Bird of the Week: Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole (female). Photo by Pete Arnold.

This western oriole sometimes hybridizes with its eastern counterpart, the Baltimore oriole, where their ranges overlap, but its long nests, hanging from cottonwood trees, woven with grass, horse hair, twine and other fibers, are easy to identify. It eats insects and other arthropods and drinks nectar. But it also likes to stab ripe fruit with its closed bill, push its bill open and lap up the resulting fruit juice. Females are a deep yellow rather than orange.

Published June 30, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird. Photo by Pete Arnold.

Rather than a mew, you are likely to get a long recital of miscellaneous syllables from this mimic. They’ve been heard to imitate various mechanical noises and 44 other bird species. But they are hard to see as they hop around in dense shrubbery looking for ants, beetles, caterpillars and small fruits. In late August, our catbirds will begin to migrate east before heading south to winter along the Gulf of Mexico.

Published June 23, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting. Photo by Pete Arnold.

One of six bird species found only on grasslands of North America, it has a taste for grasshoppers and other insect pests. Both male and female incubate eggs laid in a nest at the foot of a shrub. Both brood, feed and defend young against predators and other buntings. But by mid-day all the males take a break and feed together on neutral territory. By late July the males will begin to lose their distinctive coloration and look more like other sparrows.

Published June 16, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush. Photo by Pete Arnold.

If you saw a brown bird in May, between robin and finch size, skulking in the bushes around Cheyenne, you probably saw this thrush refueling on berries and insects after another grueling night of flying on the way up from South America. In Wyoming, its destination is a nice mountain stream where it can build a nest in the willows and alders. While establishing its territory it sings a flute-like, upward-spiraling song.

Published June 9, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Cheyenne Big Day 2015—changes?

Cliff Swallows

Mid-May at Wyoming Hereford Ranch, Cliff Swallows are picking up daubs of mud from the corrals to build their nests under the eaves of a nearby barn. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published June 14, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Changes in spring bird count bring up questions.”

By Barb Gorges

A Virginia’s warbler was the celebratory guest at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society’s Big Day Bird Count May 16.

This southwestern bird is a rare migrant in our area. Two other rare migrants were broad-winged hawk, an eastern species, and black tern.

This year 110 species were counted. This is lower than a typical count the last several years—and way lower than the counts in the 1990s, averaging 140-150 species.

It could be the result of a change in the birders participating. For many years, the Murie Audubon Society put on a bird class in Casper every spring and many of the students made an overnight excursion to be here at the crack of dawn for the Big Day. More eyeballs equals more birds seen. This year only one person came down.

However, the Laramie Audubon Society has taken to scheduling a field trip to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch on our Big Day. This year they brought 14 people to augment our 20.

Possibly another change is that back in the 1990s, Bob and Jane Dorn birded the High Plains Grasslands Research Station at 6 a.m. Now we don’t get there until nearly lunch time, after birding Lions Park and the ranch. Birds are more active early in the day.

In the world of birdwatching, a big day is a marathon to see how many species an individual or a small team can see in 24 hours. The area birded may be limited. The American Birding Association, for the sake of competition, has rules that describe how many people can be on the team and what percentage of the species counted have to be seen by all team members.

By contrast, Cheyenne’s count starts out as one big group and slowly dissolves into individuals by afternoon. Perhaps we should lean more toward the Christmas Bird Count model and have groups of people birding each hot spot simultaneously at dawn.

There’s also the possibility that the birds have changed over the years. While Cheyenne residents have planted more trees, inviting more songbird species, areas of prairie we used to check are now developed and thus, no burrowing owls or longspurs found on the day of the count.

Typically, spring migration is a short burst, compared to fall migration, which begins sometime in July with shorebirds and still finds some species straggling south in November and December.

Now we can look at observations for this May in Laramie County at www.eBird.org to see where the peak of migration was. There was a total of 173 species observed for the month. Keep in mind many pass through within a week’s time or less:

1st week – 79 species

2nd week – 99 species

3rd week – 145 species

4th week – 128 species.

The third week includes our Big Day, but had 35 more species than we saw on May 16, which was a cold day so perhaps birds were sitting tight and were more visible the rest of that week.

Even in the age of eBird, our Big Day is worth the effort, I think. It’s a chance to learn to identify, with the help of the best local birders, species that are here rarely or for a short time, like the Virginia’s Warbler.

Simply, it is a great time for birders to flock together and enjoy the magic of migration.

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count 2015

Canada Goose

Gadwall

American Wigeon

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Ruddy Duck

Ring-necked Pheasant

Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Cooper’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel

American Coot

Killdeer

American Avocet

Spotted Sandpiper

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Phalarope

Franklin’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Black Tern

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Eastern Screech-Owl

Great Horned Owl

Chimney Swift

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Western Wood-Pewee

Willow Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe

Cassin’s Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Plumbeous Vireo

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Tree Swallow

Bank Swallow

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Swainson’s Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Northern Waterthrush

Orange-crowned Warbler

Virginia’s Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Green-tailed Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Tanager

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Orchard Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

House Finch

Red Crossbill

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Bird of the Week: Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern

Forster’s Tern. Photo by Pete Arnold.

This tern breeds along North American coasts and interior, even a few marshes in Wyoming. It flies low over water and plunges for small fish, grabbing with its beak. Elaborate courtship rituals includes giving fish as gifts. Within a colony, it nests on the ground or on floating plant mats, but spends little time floating on the water itself, preferring to sleep while standing on shore. By August, only a patch of the black cap of its breeding plumage remains.

Published June 2, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.

Bird of the Week: Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk. Photo by Pete Arnold.

In Cheyenne, if a hawk flies overhead in the summer and you guess Swainson’s, you’ll be right nearly 90 percent of the time. Often you’ll see them on a branch or fence post, waiting to pounce on a small mammal. But once they are finished feeding young, they revert to grasshoppers and other insects, their preferred food, even while wintering in Argentina.

Published June 24, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Text by Barb Gorges, photo by Pete Arnold.