Light Rain…Perfect for Bird Watching Wetlands

It is cool (~53F) and rainy today (top photo) in western Montana, first sign of fall. This is ideal in many cases for bird watching. Why? One reason, insectivorous birds in these conditions concentrate where the food is, namely where insects are. And wetlands regularly are populated with clouds of insects. So a short walk to Pond 10 was in order.

Ducks seem to be staging in (number greater than recent observations) and there were a smattering of shorebirds (yellowlegs, dowitcher) in the shallower areas of water. The second largest concentration beyond ducks were the swallows; it is not unusual to find as many as six swallow species skimming the water surface for insects. It is easy to identify them even at a distance when perched. Check out the lower photo above; they tend perch in close proximity to each other on bare branches. At times, these birds will also perch on asphalt roads (like Wildfowl Lane…as external source of warmth), so be be careful driving through the Refuge.  

Beyond the large groups of common birds, there’s the chance of rarities showing up on inclement weather days. Make sure you scan thoroughly, looking at soaring, swimming, perching, hovering, climbing birds. Black swifts are seen in late spring under the same cool, wet conditions. Let us know of your sightings, in the meantime great birding :-)  

                                              A Day in the Life

                                             By Dylan Kellogg

Our summer started out with a shovel and an empty “garbage” pile, eagerly awaiting our countless pickup loads of Houndstongue.  For Mike and I this would take place at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge (LMNWR). For the better part of the summer our job immersed us in weed work.

Invasive species are a worldwide issue and the Refuge is no exception.  An invasive species is a species that invades native areas and often, over time, creates monocultures because it has no natural enemy to keep it in check.  This chokes out biodiversity of plants that create important habitat and food sources for lots of animals from ants to Pileated Woodpeckers. The prime invaders at LMNWR are: Cheatgrass, Houndstongue,  Musk and Canada Thistle, Mullein, and Yellow Toadflax. Day in and day out for the first month or so, we would hack at Houndstongue with dull shovels, in hopes to kill the plant and prevent its seeds from creating the next generation of super plants. If the seeds on the plants were mature enough, we had to haul them out, which meant getting covered in sticky seeds that always seemed to end up in my hair. We would grid large open fields, some spanning over 50 acres, a daunting task because big patches lurked around every corner. The places we prioritized were places that are important for wildlife and plants. We would take our time in those areas because we knew they were good places for nesting birds, white-tailed fawns, or had high biodiversity of plants. Once the summer got rolling, we faced more challenges as more and more species started to emerge. And with more species comes a need for integrated management.

July greeted us with intense heat and a plethora of invasive species to deal with. We needed to switch tactics so we chose to start spraying herbicide. Herbicide has many pros and cons, one of the cons being you look like the Michelin Man wearing the plastic protective jacket. If herbicide is used right, it becomes a great tool to control large patches that would otherwise be impossible to control by other means. Also, some plants don’t respond well to being pulled or chopped so herbicide would be the best option. Personal safety was always a priority as well as paying close attention to what we were spraying. The benefit of spraying out of a backpack is you can target a single plant and nothing else gets caught in the crossfire. We sprayed out of backpacks which hold 32 pounds of liquid! Lugging backpacks full of chemical around in a mosquito ridden field is what bad dreams are made of. We always looked forward to the afternoon, when it would be too hot to wear our plastic jackets anymore and we could finally air out our sweat soaked t-shirts.  A few areas were so infested that we had to mow them down. That bought us more time to get spray on the plants and we found that this management technique was exceptional. 

The day to day grind was always interspersed with amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Working on the refuge enabled us to go places very few people have ever been. We found ourselves in the wildest parts of the refuge observing white-tailed fawns, black-headed grosbeaks, sandhill cranes, a cow elk and her calf, Lewis’s woodpeckers, and wood ducks, just to name a few.   These unique viewing opportunities motivated us on a daily basis to protect and provide habitat for these amazing creatures that call Lee Metcalf their home. We hope that the weed management teams in the future will realize what a beautiful place Lee Metcalf Nat’l Wildlife Refuge is and help to protect the biodiversity for the future. It takes the effort and collaboration of everyone to make this work. Do your part.

                                           Veteran Refuge Visitors
Meet Cathy and Jan Emrick of Livingston, Texas. These folks have visited 133 National Wildlife Refuges and have had their Refuge Passport Book stamped 221 times! The disparity in numbers can be explained; some Refuges are Complexes. Complexes may include other Refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas, ergo a stamp for each entity. It is amazing that they have only four more States to visit and find a Refuge therein. The Emricks enjoyed our Visitor Center, especially the taxidermy of multiple bird species. Bon voyage and thank you for visiting :-)

                                           Veteran Refuge Visitors

Meet Cathy and Jan Emrick of Livingston, Texas. These folks have visited 133 National Wildlife Refuges and have had their Refuge Passport Book stamped 221 times! The disparity in numbers can be explained; some Refuges are Complexes. Complexes may include other Refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas, ergo a stamp for each entity. It is amazing that they have only four more States to visit and find a Refuge therein. The Emricks enjoyed our Visitor Center, especially the taxidermy of multiple bird species. Bon voyage and thank you for visiting :-)

                                 Former Bombay Hook NWR Manager Visits
Terry Villanova (photo above) stopped in the Refuge Visitor Center with family yesterday for a brief visit and discovered former colleague, and now Manager, Tom Reed here. Terry was in the area with friends and family for a wedding. As you can see in the photo Terry is still an “Ambassador” for the Refuge System in retirement. She and her husband enjoy visiting Refuges all over the country, though the Bombay Hook area is still considered “home”. Terry has found “good folks” are still managing all the Refuges. Before departing for the next Refuge experience, the Villanova party discovered a pair of Lewis’s Woodpecker on the Refuge…a first for them :-)
It was good to host a dedicated Service employee from an iconic Refuge. Continued wildlife watching excellence…and come back soon :-)

                                 Former Bombay Hook NWR Manager Visits

Terry Villanova (photo above) stopped in the Refuge Visitor Center with family yesterday for a brief visit and discovered former colleague, and now Manager, Tom Reed here. Terry was in the area with friends and family for a wedding. As you can see in the photo Terry is still an “Ambassador” for the Refuge System in retirement. She and her husband enjoy visiting Refuges all over the country, though the Bombay Hook area is still considered “home”. Terry has found “good folks” are still managing all the Refuges. Before departing for the next Refuge experience, the Villanova party discovered a pair of Lewis’s Woodpecker on the Refuge…a first for them :-)

It was good to host a dedicated Service employee from an iconic Refuge. Continued wildlife watching excellence…and come back soon :-)

                                           Family Wildlife Watching
The Staats family (pictured above) of Missoula, Oregon and Pennsylvania are having their annual get together. Family activities include hiking, and especially, birding and photography. So at 10 am this morning the Staats were on the County Road viewing Pond 6 for waterbirds et al. It was pretty slow birding as many of the nesting waterfowl have dispersed. An added challenge was the wildfire smoke out of Washington and Oregon, you can barely make out the Bitterroot Mountains in the photo above. The Staats eventually moved on to the forested habitat of the Wildlife Viewing Area where several breeding birds were still singing and visible…in exchange for a small amount of blood for the mosquitoes :-) These folks had a great attitude and we wish them further enjoyment with the balance of their family gathering.

                                           Family Wildlife Watching

The Staats family (pictured above) of Missoula, Oregon and Pennsylvania are having their annual get together. Family activities include hiking, and especially, birding and photography. So at 10 am this morning the Staats were on the County Road viewing Pond 6 for waterbirds et al. It was pretty slow birding as many of the nesting waterfowl have dispersed. An added challenge was the wildfire smoke out of Washington and Oregon, you can barely make out the Bitterroot Mountains in the photo above. The Staats eventually moved on to the forested habitat of the Wildlife Viewing Area where several breeding birds were still singing and visible…in exchange for a small amount of blood for the mosquitoes :-) These folks had a great attitude and we wish them further enjoyment with the balance of their family gathering.

                                       Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Libellula pulchella is a very common and showy dragonfly here and for most of the country (all 48 States!). Named for the 12 total wing spots: three on each wing (at the base, middle and tip). Prefers smaller wetlands with lots of aquatic vegetation. Cooperative when taking photos especially when approaching from behind. Can also be photographed in flight because of extensive hovering (many dragonflies do not hover). Speaking of behavior, look for the front legs tucked behind the head when perched. 
Look for this species along the boundary of the wetlands bordering Wildfowl Lane. 

                                       Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Libellula pulchella is a very common and showy dragonfly here and for most of the country (all 48 States!). Named for the 12 total wing spots: three on each wing (at the base, middle and tip). Prefers smaller wetlands with lots of aquatic vegetation. Cooperative when taking photos especially when approaching from behind. Can also be photographed in flight because of extensive hovering (many dragonflies do not hover). Speaking of behavior, look for the front legs tucked behind the head when perched.

Look for this species along the boundary of the wetlands bordering Wildfowl Lane. 

                                           Eight-spotted Skimmer
Female Libellula forensis perched (hunting mode) near one of the Refuge wetlands. This is a commonly seen dragonfly on the Refuge. It is about two inches long with 4 spots per wing pair ergo the name “eight-spotted” (also diagnostic for identification purposes). Skimmers can be photographed and observed closely if approached stealthily from behind. The usual tendency for them is to perch on small twigs at waist height or below; occasionally found on the ground. Close focus binoculars are ideal for dragonfly watching. It can be found in more “open” habitats (non-forested) so walking the Refuge trails or Wildfowl Lane should yield multiple sightings. These insects are very active at midday. If you wish to find them when more “lethargic” time your visit when the sun is shining and temperatures are close to 60F, i.e.. 9-10 am. Let us know how you do :-)

                                           Eight-spotted Skimmer

Female Libellula forensis perched (hunting mode) near one of the Refuge wetlands. This is a commonly seen dragonfly on the Refuge. It is about two inches long with 4 spots per wing pair ergo the name “eight-spotted” (also diagnostic for identification purposes). Skimmers can be photographed and observed closely if approached stealthily from behind. The usual tendency for them is to perch on small twigs at waist height or below; occasionally found on the ground. Close focus binoculars are ideal for dragonfly watching. It can be found in more “open” habitats (non-forested) so walking the Refuge trails or Wildfowl Lane should yield multiple sightings. These insects are very active at midday. If you wish to find them when more “lethargic” time your visit when the sun is shining and temperatures are close to 60F, i.e.. 9-10 am. Let us know how you do :-)

                                   Refuge Dragonflies - 2nd in Series
Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata) is easily identified via the four spots on each pair of wings and the yellowish tones. Like most Skimmers, this large dragonfly (~1.75 inch in length) usually uses an elevated perch to “sally” and catch passing insects. Can capture other dragonflies, as large as, Meadowhawks (~1 inch in length). Prefers lakes and ponds with mud bottoms. Less common than related 8 and 12-spotted Skimmers. Can usually be seen along the trails (especially Francois Slough) at the Wildlife Viewing Area. 

                                   Refuge Dragonflies - 2nd in Series

Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata) is easily identified via the four spots on each pair of wings and the yellowish tones. Like most Skimmers, this large dragonfly (~1.75 inch in length) usually uses an elevated perch to “sally” and catch passing insects. Can capture other dragonflies, as large as, Meadowhawks (~1 inch in length). Prefers lakes and ponds with mud bottoms. Less common than related 8 and 12-spotted Skimmers. Can usually be seen along the trails (especially Francois Slough) at the Wildlife Viewing Area. 

                                      Dragonfly Season Kicks In
With the onset of summer and much warmer weather, insect populations multiply, especially the biting kind. Thanks to the various members of the damselfly and dragonfly suborders (Zygoptera and Anisoptera respectively), many insect populations are kept in check. Odonates (term to describe all damselflies and dragonflies as one) are carnivores that eat other insects, sometimes other dragonflies!. They are as colorful and interesting (behavior wise) as butterflies, but are not as popular with wildlife-watchers, just yet. Like birds, each species occupies certain habitats; this may vary over time, some even migrate like birds! We will highlight this group of insects over the next several days.
Our first species, pictured above, is a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), a member of the Skimmer family. These are large dragonflies approaching two inches in length, easy to see even without binoculars.They are uncommon in the Wildlife Viewing Area near shallow flooded areas. Plants and twigs at waist level or below are favored for perching. Like flycatchers (birds), these insects “sally” out to capture an insect and return to perch to finish the meal. 
If you look for this species be sure to apply good amounts of bug spray, mosquitoes are in abundance :-)

                                      Dragonfly Season Kicks In

With the onset of summer and much warmer weather, insect populations multiply, especially the biting kind. Thanks to the various members of the damselfly and dragonfly suborders (Zygoptera and Anisoptera respectively), many insect populations are kept in check. Odonates (term to describe all damselflies and dragonflies as one) are carnivores that eat other insects, sometimes other dragonflies!. They are as colorful and interesting (behavior wise) as butterflies, but are not as popular with wildlife-watchers, just yet. Like birds, each species occupies certain habitats; this may vary over time, some even migrate like birds! We will highlight this group of insects over the next several days.

Our first species, pictured above, is a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia), a member of the Skimmer family. These are large dragonflies approaching two inches in length, easy to see even without binoculars.They are uncommon in the Wildlife Viewing Area near shallow flooded areas. Plants and twigs at waist level or below are favored for perching. Like flycatchers (birds), these insects “sally” out to capture an insect and return to perch to finish the meal. 

If you look for this species be sure to apply good amounts of bug spray, mosquitoes are in abundance :-)

                                          Kids Drawing Nature
Ellias (left) and Ila (right) hard at work drawing on the asphalt trail at the Wildlife Viewing Area. A great example of kids “connecting with nature through the arts”. Both were just using pencil and paper…very inexpensive option for supplies. It was very pleasant talking to both; they were relaxed, curious and happy in their task at hand. Our future leaders learning…very impressive!
Mom’s bring your kids to the Refuge for a similar learning experience…stop at the Visitor Center to find out more.

                                          Kids Drawing Nature

Ellias (left) and Ila (right) hard at work drawing on the asphalt trail at the Wildlife Viewing Area. A great example of kids “connecting with nature through the arts”. Both were just using pencil and paper…very inexpensive option for supplies. It was very pleasant talking to both; they were relaxed, curious and happy in their task at hand. Our future leaders learning…very impressive!

Mom’s bring your kids to the Refuge for a similar learning experience…stop at the Visitor Center to find out more.