A Trail Guide to the Birds of Glacier National Park
David P. Benson ’99 PhD
Habitats for All Press: 2016
Distant cries of a loon penetrate the evening twilight. A dozen faces lean toward the campfire, eyes on the park ranger who enchants them with tales of the wild. As if on cue, a great gray owl hoots at the rising moon…
Such were the poetic thoughts of this reviewer while reading Ranger David Benson’s charming trail guide. Unlike the typical dry guidebook, his stories and descriptions capture your imagination as if you, too, are part of his audience at Glacier National Park.
The book not only provides an entertaining directory of the park’s resident birds but also points out history, fossils, mammals, wildflowers, and hazards along the way. The pages are packed with interesting tidbits and lighthearted anecdotes meant to enrich the visitor’s experience.
Drawing on his 20 summers working as a ranger naturalist in the Many Glacier area of the park, Benson presents an impressive list of 48 hiking trails complete with roundtrip distance, difficulty, elevation gain, and habitat. He includes likely locations of celebrity birds such as the white-tailed ptarmigan, three-toed woodpecker, northern hawk owl, harlequin duck, and boreal chickadee.
As a professor of biology at Marian University in Indianapolis, Benson studies the habits and adaptability of white-tailed ptarmigan. One of his favorite places to spot them in Glacier is on the Grinnell Glacier Trail, a difficult, 12-mile roundtrip hike offering an abundance of wildlife and other uncommon bird species like the Cordilleran flycatcher, Clark’s nutcracker, and American pipit.
Since dense vegetation makes it difficult to see some of these birds, Benson says visitors might have better luck identifying many species “by ear.” He suggests Thayer’s “Birds of North America” software as a good learning tool.