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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
May 31, 2017
Robert Niese

I spent a whole weekend trying to photograph Calliopes visiting this feeder, but they refused to participate. The RUHUs on the other hand, tolerated my presence much more and were happy to pose for me. This male was so aggressive he nearly chased me away from his feeder! How does such a tiny animal possess so much spunk?!

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Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) Bombycillidae

Missoula, MT
April 18, 2017
Robert Niese

In early April, waxwings were migrating through town in the thousands. They paused in freshly blooming trees to gorge on buds and, in this case, last year’s fruits before continuing their trek northward. The noise and mess they created was astounding! I loved waking up to the roar of their high pitched calls. This flock consisted of around 600 Bohemian Waxwings and a few dozen Cedar Waxwings. The easiest way to tell them apart (for me, at least) is by their vent and under-tail colors. Bohemians have a rufous under-tail and a gray vent while Cedars have a gray-white under-tail and a pale yellow vent.

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Just as the sun is setting, this hummingbird feeder becomes a hub of activity. We can have as many as 12 individuals feeding all at once! I love it! In addition to RUHUs, we also see many Calliopes and some Black-chinned hummers here.

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Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) Trochilidae, male

Missoula, MT
June 12, 2016
Robert Niese

Male RUHUs are probably the first hummingbirds to arrive here in Montana in the spring. They are our most aggressive hummingbirds and will chase anything that gets too close to their territories. Look for them in moist or riparian woods throughout the Pacific Northwest from April to September. In Western Washington, males will arrive with the first blooms of Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) in late February and March.

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Callospermophilus lateralis “Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel” Sciuridae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
June 8, 2016
Robert Niese

Look at this adorable little fatling! Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels are a common, endearingly pudgy species found throughout western North America east of the cascades and Sierras. They, along with dozens of other ground squirrel species (41, to be precise), were part of the Great Ground Squirrel Generic Revision of 2009. In this taxonomic revision, mammalogists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History determined that the mega-genus Spermophilus was likely a paraphyletic clade of 8 separate genera. Callospermophilus was one of those genera that rose from the ashes of the Spermophilus mega-genus. Today it remains a distinct genus with only three species, all of which are restricted to western North America. Here in the PNW, one of these species, C. saturatus, is endemic to the Cascade range where it likely became isolated by the Columbia River, allowing it to differentiate from its eastern sister species, C. lateralis.

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American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) Pelecanidae

Yellowstone River, Saugus, MT
13 May 1975
prep. Larry DePute; photo. Robert Niese

Unlike their brown counterparts, the American White Pelican is an overland migrant, spending its winters in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico before flying thousands of miles to breeding grounds in Canada and the northern United States. To facilitate this epic travel, these birds have an 8-10 foot wing span, the second-largest of any bird in North America. Now that we have fully articulated this massive specimen, we’re not entirely sure what to do with it… He can hardly fit through doorways!

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Trachemys scripta elegans “Red-eared Pond Slider” Emydidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Red-eared Sliders are a distinct subspecies of Pond Slider popular in the pet industry. Originally native to the southern US, these animals have been introduced to nearly every state including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. As such, they are on the IUCN’s list of the 100 most invasive species in the world. They have not yet been reported in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, or North Dakota. If you see a Red-eared Slider in one of these states, contact your state’s Fish and Wildlife department immediately. Here in the PNW, these turtles out-compete native Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) and the threatened Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata).

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Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) Emberizidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 13, 2016
Robert Niese

These charming birds are relatively abundant and widespread throughout North America and are a quite underappreciated bird. Here in the west, they are generally only found in or around coniferous forests and pineland savannas, whereas their eastern cousins are a much more urban or suburban bird. Their song is a loud trill which, often to the chagrin of field ornithologists, varies substantially among individuals and can easily be confused with the trills of Dark-eyed Juncos, towhees, and many species of warblers.

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Ovis canadensis “Bighorn Sheep” Bovidae, male, 3 years old

Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, MT
September 27, 1961
col. Wesley Woodgerd (photo Robert Niese)

Bighorn Sheep were first transplanted to Wild Horse Island in 1939 and, from a herd of only 8 breeding adults, the population grew to be more than 200 strong. By the 60s and 70s, when Wesley Woodgerd was studying their herds, the maximum number of sheep recorded on the island at one time exceeded 240 individuals. This deformed young male was born around a time when the herd was likely suffering greatly from inbreeding depression which may have contributed to its odd schnoz. Alternatively, without any predators on the island, perhaps this individual was injured at a young age and managed to survive and develop this malformity from its wounds. Learn more about the Wild Horse Island Bighorn Sheep here.