by Pat Jaquith
Throughout the fall, as birds start moving from nesting sites toward warmer climates and more plentiful food sources, they teach us how they value our valley as many species gather in the harvested fields and in and around the several potholes for rest, food, and perhaps reunions before moving on.
This image of a small part of the pothole at the West Valley Viewing Area demonstrates several species congregating peacefully. While most of these birds probably nested far north of here, some may have raised families in the area. Like people flock to an airline’s hub before moving on in bigger airplanes, the valley is a hub where the birds meet up in preparation for leaving in large flocks mostly of a single species.
Trumpeter Swans have been observed in Flathead County during most of the year. One of five on Pothole #3, has a collar that indicates it is being tracked for some study. Someone with a spotting scope may be able to read the code printed on the collar and report the sighting to the agency performing the research. Trumpeters were once nearly extinct due to overhunting. It is now illegal to shoot one; their numbers are recovering.
This Tundra Swan was with about 60 others. Tundra Swans are a little smaller than Trumpeters; most adults have a yellow spot (I call it a tear-drop) on its bill near the corner of its eye. Nesting in Alaska , many Tundra Swans are observed in this area in March and April as they make their way north in spring from wintering in California to Utah.
Impressive for their numbers and body size, these birds garner a lot of attention while they are among us. One doesn’t have to be a “birder” or an expert to notice them! Their arrivals mark the beginning of spring and the end of fall for many people. Write it on the calendar! They will be return if the environment meets their needs.