Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve

June has been a busy month and we have found very little time to go out birding as a family. Fortunately this past Sunday our schedule freed up and we were able to head south along Flathead Lake to explore Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve. The preserve is made up of 132 acres and is managed by the Nature Conservancy. The area is home to a wide array of wildlife, but our main goal was to see some new bird species in and around the marsh.

At first the Younger Fives were a little put off by the Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve as there is no designated trail. We had to remind them that when we lived in Maine one of their favorite activities was bushwhacking through the woods. A little ways in we found a rough foot path to follow and that made them a bit happier. Five String concluded that we have spent too much time on the well worn trails of the Montana park system lately and need to seek out more secluded spots. The Younger Fives countered that being told that bushwhacking was involved and to wear long pants would have been appreciated.

Luckily any further family bickering was averted a short ways into the preserve as two Calliope Hummingbirds alighted on a tree just in front of us. This was our 88th species to date in our Family Big Year. The coloring of the male was gorgeous, but hard to capture on film. The Calliope was the only new species that we encountered at the preserve, but we did see a number of birds that we have already recorded including red wing blackbirds, turkey vultures, and tree swallows.

All in all the outing was a success. It was really nice to be off the beaten path away from hikers, dog walkers, and bicyclists. As Montana is really starting to get busy with an influx of tourists it is nice to know that places like the Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve exist as a reprieve.

All Alone at Tally Lake

We have heard great things about Tally Lake in Flathead County, Montana and wanted to get a visit in before tourist season begins at the end of the month. As the temperatures rose into the 70’s this past Thursday we figured that there was no better time to make the trip.

Tally Lake is Montana’s 2nd deepest lake at 445 feet deep. The kids were prepared for a day of swimming, but as they rushed in for their first dip they realized how cold the lake still was. The fast rushing creek adjacent to the beach looked like it would be fun to tube down, but the snow melt that it carried made even our fearless cold water swimmer, Five of Hearts, head back to shore. However, the Younger Fives still found a way to enjoy the freezing water as they built rafts out of their boogie boards and managed to paddle the lake without getting wet.

The campground at Tally Lake wasn’t yet open and besides a few people using the boat landing we pretty much had the whole lake to ourselves. The lack of people near the beach area created the perfect environment for birding and we enjoyed watching Yellow Warblers and Rufous Hummingbirds. The Richardson Ground Squirrels were also a pleasure to watch. We ended up staying at the lake until well into the evening and had great difficulty getting the kids to leave. It seems that Tally Lake will definitely be at the top of our list for camping and swimming this summer.

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.

img_0686-640x480

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.

img_0688-640x480

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).

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.

img_0201-640x480

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.

img_0254-640x480

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.

img_0260-612x640

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.

besteagle-640x480

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.

img_0059-640x480img_0035-640x480

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.