Christmas morning started out with a bang as a quick trip to north Portland successfully yielded a black-crowned night heron (year bird 228), which will be my last west coast year bird of 2010. By early evening my mom and I had boarded the Empire Builder train which heads from Portland to Chicago. I've done this route once before in the spring, so it was much lighter then, but this time the whole first part of the route through the Columbia Gorge was in the dark.
First thing the next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise in the Rocky Mountains in Montana:
This is some of the most beautiful terrain on the train route, winding through the snow-capped mountains, and on this morning it was definitely top notch scenery with the mist-filled valleys and the sun shining on the trees. This photo looks back after we've gone around a bend on some of the train tracks. You can just see the moon over the hill on the right:
We were pretty much in the snow from Tri-Cities, Washington for the rest of the trip, and with the sub-freezing temperatures the bird life was pretty minimal. The first bird of the trip was a bald eagle cruising over a river in the Rockies, and I saw several more throughout the rest of the trip. The only other species up in the mountains were some common ravens.
All too soon we left the Rockies behind and started entering the flat plains of eastern Montana:
I was amazed at how many ring-necked pheasants I saw in this part of the country. The males were everywhere and sometimes there were flocks of a dozen or more feeding around a bale of hay. Unfortunately none of my photos of them turned out since we were traveling so fast (up to 79 mph!), but I did catch this flock of rock pigeons flying over a farm:
There were also lots and lots of white-tailed deer - probably more deer than I've ever seen in one day ever before. Many of them were hanging out in herds almost like the cattle we passed attempting to graze through the snow on the ranch lands. I like how this photo turned out, and it kind of captures the essence of the landscape:
The other big surprise in terms of wildlife sighted were a couple large herds of pronghorn. Pronghorn are an antelope-like species that seem somewhat out of place in North America, even more so when you see them in the snow! I've seen them several times before in the west, but never in the winter. This isn't a great photo, but it documents the sighting!
The day started with a spectacular sunrise and ended with a brilliant sunset:
All of our daylight hours were in the state of Montana. That's one reason I like traveling by train - it really gives you an idea of how much distance you're covering when you travel. I realized once again just how big of a state Montana is! After dark we entered North Dakota, then the next morning we woke up in Minnesota which is where I will pick up the next post.