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Summer trip to Montana

Aidan B

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This summer I have a family reunion in Idaho, and I'm going up a few days early to have some time for birding, which will mostly be in Montana. This will be in the first and second week of July. I'd appreciate any tips on birding around this area, and while I know that @Connor Cochrane knows this area well, I'm not sure if anyone else has experience up here. 


My target list is listed below, and the spots I have found through ebird for the species are listed on the right. I do have a bunch more species I would like to see, but these are all the possible lifers for this trip. (Not counting any rarities that might be around)


Common Grackle (Can get most anywhere near water)

Northern Waterthrush (Around Bozeman, Glen Lake Rotary Park, Sourdough Nature Trail, )

Clay-colored Sparrow (Dry Creek School Road, Mansure Cutoff Rd)

Lark Bunting (Oka Rd and Old Gap Road)

Veery (Sourdough Canyon TrailTriple Tree Trail)

Upland Sandpiper (Cremer/Rupert Road)

Sprague's Pipit (Cremer/Rupert Road and Oka Rd. )

Baird’s Sparrow (Cremer/Rupert Road and Oka Rd. )

Ovenbird  (Chestnut Mountain Trail)

Red-headed Woodpecker (Bridger Cr. Rd. above W Bridger Cr. Rd. )

Brown Thrasher (around Billings)

Canada Jay (Around Yellowstone picnic areas)

Chimney Swift (Billings, nesting in past years at 45.781260, -108.516553)

Black Rosy-Finch (Beartooth Pass pullouts)

Field Sparrow (east of Billings)

Great Gray Owl (Killgore Yale Rd)

Boreal Owl (Sawtooth Peak Rd)



I've also got a few birds though that I'm not sure are around or where to begin looking for them. This is mostly all the different grouse.


Red-eyed Vireo (Ebird shows some records from around Billings, but there are no photos or documentation from any of the reports, are they actually around in early July?)

Dickcissel (Mostly around Billings and to the east I believe. Seems like they're not around every year)

Ruffed Grouse (Not sure how to target these besides getting lucky)

Sharp-tailed Grouse (Have to get very lucky)

Gray Partridge (not sure where to find these, probably somewhere around Bozeman)

Dusky Grouse (Not sure how to target these besides getting lucky)



So the rough schedule I've decided on looks similar to this. When I'm in Montana I'll be staying near Big Timber, which is nice and in between most of these spots. 


Day 1: Driving 

Day 2: Spend the morning around Dimondfield Jacks campground looking for Cassia Crossbill

Day 3: Drive for an hour or two to Bozeman, then bird around looking for Clay-colored Sparrow, Northern Waterthrush, Common Grackle, Veery, and Ovenbird.

Day 4: Spend the day birding the prairies around Cremer/Rupert Road, Oka Road, and Old Gap Road looking for Upland Sandpipers, Sprague's Pipit, Lark Bunting, and Baird's Sparrow. If I have time afterward, maybe look for the Red-headed Woodpeckers on Bridger Creek road.

Day 5: Drive towards Billings and look for Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Field Sparrow, and maybe Dickcissel. If I don't get to the Red-headed Woodpeckers the previous day do that first this day

Day 6: Drive to Beartooth Pass looking for Black Rosy-Finch, then drive from there to West Yellowstone, stopping along the way to look for Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, and Canada Jay.

Day 7: Family reunion in Island Park, will try and fit some birding in where I can. Either this day or the next I will try and do some owling to find a Great Gray or Boreal Owl. 

Day 8: Family reunion in Island Park, will try and fit some birding in where I can

Day 9:  Driving Home

Day 10: Driving Home

Edited by Aidan B
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Common Grackle - Agree, should be easy.

Northern Waterthrush - I'd check Sourdough nature trail. That's where I've had the best luck with them, mostly around here (45.639803, -111.030697).

Clay-colored Sparrow - Masure Cutoff rd will probably be your best bet for them if you're doing the prairies. That's where I've seen them (where the photo below is from). I think I had 4 singing birds there when I was last there 2 years ago.


Lark Bunting is the only prairie bird I'm missing, they travel in groups and are somewhat unreliable. Your two spots should hopefully have them though.

Upland/Sprague's/Barid's Sparrow should all be pretty easy on those roads. Just make sure to get there early enough in the day for the birds to be singing.

Veery - I'd do triple tree trail, that's where I've had the most success with them. I've had double-digit numbers along the trail. It's also pretty close to sourdough trail for the Waterthrush. The only problem is it's hard to get looks at the birds, most were heard only for me. The photo below is the best looks I've gotten of them at the spot.


I've never looked for Ovenbird in Gallitan county, but I know that chestnut mountain is the best place for them.

Canada jay - Agreed, they're around in most high elevation locations, but they're easy at the campgrounds.

Black Rosy-Finch are most reliable at the peak of bear tooth pass. I've been there once and gotten them, but it took hours of hopping across bobulderfields in the sustained 50 mph winds to find them. Maybe they're easier if the weather ls better. 


Let me know what type of car you're going to be taking. I know some places that are pretty reliable for Dusky Grouse, but it can be a tricky drive up.

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