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

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Fort Union Trading Post—Fort Buford National Historic Sites and Missouri–Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center

History and Nature Converge

Visit the confluence of two mighty rivers and the fort where John James Audubon’s expedition spent a summer in 1843, discovering two birds new to science: Sprague’s Pipit and Baird’s Sparrow.

 

Species of Note

Birds
  • American White Pelican
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Least Tern
  • Piping Plover
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Spotted Towhee
  • Lazuli Bunting
  • American Redstart
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • American Goldfinch
  • Northern Harrier
  • Golden Eagle
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Baird’s Sparrow
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
Other Wildlife
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Beaver
  • Bats (several species)

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What to Do

Take in both history and wildlife viewing at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and a significant natural area. The three sites interpret history in a setting with cottonwoods on the river that date to the Lewis and Clark era and vistas reminiscent of what people saw centuries ago. Visitors can enjoy programs, exhibits, and reenactments that add new meaning to birding and wildlife walks.

Fort Union, on the Montana/North Dakota border, offers a hiking trail to the Bodmer overlook. Fort Buford and the Confluence center are in North Dakota and just a half mile from each other. All three sites together are easily visited in one day. Note, too, that North Dakota recently established two Wildlife Management Areas that conserve the natural areas surrounding the confluence itself.

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Field Notes

Walk first in the footsteps of John James Audubon, who roamed that wild prairie from June 12 to August 16, 1843, with other members of his expedition based at Fort Union. One member, Bell, found and collected the first Baird’s Sparrow while hunting bison between the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in what is today Montana.

Step back a bit further still to walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark who passed through here together on their way to the Pacific, and then rendezvoused on their return. Linger at the sweeping overlook of the confluence to envision this still beautiful view filled with the wildlife Captain Meriwether Lewis described:

April 25, 1805 : " ...I ascended the hills from whence I had a most pleasing view of the country, particularly of the wide and fertile vallies formed by the missouri and the yellowstone rivers.... ?the whol face of the country was covered with herds of Buffaloe, Elk & Antelopes; deer are also abundant... the buffalo Elk and Antelope are so gentle that we pass near them while feeding, without apearing to excite any alarm among them; and when we attact their attention they frequently approach us more nearly to discover what we are, and in some instances pursue us a considerable distance apparently with that view..."

Finally, step back further still before the era of Euro-Americans and Lewis and Clark, when the tribes hunted and intimately new the wildlife and plants around them for thousands of years. The confluence had long been a crossroads for tribes to gather and trade. Today, the confluence remains a powerful place to visit.

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Conservation

Natural flooding is important to stimulate the growth of new cottonwood trees (key songbird habitat) and to form sandbars. At the confluence and farther up the Missouri and Yellowstone, sandbars are critical nesting habitat for the threatened Least Tern and Piping Plover. The free-flowing Yellowstone River that assures natural flooding also makes survival possible for the endangered pallid sturgeon, an ancient fish that evolved 70 million years ago and can grow to be five feet long.

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Cultural Connection

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site: The flagship post of the American Fur Company from 1828-1867, attracted many members of the Assiniboine, Crow, Cree, Ojibway, Blackfeet, Hidatsa and other tribes who brought buffalo robes and other furs to trade for beads, guns, blankets and more. In 1843, John James Audubon spent the summer here as a base camp and collected specimens of the Baird’s Sparrow and Sprague’s Pipit.

Fort Buford: Sitting Bull and his band surrendered here in 1881. The nearby recently constructed Confluence Interpretive Center tells the stories of the confluence---exploring the tracks and trails of tribes and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

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Best Seasons

April through October, especially spring/fall migration
Tourism peaks during the summer months

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Getting There

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Located 15 miles SE of Bainville on Montana Secondary Road 327; or 10 miles N of Fairview on North Dakota Highway #58; or 25 miles SW of Williston, North Dakota on Highway 1804. Gas, food and lodging are available nearby in Williston, Fairview, and Culbertson.

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Facilities

Fort Union NHS: parking area, walking paths, rest rooms, bookstore and trade house, picnic tables, and interpretive programs. Confluence Center/Fort Buford: restrooms, gift shop, interpretive exhibits, parking areas, picnic shelters, walking paths, boat launch, and interpretive programs. The facilities are open 7 days a week, except winter holidays. Fort Union hours: 8:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer and 9:00 am to 5:30 pm in winter.

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Contact

Fort Union: Superintendent, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, 15550 HWY 1804, Williston, ND 58801-8680; Ph. 701-572-9083; website: www.nps.gov/fous

Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center and Fort Buford State Historic Site: Site Supervisor, Fort Buford State Historic Site, 15349 39th Ln. NW, Williston, ND 58801. Call 701-572-9034, or email: ghesser@state.nd.us.
Website for Fort Buford: http://www.nd.gov/hist/buford/buford.htm
Website for Confluence Center: http://www.nd.gov/hist/lewisclark/attractions_mycic.html

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