By Robert Lucke
September and October are good months for serious bird watching in this country. Some birds are banding up and getting ready to head south. Others are in this part of the country temporarily just as they head for warmer climates in South America.
Best places to look for birds this time of year are areas where there is plenty of cover and water nearby. Those types of environments give a huge variety of birds not normally seen throughout the summer. Not only that but sheer bird numbers coming through those environments can be staggering.
Good places to enjoy identifying birds now are the Rookery along the Milk River west of Havre, most anywhere in the Bear Paw Mountains along valley and stream floors. (Beaver Creek Park is excellent), and wetland areas of the Little Rockies. Further afield are the CMR Wildlife Refuge, Nelson Reservoir and Lake Bowdoin along with areas of the Rocky Mountain east front from Choteau to Fairfield. Those areas are good for seeing huge migrations of waterfowl. One in particular, Benton Lake, The Montana Wildlife Viewing Guide details.
This easily accessible refuge a rich, shallow prairie marsh surrounded by intensive agriculture is one of the most productive waterfowl refuges in the United States, and one of the best places to see and photograph broods of ducks and geese. It is an important stop for migrating waterfowl during March-April and September-October, attracting ducks (up to 100,000). Tundra swans (up to 4500), snow geese (up to 40,000), and Canada geese (up to 1000), as well as nearly 200 other bird species. It is a significant area for migrating shorebirds one of only two places in Montana nominated to be part of an International Shorebird Reserve. Burrowing and short-eared owls also can be found here. Deer and pronghorn antelope are common, as are jackrabbits and long-tailed weasels in the winter. A drive along the nine-mile Prairie Marsh Wildlife Drive is the best way to view the refuge. Its open March 1 to Nov. 30, but the road may be closed during wet weather. This winding gravel road has numbered signs corresponding to an interpretive brochure available at the main information sign. Hiking and canoeing are also possible, but check at the refuge headquarters to find out which areas are open.
The refuge is north of Great Falls, 12 miles up the Bootlegger Trail. The Bootlegger Trail is accessed from U.S. 87.