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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
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Elk Island Fishing Access And Wildlife Management Area

Big Cottonwoods on Yellowstone River

A sizeable public access area on the Yellowstone River gives birders a chance to stretch their legs and look for songbirds in the big cottonwood trees and thick shrubs.


Species of Note

  • American White Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Red-necked Phalarope
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Kestrel
  • Wild Turkey
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Northern Flicker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Barn Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Blue Jay
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Swanson’s Thrush
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Ovenbird
  • House Wren
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • American Redstart
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Goldfinch
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Northern Oriole
  • Bobolink
Other Wildlife
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Raccoon
  • Beaver
  • Muskrats
  • Painted Turtle
  • Hayden’s Shrew
  • Meadow Jumping Mouse
  • Southern Red-backed Vole
  • Bat (several species)
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What to Do

Walk beneath towering cottonwoods and wander among the site’s 1,227 acres along the free-flowing and historic Yellowstone River. Here’s a chance to see a pageant of birds and wildlife in healthy riverside forests. Most of the site is not grazed. In addition, there’s plenty of room to fish and to put in a boat (ramp usable only when water is high). Hunters come here in fall and winter for white-tailed deer and Pheasants.

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Field Notes

Vireos, warblers and orioles sing from large cottonwoods and shrubs below, growing next to the Yellowstone River. At dusk, a hoary bat may emerge from a nesting cavity to snatch up mosquitoes. White-tailed deer wander among the meadows, sloughs, oxbows and braided streambed. Anglers might take a tip from watching two bird experts here. Great Blue Herons wade in the shallows spearing fish, while White Pelicans swim in a group to herd and then encircle fish. Then, they gulp them up in bills big enough to hold three gallons of water.

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To see the most songbird diversity along the Yellowstone River, look for places like this one where the riparian area features layers of vegetation, from shrubs to tall cottonwoods. For instance, American Redstarts nest in dense brush near the water.

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Cultural Connection

Experience life in the 1890s in this part of Montana –visit the nearby MonDak Heritage Center Museum in Sidney that features a re-created homestead, as well as an art gallery and exhibits.

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Viewing Tip

During the spring and early summer months, birders should be aware that this area has a high density of wood ticks.

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Best Seasons

May through September
June is the prime time for woodland species.

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Getting There

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Located 19 miles south of Sidney off of State Highway 16. Turn east at mile marker 32 at the fishing access sign and drive 2 miles on the graveled county road.

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Hand Boat launch and camping

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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, P.O. Box 1630 Miles City, MT 59301; Ph. (406) 234-0900

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