Town Bound Birding Series

FVAS is excited to host the Town Bound Birding Series. Once a month from April to September, we will host a bird watching event at a local hotspot. Our goal is to have a good time exploring the wildlife at these easy to access sites, all of which are in the Missoula Valley. Extra points if you bike or take the bus to get there! Knowledgeable guides will be on hand to point out the different species and answer questions. All are welcome! Participants are encouraged to meet for fun conversation afterwards at a nearby coffee shop.

Greenough Park Sunday April 10th 8-10am

  • Meet at the southernmost parking lot on Monroe Street. We will walk along the paved and unpaved trails looking for American Dippers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Bohemian Waxwings & more.
  • Apres-bird hangout at Bernice’s Bakery (190 S 3rd St W)

Kelly Island Sunday May 15th 8-10am

  • Meet at the Kelly Island Fishing Access Parking lot (4854 Spurgin Rd). We will traverse the unpaved paths through the forests and river banks in search of Wood Ducks, Ospreys, Kingfishers, & more.
  • Apres-bird hangout at The Trough (2106 Clements Rd)

Fort Missoula & Quarry Sunday June 12th 8-10am

  • Meet at SW parking lot where Guardsman Lane & Green Guidon meet. We will search the Bitterroot River, Quarry, woods, and fields for Bald Eagles, various Grebes, Great Blue Herons, & more
  • Apres-bird hangout at The Trough (2106 Clements Rd)

River Trail Sunday July 17th 7:30-9pm

  • Meet outside of Bernice’s Bakery (190 S 3rd St W). We will walk along the paved Milwaukee Trail. The highlight of this midsummer evening outing will be watching dozens of Common Nighthawks hunting insects overhead! We can also hope to see Common Mergansers, Osprey, and other riparian birds. 
  • Impromptu apres-bird hangout 

Maclay Flat Nature Trail Sunday August 14th 8-10am

  • Meet in the parking lot (Forest Rd 19155). We will walk the unpaved trails looking for White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Northern Shovelers & more.
  • Apres-bird hangout at The Trough (2106 Clements Rd)

Council Grove State Park Saturday September 10th 8-10am

  • Meet in the parking lot (11249 Mullan Rd, Missoula, MT 59808). We will walk on unpaved trails in search for Cedar Waxwings, Western Wood-Pewees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, & more.
  • Apres-bird hangout at Black Cat Bake Shop (2000 W Broadway St)

Birding Observer Summer Supplement: A Guide to Organic Lawn Care By Anne Greene

Have you ever wondered how to have a beautiful lawn without using pesticides and chemical fertilizers that harm birds and other wildlife? The non-profit Grow Safe: Non-Toxic Missoula has just published a guide that shows you how.

Grow Safe is a small group of volunteers dedicated to reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in Missoula. With the support of Missoula’s Parks and Recreation Department and Missoula County Extension, the group has written A Guide to Organic Lawn Care that gives clear instructions for achieving a safe and beautiful lawn by building healthy soil.

The guide is full of useful information, that I’ll admit, I didn’t know before I began reading it! For instance, healthy soil is full of trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, protozoans, and invertebrates. These microorganisms provide nutrients to plants by breaking down organic matter in tiny air spaces around the roots. You can encourage these microorganisms by aerating your soil and adding organic amendments. The result, over time, is a lawn which is not only attractive and safe, but compared to conventional lawns, more resilient to drought and capable of out-competing weeds.

Many common lawn care products are highly toxic to soil microorganisms and wildlife, as well as to you, your family, and pets. Roundup® and TruGreen® contain the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate harms birds, bees, and fish; it is an endocrine disrupter, and a probable carcinogen. Another product, Weed and Feed™, contains the herbicide 2,4-D, a key ingredient in Agent Orange.

If you are interested in transitioning away from chemicals and toward organic lawn care (or know someone who is), there are plenty of resources in Missoula listed in the guide that can help. You can find physical copies of the guide at Currents Aquatic Center, Missoula County Extension, Montana Natural History Center, Caras Nursery, and Ace’s The Garden Place. Digital versions and additional resources can be found on the Grow Safe website.

Montana 2021-22 Christmas Bird Count #122

Montana Summary 26 April 2022 from Rosemary H. Leach

Total Counts Run and Total Species Found

In spite of Covid restrictions again this year, our data generally compared favorably with
past years. This year we tallied data from 30 count circles of our total 34. Three counts
did not run (Chester, Little Rocky Mountains, and Musselshell Valley) because of either
covid issues, lack of field participants, or bad weather. One circle—Cut Bank—has
been orphaned, and needs a new compiler and some hearty souls to renew the count.
If you can handle high winds and low temperatures, this might be the count for you.
Total number of species this year was—142 (Appendix 1), which equaled the average
of the total number of species from the past 7 years (CBC #115-121). This year we
added no new species to our cumulative state list of 221.

We had 7 Count Week (CW) birds this year that were not reported from any circle
during a count day, including Ross’s Goose (Bozeman); Long-tailed Duck (Missoula);
Red-breasted Merganser (Great Falls); Mew Gull (recent split, now Short-billed Gull but
still Mew Gull in the CBC database; the bird was found at Bigfork); Barred Owl
(Missoula); Gyrfalcon (Bigfork); and Gray Catbird (Missoula). Count Week birds were a
bit higher than past years, perhaps because the fall and early winter were unseasonably
warm in much of the state, and then the first sub-zero temperatures of the season
descended just as the count period began. At least some of the waterfowl moved on
due to iced-over ponds.

Continue reading

Avian Flu is Present in Montana

Many concerned community members have recently asked if they should continue to feed birds, given that we now have an avian flu outbreak in the area.

We recommend that folks do not feed birds during the Spring and Summer, because there is plenty of natural food available to birds at this time of year. Any time you feed birds, you increase the chance of creating a vector for disease spread. While songbirds will likely not get avian flu (they don’t congregate as much as waterfowl, for example), they do get other diseases at feeders, especially conjunctivitis. You could still maintain your bird baths or water features (with frequent cleaning), if you want to provide this important component to support birds in your backyard.

You can also maintain your hummingbird feeders (again, with frequent cleaning), but you might need to take the feeders inside at night if you live in areas near where bears occur regularly occur, which would be most of Missoula.

For proper cleaning, use a 10% bleach solution, which is one part bleach mixed with nine parts water, followed by a water rinse, then complete air-dry.

You can get more information on avian flu in Montana at the American Bird Conservancy website.

Montana Audubon 2022 Long-Billed Curlew Citizen Science Survey

By Amy Seaman, Director of Policy & Science

Are you ready to hear the ‘currlleeee’ of the Long-billed Curlew? Well, grab your binoculars and get ready, because curlew season is just around the corner! These charismatic shorebirds will be trickling back into the state in early April, and we need your help finding as many as possible in and around the Mission, Blackfoot, and Helena Valleys! Since 2013, volunteers have recorded curlew sightings in these three Montana valleys and this data helps inform statewide habitat models as well as highlight important tracts of intact grassland that are in need of conservation. We are hoping to revamp our efforts on this project, so please share this opportunity with anyone you think will be interested! As a species-specific survey, this is a great time for aspiring citizen scientists and veteran birders alike to contribute to the conservation of a treasured Montana bird species.

Visit Montana Audubon’s Long-billed Curlew survey page to find out more.

The Long-Billed Curlew Citizen Science survey will take place from April 8th – May 7th and from May 8th – May 31st.

Please email Peter Dudley at gro.nobuduatmnull@retep for more information and to sign up!

Saturday, January 29 Field Trip Summary: Mission Valley

Group 1, Larry Weeks:

Saturday, January 29th: The January field trip to the Mission Valley ended up being very complicated. When the group assembled at the Cenex in Ronan, there were 25 people and 13 cars. So, I split up the group into 2 separate field trip and I had Alex Kearney lead one and I led the other. The following write up is for Larry’s group. The fog conditions were terrible in the morning which severely limited the birding. We worked our way north from Round Butte Road to Polson and found a few Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Northern Harriers, 3 Great Horned Owls, and a flock of about 50 Common Redpolls. Clancy Cone, who had come down from Dayton, reported that the fog conditions were better at Dayton and north. Therefore, we decided to go to Somers to look for the Snowy Owl. On the way, we stopped at the Dayton Bay on Flathead Lake and had Trumpeter Swans, Redheads, one Canvasback, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls. We then stopped at Clancy’s cabin for hot chocolate and lunch. There was a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Black-capped Chickadee at his bird feeder and a large flock of birds that flew that were most likely Pine Siskins. We then drove to the Somers area, but we were unsuccessful in locating the Snowy Owl along Farm and Manning Roads. Thomas Kallmeyer and the Stierles had already planned to go to Kalispell, so they decided to look for the Long-eared Owl that had been reported at the airport. (They did not see the Long-eared Owl). The remaining participants returned to Polson. The birding conditions had improved, and we had excellent birding on Valley View and Moiese Valley Roads. The highlights included about 25 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Rough-legged Hawks, 12 Bald Eagles, 5 Great Horned Owls, 2 Prairie Falcons, 2 Northern Harriers, and 1 American Kestrel. Our group ended up with 34 species which included 74 raptors.

Group 2, Alex Kearney

The large number of people who arrived at the Northwest corner of the Adams Center parking lot at the U of M allowed Larry Weeks to ask me for help leading this trip, I agreed. I consider myself a novice birding person, and even less than a novice leading a field trip. Anxiety had set in enroute, compounded by the weather upon arrival which was overcast, visibility of 100ft(+/- 5ft), and the visual experience of ice needles resembling an old man’s beard covering everything, everything that is that could be seen. Without any preparation I was able to determine a direction into the frozen Mission Valley in search for raptors. What I discovered to be really helpful was, to search for birds as though I were doing this solo. The anxiety began to lift but not the fog, poor visibility remained. The birding was very difficult but as we continued moving, I was able to hatch a plan. Shortly, both the weather and the birding began to cooperate, Great Horned Owls began flying across the road. Bald Eagles were seemingly gathering in anticipation of our arrival. Pileated Woodpecker’s were scurrying for cover as a Sharp-shinned Hawk was in pursuit. Eventually, visibility improved. The buteo’s, both Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks began to remain perched long enough to position a scope, to help determine either morph and/or subspecies. The American Tree Sparrows, Common Redpolls, and Horned Larks appeared in very large numbers, and we cannot forget the Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Townsend Solitaire’s who were seemingly cheering us on. The Black- capped Chickadees choose to remain visually anonymous, but their calls were distinctive. Northern Shrikes appeared but much further down the road from all this activity in the junipers. The Prairie Falcon and American Kestrel remained content on their utility poles as we passed. These where just some of the birds that come to mind for this raptor field trip to the Mission Valley. I would like to thank Larry Weeks for asking me to help him, and I would also like to thank all the participants who came with. I had a great day! We had 29 species, which does not include a possible Golden Eagle, with a total of 101 raptors.

Peeps from the Board: A Tale of Anna’s Hummingbirds

By Edward Monnig

Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina begins with the lines “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In Tolstoy’s novel, Anna acts with fierce independence against the strictures of her society and her family. She travels beyond the confines of her home in her search of love, fulfillment, and a new reality. Her story can be imagined as a rough parallel to the experience of Anna’s Hummingbirds in Missoula this winter.

The home range of the Anna’s Hummingbirds is generally along the west coast, west of the Cascades and the Sierras. Unlike the three more common hummingbird species in western Montana (Calliope, Rufous, and Black-chinned), Anna’s Hummingbirds are not long-distance migrants. They may move upslope in the mountains during breeding season, but do not escape winter with long migrations south to Mexico or Southeastern US.

Anna’s Hummingbirds have been spotted in the Missoula area in the summer and fall on occasion over the past several years, part of the long-range expansion of their home range to the north and east. Cornell Laboratories reports that in the late 1800’s the breeding territory of Anna’s was confined to southern California and northern Baja California.

My friend Tom first observed two Anna’s in the middle of November, as they tried to feed on an empty artificial nectar feeder still hanging outside his kitchen window. He dutifully filled it and retrieved it every night to keep it from freezing. The system worked well, and the birds visited regularly for several weeks. Then the serious cold hit, and the daytime temperatures rarely climbed above freezing. Not to be outdone, Tom, the creative engineer, rigged a heater that he attached to the feeder.

This outfit worked for another week or two until the very cold northeast winds spilled over the Lincoln saddle near his house. Soon after, Tom noticed a small ball of ice encircling the end of one of the bird’s beak, likely the result of dipping its beak in near-freezing feeder solution. Just like the hummingbird that jabs a bee or wasp and cannot extract its beak, this bird seemed doomed. Again, Tom was not deterred. He took a hair dryer and slowly approached the feeder. The bird sensed his good intentions and stayed while Tom defrosted its beak. He repeated this routine a second time later that day. Hope returned.

Those of us who have lived in Montana for a while know that these northeast winds are harbingers of the bitter cold. Soon the temperature fell below zero Fahrenheit. And the morning came when the Anna’s hummingbirds did not reappear.

Their adaptations to the wet, moderate weather of the Pacific Northwest had not prepared them for this unrelenting core cold. Like Tolstoy’s Anna and her lover, Vronsky, these hummingbirds had ventured into strange lands beyond their capacity to adapt. Unlike Anna they did not have the means to retreat.

It is, of course, too easy to anthropomorphize these wild creatures. Our nature sheds empathy for their distress and compels us to provide for them as we can. And we mourn their individual loss.

There is some solace in knowing that, as a species, Anna’s Hummingbirds are doing well. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey Anna’s Hummingbirds populations had increased by over 2% per year between 1966 and 2014.

The drive that pushed these two pioneers into Montana has served the species well as it expands into new and more hospitable territory. Yet that success as a species has come at the expense of some individuals, these tiny equivalents of the lone wandering wolf.