316 Reasons Why Southwest Montana is a Birder’s Paradise

Torgerson_0001When Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939, the trumpeter swan was almost extinct. Today, North America’s heaviest bird is thriving; but there’s still no better place to see these massive, majestic waterfowl than Red Rock Lakes, the remote and picturesque home to one of the largest populations in the lower 48 states.

And Red Rock is hardly the only place to add entries to a birding life list in Southwest Montana. Year-round, the diversity of resident species and viewing opportunities is simply staggering. Of the 428 bird species recorded in Montana, 316 are found in Southwest Montana. Here, a varied landscape of riparian streamsides, coniferous forests, alpine meadows and valley grasslands provides habitat for everything from the largest raptors to the tiniest hummingbirds.

Increasingly, birders are flocking to the region as well, chasing the massive spring and autumn migrations through the area and reveling in the profound peacefulness of lazy Montana summer days.

They come to listen for the echoing cries of loons as the morning mist burns off Ennis Lake, the trilling song of the hermit thrush blending with the whisper of leaves along quiet mountain streams, the piercing screech of red-tailed hawks soaring above wide-open valleys.

They come to witness those trumpeter swans, their wings as wide as city buses; or to test their identification skills at the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area, a network of ponds and riparian areas where 212 species of birds have been documented; or to experience the magic of Tizer Botanic Gardens, one of only three privately owned, internationally accredited arboretums in the United States and home to a hummingbird research facility.

Other popular travel destinations for birdwatchers include the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, the Blackfoot Valley near Ovando, the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area, the Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area, Georgetown and Silver lakes near Anaconda, the Ennis Lake area, Clark Canyon Reservoir, the Big Hole National Battlefield, and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

Wherever the road or trail leads in Southwest Montana, there’s bound to be birds within the frame of a picture-perfect view. Few destination birding locations offer such natural abundance. And none rival the rich history and lively culture of this region. Filling most of the space between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, Southwest Montana boasts well-preserved ghost towns, rockhounding discoveries, endless hiking and biking trails, some of North America’s finest trout fishing and the most welcoming of towns. For a full guide to birding in the region, visit http://southwestmt.com/specialfeatures/birdingtrails. You may also request a Southwest Montana birding brochure by calling 1-800-879-1159.

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