Cornell Lab of Ornithology




All About Birds: Free Bird Guide and More

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February 2014

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The Uncommon Crow Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count 4th Day 02/17/14

Day 4: 2/17/14

Fairmont Hot Springs, Anaconda, Montana 9:00am

Black-capped chickadees in conifers near parking lot. American Crow. Various ducks and geese in pond.

waterfowl fairmont

fairmont hot springs

Lots of crows in dirt piles along the interstate. driving to Butte, MT

The Great Backyard Bird Count 3rd Day 02/16/14

Day 3: 2/16/14

Weather forecast-Precipitation 10%, humidity 48%, Wind 20mph, High 41/Low 28, chance of rain

Cedar Street, Helena, MT 10:09am

Current Weather-39 degrees F, mostly cloudy.

4 rock pigeons perched on billboard.

1 black-billed magpie. Before exiting the highway, I noticed a raven and a magpie next to each other by a fence.

5 American Crows. Crow overhead flapping. A crow on the ground in the dealership parking lot. Three crows on light posts at Kmart. Before exiting the highway, I noticed a raven and a magpie next to each other by a fence.

Leonard Field, Butte, MT 1:30PM

Current Weather-39 degrees F, mostly cloudy, windy.

4 rock pigeons. 5 American Crows.

Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail, Butte, MT 1:51PM

Current Weather-Very windy, sunny.

10 Canada Geese. 5 Mallards, 3 American Crows.

geese butte mt

canada goose

mallard snow


The Great Backyard Bird Count 2nd Day 02/15/14

Day 2: 2/15/14

Benton Lake, Cascade County, Montana 8:30am-9:30am

Weather- 33-37 degrees F, mostly clear, sunny skies.

Benton Lake

Benton Wildlife Refuge

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Perched. Not sure on the ID.


Hawk perched on a sign. White tail, brown, mottled body Flew away, but we saw it again flying low over fields on our way out. It landed on the ground in tall grass, then took off out of view.


Two brown passerines scared off side of road. Hear some birds, but cannot locate them.

9:42 am River Drive, Great Falls, MT

Weather-mostly clear, sunny skies, 40 degrees F.


to be edited


ducks common golden eye, mallard, canada goose, 2 small diving ducks, 15+ pigeons under bridge

1 raptor Raptor with white flanks/under the wing/side of body, large brown. Was on ice and flew over bridge.


10:29AM Rainbow Dam Road, Cascade County, MT

Weather- Mostly clear, sunny skies, 44 degrees F

Missouri River


bird count

canada geese 300+ geese in the river. Too many for me to count. Too many birds in the river for me to effectively count them. Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, American Coot

11:27AM Wadsworth Lake

Weather- mostly sunny, clear skies, 46 degrees F.


Drove to the end of the lake road, then walked the trail.


to be edited

The Great Backyard Bird Count 1st Day 02/14/14

Day 1: 2/14/14

Weather forecast-Precipitation 10%, humidity 48%, Wind 20mph, High 41/Low 28, chance of rain

Giant Springs 9:15am-10:06am

Current Weather-37 degrees F, overcast

It was the first day of this year's annual February bird count, and I was anxious to get started! I had not participated in one of these before. Our first stop was Giant Springs State Park , which is a beautiful park with a walking path along the Missouri River known as the Rivers Edge Trail. The park also features the Roe River (a former record-holder for the world's shortest river), one of the country's largest freshwater springs, a fish hatchery, and a visitor center. I have been here several times, and there is always something interesting going on, especially bird-wise. Our first sightings for the GBBC were Black-billed magpies flying across the road near the parking entrance. Entering the park, European starlings were singing from up in the trees.

european starlings


We approached the river, and the first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of American Coots. They were congregated in a few separate, large groups. This division made it a little easier to count them, but it was still not an easy task with so many individuals diving and resurfacing constantly. My pictures (only a few of which are shown here) show some of the waterfowl we saw, but there were many others spanned across the length of the river that were not photographed. My original counting estimate was 160 for the American Coots, but ebird said this was unusually high for this place and time, so I adjusted it to a more conservative 100 based on my photographic evidence. In addition to the coots, there were Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Redheads, Canada Geese, and Mallards.

American Coots

american coot


We moved along the walking trail to the left. We stopped at the small, wooden bridge and heard some Black-capped chickadees calling. Sure enough, one chickadee flew in to investigate, followed by two more shortly after. Bold little fellows aren't they? They were bouncing around from place to place nonstop, including right next to me on the bridge railing, but my boyfriend did manage to catch a few shots on camera.


Something smelled a little off in this area and looking down from the bridge there was something dead that had washed up.

dead mammal giant springs

As we were heading back, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar bird sitting quaintly in a tree, at eye-level, right next to the walking path. This birdie had zero reaction to our presence. It was so still! Maybe that is it's strategy. (A welcome quality after those hyperactive chickadees.) Even so, I didn't want to bother it too much, so I observed in-place for a while, snapped a few photos, and went on my way.

townsend's solitaire

Unsure what it was, I temporarily listed it as "passerine sp." on ebird and commented "possible flycatcher, vireo, warbler, or something else." Then, I thought, "You know what? It looks more like a robin." It has robin-like qualities. The body shape, long tail, the eyes, and that all-purpose bill. I considered a juvenile robin, but when I looked at pictures, it definitely didn't fit. So, I went back to looking at flycatchers. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to look at other thrushes!

I was prowling through bird identification websites searching for birds with eye-rings that are found in Montana. The primary results were different flycatcher species. I was looking through them and skeptically thinking, "I guess that could be it..." However, most of those birds had bicolor bills, and mine was all black. I know color can be misleading depending on the lighting, so I tried not to rule out anything based on the bill. Besides, the birds without the bicolored bill, seemed to have fainter eye-rings, or some other detail that just didn't match with my bird. None really had that rusty color on the wings either. To add to the confusion, almost all of these birds are summer residents. It's possible for some migratory individuals to stay for the winter, but I thought there had to be some other, more likely candidate that does winter in Montana.

Townsend's Solitaire

Finally, I decided to check in my Birds of Montana field guide by Stan Tekiela. I had previously been frustrated with the limitedness of the little field guide, so I used online guides more often. It's a beautiful, and well-organized guide, but it just doesn't have all the possibilities. Yet, despite the wealth of information online, sometimes books do it best. Sometimes that small scope is useful. Keep it simple, stupid. It took me less than 30 seconds to look through the gray-plumage section and come across a perfect match. "All-gray robin look-alike with a prominent white ring around each eye..." "...Long tail. Short dark bill and dark legs," and to top it off, it is a year-round resident! Bingo. Townsend's Solitaire. I don't know why I had such a hard time with this bird. It seems so obvious. I feel silly now. I'm glad I know what it is, and it's a new species for me too.

townsends solitaire

Giant Springs 10:15am-10:30am

Current Weather-37 degrees F, overcast

giant springs

We continued the count at the park area above. I walked on the road going around the the grassy "island". The first thing I saw was a black-billed magpie at the top of a conifer and another in a deciduous tree. They began calling, then the one from the conifer flew over to join its companion in the deciduous tree. They eventually moved to the ground. The only other sightings I had in this location were a couple rock pigeons flying overhead, and a robin-sized bird with a rusty hue to its wings and a white rump patch that flew past and landed in a deciduous tree. It took off over the train tracks and out of view shortly after.



magpie giant springs park

Lewis & Clark Interpretive center 10:30am-10:50am

Current Weather-37 degrees F, overcast

great falls

Driving to the Interpretive Center, a hawk appeared above the riveredge cliffs, but quickly vanished into the cliffs by the river. We went to look for the hawk, but were unsuccessful. I did see a fox scurry into the brush though. Some rock pigeons landed on and went into the train tracks uphill behind us. Two black-billed magpies were hopping around near the parking lot. I saw another individual when we were getting ready to leave, as pictured below.


Ryan Dam 11:00am-11:39am

Current Weather-40 degrees F, overcast

Ryan Dam

was this the time we drove to the dam and saw different groups of hundreds of geese resting in fields? Rock Pigeons on top of the cliff that is by the road. 29 Mallards, flying overhead. 2 Bald eagles soaring and flying over the river and island. Black-billed magpie perched on a bush atop the far cliff.

ryan dam

River's Edge Trail/Skatepark 12:20pm-12:40pm

Current Weather-42 degrees F, overcast

3 mallards flying overhead. House sparrows noisily hopping within a bush. Black-capped chickadees calling and being noisy in the bushes. House finches perched in the bushes with the chickadees. Males and females.

House Finch

Missouri River 12:45pm-1:15pm

Current Weather-42 degrees F, overcast

We noticed a very large bird on the ice in the river, so we parked to take a look. It stayed for a few moments, then took off toward the bridge. It scared some waterfowl in the process, including mallards and goldeneyes. It was an immature eagle, perhaps a bald eagle.

immature bald eagle

We went to West Bank Park on the other side of the river. Bald eagle soaring.Canada Geese and mallards flying overhead. The largest fly-by group had about 40 Canada Geese. Over 30 mallards were in the water.

west bank park

west bank park

west bank park




Wadsworth 1:45pm-2:00pm

Current Weather-45 degrees F, sunny

Canada Geese overhead, 11 magpies in bushes near frozen pond. they fly to picnic tables and a log in the field. A magpie in a tree at the end of the road. Interesting to observe. Corvids, so I'd imagine they are pretty clever. A starling in a tree and flies across the pond. be continued...

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Spring Lake Park