Bitterroot rough-leggeds return to the valley
Image courtesy of Mel Holloway

Image courtesy of Mel Holloway

I can always tell when winter is approaching by the detection of various migrating bird species that show up in the Bitterroot.

One bird shows up like clockwork every November poised to reduce the rodent population in the valley.

Named for its feathered legs, the rough-legged hawk is a large hawk within a group of hawks referred to as Buteos. These hawks, which include species like the common red-tailed hawk, have broad wings and often perch on telephone poles, fence posts or wheel lines to visually detect their next meal or feed after a successful hunt.

Read more >

Teller Wildlife Refuge
Teller Wildlife Refuge and Montana Becoming an Outdoors-Woman host Women’s Waterfowl Weekend
image courtesy of Mady Braught

image courtesy of Mady Braught

Teller Wildlife Refuge and the Montana Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program partnered recently to present a Women’s Waterfowl Weekend.

Ten women from Montana and as far away as North Dakota traveled to Teller Wildlife Refuge to spend the weekend learning about all things waterfowl.

Staff from Teller and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and a group of knowledgeable volunteers delivered lessons on the history of waterfowl management, Montana waterfowl hunting regulations, Duck ID, gear and decoys.

Ducks Unlimited donated mallard calls and caps and local chapter volunteers presented a lesson on basic duck calling. The Hamilton Trap Club hosted the shooting safety portion of the day and assisted with helping everyone practice shooting that mimicked an actual hunting situation.

At the end of the day, the group had a hands-on demonstration on how to process their harvest in addition to being able to sample some favorite recipes of the volunteers. The following morning, the ladies and their instructors headed out to the blinds for their first duck hunt.

Teller Wildlife Refuge
Belted kingfishers are a common sight in the Bitterroot Valley
image courtesy of Mike Daniels

image courtesy of Mike Daniels

For most of us living in the Bitterroot, spending time along the river or one of the many valley streams is a highlight of our outdoor connection.

Whether fishing from a raft, wading, or just out for a walk with the dog, those visits have undoubtedly provided an opportunity to encounter one of nature’s most accomplished avian fish predators, the belted kingfisher.

Typically, you hear a loud “rattle-chatter” call as the bird parallels the water course, finally perching on a branch overlooking a pool of clear water. Suddenly, the bird plunges downward, makes a splash on the water, and quickly ascends back to the perch with a 2-inch fish in its beak. Swallowing the prey head first, the bird ruffles its feathers to knock off a few remaining water beads before it departs, echoing the “rattle chatter” as it flies off.

see the full story here >

Teller Wildlife Refuge
Northern Harrier is one of the Bitterroot’s most common birds of prey
image courtesy of Heather Tellock

image courtesy of Heather Tellock

Flying low over the field, a midsized hawk gently glides inches over the tall grass.

Suddenly, it maneuvers and begins to hover, maintaining its position with a sharp eye on the quarry below. As it descends to the ground it disappears in the grass. Magically, it reappears and flies off to perch on a wooden fence post and consume what appears to be a vole.

Grasping the rodent firmly in its talons, it uses its sharp beak to rip open the protein rich meal.

Appropriately referred to as a Marsh Hawk in the past, this raptor is now recognized as the Northern Harrier, one of the Bitterroot’s most common birds of prey. Standing about 12-inches tall with a wing span near 26 inches, this raptor is easily identified with its white rump patch, which is quite visible as the bird flies away from a human observer.

Teller Wildlife Refuge
Bitterroot boasts three species of blackbirds
image courtesy of Mel Holloway

image courtesy of Mel Holloway

Perhaps you have heard of the old nursery rhyme, “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” telling a story about a blackbird pie served to a king.

While the pie wasn’t species specific, I am convinced it was one of the species that call the Bitterroot and most of North America their spring and summer home.

I also vividly remember my Great Aunt Franny speaking highly of blackbird stew, which often fed her family during the Great Depression. Today however, blackbirds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and unless they are causing severe damage to crops, they may not be taken.

So, what species of blackbird reside in the Bitterroot? There are three, and all can be observed within a short distance of one another. Two species, the yellow-headed and the red–winged can be found near cattail marsh habitats, while the Brewer's blackbird tends to frequent pastures or wet meadows. Each has its own distinct appearance, vocalizations and behaviors. Let’s take a deeper look into these three blackbirds of the Bitterroot.

Teller Wildlife Refuge