The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Not From Around Here

Birds of a Feather Flock to See Summer Tanager


Sharon Dewart-Hanson / For the Courier

A photo of the Summer Tanager spotted in Valley County.

When 220 "Birders" from across Montana flocked to Northeast Montana for the 20th Annual Montana Audubon Convention in Glasgow for a weekend of bird watching, education and camaraderie, few would have expected to find a bird from the southern part of the country in northern Valley County. But that is exactly what happened.

According to Montana Audubon's Executive Director Larry Berrin, a rare – for Montana – female Summer Tanager was spotted during a tour along Britsch Road west of Highway 24 and north of Glasgow. According to reports from participants, it was just sitting in a cottonwood tree. The bird is not particularly rare, that is, if you were standing south of the Mason-Dixen Line or in the Lone Star State, but for the northern plains of Montana this bird is a true rarity.

"The Northwest is an odd place for this bird to show up," explained Berrin while trying to explain the excitement from birders across the region.

If records are accurate, this is only the third encounter for a Montana Audubon member since they started keeping track, and it was likely one of less than 10 known sightings of the bird statewide. If that holds true it means the probability of seeing this particular species in Montana is less than a hundredth of a percent.

"We believe it's less than 10 [sightings] in the state of Montana," said the Audubon director. "Might even be less than eight." He was cautious to throw out numbers as the group is still researching the exact number of sightings.

As could be expected by such a unique encounter, Berrin and the other Audubon members were more than excited for the sighting and after putting the encounter on social media, birders in the region were showing up to try to get a glimpse. The Audubon director chalked that up to a normal birder practice. "When something is not where it is supposed to be, people get excited to see it," laughed Berrin.

As for the chance encounter Berrin had a practical view of why the bird was spotted this far north. "This is what happens when you have over 200 birders in an area," said Berrin, "you find things." Despite the geography and traditional range of the bird an explanation for why it came north is unlikely.

"It's hard. We like to compile years and years of data before we speculate on why a bird is somewhere it shouldn't be," explained the director. "We are seeing some patterns of southern birds showing up in Montana."

He continued to explain that any number of factors could have landed the bird in Montana, from storms to winds. "They do have wings," joked Berrin. He speculates that the best thing they can do is keep records to demonstrate the historic range and if the range is expanding to show it through data. This way the Audubon can keep track of birds showing up where they haven't in the past.

Montana Audubon / For the Courier

Audubon convention goers flocked to get a view of the Summer Tanager spotted north of Glasgow. The bird is a rare sight for "birders" in the region and it attracted a great deal of attention from hobbyists and professionals.

Berrin described his time in Glasgow for the convention as highly positive with the highlight being the Tanager, but the town was also exceptional. "We loved your town, it was absolutely amazing," said Berrin. He also described how much the region had to offer for bird watching from the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge to the open prairies near Opheim and Scobey. The group is looking forward to their next visit to Northeast Montana.

The Montana Audubon is a group of individuals dedicated to education and conservation of bird species. As part of their mission the group hopes to illustrate the importance of protecting lands for bird habitat. They also support conservation efforts such as full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was proposed for a 95 percent cut by U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt this year.

"Over 50 percent of Montanans identify themselves in some way as birders," explained Berrin and for that reason he believes it is in the best interest of the state to support land and water conservation for bird species statewide.


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