Saturday, July 13, 2013

More Birding in Montana, Alberta, and Idaho

I left off my last entry after I saw the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch at Logan Pass up in the Glacier high country.  That seemed to just be the beginning of my birding adventure in this part of the country.

The next day was our longest hike of the trip - Cracker Lake - which adds up to around 13 miles round-trip.  The lake was absolutely spectacular (above), cast in a glacial cirque below Mt. Siyeh.  As I was nearing the rocky outcropping that is considered the "end" of the trail, saw something flitting around in the krummholz (low-growing alpine evergreen shrubs).  Like any good birder, I whipped my binoculars out of my pack.  Okay, I guess a "good birder" would have already had binoculars out, but give me a break - 10x50s get heavy on a long, arduous hike.  But anyway, the target bird lighted on a small spruce tree just as I pulled the binoculars up to my eyes.  MacGillivray's Warbler, a beautiful, chunky warbler with striking gray-and-yellow plumage.  Not what I was expecting on this hike, but a welcome surprise.  

We ate our lunch while observing a massive bull moose swimming in the lake, and then began the return journey.  High on the cliffs surrounding the canyon, a flash caught my eye.  Looking through binoculars, the identity was apparent - a Peregrine Falcon, only the second one I've ever seen.  I watched it take off, flying on its powerful wings.  Peregrines can reach speeds up to 200 mph when diving for prey, making them the real speed demons of the animal world.  

The next day at Virginia Falls, I spotted a Western Tanager singing near the parking area, and spent a good amount of time watching a family of American Dippers gather insect larva out of the turbulent stream below the falls.

The next day, on the hike to Red Rock Falls in the Swiftcurrent Valley, I saw my FOY Mountain Chickadees and heard a tantalizingly close American Three-toed Woodpecker that never revealed itself.

Mountain Bluebird in Waterton Lakes National Park

We then left the states for a few days to go up to Waterton Lakes NP in Alberta.  There, my spotting scope came in handy to view five beautiful Trumpeter Swans swimming in Lower Waterton Lake.  While looking at Black Terns on a nearby lake that I'm not even going to attempt to spell, I saw some gray forms moving through the marsh.  I dashed to the car to grab the scope, and my suspicions were confirmed - Gray Wolves!

On the drive back to Idaho, I spotted a Swainson's Hawk perched on a road sign.  I've only ever seen this species from the car on the highway - last year I saw one from I-80 in Nebraska!

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho

Near Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, I visited Kootenai NWR, a bird haven.  It consists of wetlands and ponds, flanked on one side by mountains and the other by a river.  It has an excellent loop drive on elevated embankments, allowing for easy viewing into the marshland.  The visitor's center has a hummingbird feeder that gave me two lifers - Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds.

Bad photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird at Kootenai NWR

On the nearby "chickadee trail", I got two more lifers by hearing a Cassin's Vireo and seeing a family of Cordilleran Flycatchers, another cool western Empidonax.  On the drive, I saw my 275th year bird - a California Gull.  Kootenai NWR proved to be a great ending to a fantastic trip - I got 29 new birds for my life list over the course of ten days.  NC, Indiana, and Montana combined to make June my best month ever for birding, seeing at least 143 species.  July will bring me to the beach and to the beginning of Fall Migration (for shorebirds)... there is still much in store for me this year.

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