This week’s photo, taken October 6, 2013 at Freezeout Lake near Choteau, Montana, features an AMERICAN AVOCET in winter plumage. It’s probably a male, since females have a more strongly upturned bill.
We fly to Great Falls for our annual Montana visit with Laura’s mom, and Laura’s brother and his family. In the year since we’ve seen them, her brother Scott has developed into an accomplished birder, and thus far in 2013 he has seen most of the species that have been found in Montana this year. So, naturally, Scott is our bird guide for the weekend.
On the first afternoon, we bird the banks of the Missouri River, where huge numbers of RUDDY DUCKS and WESTERN GREBES dominate the scene; that is, until the EUROPEAN STARLINGS begin their aerial display near sunset. Initially, hundreds of starlings flock together in a tight formation, then separate packs of starlings appear out of nowhere and begin to merge into a single murmuration. I guesstimate that the total number of starlings eventually swells to over 10,000. Watching them perform their synchronized flying routine is a “wow” moment, for sure.
The next morning at Giant Springs State Park, and only a few minutes after we step out of our vehicle, the bird of the day explodes out of a tree. Laura is the first one to spot the GREAT HORNED OWL and, lucky for us, it soon lands in a nearby tree, offering us a wonderful view as it stares down at us, and we stare up at it.
The final morning we travel to Freezeout Lake, a popular birding site near the town of Choteau. At Freezeout we enjoy nice looks at a MARBLED GODWIT, AMERICAN AVOCETS, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS, AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, PHALAROPES, YELLOWLEGS, and more.
I admit that the anticipation of a visit to “Freezeout” causes me to pack extra clothing that morning, since I worry we might experience a windy, bone-chilling outing that a former San Diegan may not handle very well. To our surprise and relief, the temperatures soar into the high 60s that morning, and the wind barely whispers across the water. As I bask in the warmth of Montana’s Big Sky sunshine, I begin to break into a sweat and wonder why I’m wearing so many layers.