April/May Newsletter: Camping, Curlews & Cougars

April/May 2012

A Message from the President

Sean Gerrity, APR President

Spring is upon us once again, and the prairie is blooming with new life. I spent a week on the Reserve with my wife Kayla in late April and everywhere we turned we saw signs of a thriving landscape. There are more prairie dogs than we’ve ever seen before and the Reserve’s Sharp-tailed and Greater Sage Grouse leks are brimming with activity. We also spent some time talking with a few Reserve visitors who had come to enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of grassland birds returning to the prairie. It’s truly rewarding to see people of all ages turning out to enjoy the Reserve and I hope you’ll plan to visit this summer. If you’d like a visitor’s map or information about our campground, please send us a note or give us a call and we’d be happy to send you information to help you plan your visit.

APR President Named National Geographic Fellow

We’re excited to announce that American Prairie Reserve President Sean Gerrity has been named a National Geographic Fellow. The National Geographic Fellows Program was established to help researchers and other specialists define and develop outstanding special projects. With guidance and support from the National Geographic Society, Fellows generate and cultivate ideas that often become far-reaching, long-lasting programs. Sean will join the sixteen other National Geographic Fellows who develop international programs for conservation and preservation that inspire people to care about the planet.

We’re honored by this chance to deepen our relationship with National Geographic, which reflects a shared commitment to the conservation of the Earth’s natural treasures, and believe Sean’s role as a Fellow will provide new opportunities to raise awareness of our efforts. We look forward to working together in the months ahead.

Visitor Story: Birding on American Prairie Reserve

Tent in the public campground on American Prairie Reserve. Photo: Dennis J. Lingohr

With the onset of spring, visitors are already turning out to enjoy the sight of hundreds of prairie birds returning to the Reserve from their winter migrations. Montana resident Beth Madden and a friend were among the early visitors to the Reserve in April, eager to see the first birds of the season. “We had long wanted to visit the prairie reserve, and their new public campground offered the perfect setting, putting us right in the heart of the place,” Beth said, “Once we set up our tent and made camp, the excitement was palpable as we set off exploring and bird-watching.”

What did they see? »
With their visitor’s map in hand, the group of avid birders soon set off into the surrounding grasslands, serenaded by Sprague’s pipits and other grassland birds. As they traversed the prairie, birds were flourishing everywhere, including long-billed curlews, Swainson’s hawks, western meadowlarks, horned larks and chestnut-colored longspurs. One of the highlights of the trip was watching the sunrise mating dance of more than 30 sage grouse and “songbirds like sage thrashers belting out choruses across the sea of sagebrush,” wrote Beth. To read more about Beth and her friend’s adventures on the prairie, please click here.

Sights to See: Indian Lake Medicine Rock

Examining the petroglyphs carved into the Indian Lake Medicine Rock. Photo: Dakota Meeks

Located on BLM land near the northwestern border of the Core Reserve, the Indian Lake Medicine Rock, also called Indian Rock, spans centuries of geologic and human history. It is considered to be a glacially-transported boulder from the Rocky Mountain Front termed an “erratic,” and Plains Indians carved petroglyphs depicting bird tracks, hooves and directional symbols into the rock. Through carbon dating, scientists have established that some of the petroglyphs may have been carved as long ago as 8,000 BC. On occasion, visitors will see small trinkets such as burned sweetgrass bundles, coins and colored cloth placed on and around the boulder, which remind us that the site continues to be spiritually important to Native peoples. These offerings should not be disturbed or touched.

WWF Update: Cougar Study Enters Its Fifth Year

Cougar in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: USFWS

Researchers with World Wildlife Fund and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge continue their efforts to track mountain lion populations in the Reserve region. Using trained hounds to tree lions for collaring, the field team expanded the study into the Missouri River Breaks in 2011 after record snowfall created ideal capture conditions. Five cougars were successfully fitted with GPS collars designed to record each animal’s location every five hours for the next year. In 2012, one cougar was successfully re-collared and another was collared for the first time and nicknamed “Stubby,” since it had no tail. After being nearly eradicated in the early 20th century, the cougar population around American Prairie Reserve is slowly rebounding. Studies like this one offer valuable insight into the movements and population trends of cougars, providing a better understanding of the role that these predators play in the ecosystem.

Wildlife Species: Long-billed Curlew

Photo: Diane Hargreaves

Easily recognized by its lengthy curved beak, the long-billed curlew is a migratory shorebird listed as a “species of conservation concern” throughout North America. Migrating as far south as the Gulf of Mexico during the winter, long-billed curlews breed in North American grasslands, including the American Prairie Reserve region. Much to the delight of onlookers, they perform elaborate mating dances during breeding season and display their aerial prowess to potential mates with fast, looping flight patterns. Population numbers were significantly reduced by the end of the 19th century but have since begun to rebound. American Prairie Reserve is engaged in cooperative studies with World Wildlife Fund, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, The Nature Conservancy, the University of California, Davis, the U.S. Geological Survey and local ranchers to track curlew migrations in the area and is playing an important role in the long-term survival of the species by providing undisturbed habitat and nesting sites on Reserve lands.

What We’re Reading Now: APR in the News

American Prairie Reserve is making news in Montana this spring with recent articles in the Big Sky Journal and Montana Sporting Journal. The Big Sky Journal’s summer issue features a five-page article by Scott McMillion entitled “Adventures on the Silent Prairie,” which highlights the Reserve as an emerging visitor destination and includes dramatic photos by Reserve Foreman Dennis Lingohr, APR Board Chair Gib Myers, and Diane Hargreaves. The article includes information about the many recreational opportunities available to Reserve visitors, such as hiking, camping and wildlife viewing.

In the current issue of Montana Sporting Journal, a three-page interview with APR President, Sean Gerrity, focuses on public access to the Reserve and outlines our commitment to participating in Montana’s Block Management Program, which opens private land to sportsmen. Together, these two articles paint a compelling picture of the Reserve as an exciting outdoor destination – a landscape that is open to the public and still growing thanks to individuals like you.

By The Numbers: Bird Abundance

145   Bird species identified on American Prairie Reserve since 2005
77   Species of songbirds on the Reserve
50   Riparian bird species on the Reserve
25   Birds classified as Montana “Species of Concern” found on APR


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