Nature on the Fly

Northwest Nature 2018

With the start of 2017 we have decided to work towards a Family Big Year with the goal of seeing 105 different species of birds. Below is our record of each species spotted along with a photo, if taken.

1/5/2017 –

Meleagris gallopavo – Wild Turkey
We saw a group of 10 Wild Turkeys foraging in our back yard. High Five said, “It was amazing I felt like, wow it is a great day!”


img_0239-640x480Corvus brachyrhynchos – American Crow
We watched two American Crows in the tallest Hemlock Trees behind our house. Five Ball said, “I’m really happy. I was just looking out the window and there is was”.

besteagle-640x480Haliaeetus leucocephalus – Bald Eagle
While sorting recycling at the local transfer station we were treated with a mature bald eagle slowly flying over us away from the lake and towards the forest. Five Spice said, “I heard the wings and looked up to see this amazing Bald Eagle”.


Pica hudsonia – Black-billed Magpie
On our chilly morning drive into town we spotted a Black-billed Magpie in a horse pasture. Five Spice said, “I can’t believe that Magpie just landed on a horse’s back”.


Poecile gambeli – Mountain Chickadee
After returning from cross-country skiing we found the trees in our front yard full of a flock of Mountain Chickadee’s. Five of Hearts said, “Our tree has turned into a bird hotel”!


img_0523-640x480Branta canadensis – Canada Goose
While driving along the northern shore of Flathead Lake we saw a flock of Canada Geese feeding in a corn field. Five String said, “It’s Canada Goose not Canadian Goose. Weird, eh?”


dsc02996Corvus corax – Common Raven
As we set out cross-country skiing from the gate closure near the Lake McDonald Hotel in Glacier National Park we encountered a Common Raven. The same raven was still there when we returned from our ski 3 hours later. Five Ball remarked, “He must wait around the parking lot hoping for food from the skiers and hikers.”

Cyanocitta stelleri – Steller’s Jay
As we skied along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park we passed under a tree where a Steller’s Jay was perched. High Five said, “We haven’t seen one of those since we lived in California!”

Cinclus mexicanus – American Dipper
We were super excited to have spotted two American Dippers along McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park. As we skied along the  McDonald Falls trail we spotted one jumping off the ice and into the water several times. As we continued down the trail we heard it call out and turned around to see it vocalizing to a second Dipper who it flew away with. Five Spice said, “They have got to be on of the coolest birds ever!” (Note – This photo was taken in the Cabinet Mountains in September, 2017).


img_0089-640x469Columba livia – Rock Pigeon
Sitting on a telephone wire next to a farm at the northern tip of Flathead Lake in Montana we spotted a flock of about 20 Rock Pigeons. Five of Hearts remarked, “Wow! They come in so many different colors”.

Passer domesticus
– House Sparrow
Off to the side of Lower Valley Road in Kalispell, MT we watched a large flock of House Sparrows perched on what looked like a grain silo. High Five declared, “Those are definitely House Sparrows!”

img_0686-640x480Buteo lagopus – Rough-legged Hawk
While driving along the fields at the northern tip of Flathead Lake we encountered two Rough-Legged Hawks perched on telephone poles. Five String wondered, “How do you tell the difference between a Rough-Legged and a Red Tail Hawk?”. After pulling over and reading through our two bird identification guides he was more confident.


img_0383-640x480Junco hyemalis – Dark-eyed Junco
A large flock of Dark-eye Junco flew into our backyard this morning during breakfast. We have been waiting to see these birds for a while and were excited to watch them fly from tree to tree and search for food on the ground. Five of Hearts said, “There are so many of them.”


img_0575-640x503Bombycilla garrulus – Bohemian Waxwing
Today we were more than thrilled to spot a Bohemian Waxwing eating berries from the Mountain Ash tree in the back of our house. Five Spice exclaimed, “Oh my gosh it’s a Waxwing!”


img_0724-640x480Colaptes auratus – Northern Flicker
In December we had the pleasure of watching a Norther Flicker on our back porch twice. However, we hadn’t seen one since. Today on our walk back from the library Five Ball spotted two Northern Flickers in a tree across the street. We then watched them fly into trees in our neighbors yard. Five Ball said, “The Norther Flicker are back!”


img_0027-640x480Bombycilla cedrorum – Cedar Waxwing
A huge flock of Cedar Waxwings was perched in the trees across from our house. They made a lot of noise and were quite busy making trips to the Mountain Ash trees to feed on the berries. Five String noted, “Those are definitely Cedars they have yellow bellies”.

Buteo jamaicensis – Red-tailed Hawk
Heading home after a bird watching walk around the neighborhood we were flown over by a Red-tailed Hawk. High Five exclaimed, “Hey! We’ve seen that guy before”. This might have been the same Red-tailed Hawk that we have seen in the neighborhood a few times this winter.


img_0200-640x480Anas platyrhynchos – Mallard
On a warm January day we encountered several Mallards as we drove around the Flathead Valley. They were especially active along the Flathead River in places where the water was running. Five Ball said, “They sure are noisy”.

Sturnus vulgaris –  European Starling
In a tree in front of someone’s house we watched a few European Starlings. Five String remarked, “You can see other feather colors when the sun hits them just right.” The picture posted is a more recent sighting from our backyard.

img_0069-640x480Streptopelia decaocto – Eurasian Collared Dove
In front of a farm house along the Flathead River we stopped to watch what appeared to be a dove. It took a few looks through the guide books to determine that it was an Eurasian Collared Dove. Five Spice noted, “These doves are invasive to Montana”.

img_0079-640x480Phasianus colchicus – Ring-necked Pheasant
While driving along the Flathead River Road we were surprised by a male Ring-necked Pheasant crossing in front of us. Later on down the road we encountered 4 others. Five of Hearts exclaimed, “Look at their long tail feathers!”


img_0254-640x480 Bucephala clangula – Common Goldeneye
After the kid’s dentist appointment on a very cloudy Friday we stopped by River Trail Park in Whitefish, MT to see what aquatic birds might be along the Whitefish River. The river was completely free of ice and there were a large number of mallards as well as a male and female Common Goldeneye. Five String exclaimed, “Look at the male dive! You can see him swim down several feet.”


img_0579-640x511Turdus migratorius – American Robin
An unusually beautiful bird call caught our attention as we were walking to the post office. After stopping for about 10 minutes under two very dense spruce trees we finally saw an American Robin fly out and perch on a telephone pole. We haven’t see any robins in the neighborhood so far this winter and were delighted to hear its gorgeous song. Five Spice said, “Maybe Spring is just around the corner.”

Poecile atricapillus – Black-capped Chickadee
After sighting Mountain Chickadees whenever we are out birding we were excited to finally catch a glimpse of some Black-capped Chickadees down by the lake. Five of Hearts said, “They really do make the call Chicka-dee-dee-dee.”


img_0540-640x480Cygnus buccinator – Trumpeter Swan
Today we had the pleasure of watching Trumpeter Swans swimming on Flathead Lake near Wayfarer State Park. There was a group of adults and juveniles and even though it was freezing cold, we enjoyed watching the swans sticking their long necks into the water. High Five exclaimed, “Look how they stick their butts in the air when feeding!”

img_0441-640x500Fulica americana – American Coot
When we were living in Baja California we used to throw figs to the coots every morning as we walked along the river in Mulegé. Seeing the American Coot swimming around chunks of ice in the middle of winter was sure a different experience. Five of Hearts joked, “Hoot Hoot It’s A Coot!”

img_0456-640x480Mergus merganser – Common Merganser
We absolutely love the hair style on the female Merganser and we were excited to see several today. Five String spotted the male, but the rest of us only had eyes for the female and her distinctive crest. Five Spice remarked, “I love the cinnamon head and crest of the female merganser.”

img_0509-640x465Bucephala albeola – Bufflehead
We are always on the lookout for Bufflehead when we are near the water. They have such a distinctive white head and lower body that makes them easier to spot versus some other aquatic birds. Five Ball commented, “They dive so quickly!”

img_0571-640x399Loxia leucoptera – White-winged Crossbill
Just as we were leaving the park for the day a bird call caught our attention and we looked way up in a tree to see a brightly colored bird. Luckily we were able to get a few photos of this interesting bird as it helped us with the identification once we got home. Five String commented, “You can really see the distinctive bill in the photo.”


img_0597-640x511Hylatomus pileatus – Pileated woodpecker
Today we headed to the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area for a walk after grocery shopping. When we first arrived we heard the drumming and call of what sounded like a woodpecker. A good two hours later at the end of our walk we finally caught sight of two Pileated Woodpeckers feeding from a tree just off of the trail. Five String excitedly pointed them out to the kids by saying, “Look at the bright red head.”

img_0651-530x640Falco columbarius – Merlin
A few minutes after spotting the Pileated Woodpeckers we looked up into a tree to see a small bird of prey perched at the very top. It looked a lot like a raptor, but the small size had us scrambling to figure out the exact species. For a long while we thought that this was a female Kestrel. However, a volunteer with eBird explained to us why this is a Merlin. The tail bands and the underpants indicate Merlin versus Kestrel.  Five of Hearts commented, “It definitely has a raptor’s beak.”


Sitta canadensis – Red-breasted Nuthatch
After several stormy days we headed out this afternoon to do some birding. We had a blast watching Bald Eagles and Crows soar through some very windy conditions and were excited to finally spot a Red-breasted Nuthatch as a family. A few of us have seen this species several times this winter, but not all of us. Finally today the entire family watched two of these fast moving birds at Wayfarers State Park. Five Spice said, “I am so glad that we can finally add this to our list!”


Aquila chrysaetos – Golden Eagle
On our drive down to the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge we were fortunate to see a Golden Eagle sitting in a tree along the side of the road. There was roadkill and several other scavenger birds nearby, so we assume it was there to eat. Five Ball remarked, “The Golden Eagle is huge!”


img_0786-640x480Spinus pinus – Pine Siskin
A very sunny Valentine’s Day morning brought several area birds to our rain gutters for a morning drink. We were delighted that two Pine Siskin showed up for a while. Five Spice has seen a few Pine Siskin this winter, but this is the first time that we have viewed them as a collective family. Five String exclaimed, “Yes! Now we have all seen one.”

img_0760-640x480Melospiza melodia – Song Sparrow
Along with the Pine Siskin, American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Flicker there was a new visitor to our back porch this morning. Our first guess was sparrow, but it took us a few looks at the field guide to figure out the correct type. Five Ball said, “I love its scientific name. It is so pretty!”


Aythya marila – Greater Scaup
On a very warm February afternoon we watched three very active diving birds near the shore of Wayfarer’s State Park on Flathead Lake. The birds were diving so quickly that it took photographs and a while with the guidebooks to identify the species. From our research it looks like were were watching a male and female Greater Scaup with a female Common Goldeneye joining in on the feeding. We found out that the Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup are super similar in appearance, but the head shape and white wings swayed our decision. High Five said while watching them feed, “Wow! They are fast divers.”


img_0894-640x538Agelaius phoeniceus – Red-winged Blackbird
Driving back from Missoula stopped at the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and see if any migratory species had arrived since our last visit in February. We were rewarded with seeing well over 40 Red-winged Blackbirds, some in a very large flock right off the side of the road. Five String commented, “The male’s call is one of the first that I learned how to identify.”


Ardea herodias – Great Blue Heron
We were very excited to wake up this morning at our Washington rental house over looking the Columbia River and see a Great Blue Heron feeding. Five of Hearts is credited with first spotting the heron and alerted us all with a very boisterous “Look a Heron”, which got us all running! We all scrambled to the window to watch this humongous bird search for fish.

Larus californicus – California Gull
As soon as we reached the coast we began to spot gulls and we knew that we would have our identification work cut out for us. They all look alike on first sight and we were glad to have snapped a picture of several California Gulls, so that we could ID them at our leisure.

Calidris alba – Sanderling
Walking down the beach a funny bunch of birds came scrambling towards us. A few were molting and looked adorable with feathers sticking out all askew. These Sanderlings were very busy searching for food in the sand with their beaks.

Calidris alpina – Dunlin
Looking down the beach we spotted a huge cloud of flying birds and were soon engulfed by a flock of Dunlins. They all looked a bit tired and spent a lot of time standing on one leg and resting. It was definitely an impressive sight to see such a large flock of birds.


Mergus serrator – Red-breasted Merganser
This morning we decided to take an early walk down the beach to see what birds were out on the bay. We immediately spotted four Red-breasted Mergansers fishing just off the beach. Nana Five said, “Look two males and two females.”

Phalacrocorax auritus – Double-crested Cormorant
A few days ago Five String thought he saw a cormorant feeding just off shore. However, the coloring was very light. This morning we were all able to see it feeding and were able to get a few pictures and identify that it was an immature Double-crested Cormorant. Five String said, “Finally I thought it was a Cormorant I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t black like the mature adults.”


Aphelocoma californica – California Scrub-Jay
Sitting down to breakfast this morning we look through the window of our vacation rental house to see a Blue Jay, which type we weren’t sure. So, it was interesting to learn what our bird identification book described as a Western Scrub-Jay has now been classified as the California Scrub-Jay. As of 2016 the Western Scrub-Jay has been split into two different species the California Scrub-Jay and the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. The California Scrub-Jay is brighter with more contrasting colors.


Melanitta perspicillata – Surf Scoter
We stopped off today to visit Dismal Gulch where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discover were stranding for several days on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Looking out at the Columbia River we noticed a large number of diving birds with large bills. After thumbing through the bird guide we discovered that they are Surf Scoters. Unfortunately today’s light wasn’t the best for taking photos.

Aechmophorus occidentalis – Western Grebe
From Dismal Gulch we headed to Fort Clatsop where the Corps of Discover spent the winter. Hiking along the Lewis and Clark River we were able to view many birds including Great Blue Heron and Great Scaup. We watched a very active Grebe for a while and final caught a photo when it came up for air. The photo helped us identify it as a Western Grebe.

Podilymbus podiceps – Pied-billed Grebe
In addition to the very active Western Grebe along the Lewis and Clark River there was a very small Grebe that was riding the current. Grebes can be so hard to distinguish between species, so we were luck enough to have captured a photo that showed the bill of this Grebe.


Picoides villosus – Hairy Woodpecker
Before starting our hike to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse we were exploring the old military batteries and heard the drumming of a woodpecker. As it flew about the area we were excited to get a great view of this Hairy Woodpecker. Five Ball exclaimed, “Look at that red head.”

Cathartes aura – Turkey Vulture
As we stood marveling at the view near the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse we watched three Turkey Vultures. Their wingspan was enormous and we could just make out their bald heads.


Falco peregrinus – Peregrine Falcon
We headed out to the famous Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach today to look for Tufted Puffins. Unfortunately, the Puffins hadn’t arrived yet to start laying eggs. However, sitting almost at the top of the rock was a Peregrine Falcon. Five Ball said, “We came hoping for Puffins, but got a Peregrine.”


Pandion haliaetus – Osprey
After visiting Forest Park in Portland, Oregon we drove to Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. Just before we pulled into the natural area we spotted an Osprey sitting in its nest on a pole. It was still there on our way back out giving us another good look.

Ardea alba – Great Egret
While driving to Vancouver Lake we were excited to see over 30 Great Egrets feeding in a field just opposite the entrance to the parking lot at the lake. They looked amazing in the bit of sunlight that was shinning down. We only wish that our camera wasn’t packed away and totally accessible in the very back of the car. This photo was taken at a later date in Vancouver, WA.

Antigone canadensis – Sandhill Crane
While enjoying a picnic lunch at Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park in Vancouver, Washington we watched many large flocks of birds landing and taking off from the neighboring fields. Amidst all the honking of the geese we heard the trumpeting call of Sandhill Cranes and were excited to see a large flock take off and relocate further down the field.


Tachycineta bicolor – Tree Swallow
We decided to check out the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area in Kalispell to see what the trails were like with the snow gone. As we sat near the Stillwater River we watched a small flock of birds darting back and forth over the water. Their flight pattern made us pretty sure that they were swallows, but it was their bright while underside and blue feathers helped us to identify them as Tree Swallows. This picture is taken later at the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge where they were numerous.


Gavia immer – Common Loon
We spent a sunny April day along the shores of Flathead Lake at West Shore State Park near our house. After watching geese and the occasional song bird we were excited to view two Common Loons on the lake. While we didn’t hear their beautifully haunting cry we were excited to have spotted these gorgeous water birds.


Sialia currucoides – Mountain Bluebird
After our Earth Day hike we stopped off at the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge to see what birds were around. As we walked towards the viewing platform we were excited to see a very blue Mountain Bluebird using the viewing platform to hunt from. The bird would perch up on the platform and then drop down into the grass to snatch up insects. Five Ball remarked, “Wow! That is one blue bird.”


Tympanuchus phasianellus – Sharp-tailed Grouse
We were super lucky and won the lottery to use the Benton Lake Grouse House on April 29th. We had to be at the Grouse Blind at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge an hour before sunrise. When we arrived we couldn’t see the grouse but could hear them already out on the lek. Soon the sun started to rise and for over 2 hours we were able to watch the male grouse display for the females that approached the lek. It was an such an amazing experience to be so close to the grouse while they performed their mating dance.

Sturnella neglecta – Western Meadowlark
After leaving the Benton Lake Grouse House early in the morning we were treated to the sight of several Western Meadowlarks as we drove back to the main road perched on bird boxes, poles, and fences.The Western Meadowlark is the state bird of Montana and their song is so lovely as is their coloring.

Buteo swainsoni –  Swainson’s Hawk
On our way out of the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge we came upon a Swainson’s Hawk perched off to the side of the road. It was very relaxed and allowed us to get quite close with the car. Although its penetrating gaze said, “Leave me alone so that I can get my breakfast!”

Asio flammeus – Short-eared Owl
While seeing the Sharp-tailed Grouse from the blind was the highlight of our morning at the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge we were over the moon when we spotted two Short-eared Owls on the side of a field. One flew off right away, but the other stayed perched on the fence and we were able to get some great pictures.

Tringa semipalmata – Willet
Five String loves to say “If you Willet it is no dream” when it comes to birding. This was definitely the case with our winning the Grouse House lottery and having a wonderful trip to the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge. So, it was only fitting that we had a close encounter with a Willet as it landed on a bird box and then flew over our parked car. We were taken off guard and didn’t get a picture, but we were treated to its beautiful call of pill-will-willet.

Eremophila alpestris – Horned Lark
When driving the roads of the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge we encountered several Horned Lark who seem to find it an affront to have to move out of the road. We love their feisty attitude and their little black horns. They are definitely a family favorite!

After our morning at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge we made a second trip back in the late evening to check out the rest of the refuge. We had an amazing birding experience and saw so many new bird species which we have listed below.


After our wonderful birding trip to the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge we decided to stop off at another birding hot-spot on the way home. Freezeout Lake is known for the massive numbers of migrating snow geese that stop there to rest. While we didn’t see any snow geese during our visit we were excited to catch sight of the American White Pelican which nests in Montana.

Bonasa umbellus – Ruffed Grouse
After a full day of birding we stopped off at the Glacier National Park Goat Lick for a picnic. High Five took off running down the trail and raced right past this female Ruffed Grouse who wasn’t too happy with the interruption and took off into the woods. Luckily we were able to snap a quick picture before she disappeared into the under brush.

May 6, 2017

Sphyrapicus nuchalis – Red-naped Sapsucker
Five of Hearts noticed a Red-naped Sapsucker in the Mountain Ash tree outside of our kitchen window. Luckily the whole family was nearby and we were all able to catch a glimpse and snap a few pictures. We had never heard of the Red-naped Sapsucker before, so it was quite exciting to find out more about the species and see one up close.

May 11, 2017

Selasphorus rufus – Rufous Humminbird
Trying to catch a good look at a hummingbird can be tricky work. Hummingbirds are fast and we have had quite the time the past two weeks trying to get everyone in the family to see the hummingbird that likes to buzz by our deck. So, it was amazing today to view a hummingbird at Tally Lake that perched in a tree long enough for us all to spot it and snap a few pictures. The orange on this Rufous Hummingbird was gorgeous in the sun, especially the iridescent feathers at the throat.

Setophaga petechia – Yellow Warbler
Our visit to the Tally Lake Beach today was filled with the beautiful sound of three Yellow Warblers who were rapidly flitting between the low trees just off of the water. They moved so fast that it took a long time to get a decent picture. Their yellow coloring was absolutely stunning against the brown of the spring trees.

May 21, 2017

Spizella passerina – Chipping Sparrow
A Chipping Sparrow has become a frequent visitor to our backyard these last several weeks. It drinks often from the bird bath on our porch and enjoys perching in the nearby Douglas Fir tree giving us plenty of opportunity to observe its behavior. We especially enjoy listening to its songs.

May 27, 2017

Molothrus ater – Brown-headed Cowbird
As we floated along the shores of Ashley Lake in our canoe and kayak we followed a Brown-head Cowbird couple that were feeding along the shore. Five String immediately identified them as Brown-headed Cowbird while the rest of us were clueless to their species. However, we were all aware that the Cowbird is one of the species of birds that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds leaving them to be raised by “foster” parents.

Actitis macularius – Spotted Sandpiper
We found a really quite cove along Ashley Lake that was sheltered from the wind and had an abundance of birds. While enjoying sunbathing in the cove we noticed a Sandpiper feeding along the shore. Once we returned home we were able to identify it as a Spotted Sandpiper.

June 25, 2017

Selasphorus calliope – Calliope Hummingbird
June has been a very slow month for birding due to busy schedules. Our first birding trip out of the month was to the Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve where we were able to spot two Calliope Hummingbirds. The coloring on the male was gorgeous and we were able to observe him for a while as he rested in a nearby tree. The female didn’t stay still for long, but she was gorgeous as well.

July 6, 2017

Tachycineta thalassina – Violet-green Swallow
We have become very used to seeing Tree Swallows along the shores of Flathead Lake, especially out at our favorite island. However, during today’s paddle we encountered Violet-green Swallows near a rocky cliff along the shore. We thought at first that they were Bank Swallows, but the distinctive white on the head helped us identify them correctly. We weren’t able to see the green coloring under the bright sun, but it shows up in a few of the photos that we snapped.

July 16, 2017

Piranga ludoviciana – Western Tanager
We were awoken this morning by the sound of a bird tapping at our window. Upon closer inspection we discovered that a number of birds were feeding in the cherry tree on our lawn. Five String was quick to grab the camera and spot a Western Tanager. This absolutely gorgeous bird stayed around for over an hour feeding from our fruit trees.

Pheucticus melanocephalus – Black-headed Grosbeak
While marveling at the Western Tanager we noticed another less colorful bird enjoying the cherries. At first the coloring look similar to an American Robin. However, upon closer inspection and a few helpful photos it turned out to be a female Black-headed Grosbeak. This is our first sighting of a Grosbeak in our big year.

August 5, 2017

Haemorhous mexicanus – House Finch
The hot temperatures have been keeping the birds away from our backyard these past few weeks. However, a cold front moved in last night and the birds were abundant as they fed from the fruit trees in the cool 70 degree weather this morning. Several adult and juvenile House Finches spent a great deal of time flying between the apple tree and the large spruce tree off of our porch. While the male House Finch was colorful the juveniles were really cute to watch.

Cyanocitta cristata – Blue Jay
We didn’t expect to encounter Blue Jays in our backyard as Montana is not considered part of their usual range. However, one was enjoying the bird bath and the fruit trees this morning. We had planned on seeing Blue Jays when we head east in a few weeks, as they are common on the East Coast, so it was a surprise to check this species off our list so soon.

August 14, 2017

Riparia riparia – Bank Swallow
On the first day of our cross country road trip we stopped at the Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana. While we burned off some energy on the visitor center playground we encountered a Bank Swallow sitting on the nearby fence. It was very vocal and stayed around for a long while.

August 19,2017

Spinus tristis – American Goldfinch
Baeolophus bicolor – Tufted Titmouse
Archilochus colubris – Ruby-throated Hummingbird
So far in our big year we haven’t done much observing around bird feeders. Generally we prefer to watch birds in their natural state. However, while visiting Nana Five in Vermont we were unable to ignore the large number of birds visiting her feeders throughout the day. While watching we noticed three new species and got a very up-close look at several other common New England bird species as they ate seed from the feeders.

August 27, 2017

Charadrius semipalmatus – Semipalmated Plover
Larus argentatus – Herring Gull
We were very excited to spend three days along the coast of Maine before heading back west on our recent road trip. While enjoying the sand and surf at Old Orchard Beach we also did a bit of birding. Although gull species can be really hard to identify we were able to add a new gull species to our Family Big Year list. We were also able to view a few sandpipers and a new plover species.

August 29, 2017

Cardinalis cardinalis – Northern Cardinal
We were really hoping to see a Northern Cardinal as we headed east on our road trip. We didn’t have to wait too long into the trip before first spotting a Northern Cardinal flying into a roadside bush in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. We then had a longer chance to view them at a backyard bird feeder in Pennsylvania. Their red color and crest are both stunning!

August 30, 2017

Dumetella carolinensis – Gray Catbird
Megaceryle alcyon
– Belted Kingfisher
We had a lovely stay along the Delaware Canal near New Hope, PA. Along the canal they have built a walking and biking path that is great for bird watching. We enjoyed viewing turtles, frogs, and especially birds as we meandered down the path. It was especially exciting to view both a Gray Catbird and a Kingfisher (it flew too fast to get a photo).


Belted Kingfisher photo taken at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washington – November 29, 2017.


September 6, 2017

Vireo olivaceus – Red-eye Vireo
While visiting the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in De Smet, South Dakota we stopped for a picnic in the adjacent park. Five String noticed a bird in the nearby tree and got out the camera to try and snap a few photos. The bird was very pretty and not one that we instantly recognized. After much searching through field guides and online we have decided that it was a Philadelphia Vireo, because we saw no red-eye. However, a volunteer at EBird let us know that it was in fact a young Red-eye Vireo and that juveniles have dark eyes.

September 7, 2017

Sayornis saya – Say’s Phoebe
We had a wonderful visit to Badlands National Park and really enjoyed an early morning hike towards Deer Haven. The area was pretty desolate in terms of wildlife that we could easily see. However, when we came to a small cluster of Cottonwood Trees we saw two birds flying about. One landed just long enough for us to snap a blurry picture. Upon closer examination we decided that what we had seen were a pair of Say’s Phoebes.

October 30, 2017

Geococcyx californianus – Greater Roadrunner
Throughout the fall we suffered quite the dry spell in spotting new bird species. It felt like we were stuck at species 104 forever. Then when we were swimming in the pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley a Greater Roadrunner came “running” onto the pool deck. There was no time to grab the camera, but we were all pretty excited that the Roadrunner was the 105th species spotted by our entire family this year (the goal number that we set this past January).

November 3, 2017

Callipepla gambelii – Gambel’s Quail
We were hoping that on our trip to Sun City West, Arizona we would see Quail. On our second day of visiting with Five String’s mom we looked out the window and saw a group of about 10 Gambel’s Quail in her backyard. There were males, females, and juveniles all hunting around in the grass for food. It was very cool to get to watch the whole flock.

November 11, 2017

Aix sponsa – Wood Duck
While hanging out waiting for rental house showings we visited the Burnt Creek Trail in Vancouver, WA. The trail led us to the Meadowbrook Marsh Park where we came upon a body of water (pond?) filled with ducks. Mostly there were Mallards, but mixed in were a few pairs of Wood Ducks. We just wished we would have had the camera and binoculars with us, as they looked gorgeous!

November 13, 2017

Anas americana – American Wigeon
We are really enjoying checking out the many miles of the Burnt Creek Trail in Vancouver, WA. This time we went to the very beginning and were rewarded with a great view overlooking a marsh/pond hosting a ton of bird species including American Wigeon. The green plumage on the males is really fetching.

November 27, 2017

Ixoreus naevius – Varied Thrush
It was a busy morning outside our new rental house. The sunny, mild morning brought a huge flock of backyard birds (robins, sparrows, jays, etc.) including one new species, the Varied Thrush. The coloring on the Varied Thrush is really neat especially when compared with a robin. The black mask is especially striking!

November 28, 2017

Cygnus columbianus – Tundra Swan
We had the opportunity to view Trumpeter Swans on frozen Flathead Lake last winter, so we were very excited to see Tundra Swan today while visiting the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. These large white birds look very similar, but Tundra Swan have a bit of yellow on their beak, while Trumpeter Swans have a red border on theirs.

Circus cyaneus – Northern Harrier
There were two very active Northern Harriers at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We observed them both over bodies of water slowly gliding and looking for food. There are really graceful to watch fly and have really beautiful coloring.

Lophodytes cucullatus – Hooded Merganser
Catching a quick flash of bright white in one of the outcroppings of water at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge we stopped for closer investigation. It turned out to be three Hooded Mergansers. The two males were gliding along the water while the female was busy diving. The male’s plumage is absolutely stunning and we were super excited to watch them for a while.

Bubo virginianus – Great Horned Owl
As we headed back to our car at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge we heard a faint hooting sound. Stopping on the path facing a stand of trees we called back and were excited that the owl responded. We finally spotted the owl half way up a tree with its feathers really puffed out. The visibility wasn’t great, but our patience paid off as a second owl flew down and landed on a low branch close by. This position gave us an amazing view of what turned out to be a Great Horned Owl, who appeared to be pretty wet. The two owls then flew directly overhead and across the way to a second stand of trees. It was probably one of our best bird encounters so far!

December 6, 2017

Zonotrichia atricapilla – Golden-crowned Sparrow
On our recent trip to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge we saw over 15 species of birds and hundreds of individuals. We were hoping to spot some new species, but only came away with the Golden-crowned Sparrow to add to our list. We encountered this flock of sparrows in the parking lot before the trail to the bird blind. Their feathers were super puffed out due to the cold weather and they seemed to enjoy perching on the fence that keeps human visitors out of the refuge.

December 22, 2017

Pipilo maculatus – Spotted Towhee
One of our favorite bird watching times of the day is during breakfast. Our kitchen has a large window over looking the backyard and giving a great view of any birds stopping by to feed early in the morning. This past morning Five String and Five Ball spotted an interesting looking species and the rest of us rushed in to view it before it flew off. It turned out to be a Spotted Towhee, which is a pretty common bird, but a new species for us this year.


While our focus this year is on birds were have still been keepng our eyes out for other plants and animals. From the coasts to the mountains we have been fortunate to spot some really interesting wildlife.


Returning to Montana brought about a slew of wildlife viewing options that we were excited to take part in. The entire family was eager to be back in close proximity to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park’s and explore the multitude of other natural areas that Montana offers. It was great to again view Bison, Elk, and Pronghorns as well as spot some new species like the Yellow-Bellied Marmot. While we enjoy the thrill of viewing Black and Grizzly Bears as a family we have decided that we really only want to do so from the safety of our car and try to make as much noise as possible while out in bear country.

After a very dry summer in California we were all excited to make our way to the Pacific Northwest to experience the temperate rainforest. The amount of green was staggering and the forests completely enveloping. Our time in the Pacific Northwest has also allowed for plenty of exploring along the ocean shores where we have watched killer whales, harbor seals, sea lions, and a huge variety of bird species. Unfortunately these sightings don’t always translate well to film, but the memories will stay with us forever.

We were a bit nervous about spending the summer months in drought-stricken California. Even though the state was in dire need of rain, we were surprised to find so many flowering plants throughout the summer. Our time in California included visits to Redwood National and State Parks, Joshua Tree National Park, as well as Kings Canyon National Park where we found ourselves humbled by the towering sequoia and redwood trees.

After several months touring the cities of Europe we were excited to get back out and explore the natural spaces and protected parks of the United States. Spending Easter in Grand Teton National Park viewing elk, bison, and big horn sheep was a huge treat. Our visit to Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge to view sandhill cranes was also an unforgettable experience.

Nature sightings in Europe have been quite rare except for a lot of pigeons. Unfortunately, without a car we are limited in how far we can venture off the beaten path and into the wild. However, while exploring ancient ruins and viewing amazing architecture in Europe’s cities we have done our best to look for and soak in as much of the natural world as possible.

After spending several months exploring Mexico’s desert and coastal environments we are excited to make our way to mainland Mexico and explore the much different climates of Chiapas and the Yucatán. While still very warm it will be interesting to see how a more humid and tropical climate will change the type of plants and animals that we see.

Leaving the winter far behind in the North we are super excited to see what kinds of plants and animals make the Baja Peninsula their home. We are hoping to see some of the migratory species that come to Baja each year and get more familiar with the year-round wildlife.

As we explore the state and national parks of America we are hoping to have the opportunity to view many new species of wildlife as well as many of our old favorites.

On our first family trip outside of the country we are excited to find new plants and animals and search for familiar “friends” in the Canadian Maritimes.

As we enjoy our seasonal rental along the Maine coast we have thoroughly enjoyed getting out to explore the surrounding beaches, tide pools and marshes. Watching the seasons change has given us a greater understanding of the life cycles and habits of our fellow Maine creatures.

Our journey down Route 1 was filled with an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities. Even though we stopped at several zoos and nature centers along the way our favorite memories are of the various species of wildlife that crossed our path while hiking or enjoying the beach. All in all we spotted well over 50 different species. Some of our favorites being manatees, armadillo, dolphins and alligators.


4 thoughts on “Nature on the Fly

  1. Pingback: Bonding While Birding: A Family Big Year | Fives on the Fly

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