Wildlife

long-billed curlew by Hargreaves

The Charles M. Russell Wetland Management District (District) consists of Hailstone NWR and three other unstaffed satellite refuges, and five Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs). Similar wildlife species occur across the District so all refuges and WPAs are discussed in combination below, with certain areas covered in more detail where appropriate.  


Birds:
Across the District the most common non-game birds in the uplands are horned lark, vesper sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, Savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, lark bunting, and western meadow lark. The Montana Natural Heritage Program maintains a Species of Concern List for plants and animals considered at risk. The Mountain Plover (Willow Creek Unit of Lake Mason NWR), long-billed curlew, and Sprague’s pipit (Hailstone NWR and Grass Lake NWR) are examples of species on this list.

Greater sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray partridge occur across the District with the greater sage grouse being the most abundant upland game bird. Ring-necked pheasants are common on the Clark’s Fork WPA.

Raptors such as northern harrier, ferruginous hawk, red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, burrowing owl, and short-eared owl are commonly seen foraging or nesting in the uplands. In winter, rough-legged hawks and bald eagles are common. 

Canada geese and twelve species of ducks nest in the District. The five most common breeding species, in order of abundance, are gadwall, northern shoveler, wigeon, green-winged teal, and mallard.

Over 50 species of marsh, water, and shorebirds use refuge and WPA wetlands. Marsh and waterbird spring migration usually begins a few weeks later than the waterfowl migration (around mid-April). Most species continue north to their nesting areas although several species remain to nest on the District including the black-necked stilt, American avocet, ring-billed and California gulls, marbled godwit, and Wilson’s phalarope. The fall migration is generally September through mid-October. The number and diversity of birds using the District is greater during the fall migration than the spring migration. Peak migration by marsh and waterbirds has also been documented for eared grebes (5,000), Wilson’s phalarope (5,000), Franklin’s gull (3,000), and California gull (750). 

Shorebird use is similar to marsh and water bird migration. Peak shorebird migration occurs during May (spring) and August (fall). More shorebirds use the District during the fall migration than the spring. Nesting shorebirds include marbled godwit, willet, upland sandpiper, long-billed curlew, and common snipe. In the fall, shorebirds begin arriving in mid-July and the migration continues into September. Peak migration use by shorebirds includes long-billed dowitcher (1,000), short-billed dowitcher (250), American avocet (100), semipalmated sandpiper (165), least sandpiper (400), western sandpiper (400), and Baird’s sandpiper (200). 

Birds observed in the Clark’s Fork WPA riparian habitat include raptors such as golden eagle, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, northern goshawk, and American kestrel. There are many passerines (perching birds and songbirds) including northern flicker, hairy and down woodpeckers, western wood-pewee, gray catbird, brown thrasher, cedar waxwing, loggerhead shrike, and yellow warbler. Common riparian waterfowl species include Canada goose, mallard, common goldeneye, and common merganser.

 
Mammals:
Pronghorn are the most common big game species on the District. Mule deer are the next most common big game animal and are found on all units except for the Clark’s Fork WPA. White-tailed deer are common on the Clark’s Fork WPA and have been sighted on Lake Mason North Unit of Lake Mason NWR. The black-tailed prairie dog, a Montana Species of Concern, is found on the War Horse NWR, Lake Mason NWR, Hailstone NWR, and Grass Lake NWR. These colonies are small in size and far from other colonies. 

The following species are also present on the District: Richardson ground squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, northern pocket gopher, deer mouse, beaver, muskrat, white-tailed jackrabbit, cottontail, raccoon, long-tailed weasel, mink, badger, striped skunk, porcupine, coyote, and red fox.

 
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Not much information has been collected on reptiles and amphibians. Incidental observations, as well as systematic surveys, have documented eastern racer, western rattlesnake, gopher snake, plains garter snake, and greater-short-horned toad. The milksnake, western hognose snake, greater short-horned lizard, and common sagebrush lizard are included on the Species of Concern list of Montana reptiles. Wetland associated species that have been documented are: tiger salamander, western chorus frog, Northern leopard frog, plains spadefoot toad, Woodhouse’s toad, and painted turtle.

 
Fish, Aquatic Invertebrates and Insects:
District wetlands are either within closed basins, are too intermittent in nature, or are too far away from lakes, rivers, or streams to support a fishery. The exception is Yellow Water Reservoir (War Horse NWR) where Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks annually stocks fingerling rainbow trout when there is sufficient water. The aquatic invertebrate production in this reservoir is exceptional and stocked fingerlings will grow at a rate of two pounds per year. This reservoir occasionally experiences winter kills due to low winter water levels. When this occurs, rainbows are not stocked again until adequate water levels return. 

The Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River begins near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Above Clark, Wyoming, the river is classified as a blue-ribbon trout stream. Below Clark, Wyoming, where water is diverted for irrigation, it changes to a warm-water fishery. The Clark’s Fork WPA is located in the transition zone between cold and warm water fisheries and fish species of both are present in low numbers including rainbow and brown trout, whitefish, burbot, channel catfish, common carp, several species of suckers, and a variety of minnows. 

Wetlands normally carry high insect populations. Nesting waterfowl, waterfowl broods, marsh birds, waterbirds, and shorebirds are dependent on these protein food sources for healthy, vigorous growth. Common aquatic insects documented in the District are midges, backswimmers, water boatman, snails, damsel flies, dragon flies, and scuds.  

The diversity of upland insects has not been inventoried, but prairie and tame grassland produce large numbers of grasshoppers, leafhoppers, butterflies, beetles, spiders, and ants.