Published June 18, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “Thrushes take over Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count”
By Barb Gorges
The spring bird migration of 2017 is leaving people scratching their heads in puzzlement.
Because of safety issues due to heavy snow the two days before —the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count was postponed a week, to May 27. [The best spring bird watching/counting in Cheyenne is around the old cottonwoods and the snow broke branches and left large trees hazardous to walk under.]
Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members who organize the count assume that the Saturday closest to the middle of May will be the closest to peak migration. However, while the event was held a week later this year, we counted 113 species compared to last year’s 110.
In the preceding weeks, we saw posts from Casper birders about sightings of spring migrants we hadn’t seen yet, as if they skipped Cheyenne and continued north.
At our house, we eventually had about one each of our favorite migrants (indigo bunting, black-headed grosbeak, MacGillivray’s warbler, Wilson’s warbler), but most were after the original Big Day date.
In early May, my husband, Mark, and I visited High Island, Texas, a famous landing spot for migrating songbirds crossing the Gulf. It was empty except for the rookery full of spoonbills, herons, egrets and cormorants. A birder we met had visited during the peak in April and said it was a disappointing migration.
Bill Thompson III, editor and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, posted similar thoughts about what he saw from his home in southeastern Ohio. Someone responding from New Hampshire said he saw only three species of warblers in the first 25 days of May when he would typically see a dozen.
Everyone hopes that the low number of migrating birds is due to weather patterns that blew them north without stopping over. We hope it isn’t a sign of problems on the wintering grounds, breeding grounds or somewhere in between.
For our Cheyenne Big Day, we have one group that birds the hotspots: Lions Park, Wyoming Hereford Ranch, the High Plains Grasslands Research Station and the adjacent arboretum. This year, between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., the group varied in size from five to 15. Even the most inexperienced birdwatcher was helpful finding birds.
Because we couldn’t change the date of the permit we had to access the research station, we contented ourselves with the road in front of the buildings, and that’s where we found two eastern bluebirds, a species showing up here more often in recent years.
The long-eared owl seen by two participants this year at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch is a species last recorded on the Big Day in 1996.
Besides the group canvassing an area roughly the same as the Christmas Bird Count’s 15-mile diameter circle centered on the Capitol, five people birded on their own. And though they sometimes visited places the main group did, it was at different times, counting different birds.
The most numerous species this year was the Swainson’s Thrush. The quintessential little brown bird, like a junior robin, was everywhere. Two days later, there were none to be seen.
Maybe there is no one-day peak of spring migration. Maybe there never was. But spending any day outdoors in Cheyenne in May you are bound to see more species of birds than if you don’t go out at all.
2017 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count results: 113 species
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
- Rough-winged Swallow