Name: The Many Glacier Road
Distance: 12 miles by car
Habitats: Riparian, forest and grassland
Starting at Babb, just south of the Cattle Baron Supper Club, there is a platform with an osprey nest. Another platform can be found a mile from Babb on the Many Glacier road. On the left (entering the valley) you’ll see a rocky creek, on the right, just past an old campground there are three telephone poles, one of which has an Osprey nest on it. Another nest is about five miles in from Babb along the creek. Osprey are the most likely seen raptor along the Many Glacier Road.
Another great spot to stop is a rather large pond less than a mile in from Babb. You’ll see a large beaver lodge way out in the pond and lots of beaver sign (cut trees and dams), near the road. Lots of wetland birds will be singing in the breeding season, such as Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Lincoln’s sparrow, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, and others. Often, Western Tanager are in the area and White-throated Sparrows have been heard nearby in early season. Common Loons have nested in a very close, obvious nest in the past as well as Red-necked Grebes. So, scan the water for those and other ducks and grebes.
Between Babb and the Sherburn Dam are lots of riparian wetlands. Watch for willows along the creek and pull over or park in a pullout. These wetlands are your best chance of seeing Black-headed Grosbeaks in the Many Glacier area. Because these Grosbeaks tend to be secretive, you’ll have to listen for the call, a quiet, whistled Robin-like song. Other species found in these wetlands include Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Lincoln’s sparrow, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Willow Flycatcher, and others. Least Flycatcher and in the evenings, Common Nighthawk are sometimes heard along this bit of road.
At the Sherburn Dam about six miles in from Babb there are a few things to look for. Cliff Swallows nest colonially and build their large, mud nests on the water outlet structure. It takes about ten days, both males and females working together to build one of these nests and they continue to work on it throughout June and early July. Just west of the dam, fifty feet west of the “Glacier National Park” sign, on the north side of the road about 25 feet up the slope, there is a little patch that is perennially muddy. From this patch you’ll see an explosion of Cliff Swallows flying up, each holding a dollop of mud in their bills, construction material for their nests.
While you are down at the lake looking at the Cliff Swallow nests, go ahead and scan the shoreline for sandpipers. Both Solitary and Spotted are possible with Spotted being more common. Also scan the sky above the lake for Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Gulls. On the lake you are likely to see Common Mergansers and Common Loons.
Another species to try for in late May or early June at the Sherburn dam outfall is the Harlequin Duck. Harlequins are most commonly seen on the Upper McDonald Creek on the west side of the park, but they have been sighted some years just below the dam in the fast water there. Harlequins have also been sighted just above Red Rock Falls in Swiftcurrent Creek. It’s not typical to see them on the east side, but it’s worth a look.
Cruise in past the entrance station to the first of two large grassland patches. These, and especially the one at Windy Creek, are good spots for plains or grassland species. First of all, notice the spectacular wildflower display. We often get “bear jams” in Many Glacier when a bear is sighted near a road. In some years in this location there are “flower jams” as people pull over and jump out of the car, camera in hand, to bathe in the display of blanket flower, blue-pod lupine, silky puccoon, and wild geranium. Then, of course listen and watch for Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow and others. While you are there, scan the lake for Loons and other waterfowl. Then, try looking for a Bald Eagle nest. From the large pullout with silvery-leaved bushes on the left about one mile in from the entrance station, look straight across the lake to the far shore. You’ll see a portion of shoreline that comes out toward you, then as you scan west, it curves back in to the south. From there, look up and to the left, following the hint of a diagonal line through the trees about one-third of the way up the treed slope. The nest is in a dead tree that looks slightly wider and grayer than the surrounding trees. It was active as of 2013. If you don’t see the birds on the nest, scan around in the area and on the shoreline. You may see the bright bald head of an adult nearby.
Twelve miles from Babb, you’ll see signs for the beautiful, rustic, and historic Many Glacier Hotel. For now, pass on by and park a half mile further at a long pull-out and sign for Swiftcurrent Lake. Here scan the lake for Common Mergansers, Common Loon, and Barrow’s Goldeneye. Scan above for Osprey and Eagle.
Continuing a quarter mile further, you’ll see a horseshoe shaped pullout for the Grinnell Glacier trailhead and a picnic area. Stopping here, you’ll sometimes see Gray or Stellar’s Jays, Black-capped, Mountain, or even Boreal Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, and American Crows.
Your next stop along the road is the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and the Many Glacier Campground If you want to stay at the Campground any time from July 4 through Labor Day, you've got to get your site before about 10 a.m. as this campground fills up very early. Birding the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Many Glacier Campground will be described later.
Top of page photo by Randy Patrick
David Benson Ph.D.
White-tailed Ptarmigan researcher and National Park Service Ranger Naturalist in GNP since 1995. "The Bird Ranger"