November 2010


On Saturday, I ventured forth to scope out Greenough Park, which is likely to be the subject of my next 10,000 Birds post.

In New York City I always took urban, public transit-accessible parks – well, not exactly for granted. I did appreciate them. But having lived my non-urban birding years first on the Olde Homestead and then in rather bird-centric Ithaca, I had underestimated the frustration of reading all the hotspots and seeing phrases like “head out of town on Rte. so-and-so” or “drive about fifteen minutes north of Whoville.”

Greenough Park, along with the Kim Williams Nature Trail, are the big exceptions I’ve discovered to this conundrum in Missoula. Both follow watercourses – the Kim Williams along the Clark Fork and Greenough up the lower part of Rattlesnake Creek – and both can be reached from my home with nothing but shoe leather. This weekend, I did a small part of Kim Williams and all of the mile-long Bolle Birdwatching Trail in Greenough (named for Arnold Bolle, a University of Montana professor greatly enamored of birds.)

The Bolle trail, even in winter, has many lovely birds. The mix of Ponderosa pine, older cottonwood snags, Douglas fir, and (unfortunately invasive) maple shelters an understory rich in life-giving plants like mountain ash and snowberry. The result — potential for wintertime sightings like Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker (which I saw) as well as Bohemian Waxwing, Western Screech-owl, and Pileated Woodpecker (which, alas, I did not.)

But the star attraction of the park is the American Dippers. They nest on Rattlesnake Creek and live here year-round. I watched one of these remarkable little bundles of feather plunge again and again into the half-frozen creek, allow itself to be swept nearly under the ice, only to emerge to open air at the last possible second with some tiny fish or insect meal. Since I was shivering in a wool coat, wool mittens, a bomber hat and Thinsulate boots, I was impressed to say the least.

Did I remember my camera this time? Oh yes, I did. And I don’t want to keep Jochen in suspense of the results, so here you go:

Bad photo of an American Dipper

Yeah, so, I really need to get better at this.

Yesterday I bought… well, probably too many things, but a few of them were to do with birds.

One was a suet feeder. Birdfeeders are not as straightforward here as back east, because they tend to attract bears, but between living in the heart of town and the fact that it is now snowing and all good bears should be asleep, I figured it was safe to risk it. I haven’t seen any birds at it yet, but it’s only been up for a little while, so hopefully good things will come with patience.

The second was a book called Birds in Place: A Habitat-based Field Guide to the Birds of the Northern Rockies. I picked it up because I thought the concept was interesting, and only later noticed that it was by one Radd Icenoggle. The arrangement, though it makes a great deal of logical sense, will take some getting used to, and already I can feel myself flipping through and saying “but, but…” However, it’s not as though taxonomy is free of ambiguities either, and I do like that this guide forces you to be aware of where exactly you’re at. I’m pretty good at telling when I’m birding by a river (hint: there’s a big flowy wet thing nearby) but learning to distinguish the various types of conifer forests that occur at different elevations here is challenging, but very important if you want to understand what’s actually going on in the landscape rather than just pluck birds out of it. I’ll have more to say about this book, no doubt, when I’ve used it more.

Last but not least, I also grabbed a book called Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains. I was first attracted by the title, of course, but it looks like something that might be inspirational to many nature bloggers: a volume of very short place-based essays. The smaller ones could easily be blog entries, but the book is copyright 1988, long before there were blogs.

Winter is definitely upon us now, hopefully forcing many more interesting birds down from the higher elevations and latitudes. I trust I will soon have much more to report than my shopping.

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