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2013
 NOVEMBER
SORAS
By Gail Cleveland
Even though I have been watching birds for more than 25 years, I can bring to mind most instances when I have seen the more elusive members of the family Rallidae (coots, rails, crakes and gallinules). I remember seeing my first Virginia Rail in a marshy area in the lower Flathead Valley. After hearing a long sequence of pig-like grunts, I scanned the area with my binoculars, only to realize that the small, orange-breasted, long-billed bird was silently standing right below me outside the car door. I remember lying on my stomach in northern Thailand, trying not to make a sound as a local restaurant owner called in the endemic Black-tailed Crake using bread crumbs. But, possibly, my favorite rail is the Sora, the most common and widely distributed rail in North America.
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 OCTOBER  
THE DUSKY (OR KAMIKAZE) GROUSE
By Ben Long
The official name of Montana’s “Blue Grouse” is now the “Dusky Grouse.” But I always think of them as Kamikaze Grouse. Here’s why.

My family was driving a mountain road one May when we spied a male Dusky Grouse doing its spring mating dance along the barrow pit. The handsome fellow’s tail was fanned and a red, white-rimmed spot throbbed on its neck and eyebrow. Karen stepped out of the passenger side with telephoto lens, intending to photograph the bird from a respectful distance.
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 SEPTEMBER  
  EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE
By Ben Long
And the winner for the North American “Bird of the Decade” award is . . . the Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). That was my determination at the turn of the decade, and I’d make a case for it three years later.

Likely no other bird species on record has stormed the North American landmass as quickly as Eurasian Collared-Doves (EUCDs). After release from captivity in the Bahamas in 1974, they arrived on the continent in the late 1970s. By the late 1980s, the bird had successfully colonized southern Florida.
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 APRIL  
NORTHERN PINTAIL
By Ben Long
All wild ducks are beautiful but for my money, the most beautiful is the Northern Pintail. They have a combination of aerial grace, striking plumage, heft and old-fashioned class. They are ducks with elan.

There are some 35 species of ducks in North America, many of which find their way to the Flathead Valley. Pintails are early spring migrants in the Flathead; during that period, they can far outnumber Mallards. Later in the spring, they are much less common, and are present in small numbers throughout the rest of the year, even into winter.
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 MARCH  
  VAUX'S SWIFTS: HOLLOW TREE OBLIGATES
By Lisa Bate
The Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi) is the smallest swift in North America, just slightly smaller than its eastern counterpart, the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica). Best described as a “flying cigar,” this species is easily recognized by its small, cigar-shaped body with long, pointed wings, and short stubby tail. Typically, they can be seen flying just above the forest canopy or over water. T
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 FEBRUARY
THE NORTHERN SHRIKE
By Lewis Young
The Northern Shrike is a solitary “masked hunter” that may be found in the northern U.S., including the Flathead Valley, during the winter. Its scientific name is Lanius excubitor and means "butcher watchman.” It is a pale gray bird with lightly barred under-parts and black wings, tail, and mask. The black wings have a distinctive white patch that can be seen when perched or flying and the tail has white outer feathers. The tail often bobs when perched. The black mask runs from the base of the bill, through the eye and well beyond. The bill has a distinct hook.
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 JANUARY  
BY CHANCE, HAVE YOU SEEN A GAMBEL'S QUAIL?
By Denny Olson, Photo by Sheryl Hester
Where are they and why haven’t I been able to spot one in Montana?
So you have been all over Montana trying to fill your quail sighting quotient in hopes of being able to check all those little boxes in the back of your bird book but to no avail. You’ve logged 5 species of grouse, the White-tailed Ptarmigan, a covey of fugitive Chukars, a California Quail in the Bitterroot, Gray Partridge, and a Northern Bobwhite Quail. Being an expert birder, you know that the latter four species are not native. But since you haven’t spotted a Gambel’s Quail, that box remains unchecked. Well there are three easy steps to putting a Gambel’s Quail in your sights. Here is the secret, but there is one caveat.
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2012  
 DECEMBER  
THE GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
By John Hughes
Have you ever been walking in a riparian area and heard what sounded like a cat mewing in the thick understory? Every time this happens to my wife and me, we turn and look at each other, smile like kids, and say “catbird.” The Gray Catbird is one of many birds whose names are derived from their songs or call notes. In the case of the Gray Catbird, the mewing sound is a call note, and while it doesn’t really sound like a cat, barring perhaps a sick cat, it certainly reminds you of one.
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 NOVEMBER  
GRAY JAY: GIVING NEW MEANING TO "INTREPID"
By Denny Olson
Some of us have been lucky enough to have a “Whiskey Jack,” “Camp Robber,” Canada Jay, sit on our hand (or head, in my case) and calmly nab a seed or peanut. After watching them forage for years, flying lightly from low perch to low perch, I’m convinced that they are less “curious” about us than calculatingly efficient. They have a Corvid (Crow/Jay family) brain, after all, and their kin have been the uncontested “Mensa” club of the bird world for years. They know danger, and lack thereof, when they see it. And, they have had thousands of years of practice being cute and endearing. More on that later.
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 OCTOBER  

 
A GORGEOUS SUMMER MIGRANT
By Gael Bissell
Guess which Flathead Valley summer bird (male) is orange and black, has a thick bill, and eats monarch butterflies in the winter but doesn’t get sick? If you still aren’t sure, the next hint is … the male sounds like a loud robin on caffeine. You guessed it right; it’s the Black-headed Grosbeak.
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 SEPTEMBER
EASTERN KINGBIRD
By Ben Young
I’m often asked by my students to name my favorite birds. I can sell them on the kingfishers, hummingbirds, trogons, and owls without much persuasion, but when I mention the Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), many are puzzled. How could such a common and seemingly ordinary bird be among my favorites?
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 MAY  
WARBLING VIREOS
By Gail Cleveland
Although vireos are persistent singers during the breeding season, these rather plain birds seem to hide among the foliage of treetops and dense thickets, proving to be difficult to see. Consequently, they are one family that beginning bird watchers often overlook. Of this strictly New World family of birds, Northwest Montana has three fairly common species: the Red-eyed Vireo, Cassin’s Vireo and Warbling Vireo. Taking a closer look at my favorite, the Warbling Vireo, should send birders in hot pursuit of this seemingly-elusive little gray bird.
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 APRIL  
THE ELUSIVE WILSON'S SNIPE
By Jeannie Marcure
Because they’ve only heard about it as the object of a practical joke involving a “snipe hunt,” many non-birders think that the snipe is a mythical bird. This rather common prank involves taking a tenderfoot into the woods at night, arming them with a flashlight and a gunny sack and sending them out to “hunt snipe!” Such hunters are usually encouraged to make strange noises and wander aimlessly through woods or marshes in the effort to bag this elusive bird. The snipe was probably chosen as the object of this prank because of its elusive nature and of course, such a hunt is doomed to be unsuccessful allowing much teasing and ridicule of the hunter when he or she finally admits defeat!
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 MARCH  
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
By Lewis Young
The Western Grebe is a striking black and white bird with a long slim neck and a long bill. The largest of our grebes with a length of 25 inches, a wingspan of 24 inches, and weighing just over 3 pounds, they have a long greenish-yellow sharp-pointed bill, and black (or dark gray) and white plumage. The dark plumage is found on the top of the head, back of the neck, and the upper body. The white is found on the chin, front of the neck and the underside of the body. At close range, the red eye may be seen. Their tail feathers are very small and hidden among other body feathers. A gregarious, colonial nesting species, they are infrequently seen on land or in flight. Males and females are generally indistinguishable.
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 FEBRUARY
THE BLACK TERN - A WINGED SPECTER STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE
By Kathy Ross
Scanning the marshy flats of the Swan River Refuge in June, an ephemeral flash of luminous, sunlit wings catches the eye and intrigues the sense of wonder. Yes, it is live and it is a bird with a buoyant unique flight pattern of graceful swoops and aerial dives.
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 JANUARY  
THE AMERICAN CROW
By Dennis Hester
Who has not seen a Crow? If a person can identify only a few birds, one of them no doubt will be the Crow. It is well known because it is large, black, ubiquitous and noisy. In fact, the American Crow probably ranks with Turdus migratorus and Sturnus vulgaris (American Robin and European Starling) as the most observed and identifiable birds in North America.
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2011
 DECEMBER  
OSPREY, THE FISH HAWK
By Mary Nelesen
The osprey, like several of my friends and neighbors, has gone south for the winter seeking a warmer climate. And like my snow-bird friends, I know the osprey will return in the spring.
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 NOVEMBER  
DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE A REDHEAD?
Life History and Ecology of One of Our Unusual
Local Nesting Waterfowl
By Gael Bissell
Each spring, just after the ice melts and the bulk of the Northern Pintails and American Wigeon pass through our waters, I quickly look for the brightly colored Redheads (Aythya americana). I am not sure why I like these particular waterfowl; perhaps it’s because when I see them in the Flathead Valley, they are in small groups and are a bit less common.
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 OCTOBER  
RUFFED GROUSE: FAVORITE BIRD OF FALL
By Ben Young
Nothing says spring like the first flight of northbound Canada Geese. And to me, no bird is more closely aligned with autumn than the Ruffed Grouse.
Ruffed Grouse are part of the gallinaceous family of birds. That’s fancy-talk meaning they are similar to chickens. Taxonomists lump them with other grouse, partridge, pheasants, ptarmigan and the like.
In Montana, grouse are split between those of the prairie and those of the forest. Sage and Sharptail Grouse are prairie birds. Ruffed Grouse are forest grouse, midsize between the diminutive Spruce Grouse and the husky Dusky (formerly Blue) Grouse.
 
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 SEPTEMBER  
THE MYSTERIOUS BLACK SWIFT
By Ben Young
A“Enigmatic.” “Unknown.” Take a glance at the species account for the Black Swift (Cypseloides niger) in your field guide and you’ll see such descriptors associated with aspects of its life history. How else can one describe a non-perching bird that is seen only as it flies (Sibley 2000) (often foraging high enough in the sky to escape detection with binoculars (Rathbun 1925), nests in dark crevices or on ledges near or behind waterfalls that receive little to no direct sunlight, and for which only 124 nest sites have been confirmed worldwide (Levad 2010)? To add to the intrigue, the wintering range for North American breeding birds remains unknown.
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 MAY
THE TENNESSEE WARBLER: SPRUCE BUDWORM SPECIALIST
Among the breeding wood warblers in Western Montana, the Tennessee Warbler has been the most elusive and difficult to see each summer. For 25 years, my husband Bruce and I have taken an annual May bike ride from the Trego area down Wolf Creek to the Fisher River and on to the Kootenai River. Each year we searched for this small, indistinctly marked warbler with a fine, sharp bill and a short tail with a distinctive three-part song. Finally, in 2010 we hit gold!
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 APRIL  
AMERICAN REDSTART
By Lewis Young
Although a member of the large family of wood-warblers that are sometimes difficult to tell apart, American Redstarts have distinctive color patterns and behavioral traits that make them relatively easy to identify. Adult males are glossy black with bright orange patches on wings, tail and sides. The belly and under the tail are white. Adult females are gray-olive above with white underparts and yellow patches on the tail, wings and sides. The birds are about 5 ¼ inches long with a 7 ¾ inch wingspan.
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 MARCH
SPRUCE GROUSE--A FOREST GUIDE
By Kathy Ross
Imagine the shock of hearing an engine start up in the middle of a beautiful forest a long distance from road or apparent civilization. I know I was truly puzzled and a little disconcerted by this mechanical sound in the quiet of a peaceful woodland setting, only to discover it was an important aspect of the forest ecosystem. The "drumming", as it is referred to, of grouse in our mountain forests is actually the rapid wing beats of male grouse letting the ladies know he is available for the spring mating season.
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 FEBRUARY
TREE SWALLOW
Article By Lisa Bate
It usually happens sometime in March. I am outside working on the farm when I hear what sounds like bubbling water flying overhead. Then I just smile knowing that the tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) have returned from their wintering grounds and with them, have brought the real beginning of spring to northwest Montana.
 
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 JANUARY  
THE SNOW SHOE BIRD, THE WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN
Article By Mary Nelesen
For the past five summers, I have searched in vain for a glimpse of a White-tailed Ptarmigan. This past summer, I was fortunate and saw a flock of them just by chance. My first experience in seeing this elusive bird was while walking along the Highline Trail at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Two friends and I decided to stop and eat our lunch just below Haystack Butte. As we approached a large flat rock to sit on, we noticed four small speckled-brown birds nearby. Sure enough, there were 3 young and an adult Whitetailed Ptarmigan.  > MORE
 


 
 
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