Given the location of our enormous territory of optimum birding habitat it is no wonder we have almost 200 species of birds to observe and study. Between the Clark Fork River, the Kootenai, Fisher, Tobacco, Yaak and Bull Rivers, are chains of lakes, waterfowl reproduction areas, wetlands and large lakes that are conducive to a diversity of birds not seen elsewhere in Montana!
We are surrounded by excellent habitats that contribute migration corridors and help draw additional species into our view. In North Idaho, the Sandpoint area has great birding in the Pend Orielle Lake zones, Pack River Territory, McArthur State Park and the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge to name a few. Coming up from Heron, Montana, we have several good spots to bird including the Clark Fork delta which harbors birds of prey and lots of waterfowl in the cottonwood stringers. In the Bull River Valley, from Bull Lake south is optimal birdwatching even up into the South Fork of Bull River for herons, harriers, hawks and kingfisher’s. Near Libby Dam, bald eagles nest and osprey can be spotted often. Across from Kootenai Falls, Peregrine Falcons have been seen nesting in rock cliffs.
Another great area is the Thompson Chain of Lakes where Tundra Swans rest in bays and mink hunt a myriad of duck species. Near Smith Lake and the Pleasant Valley, wetland and timbered edges reveal Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Heron Rookeries. A birders paradise exists at Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge!
This area managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has similar botanical properties to the Palouse Prairie Grasslands and is home to numerous songbirds. Rocky outcrops and Dahl Lake are home to Golden eagles, Trumpeter Swans, marsh hawks, peregrine and kestrel falcons, mountain and western bluebirds, and multitudes of ducks including mergansers, ruddy’s, pintails, golden eyes and wood ducks.
The Tobacco River Valley has tribes of songbirds and they can be spotted in “murmuration,” or fluid movements of flocks. A multitude of eagles and hawks occupy the areas from Eureka down to Dickey Lake, and this stretch northwest of Whitefish harbors tremendous waterfowl populations. In the higher mountain altitudes of the Whitefish Range, Boreal owls call out for mates and establish breeding territories in February.
The ancient cedars of Ross Creek are home to Great Gray owls that silently blend in to tree bark and surroundings, and Barred owls that whisper “Who cooks for you?” In the Wolf Prairie haunts, Western Screech owls inhabit old cottonwoods and Golden eagles prowl the skies and rocky cliffs. Spring and autumn migration seasons are the best times to see numerous birds. Early daylight and evening dusk are good times of day to spot birdlife. A quiet approach with soft camouflage clothes is best. Birding requires only a minimal investment in a pair of binoculars and a bird field guide book such as the Peterson, National Geographic, or Audubon Series. A spotting scope is great for watching stationary birds or nesting activities. Free Professionally Guided Hikes are frequently offered by Montana Wilderness Association at: wildmontana.org and see Flathead/Kootenai Chapter Hikes or call: (406) 291-2154 and the Friends of Scotchman Peaks at: scotchmanpeaks.org or call (208) 290-1281.
So come explore our vast birding opportunities in Kootenai Country Montana! You can find solitude and maybe exotic birds so don’t forget your camera! Either way, the freshness of the mountain air and the spotting of eagles in flight will do you good!