Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day seven: West Glacier to Sandpoint

I've made it to my nephew's and I am currently in a restaurant having a cold beer.  But, this is how I am ending my day.  I started it at the western entrance of Glacier National Park.  I went to the Oxbow Trail because the Montana birding book says that American Dipper can be found at the bridge over McDonald Creek.  I parked at a small pull off and checked the creek and did not find the dipper.  There was lots of bird song coming from the woods, so I started down the Oxbow Trail which runs along the river.  I'll start with the first bird I chased down, but first let me tell you I had a strange morning of birding here.
My first bird was Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).  You're thinking, big deal. Right, but this bird is funny in Montana.  I sounds very different!  I heard them all along the trail I walked on the east side of the park yesterday, too.  The song starts out the same, but ends very differently. Finally, one landed and sang right in front of me.  I was allowed several photos, but this is the only one that turned out.  In addition to the warble that we are accustomed to hearing in the midwest, Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) also has quite a different vocalization out here.  
  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

The next bird was an empidonax flycatcher.  Four different empids are possible in this kind of habitat and at least one of those is the Least Flycatcher which was present today.  The unidentified empid was one of the other three - Cordillerian, Dusky or Hammond's.  I need to listen to the vocalization to see if I can identify beyond empid sp.
Overexposed Least Flycatcher

But, here's where it gets strange.  I saw, in Glacier NP in northwest Montana, a female Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis).  I chased this bird trying to get a photo.  As always, its disappearing act was amazing.  But wait, it doesn't end here.  I also saw a White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) in this same general area.  I saw the bird fly across an open area of the woods.  It was slightly distant, but nothing else looks like this.  According to the Sibley range maps, both of these birds are technically possible here - represented by Sibley's gray shading.  I should probably be reporting both birds to the Montana records committee, but I can hear it now. Woman from Michigan comes to Glacier National Park to see American Dipper and finds Connecticut Warbler and White-headed Woodpecker instead.  Right!  Who needs that?  I can come home to Michigan for that. 

As it happens I did see American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) this morning.  Again, it flew upstream over the middle of the river and landed on a pile of debris. When I ran to this spot hoping to see a perched bird, it was gone, gone, gone.  I'm still hoping for a perched view of this bird in Idaho. 
I found many of this large butterfly, the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon).  This photo is not an overexposure - initially I thought it was really worn, but the butterfly really is this pale.  When I got back down to the park entrance, there were distinctly yellow Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus) flying around.  
This fuzzy male Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) was half of a pair that bid me farewell from Glacier NP.

Reluctantly, I ended my time at Glacier NP with lunch at the west entrance restaurant.  A northern European guy on a motorcycle asked me directions to Great Falls.  As it happens, I was able to help him.   Speaking with him made me feel not so strange making this cross-country road trip.  If he can come from Europe and do this on motorcycle, well ...

My road trip continued along Highway 2 West.  I stopped in a state forest to walk briefly and listen.  Many of the birds I've seen, and have not mentioned, are the same birds we see at home.  For example, Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) and Pine Sisken (Carduelis pinus) have all been present in good numbers. 
Knowing that this is the last leg of my journey for several days made today's drive quite easy over the mountain highway.  I arrived at my nephew's around 4:00 pm PDT. He lives in a completely charming wooded setting quite a distance north from the town of Sandpoint.  On the drive into his "neighborhood" I crossed over the Pack River. You can be sure I'll be checking this more carefully over the next several days.
Nearly to Sandpoint and on the other side of the Pack River, I spotted this; a chronic reminder of the dangers of our dry west and of global warming.  You cannot see it in this photo, but in the area left of center with the dark plume rising, bright orange flames were clearly visible. Scary!  What was being done about this?  Certainly, as I was driving on Highway 2 and observing other drivers, no one seemed to pay it any attention.  It all seemed very matter-of-fact.

It took me awhile to find this place this evening, but I now know of an internet cafe in Sandpoint where I can connect.  The next four days will be devoted to visiting my nephew.  He'll be working some of the time, so I may take that opportunity to post.  Otherwise, look for more when I begin my trip back east next week. 
This has been great.  Thanks for tuning in.  Hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.  I know for sure that your butt is not as sore. 

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