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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
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Westby City Park & Nearby Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs)

East Meets West

A forested oasis in the prairie that’s smack dab in the middle of a migration corridor where eastern and western bird species overlap makes this park a birder’s dream. More than 200 species of birds have been seen in the one-acre park, including 29 species of warblers.

 

Species of Note

Birds

City Park
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • MacGillivray’s Warbler
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush
WPAs and grasslands to the north
  • Baird’s Sparrow
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur
  • Sprague’s Pipit
  • Le Conte’s Sparrow
  • Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  • Bobolink
  • Piping Plover
  • American Avocet
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Yellow Rail
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse
Other Wildlife
  • Smooth green snake
  • Arctic Shrew

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What to Do

View birds in the city park of Westby, a small farming and ranching community nestled in the glaciated hills of northeast Montana, on the North Dakota border and only a few miles from Canada. A prominent local birder makes sure that a birdbath stays full and water dripping. A nearby bench offers excellent viewing. Wander among the trees and shrubs with binoculars ready and listening for birdsong. Spring and fall migrations are the big attraction.

Head north of Westby into native grasslands surrounding WPAs for a chance to see the Piping Plover
(a threatened species), as well as migrating shorebirds. Other wetlands and prairies on private land can be viewed from the roads; please respect private ownership. The lands to the north are designated as an Important Bird Area.

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Field Notes

On a fall day when the weather is just right, warbler fallouts offer breathtaking displays in this tiny park. Tree branches appear to drip with warblers, as well as vireos and other songbird migrants. Imagine a warbler flock flying from the far Yukon across North America to the Yucatan for the winter. Looking down at miles of treeless prairie and farmland, they see it—an island of green that’s Westby City Park. They veer down to rest in trees and refuel on insects and berries.

The park nestles lower than the land around it with the extra shelter provided by the surrounding carrageen trees. The winds might be howling in the prairie and rain pelting, but here, it feels warmer, protected and safe. The mix of big cottonwoods, green ash, chokecherry and other shrubs in a semi-wild setting offer migrating birds what they need at the right time.

For years, woodland songbirds have come to this park, but only recently have birders discovered the wonders of spring and fall migration. Birders from across the country and international borders come to witness western and eastern species sharing a single tree branch. Few of these songbirds nest here, except Yellow Warblers, but if you visit in summer you’ll find shade and certainly birds.

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Conservation

Just as we need stepping stones to cross a stream, so migrating birds must have safe landing places on their long journeys between winter and summer homes. Places like Westby City Park offer weary songbirds a safe place to rest and refuel. If this park were too manicured with cut lawns, trimmed bushes and only a few trees spaced apart, the birds would not find the shelter they need. Keeping a park a bit wild and unkempt is bird friendly.

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Cultural Connection

How can a town that’s as far east as possible be named Westby? The answer lies in its founding. In 1909, Danish settlers established the town in far west North Dakota. However, town residents had a reason to start expanding over the border—Montana allowed sales of alcohol, while North Dakota prohibited liquor. When the railroad line came through and located o the Montana side too, that was the final nail in the coffin. By 1914, the North Dakota side of town was ghostly silent.

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Viewing Tip

The Internet has become the best vehicle for birders to find out when the warblers have landed.
Sites to check include:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MOB-Montana/
www.ebird.org

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Best Seasons

April—October
May, September: best for migrating songbirds in park.
Mother’s Day weekend: tends to be a good bet. for migrants.

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Helpful Hint

Fall migration is best for seeing birds lingering and feeding. In spring, songbirds have a migration mission—to get north to breeding grounds.

Be prepared for weather. Seasons are extreme here—Westby has the coldest annual ambient temperature and in summer, temperatures often soar into triple digits.

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Getting There

View Google Map

Westby City Park: From Plentywood, Montana, go E. 26 miles on HWY 5 to the town of Westby. To get to the city park: as you enter Westby turn R (south) on Montana St, which intersects HWY 5. At 4th Ave., turn R, and go to the bottom of the hill. Look for the City Park sign.

WPA: Drive N out of Westby on Main Street until you cross railroad tracks and see the grain elevator. Continue N 1.7 miles and turn R on 1st gravel road. Stateline WPA borders this county road as it takes you E and N along the MT-ND border. Several other WPAs can be found in the area; maps available from the USFWS at Medicine Lake NWR.

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Facilities

Restroom, picnic tables, and camping hook-ups available at Westby city park. Town service includes: a grocery store, gas station, and restaurant. WPAs have no public facilities.

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Contact

Westby: City Hall 406-385-2445. Website: http://geocities.com/westbymt.
WPAs: USFWS, Medicine Lake NWR, 223 North Shore Road, Medicine Lake Montana, 59247. 406-789-2305. Website: http://medicinelake.fws.gov

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