Northern dilemma..seems that winter as arrived

The first Rough-legged Hawk of winter '12-'13

The first Rough-legged Hawk of winter ’12-’13

Heavy, snow-ladened clouds pressed down on the invisible Bitterroot Range. The light was dampened to levels similar to twilight. As I entered the Lee Metcalf National Refuge near Stevensville, the first bird I spotted was my first Rough-legged Hawk perched atop an utility pole (the usual spot). It was a typical plumaged individual with a whitish cowl. The diminutive nature of the Rough-legged Hawk’s features belay the predatory nature of the bird as it is the terror of the field’s voles and deer mouse. With passing truck underneath, it burst into flight and glided across the wetlands. This hawk will be the first of many, no doubt, but somehow it seems to be more important, more meaningful. The winter residents are the hopeful signs of life as the scenery decays into dormancy.

Can you find the owl?

Can you find the owl?

In the windrow near the old homestead, Black-capped Chickadees carried on as the well-hidden Great Horned Owl sat motionless in the midst of their vocal torment. A single flock of roughly 50 geese escape the shotgun blasts of some unseen hunter. No bird fell from the sky. I was relieved that on this day, they had remained safe and free. They wheeled around toward the south, and faded into the grayish, opaque sky as they picked up altitude and speed. I will await their return in April.

The ponds were filled with waterfowl with American Coot and American Wigeons composing the majority of the frantic, feeding mass. I had a perfect opportunity to observe the kleptoparasite of the American Wigeon or Baldpate (a romantic name of a bygone golden of natural history). The wigeon is the pirate of the waterfowl world in that it waits for the divers to bring its food to the surface where it is deftly snatched away by the pirate.

Here is a short video I took of the wigeon theft.

The snow become quite heavy as the light finally faded to dark, and I left Lee Metcalf for another day.


The day’s checklist

Lee Metcalf NWR, Ravalli County, Montana, US
21 species (+1 other taxa) total
Snow Goose Chen caerulescens
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus
Gadwall Anas strepera
American Wigeon Anas americana
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca
Redhead Aythya americana
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus
Buteo sp. Buteo sp.
American Coot Fulica americana
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus