Memories of Lee Metcalf NWR

Northern Flicker - Colaptes auratus
Lee Metcalf NWR in the Bitterroot Valley near Stevensville, Montana.

Of all western states, Montana is perhaps the one I’ve least explored while looking for birds. This although I lived here briefly in the winter of 1969-1970, and for nearly three more years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Birding was not part of my consciousness in those days. The seeds of my passion for birding did not take root until this millennium.

I have only two “Destinations” to report for Montana, and both are in the Bitterroot Valley. This edition of my “Birding Destinations” series addresses the 2,800-acre Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Reserve north of Stevensville.

It was May 2015 while I was immersed in my Big Intermountain-West Expedition. I’d come out of Yellowstone Park through West Yellowstone into the Madison River Valley, where I spent the night with a cousin who owned a property below Earthquake Lake. Next morning I saddled up the Samurai and pointed my chariot west, towards my next stop where I planned to pay a visit to an old chum I’d grown up with. He’d settled outside of Stevensville in the Bitterroot Valley and it had been a few years since we last connected.

I lived for three years in Missoula, a few miles north of Stevensville, and was somewhat familiar with the region. But there had been a significant population explosion since my tenure in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The route I followed to reach my friend’s digs carried me past the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t stop at the time, but I filed the option away in my head and later it paid a couple of visits. My stay in the Bitterroot lasted only five days, but two of those days were devoted to this location.

I found an interesting combination of habitats at the reserve, with wetland, grassland, woodland, and riverside riparian areas. There was even open water on shallow lakes for waterfowl. I found magpies, woodpeckers, flycatchers, game-birds, shorebirds, warblers, raptors, waders, and sparrows. I’m sure I missed meeting some members of the avian community during my brief visit, but those who gave themselves to me and my camera were a pleasure I’ll always remember.

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