Bannack/Clark Canyon Field Trip

Ten enthusiastic birders joined the two leaders on the Bannack/Clark Canyon trip June 16-17th. The group met and began birding at the very busy Salmon Fly fishing access in Melrose. We were able to practice our bird song identification (Least Flycatcher, Bullock’s Oriole, Northern Waterthrush, etc.) with Nate Kohler providing hints and correct answers. The birding then continued up Camp Creek Road, which is in a valley with stream-side vegetation surrounded by arid sagebrush and rock outcroppings. We made several stops and found the target birds of Green-tailed Towhee and Yellow-breasted Chat. We also were treated to Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous Hawk, Lark Sparrow and the haunting Veery song. The birds were very cooperative and we got excellent looks even with interruptions by unexpected 4-wheeler traffic.

Our search for McCown’s Longspurs and Burrowing Owls took us to Birch Creek Road. We succeeded with the longspurs, Horned Larks, another Ferruginous Hawk and also flushed Long-billed Curlews with young. There was a Burrowing Owl nest rather close to the road but well hidden in a clump of cactus. One owl kept just its head out of the burrow – peering at us as we peered at it. We saw several raptors (Swainson’s, N. Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk) on our drive into Dillon, where we spent the night. The next morning found us in Bannack State Park campground where we saw an American Redstart (a first at this location for Nate), White-crowned Sparrow, and Rednaped Sapsucker as well as other cottonwood and riparian related species.

Our next search was for the Sage Sparrow, Gray Flycatcher and Sage Thrasher on Bannack Bench Road. Although we had no joy with the Sage Sparrow, we did find the other two and were rewarded with the songs of Sage Thrashers and Brewers Sparrows. As we traveled towards the reservoir we passed through ranches that had large wetlands near the road that provided habitat for Sandhill Cranes, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalaropes and Willet. Clark Canyon added numerous water birds to our list: American White Pelicans, Forster’s Tern, Western Grebe, three gull species, numerous ducks, and our only Common Yellow-throat. Sage Thrashers were also unexpectedly seen in areas of sparse sagebrush bordering the reservoir. We also noted the change in habitat caused by last year’s high water – large lush stands of willow had been reduced and/or denuded and large swaths of grassland were gone.

Although the weather report had threatened rain and wind, we had luckily skirted it all weekend until the wind caught up with us after lunch. Several people had to leave early, but the rest of us continued on to the Pipe Organ ponds where we picked up our only Bufflehead and Cinnamon Teal and then finished our trip at Barretts Park after seeing the White-throated Swifts. We had a species count of 109 for the entire trip. Special thanks to Clancy Cone for providing pastries and portraits and to Nate Kohler for generously sharing his time and expertise again.

by Cynthia Hudson

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