Sunday, 12 May 2013

Part 1: Billings, Montana.

On Friday I returned from one of the best trips of my life!! It was my cousin James' graduation from Rocky Mountain College which is based in Billings in Montana. It was a great day and fairly different to graduation ceremonies over here! We thought that considering we were in the area we would take a trip down to Yellowstone NP for a few days. We booked a cabin just outside the Park and drove in everyday. Our first day was Monday and we stayed two nights. Not long but we made sure we packed in as much as possible! So that is a brief overview of the trip!

We saw quite a few different birds, mammals and insects, in fact more than we anticipated considering we were only there for a short amount of time! My Auntie Ruth lent me her book on Birds of North America which was a huge help and I spent a fair amount of time studying it in the car etc! James and his girlfriend Chloe did a great job driving myself, my mum and my Auntie Clare to Yellowstone and around the Park and stopping when we yelled that we had seen something!! We often saw birds of prey, but was fairly tricky to identify on the move!

Anyway, in this post I will share some of the nature and landscapes we saw around Billings!

The first bird we saw was .... a house sparrow!! James showed us around the college campus and outside his room we saw our second bird... a common flicker of which there are a few different races. These are distinguishable by identification of the colour of their underwing and the colour of their moustaches!! I believe that the bird we saw was a red-shafted/gilded race hybrid as it has a red moustache, yellow under surface of the wing and tail which is characteristic of the gilded race, however they are usually seen further south, which is why I think it must be a hybrid.

Common flicker (Coláptes aurátus) red shafted/gilded race hybrid

The same day James drove us up to the rimrocks which are sandstone formations that border sections of Billings. The particular area we explored was called Zimmerman Park. We got amazing views even though it was fairly cloudy. We were lucky with the weather though, as very cold temperatures and rain had been forecast!

There were many trees which seemed to have fallen over years and years ago, they looked rather lovely, like lots of natural sculptures, and they looked perfect for many creepy crawlys!

Whilst exploring we saw our first American robin which we soon realised was a very common sighting! Nonetheless a very handsome bird and one which I took many a photo of on this walk!

American robin (Túrdus migratórus)

There also appeared to be a number of finch sized birds twittering and flitting around. We eventually managed to pinpoint some of them. They turned out to be Red crossbills  which considering we were surrounded by pine trees of one variety or another, seemed pretty plausible. I have only seen crossbills once before, in Wales, and they are instantly recognisable! I managed to get a few photos but the sky was cloudy but bright so the quality isn't great and they were in the tops of the trees and I only have a 70-300mm lens. I believe I photographed females as their plumage is more yellowy in comparison to immature males which are more orange/red and males which are more brick red.

Red crossbill (Lóxia curviróstra)

Next up, a few wild flower photos, not too sure of the species as I don't have a wildflower book for North America! However I thought I would include them anyway.

Saw a few insects and spiders. We were on the lookout for rattle snakes as a sign had pre-warned us! We heard a kind of rattling sound so were constantly on guard, however we realised they were either crickets or grasshoppers. We did catch a glimspe but it jumped off too quickly for a photo. The only mammals we saw, other than dogs were Mountain cottontails which look fairly similar to our rabbit, but are more rusty red.

Mountain cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)

The next day (Saturday 4th) was James' graduation which was lovely! A great day to remember!

Sunday we watched Chloe's 'soccer' team play in the final of a tournament and in the evening we planned our next couple of days. We set off for Yellowstone on Monday!!

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this brilliant trip! :)


  1. wow! Sounds like an amazing trip already!

    Love the American Robin photos - a very good looking bird indeed! Looking forward to the next part :)

    1. Thanks Tom :) the next part is in progress, I also went walking in the woods yesterday and the bluebells are still out :) so maybe a bluebell post will be on the cards as well!

  2. Hi Lou, I thought about you and wondered how you were getting on. It looks like you had a wonderful time and saw lots of interesting things. I recognise some of the birds from American blogs. Super pics of the handsome American Robin!

    It seems really odd to see cacti, I tend to only think of them growing in the desert or in pots indoors in the UK of course :-) Glad you enjoyed the graduation ceremony too.

    1. Thank you very much :) Yes we were surprised by the cacti too, the landscapes are just so varied! Some of the sections of the walk were quite sandy and it was hard to understand how it could support any life as it looked so desolate!

      Thank you for thinking of me :) The next part is nearly finished - it takes so long to sort through all the photos!

  3. Epic stuff Lou! I'm looking forward to the next instalment - Peter

    1. Thanks Peter! It is nearly finished!

  4. I can help you with a few of the plants. The purple flower is larkspur (Delphinium nelsoni); the pine is ponderosa, the one with small berries is juniper, the cactus is prickly pear. Not sure about the others but I will ask my botanist friend in Montana!

    Sarah Snyder (your MT friend)