Published Apr. 5, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Wyoming has 48 places that are important to birds”
2014 Update: The number of approved Wyoming IBAs as of 2013 is 44. Find Alison Lyon-Holloran, and information about Audubon in Wyoming, at the Audubon Rockies office, in Fort Collins, Colo., http://rockies.audubon.org/.
By Barb Gorges
Spring means a birder’s thoughts turn to migration and those hotspots where birds will be thickest.
Some spring hotspots are on a national list of Important Bird Areas. Two of those IBAs are right here in Cheyenne. No entrance fees required.
BirdLife International has identified places important to birds on every continent, in 100 countries and territories. Places like Fiji, Romania and Peru. They work with local agencies to help implement conservation and education plans.
In 1995, the National Audubon Society became the sponsoring organization for the IBA program in the U.S. While some places are rated as globally important, such as Yellowstone National Park, others are recognized as important at the national and state level.
Audubon Wyoming has recognized 48 places as important to birds in our state so far. Coordinator Alison Lyon-Holloran is still taking nominations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check to see which sites are already in the program.
What makes a place important to birds? It is important to birds during migration, and/or breeding and/or wintering seasons for one or more species, meaning birds can find food, shelter and water and whatever else they require during a particular season. Alison also requires approval from the landowner before reviewing the nomination.
Nominating Lions Park was a no-brainer for my local chapter, Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society. We have people traveling to Cheyenne from a 200-mile radius because the park’s trees, shrubs and lake attract so many species during spring migration. At the mid-May peak one year I counted 60 species in two hours.
The nomination stalled at first when the ornithologists on the technical committee countered that we only saw a lot of birds at the park because a lot of people birded there. Yes, but we could probably find the same diversity and abundance of songbirds, if not the waterfowl, in all of the old neighborhoods. We couldn’t very well walk through everyone’s yard.
CHPAS continues to monitor the park’s bird life through seasonal surveys and evaluates the impacts of new park developments.
The Wyoming Hereford Ranch has had a long and friendly relationship with the local birding community. Anna Marie and Sloan Hales welcome inspection by binocular, as long as no one disturbs the livestock, hops the fences or intrudes on the residents of the ranch.
Again, I’d venture to say that other properties along cottonwood-filled creeks in southeastern Wyoming might have similar abundance and diversity. The difference is the Hales.
Not only have they welcomed birders, but they were thrilled to be part of the nomination process. They’ve worked with the Laramie County Conservation District to improve wildlife habitat and in cooperation with Audubon Wyoming to install this spring educating visitors about why their ranch is an IBA. The Hales have also created a little nature trail.
The ranch, as an oasis of wildness on the edge of Cheyenne, will only become more and more important a refuge as high density housing and commercial enterprises continue to move into their neighborhood. Who knew more than 100 years ago when the ranch was established people would want to build houses in cow pastures 10 miles from the State Capitol building?
IBA designation doesn’t bind any landowner to any course of action. But it does make people aware that their actions will have an impact on birds. It make us stop and think about beings besides ourselves and we get back to the original question: Does a bird have any value if you aren’t a birdwatcher?
Sometimes it has an obvious usefulness, such as keeping pests under control. If nothing else, birds are a part of nature and contact with nature is being scientifically proven to improve our mental health.
With the onset of spring and many of us are looking for excuses to get outside. Here in Cheyenne we don’t have to travel to Important Bird Areas, even our local ones, to see special birds. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open in our own backyards.