Nestling ID crowd sourced

Two nestlings were photographed by Matthew Gill Aug. 6, 2019, at a well pad near Greeley, Colorado.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 15, 2019, “Nestling ID benefits from crowd sourced help.”

By Barb Gorges

            Cheyenne resident Priscilla Gill emailed me a bird photo that her son, Matthew Gill, took Aug. 6. Could I identify the birds?

            Digital technology is wonderful. Thirty years ago, I would get phone calls asking for ID help (and I still do) but it can be difficult to draw a mental picture. I must figure out how familiar with birds the callers are so I can interpret the size and color comparisons they make.

            At least with an emailed photo, the ease of identifying the bird is only dependent on the clearness and how much of the bird is showing. In this case, the photo clearly showed two little nestlings so ungainly they were cute. They were black-skinned, but all a-prickle with yellow pin feathers and had large, lumpy black bills. They were nestled on top of a platform of sticks balanced high up on the pipe infrastructure at a well pad.

            Those bills first made me think ravens. However, the nest was near Greeley, Colorado, where ravens are rarely seen.

            Digital photos are easy to share. I forwarded the photo to Greg Johnson, my local go-to birder who enjoys ID challenges. But after a couple days without a reply, I figured he was somewhere beyond internet contact, so I sent the photo on to Ted Floyd, Colorado birder and editor of the American Birding Association magazine.

            He had no idea. No one has ever put together a field guide for nestlings. Julie Zickefoose comes close with her book, “Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest” (my review: https://cheyennebirdbanter.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/watching-one-bird-at-a-time/), where she sketched nestlings of 17 species at regular intervals.

            Ted suggested I post the photo to the ABA’s Facebook group, “What’s this bird?”

            Meanwhile, Greg was finally able to reply: mourning dove. They only have two young per nest, and they build stick nests.

            By this time, I had joined the Facebook group and was starting to get replies. It’s a little intimidating—there are 39,000 people in the group.  There were 13 replies and 37 other people “liked” some of those replies, essentially voting on their ID choice.

I was surprised to see a reply from someone I knew, my Seattle birding friend, Acacia. Except for the person who suggested pelicans (based on the enormous bills), the replies were split between mourning dove and rock pigeon. I was most confidant about the reply from the woman who had pigeons nest on her fire escape.

            On reflection, “pigeon” seemed to make more sense, and Greg agreed. Pigeons are known for adapting to cities because the buildings remind them of cliffs they nest on in their native range in Europe and Asia. It seems odd to think of them nesting in the wild, but there’s a flock around the cliffs on Table Mountain at the Woodhouse Public Access Area near Cheyenne. Mourning doves and Eurasian collared-doves, on the other hand, are more likely to hide their nests in trees.

            But birds can sometimes adapt to what we humans present them with. Short of following the nestlings until they can be identified via adult plumage, or comparing them to photos of nestlings that were then followed to adulthood, we can’t say for sure which species they were.

            Out there in the open, did these two make it to maturity? I wonder how easy it would be for hawks to pick off both the parents and young.

            Here in Cheyenne at the end of August, I’ve noticed the field by my house has gotten very quiet at ground level—virtually no squeaking ground squirrels anymore. However, many mornings I’m hearing the keening of the two young Swainson’s hawks probably responsible for thinning that rodent population. The youngsters and parents sit on the power poles and watch as my friend Mary and I walk our dogs past.

            The two kids have even been over to visit at Mark’s and my house. One evening while out in the backyard I happened to look up and see the two sitting on opposite ends of the old TV antenna that still sways atop its two-story tower. That gives new meaning to the term “hawk watching.” They leave white calling card splats on the patio so I know when I’ve missed one of their visits.

Two young Swainson’s hawks find balance on TV antenna tower. Note two house finches also on the antenna. They were very vocal about the large intruders. Photo by Mark Gorges.
Young Swainson’s hawk finds a perch on 50-year-old TV antenna in the Gorges backyard. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Another day, as I did backyard chores accompanied by the dog, one of them sat in one of our big green ash trees, sounding like it was crying its heart out—maybe it was filled with teenage angst, knowing how soon it needed to grow up and fly to the ancestral winter homeland in the Argentinian grasslands.

Raptors popular; new book celebrates them

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A bald eagle is eating lunch at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver in late January. The upside-down v’s on the power pole keep it from perching where its outstretched wings would complete an electrical circuit and electrocute it. Photo by Mark Gorges.

 

 

Raptors are popular birds; new book celebrates them

By Barb Gorges

Also published at Wyoming Network News and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Raptors were the stars of a late January field trip taken by the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society.

We visited the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on the outskirts of Denver, only 90 minutes from Cheyenne.

The man at the visitor center desk told us the bald eagles were at Lower Derby Lake. He was right.

Farther down the road we found a bald eagle on top of a utility pole calmly eating something furry for lunch, either one of the numerous prairie dogs or a rabbit. Several photographers snapped away. No one got out of their cars because we were still in the buffalo pasture where visitors, for their own safety, are not allowed out of their vehicles. But vehicles make good blinds and the eagle seemed unperturbed.

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Several chapter members get out for a better look at a hawk, before the Wildlife Drive enters the buffalo pasture where visitors must stay in their vehicles. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Winter is a good time to look for raptors. They show up well among naked tree branches and on fence posts, though we noticed mature bald eagles look headless if they are silhouetted against a white winter sky—or the snow-whitened peaks of the Colorado Rockies. Our checklist for the Arsenal included rough-legged hawk, red-tailed hawk, and some unidentifiable hawks.

On the way home, we stopped in Fort Collins because a Harris’s hawk, rare for the area, was reported hanging around the Colorado Welcome Center at the East Prospect Road exit. The center volunteers told us all about it—and that we were several days late. But they knew where the local bald eagle nests were and were proud of the other hawks that could be seen right outside the window.

Raptors, generally defined as hawks, eagles, falcons and sometimes vultures, sometimes owls, are a popular category of bird. When our Audubon chapter sponsored the Buffalo Bill Center for the West’s Raptor Experience last spring, more than 100 people crowded into the biggest meeting room at the library to see live hawks, falcons and owls.

Maybe we are fascinated by raptors because their deadly talons and powerful beaks give us a little shiver of fear. Or maybe it’s because they are easy to see, circling the sky or perched out in the open. Even some place as unlikely as the I-25 corridor makes for good hawk-watching. I counted 11 on fence posts and utility poles in the 50 miles between Ft. Collins and Cheyenne on our way home from the field trip.

Since I was driving, I didn’t give the birds a long enough look to identify them. But I bet I know who could—Pete Dunne.

Dunne watches hawks at Cape May, New Jersey, during migration. After more than 40 years, most as director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, he can identify raptor species when they are mere specks in the sky—the way motorists can identify law enforcement vehicles coming up from behind. It’s not just shape. It’s also the way they move.

2018-02BirdsofPreyDunne&Karlson            Dunne is co-author of “Hawks in Flight: A Guide to Identification of Migrant Raptors.” Last year he authored a new book with Kevin T. Karlson, “Birds of Prey, Hawks, Eagles, Falcons, and Vultures of North America.”

This is not your typical encyclopedia of bird species accounts. Rather, it is Dunne introducing you to his old friends, including anecdotes from their shared past.

You will still find out the wingspan of a bald eagle, 71-89 inches, and learn about the light and dark morphs (differences in appearance) of the rough-legged hawk.

But Dunne also gives you his personal assessment of a species. For instance, he takes exception to the official description of Cooper’s hawk (another of our local hawks) in the Birds of North America species accounts as being a bird of woodlands. After years of spending hunting seasons in the woods, he’s never seen one there.

Dunne is even apt to recite poetry, such as this from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Eagle”:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

This is not a raptor identification guide, but since there are photos on nearly every page—an average of 10 per species showing birds in all kinds of behaviors, you can’t help but become more familiar with them—and more in awe.

At 300 pages, this is not a quick read, but it is perfect preparation for a trip to the Arsenal or for finding out more about the next kestrel you see.

Yampa Valley Crane Festival origins

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Greater Sandhill Cranes. Photo courtesy of Abby Jensen, www.jensen-photography.com.

Published Oct. 9, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Cranes are a “gateway bird”

[Yampa Valley Crane Festival story begins with snow]

By Barb Gorges

I visited the Yampa Valley Crane Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with my husband, Mark, in early September.

Steamboat is known for world-class skiing, but how does that relate to the festival centered around the greater sandhill crane?

It starts with a couple of skiers. Nancy Merrill, a native of Chicago, and her husband started skiing Steamboat in the late ’80s. They became fulltime residents by 2001.

Merrill was already “birdy,” as she describes it, by that point. She was even a member of the International Crane Foundation, an organization headquartered in Baraboo, Wisconsin, only three hours from Chicago.

She and her husband wanted to do something for birds in general when they moved to Colorado. They consulted with The Nature Conservancy to see if there was any property TNC would like them to buy and put into a conservation easement. As it turns out, there was a ranch next door to TNC’s own Carpenter Ranch property, on the Yampa River.

The previous owner left behind a list of birds seen on the property, but it wasn’t until she moved in that Merrill discovered the amount of crane activity, previously unknown, including cranes spending the night in that stretch of the river during migration stop overs—which we observed during the festival.

Cheyenne folks are more familiar with the other subspecies, the lesser sandhill crane, which funnels through central Nebraska in March. It winters in southwestern U.S. and Mexico and breeds in Alaska and Siberia. It averages 41 inches tall.

Greater sandhill cranes, by contrast, stand 46 inches tall, winter in southern New Mexico and breed in the Rockies, including Colorado, and on up through western Wyoming to British Columbia. Many come through the Yampa Valley in the fall, fattening up on waste grain in the fields for a few weeks.

In 2012 there was a proposal for a limited crane hunting season in Colorado. Only 14 states, including Wyoming, have seasons. The lack of hunting in 36 states could be due to the cranes’ charisma and their almost human characteristics in the way they live in family groups for 10 months after hatching their young. Mates stick together year after year, performing elaborate courtship dances.

Plus, they are slow to reproduce and we have memories of their dramatic population decline in the early 20th century.

Merrill and her friends from the Steamboat birding club were not going to let hunting happen if they could help it. Organized as the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition, they were successful and decided to continue with educating people about the cranes.

Out of the blue, Merrill got a call from George Archibald, founder of the International Crane Foundation, congratulating the CCCC on their work and offering to come and speak, thus instigating the first Yampa Valley Crane Festival in 2012.

Merrill became an ICF board member and consequently has developed contacts resulting in many interesting speakers over the festival’s five years thus far. This year included Nyambayar Batbayar, director of the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia and an associate of ICF, and Barry Hartup, ICF veterinarian for whooping cranes.

Festival participants are maybe 40 percent local and 60 percent from out of the valley, from as far away as British Columbia. Merrill said they advertised in Bird Watchers Digest, a national magazine, and through Colorado Public Radio.

It is a small, friendly festival, with a mission to educate. The talks, held at the public library, are all free. A minimal amount charged for taking a shuttle bus at sunrise to see the cranes insures people will show up. [Eighty people thought rising early was worthwhile Friday morning alone.]

This year’s activities for children were wildly successful, from learning to call like a crane to a visit from Heather Henson, Jim Henson’s daughter, who has designed a wonderful, larger-than-life whooping crane puppet.

There was also a wine and cheese reception at a local gallery featuring crane art and a barbecue put on by the Routt County Cattlewomen. Life-size wooden cut-outs of cranes decorated by local artists were auctioned off.

We opted for the nature hike on Thunderhead Mountain at the Steamboat ski area. Gondola passes good for the whole day had been donated. This was just an example of how the crane festival benefits from a wide variety of supporters providing in-kind services and grants. Steamboat Springs is well-organized for tourism and luckily, crane viewing is best during the shoulder season, between general summer tourism and ski season.

Meanwhile, the CCCC has a new goal. Over the years, grain farming has dropped off, providing less waste grain for cranes. Now farmers and landowners are being encouraged financially to plant for the big birds. It means agriculture, cranes and tourism are supporting each other.

Merrill thinks of the cranes as an ambassador species, gateway to becoming concerned about nature, “The cranes do the work for us, we just harness them.”

Many mountain birds

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Find the White-tailed Ptarmigan sitting among the rocks in Rocky Mountain National Park. Start at the very center and search in circles of increasing size for its small eye and brown and white feathers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 27, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Many mountain birds mean summer of no regrets”

By Barb Gorges

This fall I have no summer regrets. I made it to the mountains several times.

For me, the best reason for living in the West is access to mountains—living within commuting distance of timberline.

From Cheyenne, the alpine tundra along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is about two hours away, as are the trailheads for the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

The national park was my introduction to mountains when I was 6 years old. I had traveled from Wisconsin with my parents and grandparents on the occasion of my uncle’s graduation from University of Colorado. This year the occasion was his memorial, and I was helping introduce his 6- and 3-year-old grandchildren to mountains.

The Snowies, on the other hand, I found on my own, when the lotto game that is federal seasonal work brought me to Wyoming. I was lucky this summer to visit three times, twice above 10,000 feet.

On Father’s Day afternoon it was rather appalling to see the traffic on Rocky Mountain’s Trail Ridge Road, amplified by the park’s 100th anniversary celebration.

It’s a pilgrimage. At every comfort station, one parks and walks a trail out into the landscape. But other than a selfie with magnificent mountains in the background, I’m not sure if many of the pilgrims know what they are seeking as the stiff wind makes them shiver in their tank tops, short shorts and flip flops.

A few weeks later in mid-July, all of us on the Audubon field trip at least knew exactly what miracles to look for as pilgrims hurried past us.

We wanted to see the sparrow-like American pipits. It’s hard to pick them out from the litter of rocks and plethora of wildflowers. But soon we recognized their calls and realized they were all around us.

Our other goal was the white-tailed ptarmigan—high-altitude relative of sage-grouse—which turns white in winter and brown in summer. Except that in July, the birds are really just a mottled/speckled brown and white, matching perfectly those lichen-encrusted rocks scattered all around.

We found the location of the previous e-Bird sighting of a ptarmigan and resigned ourselves to examining every rock along the way, knowing that unless the wind ruffled the bird’s feathers or it decided to move, we might never see it. But we were joined by a birding tour leader on her day off, as well as two other hikers who were lucky enough to find a hen taking a stroll and who pointed it out. There are some advantages to crowds.

A week later in the Snowies, Mark and I took one of the trails starting at Brooklyn Lake, expecting many fewer people.

But a file of at least 40 teenagers from a Midwestern church passed us, toting serious backpacking equipment. I like to think that, like the crowds in Rocky Mountain, these people will become supporters for preserving this country’s wild lands.

The wonderful wildflower displays made up for a lack of birds on this first Snowies trip, but three weeks later, on an Audubon chapter hike, things were reversed. The wildflowers were waning, but the birds were gathering, and we were the big group, 15 people between the ages of 10 months and 75 years old.

We never hit tree line, only getting as far as the trees growing in isolated islands. Gobs of ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in and out of the branches of Engelmann spruce. Three mountain chickadees carried their conversation to the outer branches where we could see them clearly. Pine grosbeaks, larger versions of our house finches in town, were busy grooming their feathers in plain sight. Young spotted sandpipers, their bodies mere halos of stiff white fuzz perched on impossibly long legs, scrabbled after their parent, negotiating the rubble at the foot of a snowfield still melting and providing the watery habitat they needed.

Juncos were flashing their white outer-tail feathers everywhere. Soon, we will see them down in town.

Not only did the 10,000-foot elevation offer its usual respite from summer heat, but puffy clouds, dead ringers for snow clouds, sailed by on cold wind, keeping us in our winter jackets, which we were experienced enough to bring. Birdwatchers just don’t hike hard enough to warm up, and this day there were 17 species of birds making the 3-mile round trip take more than four hours.

Back at the parking lot, the fall feeling, stirred by the wind and the gathering birds, was amplified by realizing the meadow grasses had gone to seed and turned brown—in early August.

Now fall is finally here at lower elevations.

Summer is such a fleeting season at high altitude, but at least this year, I didn’t let it pass me by.

Going where the gulls are

Ring-billed Gull

The Ring-billed Gull, one of the medium-sized gulls, is the most common gull to be seen around Cheyenne, Wyoming. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Nov. 25, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Going where the gulls are adds species to life list.”

2014 Update: Another gull guide was published in 2007 in the Peterson Reference Guides series: Gulls of the Americas, by Steve N.G. Howell and Jon Dunn, published by Houghton Mifflin.

By Barb Gorges

It was obvious, based on time of which day and the location–early morning Saturday near a wetland in Fort Collins, Colo.–that the flock of four Subaru Outbacks and five other fuel efficient vehicles gathering belonged to birders, especially since one bore the plate “Skuas,” referring to a type of oceanic bird.

Another clue was that about half the vehicles were then left behind in the parking lot.

Birders carpool not only to lessen the necessity of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but because we’re sociable, and it’s easier to share sightings while enroute. It’s also easier to park where there isn’t a lot of room to pull off the road, which was the case at our first stop at the edge of Long Pond.

A local resident stopped to inquire what we were looking for. With nearly a dozen scopes on tripods set up, we were either peering through the windows of the waterfront homes on the far side or checking out the birds on the water.

We were on a gull trip this mid-November day. Our leaders, Doug Faulkner and Tony Leukering, had the expertise and the optics to find something beyond the most common species of the plains, the ring-billed gull.

My expertise lags far behind, but at least I don’t refer to them as seagulls. However, I wished I’d studied up the night before. Instead, I had to juggle my notes and my field guide with frozen fingers while gray chill also found my toes.

Squinting through my scope made my eyes water, increasing the difficulty of picking out how much black and gray marked the inside of a wingtip of a floating gull surrounded by a flock of common mergansers.

Birders sharing observations of particular feathers seen from about 400 yards away had it slightly easier because of the landmarks on the opposite shore, such as the green canoe, the overturned red canoe and the collection of chaise lounges.

Three gull species, herring, California and Thayer’s, were identified. The Thayer’s, normally an Arctic breeder wintering on the west coast, is considered rare in Colorado and has not yet made the records in Wyoming. I could add it to my life list, but not to my list of birds I can identify by myself.

Someone also picked out a large gull, white head with marbled brown body, and determined it to be a young great black-backed gull. It certainly was larger than the other gulls, and also far from home, the Atlantic seaboard.

As we wandered from lake to lake, we found a very pale gull normally seen along the northeastern and northwestern coasts of North America. The back of the glaucous gull lives up to its name which is Latin for a silvery, bluish color. I think I can add that species to my self-identifiable list, unless of course someday I have to compare it to the glaucous-winged gull, which strays much less often to Colorado and Wyoming from the west coast.

If you’ve only buzzed by Fort Collins on the Interstate admiring the snow on the peaks, or only shopped College Avenue, you might find it incredible that it’s a hot spot for rare gulls. However, one look at a map more detailed than a road atlas shows you are in lake country. The area at the foot of the foothills is pockmarked with ponds. All are manmade. Some reservoirs cover almost a square mile, making lakefront developments common.

Luckily, lakefront has been set aside in the Open Space system. One of our stops, Fossil Creek Reservoir, just west of the Windsor exit, has recently been developed for wildlife viewing.

No rare gulls at Fossil Creek, but I did pick up a new life species. The American Ornithologists’ Union has very recently determined that the four smallest of the 11 races of Canada goose are now to be known as a separate species, the cackling goose.

Without DNA testing equipment, birders will have to depend on relative size, color and location for identification. Doug said the geese we were seeing were cackling, migrating through from their tundra breeding grounds. For a long goose discussion, go to www.sibleyguides.com.

I also saw a species that I thought was a genuine life bird for me, only to discover once home that I saw it in New Mexico 10 years ago. The greater white-fronted goose’s name refers to its white face. Otherwise it is blah gray-brown. But it’s the orange bill, and orange legs if you can see them, which stand out in a crowd of cackling/Canadas. We counted six of them swimming in a line like the ducks on that pull-along toy I had as a toddler.

Like so many other field trips, this one was open-ended. A couple folks from Casper turned back around noon and a couple more of us from Cheyenne headed home around 2 p.m., the rest disbursing later. No new gulls were added without us, but we missed the trumpeter swan.

Tony said an increase in the sightings of rare gulls is partly due to increasing population and range thanks to people inadvertently providing more food sources, but also because more people are looking for gulls and more people are capable of picking out the rare species.

To become a gull expert, I should probably invest in that huge book, Gulls of North America, Europe and Asia by Olsen and Larsson. But nothing takes the place of field observation and the patient mentors I’ve met so far.

Following flock to Colorado Field Ornithologists’ meeting

Unknown flycatcher

Here’s a candidate for the next Jeop-birdie quiz. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Sept. 21, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Following flock of birders to Sterling was fun.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Mark and I decided to attend the annual meeting of the Colorado Field Ornithologists. The group’s name sounds so formal.

Their 51st annual meeting was held over Labor Day weekend in Sterling, Colorado, only two hours southeast of Cheyenne. Like other conventions, it included talks, vendors and a banquet with a keynote speaker, but unlike other conventions, there were dozens of field trips.

I worried I might feel out of place, even if the information on the website, http://cfobirds.org/, assured me that beginning birdwatchers were welcome. CFO is all about the study, conservation—and enjoyment of birds.

Enjoy we did. Our first trip leader, CFO member Larry Modesitt, not only patiently explained field marks for common birds to several trip members who needed help, but he was also able to discuss the finer details of flycatcher fall plumage with one of the other members who surveys birds for a living.

CFO takes birding quite seriously. Each day, 14 field trips left every 10 minutes beginning at 5:20 a.m. One even started at 4 a.m.

Each field trip had a designated leader who contacted all of their trip participants at least a week in advance to discuss routes, carpooling, rest and lunch stops, and even how much to reimburse drivers for gas.

Our third trip leader, Nick Komar, also a CFO member, consulted with other people on what had been seen where we were going, and then worked hard to help us find those birds.

It was while visiting a designated birdwatching bench along the South Platte River at the Brush State Wildlife Area that our group saw warblers in clear view, all in one bush, six to eight at a time: Wilson’s, orange-crowned and yellow-throat. They were flitting about gleaning bugs, sparkling like yellow ornaments. At the other river overlook nearby, we found a plethora of woodpeckers: a redhead family, several red-bellied woodpeckers, a hairy woodpecker and yellow-shafted flickers.

While our first trip was filled with flycatchers and our third highlighted woodpeckers and warblers, the second, with Mark Peterson, was about shorebirds.

The whole idea for Sterling as a convention site was to catch the shorebird fall migration. Usually, the CFO annual meeting is planned around the spring migration. This was only the third time for a fall gathering. The keynote speaker was John Dunn, co-author of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and shorebird expert.

But all the lovely summer rains keeping the prairie green around Cheyenne and Sterling kept the reservoirs full. And when they are full, there is no shore, no bare sand or mudflats for shorebirds to pick over. But we got lucky and found muddy shores at a small pond at the Red Lion SWA—and shorebirds.

Shorebirds are right up there on my list of difficult-to-identify species, partly because I don’t see them often and partly because I see them in migration when they aren’t very colorful. I thought John Dunn’s after dinner talk on shorebird identification might help. But it was definitely over my head.

However, if I keep looking at shorebirds in photos and in the flesh, eventually my identification skills will improve. Luckily, there was no quiz afterwards.

There was, however, a quiz the afternoon before: Jeop-birdie. Categories, among many, included identifying famous ornithologists, poorly photographed birds and types of bird nests. Very entertaining.

Larry Modesitt told me CFO began because Colorado needed an arbiter to sort through claims of unusual bird species seen in the state (Wyoming has a rare bird records committee). Many members also belong to Audubon.

CFO also supports bird research. A number of the papers given Saturday afternoon were partly supported by CFO funding. Many looked at facets of bird life that once understood, such as the impact of oil and gas drilling noise on nesting birds, might make it easier to make land use decisions.

It isn’t easy walking into a group of 200 unknown people, but when they are all dressed like me, in field pants, sun-protection shirts or T-shirts printed with birds, large-brimmed hats and binoculars, it’s less intimidating. It’s very easy to start a conversation with “What field trip are you going on tomorrow?”

And after birding together, sharing exciting bird observations, many faces become familiar over the course of the weekend.

Next year, the convention will be in Salida, Colorado, first weekend in June. Now, there’s a spot I might pick up some new life birds.

Gosh, did I just sound like a dyed-in-the-wool, serious species-nabbing-twitcher? Yikes!