things to do outdoors
From woodpeckers to warblers to waxwings, Montana is for the birds—over 250 species of our winged friends call this place home. Glacier Country is a birder’s paradise and here are a few good places to catch a glimpse of Western Montana birds—some of our littlest inhabitants.
Polson is a charming lakeshore community at the south end of Flathead Lake. Hike the Mission Mountains and watch wildlife like bison, elk and bighorn sheep just 30 minutes south of town at the National Bison Range.
In the park alone, you’ll find at least 260 species of birds. It’s one of the best places to see harlequin ducks in the lower 48 states. The "clown ducks" (because of their gray/orange/black/white “costume”) are partial to the waters of McDonald Creek. You're also likely to encounter blue herons, tundra swans, Canada geese and great horned owls. Year-round residents include raptors like bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey and hawks.
Along with hundreds of resident bird species, thousands of birds make a pit stop in the Flathead and Mission valleys every year along their north-south migratory route. This birder’s paradise offers multiple spots for life-list birding.
Prime locations include The National Bison Range, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, Thompson Chain of Lakes, Bull River Wildlife Management Area, Lone Pine State Park, Jewel Basin Hiking Area, Owen Sowerwine Natural Area, the Danny On Trail, Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area, Lawrence Park, Lower Valley (Road), Church Slough and the Blasdel Waterfowl Production Area.
The West Valley Public Bird Viewing Area near Kalispell gives birders a stellar vantage point from which to view hundreds of sandhill cranes congregating in prairie pothole wetlands during fall migration.
The Missoula Valley has its own birding and nature trail, helping birders, naturalists and eco-tourists access key birding locations. With 14 locations on the map, ranging from in-town to more secluded destinations, there are plenty of viewing opportunities.
For black-backed woodpeckers, visit the Blue Mountain Nature Trail. Or for great blue herons and Lewis's woodpeckers, visit Kelly Island in the Clark Fork River near downtown Missoula. To see an American dipper and its nest, stroll though Greenough Park.
With a variety of habitats ranging from wetlands and river bottoms to forested terrain, the 25 birding sites on the Bitterroot Birding and Nature Trail provide a range of birding experiences and opportunities. For tundra swans, woodpeckers and bald eagles, visit the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge near Stevensville. If you're looking for warbling vireo or black-headed grosbeaks, stroll through Travelers' Rest State Park. And for yellow warblers and gray jays, visit Indian Trees Campground near Sula.
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