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.