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Western US Question (and report when its time)

Connor Cochrane

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In a few weeks I'm going on a road trip to visit my grandfather around Livingston Montana. I've been up there many times, but this is one of my first times driving. I'll be heading from the Bay Area up there, taking 80 to 97 I believe, up into Idaho and into Montana. I'm wondering If there are any good spots on the way, I'll be checking the Ruby Mountains, and maybe look for Cassia Crossbill if there is time. Once I' m up in Montana, I know my way around, and will be birding the South Eastern area. Any suggestions of some lesser known spots in the area would be cool, but that's really of lesser importance, as I've been there a lot. Once I go I'll. update everyone on what I see. 

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According to eBird, Sacajawea Park and Convict Grade Road are supposed to be good birding areas in Livingston. If you take Highway 93 into Idaho, Thompson Flat Campground and Pettit Campground have recently seen Cassia Crossbill. Right off of Highway 80 in Nevada there is Carlin Tunnels Wetlands. Also, a little ways out of Livingston there is Old Yellowstone Trail Slough. Enjoy!

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Yeah thanks. I wasn’t too worried about Livingston. Sacajawea parks pretty bad, not anything real interesting there, but the Nevada and south Idaho spots I haven’t heard of, so I’ll go check them out. I’ll update when I head up there. Maybe due it in a different style than normal, smaller daily updates rather than one big end of trip. 

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  • 3 weeks later...


Long drive from Modesto California to Elko Nevada (around 500 miles). But, it wasn't to late to go birding. We headed up the Ruby Mountains, finding Bullock's Oriole, MacGillvary's Warbler, Pinyon Jay, Lazulai Bunting, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rock Wren and Townsends Solitare.




Full Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71006487

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Day 2

 Our second day of travel. From Elko NV to Park County MT. There were two main attractions. One was a little knower hummingbird feeding station in the middle of nowhere in South Idaho where we had tons of broad-tailed, Calliope, Rufous and Black-chinned Hummigbirds. The other was the cassia mountains where we did find 4 cassia crossbill, and a few red as well. It was mostly a travel day, but last night we did arrive at our destination of Montana. 




Edited by Connor Cochrane
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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, finally time to get around to the final trip report. It was just to much to do a report every day, but now that I have some free time on my hand, I'm going to finally complete the report.

Day 3

Day three was a pretty boring day, one of unpacking and helping out around the house: cleaning and setting up for our weeklong stay. I did get out and walk around the property early in the morning, and I found a few interesting birds such as Vesper and Chipping Sparrow, Magpies and Mountain Bluebird




Day 4

Day 4 was our fishing trip, which, lets just say, didn't go as planned. After having a fairly good day on the Yellowstone, catching some big whitefish and some cutthroat trout, the nice sunny day shifted, and in a matter of minuets, a thunderstorm came in with 55 MPH winds, with us stuck in the middle of the river. After some struggling we waited it out along the bank for awhile, where the storm passed in 15 minuets, and it was a nice sunny day again. Not the type of weather we get in California. Some of the better birds of the day were a flyover flock of 18 franklins gull, Nighthawk, Willow Flycatcher, and a flagged number of Grackles, birds that aren't that common too far west. 


Day 5

Another day of rest (not my decision). We went up behind the house along mill creek, when my grandfather had to drop something off, birds weren't that active and almost all birds were heard only, just by a faint call note somewhere off in the distance. I did find some good birds though. One singing Townsends Solitaire, a lone out of place Bullock's Oriole, some Hammond's Flycatcher, Evening Grosbeak, and a possible Cordilleran Flycatcher.



Day 6

Finally our first day of birding. We took the hour drive over to Bozeman to look for some target birds of mine. At 7:45 we made it over to the Sourdough Nature Trail, which was a great time. We were greeted by a singing Northern Waterthrush when we first arrived. We found multiple American Redstarts, and two active nests, one with three young, and one with a female sitting on the eggs. We also had a active Cedar Waxwing nest. A singing Least Flycatcher was around, always a cool bird for a west coast birders. Swainson's Thrush hid out in the damp areas, and I found a nest cavity with a young Red-naped Sapsucker making a ruckus in there. We also had Black-capped Chickadee and Pileated Woodpecker, a cool bird at home, but a more unusual on up where we were. We had one more stop that day, and that was at the Tripple Tree Trail, where targets were Veery and American-three Toed Woodpecker, both of them would be lifers for me. Unfortunately, I could only locate the Veery, which were easy to hear, but hard to see. We heard 12 of them, a fairly high count for that area, but we only got quick glimpses at two. Also there were Calliope Hummingbird and Cassin's Vireo, a bird I didn't know made it up to Montana. We had both kinglets, and I was able to pish in a Redstart to come up to 5 feet away from me, blowing for a good audio recording. It was a fun day, and I got a lifer out of it. I feel like the spots are definitely worth the trip if you are around that area. 



Day 7

We went off-roading up West Pine Creek, and Trail Creek in the Absarokas. Trail Creek was pretty boring, not may birds out, except a really scared group which we flushed off the road and couldn't refind. West Pine Creek was better. I saw there had been reports of American-three Toed Woodpecker five years earlier, but the burn was pretty old by that time. As expected, when we arrived, we searched for awhile, but we could not find the American-three Toed Woodpecker. On the way back, we saw a little side road, which we decided to explore, and it lead us to the West Pine Creek Trail, where we had a good time. We walked down the trail a little, when I heard the diagnostic drum of a Three-toed Woodpecker, after 10 minuets of searching, it flew right in-front of us for good looks. After that a Northern Goshawk flew by. A great stop, though I don't know how much longer it can support Three-toed Woodpecker populations. When we just started to drive down the trail, we got a great look at a male Dusky Grouse, just 25 yards in-front of us. I got another lifer that day, bring the total for the trip up to 3



Day 8

On the 8th day of the trip, we went through Yellowstone and over the Beartooth Pass, the most sonic highway in America, reaching up to 10,800 feet. We went into the park, and first went to blacktail ponds, where we got Northern Pygmy-owl, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and a weird passerine, looked like maybe a Lark Bunting, but reminded me of a White-headed Woodpecker when it flew. We quickly drove down Hells-a-rorin' Creek road, which was infested with mosquitos, the spot did produce Red pass,Crossbill and Clarks Nutcracker. We drove through the park a little until we got to the 212 bridge, which was the Harlequin Duck spot, which would be a lifer for me. Unfortunately, the bird wasn't there, so that will be a bird for another trip. We continued to slough creek, where I thought I had a Clay-colored Sparrow for a second, but it turned out to just be a Brewer's. We eventually continued out of the park, and started our way up the bear tooth highway, but not before we had an Hour long wait due to construction. After we got past that we went and stoped at every pullout at the beartooth pass, where we got Horned Lark, American Pipit, Raven, and eventually at our last pullout, on a little place sheltered by the wind, a Black-rosy Finch and a Pika! That was my first rosy-finch, and they are cool birds. I don't think the pink on there sides is actually used as a bright color to use for attraction, I think it's used for Camouflage. The high elevation rocks were black and pink in color, and the Rosy Finch blended right on in. After that, we made our way down the pass, and out and back home.



Day 9

Another Rest Day, but I did do some more birding around the house, and won a few games of Cornhole.

Day 10

My most anticipated day of the trips, we went birding with one of the Montana eBird Reviewers, and headed up to the Prairies, a habitat I had never been to before. Here is the day list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S71350375. We started at Swamp Creek Rd. to check on at a Golden Eagle nest. Unfortunately, it seemed to be abandoned, but we were able to see some Least Flycatcher. Next Stop, Cramer Rd.There we got three lifers: Sprague's Pipit, Baird's Sparrow, and Upland Sandpipers. It was some great prairie birding, and we got some good looks at Upland Sandpiper. Whenever we go back to Montana, I definitely am going to head up to this place. Next we went to Mansure Cutoff Rd, where we located Sandhill crane, ring-billed Gull, and Least Flycatcher, and found both of our targets for the location, Clay-colored Sparrow, which was a lifer, and Bobolink, a good bird in general for the western part of the US of A. After Lunch, the headed to the area around Old Gap and Oka Rd. At old gap road we had many McCown's Longspur, a lifer, a really close Baird's Sparrow, great looks at Prairie Falcon, a Great-horned Owl in the only tree in a few square miles. We had Ferruginous Hawk and Wilson's Phalarope. At Oka Rd we had more Baird's Sparrows, some Chestnut-collared Longspur another lifer and some really close Sparuge's Pipit, and we saw them for the first time. It was a great day on the prarie, but before we went home, we stopped at Cottonwood Resivour, where I had my lifer Barid's and Solitary Sandpipers the year before. There we had a Virginia Rail, pretty unusual for the county, and a Sage Thrasher in the sagebrush.


Day 11

Our goal was to pack up this day, but that doesn't mean I couldn't through some birding in. When we went to a neighbors house, I found some Dippers, one of my favorite birds, some Nighthawk, and some Lazuli Bunting, but not much birding in general.



Day 12

Our longest drive of the trip, from Pray, MT to Ely, NV where we were staying the night. It was many many hours of driving, but we took the back way and went through Utah, so a new state for me (because I don't count airports.)

Day 13

A shorter drive, from ely to lake Mono. One in the town of current, which isn't a town, its a junction where I found some Black-throated Sparrow and Lark Sparrow. The next place was at a rest stop where we got more Black-Throated Sparrow, which was flagged, and some Loggerhead Shrike.  Later that day we made it to lake Mono, where we found Gray Catbird, a good bird for California and bird #397. The rest of the day was spent fishing, where we caught some good fish on the east walker, but also so Bald Eagle, and a swarm of 70 Common Nighthawk, great numbers for California

Day 14

We drove back home, where we arrived 2 weeks after leaving. We did see some Black-chinned Hummingbirds at my grandparents house in the Central Valley!

I feel like I learned S. Montana much better. If you need help finding a bird, message me, I might know where to find the bird you want to see

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