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.

Local park receives IBA status

Sloans Lake

Sloans Lake is part of what attracts migrating birds to Lions Park, a Wyoming Important Bird Area located in Cheyenne. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published October 31, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Local park receives IBA designation.”

2014 Update: The Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society members continue to monitor both the Lions Park and Wyoming Hereford Ranch IBAs. Alison Lyon Holloran is now executive director of Audubon Rockies (Colorado and Wyoming). Check this link for more about Wyoming Important Bird Areas: http://rockies.audubon.org/wyoming-ibas.

By Barb Gorges

Lions Park is finally an official state Important Bird Area. Those of us who start our annual spring bird count there thought it deserved recognition as soon as we heard the definition of an IBA.

However, it was not easy to convince the technical review committee.

The idea of identifying places important to birds, publicly or privately owned, was started in Europe in the mid-1980s by Birdlife International. The National Audubon Society translated it for the U.S. in 1995.

Audubon Wyoming began soliciting for nominations a few years later and hired an IBA director, Alison Lyon, in 2001 with help from Partners in Flight and other grantors.

Alison, who earned her Master’s at the University of Wyoming studying sage grouse, is developing a program that can directly improve the welfare of birds in Wyoming.

When Alison asked Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members if we had a site to nominate, we immediately thought of Lions Park.

Art Anderson, chapter president and retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, took charge of the nomination, setting up a meeting in the spring of 2001 with Dave Romero, head of the park and recreation department, now retired.

Dave and his staff were very enthusiastic about the nomination and provided maps. IBA designations can be touted in civic and tourism advertising and funding may be available for conservation improvements. There is no regulatory component.

An IBA must meet at least one of four criteria and Lions Park meets numbers one, two and four.

The first criterion includes importance for a species of concern in Wyoming, which in this case would be the western grebe that nests at the lake.

The second criterion, a site important to species of high conservation priority, is met by several of the species on that list that have been seen at the park.

The fourth is the park’s strongest suit: a site where significant numbers of birds concentrate for breeding, during migration or in the winter.

 

Lions Park

Lions Park’s cottonwoods and willows also attract migrating birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lions Park has a reputation during spring migration for diversity and numbers of birds. I once recorded 60 species in two hours. Migration was also Gloria Lawrence’s arguing point in getting the nomination accepted.

Gloria and her husband Jim drive down from Casper every spring to join our chapter in birding the park. She is one of the seven members of the Wyoming IBA technical review group made up of a cross-section of our state’s ornithological experts.

The members are Stan Anderson, University of Wyoming, Laramie; Tim Byer, Thunder Basin National Grasslands, Douglas; Andrea Cerovski, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Lander; John Dahlke, consultant and raptor expert, Pinedale; the Lawrences, Murie Audubon Society, Casper; and Terry McEneaney, Yellowstone National Park.

The nomination originally included all Cheyenne’s city parks and the Greenway. However, some technical review group members argued that a city park’s intense human use couldn’t possibly be compatible with bird use. Maybe, they suggested, Lions Park is more important to bird watchers than to birds.

In reality, the parks are microcosms of the city. Cheyenne is an oasis for migrating birds that funnel along the Front Range.

While Lions Park has gotten a close inspection every year for one day mid-May, turning up all sorts of warblers thought to be unusual for this area, undoubtedly these same warblers can be found in any neighborhood with large trees and many bushes. That was true this spring when a chestnut-sided warbler visited my backyard and a magnolia warbler visited the neighbors’.

Lions Park does have one characteristic that our backyards don’t have—a lake. So in addition to neotropical migrants like warblers, it gets a variety of shorebirds and waterbirds.

Funding from Partners in Flight, passed through Audubon Wyoming, has become available to our local Audubon chapter for monitoring work.

Many of the previous records are from Christmas Bird Counts and spring Big Day Counts which lump observations from around the city.

Now the chapter needs to plan for making more detailed surveys, training volunteers in survey protocol and compiling databases useful to science. Then we can figure out what conservation projects might be of benefit to both birds and the park.

While Lions Park will never achieve global IBA status like Yellowstone National Park may, the information we collect at least gives us more understanding about where we live.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Lions Park is also home to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Birdathon raises funds

Blue Jay

Blue Jays are easy to find in Cheyenne year round. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Published May 29, 2003, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birdathon fun for bird watchers, helps raise funds.”

2014 Update: I should do another birdathon someday.

By Barb Gorges

“Did you get the blue jay?”

“Over here, Barb, you can get a good view of the worm-eating warbler, right there by that white patch on the tree.”

“Listen, Barb, hear the ruby-crowned kinglet?”

Lucky for me, I was doing my Birdathon on our Audubon chapter’s Big Day bird count May 17 and I was getting all kinds of help finding birds—even from my sponsors, for whom each additional bird species I saw was going to cost them more.

It was a great day. I ended up counting 87 species, more than I had predicted, probably due to having practiced on several preliminary field trips. Some of my sponsors had opted for certainty though, and pledged a lump sum.

Audubon hit on a great fundraising idea when it came up with Birdathon more than 15 years ago. What better activity than birdwatching could convince a bunch of birders to raise funds?

Eating maybe. It works for the local chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation which recently hosted 640 people for a dinner and auction and netted $70,000. Blake Henning, southeast Wyoming director, said the funds will be used for habitat improvement and education.

I think sportsmen are used to paying for the upkeep of the wildlife they enjoy. They buy hunting and fishing licenses and pay excise taxes on their gear so parting with more money at an event is unremarkable. Maybe it is easier for hunters and fishers to justify paying for their wildlife recreation because they often bring home tangible products.

Getting bird watchers to raise funds is sometimes like pulling hen’s teeth. Maybe some birders feel justified in not contributing because birdwatching is a non-consumptive use of wildlife.

Birdwatchers like to eat too, though. Murie Audubon members in Casper hold a successful annual fundraising banquet that provides what they need for their programs, including education and raptor rehabilitation.

Half the battle in fundraising is to provide a really good reason for people to part with their money. This spring Audubon Wyoming asked each board member to participate in a Birdathon.

I decided my potential sponsors would be more likely to contribute to the state Important Bird Area monitoring and conservation work rather than, say, utilities or staff health insurance, though, arguably, funding office and staff should allow progress towards organizational goals in a more efficient manner than volunteers can usually accomplish alone.

Because the welfare of wildlife is the responsibility of each state and sometimes the responsibility of the federal government for species that are migratory or threatened and endangered, people might think government money is enough to take care of everything.

However, I haven’t heard of any government wildlife agency that isn’t under-funded or that hasn’t any ideas on how to use gifts of money or volunteer time.

But the bottleneck in most wildlife conservation work is habitat, where the animals eat, sleep and breed, which has been adversely affected by human activity directly or indirectly.

Habitat is on public as well as private land. While government programs have offered incentives to private landowners such as the Conservation Reserve Program, or can punish land abusers through environmental regulations, there are gaps to be filled by non-profit organizations.

The Wyoming IBA program not only identifies areas important to birds, but it evaluates sites for habitat improvements and offers assistance to public and private landowners alike.

My Birdathon sponsors this year were recruited from the list of distant friends and family who request Bird Banter by e-mail.

Interestingly, most of my sponsors don’t even get to visit Wyoming often. Either they believe in the intrinsic value of wildlife conservation or I did a great job of arm twisting. Thank you, Art, Anonymous, Cindy, Dale, Mom, Eric, Iren, Jeff, Warren, Pat, John, Lynne, Mark and Beth. Hope your arms didn’t feel a thing.

Fundraising is not easy. There’s always the possibility that approaching a friend for a contribution will cause that person to relegate you to the same category of acquaintance as telemarketers.

But if you are a better friend than that, let me tell you about these Duck Derby tickets Audubon Wyoming wants me to sell….

Important Bird Areas in Wyoming and Cheyenne

IBA sign 1

This is one of three signs at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch, a Wyoming Important Bird Area located outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Apr. 5, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Wyoming has 48 places that are important to birds”

2014 Update: The number of approved Wyoming IBAs as of 2013 is 44. Find Alison Lyon-Holloran, and information about Audubon in Wyoming, at the Audubon Rockies office, in Fort Collins, Colo., http://rockies.audubon.org/.

By Barb Gorges

Spring means a birder’s thoughts turn to migration and those hotspots where birds will be thickest.

Some spring hotspots are on a national list of Important Bird Areas. Two of those IBAs are right here in Cheyenne. No entrance fees required.

BirdLife International has identified places important to birds on every continent, in 100 countries and territories. Places like Fiji, Romania and Peru. They work with local agencies to help implement conservation and education plans.

In 1995, the National Audubon Society became the sponsoring organization for the IBA program in the U.S. While some places are rated as globally important, such as Yellowstone National Park, others are recognized as important at the national and state level.

Audubon Wyoming has recognized 48 places as important to birds in our state so far. Coordinator Alison Lyon-Holloran is still taking nominations. Contact her at aholloran@audubon.org. Check to see which sites are already in the program.

What makes a place important to birds? It is important to birds during migration, and/or breeding and/or wintering seasons for one or more species, meaning birds can find food, shelter and water and whatever else they require during a particular season. Alison also requires approval from the landowner before reviewing the nomination.

Nominating Lions Park was a no-brainer for my local chapter, Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society. We have people traveling to Cheyenne from a 200-mile radius because the park’s trees, shrubs and lake attract so many species during spring migration. At the mid-May peak one year I counted 60 species in two hours.

The nomination stalled at first when the ornithologists on the technical committee countered that we only saw a lot of birds at the park because a lot of people birded there. Yes, but we could probably find the same diversity and abundance of songbirds, if not the waterfowl, in all of the old neighborhoods. We couldn’t very well walk through everyone’s yard.

 

IBA sign 2

Another informational sign at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. Photo by Barb Gorges

CHPAS continues to monitor the park’s bird life through seasonal surveys and evaluates the impacts of new park developments.

The Wyoming Hereford Ranch has had a long and friendly relationship with the local birding community. Anna Marie and Sloan Hales welcome inspection by binocular, as long as no one disturbs the livestock, hops the fences or intrudes on the residents of the ranch.

Again, I’d venture to say that other properties along cottonwood-filled creeks in southeastern Wyoming might have similar abundance and diversity. The difference is the Hales.

Not only have they welcomed birders, but they were thrilled to be part of the nomination process. They’ve worked with the Laramie County Conservation District to improve wildlife habitat and in cooperation with Audubon Wyoming to install this spring educating visitors about why their ranch is an IBA. The Hales have also created a little nature trail.

The ranch, as an oasis of wildness on the edge of Cheyenne, will only become more and more important a refuge as high density housing and commercial enterprises continue to move into their neighborhood. Who knew more than 100 years ago when the ranch was established people would want to build houses in cow pastures 10 miles from the State Capitol building?

IBA sign 3

The third sign at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch Important Bird Area. Photo by Barb Gorges

IBA designation doesn’t bind any landowner to any course of action. But it does make people aware that their actions will have an impact on birds. It make us stop and think about beings besides ourselves and we get back to the original question: Does a bird have any value if you aren’t a birdwatcher?

Sometimes it has an obvious usefulness, such as keeping pests under control. If nothing else, birds are a part of nature and contact with nature is being scientifically proven to improve our mental health.

With the onset of spring and many of us are looking for excuses to get outside. Here in Cheyenne we don’t have to travel to Important Bird Areas, even our local ones, to see special birds. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open in our own backyards.