Tim Boyer Photography

Small Groups, Cool Birds, Fun Locations

National Wildlife Refuge Week -- Benton Lake NWR

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer

Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana has about 200 species of birds, but it's the breeding habitat for Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, and Upland Sandpipers that got me to go there the first time in 2008.  I also discovered birds I hadn't seen before; Sharp-tailed Grouse, Lark Bunting, and Common Terns.  This is a wonderful place to visit in June for the breeding shorebirds but it's also, I hear, great in the spring when the Sharp-tailed Grouse are displaying.  

Just outside the refuge Upland Sandpipers can be found on the fence posts in the morning hours.
Just outside the refuge Upland Sandpipers can be found on the fence posts in the morning hours.

I went to Benton Lakes NWR the first time to find, see and photograph Upland Sandpipers (I have a thing for shorebirds).  Each morning as I drove to the refuge I'd find some, but they were often accompanied by Short-eared Owls.  Sitting on the fence posts there would be three or four Upland Sandpipers then a Short-eared Owl, the pattern repeated over and over again as  I drove past the fence posts.   The wide open short-grass prairie doesn't have many perches so these fence posts are often the only perches around.

Early morning light on a Short-eared Owl.
Early morning light on a Short-eared Owl.

The auto-tour loop on the refuge offers many opporutinites to see breeding birds and in mid June the chicks are tall enough to get above the  short-grass.

Breeding plumage Marbled Godwit.
Breeding plumage Marbled Godwit.
Marbled Godwit chick hiding in the short-grass prairie.
Marbled Godwit chick hiding in the short-grass prairie.
The long bill of the Long-billed Curlew.
The long bill of the Long-billed Curlew.
A Sharp-tailed Grouse walking along the side of the road.
A Sharp-tailed Grouse walking along the side of the road.
An unexpected surprise, a Lark Bunting.
An unexpected surprise, a Lark Bunting.
Female Northern Shoveler and lamellae, a comb like edge of the bill used to sift plankton and aquatic insects through.
Female Northern Shoveler and lamellae, a comb like edge of the bill used to sift plankton and aquatic insects through.

Located just outside of Great Falls, Montanta Benton Lake National Wildlfie Refuge was established in 1929 to enhance and protect a closed-basin of cattail and bulrush marsh surrounded by short-grass prairie.  Several hundred thousand migrating birds, ducks, geese, swans, shorebirds, and song birds depend on this refuge.

Enjoy our National Wildlife Refuges!   Thanks   Tim