Benton Lake NWR
Late April, 2006
Living in Western Washington, I can seldom see a great distance unless it is over water. Perhaps that is why I really like getting into open country. Open country certainly describes the Benton Lake refuge in Eastern Montana. Quoting from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife site; "Despite its name, Benton Lake is actually a 5,000 acre shallow wetland created by glaciers thousands of years ago.The gently rolling terrain of the Refuge is dominated by native shortgrass prairie and surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges." I would add that those mountain ranges are far enough away to be almost unnoticeable.
Being that open, the wind does blow. When I remarked on that to one of the personnel at the refuge headquarters I was told to be grateful because it keeps the mosquitoes away. I did get just a brief taste of what they were talking about on my third and final day there. The first two days, April 26th and 27th of 2006, were windy, cloudy and cool. Even so, I had a great time. There was always something of interest in sight. I took hundreds of photos. Some were even good. I realize now how I could have gotten more of the good kind but as always experience takes time and I really hadn't been taking photos for but a couple years.
The third day was the one I was there for. I had reserved the blind on the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek. I took many, many photos that morning, starting well before the sun was up. I can wish I had had more experience and that my photos were better but I certainly couldn't have asked for or gotten a more beautiful day or had a more enjoyable time. The sun came up in a clear sky and the wind was barely a breeze and the grouse were active.
I drove around the refuge another time or two, I was too high after leaving the lek to remember, before heading home. The mosquitoes still weren't that terribly bad but when my wife and I drove once around on an evening in May of 2009 they run us out.
This map shows the location where the photos in this section were taken. Like all photos on this website, clicking on it will bring up a bigger photo in an overlay. Clicking the X in the upper right hand corner of the overlay will collapse it.
I'll start the photos with the Sharp-tailed Grouse. They were, after all, the target bird for this trip. From the face-off, I was expecting a battle but then they got up and began to circle and strut as if they were dancing.
These eight photos are a pretty good summary of what I saw. I have more in Volume One in the P and M section of this site and others in the pbase galleries.
The Franklin's Gull was the most abundant but there were plenty of Ring-billed Gulls also. I still hadn't learned to look closely at things so there may have been others I didn't notice.
The first bird I saw on the refuge was the Horned Lark. They were plentiful but not easily photographed. Same with the Meadowlark. Not mant fence posts! The Chestnut-collared Longspur was also hard to get close to.
There were lots of ducks but I hadn't fully learned the art of patience yet, nor how to get low and blend in. Setting the camera to take full advantage of the lens and conditions was still a little beyond me.
These were my first Long-billed Curlew photos and are still my best. I was excited when I got them and even more so when I returned home and put them on the computer. The Marbled Godwit surprised me, I thought of them as a bird of the sea coast so, as always, I learned something.
The Willet was also not expected but like the Marbled Godwit is quite common there. The American Pipit I mistook for a different kind until someone corrected me. Frustrating but also fun to learn so many things after retirement age.
Not a lot of animals. Besides these two, I did see a coyote. The Eared Grebes are common but I had trouble getting good photos of them. The Horned Grebe is a little unusual and I saw just this one as I was on the last stretch before leaving the area.
I mentioned the wind and you can see the effect it had on these Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The last three photos I took on our quick pass in 2009. The wife drove and when she would stop, I tried to get a photo before the mosquitoes would cloud the view. Even though her window was closed, she wasn't happy and we soon left.
In spite of the wind and/or the mosquitoes, I remember this place fondly and would even like to go again.