Published Feb. 18, 1999, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birding the Colorado Coast.”
Update Feb. 2014: The Oldsquaw has been renamed Long-tailed Duck. Rawhide Reservoir still has the public viewing area, usually open after 9 a.m. The bird hotline has been replaced by the free Wyobirds elist: http://HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM/archives.
By Barb Gorges
There is a section of the Golden Guides’ “Birds of North America” I never expected to use unless I became wealthy enough to take ocean cruises.
The section on sea ducks lists species spending winters along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and summers on the shores of Hudson’s Bay. Perhaps by the time I’m old and retired, I thought, I’ll have the funds to travel there.
Then I went on a field trip 20 miles south of Cheyenne a couple winters ago and saw my first Oldsquaw. This is a sea duck that spends its summers on the North American tundra and its winters often far out in the ocean. But it also has a habit of hanging out on large lakes inland. Our nearest large lake is the reservoir at the Rawhide power plant just off I-25, not far into Colorado. The water remains open at about 65 degrees all winter, unless the plant has to go off line temporarily, says Dr. Ron Ryder, Colorado State University wildlife professor emeritus. Ryder has been studying the ecology of the reservoir for 14 years.
The Oldsquaw sighting was somewhat unusual and hasn’t been repeated yet this season. However, a Red-necked Grebe, another coastal-wintering waterfowl species, was spotted. Birder Gloria Lawrence says the Oldsquaw is a visitor nine out of 10 years on the North Platte River and Gray Reef Reservoir, probably because these waters are farther north and closer to the duck’s normal range.
To look for sea ducks, you may accompany Ron and the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society to Rawhide Reservoir, on Saturday, February 20. The trip is free and open to the public. The group will meet at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Lions Park by 7 a.m. Call Dave Felley at 638-9326 for details.
Ron will be able to take us behind locked gates, but if you miss the field trip, you can still scope out the bird action from the public observation area. Take Exit 288 (Buckeye) and head toward the mountains for about three miles. You’ll need a spotting scope or strong binoculars to appreciate the diverse bird life.
To find out about or to report unusual bird sightings in Wyoming, call the toll-free hotline maintained by the Murie Audubon Society (Casper): 1-888-265-2473 (the last four digits spell “bird”).
When I checked recently, Gloria had listed Canvasback, Dipper and Northern Shrike. Last month the hotline listed Eurasian Wigeon, Lapland Longspur and Glaucous Gull sightings. Many of the birds listed are in the Casper area, but the hotline serves the whole state.
For those of us who like birding best at our kitchen windows, don’t forget the Second Annual Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by Birdsource, a joint venture between National Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is scheduled for Feb. 19-21. Just observe the species occurring in your yard or neighborhood for half an hour or so and then go on-line to report. You may want to explore the website in advance; last year’s data is an interesting snapshot of where birds were wintering. The web address is http://www.birds.cornell.edu