Pryor Canyons

The canyons coming off the western and southern foothills of the Pryor Mountains constitute a unique habitat for Montana. Lying within the rain shadow of the Beartooth Mountains, this is the driest part of the state, with annual precipitation averaging only 13 cm (about 5 inches) in some areas. Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) reaches the northern limit of its range here, and it provides habitat for two poorly known species with Great Basin affinities: Gray Flycatcher and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The most popular birding spot in the region, Bear Canyon, is the site of the first Montana nesting records for the gnatcatcher and the Black-throated Gray Warbler (Hendricks 2004, Marks et al. 2016), and Gray Flycatchers were first documented there in 2015. Observations in 2015 and 2016 by Jeff, Paul, and several others have indicated that Gray Flycatchers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers occur in many of the area’s locales besides Bear Canyon, but the extent of their occurrence in the region is unknown. Accordingly, in 2018 and 2019 the Montana Bird Advocacy, in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, will conduct surveys for these two species in all appropriate habitats along the western and southern foothills of the Pryor Mountains. Our results will provide a complete picture of the distribution and relative numbers of these two species. In addition, we will keep track of all other bird species encountered during the surveys, which no doubt will provide new information on the avifauna of this poorly studied portion of the state.

Literature Cited

Hendricks, P. 2004. First nesting record of Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) for Montana.  Western North American Naturalist 64: 548-550.

Marks, J. S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Buteo Books, Arrington, Virginia.

Gray Flycatcher in Bear Canyon                    (Forrest Rowland photo)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nest in Bear Canyon   (Paul Hendricks photo)

Bear Canyon                                                                                      (Jeff Marks photo)

Water Canyon                                                                                    (Jeff Marks photo)