Today marks four weeks since I arrived to Helena, Montana. I’ve experienced several epiphany moments, all confirming that my move here to work with Montana Audubon as a Big Sky Watershed Corps Member was the ideal step to take. I flew here ten days after graduating from college at The University of North Carolina-Wilmington with a B.S. in Environmental science and a minor in biology. I was first welcomed to town by my coworkers at Montana Audubon, several Americorps members, and by a beautiful long-tailed bird that I had never seen before, the Black-billed Magpie! I followed my hopes and dreams and landed right where I wanted to be.
I’ve been lucky enough to have already seen a long stretch of the state. Within my second week, my supervisor, Amy Seaman and I hit the road toward Townsend for an invasive weed training, followed by a field survey training on riparian habitat with some folks from Montana Universities Bird Ecology Lab. I assisted with vegetation surveys and watched as Amy worked her magic doing avian point counts. I was so inspired and excited, knowing that soon I’d be conducting point counts too. It’s amazing all of the other things we ran into while looking for birds! During our survey, Amy and I stumbled upon a morel mushroom, one the most desired mushrooms in the United States. After hearing a Sora calling all afternoon, we ended up catching a glimpse of its black and white barred flank through the dense shrubbery. We camped out at a site along Canyon Ferry and on York Island along the Missouri River. I watched and listened to birds from the time I opened my eyes in the morning, until I closed them at night. I wanted to soak up as much information as possible while I was out there. By the end of each day in the field, my head was spinning, but now I’d say my brains capacity is rising. Some birds and their songs instantly resonate with me and are unforgettable, but not all of the roughly 400 bird species that call Montana home are that easy to learn. I know that all it takes to get familiar with the birds and the habitat here is practice and experience. I’ve had plenty of practice birding in North Carolina, and I’ve got plenty more ahead of me in Montana.
I’ve spent time in the office too, putting together factsheets for several Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) located throughout Montana. I had the pleasure of looking through Bob Martinka’s bird photographs, picking out my favorites to include on each sheet. This work also gives me an opportunity to sit down and read about each IBA, their habitat qualities, and their prioritized bird species of conservation concern. I hope to contribute more to the IBA program throughout this summer.
Last week I was able to join the Montana Audubon staff and over 200 other passionate birders at the 20th annual Montana Audubon bird Festival in Glasgow. What a crowd to be around! We had good conversations, good food, great presentations, and fantastic field trips through the IBA’s within Montana’s vast glaciated plains region. It was amazing to see everyone gather, all with the sole purpose of celebrating birds and their habitats.
I am amazed by the number of passionate and dedicated birders here in Montana. Meeting everyone and seeing the conservation work they all do gives me hope for a bright, balanced future. I feel honored to be able to join and learn from the community in Helena and the strong and active grassroots non-profit organization, Montana Audubon.