President Theodore Roosevelt established this refuge in 1908 to provide a sanctuary for American bison. It remains so more than 100 years later and is also an ideal place to bird. In addition to the buffalo roaming the grasslands, a staggering number of raptors, songbirds, and ducks are attracted to the refuge’s mountain forests, shrublands, and river bottoms.
Since foot-traffic is limited due to free-roaming bison, start your visit strolling the picnic area, where massive cottonwoods provide fodder for Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers. Then take Prairie Dr., which is open all year and leads you past the refuge’s grasslands. It’s fun to watch harriers and Red-tails effortlessly glide among the massive boulders deposited by ancient Glacial Lake Missoula.
In the warmer months, jump at the chance to experience the dizzying heights of Red Sleep Mountain Dr. Hawthorn thickets alongside the road are great places to look for Townsend’s Solitaire and Cedar Waxwing. Your destination is 4,885 feet above the Mission Valley, and the view from the top is not to be missed. It’s where I can really practice my identification skills on soaring raptors, especially when I’m trying to decide: Golden Eagle or immature Bald? — Susie Wall
Susie Wall is a freelance writer and photographer and a board member for and the program coordinator of Missoula’s Five Valleys Audubon Chapter. She also wrote about Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Stevensville, Montana, Hotspot Near You No. 183.