Bird of the Week: Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Wood Duck pair. Photo by Pete Arnold.

An unusual duck, it flies easily through the trees along eastern Wyoming streams. It nests in tree cavities. Installation of hunting regulations at the turn of the last century and installation of nest boxes on trees rescued it from near extinction. Embryos communicate between eggs to insure that though laid days apart, they all hatch together. This species has been observed at Lions Park the last two springs.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo by Pete Arnold.

March 26 is the earliest Wyoming record for the return of this species in spring. Only 4.25 inches long, it is hard to see it at the tips of high branches where it looks for spiders and insects and their eggs. But it has a big voice: zee-zee-zee-tarr-tarr-tarr-tarr-tarr-tee-da-leet-tee-da-leet-tee-da-leet. The males sing in flight and even while eating. Only the male has the red crown feathers, showing them as a sign of extreme aggression.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon. Photo by Elizabeth Boehm.

Prairie Falcon. Photo by Elizabeth Boehm.

Out on the grasslands in winter this raptor feeds on horned larks, but by breeding season it switches to ground squirrels. It prefers to nest on cliffs or bluffs and doesn’t mind if ravens, great horned owls and red-tailed hawks nest next door. From fresh laid egg to a youngster that can feed itself takes about 100 days. Eighty-eight percent of parents return to their previous year’s breeding site.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: American Wigeon

American Wigeon

American Wigeon pair. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Classified as a dabbler, a duck that feeds on or near the water’s surface, this species, however, spends more time on land grazing than most ducks. It nests some distance from water, but within 24 hours of hatching, the young walk to a prairie pothole lake. Sometimes known as the “baldpate,” the male’s best field marks when in full breeding plumage are its white forehead and crown and the green patches on the sides of its head.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Gadwall


Gadwall. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Pairs bond in November, five months before breeding season, but the females will do all the incubating and brooding while the males go off together to molt, replacing worn feathers. The Conservation Reserve Program has aided their nesting habitat which is thick vegetation along edges of prairie pothole lakes. Classified with dabbling ducks, those that feed on or near the water’s surface, this species also breeds in Europe and Asia.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Unfortunately, this duck prefers tilled fields for nesting. Other duck species lay eggs in its nest. Foxes, coyotes and raptors eat the eggs. The male abandons the female early during incubation. But somehow, pintails still are one of the most abundant waterfowl species in North America, as well as other circumpolar regions. Look for them now at Lions Park before they leave some night to migrate.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Florida full of great birds and people

Florida Scrub-Jay

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a federally-listed endangered species because its preferred habitat is often cleared for development and agriculture. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published March 8, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Florida full of great birds and people.”

By Barb Gorges

Last month, I had a chance to visit Florida’s birds a second time.

And I learned what it is like to have a nemesis bird—the reddish egret—that eluded me again despite visiting the right habitat at the right time with 40 people on the lookout.

Mark and I took part in a Reader Rendezvous weekend at Titusville, Florida, sponsored by Bird Watcher’s Digest,, a bi-monthly birding magazine read worldwide and celebrating its 35th year of publication.

Editor Bill Thompson III, son of the founders, was one of the weekend’s event team members which included six magazine staff—all birders–and three local experts.

Having only 34 participants meant the birding experts were easily available for questions and to help spot birds. Although it was billed as a weekend for beginners, many of us were experienced, though not so much with Florida birds.

About a year or so ago I noticed Bird Watcher’s Digest was beginning to offer these Reader Rendezvous trips. Among them, one featured their humor columnist on a trip to the famous Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota in winter (you needed humor to enjoy the temperatures), and another with optical experts to try out a variety of binoculars.

I asked Bill how the idea for the Reader Rendezvous weekends came about. He said he has been a speaker and field trip leader at birding festivals for 20 years and was looking for another way to reach readers. He said, “I love to show people birds.”


Bird Watcher’s Digest Reader Rendezvous participants in Florida share the shore of Lake Kissimmee with airboats while looking at the federally endangered snail kite. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mark and I met several folks who had been on previous weekends, but they didn’t strike me as groupies, though I have to say Bill has amusing takes on the birding life. What is appealing is the event team’s interest in every participant, learning our names and asking often if we were enjoying ourselves.

The other participants were pleasant people who enjoyed the intense weekend of birding. And they didn’t mind indulging Bill in his requests for group selfies. We even agreed to look silly doing “lifer dances.”

The three days (Mark and I opted for the additional Friday trip) wore everyone out, but since all of us had invested time and money to be there, I heard no complaints about meeting the bus at 5:30 a.m. each day. At least we got a break on Sunday-—6:30 a.m. instead.

The Space Coast of Florida (area code 3-2-1, no kidding!) is known for the Kennedy Space Center, and among birders for the Space Coast Birding Festival held mid-January.

While it seemed like the ducks had mostly migrated by the time we arrived Feb. 20, the group still logged 123 species over three days. I documented only 104 because sometimes the group split up. But of those, 13 were life birds for me, bird species I’ve never seen before.

We had a list of target birds—those that were advertised and those requested by participants.

On Friday, we went in pursuit of the red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally-listed endangered species that makes a brief appearance at dawn when leaving its nest hole in a longleaf pine. The March-April 2015 issue of Audubon magazine (see it at has an excellent article detailing its life history and population ups and downs.

The half-mile hike in the dark and cold (frost on the grass in Florida!) was worth the minutes we were able to watch the small black and white woodpeckers.

Another target bird we saw in that same piney woods was the Bachman’s sparrow, a species of concern that benefits from habitat work done for the red-cockaded woodpecker.

The Florida scrub-jay, a federally-listed threatened species, is easy to find. We saw three sitting in treetops. Harder to find are the remnants of its necessary habitat, oak scrub.

Wood Stork

The Wood Stork is a federally-listed species that doesn’t mind well-behaved birdwatchers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While waiting in line at a potty stop, everyone got a long look at another threatened species, the wood stork. Three of the enormous birds scrutinized us from a nearby tree.

Our first look at the crested caracara, a threatened hawk, was fuzzy, but the next day it swooped over our heads. The endangered snail kite, another hawk, required a spotting scope to be identified.

Perhaps this weekend should have been billed as the “Threatened and Endangered Species Tour.”

At any given birding festival we might have done as much birding, but in the course of several separate excursions with different people each time. With the Reader Rendezvous format, not only did we become acquainted with new birds, we made new birding friends. We may meet up again on another Reader Rendezvous, or here in Cheyenne since some folks were thinking about heading west.

While the weekend was somewhat of a marathon, the equivalent of three of our all-day Cheyenne Big Day spring bird counts plus two evening programs like our Audubon chapter’s monthly meetings, my binocular hand-eye coordination is all warmed up now and I’m ready for spring migration.

Bird of the Week: Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler. Photo by Pete Arnold.

This duck uses its shovel-shaped bill to strain tiny crustaceans and seeds from the water, never foraging on land for food. However, females do go ashore to build nests on the prairie, leading the ducklings back to water shortly after hatching. Shovelers are familiar birds in wetlands around the entire Northern Hemisphere, including Lions Park. Pleistocene-era fossil bones were found in a cave in Converse County.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Northern Shoveler female

Northern Shoveler (female). Photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker. Photo by Pete Arnold.

The smallest and most common woodpecker across North America never migrates. Wherever we have neighborhoods with big trees or cottonwoods along the creek, the Downy Woodpecker is busy excavating roosting and nesting cavities using its bill as a pick. It probes tree bark for insects, removing them with long, sticky tongue. Drumming by both males and females increases in late February and early March as they renew their pair bonds.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Mountain bluebirds return to the high plains by late winter, subsisting on fruits and seeds until it is warm enough for insects. The female chooses a mate based on who shows her the best nest box or cavity in a tree or fence post. If she pairs up with the same male two years in a row, it’s because she liked the accommodations well enough to return.

Published March 4, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.