycles, and a couple of dozen hardy (foolhardy?) bicyclists, plugging away at it.† You climb about 3500 feet in about 15 or 20 miles from the Western parts of the park below.
At one of the several stops to wait for the one-way traffic, I got this picture of a series of little waterfalls.
Eventually, I got to Logan Pass, which is about 6800 feet high.† I was needing a rest room by then, but the rest rooms were closed, and all they had was porta-potties in the parking lot.† I hate porta-potties, and normally will do anything to avoid them, but I was in desperate need.† As it turned out, there was virtually no smell, which is what puts me off them so much.† Much relieved (so to speak), I walked up to the visitor center, with the hopes of walking out on the boardwalk trail where Gray-crowned Rosy-finches are seen, and also White-tailed Ptarmigans, if you are lucky.† Both would be lifers for me.† Well, it turns out that the snow has not yet melted up there, and the walk was a walk across snow.† I tried it, but my weight was too much for my shoe size, and I sunk in the snow, almost twisting my ankle a couple of times.† Sadly, I had to forgo any chance at the rosy-finches and ptarmigans, which is a major blow to my expectations, as ďeveryoneĒ sees the rosy-finches on that walk.† Here is a picture of the walk.† You can see it is all over snow.
It is a 1.5 mile hike, each way.† Here are some of the hikers up on the trail:
I did see three species of birds up at the pass.† American Crow, American Robin, and White-crowned Sparrow.† Here is a picture of the sparrow, singing away, that I really like.
I think he really looks like he is singing his little heart out.
I headed down the eastern side of the pass, and there was a lot less traffic, anyway.† There was still construction from time to time, but at least there werenít so many cars.† I stopped several places, to look for birds, but I saw nothing at all.† I stopped at the Sun Point Picnic Area and had the last of my ham and cheese in a sandwich, along with almost the last of my tortilla chips and a Diet Coke.† After I ate, I walked the quarter mile to the Sun Point lookout over St. Mary Lake, and took some pictures.† Here is one of them:
I guess you can take a cruise on the lake, as here is a close up of the boat in the center of the picture above:
I continued on down the road, stopping several places to look for the birds mentioned in my Montana birding book, but it continued to be remarkably un-birdy.† It was very pretty country, and I had a walk and a sit by St. Mary Lake, but no birds at all.
As I came in to the little settlement of St. Mary, I saw a sign to a trailhead, and I took the turn off.† The trail seemed to lead out along the edge of a prairie area, along a forest.† I walked out for a quarter of a mile or so, and then turned back.† At least I had seen a few birds, even if they were only fleeting glances and I couldnít identify them.
As I was coming out of the forested area, I saw a bird fly into a dead tree in front of me.† A woodpecker!† Splendid!† I need several woodpeckers that live in this area.† Red on the top of its head, red under the chin.† Better yet!† This is a woodpecker I need Ė RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER.† One for my list!† I was almost through for the day, and I was walking a trail that wasnít even mentioned in my birding book, and a Red-naped Sapsucker flies out and shows itself to me in the sun.† I went for my camera, but by the time I got it turned on, the bird had flown.† But, he was mine!† I owned the Red-naped Sapsucker.† I had left the park a mile or so back, so this wasnít even a Glacier National Park sighting, ironically enough.
So, I went on in to St. Mary and stopped at their version of a supermarket.† It was pretty slim pickings, but I stocked up on food for the next couple of days, anyway.† I went on out to my new digs, just a couple of miles outside of St. Mary.† I have a cabin here.† No kitchen, but I have a microwave and little fridge, so I am set.† No ice, though.† I had a flashback to Australia when the girl at the office told me there was no ice.† The little fridge does have a tiny freezer compartment, though, so I can freeze my blue ice packs at least.
This place has no internet, but I was hoping that Verizon would give me coverage here, and sure enough, I do have marginal cell phone data coverage, so Iím online.† It was hot when I got here, and there is no air conditioning or even a ceiling fan.† It was about 83 in the cabin and about the same outside when I got here about 4 or so.† The forecasted thunderstorms have developed, though, and now it is nice and cool (cold, I guess) outside, and it is down to 70 in here.† It is time to close it up, I guess, or I will be too cold tonight.
The black clouds moved in over the mountains soon after I got here, and the thunder started rolling.† Then the rain came, and the wind.† I love the rain, and the sound of it on the cabin roof is great.† It is supposed to be dry tomorrow, but with a high of only 70.† To me, that is perfect weather, so we will see.
So, I got another bird today.† This is a legitimate report, not another pseudo one.† Iím now at 360 for the year, of which 101 are lifers.† I donít really expect anything more tomorrow, but Iíll go up into another part of the park (Many Glacier) and see if I can get lucky again.
Wednesday, July 20
Well, first off, I didnít go to Many Glacier today after all.† Instead, I went south, to East Glacier Park and the Two Medicine part of the park.† There were very dark clouds over the mountains to the west, and all day long it threatened rain, a threat which came to pass from time to time.
I drove south, leaving my digs about 8 or so.† The route was interesting, as it skirted the edge of where the prairies rise to the mountains.† Highway 89 was good, but Montana Highway 49 was pretty bad.† There were a lot of places where the road had slid and not been repaired.† Their solution was to put up signs, saying things like Rough Road Ahead and other things like that.† A number of parts of the road were actually unpaved, with graded gravel instead of pavement.† It is an interesting approach to road maintenance, driven by budget considerations, Iím sure.
Anyway, along Highway 49, I got some good views of Lower Medicine Lake, where I was bound for later in the day.† Here is one picture, which shows the threatening clouds over the mountains:
From that same viewpoint, here is a picture of a chipmunk in a tree:
I motored on in to East Glacier Park, and as I drove by the classic old Glacier Park Lodge, there was an incredible rainbow over it.† By the time I got turned around and got back to take a picture, the rainbow had moved on, as it was pretty windy.† Here is a picture that shows a vestige of what I originally saw:
You can only barely see the rainbow in the picture, in the middle, over the mountains, but when I first drove by, it was really dramatic, arching over the whole lodge.
I drove on past there and up the east side of Marias Pass, on US Highway 2, which is the pass that the railroad goes over from West Glacier.† I had a couple of places to look for birds there, but neither of them worked out.† One problem with using a birding guide book that is 18 years old is that things have changed in 18 years.† There isnít anything newer, though.
Anyway, I turned back and stopped at the Glacier Park Lodge again, to look around.† It is a very impressive classic old hotel, with spacious common areas and very rustic in appearance inside.† There are huge pillars in the central lobby area, for example, and they are tree trunks with the bark still on them.† There are three stories of rooms that open off of balconies.† I should have taken an interior picture.
I wandered around the grounds, partly because supposedly some interesting birds can be seen there, but I didnít see anything new for me.† I did take a couple of pictures of birds, though.† This first one is a juvenile American Robin.† Normally a robin has a rusty red breast, of course, but in their first year, they have a heavily spotted breast.† I remember the first time I became aware of that Ė it was at Yosemite several years ago.† Anyway, here is a juvenile robin, in its first year:
Here is a Black-billed Magpie, on the lawn in front of the Glacier Park Lodge.† Note the long tail.
Moving back north again, I took the turn off to the Two Medicine Lake part of Glacier National Park.† I stopped at Running Eagle Falls and took the quarter mile nature trail to the view of the falls.† Very nice.
There was a nice bench with a view of the falls, and I sat for a while there and contemplated things.
The scarcity of birds continued, but I did manage to see a Red-breasted Nuthatch on that walk, but nothing else of interest.† The usual robins, of course.† They are far and away the most common bird of Glacier.
I moved on up to the end of the road, to Two Medicine Lake.† The campground there was supposed to be good for birds, so I drove slowly through it and then stopped a couple of places.† I walked across a bridge to a trail and actually had the best birding I have had so far in this area.† I saw Pine Siskins, Chipping Sparrows, Northern Waterthrushes (I think), and several other birds I couldnít identify.† The mosquitoes were really thick Ė there were at least a dozen flying around me at all times Ė but it was cool so I was only exposed on my hands and face, and I used some of my Aussie bug spray, and it kept me from getting any bites.† I didnít get anything new for my list, but at least I felt like I was birding, for a change.
I did get a picture of a squirrel that I like.† It was very low light, and I was pleased to get this good a picture.
OK, now for the whinge.† The birding here is terrible.† It is one of the most un-birdy places I have ever birded.† This afternoon I went through the official Glacier National Park bird list, and I counted over 90 species that are listed as ďcommonĒ here.† Well, I only saw 26 of those species in four days of birding here.† I would normally expect to see at least 80% of ďcommonĒ species in four days, probably more.† That would be 72, not 26.† Terrible.† Looking at the birds listed as ďuncommonĒ, there are over 50 of them, and I saw only 3.† Again, really terrible.† OK, you can believe I am just a really terrible birder (and I donít claim to be good), but those are terrible results.† All I can conclude is that whoever made that ďofficialĒ bird list was dreaming or something.† Maybe I was just terribly unlucky, but my opinion is that Glacier National Park is just a terrible place to bird.† Where are all the sparrows?† The flycatchers?† The blackbirds?† The warblers?† There are supposed to be two species of chickadee that are abundant.† I saw a total of two chickadees in four days, both Black-capped Chickadees (no Mountain Chickadees or the uncommon Boreal Chickadees).† Abundant?† Give me a break!† So, I am very disappointed with the birding here in Glacier.† OK, whinge over.
So, I walked a few more trails and I sat and looked at the mountains and contemplated life, but eventually, I headed for home.† Here is a picture of my little log cabin:
As I mentioned yesterday, there is no kitchen, but I have a microwave and a little fridge, which is all that I need.† They actually have a kitchen cabin, if you want to cook more elaborately, but I havenít needed that.† Having Verizon cell phone data coverage tops it off for me, as I can access the internet that way, which is just what I need.
It was 72 degrees in here when I got back today, and only 65 outside.† I slept well again last night, and the temperature only dropped from 69 to 65 overnight, so the place is well insulated.† Logs do have that effect.
So, I am through with Glacier now.† I am very disappointed in how few birds I saw here.† I wonder if Yellowstone and Grand Teton will be as disappointing.† Time will tell.† Tomorrow I plan to stop at Freezout Lake (also spelled Freezeout sometimes), and I might pick up one or two birds there.† I finish in Great Falls tomorrow, if all goes as planned.† Time moves on, and the Old Rambler is swept along with it.
(Did you notice that this was another pseudo report?† No new bird seen today, but I indulged myself anyway, and wrote a report.)
Thursday, July 21
I got another good night of sleep last night, and wasnít on the road until about 9 this morning.† I gassed up in Browning, after half an hour or so, and got a Subway sandwich for later, so I was all set for a day of birding.
And, it was indeed a day of birding!† With birds and all!† Almost right away I noticed more birds today.† Flying across the road, sitting on fences, sitting on wires.† Where were all those birds for the last several days?† I guess that mountains are just not good places to bird, and I will be interested to see if Yellowstone and Grand Teton are as poor as Glacier for birding.
Anyway, my route today took me out into the prairies.† It is interesting how the prairies pretty much run right up to the mountains, without a lot of foothills.† One of the birds I was on watch for is supposed to like to sit on fence posts, so I was scrutinizing every fence as I drove along.† I saw a meadowlark on a fence post Ė that was great, as it was a bird, at least, unlike the last few days.† Then suddenly there was a bird stretching its wings on a fencepost, and it looked like my target.† I hit the brakes and found a place to turn around and when I got back, there was a lovely UPLAND SANDPIPER (lifer), sitting on the post, bigger than life.† I stopped in the middle of the road and took a number of pictures.† Here is one of them:
It seems weird to see a shorebird in the middle of farm country in Montana, but this is where they breed.† They are pretty uncommon and I only had it at 30% in my spreadsheet, so it was really great to see one in the first couple of hours of my two days on the prairies.
I drove on and got to my birding destination of the day about 11:30.† That was Freezout Lake National Wildlife Area.† The refuge is a series of lakes in the middle of the prairie, with mostly waterbirds as its attraction to birders.† I donít need many waterbirds still for my year list, but there were a couple that I could get there.
At my first stop, just as I realized I was actually in the refuge, I picked up COMMON TERN.† I had expected it here, as they breed on the refuge, and I knew which lake they used, from the refuge brochure I had printed out from their website.† I saw Common Tern in Britain and also in Australia last year, so it wasnít a lifer, but it was a new one for my US list.† They generally only show up on the East Coast, but a few do breed in the upper Rocky Mountain states.† So, my count was at two for the day, and I was feeling good.
After looking at my map of the refuge, I backtracked and started down a dirt road where there was supposed to be a couple of other species I needed.† The book warned that the road was impassable when wet, and there was a sign to that effect at the start of it, as well.† It was dry, but I worried that it could be wet farther down, as it had rained where I was just yesterday.† Almost right away I saw a large raptor, and got a fairly good look at it.† I was hoping for Ferruginous Hawk, which is supposed to be the most common raptor on the prairie, but I think it was a Swainsonís Hawk Ė a good bird, but not one I need for my year list.
Driving on down the road, there were a lot of little sparrow-like birds, and I soon saw my next target for the day, VESPER SPARROW (lifer).† I wasnít completely sure from seeing it, but it sang its little song, and when I played the Vesper Sparrow song on my phone, sure enough, that was it.† I got some pictures of that bird, but later saw another one and got better pictures.† Here is one them:
Fairly non-descript, but the pattern behind and below the eye is diagnostic of the species, as is the leg color and bill color.† There are supposedly common birds out here, but I wasnít at all confident that I could identify one if I saw it, so I only had it at 50% in my spreadsheet.
A little farther along, I got great looks at Horned Larks.† Here is one of them.† You can see why they call them that, with the little horns behind the eyes
At that point, I decided not to continue on down that road, as it was a long way around.† So, I backtracked to the highway and drove on down to the headquarters of the refuge.† I picked up a map and studied the map they showed there, and went out on the driving tour.† I stopped almost right away when I came to some picnic tables, as it was time for my humble lunch Ė tuna sandwich from Subway, Diet Coke, and Fritos.
After lunch I continued the driving tour, which was supposed to take you past the best places to see shorebirds.† There are several uncommon sandpipers that supposedly migrate south through here, starting about now, and I wanted to see birds anyway, whether I needed them for my list or not.† (As a reminder, when I see a bird that is new for my year list, I type its name in CAPITALS.† Others are just birds of interest that I have already seen this year.)
I saw a lot of birds.† It was really great to be actually birding again, with actual birds to observe.† Here is a picture of a Greater Yellowlegs:
And here is a Marbled Godwit, a bird I normally see in the winter on the California coast.
Note the slightly upturned bill of that bird, and the pinkish color to the base of the bill.† That is diagnostic of the Marbled Godwit.
Here is a picture of a Clarkís Grebe.† It is very much like a Western Grebe, except the bill color is slightly different and the ďeye is in the whiteĒ.
Here is the very similar Western Grebe, with ďthe eye in the blackĒ and a less orange colored bill:
They are different species, and somehow find their own kind to breed with.† Again, I normally see them in the winter, on the California coast, but in the summer they are up here, breeding.
Here is a picture of Freezout Lake, showing the flattish prairie land, leading up to the mountains:
As I continued along the tour route, there was just one species of bird after another.† I ended up seeing 32 species in a couple of hours, which is more different species of birds than I saw in Glacier National Park in four days.† As I said before, it was really fun doing some actual birding again, and I kind of overdid it on pictures, Iím afraid.† I took 245 pictures today, but of course, most of them were duplicates, so I could pick out the best shots.† You wonít be subjected to that many, although this is a very big picture day, compared to most of my reports.
Here are a couple of pictures of American White Pelicans.† Again, this is a bird I normally see on the California coast in the winter, but they breed up here in the inland.† First, here is one that I got of a flying pelican.† You donít see the black wing tips at all when they are on the ground or in the water, but in flight, they are very distinctive.† It is a pretty blurry picture, but getting pictures of flying birds is not easy.
Here are three of them in the water, showing no sign of the black wing tips:
Next, I present one of my favorite pictures of the day.† I caught this Forsterís Tern with a little fish in its bill:
And, here is an American Avocet, another bird I see in the winter in California.
Here is a picture of a Franklinís Gull.† This is either an immature bird or one in winter (non-breeding) plumage, Iím not sure which.† In the summer (breeding) plumage, the head would be completely black.† Most of the ones I saw today were like that, not like this one.
Okay, now we are to one of the most interesting parts of the day (to me, anyway).†† I mentioned that I had hopes of seeing an uncommon sandpiper on migration, but I didnít really expect to see one.† I had a list of four possible species that have been seen here in late July.† At my next stop, there was a shorebird that I couldnít immediately identify.† It sort of looked like it might be a Lesser Yellowlegs, but a couple of things argued against that.† The legs were more greenish yellow that bright yellow, and the markings on the head werenít really right for Lesser Yellowlegs.† Then I saw a Killdeer nearby, and the bird in question seemed smaller than the Killdeer, and the Lesser Yellowlegs should be about the same size as a Killdeer.† I looked in my field guide, and I looked through my scope, and I took many pictures, and eventually I decided it was a STILT SANDPIPER (lifer), a bird listed as rare at Freezout, but one that has been seen regularly in the past at this time of year, on migration.† I donít feel 100% certain of my identification, but I feel good enough about it to count it.† Maybe someday someone will convince me that it is something else, but Iím calling it a Stilt Sandpiper for now.† Here are some pictures of the little darling:
The whitish eyebrow is one of the diagnostic characteristics of the Stilt Sandpiper.
Here is one with the Killdeer showing a size comparison:
The Killdeer is about 10.5 inches in length, from bill tip to end of the tail, and the Stilt Sandpiper is only about 8.5 inches, supposedly.† To me, the bird on the left looks smaller than the Killdeer on the right.† The Lesser Yellowlegs would be 10.5 inches, like the Killdeer.
Later I returned to that area and got closer views and pictures.† Here is a later picture of what I believe is the same
The white eyebrow, the bill length, the greenish yellow legs, the size Ė they all say Stilt Sandpiper to me.† Even the reddish tinge at the neck is consistent with Stilt Sandpiper, as opposed to Lesser Yellowlegs.† Incidentally, the Lesser Yellowlegs is only seen here occasionally, so it isnít likely, either.† I only had Stilt Sandpiper at 1% in my spreadsheet, but a couple of other ones that I didnít see (yet, anyway) were at 10% and 20%.† Anyway, it was an outstanding bird to see.† I had though the Upland Sandpiper would be my ďbird of the dayĒ, but now I think it has to be the Stilt guy.
Here is a picture of an Eared Grebe, feeding a young one:
My last picture is the one I promised several days ago Ė a better picture of an Eastern Kingbird.† I saw a couple of them today.
So, that was my day of birding today.† Freezout was really great, much better than I expected.† It was only about 70 degrees at the high, and there was a nice breeze, which kept the mosquitoes down, I suspect.† I had read that the mozzies could be bad there, but it was the biting flies that I hated.† They bit me a number of times, including through the denim of my jeans.† Little bastards!† Usually I felt them on my arm before they could bite me, but the bite was annoying when I wasnít quick enough, and I was constantly waving them off.
I added four more species to my year list today, which is outstanding.† All four are new for my US list, and three of them are lifers.† Again, outstanding!† Iím in Great Falls now, in a very nice motel, and tomorrow I move on across the prairie to Billings, looking for a couple more prairie species.† My primary target is Ferruginous Hawk, but I would also love to see one of the two longspurs that live in that area.† We will see.
It sure was great to do some actual birding today, instead of the frustration of looking for the non-existent birds in Glacier.
Friday, July 22
OK, I hereby call this meeting to order.† First on the agenda is some old business, from yesterday.† I find that I must retract my ďbird of the dayĒ report of the Stilt Sandpiper.† Last night, after I sent off my report for the day, I read the Montana birding mailing list, and there was a post by a local birder who had been at Freezout yesterday, as I was.† He mentioned that he had seen 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, so I thought I should send him some of my pictures of my supposed Stilt Sandpiper, to see what he would say.† Well, it turned out to be a different species entirely, a juvenile Wilsonís Phalarope.† I can see in my field guide that my bird is exactly like the picture there.† I had never considered any phalaropes, because I have only ever seen them swimming in deeper water, never foraging around in shallow water, walking, as this bird was.† I have also never before seen a Wilsonís phalarope in its juvenile plumage, which is somewhat different from the adult plumage.† So, I have a good excuse for my mistake, and that is good enough for an old fart.† Subtract one from my totals, if you are keeping track at home.† I only got three birds for my year list yesterday, as it turns out, and two of them were lifers.† At least this makes the Upland Sandpiper from yesterday the clear winner of the ďbird of the dayĒ contest.† I have seen thousands of fence posts in Montana now, and that is the only one that has had an Upland Sandpiper sitting on it
So, next on the agenda is today, Friday.† I was out of my nice motel in Great Falls by about 8:30 this morning.† My first stop was in some mountains, at Kingís Hill Campground, which was mentioned in one of my birding guide books.† It is a lovely campground, set in a pine forest at a pass.† Very nice facilities, it almost made me wish I was a camper.† Here is a picture of a meadow in the middle of the campground.† Most of it was in the trees.
I looked for several species I need there, but it was the same old mountain birding story as in Glacier Ė no birds except a couple of robins and one Yellow-rumped Warbler.† I spent 20 or 30 minutes there, but it didnít seem like it would be worth spending more.
So, I plunged onward and came out onto the prairies again.† I had a particular place to stop to look for a particular species of the sparrow family, and I got there about 11 am.† It meant driving off the main road on a gravel road, but it was a good road, so no problem.† Almost right away I saw a sparrow-like bird on a fence wire, and I stopped and got a good look.† Oh, ďonlyĒ a Vesper Sparrow.† Yesterday it was a lifer and cause for excitement, and today it was just another dickey bird on a fence wire.† Here is a picture of the little guy:
I drove on along the road, and it was pretty disappointing.† I did see more Vesper Sparrows and some Horned Larks, but not the bird that had been reported to be there.† Then, about three miles along the road, just as I was thinking of giving up, I saw a juvenile MCCOWNíS LONGSPUR (lifer).† That is the one I was looking for.† In the next miles, I saw at least two dozen of them, males, females, and juveniles.† I never got a picture of a male, and I guess I didnít get a good enough picture of a mature female, either, as I donít seem to have one.† They have a very characteristic tail pattern that you see as they fly away from you, and I saw that many times.† I had good looks at adult birds, but they were shy and flew away before I could get their pictures.† Anyway, I had the bird I had come there to see, and so life was good.† Here is a juvenile McCownís Longspur:
Eventually, after about five miles, I turned around and went back to the main road.† I drove on to Harlowton, where I gassed up and stopped at a rest area to eat my humble lunch.† Today it was only Triscuits, peanut butter, and pepper jack cheese.† Iíll bet you have never had that particular combination for lunch, and neither had I, before now.† I had a Diet Coke and some Trader Joeís cookies as well, and some string cheese to supplement my protein.† As I was eating lunch, the wind really picked up, and it was good to get back in the car.† There were clouds around, and I had showers from time to time for the rest of the day, but at least the wind abated somewhat after a while.
As I approached Billings, I decided to head off on a side trip, in search of birds.† I had read some trip reports online that reported some birds I needed on some gravel roads northwest of Billings.† I had planned my route today to be able to spend some time there.† I fired up my GPS app on my cell phone, so I would know where I was going and not get lost, and I headed out on the unpaved roads.† They were well graded and not a problem at all to drive on, although they tended to be rather dusty.† There were scattered showers today, though, so that held the dust down somewhat.† There were few enough of the showers that they never interfered with my birding, at least.
Almost as soon as I started off on this adventure on the unpaved roads in rural Montana, I saw one of my target birds, LARK BUNTING (lifer).† I knew they were very common in Wyoming, but after I cut my trip short, I didnít know if I would see them in Montana or not, but they were very plentiful today on my little adventure.† The male is a very striking black, with a white patch on his wing, and the female is somewhat more cryptic in browns and grays.† Here are my best pictures of the two of them.† First, the striking male:
And, here is the more cryptic female:
A little later I saw a flock of birds near a cattle yard, which was empty at the time, and they seemed strange to me.† I got a good look at them, but I couldnít place them.† I stopped, and after a while, I realized they were first year starlings.† I had run into this same situation once before, on my Australian trip last year.† Starlings look very different in their first year.† They are a very plain brown color, rather than either the winter or summer plumages of the adults.† In the mid to late summer they form into flocks, so you see these flocks of plain brown birds that really donít look like starlings at all.† Here is a picture of one:
Even the tail is longer than that of an adult starling.† It was a good lesson for me today.
At that same stop, when I was trying to figure out the juvenile starlings, I saw some other black birds that were different.† I got better looks, and it turned out that they were COMMON GRACKLES.† Yellow eyes and long tails.† I had not expected them at all, as I didnít know they came this far west.† It was one of the species I thought I was kissing off when I decided not to go on to northeast Wyoming.† So, a bonus bird, and one that I only had at 30% in my spreadsheet, even when I was thinking I would go farther east.† It wasnít a lifer because I saw one on one of my two eastern birding excursions, in either Minnesota (a wedding we went to) or New York (Johannaís graduation from Cornell).† It was my first one west of the Mississippi, though.
I continued on down the gravel road.† From time to time, a car or a truck would come along and raise a cloud of dust.† I saw a lot of the same birds, over and over again, trying to get a good look at each one, in case there was something different.† In fact I did see something different.† I saw two different birds that I couldnít identify, even when I got here to my room and looked at the pictures.† It seems like I should be able to identify them both, as the pictures are good, but I just canít figure them out.† I sent the pictures to the Montana birder who told me that my so-called Stilt Sandpiper was a juvenile Wilsonís Phalarope, and it will be interesting to see what he has to say.† Here are the two mystery birds.† Two pictures of the first one, and one picture of the second one.
Here is the second one.† I suspect it is a juvenile bird, which makes it harder to ID.
Both of those birds seem distinctive enough that a local Montana birder should be able to immediately tell me what they are, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say.
After about 15 miles of the gravel road, stopping frequently to check out birds, I re-routed myself for Billings, and took a side road, as advised by my GPS app.† There were more of the same birds along there, but I never got any sighting of any raptors.† I had wanted to see Ferruginous Hawk, but there was an amazing scarcity of raptors at all.† I saw one Northern Harrier today, and that was it.† No Turkey Vultures, no Red-tailed Hawks, and no Ferruginous Hawks, for sure.† It was surprising to me to spend a day on the prairies and see only one raptor all day long.
I did see a small herd of seven antelope cross the road in front of me.† Here is a picture of one of the males and a young one:
Soon after that, I was back to the paved road, and I motored on in to Billings.† But, it was only about 4 oíclock by then, and there is a park near my motel that I wanted to check out Ė Two Moon Park.† I had read reports that one of my target birds lived there, and while it seemed unlikely I would see one, I decided to give it a go.† After all, that is why I am out here, to look for birds.
The road to the park that I had mapped out was closed, though.† I realized then that it went near the Yellowstone River, which flooded big-time a few weeks ago, here in Billings, and I imagine the road was closed because of the flooding.† I managed to find a way around, and got to the park, though.† It turned out to be a very birdy place.† I saw a number of interesting species there.† I didnít really expect anything, but I played the song of the species I was especially looking for there, and in a minute or so, I was rewarded with a nice view of a beautiful male AMERICAN REDSTART (lifer).† This was a bird I had looked for in Glacier repeatedly, and I only had it at 20% in my spreadsheet, but here it was, right where it was supposed to be!† Amazing.† Another one for my year list, and another lifer.† I was ďpumpedĒ, as a former boss of mine used to like to say.
But, wait, it wasnít over yet.† As I made my way back to the car, I saw more birds.† I got a look at the female American Redstart, which is quite different from the male, and then I saw a dark gray bird in a bush, and it had a very cinnamon colored undertail area.† This rang a bell, and when I checked my field guide, sure enough, that was a GRAY CATBIRD, another one for my year list.† I had seen one in New York, but this was my first western sighting.
So, I finally headed for my motel, checking in about 5 PM.† I had five new species for my year list, which is outstanding, and much more than I expected today.† Three of those were lifers, too.† Iím now at 368 for the year (after taking away the Stilt Sandpiper from yesterday), of which 106 are lifers.† Considering that my original expectation for the year was 273 species, I have obviously done very well.† I was way, way too conservative in my original estimates.
Tomorrow I plan to head back west, ending up in West Yellowstone, where I plan to stay for three nights.† It will be back to mountain birding, and I am worried about it, but we will see how it works out.† The scenery should be great, anyway, and maybe I will see some birds.† Iíll be looking forward to hearing from the Montana birder, too, to see what my two mystery birds are.† What a life!
Saturday, July 23
Iíll start today with an update on my two mystery birds from yesterday.† My Montana birder guy thought that number one is a Savannah Sparrow and number two a Vesper Sparrow.
As far as number one is concerned, I canít see it as a Savannah Sparrow because its breast is not streaked and the bill seems wrong.† Looking at my field guide, I think it looks more like a Grasshopper Sparrow than anything else, but the yellow above the eye should be orange, not yellow, in a Grasshopper Sparrow.† My field guide says that Grasshopper Sparrow hybridizes with Savannah Sparrow, so I am going to tentatively think of it as a cross between Savannah Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow.† I donít need either species for my year list, so it is immaterial as far as that is concerned.† I wrote back to my Montana birder guy and suggested Grasshopper Sparrow and said why.† I hadnít thought of the hybrid idea then.† I havenít heard back from him yet.
On number two, I can see it as a Vesper Sparrow, although it looks somewhat different from the other ones I have been taking pictures of.† I have one todayís report, and it looks quite different from mystery bird number two, to me.
So, to today.† I had the hot breakfast at my nice motel (a couple of little omelets and some biscuits and gravy, with a bowl of fruit and a yogurt), and was on the road by about 8:30.† I had decided to take an extra hour or so and go back out on the prairie to look for Chestnut-collared Longspur and maybe even Ferruginous Hawk.† It would make my day a long one, but I am not likely to pass this way again, so I gave it a go.
I took the paved road out to the town of Molt, and along the way I did get a picture of a male Common Grackle.
I canít tell what he has in his bill Ė a bug or nesting material.
I drove up the gravel road I was on yesterday (from the other end, this time), and I saw some birds, but didnít see my longspur I was looking for.† Here is a picture I like of a Vesper Sparrow, and it looks quite a bit different from yesterdayís mystery bird number two, to me, but I think they are both Vesper Sparrows.
I finally gave up, and started off on the paved road back to civilization.† I saw a couple of ravens that were sitting on fence posts, and then a little farther along, there was another big dark bird.† It was bigger than the ravens, and I started thinking I maybe had my Ferruginous Hawk.† But, alas, it was only a Turkey Vulture, my first in Montana.
I headed south and west, to the Beartooth Mountains, which I guess must be part of the Rockies, as they represent the continental divide.† Beartooth Pass is 10,300 feet in elevation, and it is reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in the country.† It lived up to its reputation today.† The weather was perfect, sunny skies, great temperatures (high 60ís and low 70ís).† Here are some pictures:
To show off the zoom capability of my camera, here is a shot of some campers in that valley:
I am constantly amazed at the amount of zoom this camera has, and how well it works when hand-held.
Here is a rocky mountain meadow, above the tree line, where I got out and walked around looking for birds.
I did see one bird out there, an American Pipit, the other bird that lives at this elevation in the summer.† ďOtherĒ than my target bird for the day, that is.
Here is a picture looking east:
Here is one a little farther along, looking west:
It really did feel like I was on top of the world.† I stopped and ate my Subway sandwich at a pullout, sitting in the trees on a rock.† There was a lot of traffic today, a lovely Saturday in July.† Too many people wanted to drive at 25 or 30 MPH, when 35 or 40 was perfectly safe and legal.† I had spent enough time on my prairie diversion in the morning that I was in a bit of a hurry, but I did stop to look for my target bird and take pictures from time to time.
This bird I was looking for is pretty uncommon, and they only live in the highest elevations, above the tree line.† I guess they move to lower elevations in the winter, although that isnít really clear to me.†† I canít imagine them spending the winter at 10,000 feet, though, as it would be all snow.† I stopped four or five places, and I walked around at several of them, looking for the little darlings.† I was getting pretty discouraged, as I had been counting on seeing them here.† I had missed their cousins at Logan Pass in Glacier, because there was so much snow that I couldnít walk out on the trail where they are seen there, and I had missed the same cousins in Yosemite earlier this year.
At the final summit, where the road was about to start down again, I drove out on a little track that gave a great view of the western side.† I looked for the birds, but saw nothing.† As I drove back to the road, I saw a bird, but before I could get my binoculars on it, it flew off, away from me.† Its flight was undulating, though, which is a characteristic of my target bird.† I jammed on the brakes, grabbed my binoculars and camera and hotfooted after the bird, across the barren landscape.† I hadnít seen where it went, exactly, only the direction.† Then I saw a bird out on some snow, and as I got my binoculars on it, it flew off.† It was one of the American Pipits, and I asked myself, ďIs that the bird I saw?Ē† I hoped not, and I continued to look, and then I saw a darker colored bird, closer to me, and I got the binoculars on it, and it was indeed a beaut little BLACK ROSY-FINCH (lifer)!† Yes!† Thatís what Iím talkiní about!
I got off a couple of ďrecordĒ pictures, and then I tried to get closer.† It kept feeding along the edge of the snow patch, and it was actually moving toward me as it did so, while I moved toward it.† I shot 15 or 20 pictures, but none is very good, Iím sorry to say.† Here are the best two:
So, that was all quite exciting for the Old Rambler.† I had pretty much given up, and was feeling very discouraged, when I saw this one bird.† Other birders report flocks of them, and I had been counting on it, but I came very close to missing it entirely.
After that, I had to make time.† I stopped at Beartooth Lake campground, and I looked around a bit for birds, but it was getting time to be heading for my new ďhomeĒ, in West Yellowstone, which was still over 100 miles away, on mountain roads with tons of tourists driving slowly.† Here is a picture of Beartooth Lake, though, with the striking rock formation on the other side:
Fisher-people had boats out on the lake, and some of them had nice catches they had brought in.† I used the rest room there and hit the road for West Yellowstone.
I had lots more slow drivers to contend with, and from time to time, once I got into Yellowstone National Park, they would be stopped along the road, often partially blocking it, to look at some kind of wildlife.† I saw bison and elk, but I didnít see everything they were looking at, at various places.†
I finally got here to my humble motel in West Yellowstone about 5:10.† Not too bad, but I was glad to move in and have my first drinkie.† It is an older mom and pop motel, but very clean and fresh smelling, with newer bathroom fixtures, a queen bed, and a fridge and microwave.† It is small, but it will be just great for me, for the three nights I plan to spend here.† It is about 72 in here now, and there is a largish portable air conditioner in the back corner, which I may or may not use, depending on how it cools down in here this evening.† I have the window and door open, but there is no cross ventilation, so we will see how it does.† Even 72 is not inordinately hot for sleeping, and I expect it will cool down eventually.
I had a couple of drinkies, and then I walked the two blocks to the local ďsupermarketĒ and loaded up on food for my stay here.† It is nice to have three nights in the same place, especially after two one-night stands, the last two nights.† I get tired of packing up every morning.†
Iím not sure what Iím going to do here.† I need to consult my books and make plans for the next couple of day.† I donít really expect to get many more birds, and maybe none at all.† There are 4 or 5 possibles, but I learned my lesson about mountain birding in Glacier, and I donít really expect to see anything at all for my list.† Today I had to drive by a lot of scenic places, and Yellowstone is really incredibly beautiful Ė more so than I remember from 40 years ago, when I came through here before.† Iím thinking I will spend my time here being a sightseeing tourist and looking for birds will be a sidelight.† I need to read my books and make plans.† On Tuesday, I plan to drive south, through Grand Teton National Park to Jackson, and I could pick up one or two birds there, but we will see.
So, that is my report for today.† My Black Rosy-Finch puts me at 369 for the year, of which 107 are lifers.† Iím at 14 new species for the trip now, and I was projecting 15 after I cut the trip short by axing Northeastern Wyoming.† That was before I realized how unrealistic my expectations for Glacier were, though, so I feel great to have 14.† I expect it will end there.† Iíll probably write reports anyway the next several days, as I like to write, and it is a way to keep in touch with my ďreal worldĒ.
Sunday, July 24
Well, it turns out that Yellowstone is even less birdy than Glacier.† I am not surprised, but it is too bad.† Yellowstone is a higher elevation (6500 to 8500 feet mostly, compared to about 5000 feet in Glacier, where I was birding), so that might explain it.† For whatever reason, my worst fears have been realized, and birding here is not going to be any good.
So, todayís report is going to focus on my other passion Ė waterfalls.† I added a number of waterfalls to my list today, and I have some pictures of them to show you.† Getting pictures of waterfalls is a lot easier than getting pictures of birds, although there is a challenge not to get the white water overexposed and blown out.
My first stop today was at Gibbon Falls, and here is a picture of it:
Like several of the falls, getting this view meant walking several hundred yards, so I did get some exercise today.† My longest walk was at the next stop, Artists Paintpots.† My birding book for Wyoming talked about this being a nice walk to see birds, but I saw nothing.† Nada.† Not one bird.† I saw the boiling pots and smelled the sulphur gas smell, but no birds.† I stopped a number of other places, and had the same results.
Soon after that, I stopped to see Rustic Falls, and here is the picture to prove it.
That brought me in to Mammoth Hot Springs, and I declined to go see the fabulous rock formations that have been created over the millennia.† Too many crowds of people, no likelihood of birds, and no waterfalls.
On the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt (now called just Tower seemingly), I stopped and got this picture of Undine Falls:
A little farther along was a pullout for the ďshort walkĒ to Wraith Falls, but nothing told me how short it was, and it looked like quite a hike to me, to get to anywhere you would see a 100 foot waterfall.† It was warming up by then, and the walk would have been in the sun, so I passed.† Thereís one ďliferĒ falls that I will probably never see.
I was tempted by the next ďattractionĒ, though.† There is a dirt road that goes up onto the Blacktail Deer Plateau.† It is a six mile, one-way road, and my birding book said it was good for birding.† I hoped it would get me away from the crowds, too.† It was a nice drive, although it was very dusty, and the crowds followed me.† I wanted to go 10 or 15 mph and look and listen for birds, but cars kept coming up behind me who wanted to motor along at 20 or 25 mph (raising clouds of dust, of course).
At one point, early in the drive, I saw a little bird fly into a tree, so I pulled over in a wide spot, where a car could pass me.† I got out and saw that the bird was a flycatcher.† It was unlikely to be the only flycatcher I still need (Willow Flycatcher) because of the habitat, but I still tried to get a picture of it.† While I was looking for it, a raptor flew down the canyon, and it wasnít anything I knew, which was exciting, but I didnít get a good enough look to make an identification.†
Cars kept coming along, raising clouds of dust, which didnít help at all.† As I was still trying to get a shot of the flycatcher, a little while later, the same raptor (presumably) flew back up the canyon, and circled around above me.† I got a great, long look at it, and it was a NORTHERN GOSHAWK (lifer)!† There was no doubt about it.† Heavy body, wide wings, very light colored underneath, barred tail.† I had made a list this morning of 8 species that I might possibly see here, although only one seemed likely at all (Gray Jay), and Northern Goshawk wasnít even on the list, as I considered it so unlikely.† I had it at only 10% in my spreadsheet for the year, for example.† I knew it was possible to see one in any forest habitat, but I had never seen one in my 13 years of birding, and I wasnít at all sure I would be able to identify one if I did see it.† This one was very cooperative, though, and circled overhead to give me a wonderful, long, close view with my binoculars.† I really hadnít expected any new birds today, except maybe the Gray Jay, which is supposed to be very easy in picnic areas, but here was a completely unexpected lifer for me.† Amazing.
It was getting past my lunch time by then, so I moved on through the rest of that 6 mile dusty dirt road, stopping only a couple of times, and not seeing any more birds.
I stopped at Tower Falls, which is a very busy place, with more cars than parking places and way, way too many people milling around.† But, I wanted to ďcollectĒ this waterfall, so I waited until I could grab a parking place and walked the couple of hundred yards to the falls overlook.† Here it is:
It was after 1:30 by then, and I was hungry.† I had been trying to get to the picnic area at Dunraven Pass, as my birding book indicated that Gray Jay was so easy there that you didnít have to look for them, they found you.† It turned out that either the book was wrong or things have changed in 18 years, as the picnic area was ten or fifteen minutes past the pass.† I have found several problems with my old guide books.† Both are about 18 years old, and some things have changed in the park.
Anyway, I found a picnic table in the shade, as well as a parking place in the shade, and I ate my humble lunch (ham and cheese sandwich, Fritos, Diet coke, and some Trader Joeís cookies).† No sign of any Gray Jays, though.† I guess they couldnít find me.† In addition to the Gray Jay, there is another member of the jay family that is supposed to be very common here, Clarkís Nutcracker.† I donít need it for my year list, but I thought I might get some pictures of them.† No sniff of them, either, so far, and they are supposed to be super-common.† Maybe itís me.† Maybe my karma just isnít good for national park birds this year, but the Northern Goshawk is mine, anyway, so Iím easy.
After my birdless lunch, I moved on to Canyon Village, where I got some gas, even though it was 3.98 a gallon, which is 10 cents a gallon more than in West Yellowstone.† It was going to be close, so I decided to get a few gallons.† I found my way to the side road that gives views of the Lower and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River. †I had to consult the map they gave me when I came into the park, as the road had changed since my old guide books had been written.
Here is a picture of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River:
Very impressive.† Being old and fat, I declined to take the hike to the top of that falls, but here is a closeup of some people who did so, taken from a different view point.:
Here is a picture of the Upper Falls, from a kind of distant view point.† I didnít take the time to drive around to get a frontal view.
I had read that osprey nested in the canyon below these falls, and when I was at the viewpoint for the Lower Falls, I saw a guy with a spotting scope set up, giving people views of an osprey nest.† I got some pictures of it, and here is the best one.† There are supposedly two young ones in the nest, but I can only really see one in any of my pictures.† This picture shows the parent and the young one the best:
By then it was getting late, and I was still a long way from home.† On the way, though, I saw a turn off to a 2.5 mile one-way paved road that was supposed to give you a view of another waterfall, and I couldnít resist that.† I had to stop in a wide spot in the road to get this picture, but here is Virginia Cascades:
Now it was really getting late, so I went on back toward home as quickly as I could, given all the slow drivers here in the park.† Along the way, there was a traffic jam where people were stopping to see a bull elk.† It was impressive enough that I stopped, too, and here he is:
I saw buffalo (ok, American Bison) several times today, and I saw a coyote cross the road right in front of me, but I havenít seen a bear or a moose yet.
Here is a picture of some of the people who had stopped to see the elk and wanted to get closer than I felt a need to get:
There was a little stream between the people and the elk, so I guess they felt safe.† Besides, it is like the two guys who were out looking for lions, and when one of them asked the other, do you think you can outrun a lion, he answered, no, but I donít have to, I only have to outrun you.
So, I finally got back to my humble motel room about 5:30, even later than last night.† Now I have had a shower, processed my pictures, had my little dinner (and some drinkies, of course), and written this. †I was surprised and pleased to have gotten a new bird today, especially such a great one as Northern Goshawk.† Maybe I can pick up a Gray Jay tomorrow, or one of the less likely ones on my list.† I havenít yet figured out where I will go tomorrow.† This park is really huge, and it takes a lot of driving to get around.† I am very tired of all the driving, and Iím feeling really glad that I cut this trip short and skipped Northeast Wyoming.† Iíll consult my books and work out a plan for tomorrow.† Maybe there will be less traffic and fewer people on a Monday, but that is probably just wishful thinking.
I have 15 new trip birds for the trip now, which meets my expectations (considering that I cut the trip short by a week).† I stand at 370 for the year now, of which 108 are lifers.† Weíll see if I can add any more on the rest of the trip.
Monday, July 25
I was up and out of here by ten minutes before nine.† I had decided to hold the driving down today but explore some new areas.† I drove the 15 miles between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction (which I have to do every day, each way, in order to get into the park proper).† Yellowstone is a huge park, and it takes a lot of driving to see it all.† I wonít quite cover all the main roads in the park, but I will have driven most of them by the time I leave the park tomorrow.
At Madison junction, I headed south, and my first diversion was the Firehole Canyon drive.† This is a paved, one-way road, two miles long, that runs along the Firehole River canyon, with an overlook of Firehole Falls.† I took it as slowly as I could, considering there were cars coming up behind me constantly.† This place would be really great if there was about 10% of the traffic and about 10% as many people here at any given time (or, at the given time I am here, actually).†
Continuing the waterfall theme from yesterday, here is Firehole Falls:
I drove slowly and stopped several times.† One time I stopped because I heard a bird calling.† I clambered up on the hillside, chasing the sound, which kept moving, and finally I was rewarded with a series of views of a lovely male Western Tanager.† I thought he was so pretty, and I was so glad to actually see a nice bird, that I am going to show you two pictures of him.
A little farther along, I stopped at a parking place for no particular reason, and I saw a couple more birds.† There were a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos of the Pink-sided race or group, and I got some pictures, but none of them are good enough to show.† I got some later, at another stop, and Iíll show a couple of those in a while.
Meanwhile, there were Violet-green Swallows swooping around over the river, and one of them landed and I got this picture.† You can see why they are named that, as they are both violet and green.
They look a lot like a Tree Swallow, if you canít see the colors well, but the Violet-green one has the white color looping up over the eye from behind.† This bird was in the sun, so the colors showed better than you usually see.
So, I was seeing some birds!† This was different.† And fun.† Nothing for my list, but at least I was getting some birding in, and some pictures to show.
Next, I took the Firehole Lake drive, and stopped a few times, but didnít see any birds.† The thermal activity was interesting, but I didnít take the opportunity to walk out on any of the boardwalks to look more closely.
I stopped at the next picnic area to take a pee and to look for my jay that was supposed to hang around picnic areas.† No jays, but I did see Dark-eyed Juncos there, too.† They were also the Pink-sided race, which is different from the ones we have at home.† Here are a couple of pictures of one of them.† In the first one, it is flapping its wing, so that is blurred, but you can see the characteristic white outer tail feather on one side, and you can see the ďpinkĒ color on its side.
In the second one, you can see the colors of the head well.
Moving on from there, I drove through the main thermal feature area of the park.† Geysers, fumaroles, paint pots, etc.† I declined to join the hundreds of people trudging along the boardwalks to see the steaming thermal ďfeaturesĒ.† Iím sure they are very interesting, but the idea of trudging along with hundreds of people just puts me off, so I skipped that experience.† In addition, it would have meant waiting to get a parking place, competing with all the other tourists.
I did succumb to the allure of Old Faithful, though.† I didnít really care so much to see the actual geyser, but I thought that maybe one or both of my jay species might hang around the area, with all the people there (and the food possibilities).† As it turned out, I found a parking place fairly easily, and I went to the visitorís center and asked if they had any information on birding in the park.† The answer was no, but it is still good to ask, because if enough people ask, maybe someday they will have some info.
I wandered on out toward the Old Faithful area, watching for birds, but didnít see any.† The next eruption of the geyser was supposed to be in about 15 minutes, plus or minus ten minutes, so I hung around.† There were several hundred people around, waiting to see Old Faithful live up to its reputation.† Here is a picture of some of them:
While I was waiting, I got this picture of a Common Raven that was calling.
One of the differences between crows and ravens is the ďthroat hacklesĒ that a raven shows when calling, and you can see them in that picture.† I could also tell from the call itself that it was a raven, not a crow.
Finally, Old Faithful erupted, right on schedule.
It was official.† I was a Yellowstone National Park tourist.† I had seen Old Faithful do its thing.
While walking back to my car, I saw this lovely male Mountain Bluebird:
He did this interesting spreading thing, for some reason that is beyond me, but it sure shows his color:
Iím very partial to the color blue, and he is really gorgeous to my eyes.
By that time, I was getting hungry, so I headed out on the road to West Thumb, to find a picnic area (with the hope of seeing my jay I needed).† But, first I stopped at Kepler Cascades, to get a picture of another waterfall.
I moved along and the first picnic area I came to had neither any empty tables nor any birds, as I drove through it slowly.† The next one did have some empty tables, so I stopped at one, in the shade of course, as it was getting up into the 80ís by then.† I ate my humble lunch (roast beef and cheese sandwich, Cheetos, Diet Coke, and the last of my Trader Joeís cookies).† No birds, though.† Where were these jays that were supposed to find me, so I didnít even have to look for them?† I had been in about 6 or 7 picnic areas so far, and no jays of any kind, and there were supposed to be two species of jay that are very common in picnic areas, one of which I needed for my year list.
So, after lunch, I continued on toward West Thumb, climbing up to the Continental Divide.† I stopped at another picnic area near the highest point (about 8300 feet), and by golly, as I drove slowly through, I saw movement, and there was a bird sitting on a branch, looking down at a couple eating their lunch at a table.† I looked through my binoculars, and damned if it wasnít my GRAY JAY, finally.† I jumped out of the car with my binoculars and camera and approached the people at the table, apologizing for disturbing them, and explaining I had been looking for this bird for two days now.† They seemed to be foreign, maybe German, but they also seemed to understand.† I took pictures and ended up chasing the jay around the picnic area.† There turned out to be two of them, and I got some pictures, but it was hard to get a good one, as they blended in so well with the background, and they didnít stay in one place for long.† I ended up only keeping the first picture I took, and here it is:
I had some stale bread with me, just in case I wanted to feed a jay, to get a picture, but I didnít end up resorting to that.
So, after that success (a new bird for the year), I decided to head back toward home, rather than continue on around the loop I was on.† It was a matter of 53 miles to home (going back) or about 90 miles to home (continuing ahead), and I was very tired of the traffic and the driving, so I turned back and retraced my steps.
On the way home, I stopped several places to look and listen for birds, but had no luck.† I took both the Firehole Lake and Firehole Canyon drives again.† Nothing on the Firehole Lake one except one of the geysers was erupting as I went by, and there was a clot of cars there, as people watched it.† It stopped just about when I got there, so didnít get a picture.
On the Firehole Canyon drive (where I had seen the Western Tanager before), I heard a bird singing at one point, so I pulled over.† I spotted the bird and was excited, as it was red and one of my target birds is red (Pine Grosbeak).† This turned out to be a Cassinís Finch, though, not my grosbeak.† It was pretty far away and with the bright sky behind it, so it was a difficult picture, but here is my best effort, which is enough to identify it, anyway, I think.† I have only seen this species two or maybe three times before, but one of those times was this year at Malheur NWR, so it wasnít one for my year list.
Continuing on toward ďhomeĒ, I stopped a number of places, and I did get pictures of a couple of more species.† Here is a picture of a Great Blue Heron, across the river:
And here is a picture of a couple of Canada Geese (ďchinstrapsĒ to you, Ted).
So, that was my adventure today.† I saw 13 different species of birds, which is much more than yesterday.† As a contrast, I saw more than that in the first two hours of this year, in my yard, so this is still a very un-birdy place, but at least I did see some birds today.† I like some of the pictures, too, and I did see the Gray Jay finally.† It is amazing that I have not yet seen a Clarkís Nutcracker, and I am very surprised how un-birdy it is here.
Tomorrow I head south, driving out of Yellowstone into Grand Teton National Park.† Rather than return to West Yellowstone, as I was planning to do in my original plan for the trip, I plan to drive on south to Jackson for the night tomorrow, and then head for home after that, in two days, I hope, or maybe three.
I am now at 371 species for the year, of which 108 are lifers.† I have seen 16 new ones on this trip, and I donít really expect to see any more, but I will certainly try.† Hope is different from expectation, and I am ever hopeful. The trip is almost over, with a lot of driving ahead of me, to get home.
Tuesday, July 26
Is this trip still going on?† It seems like time to be heading for home, which is exactly what I plan to do tomorrow.
Meanwhile, today I was up and out of my West Yellowstone digs by about ten minutes before nine.† I motored on through the park, patiently following the 35 mph people until I could pass them.† It took a couple of hours to get down into Grand Teton National Park.† With various short stops, it was coming up on noon by the time I got to my first birding site.† That was Two Oceans Lake, which is about 4 miles off the main road through Grand Teton National Park.† There was road construction on the road, though, which meant a ten minute delay.
Here is a picture of the Teton Range.† I donít take many scenery pictures, but the Tetons are amazing, so I took this one.
When I got to Two Oceans Lake, I was hungry, and there was a picnic table in the shade, so I sat down and had my humble lunch (roast beef and cheese sandwich, Fritos, and Raspberry Newtons, with a Diet coke).
While I was eating my lunch, I was looking around, and I saw a bird fly in to the dead top of tree across the road.† It was a woodpecker, which was exciting.† I got a good look at it, and it made its call, and it was indeed an AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (lifer).† This was one of the birds that was supposed to be at this location, and was one of the ones I wanted to see, especially, as they are pretty uncommon.† Here is a picture that actually shows the three toes, if you look closely.
Here is another picture of the little darling:
When I finished lunch, I walked down by the lake and got this picture of the lake and mountains in the background.
I also saw a Bald Eagle circling overhead, and I got this picture:
There were three different trails leading off from where I had my lunch, and I walked down each one of them for a couple of hundred yards, but I never heard or saw any birds.† There was too much undergrowth for me to have been able to do any real birding anyway.† Here is a picture of one of the trails:
So, I gave up on Two Oceans Lake, as far as birding was concerned, and decided to move on.† As I was getting ready to leave, a young couple who had hiked in to the trailhead on one of the trails asked me if I could give them a ride out to the main road, as they had hiked farther than they expected.† I re-arranged my stuff in the car and gave them a ride back to the Jackson Lodge, which was less than a mile from where they had left their car.† They were very appreciative, and I was glad to be able to help out.
My next birding site was Lupine Meadows, which is a popular trailhead for hikes up into the Tetons.† There were dozens of cars there, so obviously there were a lot of people out on the trail.† It was 2:30 PM by then, so it wasnít the best time of day to be birding, but I walked out on the trail, to see what I could see.† Well, as it turned out, I didnít see any birds at all, and I only heard a couple of them, distantly.† It was a very nice walk in the woods, but no good for birding.† I hadnít expected anything today, though, so just getting the Three-toed Woodpecker was enough excitement for me.† I did get pictures of a couple of butterflies on that trail though, so Iíll insert those here.
After 45 minutes or so, I decided to give up on that, and I boogied on down the line to Jackson.† I had a room booked at the Motel 6.† Jackson is an incredibly expensive town for lodging, and I am paying $102 plus tax for my queen bedded room with microwave and fridge, here at the Motel 6.† It is a good thing I had booked it in advance, because when I got here at 4 PM, they were fully booked for tonight.† It is a very recently remodeled room, in a sort of faux European style, unlike any other Motel 6 room I have ever stayed in.† It has a fancy flat screen TV, the microwave-fridge unit, and all new dťcor.† The bed seems pretty firm (and I prefer soft), but otherwise, it is just fine.† The a/c works great, which is important since the room faces west and the sun has been shining on it all afternoon.† Iím saving 3 bucks plus tax by using my cell phone app for internet access, rather than using Motel 6ís network.† I love it.† Beating the system.
So, with my American Three-toed Woodpecker today, I am now at 372 species for the year, of which 109 are lifers.† This trip has added 17species to my year list, which is great, a couple more than I expected.
Tomorrow I plan to head for home, with no more particular birding stops planned.† It is about 14 Ĺ hours of driving to get home, and I hope to do that in two days.† In the old days, when I was a young sprout, I would easily do that in a day, but no more.† I plan to stop in Missoula tomorrow night, and that will still leave me a long day to get home on Thursday, but Missoula had a Motel 6 that sounded good, with a kitchenette supposedly, so I plan to stop there.† I probably wonít make any more reports, unless I unexpectedly see another new bird for my year list.† It has been an interesting trip, and Iím glad I did it, but Iím also glad I cut it shorter than originally planned and am headed for home now.
What a life!
Friday, July 29
I had two easy days of driving home.† I had taken a more scenic route from Jackson to Missoula, and I was glad I had, as it was pretty and nicer than still more interstate driving.† I had all interstate driving from Missoula to home yesterday.† Altogether, the two days were only about 14 hours of driving, and I arrived home about 3 PM yesterday.
This morning I was up fairly early (still on Mountain Time, which helped), and was out of here by 8.† I went over to Marymoor Park in Redmond, to look for 4 species that were possible there.† Two of them live there in the summer and two of them fly over from time to time.
I stopped first at Idyllwild Park to look for Black Swifts over Lake Sammamish, but had no joy.† It was overcast, which is the right condition, but they only fly over the lake some of the time.† It is an elusive bird that nests on high cliffs or behind waterfalls, and only flies down into the flatlands when it is overcast in the mountains.† They generally fly around quite high, I understand.† Like other swifts, they only land at their nests or wherever they roost for the night.
At Marymoor, I walked along the slough, mostly in the dog park area.† I was looking for a particular flycatcher, which is supposed to be along there, and after a while, I saw a flycatcher up at the top of a tree.† It was hard to see it well, and the best way to identify the similar looking flycatchers is by their calls and songs, so I played my cell phone app calls, and eventually the bird replied.† It was a Western Wood-Pewee, unfortunately, not the one I was looking for.† A little later I saw another one. It was also perched at the top of a tree and gave me its song as well.† Another wood-pewee.† A Downy Woodpecker flew into the tree while I was watching the pewee, but the one I wanted was Hairy Woodpecker, and I didnít see one today.
Here is a picture of one of the Western Wood-Pewees.
I walked around for quite a while, and I saw some other birds, but not my main target bird.† There were a lot of swallows flying around over the fields and the slough, but I couldnít make any of them into swifts, which is what I wanted to see.† Eventually, just before I left, I did see one bird flying away, and it might have been a Vauxís Swift, but I didnít see it long enough or well enough to say for sure.† They look rather like swallows, and there were a lot of swallows around.† The wings are different from swallow wings, but I just didnít see this one well enough to call it.
There were a lot of Song Sparrows around, and they posed nicely for me.† Here is a picture I like of one, sitting in the blackberry brambles:
I also like this pic, when it was looking right in my direction.† It seems like an unusual perspective.
I was getting ready to leave when an osprey flew down the slough and landed in a tree across the water.† Here is my best picture of it:
After spending some time on the osprey, I walked up and down the path a couple more times, and I finally saw another flycatcher.† This one was flitting around in some low shrubs (small willow trees, actually).† It was lighter colored and had a greenish cast to it, which the wood-pewees had not.† I tried playing a song, and the bird seemed to react to it, but rather than answering, it flew away and after flitting around in the distance, disappeared.† In hindsight, I wish I had not played the song but had spent more time looking at it through my binoculars and trying to get a picture of it.† It was a brief look at it, but based on what I saw and the habitat and behavior, Iím going to call it a WILLOW FLYCATCHER, which is one of the birds I was hoping to see today.† I remembered after that that the Western Wood-Pewee likes to sit at the top of trees, and that should have been a clue for me earlier.† This later bird was quite different, though, in color, habitat, and behavior.
So, that brings me to 373 species for the year, of which 109 are lifers (and 112 are new for my US list).† I expect to be able to see Vauxís Swift someplace in the area in August, but the Black Swift is going to be tough, as they are pretty uncommon.† As for Hairy Woodpecker, I could see one anywhere (have had them in the yard), but since the species has eluded me so far this year, it will be interesting to see if I ever catch up with one.† I wouldnít go back to Marymoor to try to see one, but I might go back there to look for the Black Swifts sometime, even though they are not likely on any one visit.
As I was about to leave for the second time, a Belted Kingfisher gave its rattling call and flew into my area and perched out in the open, so I took some pictures.† Here are a couple of them.† Check out that hairdo.
So, Iím back home again, and still seeing birds.† I plan to review my spreadsheet and plan a couple of Western Washington trips, to try to pick up a few more species.† For the rest of the year, I have a trip planned to go to Southern California, and I hope to get in three days of birding in San Diego, which could pick me up two or three more species.† After that, I will be going to Hawaii, to three islands, and hope to pick up 25 or 30 additional species over there, so 400 seems like it ought to be easy at this point.† There could be a couple of winter birds back here at home in December, too, especially across the mountains.