Nests and Raptors – A Visit to Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge

On a very sunny Sunday we headed south along Flathead Lake towards Ronan, Montana hoping to see some serious raptor activity. We had read that Ronan is often the winter home to a number of Rough-legged Hawks who roost in the conifer trees at the base of the mountains and hunt for voles in the surrounding fields of the Mission Valley.

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Soon after arriving in the Ronan area we began to see raptors from the car windows. We were especially excited to see a large Golden Eagle sitting in a tree just off the road (there was roadkill nearby). After spotting more than 5 raptors perched on road side telephone poles we decided it was time to do a little birding by foot and made our way to the Ninepipe Wildlife Refuge just down the road in Charlo.

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This 4,027 acre refuge consists of mostly wetlands (reservoir, small ponds, and potholes) with an amazing view of the Mission Mountains. While there were several different access areas and a road through the refuge we chose to park and walk along the road towards the Ninepipe Reservoir. As we walked we spotted eagles and several more hawks. The weather was perfect for stopping to view them through our binoculars and spotting scope.

Our most favorite feature of Ninepipe was the stand of several trees near the waters edge with nests made by what we think were Double–crested Cormorants. We all enjoyed our walk out towards the nests and being able to view them close up due to the fact that the Cormorants are still down south. It will be interesting to stop back in the Spring and Summer and view the nests being put to use (from a further distance back).

Snow, Glorious Snow!

 

The last couple of weeks have been pretty lacking in terms of snow. So, the Younger Fives were super excited when the local meteorologists announced a whopper of a storm coming our way. Friday and Saturday’s snowfall was only about 6″, but the kids were elated to have new powder to play in. Then Sunday arrived, the temperatures climbed up into the high 30’s and it rained all day long. The kids were so disappointed to watch the new powder melt away. Luckily the temperatures plummeted overnight and this morning they woke up to fresh snow. They definitely agree that snowy winters are the best, or in their words “Bring on the snow!”

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Just Keep Birding…

The end of January has proven to be a bit depressing here in Montana. We have had a few weeks now of overcast weather due to a winter inversion affecting the valley. Combined with the daily news coming out of Washington D.C. we are all feeling depressed. To try to keep our spirits up we have been concentrating on birding as much as possible.

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The other day after a particularly long dentist appointment we were more than happy to find a little birding relief along the Whitefish River as we stopped to watch the Mallards and were surprised to find a pair of Common Goldeneye swimming among them.

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Another day the mood in our house was lightened considerably when Five Ball called us all into the kitchen to see a “humongous” bird perched 30 feet up in a back yard tree. After several minutes we all realized that it was one of the neighborhood turkeys (we don’t see them roosting often) and shared a therapeutic laugh.

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While the weather hasn’t been inviting for many outside birding expeditions we have enjoyed reading birding books and watching some bird inspiring movies. Below are a few that we highly recommend in case you need a little birding therapy this time of year as well.

The Blues Go Birding Across America – A fun picture book about a group of blue birds traveling across the United States in search of the perfect bird song.

Fly Away Home – A long time family favorite. The Younger Fives love the story of Amy and the geese that imprinted on her.

National Geographic Bird Watcher’s Bible – We are really enjoying this huge compilation of all things birds. From history and science to interesting bird facts this book has gorgeous pictures and sections of interest for every member of the family.

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard – A great birding resource for comic book fans. This book is packed with interesting comic book style illustrations. It contains a huge amount of bird watching information and provides a good amount of humor.

Birders: The Central Park Effect – An interesting documentary about the dedicated group of bird-watchers that call New York City home. This film highlights the passion of birding as well as the need for heightened conservation efforts.

 

Just in Time for the Waxwings

With our Family Big Year in full swing we decided that it was time to purchase a decent birding camera. We were in the market for a point and shoot with a decent zoom for under $300, which narrowed the field quite extensively:) In the end our two main contenders were the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ70 16.1 MP and the Canon PowerShot SX530 HS. The Lumix beat out the PowerShot in almost every field except for the fact that it was heavier. We really wanted this camera, but it is out of stock everywhere except Amazon.com and that is with a 1-2 month delivery period. On the other hand the PowerShot was available with a memory card and carrying case package at Costco and would be delivered in just a few days. We were too impatient to wait for the Lumix and liked the fact that we could return the PowerShot directly to Costco if need be. So, the PowerShot won out.

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Good fortune was with us today as our brand new camera was delivered at roughly the same time that a huge flock of Waxwings were feeding in the trees across the street. After an agonizing period of waiting for the battery to charge up a bit we returned outside to test out the 50x optical zoom. While holding the camera steady with such a high zoom is no easy feat we were richly rewarded with some fabulous photos of Waxwings. At the same time a Bald Eagle was perched in a nearby tree and humored us as we crouched below the tree for 10 minutes trying out our new camera and snapping his picture.

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Just as we came inside the Waxwings decided to feed from the Mountain Ash in our backyard and stop for a drink at our winter bird bath (this time of year we are in a constant struggle with Old Man Winter to keep it from freezing up). From behind our patio door we hardly had to use the zoom at all to snap some great shots of these gorgeous birds.

The photos came in handy as we are still trying to work out the difference between Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings. It appears that we have had both in our neighborhood in the past few days as they feed on the Mountain Ash berries. However, when they are busy flying to and fro it can be hard to tell for sure which is Bohemian and which is Cedar. From what we have read a yellowish belly and white undertail coverts equals a Cedar Waxwing, while a gray belly and chestnut undertail coverts is a Bohemian Waxwing. We are still too novice to feel confident in our on sight identification, but having quality photos to check back over really helps. As our Family Big Year continues we are sure that our new camera will come in handy.

Cross Country in Five Days

There’s been no shortage of snow here in Western Montana, and we’ve been eager to introduce the Younger Fives to skiing. As a first step we decided to begin with cross country skiing to give everyone a feel for moving through the snow in a new way. After looking into our options (and there are plenty here in the Flathead Valley), we found the following to be ideal for learning to Nordic ski as a family.

West Shore State Park
Family-Friendly Features: uncrowded, Flathead Lake

 

Blacktail Mountain Nordic Trails
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, mountain setting

 

Herron Park
Family-Friendly Features: sledding hill, plenty of space

 

Bigfork Community Nordic Center
Family-Friendly Features: groomed trails, forest setting

 

Glacier National Park
Family-Friendly Features: trails over and along streams, mountain scenery