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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Discover the Nature of Montana...

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Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area

Windswept Prairie Treasure

This Globally Important Bird Area harbors Pipits, Longspurs, Grassland Sparrows and is the only place on the Northeastern Plains Birding Trail to see the swift fox.

 

Species of Note

Birds
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • McCown’s Longspur
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur
  • Baird’s Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Swainson’s Hawk
Other Wildlife
  • Mule Deer
  • Short-horned Lizard
  • Pronghorn
  • Swift Fox
  • White-tailed Jackrabbit
  • Northern Leopard Frog
  • Great Plains Toad
Wildflowers
  • Claret Cup Cactus
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What to Do

Drive Britsch Road through native grasslands and badlands on the boundary of the wilderness study area. Hike cross country through public lands (no trails). In addition, extensive tracts of BLM land surround the wilderness study area and also provide good birding and wildlife viewing. Drive Kerr Road to Wards Reservoir to look for waterfowl and wetland wildlife.
NOTE: Britsch Road is most suited for 4 WD vehicles with good clearance and when weather is dry. Kerr Road is gravel and a safer bet for passenger vehicles.

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Field Notes

“The grass was the country, as the water is the sea.”
Willa Cather

To appreciate the meaning of Cather’s observation of the plains as she knew them in the late 1800s, go to Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area. This land is wild, big, windy, and lonely, yet teeming with life for those who linger. Here, badlands roll into grasslands brimming with wildflowers, birds and even the swift fox. A fine time to go is the end of May and early June when the grasses are green, songbirds arrive from their winter spent in Mexico and butterflies flutter among pasque flowers, prairie smoke, sego lilies, cactus and scarlet globemallow.

If you’re searching for velvet black skies bursting with stars and views unimpeded by powerlines or paved roads, this is the place. Curlews are keening in the skies. Short-horned lizards bask in the shale rocks of badlands. White-tailed jackrabbits zigzag in front of you. A Ferruginous Hawk soars above you while the honeyed warble of the Chestnut-Collared Longspur gives voice to the solitude.

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Conservation

The sheer magnitude of mixed-grass prairie and badlands connecting north to Canada (see Grasslands National Park) makes Bitter Creek of tri-national importance. Many birds nest here and winter in Mexico. Very few grasslands are left of this size and some of our most serious declines in birds are taking place in the prairies. The designation of Globally Important Bird Area recognizes this grassland as a place of hope for species’ conservation and restoration.

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Cultural Connection

The Plains tribes long hunted these lands, as witnessed by tipi rings, arrowheads and other signs of thousands of years of human presence. If you find any artifacts, leave them in place.

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Viewing Tip

Driving Britsch Road gives you an excellent view of grasslands close by, with badlands further into the study area. Stop often to get out, scan and listen for bird song. Ward Reservoir can be an excellent place to spend some time during spring or fall migration—water in a dry land always proves to be a magnet for wildlife. Avoid driving any dirt roads after rain—mud and ruts can be treacherous.

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Best Seasons

May through August for grassland breeding birds
April: Dancing grouse

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Getting There

View Google Map

From Hinsdale, go east about 8 miles on Highway 2 to the Britsch Road. Turn north on Britsch Road (southern boundary of the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area). Turns into Kerr Road heading east and joins Highway 24 north of Glasgow. Turn south on Highway 24 to return to Glasgow.
Wards Reservoir, a joint BLM and Ducks Unlimited project ,is located just off Kerr Road, approximately 8 miles west of Highway 24 and is a good place to look for waterfowl and wetland associated birds.

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Facilities

No facilities. Nearest services are in Glasgow.

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Contact

Bureau of Land Management Glasgow Field Station, P.O. Box 871, Glasgow MT 59230; Ph: (406) 228-3750

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