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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
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Fort Peck Campground/Interpretive Center Trail And Missouri River

Converging Birds

Gulls from Pacific and Atlantic coasts share river sandbars below the interpretive center in winter. Western songbirds rest in shrubs next to eastern warblers. Why this mingling? Combine the Missouri River riparian corridor with two flyways that overlap and you’ll find plenty of bird surprises, even hybrid species.

 

Species of Note

Birds
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Bullock’s Oriole
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Black-headed Grosbeak
  • Western Wood-Pewee
  • Western Kingbird
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Common Loon
  • Glaucous Gull
  • Thayer’s Gull
  • Ring-Billed Gull
  • California Gull
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Bay-Breasted Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Orange-Crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Mourning Warbler
  • MacGillivray’s Warbler
Other Wildlife
  • Mule Deer
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Beaver

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What to Do

Explore three miles of paved accessible nature trail that encircles the campground and extends to the Interpretive Center. The Center provides a great view across the river. A mounted pair of binoculars offers casual viewers a chance to reliably see gulls, terns, cormorants and pelicans.

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Field Notes

Warblers flying north in spring or south in winter across the wide open plains spot the green veneer along the Missouri River. They veer down to rest and feed among the cottonwoods, willows and buffaloberry near the campground. Magnolia Warblers from the east share a tree with Townsend’s Warblers from the west. Walk the paved trail for lively warbler watching. During fall migration, you might see Sharp-Shinned Hawks and Coopers Hawks pursuing warblers and sparrows, including White-Throated, Lincoln’s and White-Crowned Sparrows.

Orioles flash yellow and orange as they fly through the cottonwoods. Bullocks, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles weave their long sock nests well hidden among the leaves. Watch for hybrids of these eastern and western species.

Gulls congregate along the ice-free river below the Interpretive Center in winter. Expert birders have seen as many as 13 different kinds of gulls, terns and jaegers. The Great Black-Backed Gull from the eastern states may show up, as well as the Glaucous-Winged Gull from the west coast.

Bald Eagles gather in winter, too. They perch in trees and fish or hunt waterfowl in open waters below the Interpretive Center. Eagle numbers vary depending on the abundance of fish. In years of plentiful rains, the Fort Peck dam releases more water, which pulls cisco (also known as lake herring) through the turbines. The eagles feed on the stunned or dead fish in the river below the dam.

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Conservation

Silver buffaloberry thickets are magnets for songbirds. The dense thorny thickets offer a haven from predators, and places to nest, raise young and find food. Watch for Brown Thrashers, Towhees and House Wrens nesting here. In fall, the tart red berries attract catbirds, robins and waxwings.These native plants of the plains are hardy, but like moisture, so they grow best near water or in woody draws with green ash trees. Conserving and restoring our native buffaloberry is a great way to help songbirds.

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Cultural Connection

Workers constructed the immense Fort Peck Dam across the Missouri River in the 1930s, creating Montana’s largest lake—a 134-mile long reservoir. The Interpretive Center that opened in 2005 features construction history, as well as large aquariums. A major attraction for visitors is the full-size cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex or “Peck’s Rex” –one of the most complete skeletons every found. The site is part of Montana’s Dinosaur Trail.

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Viewing Tip

- Best gull viewing: Interpretive Center looking over the Missouri River.
- Best warbler viewing: Walking trail among buffalo berry, chokecherry, skunkbush sumac and wild rose thickets.
- Best oriole viewing: In campground among cottonwoods and green ash trees. Watch for an oriole carrying food to its young to find the long sock nests.

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Best Seasons

The prime seasons for viewing are May through September. June is best for woodland birds. Summer can be uncomfortably hot, although the shady campground offers reprieve and a chance to view nesting birds like the Yellow-Breasted Chat, Black-Headed Grosbeak, as well as orioles. Fall warbler migration starts in late August and spring migration in mid-May. For the hardy birders, winter is a fine time for gulls and more. Huge flocks of Bohemian Waxwings whirl in to feed on berries. Snowy Owls and Gyrfalcons hunt in the surrounding uplands.

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Getting There

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Fort Peck is located off Highway 24, 20 miles south of Glasgow, or 60 miles north of Highway 200. Highway 24 crosses the top of the dam and Fort Peck Lake is on the south side of the dam. The Interpretive Center and Campground are below the dam to the north and can be reached by turning north off of Highway 24 at the east end of the dam and driving about a mile back toward the town of Fort Peck. The entrance to the campground is just a few hundred feet past the Interpretive Center.

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Facilities

Campground, handicapped access walking trail, picnic area. Lodging in Fort Peck and Glasgow

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Contact

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, P.O. Box 208, Fort Peck MT 59223-0208
Ph. 406 526-3411; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 166, Fort Peck MT 59223-0166
Ph. 406 526-3464

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