Our warm, golden summer has lingered in to October this year. The “field” for me this past month has been my front deck overlooking Helena’s valley. Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes who patrolled the neighborhood all summer with their boisterous calls have abruptly left. The Red-tailed Hawks who nested in an old cottonwood 100 yards from our house are gone, replaced by dark, more mysterious looking red-tails – likely our breeding pair’s northern relatives. The kingbirds and swallows, meadowlarks and sparrows that aggregated in large, chaotic groups just a few weeks ago have quietly slipped to the south. It is strangely quiet. Luckily, Canada Geese and Mallards are still drawn to the waters of Lake Helena. At dusk, silhouetted groups glide to the water, sometimes quietly, sometimes announcing their arrival noisily. And the Great Horned Owl family has yet to disperse, calling to each other in the evenings.
It is still warm enough to site on my front deck most days, but I feel a bit lonely. I miss my summer companions. Then a common raven drifts by, announcing her presence with a loud squawk and I am reminded that I will have company through the winter. [October 4, 2011]
It is late May 2011. Rivers across the state have jumped their banks, basements and homes are flooded, trucks are stuck, roads are impassable, and children are riding their bikes down swamped streets. But the birds have returned to Montana, many are attempting to nest. Field work for our monitoring and research projects should be well under way. If only we could get to our survey sites!
Despite these challenges, partner biologists have been out counting Great Blue Heron colonies. We started in April with cooler than average temperatures. There herons were here, hunkered down in their nests suspended high in trees. We were optimistic that we would see the birds better before the cottonwood’s leaves came out. But the rainy, windy weather hampered observations.
Finally, a warm stretch of weather arrived in early May. Leaves popped from their buds, obstructing our views, but encouraging us nonetheless. We were out in force, counting nesting herons from helicopters, fixed-wing planes, and roadsides. Before this latest round of storms, we had counted nests at over 100 heron rookeries across the state. Now, we await drier roads and warmer temperatures to complete our surveys for these gangly, powerful, somewhat prehistoric-looking birds.