Greg Miller's Big Year Tour Series

MONTANA: Rocky Mountains & the Great Plains



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From: $2,400 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from Bozeman, Montana (BZN)


3 - 5 Participants


2021: FULL [Waitlist]


This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

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Highlights of MONTANA: Rocky Mountains & the Great Plains

  • Targets iconic species of the prairies & potholes
  • Classic western songbirds & other specialties
  • Peak nesting season in the region
  • Huge variety of habitats & rich species list

Description of MONTANA: Rocky Mountains & the Great Plains

This whirlwind tour begins in central Montana where the vast grasslands and wetland sloughs of the Great Plains meet the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This is Big Sky Country with wide, expansive views and crystal blue skies as far as the eye can see. Lewis and Clark ventured through here on their exploration of the west more than 200 years ago, and during this tour will will visit some of the very site where they passed through. Thoroughly birding some of the top hotspots of central and western Montana is sure to result in a very memorable trip through the American West!

The diversity of habitats including wetlands, grassland, scrublands, and mountains bring together a very diverse list of bird species. Many birds are at the peak of their nesting season during our tour. Stately Trumpeter Swans, stunning Cinnamon Teal, and many other nesting waterfowl will be found at the many wetland areas we plan to visit, along with Yellow-headed Blackbird, Sora, Marsh Wren, and Franklin’s Gulls. ‘Western’ Willet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, and Black Tern can be found will foraging along muddy shorelines and even out on the open prairie. The brightly-colored American Avocets and clean-cut Black-necked Stilts are always a highlight! Red-necked, Five species of grebes are found along our route, including Eared, Red-necked, and Clark’s. The mighty Ferruginous Hawk can be found hunting prairie dog colonies, and Golden Eagles can be found nesting along bluffs, canyons, and cliffs. The stunning color of a male Mountain Bluebird is unparalleled!

We will specifically track down Great Plains specialities like the rare Baird’s Sparrow, declining Sprague’s Pipit, Western Meadowlark, Lark Bunting, Swainson’s Hawk, Mountain Plover, Bullock’s Oriole, and both Chestnut-collared and Thick-billed Longspurs. Burrowing Owl is possible around prairie dog colonies, too! Occasionally we have flushed up Sharp-tailed Grouse and Gray Partridge from grasslands, and Dusky Grouse can be found in the mountains. In the foothills and mountainous forests of the Rockies, we will search for many iconic western songbirds like Townsend’s Warbler, Cassin’s Finch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Wood-Pewee, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager, Townsend’s Solitaire, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Violet-green Swallow, Red-naped Sapsucker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and many others! During our visit to western Montana we will even sneak over the border at Lolo Pass and do some mountain birding in Idaho!

Length of Tour


Brief Itinerary

Note:  this trip begins and ends in Bozeman, MT (BZN)

Day 1 – Arrivals at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Bozeman, MT (BZN)

Day 2 – Birding in the Bozeman area

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 – Flights home from Bozeman, MT (BZN)

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)

Arrival at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Orientation at dinner. If all of our arrivals are earlier in the day, we’ll spend the afternoon birding the area hotspots. Night in Bozeman, MT.

Day 2 – Bozeman Area

Today we will explore areas north of 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 Helena, MT.

Day 8 – Flights Home from Bozeman (BZN)


Cost is $2,400 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Bozeman, Montana (Airport code BZN).
This trip ends in Bozeman, Montana (Airport code BZN).

Cost Includes

Cost includes airport transfers, all ground transportation, accommodations, entrance fees and services of your professional leader(s).

Cost does not Include

All meals, flights to/from destination city, trip insurance, or anything that is not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of participants registered the trip can still run with a small-group supplement fee per person determined by the number of participants.

Single Supplement

If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $525 will be assessed.

Deposit Requirements

A $500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.

This trip includes standard hotels.

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

Much of this trip is easy walking, however, the elevation rises in some locations with a few trails that are a bit more rugged. No worries, we’ll be birding, so the pace will be slow.

Recommended Field Guide

Sibley Birds West (2nd Edition, 2016, Knopf)
by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds is also available as an App


Climate / Weather

Temperatures and weather conditions vary widely during the trip.

Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to help cover your investment, for covered reasons. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

Location Map