montana

Spring bird migration from Montana - the birds this year were flighty!

The spring bird migration in Montana has been literally, flighty. Birds came and left so fast this year if you were not in the field waiting, you missed it. The numbers, as far as I can tell are down too. While I do have a Masters Degree in Science, my counts were not scientific, purely anecdotal and based on my 15 our so years of watching the spring bird migration along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. I’m sure there’s a reason the birds were quick and more elusive this year, but I can only speculate.

A cloud of mostly snow geese, with a few ducks mixed. © Tony Bynum

A cloud of mostly snow geese, with a few ducks mixed. © Tony Bynum

Three white snow geese landing in a farm field, in what looks like an orchestrated ballet. ©Tony Bynum

Three white snow geese landing in a farm field, in what looks like an orchestrated ballet. ©Tony Bynum

Where did the ducks and geese go?

I have to admit, I’m not a “birder,” or even a hard core duck guy. I don’t study the numbers and I’m not watching scientific trends as some of my more ardent waterfowling friends do. I like to photograph ducks and I’ve always like the idea that good ducks populations means good habitat, and good duck habitat is good for everything. Today, there are many variables that could affect ducks populations and their habits.

Montana winters are cold, but this past February was cold even by central Alaska standards. Parts of Montana had a February average temperature of minus one degree fahrenheit! We had low’s in the negative 40 range and weeks where we never broke zero. All of this culminated in one of the deepest freezes we’ve seen in recent memory. The earth froze deeper than usual, and the lake ice thicker than average.

Canada Geese with thick ice caked on their backs from the extreme cold. Photographed at minus 40 degrees f. © Tony Bynum

Canada Geese with thick ice caked on their backs from the extreme cold. Photographed at minus 40 degrees f. © Tony Bynum

This year when the first big wave of birds arrived, all the water was frozen, except for a few stream sections on the Missouri River. The bird’s major spring resting spot, Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area saw foot thick ice still by mid March!

Thousands of snow geese lift off and leave the area. © Tony Bynum

Thousands of snow geese lift off and leave the area. © Tony Bynum

The birds arrived, sat on the ice and scavenged for crumbs in the surrounding farm fields but soon tired of sitting on ice and digging through snow so they left. Where exactly they went is a good question but I’m sure it was north where temperatures were not as cold nor did they last for as long. Maybe there was open water up north? I don’t know.

Video - Spring Northern Pintail Ducks in Montana

In any event, as the video shows, I photographed migrating northern pintails, snow geese, swans - tundra and trumpeter - along with a few other puddle ducks for a couple days while their numbers peaked. I hope many of them flew through, because if that was the big pintail migration this year, we’re missing thousands of birds!

Several photographers sitting among the frozen cattails. A few birds can be seen behind them distorted by the thick ground fog. © Tony Bynum

Several photographers sitting among the frozen cattails. A few birds can be seen behind them distorted by the thick ground fog. © Tony Bynum

In the meantime, while I wait to see if any more birds arrive, here are some photographs of those migrating waterfowl taken from several locations around central Montana.

Enjoy.

If you are interested in purchasing any prints you can visit my prints page here (scroll down to the bottom of the images to see recent waterfowl images: Tony Bynum Nature Photography Prints.


UPDATE BELOW - APRIL 4TH, 2019

Update April 4, 2019 - April warming temperatures, fewer ducks but more variety. Warmer temperatures and longer days brought new ducks to Montana. The pintails have mostly left but more wigeon, mallards, snow geese, and red headed ducks arrived. My last visit to the duck marshes along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana was April 4. It was 55 degrees with a strong south west wind. The south west wind usually helps birds to fly north. On this day, the morning shoot was great but by noon there were almost no ducks. Most, I presume, headed north.

A “courtship” group of Mallard ducks lands in a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. © Tony Bynum

A “courtship” group of Mallard ducks lands in a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. © Tony Bynum

A group of drake Mallards, with on hen turns in the cloudless sky. © Tony Bynum

A group of drake Mallards, with on hen turns in the cloudless sky. © Tony Bynum

A group of wigeon ducks display their colors and their flight above a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. The lower in the center mass looks to be a Eurasian wigeon. © Tony Bynum

A group of wigeon ducks display their colors and their flight above a prairie pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. The lower in the center mass looks to be a Eurasian wigeon. © Tony Bynum

A group of Red-headed ducks with their classic red head and blue bill (breeding season) chasing a hen. © Tony Bynum

A group of Red-headed ducks with their classic red head and blue bill (breeding season) chasing a hen. © Tony Bynum

Three canada geese taking flight over a frozen pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. © Tony Bynum

Three canada geese taking flight over a frozen pond along the Rocky Mountain Front, Montana. © Tony Bynum

Is it Habitat, Clean Water, Climate Change, Over Harvest?

The simple and most likely answer is all of the above. But if we’re seeing lower numbers this year, what does it tell us about the past and what can it help us predict for the future? Probably a lot. I know bird numbers go up and down from one year to the next. But, it’s worth pondering the question, where did they go?

I’m worried about the proposed changes to the clean water act, and the definition of waters of the United States. I’m worried about what those changes might mean for habitat and water quality that the prairie ducks depend on. Some estimates are that half of the prairie pothole birds could be negatively impacted by a decision to remove them from the Clean Water Act. On the plus side, some say it’s a good decision since those ponds are not, on their surface connected to a river or steam. By removing clean water protections it will allow them to be filled, polluted, or otherwise discarded.

This article does good job of describing the issue with defining “waters of the US,” as it relates to the warmer waters of the everglades. EPA’s clean water rollback . . .

Closely related is water quantity and climate. In this great video below, duck hunters and conservationists from Arkansas tell us first hand about ducks, duck hunting and how things are changing in the south. This video is very worth watching.

The video itself does not explain, without question where the birds went or what is taking place in our environment. It does not conclude that climate is the culprit, but it is worth considering that people who care about ducks are seeing changes.

I don’t know what the future for ducks or water is for our country, or the world for that matter, but we have the power to make it whatever we want it to be. We all can get involved locally. Work on local environmental issues. In my personal life, I am involved. I also try to use less electricity, conserve water, in general, commit to being more aware of my “footprint.” What could others do? What could you do?

Montana Outdoor Photographers Interviewed

Montana Outdoor Photographers Interviewed

Interviews - Photographing wildlife in Glacier, birds in Montana, and Yellowstone Tours

Badger Two Medicine A landscape to be protected - #toowildtodrill

Badger Two Medicine A landscape to be protected - #toowildtodrill

Photographs of the Badger Two Medicine Area - Controversy oil and gas drill - Obama Cancels remaining oil leases blackfeet nation

Glacier National Park Storm Cell

Glacier National Park Storm Cell, August 29, 2016 Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Montana

Photographs of a Glacier National Park storm cell. There's not much to say, that the pictures don't already describe, other than to add, it was cool to watch this storm develop and move across the front of Glacier National Park.  I just wanted to share these photographs of the storm cell in Glacier National Park, Montana - It's a simple post with not much more that a few pretty pictures and some description of the equipment and a short explanation of my camera settings.  These images of the storm cell over Glacier National Park, were taken from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

The first photos is of the storm cell developing and letting go of it's moisture. The following images are the cell developing, beginning to collapse and then moving though the area dropping heavy rain and creating high winds. I'd say the winds locally were 50 miles per hour as the storm moved though. I eventually had to quit shooting because the wind and rain became unbearable.  What's interesting about these photographs of the Glacier National Park storm cell, is how uncommon and rare it is to see this kind of cell develop, almost out of know where, over the mountains, and this late in the season.  We see them more often on the prairie.

Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana

All of the Glacier National Park storm cell photographs were taken with a Nikon D810, Nikon 17-35 f2.8 lens (Because I left my 14-24 in another Pelican case back home), mounted atop a Really Right Stuff tripod / ball head combination with a bag of rocks hanging from the center support. The shooting data indicates that I was all over the place with my settings and for good reason, because I was. I created these images at various ISO's from 31 (yes iso 31, the D810 goes that low) to 400 with shutter speeds ranging from a fraction of a second to up to 10 seconds and apertures from 3.2 to f22. What you cant really see in these Glacier National Park storm cell photographs is the lighting. There was lighting in the clouds, which is why there are lighter spots in the clouds.  But what I did not capture were any of the lighting bolts. . .  Unfortunately, my lighting trigger failed to pick up on the strikes (on the bright side, I got home and fiddled with it and got it working again, so now I'm ready for the next storm - which means the lightning storms are over for the year. . .  Ha, Ha, Ha.

Happy Shooting!  Tony Bynum

Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana
Dramatic storm cell over Glacier National Park, Montana

The Crown of the Continent - "The Crown" roundtable video

People from around the "The Crown of the Continent," gather once a year to share their stories of conservation, life, and the challenges facing the geographic region. The Crown of the Continent, called by the Blackfeet, "the backbone of the world," is locationd in Northwest Montana, and Southwest Alberta, Canada. People come from all parts of the crown of the continent region, and beyond to this annual gathering. summer reflection of the garden wall in glacier national park, crown of the continent, montana, usa (Tony Bynum)

I'd like to share this video - "Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent." I was honored to be a guest speaker at last fall's Roundtable meeting here in East Glacier Park, Montana. Following the meeting, Winberg Prodcutions of Bozeman, Montana, put this video together of some of the speakers mixed with some fantastic music and photographs. Tony Bynum Photography provided the still photography of the Crown Of the Continent, for the production.  Enjoy.

I hope you all enjoy the video.  Spring is not far off, although you would not know it from looking outside!

Tony Bynum