Birdwatching with Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Club

For a Saturday morning, I was up and moving fairly early. My electrical power went off around 4:45am, at least that’s when I noticed the clock blinking. I didn’t get up then but it seemed like I looked at the clock almost 30 times between then and 6:15.

MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks had partnered with the local Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon Club for an escorted birdwatching event at Giant Springs State Park.

I always say I am a “wannabe birder” – someone who has an interest in birding but the learning curve seems incredibly long. Individual bird calls, very detailed species names, less than stellar optics, all seem to challenge my birding capabilities.

At Giant Springs State Park this morning I joined local vet Beth Hill (our Upper Missouri Audubon rep), a visitor from Colorado and another local gal.

I could tell right away that I was at the bottom of the learning curve when it came to bird identification. I am always eager to learn though! Binoculars were available from MT FWP and I chose to borrow from them instead of using my inexpensive and old ones.

We started in the manicured lawn part of Giant Springs State Park. Beth checked her bird book right away to determine a species and I believe it was one of the flycatchers (possibly the least flycatcher).

The next bird we saw was the pee wee. Beth identified this right away by it’s call and we hadn’t even seen it. Yup, I was impressed! It wasn’t too long before we saw one of my favorites – a yellow warbler. Maybe it’s the bright color that makes it easy to see, maybe it’s because they are frequently in groups – but I can always spot them. They are little but oh, so colorful.

As we wandered towards the springs area of the park Beth pointed out a great horned owl. I’ve seen owls in the park before but gosh, they blend in with the trees and I had a difficult time finding this owl. It was just one young owl sitting all by itselt, but it still looked fair sized on the tree branch. And, I didn’t really see the bird until we were on the other side of the tree. What beautiful colors with several shades of tans and brown on the feathers – thank you MT FWP for good binocs!

We worked our way down to the Missouri River, then followed the river west. I was surpised to see quite a few walkers, no other birders, and we saw one photographer. The photographer had his camera set on a tripod and it looked like he was photographing cliff swallows.

The cliff swallows were fun to watch. Jeez, there were a lot of them. They don’t show well on this photo but they were busy! In and out, zooming around. We wondered if they had young ones they were feeding. This type of terrain seemed well suited for their little mud huts.

Further along the trail we spotted an osprey in the air. As we watched, we saw several small birds picking on him. The osprey kept trying to get away but the smaller birds kept at him. My photo just shows one little bird but there were several who kept attacking the osprey.

Bullock’s orioles, white pelicans, Franklin’s gulls and California gulls, a bald eagle, kingfisher or kindbird (can’t remember which one), catbird…and I know there were more. I wish I had taken my notebook with me but I was already juggling binoculars, a water bottle and a camera.

We walked as far as the back area (river camp) of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. The area behind the center was filled with a variety of birds – we could have spent a lot more time there but Beth realized we were already over the planned time and she had to go to work.

Everyone learned something, we had a pleasant walk, saw an amazing amount of birds and made new friends. I’d say that was a good way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning!

Central Montana’s birding brochure is available at or by calling 800-527-5348 to have one mailed. It is a great free resource for 12 different birding routes in Central Montana.

Enjoy watching the amazing birds in Central Montana!

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