Yellowstone in May is not exactly a birders paradise so we typically arrange another stop or two, while on vacation, to do a little bit of birding. This year we left Yellowstone a day early so that we could visit a couple of other parks on our way home. Unfortunately due to bad weather and a flat tire we only had the opportunity to make one stop.
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge is located in the short and mixed grass prairie region of North-central Montana. It is home to many western prairie species of birds such as the western kingbird and western meadowlark, pictured above.
Bowdoin was established back in 1936 to help protect vital resting, feeding and breeding habitat for migrating birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds. The refuge encompasses 15,551 acres, 8,675 of which is wetlands. The wetlands provide homes to a variety of birds such as the yellow-headed blackbird pictured above.
The refuge is centered around Lake Bowdoin. In preglacial times it is believed that the lake was actually an Oxbow in the Missouri River but over time the river has moved 70 miles south of the lake. What was left behind is a variety of habitats including saline and freshwater wetlands and native prairie. These are perfect habitat for the marbled godwit pictured above.
Before 1936 Lake Bowdoin was used by the Montana Bureau of Reclamation as a catch basin to help manage the waters of spring floods, irrigation return flows and seepage. Each spring snow melt would pour down into the lake from Beaver Creek and the Black Coulee drainage flooding the land around the lake. This provided good habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl that were migrating north at about the same time, like the white-faced ibis flying above.
Once the refuge was established the Works Progress Administration began the construction of the refuge headquarters as well as a system of water control structures designed to help manage the wetlands to provide the proper habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds like the Wilson's phalarope pictured above.
Lake Bowdoin sits on 5,459 acres of the refuge. Islands in the lake hold breeding colonies of white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, California and ring-billed gulls. Wetland areas around the lake provide habitat for American avocet, black-necked stilts, ducks and grebes. Eared grebes in breeding plumage are a common site at this time of year.
In the upland prairie areas you can find pronghorn antelope, deer, sharp-tailed grouse and raptors. We found a pair of northern harriers hunting in the fields just outside the refuge. I was happy to get a shot of the mail in flight. I see females pretty frequently around home, mostly during the fall, but I hardly ever see the males. Female harriers are mostly brown compared to the light gray color of the males from which they have received the nickname, "the gray ghost".
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