Fall bird migration infiltrates Cheyenne

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Sept. 19, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Some migratory birds more obvious than others.”

2014 Update: I keep working on my warbler and shorebird identification skills in hopes I’ll find more migrating bird species.

By Barb Gorges

It isn’t a good idea to park in the shade in our driveway this time of year. Splatters of orange fruit are augmented with crunchy seeds. The robins are fattening up for migration.

The neighbors across the street have a lovely old mountain ash full of orange berries. The robins seem to know better than to defile a tree that provides their food source, so they come across to ours to perch and defecate.

It’s really not a problem. We park in the garage and the fruit stains disappear with a snowfall or two. The seeds get swept away with each pass of the snow shovel.

We’ve actually benefited because mountain ash trees have sprouted in our garden and last year one was big enough to transplant.

The robins are very obvious as they swoop back and forth across the street. If we’re lucky, they won’t eat all the berries right away and there will still be some for the Townsend’s solitaire if it spends the winter in our neighborhood again.

Just when the leaves begin turning yellowish is the right time of year to keep an eye open for leaf-sized yellowish birds flitting among them. I’ve already seen a couple Wilson’s warblers (black spot on top of the head) inspecting the bushes for insects.

Many migrating birds merely infiltrate the local landscape, the way warblers do. Others, such as the shorebirds, stop over in wet places that are only on the regular routes of committed bird watchers.

Doug Faulkner of Denver is one of those birders. Here’s the list he reported on the Wyobirds listserv for Cheyenne, Sept. 8. It includes local wet areas such as Lions Park.


Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The sightings include: Wilson’s warbler, Townsend’s warbler, MacGillivray’s warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, Cassin’s vireo, Empidonax sp. (flycatcher species), hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, black-headed grosbeak, short-billed dowitcher, American avocet, pectoral sandpiper, stilt sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, least sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, Wilson’s phalarope, Franklin’s gull, ring-billed gull, California gull, ducks, mostly mallard and northern shoveler.

I’m sure Doug saw other, more common species, including the Canada geese at Lions Park, but because they are common, they didn’t catch his interest.

I’m impressed by the list of sandpipers. These are the little brown birds with long legs that skitter at the edge of the water, probing the muck with their long bills, looking for invertebrate animals to eat.

Spotted sandpipers, which breed here in the summer, are not on Doug’s list and may have migrated already. However, the pectoral, stilt and Baird’s sandpipers are on their way back from nesting above the Arctic Circle.

When those three species migrate, they bustle right through here to spend the winter in southern South America.

The least and solitary sandpipers also breed in Alaska and Canada, but not quite as far north.

The least winters from the southern U.S. into the northern half of South America. The solitary prefers to winter further south, from the tip of Texas into Argentina.

“Our” sandpiper, the spotted, breeds all across the U.S., except for the southeast and far southwest, and doesn’t winter nearly as far south as the others mentioned above.

It’s really a pity that none of my six bird watching field guides have range maps that extend farther than central Mexico.

Instead, I depend on the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Ontario website, http://wildspace.ec.gc.ca/, to find out the rest of the story.

This oversight on the part of the field guides is either because the information wasn’t available at the time they were written, or because they are, after all, merely North American field guides.

But it leads to this provincial feeling that migratory birds are “our” birds and they merely visit lands to the south during inclement winter weather.

In truth, some species spend more time away than here, especially migrants passing through.

We don’t have an international airport in Cheyenne, but if you know where to hang out, where the travelers come to roost, this is a good time of year to catch a glimpse of a few fascinating foreigners.

Our berries, our insects and our muck are our gifts of hospitality.

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