2019 Cheyenne Big Day

The Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count May 18 got started at 6:30 a.m. at Lions Park, a Wyoming Important Bird Area. Canada Goose goslings were out, but not many leaves on trees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 23, 2019, “Cheyenne Big Day birders count 112 bird species.”

By Barb Gorges

            No two Cheyenne Big Day Bird Counts at the height of spring migration have the exact same weather, people or bird list which is why it is so exciting to see what happens.

            This year, on May 18, we had decent weather. Last year we rescheduled because of a snowstorm—almost to be expected in mid-May lately. However, by afternoon we had a couple showers of “graupel”—soft hail or snow pellets.

            One of our best local birders, Greg Johnson, stayed home sick. Instead, we were joined by two excellent birders from out of town. Zach Hutchinson is the Audubon Rockies community naturalist in Casper. Part of his job is running five bird banding stations. In handling so many birds, he’s learned obscure field marks on species we don’t see often. If you shoot a bird with a digital camera, you can examine the photo closely for them.

            The other visiting birder was E.J. Raynor. He came up from Ft. Collins, Colorado, because he was our designated chaperone for birding the High Plains Grasslands Research Station. The south side of the station is now designated as the High Plains Arboretum and open to the public, but the area behind the houses is not. Normally we put in for a permit and this year we got E.J. instead.

            He works for the Agricultural Research Service which operates the station. I thought he might be bored walking around with us, but his recent PhD is in ornithology so I convinced him he should join us for as much of the day as possible, especially for the Wyoming Hereford Ranch part. People from all over the world visit it—including a Massachusetts tour guide and his 14 British birders a week before.

The historic Wyoming Hereford Ranch, also a Wyoming Important Bird Area, is always a good place to bird. It is private property, but birdwatchers are welcome on the roads. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            WHR put on a good show and E.J. and Zach were able to identify a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an eastern bird, which is nearly identical to a female black-headed grosbeak, a western bird.

            We didn’t get out to the station until early afternoon and then got graupeled and didn’t find a lot of birds so I’m glad E.J. came early.

            Counting as a group started at 6:30 a.m. at Lions Park. Surprisingly, we had people up at that hour who are new to birding. We hope they will join us again. I never get tired of seeing beginners get excited about birds.

            By dusk, after Mark and I checked some of our favorite birding spots, the total bird list for the day looked like it might be about 90 species. But the next day we held a tally party at a local restaurant and the contributions of all 25 participants, including those who birded on their own, brought the total up to 112. Dennis Saville, birded Little America, Chuck Seniawski birded F.E. Warren Air Force Base and Grant Frost covered some of the outer areas.

            Now that most birders in Cheyenne use the global database eBird.org every day to document their sightings, the picture of spring migration is even more interesting than the single Big Day held each of the last 60 years. Migration ebbs and flows. Maybe we need to declare a Big Month and go birding every day in May.

2019 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count 112 Species

Canada Goose

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Shoveler

Gadwall

Mallard

Northern Pintail

Redhead

Lesser Scaup

Common Goldeneye

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

American Coot

American Avocet

Killdeer

Wilson’s Phalarope

Spotted Sandpiper

Ring-billed Gull

Caspian Tern

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Northern Harrier

Cooper’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Great Horned Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

American Kestrel

Western Wood-Pewee

Least Flycatcher

Dusky Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe

Cassin’s Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Plumbeous Vireo

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Tree Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

Bank Swallow

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Mountain Bluebird

Swainson’s Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

European Starling

House Finch

Pine Siskin

Lesser Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Chestnut-collared Longspur

McCown’s Longspur

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Green-tailed Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Orchard Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Red-winged Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Worm-eating Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Orange-crowned Warbler

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Magnolia Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Western Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Lazuli Bunting

House Sparrow

By evening of the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count it was cloudy and chilly and we found few new bird species, even here on the road between the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and the Lummis Ranch. Photo by Barb Gorges.
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Cheyenne bird book debuts

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyCheyenne bird book coming out late October

Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/cheyenne-birds-by-the-month-to-debut and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Oct. 14, 2018.

By Barb Gorges

I’m very good at procrastinating. How about you? But I’ve discovered there are some advantages.

From 2008 to 2010, I wrote “Bird of the Week” blurbs for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle to run in those sky boxes at the top of the To Do section pages. But they needed photos.

I asked one of the Wyobirds e-list subscribers from Cheyenne, Pete Arnold. Pete invites people to join his own e-list, where he shares his amazing bird photos. He generously agreed.

Using the checklist of local birds prepared by Jane Dorn and Greg Johnson for the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society, I chose 104 of the most common species and set to work figuring out which weeks to assign them to. Pete perused his photos and was able to match about 90 percent.

We eventually met in person–at Holliday Park. Pete stopped on his way to work one morning to snap waterfowl photos and I was walking a friend’s dog and counting birds. We discovered we have several mutual friends.

By the time our two-year project was over, I’d heard about making print-on-demand books, uploading files via internet for a company to make into a book. I rashly promised Pete I’d make a book of our collaboration. After the paper published BOW, I had all the rest of the rights to the text. And I’ve had college courses in editing and publishing.

Here’s where my procrastination comes in. Over the next six years my family had three graduations, three weddings, three funerals and two households to disassemble, not to mention my husband Mark retired and wanted to travel more.

Finally, a couple years ago, I gave print-on-demand a trial run through Amazon, designing my small book about quilt care. I realized then the bird book would be beyond my talents and software. I considered learning InDesign but also started looking for a professional.

I discovered, through the social media site LinkedIn, that Tina Worthman designed books in her spare time. We’d started talking when she got the job as director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. No more spare time.

However, Tina recommended Chris Hoffmeister and her company, Western Sky Design. What a great match—she’s a birder! I didn’t have to worry about her mismatching photo and text. And she could speak to Pete about image properties and other technicalities.

Song Sparrow - Pete Arnold

Song Sparrow by Pete Arnold from “Cheyenne Birds by the Month.”

The book features a 6 x 6-inch image of each bird. Chris asked Pete to provide bigger image sizes, since the small ones he’d used for the paper would be fuzzy. He also had to approve all the cropping into the square format. But the upside of my procrastination is he had more photos to choose from.

There were still a few species Pete didn’t have and so we put out a call on Wyobirds. We got help from Elizabeth Boehm, Jan Backstrom and Mark Gorges.

Meanwhile, even though the WTE features editor at the time, Kevin Wingert, had originally edited BOW, I sent my text for each species, and all the other parts of the book (introduction, acknowledgements, word from the photographer, bird checklist, resources list), to Jane Dorn, co-author of the book Wyoming Birds. Another friend, Jeananne Wright, a former technical writer and editor, and non-birder, caught a few ambiguities and pointed out where I’d left non-birders wondering what I meant.

The title of the book was the last step. Instead of naming it Bird of the Week, two years’ worth of bird images and written bird impressions/trivia are organized differently. The title is “Cheyenne Birds by the Month, 104 Species of Southeastern Wyoming’s Resident and Visiting Birds.”

The book is being printed by local company PBR Printing—print-on-demand is too expensive for multiple copies.

While the book will be available late October at the Wyoming State Museum and other local outlets, our major marketing partner is the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, a natural fit since it is in the middle of Lions Park, a state Important Bird Area.

The Gardens will have the book available at their gift shop and at two book signings they are hosting: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 – 3 p.m., 710 S. Lions Park Dr.

You can get a sneak peak, and Pete’s behind the camera stories, at our presentation for Cheyenne Audubon Oct. 16, 7 p.m. in the Cottonwood Room at the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave.

For more information about the book and updates on where to find it, see Yucca Road Press, https://yuccaroadpress.com/. If you don’t live in Cheyenne but would like to order a copy, please email bgorges4@msn.com.

It took part of a village to make this book and we are hoping the whole village will enjoy reading it.

YRP_logo_black

Drawing by Jane Dorn and design by Chris Hoffmeister.

How to prepare for international birdwatching adventures

2018-09-GREAT GREEN MACAW Mario Córdoba

Great Green Macaw, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

How to prepare for international birdwatching adventures

Published September 23, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

The back-to-school sales reminded me that I have some studying to do. In a few months, Mark and I are going to Costa Rica on our first international birding trip. We are going with Bird Watcher’s Digest with whom we’ve birded before in Florida and Texas.

Our friend Chuck Seniawski has been to Costa Rica five times and recommended, as did BWD, The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean. It shows 903 species in a country 20 percent the size of Wyoming, which has only 445 species. About 200 I’ve seen before because they migrate up here for the summer or their year round range includes parts of both North and Central America.

2018-09-LONG-TAILED SILKY-FLYCATCHER Mario Córdoba

Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

I asked local birder Greg Johnson, veteran of many international birding trips, how he learns the birds before heading to a new destination.

Greg said he starts with the country’s field guide, “I start reviewing it almost daily beginning several weeks or even months before the trip. For most trips, the tour company should be able to provide you trip reports from previous trips with the same itinerary. The trip reports should have a list of all birds they saw or heard. I then check those birds with a pencil mark in the book to focus only on those I am likely to see and ignore the rest. For example, if your trip to Costa Rica only includes the highlands and Caribbean slope, you can ignore those birds which only occur on the Pacific slope.”

Mario Córdoba of Crescentia Expeditions, trip leader, has provided a list of target bird species based on our travel route including several ecolodges we’ll stay at near national parks. No Pacific slope.

2018-09-RESPLENDENT QUETZAL (2) Mario Córdoba

Resplendent Quetzal, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

Greg’s email continued, “If you spend enough time studying the birds you are most likely to see, you’ll surprise yourself at how easy it is to ID birds you have never seen before at first sight. There are always some groups that are still hard to ID without help from a guide [bird expert] because differences between species are very subtle. In Costa Rica these would include woodcreepers, some of the antbirds, elanias, tyrannulets, other flycatchers, etc.”

There are recognizable genera in Costa Rica: hummingbird, woodpecker, wren, warbler. But then the others seem straight from Alice in Wonderland: potoo, motmot, puffbird.

Mark and I also went to eBird and looked at the bird lists for the hotspots we will be visiting and filtered them for the month we are there. Of 421 species we found, 338 will be unfamiliar birds.

2018-09-FIERY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD Mario Córdoba

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

There is an alternative to thumbing through the field guide to study the birds. Our daughter-in-law, Jessie Gorges, with a degree in marine biology from the University of Hawaii, got a job one summer surveying birds across the Great Plains. She had a couple months to learn to recognize a few hundred birds by sight and sound.

Her solution is a free program called ANKI, https://apps.ankiweb.net. She created her own deck of digital flashcards with photos and birdsong recordings. It’s like a game and Jessie is the queen of complicated board and card games. The program prepares a daily quiz based on how much review and repetition it thinks you need.

But of course, even to make bird flashcards like I did 20 years ago for kids for Audubon Wyoming, printable from a CD, I need to find photographs. Finding them online or scanning pages of the field guide can help me study.

I take for granted the decades of familiarity I have with bird species in the U.S. There are groups in which I still can’t distinguish individual species well, for instance, flycatchers. But at least I know they are flycatchers. On this trip I’ll be leaving behind most of the birds I know.

2018-09-RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER Mario Córdoba

Red-legged Honeycreeper, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

But Greg assured me, “Once you go on an international birding trip, you’ll likely get hooked and won’t be able to stop. There are so many great birds that don’t occur in the U.S. I’ll never forget seeing my first keel-billed toucans in Belize or African penguins in South Africa.”

Preparing for this trip will make me appreciate the birds I do know when I meet their tropical cousins. I never thought about our northern rough-winged swallow having a counterpart, the southern rough-winged swallow. We could see both in Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, excuse me while I begin studying in ornithological order: “Great Tinamou, Little Tinamou, Great Curassow, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Black Guan, Crested Guan, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Least Grebe, Sunbittern, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Green Ibis, Southern Lapwing, Northern Jacana, White-throated Crake, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, King Vulture, Gray-headed Kite, Tiny Hawk….”

2018-09-SCARLET MACAW Mario Córdoba

Scarlet Macaws, courtesy Mario Córdoba.

Bird-finding improves

2017-08BirdingwoBorders-Strycker

Strycker’s book is due out Oct. 10, 2017.

Published August 20, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird-finding improves from generation to generation.”

By Barb Gorges 

When your interest in birds takes you beyond your backyard, you need a guide beyond your bird identification book. That help can come in many forms—from apps and websites to a trail guide book or local expert.

Noah Strycker needed a bird-finding guide for the whole world for his record-breaking Big Year in 2015. His book, “Birding without Borders,” due out Oct. 10, documents his travels to the seven continents to find 6,042 species, more than half the world total.

In it, he thoughtfully considers many bird-related topics, including how technology made his record possible, specifically www.eBird.org. In addition to being a place where you can share your birding records, it’s “Explore Data” function helps you find birding hotspots, certain birds and even find out who found them. Strycker credits its enormous global data base with his Big Year success.

Another piece of technology equally important was http://birdingpal.org/, a way to connect with fellow enthusiasts who could show him around their own “backyards.” Every species he saw during his Big Year was verified by his various travelling companions.

Back in 1968, there was no global data base to help Peter Alden set the world Big Year record. But he only needed to break just over 2,000 species. He helped pioneer international birding tourism through the trips he ran for Massachusetts Audubon. By 1981, he and British birder John Gooders could write “Finding Birds Around the World.” Four pages of the nearly 700 are devoted to our own Yellowstone National Park.

When I bumped into Alden at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (a birding hotspot) in 2011, he offered to send me an autographed copy for $5. I accepted, however, until I read Strycker’s book, I had no idea how famous a birder he was.

As Strycker explains it, interest in international birding, especially since World War II, has kept growing, right along with improved transportation to and within developing countries, which usually have the highest bird diversity. However, some of his cliff-hanging road descriptions would indicate that perhaps sometimes the birders have exceeded the bounds of safe travel.

For the U.S., the Buteo Books website will show you a multitude of American Birding Association “Birdfinding” titles for many states. Oliver Scott authored “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming” for the association in 1992. Robert and Jane Dorn included bird finding notes in the 1999 edition of their book, “Wyoming Birds.” Both books are the result of decades of experience.

A variation on the birdfinding book is “the birding trail.” The first was in Texas. The book, “Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail,” enumerates a collection of routes connecting birding sites, and includes information like park entrance fees, what amenities are nearby, and what interesting birds you are likely to see. Now you can find bird and wildlife viewing “trails” on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. Many states are following their example.

2017-08WyoBirdTrailApp

The Wyoming Bird Trail app is available for Apple and Android smartphones.

People in Wyoming have talked about putting together a birding trail for some years, but it took a birding enthusiast like Zach Hutchinson, a Casper-based community naturalist for Audubon Rockies, to finally get it off the ground.

The good news is that by waiting this long, there are now software companies that have designed birding trail apps. No one needs to print books that soon need updates.

The other good news is that to make it a free app, Hutchinson found sponsors including the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society, Murie Audubon Society (Casper), Wyoming State Parks, and WY Outside – a group of nonprofits and government agencies working to encourage youth and families in Wyoming to spend more time outdoors.

Look for “Wyoming Bird Trail” app on either iTunes or Google Play to install it on your smart phone.

Hutchinson has made a good start. The wonderful thing about the app technology is that not only does it borrow Google Maps so directions don’t need to be written, the app information can be easily updated. Users are invited to help.

There is one other way enterprising U.S. birders research birding trips. They contact the local Audubon chapter, perhaps finding a member, like me, who loves an excuse to get out for another birding trip and who will show them around – and make a recommendation for where to have lunch.

Birding by app

img_5252Published Feb. 12, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birding by app: new adventures in tech”

By Barb Gorges

Mark and I finally made the jump to smart phones last month. Our children are applauding.

What I was really looking forward to once I was in possession of a smart phone was eBird Mobile. My daughter-in-law, Jessie, was using it when we birded together over the holidays. It means that you can note the birds you see on your phone while you are in the field and then submit them as an eBird checklist.

The second day I had my phone, I went to eBird.org to find out how to downloaded it (in the Help section search for “eBird Mobile”). It’s free. If you aren’t signed up for eBird already, it will help you do that for free also. Then I prepared for a trial run birding out at F.E. Warren Air Force Base with Mark.

Because we are rather miserly with our monthly data allotment, I chose to use the app offline while in the field. But because I was establishing a new birding location for the mobile version, I established it while I was at home and could use our Wi-Fi.

The preparation for offline means you are downloading an appropriate checklist of birds possible for the area. Otherwise eBird Mobile will give you the world list, 10,414 species, to scroll through.

As we birded, I scrolled through the much shorter list of local possibilities and added the numbers of each species seen as I observed them. At the end of the trip, I hit the submit button.

However, on my next eBird Mobile attempt it was bitterly cold. Recording birds while holding a pencil in a mittened hand works, but it was too cold to risk a bare hand to manipulate the touch screen, though I have since invested in “touch screen” gloves.

The mobile app can’t do everything the regular checklist submission process does, like attach photos. But that upgrade may be coming soon. Meanwhile, you can edit your mobile-produced checklists on the eBird website whenever it’s convenient.

I’ve also downloaded the free Merlin Bird ID App, http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/ and tried it. I told Merlin where I was, what day it was, how big and what color the bird was and where it was (ground, bush, tree, sky) and up popped a photo of the most likely candidate, other possible species, general information and bird song recordings.

Both of these apps are Cornell Lab of Ornithology projects. Both are designed to get more people excited about birds. More data collected means more understanding, and more understanding means better conservation of birds.

The lab has even more up its sleeve. At a recent meeting, staff from far-flung places gathered to discuss making animated migration maps that will allow zooming in on particular locations. Recently, Audubon and CLO announced eBird Mobile is available on the dashboard of select Subaru models. That’s an update I wouldn’t mind seeing the dealer for.

CLO employs a lot of tech people. Job openings on the eBird website list required technical qualifications. Preferred qualifications include “An interest in birds, nature, biology, science, and/or conservation helpful.”

So maybe it doesn’t surprise you that our son Bryan, with a degree from the University of Wyoming in software engineering–and exposed to birdwatching from birth–has become not only a birder, but in October moved to Ithaca, New York, to work for CLO.

He can bird to and from work, walking through the famous Sapsucker Woods. He tells us the winter regulars include many of the same species we see in Cheyenne. However, he says he sees four kinds of woodpeckers: downy and hairy, which we see, but also red-bellied woodpecker and pileated woodpecker, eastern birds.

Surrounded by serious birdwatchers all week, perhaps on weekends you would be forgiven for picking up a different hobby. But no, on the Martin Luther King holiday, everyone from Bryan’s office went up near Seneca Falls and found snowy owls, a gyrfalcon, northern shrike and thousands of snow geese.

The next weekend Bryan and Jessie went back and found two more snowy owls and three kinds of swans.

eBird can help me predict the height of spring migration in Ithaca and I hope to time Mark’s and my visit accordingly. But we must fit in one last trip to Texas to visit our younger son, Jeffrey, before he and his wife move to Seattle for new jobs.

If your children aren’t moving back to Cheyenne, at least let them live in interesting places.

Finding birds in California

White-tailed Kite

The White-tailed Kites we saw in California’s Coyote Hills were a treat for us. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 5, 2007, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to find birds in strange places.”

2014 Update: The best way to find where to bird at your travel destination is now www.eBird.org. Besides a map of hotspot locations, you can see lists of recent observations.

By Barb Gorges

Travel is a good way to add bird species to your life list. Conversely, birding is a great way to enrich your travels—even if it’s as simple as watching brown pelicans at sunset across the street from your nephew’s apartment in late October, and that street happens to run alongside San Francisco Bay (pre-oil spill).

Serendipity is nice, but birders like to improve their chances. Mark took a look at the map and noticed another park on the bay, Coyote Hills, managed by the East Bay Regional Park District. Water is always a good place to look for birds.

With Mark’s brother Mike showing us the way, we found the park and a bird list in the visitor center, but the list didn’t have any indication of species seasonality or abundance.

One of the rangers put us on alert for golden eagles. I suppose the white-tailed kites were too common a raptor for him to be excited about, but they made our day—and our life lists.

Another way to find birds in an unfamiliar locale is by recommendation from someone who has already been to the area. Taking the auto tour through the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with our longtime friends Pam and Dave was a great way to spend the day together.

The refuge has the perfect bird checklist. After each bird name is a space divvied up by month and if a species appears on the refuge during a particular month of the year, there is a horizontal line. If it shows up in great abundance, it is a very thick line. It was easy to see that the thousands of ducks, geese and coots we saw were going to be spending the winter at the refuge.

Following another outdoor pursuit usually produces bird sightings. We chose to hike where one of the nephews is a ranger, the Sunol Regional Wilderness, also managed by the park district.

A hot, weekday morning left us pretty much alone with the cows as we trudged the water department’s access road. But it was inspiring to be in the middle of 6800 acres of hill country that wasn’t decorated with houses or other buildings, something the City of Cheyenne should keep in mind as it looks to “develop” its own ranch.

 

Acorn Woodpecker

The Acorn Woodpecker was one of the interesting birds we found in California. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Our favorite observation was the seven acorn woodpeckers disappearing one after the other into the top of a dead snag. There was such a ruckus of squeaks before they popped out through side openings.

If you were traveling an area without the benefit of friends and family, you could look for a local to give advice. I am that local half a dozen times a year because I allow my phone number and email address to be published in the American Birding Association directory.

While some members indicate that they charge for giving tours, sometimes I have time to invite a birding friend along to meet the visitors at Lions Park, one of our local hotspots.

It’s always surprising what visitors get excited about. Two women from California were entranced by the only bird we could find on a windy day, a yellow-headed blackbird. The man and wife from Texas this spring were excited to see migrating birds in their breeding plumage–birds they otherwise only see in their dull-colored winter feathers.

People visiting the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society Web site, http://org.lonetree.com/audubon, make inquiries. A man calling from Britain asked if he and his friend could join us for the spring sharp-tailed grouse field trip the next week. Certainly. And so they did, and after ticking off that bird on their list of most wanted species, they drove off to find another.

Occasionally, travelers find the Wyobirds elist, http://home.ease.Lsoft.com/archives, and post a request for information on finding a particular species or birding a particular area. If I can be of help, I reply and invariably, I get a report later about what birds they saw and how much they enjoyed the trip.

Many states have a similar list. If you search “Wyoming bird” instead of “Wyoming birds” however, you may get references to the University of Wyoming coach’s recent notorious hand signal.

If you are too shy–or in a hurry–there’s another way to find birding destinations. Go to www.eBird.org. It’s a great place to store your personal birding records for free.  It’s also a great resource for planning a trip. Observer information is not available to anyone looking at the data, but the lists of hotspots and the corresponding bird lists are almost as good as meeting one of the locals.

While the list of 1400 names of hotspots in California is probably not meaningful to visitors, a new map feature does allow you to see where they are. At this time you can access the maps by pretending you are going to enter data and choosing the option to select a pre-existing hotspot. Those areas that are parks or sanctuaries probably have more information on the Internet about hours and access.

Since eBird is relatively new, the checklists generated may be a little sketchy, but at least you can see where the local birders like to go.

Many birds are great travelers themselves, some migrating thousands of miles. I wonder how they pass on information about good places for wintering, eating and breeding. With their bird’s-eye view of the world, perhaps it’s easier for them to recognize a bird-friendly spot than it is for us.

Big Bend hosts surprises for Wyoming birders

Vermilion Flycatcher

We found the Vermilion Flycatcher perched on a grill at the Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Nov. 30, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Big Bend hosts surprises for local birders.”

By Barb Gorges

Have you heard the rumor that Texas has mountains?

It does. The ranges I saw weren’t the Grand Tetons, and I doubt they are ever snow-capped. But in terms of size, they remind me of many of Wyoming’s smaller ranges.

Earlier this month, Mark and I visited Big Bend National Park, which entirely encompasses the famous (especially for birders) Chisos Mountains, where the Colima warbler nests. It breeds only in those mountains and Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental.

If you look at Texas as your left hand, palm down, fingers pointing south, Big Bend is the end of your thumb. It is above a big bend in the Rio Grande which forms the border with Mexico.

The north park entrance station is 39 miles from the closest town, Marathon (pop. 436) and the northwest entrance is 76 miles from Alpine (pop. 6,000). We were able to reserve a room three months in advance at Chisos Mountains Lodge, in the heart of the park, because we were a tad early for the height of the tourist season. Summer, with temperatures over 110 degrees, is the off season.

It is the only lodging in the park, unless you bring your own. It isn’t fancy, but it’s clean, comfortable and the food is good. We learned that reservations for the lodge for 2016 will open this January.

The lodge is tucked into the Chisos Basin, closed in by peaks, including Emory, which is 7,832 feet high. Centrally located, we were 30 miles from Rio Grande Village to the east at an elevation of 1,850 feet, with visitor amenities and scenic attractions on the river, and 38 miles in the opposite direction from the other visitor amenities near the river at Castolon. It’s a big park.

Like the rest of the Southwest, Big Bend has a monsoon season—heavy rainstorms at the end of summer. It wasn’t supposed to be raining in early November. But it did. So I wore my rain suit in the desert because after all that driving, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

However, it was so foggy the two days we were there that we never saw the tops of the Chisos Mountains. And we couldn’t go down to see the famed Santa Elena Canyon because too much water was flowing over the road and it was closed.

But we did find birds. These days it is easy to use eBird.com to find birding hotspots. Mark identified Cottonwood Campground. It was a little intimidating reading all the signs warning how to stay safe in encounters with javelinas, bears and mountain lions, but the big old cottonwoods were all a-twitter.

It sounded familiar—a flock of yellow-rumped warblers frantically feeding in trees and on the ground during a break in the rain, just like I’ve seen them behave in Cheyenne during migration.

But we also found uncommon Southwestern species. A vermilion flycatcher—incredibly red—alternately perched on tree tops and signs. Nicely perched on a picnic table was a black phoebe, another flycatcher. The flicker-like bird was a golden-fronted woodpecker.

We stopped at nearly every pullout, walked out on many trails, and added a few more southwest specialties like cactus wren and pyrrhuloxia (faded version of a cardinal), Inca dove, black-throated sparrow, and roadrunner.

And we found familiar birds escaping winter: mockingbird, loggerhead shrike, Wilson’s snipe, blue-gray gnatcatcher—although for these species, individual birds may make the park home year round.

There are plenty of trails for the adventurous who have real 4-wheel-drive trucks—not SUVs built on car chassis. I’ll bet Big Bend has little trouble with people driving off road due to the multitude of tire-piercing cactus.

And what interesting vegetation is out there in the Chihuahuan Desert: 20-foot-tall century plants and other rosettes of sharp-pointed leaves putting up tall flower stalks, along with tiny flowers tucked beneath spiny neighbors, and higher up, southwest versions of oak, juniper and pine, even Douglas fir.

In addition to the one-volume edition of Sibley’s field guide to birds of North America (some Texas birds are in the eastern edition and some in the western), the most valuable publication for visiting birders is the park’s bird checklist available at the visitor centers. It’s by Mark Flippo, one of the local birding guides. The 28-page booklet lists the more than 450 species found in the park, preferred habitat for each and how likely you are to find them each season. It also points out the specialties, birds that are easier to find in Big Bend than in the rest of the U.S. and Canada.

The only question I have for Mark is, can we go back for another stay in the Chisos Basin maybe during spring migration 2016?