Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) Icteridae

April 2, 2016
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge
Robert Niese

I could photograph and listen to these birds singing all day! Unfortunately, not everyone in the car felt the same way and I only had a single joyous hour with this little guy. Learn more about the “neglected” Western Meadowlark here. Listen to its lovely song here.


Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Ardeidae

May 6, 2012
Tacoma, WA
Robert Niese

GBHs are master predators. I’ve watched these creatures consume everything from fish and insects to frogs, snakes, and rodents the size of small dogs! They also have a terrifying, rattling, squawk that never fails to make me jump out of my skin whenever I stumble upon an unsuspecting individual while I’m creeping around docks at night (looking for cool nighttime marine invertebrates, of course!). They truly are dinosaurs.


Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) Icteridae

April 2, 2016
Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, MT
Robert Niese

The Western Meadowlark performs a lovely metallic flute-like song throughout the spring and summer. Its Eastern counterpart, on the other hand, has a much flatter, whistled song. Easter and Western Meadowlarks are so similar in appearance that until quite recently they were considered the same species. Since the Eastern species was discovered and named first, the Western, when it finally gained full species distinction, became known as the “neglected” meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). This species is one of the 37 (including subspecies) named by John James Audubon throughout his career as one of  America’s first ornithologists.


Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) Turdidae

National Bison Range, MT
April 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Most birds that posses such striking blue plumage typically get these gorgeous colors from tiny air pockets inside the feathers that scatter light in a way that makes them appear blue. Learn more.

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) Turdidae

Walnut Creek, CA
December 25, 2015
Robert Niese

These rather unassuming birds have a hauntingly beautiful song that was beloved by Walt Whitman and the inspiration for the voice of the fictional Mockingjay. They also have a very interesting genetic history. There are five species of Catharus thrushes that are long-distance migrators (plus the closely related Wood Thrush in the monotypic genus Hylocichla), but the Hermit is not closely related to the others. Instead, Hermits are sister to the Russet Nightingale-thrush (C. occidentalis) which is non-migratory and endemic to Mexico. Along with the Swainson’s Thrush (C. ustulatus) and the Wood Thrush, these birds each evolved long-distance migratory behavior independently of the other thrush lineages. Learn more here.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) Parulidae

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Yellowthroats are among the most abundant and widely dispersed of the New World Warblers. There are 13 different races of these little birds, but all share their characteristic witchety witchety witchety song. Listen for these birds in any riparian or wetland habitat across the US and Canada.

Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) Icteridae, female

Palouse Falls State Park, WA
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Bullock’s Orioles are the only oriole species found in the Pacific Northwest. I caught this pretty lady mid-stretch. These rectricies (tail feathers) are really worn and she appears to be missing a feather on her right side. Normally, rectricies are molted symmetrically, so perhaps she broke this one feather or lost it in a battle with a rival. Regardless, she’s still quite a lovely bird!


Tamiasciurus hudsonicus “Red Squirrel” Sciuridae

Missoula, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are rarely found in town here in Missoula. They require an ample supply of pine cones unlike their more adaptive relatives, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Eastern Gray Squirrel. But in neighborhoods adjacent to our nearby open spaces, these critters can adapt to live alongside people. This little guy was busy munching on an overripe plum when I interrupted him for a photo.

Moose cow and calf, Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT

Alces alces “Moose” Cervidae, cow and calf

October 8, 2015
Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT
Robert Niese

The Moose (also called an Elk if you’re British) is the largest extant species of deer in the world. They have a circumboreal distribution and tend to be found most often around lakes and rivers in coniferous and mixed deciduous forests. The southernmost extent of the Moose’s global range occurs here in the northwestern United States. Southern Idaho is home to the largest herds of these southern residents, but small populations can also be found as far south as Utah and Colorado. In the fall, when bulls enter the rut and cows are protecting their calves, Moose are considered the most dangerous species to encounter here in Glacier National Park. In fact, in North America Moose kill more people annually than deer, bears, and mountain lions combined (including vehicle collisions).

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) Phasianidae

No Data Available
Specimen courtesy of the Slater Museum
Photo by Robert Niese

Pheasants are native to Asia, but they have been introduced by European hunters to nearly every continent as a game bird. Here in North America, they have done particularly well and stable populations can be found throughout the plains and northern states and Canada. In spite of being considered a pest in much of their range, the males have strikingly ornate plumage and they are loved by millions (they even have their own advocacy organization!).