Today was one of those incredible days in the grasslands in Carter County, Montana. A wonderful array of clouds and cool temperatures in the low 60s started things off. Shortgrass plains with sagebrush, prickly pear, and many wildflowers were the backdrop for pronghorns, white-tailed jackrabbit, and a group of spectacular grassland birds. They included Ferruginous and Swainson's Hawks, Marbled Godwit and Upland Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope and Yellow-headed Blackbird, Lark Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark.
One of the ultimate prairie grassland bird species provided my peak musical experience from the natural world this year. High above the ground, three successive male Sprague's Pipits sang their silvery notes while performing their aerial displays. Sprague's Pipit does one of the the longest combined flight and song displays in the avian world - it can last up to three hours. I will never forget this experience.
The day heated up into the low 80s, with an intermittent breeze out of the north. Grassland birds continued to sing all around us.
But that was not all - not even close. After noon, a sudden powerful storm came up, and because we were more than three miles from the road and our vehicles, there was nowhere to hide. The storm started with dark cumulonimbus clouds and wind, then large raindrops. Soon this turned into hail, with many hailstones greater than 30mm in size. This lasted for approximately 25-35 minutes, during which time it was actually painful to be pelted hundreds of times by this large-diameter hail. Most of us have many welts on our arms, necks, and shoulders. Because we were working, we had hardhats on - indeed it is the only time I can truthfully say I was glad to be wearing a hardhat!
Soon the hail abated, and more rain fell, soaking us all. In another hour, the sun emerged again, and Western Meadowlarks showed once more that singing is a good response to the events of any summer day in these grasslands.