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Greg Miller Big Year Series: MONTANA: Prairies, Potholes and Glacier National Park

tetons_jaredlloyd_07 Visiting the Upper Great Plains is a unique and fabulous trip. We’ll be in the rocky canyons near Bozeman to prairie grasslands in northeastern Montana. Glacial potholes and sloughs, broad areas of grassland, and canyons with scrubby growth will be our lot on this tour.

This is Big Sky country with wide, expansive views and crystal blue skies. At times you might even feel like you are in the Wild West. Lewis and Clark ventured here more than 200 years ago. And did I mention Montana is HUGE? Our itinerary is pretty large, too. But I think you’ll find the locations and birding are more than worth the effort.

So much is possible here in such an interesting mix. Almost 300 species of birds have been report here during the last week of June in eBird. This includes 20 species of waterfowl and nearly 30 species of shorebirds, not to mention a goodly number of sparrows and flycatchers. Stately Trumpeter Swans will be on bodies of water. Long-billed Curlews will be feeding along shorelines with brightly-colored American Avocets and clean-cut Black-necked Stilts. Cinnamon Teals may be on the ponds and Western and Eared Grebes may be on some of the lakes. Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles might delight us in the blue skies above. The color of blue that you see on a Mountain Bluebird makes you feel like the light is coming from the inside! We might get lucky with any number of specialty birds of the Plains like Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, Lark Bunting, Mountain Plover, or Chestnut-collared or McCown’s Longspurs. A couple of the prairie dog towns may produce a sighting of a Burrowing Owl, too. This will be a delightful trip!

Glacier National Park is recognized as the “Crown Jewel” of our National Park System. Straddling the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana, the watershed flows into three oceans… Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic! While hiking through Glacier we will be treated to countless mountain peaks, alpine lakes and the few remaining glaciers in the lower 48. This time of year can offer astounding displays of wildflowers. Wildlife abounds in the park and sightings of Mountain Goats, Mountain Lions and Black Bears are regular and we may even see a Grizzly! The scenery in the park is beautiful, and with the long summer days, sunsets and sunrises are often spectacular.

Although we will eat meals as a group, meal costs are not included. 


  • Tour Cost
  • 2018 Cost :: 12-days/11-nights

    $3300 per person, double occupancy from Kalispell, MT.


    Single Room

    Cost is based upon shared rooms. If a single room is preferred, or a suitable roommate is not available, a single supplement fee of $600 will be assessed.



    A $500 deposit is required to reserve space. Register online with the form at right, by phone toll free 888.875.9453


    Full Payment

    Full payment, paid by check, is due at least 120 days before tour departure date.


    Tour costs NOT included

    Flight costs and meals are not included nor are trip insurance costs, alcoholic beverages, optional tips, phone calls, laundry, or items of a personal nature.


    Travel Insurance

    We highly recommend purchasing travel Insurance. In the event that you need to cancel your trip due to medical or other reasons, this insurance will protect you.

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary


    Day 1: Arrivals at Kalispell, MT (FCA)

    Day 2: Birding from Kalispell to the Bozeman

    Day 3: East Gallatin Rec Area; Missouri Headwaters area; Lewis and Clark Caverns

    Day 4: Mount Helena County Park; Cottonwood Reservoir; Harlowton area hotspots; Prairie Dog Town

    Day 5: Pictograph Cave; hotspots en route to Northeast Montana

    Day 6: Bentonite Rd; Bowdoin NWR

    Day 7: Freezeout Lake; Benton Lake NWR; Giant Spring State Park

    Day 8: Departures from Great Falls International Airport in Great Falls, MT (GTF)


    Full Itinerary


    Day 1 ~ Arrival at Kalispell, MT Airport (FCA)

    Arrival at Kalispell, MT. Orientation at dinner. If all of our arrivals are earlier in the day, we’ll spend the afternoon birding.


    Day 2 ~ Bozeman

    Today we will explore areas around Bozeman known for owls and Prairie Falcons as well as bison and other wildlife. Night in Bozeman, MT.


    Day 3 ~ East Gallatin Rec Area; Missouri Headwaters area; Lewis and Clark Caverns 

    Glen Lake is a part of East Gallatin Recreation Area. It’s a birdy location in Bozeman, Montana. Lazuli Bunting and Say’s Phoebe are easier here than other spots on our itinerary.


    Our next destination is the area around the headwaters to the Missouri River. We will have more chances of seeing many of the species already named plus the possibility of seeing Hammond’s Flycatcher, Evening Grosbeak, and Say’s Phoebe. We may drive a section of Bench Rd to look for Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow, and Ferruginous Hawk based on time.


    Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park is Montana’s oldest park. It is also home to one of the largest known limestone caverns in the Northwest. For the birder, this area represents some drier habitat and a surprisingly diverse mix of birdlife. New birds we may find could be Western Tanager, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Common Nighthawk, White-throated Swift, Rock Wren, Dusky Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Green-tailed Towhee. Less likely birds include Dusky Grouse, Lazuli Bunting, Canyon Wren, and Pinyon Jay. Night in Helena, MT.


    Day 4 ~ Mount Helena County Park; Cottonwood Reservoir; Harlowton area hotspots; Prairie Dog Town 

    Mount Helena County Park is one of Helena’s many good birding parks. Birds here are of a montane nature. It’s one of our better places for Western Tanager. And although uncommon and unpredictable, Red Crossbills are possible.


    We’ll stop at Cottonwood Reservoir for a shot at finding Golden Eagle, Sage Thrasher, and Brewer’s Sparrow while looking at Trumpeter Swans, Franklin’s Gulls, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.


    By exploring some of the area roads around Harlowton we will look for McCown’s Longspur, Sprague’s Pipit, and Mountain Plover. Greater Sage Grouse, Gray Partridge, Baird’s Sparrow, and Ferruginous Hawk are all possible, too. A few of these birds will be more likely on Day 5.


    Along Eastlick Road northwest of Billings is a prairie dog town. We’ll look for Upland Sandpiper, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Gray Partridge, Ferruginous Hawk, and Burrowing and Short-eared Owls.


    Night near Billings, MT.


    Day 5 ~ Pictograph Cave; hotspots en route to Northeast Montana

    Our first stop will be Pictograph Cave State Park. Both Rock and Canyon Wrens are here, Lazuli Bunting, and Green-tailed Towhee. And we may be able to find Prairie Falcon.


    Heading north out of Billings we’ll make a stop at one or more of the prairie hotspots along our route for birds like Burrowing Owl and Mountain Plover. We could see Golden Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, and Ferruginous Hawk along the drive, too. Night near Malta, MT.


    Day 6 ~ Bentonite Rd; Bowdoin NWR

    Bentonite Rd. will be our easternmost stop. This road goes through habitat producing a unique mix of birds. Here we may find Ring-necked Pheasant, Gray Partridge, Greater Sage Grouse, or Sharp-tailed Grouse. Mountain Plover, Upland Sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew, and Marbled Godwit are here as are Sprague’s Pipit, both Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Baird’s Sparrow, and Bobolink.


    A total of more than 160 species have been recorded in June at Bowdoin NWR. We’ll get to search for many of the same birds we looked for on Bentonite Rd but with the addition of a bevy of breeding waterfowl and shorebirds. This is a fabulous area for prairie birds of the northern Great Plains. In Montana, Bowdoin NWR is second only Medicine Lake NWR located 200 miles to the East near the North Dakota border. Our chances are almost as good here for many of our grassland target species. Birds include 20 species of waterfowl, Western and Eared Grebes (Clark’s is less likely), Greater Sage Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Gray Partridge, American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, nearly 30 species of shorebirds, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur (McCown’s Longspur is not likely here), Lark Bunting, and Baird’s Sparrow. Night near Havre, MT.


    Day 7 ~ Freezeout Lake; Benton Lake NWR; Giant Spring State Park

    A stop at Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area will give us our best possibilities for Black Tern, Clark’s Grebe, and Red-necked Grebe on this itinerary. Franklin’s Gulls should be here in good supply.


    Benton Lake NWR is part of the Upper Great Plains. Some birds of the prairies in eastern Montana and North Dakota can be found here in the Great Falls, Montana area in small numbers. We’ll search for Wilson’s Phalarope, Swainson’s Hawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Upland Sandpiper, and Chestnut-collared Longspur.


    Giant Springs were discovered in 1805 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is one of the largest freshwater springs in the country. We have chances of seeing Cliff Swallow and Bobolink here. Night in Great Falls, MT.


    Day 8 ~ Drive to St Mary Entrance of Glacier National Park

    Our drive today will take us toward the mountains and the eastern entrance of Glacier National Park. We'll look for waterfowl and raptors along the way.


    Day 9 ~ Going to the Sun Road

    Today we will enjoy driving the Going to the Sun Road in search of birds and wildlife. A couple of short hikes will include Logan Pass and Trail of the Cedars.


    Day 10 ~ Many Glacier Region

    Explore the Many Glacier area of the park in search of moose and bighorn sheep as well as owls and waterfowl.


    Day 11 ~ Drive to western side of Park

    The western side of Glacier National Park is quite different from the east. Here we will look for some different birds and wildlife!


    Day 12 ~ Return home from Kalispell

    Our final morning will take us back to Kalispell for flights home after 12 noon.

  • Accommodations
  • Accommodations throughout the tour will be standard hotels and motels. Several of the towns have very limited options!