My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Visit to Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

Kathy was planning to visit Lee Metcalf NWR on her way home, but I persuaded her to stay here and take me on one of my days off.  So Friday, we went over there.  I had never bothered to find out where it was,  and thought I had to make plans to camp out near it, but it is less than two hours away from the Bison Range.

We thought we didn't have to bother to get up early as we would mostly be seeing ducks, but we also saw lots of other species. And a staffer told us of a recently burned place where we would have a good chance of seeing black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers but an hour and a half wait only resulted in seeing yellow-rumped warblers, a pair of downy woodpeckers. and one red-breasted nuthatch that we never saw enough to identify until I looked at my pictures.  

We also had a bust on Lewis Woodpeckers but ran across a California quail family while looking at them at Stevensville River Park. 

Lee Metcalf is in the Bitterroot Valley which was described by Lewis and Clark when they visited here.  Today it is managed for many birds, including ones that are threatened or endangered, along with other animals that live in the several different habitats of the refuge.

We already had found a few species of birds before we reached the Visitor Center where we found the most beautiful displays I've seen at a refuge.  And even the bathrooms were decorated with thank-you letters and pictures received from  classes of children that come to the refuge for educational training offered by the refuge staff and volunteers. 

The Visitor Center has a pollinator/bird friendly garden on the left side of the picture

Part of the captivating exhibits 

The walls were covered with bird mounts - didn't check out the video of the refuge 

Kathy pointed out the pygmy owl, which neither of us has seen

Great art and letters from happy young visitors

We started out birding trip by scanning the ponds in back of the Visitor Center.  The staff keeps one or more scopes set up for visitors to use.  Then we took the walking trail that led to other ponds and wetlands and dry fields with scattered trees and shrubs.  We had to spend a lot of time figuring out the ducks, most of whom were still in eclipse or just getting their new winter look.  I was interested to see them, because, by the time they get to their winter homes in Texas, they are already almost finished putting on their new feathers and are much easier to identify.  And it was great to have Kathy along as she sees more details than I do, while I notice behaviors, so together, we gather more clues for identifying the birds.

With 242 species of birds documented at the Refuge and views like this, it's no wonder it makes the top 10 NWR Refuge list. 

On the trail that starts at the Visitor Center

Blue-winged teal - think I see a hint of the crescent forming on the back bird. 

Osprey breed here

There is a great mix of habitats in a small area here

By the time we got back to the Visitor Center, we were starving, so we grabbed our lunch and came out to the picnic table that overlooks the pond.  For this first birding experience since I birded with Teri in the Centennial Valley, I used the smoked salmon she gave me in a salad/dip which we ate on bread and crackers.  Thanks, Teri.  It made for great memories and made our lunch match this marvelous location.

I made Kathy go on this side for the picture but she immediately moved back to enjoy the pond

What happened to the salmon dip 

 While we were eating lunch, I noticed a line full of swallows.  After lunch we went down to look at them.  There were several species - all of whom looked liked this year's birds and were very confusing. Their colors were pale and they hadn't gotten the adult patterns - some appeared to be changing so they were faded, speckled, and their feathers were all mussed -up looking.  I still don't know how many species I saw, but did see barn swallows and cliff swallows, and perhaps a violet-green swallow.   (I'd love some ID comments on these and have more pictures if you want to help with ID.)

Barn Swallows and ????

Cliff swallow

????? Swallow

We decided not to walk the trails along the Bitterroot River but did snap the picture of this hawk.  We can't figure out what this bird is either.  This is not a great picture as it was too far away for my camera. But if you click on it, you may be able to make out the details better. (Please comment if you know.)

We then went just off the refuge to Stevensville River Park to look for Lewis Woodpeckers, per the advice of a birding staffer.  Alas there were none but there was a family of what I think was California Quail - definitely one with the little topnot feather. I just saw the female and saw and heard little pieces of the half-grown chicks. Couldn't get a picture as she was moving fast, climbing through a shrub trying to divert us from seeing the chicks.  But another visitor was there just to watch her and says she hangs around just at the trailhead.

Gravel bar in the Bitterroot River  

We SHOULD have seen Lewis Woodpeckers here
 After that we went to the site of a recent burn where black-backed and three-toes woodpeckers are currently being found. But an hour and a half wait  only resulted in seeing yellow-rumped warblers, a pair of downy woodpeckers, and what we later realized was a red-breasted nuthatch.

Kathy took me out to supper so we didn't get back home until about twelve hours later.  I've been playing hard with her the rest of the weekend and now am writing this after the time I usually post. Now have to run to take a shower and get to work. Kathy will leave sometime this morning so I'll soon be wishing for more company.  And I'm planning on more visits to this place since waterfowl migration is just beginning and I need to find those woodpeckers.