Every fall many thousands of raptors migrate south along Montana’s mountain ridges, valleys, and across our eastern plains. High ridges in the Bridger Mountains, Jewel Basin, and Mount Brown are some of the best fall hawkwatch sites in the nation, and while a visit to these locations requires a moderate to strenuous hike, it is usually well worth the effort. Long-term monitoring of fall migration at these locations where the topography funnels the southward flow of raptors can teach us a lot about population patterns and trends. But what about spring migration? When raptors move north across Montana from late March to early May it can be quite challenging or nearly impossible to reach high-elevation monitoring sites.
Montana Audubon has been on the lookout for accessible, quality spring hawkwatch sites since 2021. A number of our scouted locations were disappointing dead-ends–usually due to late spring snow or other access issues that made the sites unreliable; however, we did find one promising location that may become a good spring raptor monitoring site. The site is near Ramsay, a small town about 6 miles west of Butte. We suspect that raptors migrating northward along several mountain ranges in the area concentrate as they reach this natural “pinch-point” which is just off I-90. Another good sign: preliminary Golden Eagle tracking data showed that some individuals use this corridor. Two exploratory surveys in 2021 yielded good results, with the best raptor movement witnessed over the course of three hours on April 23. On that afternoon we counted 3 Turkey Vultures, 6 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 6 Cooper’s Hawks, 5 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 Golden Eagles, 1 Peregrine/Prairie Falcon, 1 American Kestrel, 2 Ospreys and 4 unknown Buteo hawks that were too far away to confidently identify. We saw and excluded several other raptors that appeared to be local residents, not migrants. Not a bad site list considering it was one of only two surveyed we carried out that year!
Due to the promising results from spring of 2021 we decided to spend some more time at the “Ramsay Hawkwatch” this spring. So far we surveyed twice, on March 31 and April 1, and saw very few raptors, probably because it was well before peak migration and both days were cold, with strong W-NW winds. We are planning to return to the site and carry out two additional surveys on April 28-29, when we expect more raptors to be moving through. If you live in the area and wish to join us for a few hours, please contact our Avian Specialist, Bo Crees, at [email protected] to make sure we did not postpone the survey due to weather or other reasons. Extra eyes on the sky are always welcome! We hope that this location will become a good spring raptor monitoring site that will complement our several fantastic fall hawkwatch locations in Montana and help us better understand raptor movement across the state.
To get to the Ramsay Hawkwatch take the I-90 Ramsay exit, turn right onto Miles Crossing Rd (south side of hwy) which parallels the highway, and follow for about two miles until you reach a very large gravel pull-off on the south side of the road.