Sunday, 20 June 2010

Montana & Wyoming - Part 1

The June 2010 Avian Adventures tour to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks followed a rather different itinerary from previous visits. In the past we have flown to Denver and included Rocky Mountain National Park or started in Salt Lake City and visited various sites in Utah. This time instead we flew to Billings, Montana and spent a couple of days birding in that area before heading down through Yellowstone and finishing up in Jackson Hole. With overnight stays in Cooke City and West Yellowstone as well as Billings, this tour, billed as "Wild West Birding in Grand Teton & Yellowstone", should really include Montana in its title.

Local birder, Phil McBride, was our guide as we explored the farmland and grassy prairies out to the west of Billings and visited several sites mostly along the Yellowstone River which flows through the southeast part of the town. Phil’s knowledge of the area was invaluable.

Western Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Western Kingbirds and Vesper Sparrows were numerous along the roadside fences as we made our way out towards the small town of Rapelje. Other grassland species seen included Upland Sandpipers, Lark Buntings and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. Ferruginous Hawks were the most frequently found raptors and, in common with at least three Bald Eagles, they seemed to be exploiting the ‘convenience food’ offered by countless Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Several Burrowing Owls were ‘tenants’ in one of the Prairie Dog towns. A small pond provided a selection of common duck species plus about twenty Wilson’s Phalaropes and a handful of American Avocets.

Horned Lark

Western Meadowlark

Juvenile Burrowing Owl

Western Kingbird

Upland Sandpiper

Rapelje with a population of just over 100 people is best known for an annual mountain bike race that is held there but the town’s Stockman CafĂ© also seems to be the only place for miles around where you can get lunch, which we did.

Other sites visited included Itch-Kep-Pe Park in Columbus, Two Moon Park in Billings, Pictograph Cave State Park and one that the locals apparently refer to just as 56th Street Pond. Some of the highlights among the many birds seen were American Redstarts, Yellow-breasted Chats, Cedar Waxwings, Lazuli Buntings, Western Wood-Pewees and the first of many Sandhill Cranes of the tour.

Pictograph Cave State Park

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow-breasted Chat

Western Wood-Pewee

Throughout our time in the Billings area it was hard not to be aware of the scenic, snow-covered Beartooth Mountains to the southwest. When we left Billings, heading for Cooke City, we went via Red Lodge and then took the famous Beartooth Highway that crosses these mountains, a road that has been described as the most beautiful drive in the Lower 48 States. It is 64 miles from Red Lodge to Cooke City and at roughly the halfway point the Beartooth Pass reaches its highest point at 10,974 feet. Birds at this altitude are few but American Pipits are reasonably common and Black Rosy-Finches are regular.

Beartooth Highway

American Pipit

Beartooth Mountains

From Cooke City, our base for the next three nights, it is just four miles to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park…

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Lovely photos, I want to visit now!