Idaho and Western Montana: Spring 2021

Spring 2021: 1 Mar–31 May

Kate Stone

Recommended citation: 

Stone, K. 2021. Spring 2021: Idaho and Western Montana. <> North American Birds.

Birders throughout the region commented on low migrant numbers and late arrival dates for migratory breeders. March was relatively dry in most areas, with average precipitation in April and May. A storm event that brought heavy, wet snow and cold temperatures the third week in May resulted in heavy passerine fallout, with hundreds to thousands of sparrows grounded and foraging in snow-free areas. Birders in some areas also noted grounded thrushes, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers associated with this event. Few rare bird reports were filed for this time period, but birders in the region still recorded many noteworthy observations. 

Ducks through Hummingbirds

For the third year in a row, a Cinnamon Teal x Northern Shoveler hybrid was observed near Ovando, Powell Co, MT (Steve Flood). Two Eurasian x American Wigeon hybrids were observed in MT, including one at Church Slough, Flathead Co 14–17 Mar (Dan Casey) and one at Warm Springs WMA, Deer Lodge Co on 10 Apr (Danny Tipton). A Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) was seen at Church Slough, Flathead Co, MT on 15 Mar (Dan Casey). 

Observers throughout western MT observed the May arrival and initial forays of Black Swifts, with the most unusual observation being two migrants flying over the city of Helena, Lewis and Clark Co on 23 and 26 May (Coburn Currier). Other observations occurred closer to known breeding areas and include two locations in Glacier NP, Flathead Co on 15 May (William McDowell) and 23 May (Will Seborn), at the Lee Metcalf NWR, Ravalli Co on 19 May (Eric Rasmussen), near Saint Regis, Mineral Co on 28 May (Will Merg), and near Somers, Flathead Co on 30 May (Derrick Rathe). Hummingbird banders in Idaho City, Boise Co, ID (Heidi Carlisle) and Florence, Missoula Co, MT (Eric Rasmussen) reported relatively low May capture rates compared to previous seasons. 

Plovers through Gulls

MT had two observations of American Golden-Plovers, including one on 12 May at Lake Helena WMA, Lewis and Clark Co (Grant Hokit), and one on 22–23 May near the southern end of Canyon Ferry Lake, Broadwater Co (m. ob.). A Snowy Plover was observed on 4 Apr foraging in a mudflat in the Dry Lakes Area in Canyon Co south of Nampa, ID (Cheryl Huizinga); reports continued through 6 Apr. Birders observed a handful of Whimbrels, including lone birds on 12 May at Dry Creek Reservoir, Sanders Co, MT (m. ob.), 14 May at Warm Springs WMA, Deer Lodge Co, MT (Maggie Ryan), 16 May near Lima, Beaverhead Co, MT (Jim Soupir), and 23 May at Market Lake WMA, Jefferson Co, ID (Justin Griggs). Long-billed Curlews tracked by the Intermountain Bird Observatory returned to breeding grounds in ID approximately one week late (Heidi Carlisle). 

Seven White-rumped Sandpipers were seen at Harriman State Park, Fremont Co, ID on 30–31 May (Marsha Walling). Up to two Short-billed Dowitchers were seen from 3–7 May at Lake Helena WMA, Lewis and Clark Co, MT (m. ob.). On 8 May a Short-billed Dowitcher probed the mudflats among a group of approximately 20 Long-billed Dowitchers at the west end of Island Park Reservoir, Fremont Co, ID (Cliff Weisse). Lone Short-billed Dowitchers were also seen on 14 May at Ninepipe NWR, Lake Co, MT (Natalia Johnson) and on 15 May at Freezeout Lake WMA, Teton Co, MT (Scott Patterson). 

The region hosted a handful of Short-billed Gulls, including one seen at the south end of Flathead Lake, Lake Co, MT on 21 Mar (Shawn Richmond), one at the north end of Flathead Lake, Lake Co, MT from 6–20 Mar and again on 20 Apr (m. ob.), one on 4–5 Apr in the Dry Lakes Area, Canyon Co, ID (m. ob.), and one on 4 and 7 Apr just west of Notus, Canyon Co, ID (m. ob.). 

An Iceland Gull was seen at or near the landfill in Flathead Co on 5 Mar (Bridger Donaldson),  6 Mar, and 14 May (Dan Casey). One was also observed along the north shore of Flathead Lake, Flathead Co on 6, 13, and 20 Mar and 20 Apr (m. ob.). On 3–4 May, another lone Iceland Gull was seen at Lake Helena WMA, Lewis and Clark Co (Bob Martinka and Stephen Turner). 

MT had multiple observations of Glaucous Gull, including at or near the landfill in Flathead Co on 5–7 Mar (m. ob.), along the north shore of Flathead Lake, Flathead Co intermittently from 6 Mar to 26 Apr (m. ob.), and at the Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, Lewis and Clark Co, on 22 Mar (Sharon Dewart-Hansen). ID had one observation of Glaucous Gull on 20 Mar at CJ Strike WMA, Owyhee Co (Peter Olsoy and Katie Sorenson).

Cormorants through Wrens

A 1 Mar sighting of a Double-crested Cormorant at Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Gallatin Co, MT beat the previous early county record by two weeks (Pamm Davis). Though year-round along the Snake River plain in ID, a Great Egret made a rare appearance in western MT; one was observed for a single day on 8 May at the Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, Lewis and Clark Co (Janice Miller). 

Gallatin Co, MT added a new county record when a Flammulated Owl was found pinned down by Black-billed Magpies on 27 May in a yard in Bozeman, MT. After the magpies were scared off, the bird roosted for four hours and departed that evening (Beth Madden). A handful of Williamson’s Sapsuckers returned early to western MT, including two birds seen on 16 and 18 Mar at the same location south of Whitefish, Flathead Co (Scott Patterson), a lone bird on 26 Mar at Fort Missoula, Missoula Co (John Parker), and two males on 31 Mar near Kila, Flathead Co (Craig Hohenberger and Rod Wallete).

An early Hammond’s Flycatcher sang on 30 Apr near Superior, Mineral Co, MT (Cynthia Hudson). It was the only Hammond’s Flycatcher detected regionally in Apr. A 12 Mar observation of a Say’s Phoebe at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, Gallatin Co, MT beat the county’s previous early record by three days (Dalton Spencer). 

A California Scrub-jay was enjoyed by a group of 9 on 17 Apr in the city center of Placerville, Boise Co, ID (m. ob.). Clark’s Nutcrackers extended their high winter numbers into spring in Missoula Co, MT (Rose Leach). A Purple Martin was seen northwest of Kalispell, Flathead Co, MT on 3 May; this record is only the third west of the Continental Divide in MT (Dan Casey). Birders in both MT and ID lamented an apparent lack of House Wrens (m. ob.).

Finches through Warblers

Birders in Missoula, Missoula Co, MT documented the first known Lesser Goldfinch nest in the state. Construction began on 29 Apr (Adam Mitchell) and at least three young were observed on 27 May (Paul Hendricks). The first and only Baltimore Oriole of the spring was seen on 24 May in Helena, Lewis and Clark Co, MT (Shawn Watts). Common Grackles, uncommon west of the Continental Divide in MT, were seen at numerous locations throughout Flathead, Granite, Lake, Missoula, Powell, and Ravalli Cos (m. ob.). Their occurrence also extended beyond normal range in southeastern ID to a handful of spots in Blaine, Latah, and Lemhi Cos (m. ob.). 

The region had a lone Northern Parula on 29 May at Camas NWR, Jefferson Co, ID (Darren Clark).  A handful of Blackpoll Warblers were seen throughout the region: on 10 May in Helena, Lewis and Clark Co, MT (Grant Hokit); 15 May near Placid Lake, Missoula Co, MT (m. ob.); 19 May south of Pocatello, Bannock Co, ID (Joe Kennedy); and 21 May in both Three Forks (Tom Forwood Jr) and Bozeman (Victor Fesolowitz), Gallatin Co, MT.  

Report processed by Randi Minetor, 16 Sep 2021.

Photos–Idaho and Western Montana: Spring 2021

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