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

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Camp Creek Campground/Little Rocky Mountains

Island Mountain Range

The first island mountain range visible from U.S. Highway 2 for travelers heading west is a haven for mountain and forest wildlife, from Pinyon Jays in pines to bighorn sheep in mountain meadows.

 

Species of Note

Birds
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Red Crossbill
  • Mountain Chickadee
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Western Tanager
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • MacGillivray’s Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Pinyon Jay
  • Lewis’s Woodpecker
  • Dusky Grouse (formerly blue grouse)
  • Common Poorwill
  • White-throated Swift
  • Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  • Veery
  • Wild Turkey
  • Bats
Other Wildlife
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Mule Deer
  • Mountain Lion
  • Least Chipmunk
Wildflowers
  • Arrowleaf Balsamroot
  • Woodland Pinedrops
  • Dotted Blazing Star
  • Prairie Coneflower
  • Tall Canada Goldenrod
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What to Do

Drive to the campground on a maintained road and spend time birding and walking in the vicinity. If you avoid popular holiday weekends, you may well have the place to yourself. A county road continues past the campground, but the gravel is rough for 2WD vehicles. For the intrepid hiker, it may be worth driving up the switchbacks and parking near an old clearcut to scramble to the top of Old Scraggy Peak. The trail-less hike takes about an hour. You can also climb the peak from the campground, following an ATV trail initially, but plan for 2-3 hours to reach the summit.

For winter visitors, the Seven Mile Road from Highway 191 toward Zortman and Camp Creek, as well as the Dry Fork Road south of Highway 191, can offer excellent views of Greater Sage-Grouse finding food and shelter on sagebrush flats. Christmas Bird Counts have documented almost 100 grouse just seven miles from Zortman. You can also set up a spotting scope and look for bighorn sheep on Saddle Butte from the Seven Mile Road.

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Field Notes

The song of the MacGillivray’s Warbler bursts from the greening aspen along the small creek. Here in the welcome forest shade, listen to the drumming of woodpeckers and the clicks and whistles of Red Cossbills. You may see a Lewis’s Woodpecker—one of the farthest east populations in Montana.

On a weekday morning in spring in the campground, your only company might be migrating warblers like the American Redstart, and other passerines such as Western Tanagers, Mountain Chickadees and various flycatchers. Listen for the gobble of Wild Turkeys. Walking uphill into the conifers, you enter the territory of Clark’s Nutcrackers, Common Ravens, Red Crossbills and Pinyon Jays.

Breaking out of the trees into a meadow, you see butterflies flitting among wildflowers and listen to the drumming of dusky (formerly blue) grouse. Gazing up to the cliffs, you spot White-Throated Swifts racing through the sky. As night falls in the campground, you hear the gentle “poor will” of the Common Poorwill—an unusual bird to find in these parts.

Bats dart through the darkening sky, a reminder that the limestone rock in the Little Rocky Mountains has formed Azure Cave—the largest bat hibernaculum (winter roost) in the region. Many kinds of bats congregate there, including the little brown myotis, long-legged myotis and some Townsend’s big-eared bats (a species of concern). The cave is off limits to the public, but you may see bats in the campground vicinity swarming in September and October upon arrival, and in May and June upon departure. The cave is too cold for a maternity colony in summer.

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Conservation

For thousands of years, natural wild fires maintained a mosaic of mountain meadows and forests. Today, fire suppression efforts of the past century have led to pine forests encroaching on meadows, which means less habitat for mountain meadow wildlife. That’s why managers are helping to restore meadows with some cutting of the intruding forests. From wildflowers and butterflies, to grouse and bighorn sheep, meadow inhabitants benefit from restoration efforts. You’ll also notice thinning of lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests as part of a fuels reduction program, so that when fires do burn they won’t be too intense and dangerous for people—there’s only one road in and out.

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Cultural Connection

These mountains have a brief history of gold mining and a much longer one of use by tribes—today, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is on the north side of the mountains. Reclamation of gold mines is leading to the restoration of mountain meadows that attract mule deer and bighorn sheep.

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Viewing Tip

Add to the birding list for this area! The area is not birded heavily and the BLM biologists would welcome your sightings (see contact info). The reclamation meadows from mining are privately controlled without access. However, they are easily viewed from adjoining BLM land. Set up a spotting scope to watch for birds and big game animals.

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Best Seasons

April to October
Winter: Open springs are few in winter, but they attract many birds. Sagebrush flats for Greater Sage-Grouse. Higher elevations for Gray-Crowned Rosy Finches.

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Getting There

View Google Map

From Malta, go southwest approx. 38 miles on U.S. Highway 191 to Bear Gulch Rd, the only paved road leading to Zortman. Turn west and go nine miles. Turn right onto the gravel entrance road and follow the signs to the campground. From Lewistown or Billings, take the Seven Mile Road (gravel) from Highway 191 straight into the campground.

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Facilities

Camping sites, picnic facilities, rest rooms, walking trails. Groceries, restaurants, and gas are available in Zortman

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Contact

Bureau of Land Management Malta Field Station, 501 S 2nd St E
Malta 59538; Ph. (406)654-5100

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