Bioblitz at the Belvoir Ranch

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Jacelyn Downey, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, is getting ready to let a young citizen scientist release a yellow warbler that was caught in a mist net during the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Kids explore nature of the Belvoir Ranch.”

By Barb Gorges

I was delighted to recognize my neighbor at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz last month. She is going to be a senior at Cheyenne East High in the fall and was there with two friends. All three were planning to spend the weekend looking for birds, mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), pollinators, macroinvertebrates and plants, to fulfill more hours required for their Congressional Award gold medals.

The weekend could have served for all four award areas: volunteer public service (we were all volunteer citizen scientists collecting data), personal development (the staff taught us a lot of new things), physical fitness (hiking up and down Lone Tree Creek in the heat was arduous), and expedition/exploration (many of us, including my neighbor and her friends, camped out and cooked meals despite being only 20 miles from Cheyenne).

Mark and I have attended other bioblitzes around the state, but this was the first one close to Cheyenne. With all of the publicity from the four sponsoring groups, Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, a record 100 people attended, plus the staff of 50 from various natural science disciplines.

When I asked my neighbor why she and her friends had come, she said, “We’re science nerds.” That was exciting to hear.

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My neighbor and friends net aquatic invertebrates including dragonfly and damselfly larvae.  A blue and green pollinator trap is set up on the far side of the pond. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were a lot of junior science nerds in attendance with their families. Small children enjoyed wading into the pond along the creek to scoop up dragonfly and damselfly larvae —and even crayfish.

A surprising number of children were up at 6 a.m. Saturday for the bird survey. The highlight was the raven nest in a crevice on the canyon wall, with three young ravens crowding the opening, ready to fledge.

Sunday morning’s bird mist netting along the creek was very popular. Several birds that had been hard to see with binoculars were suddenly in hand.

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Zach Hutchinson, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, discusses the captured bird he is holding in his left hand. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because it wasn’t at an official bird banding site, the mist netting was strictly educational and the birds were soon released. Several young children had the opportunity to hold a bird and release it, feeling how light it was, how fast its heart beat and feeling the little whoosh of air as it took flight. What I wouldn’t give to know if any of the children grow up to be bird biologists or birdwatchers.

The Belvoir Ranch is owned by the city of Cheyenne and stretches miles to the west between I-80 and the Colorado-Wyoming state line. The city bought it in 2003 and 2005 to protect our upstream aquifer, or groundwater, as well as the surface water.

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Bioblitz birdwatchers head down along Lone Tree Creek at 6 a.m. on June 12 to survey the birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While limited grazing and hunting continues as it did under private ownership, other parts of the master plan have yet to come to fruition: wind farm, landfill, golf course, or general recreation development. It is normally closed to the public. However, progress is being made on trails to connect the ranch to Colorado’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and/or Red Mountain Open Space.

A good landowner takes stock of his property. The city has some idea of what’s out there, including archeological sites. But with budgets tightening, there won’t be funding to hire consultants for a closer look. But there are a lot of citizen scientists available.

The data from the Bioblitz weekend went into the Wyobio database, www.wyobio.org, a place where data from all over Wyoming can be entered. The bird data also went into eBird.org.

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A University of Wyoming graduate student and a citizen scientist filter water from the creek to prepare it for DNA analysis. The sample will show what amphibians have been swimming there. Photo by Barb Gorges.  

The data began to paint a picture of the Belvoir: 62 species of animals including 50 birds, 8 mammals, 4 herps, plus 13 taxa of macroinvertebrates (not easily identified to species) and 12 taxa of pollinators (bees and other insects), plus many species of plants. All that diversity was from exploring half a mile of one creek within the ranch’s total 18,800 acres–about 30 square miles.

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This ground nest seems to have one smaller egg laid by an interloper. Many grassland bird species build their nests on the ground. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The members of the City Council who approved the ranch purchase are to be congratulated on making it public land in addition to protecting our watershed. Sometimes we don’t have to wait for the federal and state governments to do the right thing.  The essence of Wyoming is its big natural landscapes and we are lucky to have one on the west edge of Wyoming’s largest city.

Let’s also congratulate the parents who encouraged their children to examine the critters in the muddy pond and pick up mammal scat (while wearing plastic gloves) on the trails among other activities.

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A Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist introduces a Wandering Garter Snake to a young citizen scientist. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Someday, these kids will grow up to be like my high school neighbor and her friends. Someday they could be the graduate students, professors and land use professionals. No matter what they become, they can always contribute scientific data by being citizen scientists.

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Citizen scientists of all ages learned to identify types of aquatic invertebrates at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Caught up

2016-07-10 Snowy Range - Barb GorgesDear Cheyenne Bird Banter Followers,

The good news, from my point of view, is that I am finished archiving past Bird Banters, Bird of the Weeks and Roadside Attractions.

The good news for you and me is that the Wyoming Tribune Eagle will continue to run my freelance Bird Banter columns monthly. The columns will continue to be archived here after they are published in the paper.

Thanks for being a reader. I’ll have something new for you soon!

Barb

Photos: Snowy Range, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming, July 8, 2016, by Barb Gorges. Flower: Alpine claytonia, 2 inches high.

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Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Expedition Island

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The city of Green River, where the Transcontinental Railroad crossed the Green River, became the departure point for many river adventures. Expedition Island commemorates them, beginning with John Wesley Powell’s in 1869. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 7, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Expedition Island commemorates historic Green River adventures.”

By Barb Gorges

Starting out as a stage station on the Overland Trail, the town of Green River became a division point on the Transcontinental Railroad and the jump off for many expeditions down the Green River.

William Ashley descended the Green in 1825, during the fur trapping era, but in 1869, just after the railroad was completed, John Wesley Powell wanted his trip to be a scientific survey. After him came attempts at navigating the river in a paddlewheeler, speed records, women steering their own craft and commercial float trips, before the river was dammed at Flaming Gorge.

The historical interpretive signs along the path around Expedition Island are worth reading, but after a long, probably hot drive, you and your family will appreciate the free splash park more. Afterwards, you can retire to the shade with something cold from the concession stand.

At the entrance to the footbridge on the other side of the parking lot, check out the map of local pathways that connect several local parks and natural areas.

Expedition Island Park

Directions: I-80 Exit 91, south on Uinta Dr. (State Hwy. 530), right on 2nd St.

Open: Year round, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Splash park open 10 a.m. 8 p.m. Memorial through Labor Day.

Admission: Free.

Address: 475 S. Second East

Phone: 307-872-6151

Web site: http://www.cityofgreenriver.org

Attractions: splash park, changing rooms, playground, concessions, picnicking, shade, historical interpretive signs around the edge of the island. Also, Green River Park and Tubing Channel.

Time: Allow at least 1 hour.