Sunday, April 8, 2012

Clark Fork River, Montana

Male Red Crossbill
We had high hopes for birding in Montana, our goal was fairly simple: get an American Dipper. We saw one at this same spot last year; so we were hoping for the same luck today. When we got out of the truck we had noticed the temperature drop a few degrees and the sky was turning grey, but we were not about to let a little cold weather and dark clouds discourage us from our passion, birding. As we walked the path down to the rivers edge things turned bleaker and we began to doubt how well we would do.  Then it began to snow!

However, we could hear birds chirping as we got closer to a stand of tall pines, so we decided to continue the search. Simon and I split up.  He heard a bird singing high up in a pine and decided to waste time looking for it.  I made my way to the river in search of the American Dipper. A few minutes later, Simon called me back. He had spotted the bird singing in the pine. I have the longer lens so it was up to me to get a good picture , and, though it was an overcast day, I got a couple decent pictures of a beautiful Red Crossbill.  Another bird on the Big Year List and a lifer for us both.
Red-breasted Nuthhatch

After getting the Red Crossbill, we moved closer to the Clark Fork River and were greeted by a fresh Downy Woodpecker.  While we were still admiring the Downy, about five Red-breasted Nuthatches began flying around, calling and commenced to hop around on the ground before us.  They don't usually stay in one spot for very long, so getting good pictures is always a little challenging.

Female Red Crossbil
Next, I saw a yellowish bird fly to a downed tree branch on a nearby hillside.  I was trying to tell Simon where it was when it flew in to clear sight. We both started taking pictures like crazy. At the time we thought we had come across a new bird, but we discovered later that it was a female Red Crossbill. There was also a Pine Siskin hanging around with that female. After they flew away I headed for a big rock outcropping that hangs over the river at a bend.   Simon went to take more pictures of the Downy Woodpecker because he thought there was a possibility that it was actually a Red-naped Sapsucker.  No such luck!
Pine Siskin

The Red Crossbills were swarming the area around the overhanging rock outcropping, moving between three separate perches with great speed.  How exciting, and what a beautiful bird!  Everywhere we looked birds were hopping, perching, flying and singing.  The noise from the interstate highway just a few hundred feet away faded to nothingness. American Robin's joined the action.  Across the river, several Mountain Bluebirds and a couple of Western Bluebirds appeared.  Simon couldn't spot them fast enough, and  I couldn't snap the pictures fast enough!  It was a really hot and fast session of birding.  So exciting!

As things began to slow down, this Townsend's Solitaire descended from somewhere on high, and then we began our search for the American Dipper in earnest.  It was still snowing and getting colder.  We walked the river's edge for about a quarter of a mile, but no luck with the Dipper.  This was a bit disappointing, but the Mountain Bluebirds and Crossbills more than made up for it.  Some of you may remember that last month Simon saw the Mountain Bluebird and I did not.  We didn't count it then because we didn't get a picture and its OUR Big Year, but we have it now!
Mountain Bluebird

We are up to 222 on our Big Year List, but we are still working on identifying one bird from this trip.  It is difficult to tell if it is a juvenile Common Redpoll or another Pine Siskin.

When all was said and done on this trip, the chilly temperatures and snow didn't seem to matter.  Being together, enjoying the beautiful Montana setting on the Clark Fork River, and the excitement of a birding frenzy were all we could really feel.

Happy Birding!!

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