Big Days compared

2018-06WyoHerefordRanchwNoahStrycker-byBarbGorges

It was chilly May 15 at 6 a.m. at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. More than 30 people came out to help Noah Strycker find 100 bird species in Wyoming in one day. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 

Published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/bird-banter-for-june-big-days-compared June 18, 2018 and in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle July 1, 2018.

By Barb Gorges

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society has been holding an annual Big Day Bird Count at the height of spring migration since at least 1956 (see more at https://cheyennebirdbanter.wordpress.com). But this year we essentially did two counts five days apart.

It started with birder and author Noah Strycker visiting mid-May to give a talk at the library about his 2015 record-breaking global Big Year (6,042 species) and his book, Birding Without Borders. He had the next day free, May 15, before heading for another speaking engagement. Naturally, we volunteered to take him birding.

He said since he’d never been to Wyoming before and he wanted to see 100 species. I enlisted the help of Bob and Jane Dorn, authors of “Wyoming Birds,” and Greg Johnson, also a chapter member, whose global bird life list is just over 3,000 species.

An ambitious route was mapped out, starting at 6 a.m. with a couple hours at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch, then Lions Park, onto Pole Mountain and over to Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the other Laramie Plains lakes. This would be followed by a drive down Sybille Canyon over to the state wildlife areas and reservoirs on the North Platte.

Thirty-six people signed up in advance for the field trip. Most couldn’t come for the whole day, peeling off early, like the two birders from Jackson, three from Lander, one from Gillette and four from Colorado. By dinnertime, there were only 10 of us left.

After the Laramie Plains Lakes, we’d only made it to Laramie, and Noah had seen 118 species so we had dinner there and returned to Cheyenne by 8 p.m. The day before he saw a life bird in Colorado on the way up from the airport—Lark Bunting—Colorado’s state bird. The day after the field trip Greg took him to see another life bird, Sharp-tailed Grouse, on the way back.

Somehow the carpooling worked out—ten vehicles at the most. Noah rode at the front of the caravan with the Dorns and saw birds the rest of us didn’t. That’s the way it is with road birding. But even on foot at the ranch, 30-some people didn’t see all the same birds.

It was a beautiful day. Not much wind and we dodged all the rain showers. Noah is welcome back anytime.

2018-06HuttonLakeNWR-by Barb Gorges

May 15, Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, south of Laramie, Wyoming. The men with optics are (l to r) Pete Arnold, Noah Strycker, RT Cox, Bob Dorn and Jon Mobeck. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The following Saturday lived up to its terrible forecast so Greg rescheduled our regular Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count for the next day, May 20, when it finally warmed up a bit and stopped raining.

Only eight of us showed up at 6:30 a.m. and represented a wide spectrum of birding experience. We searched Lions Park thoroughly, then the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and the High Plains Grasslands Research Station (permit required)—very little driving. I think we had about 80 species by 3 p.m. Four other people were birding the local area as well.

The final Big Day tally was 113. Not bad, considering we stayed within a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on the Capitol—essentially our Christmas Bird Count circle. That’s consistent with recent years.

Ted Floyd, the American Birding Association’s magazine editor (who birded at the ranch with Strycker, his associate editor) and I have discussed whether a birder will see more birds on their own or with a group.

Ted birds by ear, so not having a lot of people-noise works for him. For me, I appreciate the greater number of eyeballs a group has—often looking in multiple directions—and the willingness of people to point out what they are seeing. Presumably a group of 30 birders sees more than a group of eight, however the larger group may be looking at several interesting birds simultaneously, making it hard to keep up.

But there’s nothing much more enjoyable in spring than joining gatherings of birds and birders, or any time of year. Look for Cheyenne Audubon’s field trip schedule at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.

Cheyenne Big Days compared

The 118 birds with an “N” before their name were seen by Noah Strycker in southeastern Wyoming May 15. Additional birds he saw are marked *. The 113 birds with a “B” were counted in the Cheyenne area on the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count May 20. The combined list has 145 species.

N B  Canada Goose

N B  Wood Duck

N B  Blue-winged Teal

N B  Cinnamon Teal

N B  Northern Shoveler

N B  Gadwall

N      American Wigeon

N B  Mallard

B  Northern Pintail

N      Green-winged Teal

N      Canvasback

N B  Redhead

N      Ring-necked Duck

N B  Lesser Scaup

N B  Ruddy Duck

N*   Sharp-tailed Grouse

N B  Pied-billed Grebe

N B  Eared Grebe

N B  Western Grebe

B  Clark’s Grebe

N B  Double-crested Cormorant

N B  American White Pelican

N B  Great Blue Heron

B  Great Egret

N B  Black-crowned Night-Heron

N B  White-faced Ibis

N B  Turkey Vulture

B  Osprey

N B  Golden Eagle

N      Northern Harrier

N      Sharp-shinned Hawk

N B  Cooper’s Hawk

N B  Bald Eagle

N B  Swainson’s Hawk

N B  Red-tailed Hawk

N      Ferruginous Hawk

N      Sora

N B  American Coot

N      Sandhill Crane

N      Black-necked Stilt

N B  American Avocet

N B  Killdeer

N      Least Sandpiper

N      Long-billed Dowitcher

B  Wilson’s Snipe

N B  Wilson’s Phalarope

N B  Spotted Sandpiper

N      Willet

N      Lesser Yellowlegs

N B  Ring-billed Gull

N      California Gull

N B  Black Tern

N B  Forster’s Tern

N B  Rock Pigeon

N B  Eurasian Collared-Dove

N*    White-winged Dove

N B  Mourning Dove

N B  Eastern Screech-Owl

N B  Great Horned Owl

B  Chimney Swift

B  Broad-tailed Hummingbird

N B  Belted Kingfisher

B  Red-headed Woodpecker

N B  Downy Woodpecker

N      Hairy Woodpecker

B  Northern Flicker

N B  American Kestrel

N B  Western Wood Pewee

N      Least Flycatcher

N      Dusky Flycatcher

N B  Cordilleran Flycatcher

N B  Say’s Phoebe

N B  Western Kingbird

N B  Eastern Kingbird

B  Warbling Vireo

N B  Blue Jay

N B  Black-billed Magpie

N B  American Crow

N B  Common Raven

N B  Horned Lark

N B  Northern Rough-winged Swallow

N B  Tree Swallow

B  Violet-green Swallow

N B  Bank Swallow

N B  Barn Swallow

N B  Cliff Swallow

B  Black-capped Chickadee

N B  Mountain Chickadee

N B  Red-breasted Nuthatch

N B  House Wren

N      Marsh Wren

B  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

N B  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

N      Mountain Bluebird

B  Townsend’s Solitaire

N B  Swainson’s Thrush

B  Hermit Thrush

N B  American Robin

N B  Gray Catbird

B  Brown Thrasher

N B  Sage Thrasher

N B  European Starling

N      McCown’s Longspur

N*    Ovenbird

N*    Tennessee Warbler

N B   Orange-crowned Warbler

B  MacGillivray’s Warbler

N B  Common Yellowthroat

N B  American Redstart

N      Northern Parula

N B  Yellow Warbler

B  Chestnut-sided Warbler

N      Blackpoll Warbler

N B  Yellow-rumped Warbler

B  Wilson’s Warbler

N      Grasshopper Sparrow

N B  Chipping Sparrow

N B  Clay-colored Sparrow

N B  Brewer’s Sparrow

N B  Lark Sparrow

N B  Lark Bunting

N      Dark-eyed Junco

N B  White-crowned Sparrow

N B  Vesper Sparrow

N B  Savannah Sparrow

N B  Song Sparrow

N      Lincoln’s Sparrow

N      Green-tailed Towhee

B  Western Tanager

N       Black-headed Grosbeak

B  Lazuli Bunting

N B  Yellow-headed Blackbird

N B  Western Meadowlark

B  Orchard Oriole

N B  Bullock’s Oriole

N B  Red-winged Blackbird

N B  Brown-headed Cowbird

N B  Brewer’s Blackbird

N B  Common Grackle

B  Great-tailed Grackle

B  Evening Grosbeak

N B  House Finch

N B  Pine Siskin

N B  American Goldfinch

N B  House Sparrow

2018-06Ted Floyd & Noah Strycker

Ted Floyd’s son Andrew helps him smile, but Noah Strycker needs no help. Ted is editor of the American Birding Association’s magazine, Birding, and Noah is associate editor, however they seldom meet in person since Ted is located in Colorado and Noah in Oregon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count 2017

20170527_184654

Mark and I rechecked Wyoming Hereford Ranch Reservoir #1 in the evening of the Big Day and caught a couple more bird species. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 18, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “Thrushes take over Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count”

By Barb Gorges

The spring bird migration of 2017 is leaving people scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Because of safety issues due to heavy snow the two days before —the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count was postponed a week, to May 27. [The best spring bird watching/counting in Cheyenne is around the old cottonwoods and the snow broke branches and left large trees hazardous to walk under.]

Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members who organize the count assume that the Saturday closest to the middle of May will be the closest to peak migration. However, while the event was held a week later this year, we counted 113 species compared to last year’s 110.

In the preceding weeks, we saw posts from Casper birders about sightings of spring migrants we hadn’t seen yet, as if they skipped Cheyenne and continued north.

At our house, we eventually had about one each of our favorite migrants (indigo bunting, black-headed grosbeak, MacGillivray’s warbler, Wilson’s warbler), but most were after the original Big Day date.

In early May, my husband, Mark, and I visited High Island, Texas, a famous landing spot for migrating songbirds crossing the Gulf. It was empty except for the rookery full of spoonbills, herons, egrets and cormorants. A birder we met had visited during the peak in April and said it was a disappointing migration.

Bill Thompson III, editor and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, posted similar thoughts about what he saw from his home in southeastern Ohio. Someone responding from New Hampshire said he saw only three species of warblers in the first 25 days of May when he would typically see a dozen.

Everyone hopes that the low number of migrating birds is due to weather patterns that blew them north without stopping over. We hope it isn’t a sign of problems on the wintering grounds, breeding grounds or somewhere in between.

For our Cheyenne Big Day, we have one group that birds the hotspots: Lions Park, Wyoming Hereford Ranch, the High Plains Grasslands Research Station and the adjacent arboretum. This year, between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., the group varied in size from five to 15. Even the most inexperienced birdwatcher was helpful finding birds.

Because we couldn’t change the date of the permit we had to access the research station, we contented ourselves with the road in front of the buildings, and that’s where we found two eastern bluebirds, a species showing up here more often in recent years.

The long-eared owl seen by two participants this year at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch is a species last recorded on the Big Day in 1996.

Besides the group canvassing an area roughly the same as the Christmas Bird Count’s 15-mile diameter circle centered on the Capitol, five people birded on their own. And though they sometimes visited places the main group did, it was at different times, counting different birds.

The most numerous species this year was the Swainson’s Thrush. The quintessential little brown bird, like a junior robin, was everywhere. Two days later, there were none to be seen.

Maybe there is no one-day peak of spring migration. Maybe there never was. But spending any day outdoors in Cheyenne in May you are bound to see more species of birds than if you don’t go out at all.

2017 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count results: 113 species

Canada Goose

Wood Duck

Gadwall

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Bufflehead

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Coot

American Avocet

Killdeer

Spotted Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Willet

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Phalarope

Ring-billed Gull

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Long-eared Owl

Great Horned Owl

Common Nighthawk

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

American Kestrel

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Western Wood-Pewee

Willow Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe

Cassin’s Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Warbling Vireo

Plumbeous Vireo

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Horned Lark

Tree Swallow

  1. Rough-winged Swallow

Bank Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

McCown’s Longspur

Northern Waterthrush

Orange-crowned Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Green-tailed Towhee

Western Tanager

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Orchard Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

House Finch

Lesser Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

20170527_185320

A spotting scope is necessary to see the waterfowl on the far side of Wyoming Hereford Ranch Reservoir #1. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Big Day bird count big picture

2016-05BigDay2-byMarkGorges - CopyPublished in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Opinion section May 22, 2016, “Bird count day gives us big picture.”

By Barb Gorges

            May Hanesworth was ahead of her time. An active Cheyenne birder as early as the 1940s, she made sure the results of the local spring bird counts were published every year in the Cheyenne paper. She recruited me in the 1990s to type the lists for her. She felt that someday there would be a place for that data and she was right.

            A few years ago, members of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society collected and uploaded that data to eBird.org, a global database for bird observations. The oldest record we found was for 1956.

            We refer to the count we make at the height of spring migration as the Big Day Bird Count. Elsewhere in the world, competitive birders will, as a small team or solo, do a big day to see how many species they can find in a specified area. But the idea of a group of unlimited size like ours going out and scouring an area is unusual, though closer to what the originator, Lynds Jones, an Oberlin College ornithology professor, had in mind back in 1895.

            Now eBird.org has started a new tradition as of last year, the Global Big Day. This year it was scheduled for May 14, the same day as ours. Results show 15,642 people around the world saw 6,227 bird species. For our local count, 20 people looked for birds around Cheyenne, and 107 species were counted [Results were published elsewhere in the paper. See the list below.].

            Finding our favorite birds in the company of friends is a good incentive for taking part, but there is the science too. Back in the spring of 1956, May saw 85 species. And when Mark and I started in the 1990s, 150 seemed to be the norm—perhaps because Cheyenne had more trees by then. However, the last 10 years, the average is lower, 118.

            Maybe we aren’t as sharp as earlier birders. Or we are missing the peak of migration. Or we have lost prime habitat for migrating birds as the surrounding prairie gets built over and elderly trees are removed in town. Or it’s caused by deteriorating habitat in southern wintering grounds or northern breeding grounds.

            But imagine where we would be without the Migratory Bird Treaty.

            This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first agreement, in 1916, between the U.S. and Great Britain (signing for Canada), followed by other agreements and updates. In summary: “It is illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, offer for sale, purchase or barter any migratory bird, or parts, nests or eggs.”

            Even migrating songbirds, like our Wyoming state bird, the western meadowlark, are protected.

            But who would want to hurt a meadowlark?

            Look at the Mediterranean flyway. Birdlife International reports 25 million birds of all kinds along it are shot or trapped every year for fun, food and the cage bird trade. Perpetrators think the supply of birds is endless. But we can point to the millions of passenger pigeons in North America prior to the death in 1914 of the last one, to show what can happen.

            The city of Eliat, Israel, is the funnel between Africa and Europe/Asia on the Mediterranean flyway, and to bring attention to the slaughter, the annual Champions of the Flyway bird race is based there. A big day event, this year it attracted 40 teams, Israeli and international, which counted a combined total of 243 species during 24 hours.

            This year, funds raised by the teams are going to Greece, to support education and enforcement—killing migratory birds is already illegal. Some of the worst-hit areas are in forests above beaches popular with tourists. Attracting birdwatching tourists could pay better than killing and trapping birds, a kind of change that has been beneficial elsewhere.  

            Many factors affect how many birds we see in Cheyenne on our big day, but we do have control over one aspect: habitat. If you live in the city, plant more trees and shrubs in appropriate places. If you live on acreage, protect the prairie and its ground-nesting grassland birds. And then join us on future Cheyenne Big Day Bird Counts and contribute to the global big picture of birds.

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count results affected by cold, wet weather

By Barb Gorges

            The 2016 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count was held May 14. It was cold (33-43 degrees F), wet and foggy. Conditions kept down the number of birdwatchers participating as well as the number of birds observed.

            Thirteen Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members and friends birded as a group at Lions Park, Wyoming Hereford Ranch and the High Plains Grasslands Research Station. Seven others birded on their own and contributed to the total of 107 species observed. Last year’s total was 110 species.

            Few flycatchers, vireos and warblers were seen because few insects, their primary food, were around due to the cold. Few kinds of shorebirds were seen at area reservoirs. High water levels from previous rain and snowfall left few areas of shallow water and exposed sandbars for them.

            Although many of the species that migrate through Cheyenne were seen, including willet, broad-winged hawk, Forster’s tern, ruby-crowned kinglet and western tanager, the day, weather notwithstanding, may not have represented quite the peak of spring migration.

             A highlight of the count was a black-and-white warbler at the research station. It is considered an eastern warbler, rarely seen this far west, although it does nest in the Black Hills.

            The Cheyenne Big Day ran concurrent with the Global Big Day. For a look at local and global results, see www.eBird.org/globalbigday. 

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count

May 14, 2016

107 species total

Canada Goose

Gadwall

American Wigeon

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Bufflehead

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

White-faced Ibis

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Cooper’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Coot

American Avocet

Killdeer

Spotted Sandpiper

Willet

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

Bonaparte’s Gull

Franklin’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Forster’s Tern

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

American Kestrel

Prairie Falcon

Western Wood-Pewee

Least Flycatcher

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Tree Swallow

N. Rough-winged Swallow

Bank Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Veery

Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush

American Robin

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Black-and-white Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Palm Warbler

Yelllow-rumped Warbler

Green-tailed Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Western Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Bullock’s Oriole

House Finch

Pine Siskin

Lesser Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

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

Cheyenne Big Day results for 2013

Scarlet Tanager

A Scarlet Tanager was the highlight of the 2013 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count. An eastern species, it very rarely visits Wyoming–less than a dozen reports ever–so it is considered a vagrant. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published June 9, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Spring migration surprise delights birdwatchers.”

2014 Update: Check the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society website for information on past and upcoming Big Day Bird Counts: http://home.lonetree.com/audubon.

To see Big Day Bird Count results for several years, click big-day-bird-count-1999-2013.

By Barb Gorges

The highlight, and maybe rarest bird, was pretty flashy. A male scarlet tanager was spotted May 18 during the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society’s Big Day Bird Count.

If you’ve never seen one back East, think bright red bird with black wings. More than 20 people were able to see it at Wyoming Hereford Ranch as it perched on a low branch on the front of a bush–unlike other rare birds which would rather skulk behind.

Every year mid-May, members and friends of the chapter hope to encapsulate Cheyenne’s spring migration in one day, but with more people discussing the birds they see on the Wyobirds e-list before and after the chosen date, it’s apparent this year’s migration was not so tidy. For instance, white-crowned sparrows had nearly all moved on when the black-headed grosbeaks and some of the unusual warblers moved in.

We counted more species this year than last, 111, maybe because it was a nicer day. Last year’s 104, lowest number in the 21 years for which I can find records, were counted in rain and cold. But we still are nowhere near the 140-150 species I remember from the 1990s.

In all, 25 species recorded last year didn’t show up this year, including nine kinds of shorebirds. A look at the local reservoirs on May 18 showed that it was the fault of the previous month’s weather. All that snow melted and filled them, leaving no bare, sandy ground along the shoreline for the shorebirds.

Another group missing was the flycatchers, except for our most abundant species—eastern and western kingbirds and Say’s phoebe. The ones not seen, including the Western wood pewee, which should be somewhat common around Cheyenne, were running late.

But we more than made up for missing species with 32 that weren’t seen last year.

The warbler family was in fine fettle. Last year we had only six species; this year 11 (on the accompanying list they begin with northern waterthrush, going on through yellow-breasted chat).

In the 21 years I’ve been keeping track, we’ve had as few as six warbler species (2005 and 2012) and as many as 17 (2001 and 2002), averaging 11, with an overall total of 31. Many of these species “belong” back east.

In some ways, the Cheyenne Big Day is a game we play: How many species can we see in one day? The American Birding Association has rules for Big Days. If you have a team, all team members must see the same birds. Team Sapsucker, top birders from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, broke the North American Big Day record this spring with 294 species, by birding in Texas during the right 24 hours.

If we could see all in one day the species recorded on our Cheyenne count over the last 21 years, we’d have 263.

But here in Cheyenne we are more egalitarian. We invite anyone willing to bird with us, or bird on their own, to contribute to our total, so our results might be influenced by the number of birders and their level of expertise as much as by the weather. This year we started at 6 a.m. with about 15 people and were helped out by a dozen more from Casper and Laramie who found birds we missed and in areas the main group didn’t get to.

Our results from as far back as 1994 have now been entered into www.eBird.org, where they will be of use to scientists, so that our Big Day isn’t just a game or an excuse to indulge in our favorite hobby. But it would seem more like work if it wasn’t full of surprises like the scarlet tanager.

Cheyenne Big Day results for 2012

Great-tailed Grackle

The Great-tailed Grackle is becoming a less rare species in Cheyenne, Wyo. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published June 10, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird Count yields results labeled as ‘a crazy spring’.”

2014 Update: Check the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society website for information on past and upcoming Big Day Bird Counts: http://home.lonetree.com/audubon.

To see Big Day Bird Count results for several years, click HERE.

By Barb Gorges

A successful Big Day Bird Count is all about knowing where to find the birds.

When it rains buckets during the first hour of the count, you have to know where the birdwatchers go, too. They went to Starbucks.

I don’t know how long Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society has been conducting the annual Cheyenne Big Day, probably 30 or 40 years. It’s a bit of an anomaly, since an official American Birding Association Big Day is something an individual birder or small team conducts to see how many species they can count in 24 hours in a specified area. All the team members have to see all the species.

Our count compiler, Greg Johnson, did his own Big Day for Laramie County on May 20, the day after the chapter’s count, and saw 93 species.

The chapter count, however, starts out as a large group enterprise, but by afternoon we are birding in smaller parties. Everyone’s results are pooled for a final tally. This year, it was 104 species, not much more than Greg’s, considering we had more than 20 people scouring the city and countryside. It’s the lowest number of species I can remember in the past 20 years.

I also don’t remember getting soaked on a count and having to track down half the participants to a downtown coffee shop. I don’t think we missed many birds during the rain—they were tucked away as well.

It stopped raining and we had an incredible fallout of goldfinches by the time we reached the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. The dandelions were finished, but a flock of 50-plus bright yellow males gobbling the seeds made one of the lawn areas look as though it were blooming again.

We hit another snafu at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station. For the first time, our permit to walk the back road didn’t come through in time so we may have missed a few species—last year, we saw 10 there and nowhere else.

And then there was the spring itself, warmer than usual, with trees leafing out and plants blooming as many as three weeks ahead of schedule. Was that the reason we had only 104 species compared to a more normal 130-140? Had some migrating species already come and gone?

Greg Johnson is puzzled.

“My take is that this is a completely crazy spring—much lower numbers of both species and individuals.  I have been birding nearly every day since May 8,” Johnson said in an email. “I have seen six species of warblers all spring. To put that into perspective, I remember seeing 11 species of warblers once over a lunch hour at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch.”

He noted that on Cobirds, an elist serv for Colorado birders, showed that a banding station at Barr Lake had about 40 percent fewer birds banded than a year ago.

“So it seems to be a region-wide phenomenon,” Johnson said.

This year we missed 40 species we saw last year—but saw 20 we didn’t see a year ago. We’re always looking for the birds that “don’t read the maps,” such as those rarely seen eastern warblers. This year, common migrants apparently weren’t even reading the calendar.

Big Day Bird Count results for 2007

Bay-breasted Warbler

The Bay-breasted Warbler is one of those eastern species the range maps in field guides say will never be seen in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published June 13, 2007, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Plenty of bird action despite low count. Day of memories from morning in Lions Park to evening near Terry Bison Ranch.”

2014 Update: Look for information next spring about the next count at http://home.lonetree.com/audubon/.

To see Big Day Bird Count results for several years, click HERE.

By Barb Gorges

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society Big Day bird count this year on May 19, at 108 species, was not our lowest count, but it was a long way from our record count of 169 species in 1993, or the 137 species average over the last 15 years.

Was it too late with too many leaves on the trees already? Was it lack of a cold front to cause a fallout of migrants? Compared to 1993, were counters lacking in numbers and identification expertise, or were they in the wrong locations? Has there been a change in bird populations or a change in their migration routes?

Those of us birding the days before and after the count didn’t notice any day that would have been better.

Despite the low count, there was a lot to see. Nothing beats starting out the morning at Lions Park with a peregrine falcon rushing overhead.

Did you know peregrines are found all over the world, with the exception of the steppes of east and central Asia, the Amazon, the Sahara and Antarctica? Their name means “wanderer.” Peregrines, barring pesticides, are very successful because they will eat a variety of animals, including ducks.

In a corner of Sloan’s Lake was a mallard hen with her very young brood of ducklings. They moved about her erratically, like tiny bumper cars wound too tightly.

Beyond the west end, a pair of Cooper’s hawks was getting intimately acquainted at the top of a pine tree.

The black-crowned night herons were already on nests at Holiday Park. But a pair of ducks, redheads, was not shy at all. They swam over as if they’d learned the bad habit of begging from the mallards.

Wilson’s phalaropes were still at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. The small shorebirds migrate from South America and nest in Wyoming and the northwest.

Females may mate with more than one male, leaving behind eggs in several different nests to be incubated by the males. So it’s the dads that are less colorful because they need to avoid detection. And if predators get too close, they do the broken wing act.

I’d seen the fuzzy head of a great horned owlet up in a nest of sticks weeks before, but the day of the count, we saw a pale youngster on a pine branch. The darker parent was on a nearby stump. A study in South Dakota showed owlets remain with parents most of the summer, becoming completely independent by October.

Two male robins defending territories jumped at each other, feet first, fanning their wings like roosters in a cock fight. Elsewhere, we found a robin sitting on a nest stuck to the side of a skinny tree, its beady eye on us as we passed.

A belted kingfisher raced across a reservoir to evade a red-winged blackbird. The kingfisher splashed into the water just before collision with the far bank. The red-wing pulled up safely and returned to its nest. The kingfisher perched on a concrete structure to dry off.

At F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the suave airman checking identification asked for what reason we wished to access the base. He did a double take when we said bird watching.

The base lakes were worth the admittance inconvenience. A male wood duck swam in view of our scopes. I read that they are the duck North American hunters harvest the most often, after mallards, but they are rare here.

We had seen American white pelicans at Holliday Park and Wyoming Hereford Ranch Reservoir #1, but at the base three came very close. One had a classic example of the protrusion on its upper bill that both males and females acquire during the mating season. “A highly fibrous epidermal plate” is the way scientists describe it.

The second pelican had a mere bump and the third had none at all, making us think it might be immature. Apparently it takes three years to become an adult.

The third pelican also was the only one with black markings as if it were wearing a sparse toupee. One bird book said black or gray markings on the crown are individualistic and not a sign of age or sex.

By 4:30 p.m. I was finished, but Mark wanted to check one more place after dinner.

Off I-25 at the Terry Bison Ranch Road interchange, we scoped a peaceful reservoir in fading light.

The odd shaped bird Mark fixed on turned obligingly to make its best field marks visible. It was a red-necked grebe. It winters off the northern coasts of the Pacific and Atlantic and breeds on small lakes in western Canada and Alaska. It’s a rare migrant for Cheyenne.

The warbler turnout at seven species was nowhere near the high of 17 seen in 1993, 2001 and 2002. However, counts this spring in Riverton and Jackson listed only three.

A female bay-breasted warbler, an eastern species, made our thirtieth kind of warbler observed in Cheyenne (of 54 in North America) over the last 15 years.

We can’t wait to see what next year brings.