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More birds, more bears, and a pony or two


Baby killdeer…awwwww…aren’t they ridiculous =)

Another fine week in Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, which means we had sun, snow, sleet, rain, hail, gropple, and wind.

Never be unprepared (or expect to be bored) in mountain country =)

Ornithologist and artists David Allen Sibley and Keith Hansen kept spotting amazing birds, improving our drawings skills, telling ridiculously entertaining stories (and in Keith’s case, puns) and filling our brains with bird knowledge.

Among the many amazing things we learned this past week, the following are some of the tidbits that stuck out:

Cool nugget 1: Look at sandhill cranes—they are reddish in the spring from preening with highly oxidized mud picked up on their beaks when feeding.

How do you know this?

The only spots that are still their natural grey plumage are just under their chin, because they can’t reach that spot with such a long bill.

Cool nugget 2: Curlews (and many other long-billed shorebirds) have a very flexible end on their upper bill. They have little accessory muscles (also possibly tendons or ligaments) that they can use to flex just the very tip of their bill. This solves the problem of trying to open a gigantic beak in thick mud to suck up tasty invertebrates.

Cool nugget 3: How the heck does a shorebird get the little brine shrimp or other invertebrates up its beak without picking up its head and letting the little tasty morsel slide down? 

They use surface tension.

Water surface tension to be exact. The shorebird sucks up the invertebrates with a droplet of water, and uses the surface tension of water (the same thing some insects use to “walk” on water) to pull the little brine shrimp up, swallow it, and then shake out the water droplet and start over. Yummm.

Cool nugget 4: There are no birds with true green pigment in North America (you have to go to Africa for that). North American green birds (see parrots) have yellow pigment in their feathers combined with “structural blue?”


Structural blue is a feather configuration that scatters all other light rays except blue; so blue is the only light ray reflected back.

All other green colors (the head on a mallard or the feathers on a hummingbird) are the green created from refraction, like a sheen of oil on water.

There was lots more amazing information,but a few photo’s are in order to show (rather than tell) the rest of the week…



Ear Mountain with the balsam root



Black bear mamma keeping her eye on us



Skadi clearin’ trail!



Long-billed curlew



Allison (staff) exercising horses for us…



Storm rolling in as the birders watch prairie birds


The Randall family draws a Red-tailed hawk for the dinner board.



Ruffed grouse watching our cabin entrance.



Pine Butte Staff ride.



Bird artist Keith Hansen making sculptures!



Storm rolling in over the prairie



Looking for little black dots in the sky (a.k.a. Sprague’s pipit).


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jim Culver #

    Awesome pictures and post. Takes me back…I miss you guys and that place. Tell everyone hi for me!!

    June 11, 2012
  2. Harriet Elkington (Gran) #

    What a wonderful way to start my day–seeing these great pics. How great that you have seen the long-billed curlew! Gran

    June 11, 2012

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