Wyobirds and Wyoming Master Naturalists updates

Cheyenne Audubon field trip to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch, November 2019. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Feb. 16, 2020, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Wyobirds gets tech update and Wyoming Master Naturalists  gets initial discussion.”

By Barb Gorges

            Technology drives changes in the birding community as it does for the rest of the world. We always wonder how hard it will be to adapt to the inevitable.

            In January, the folks at Murie Audubon, the National Audubon Society chapter in Casper, announced that they would no longer pay the fees required for hosting the Wyobirds elist. There have been plenty of donations over the years to offset the $500 per year cost but, they reasoned, now that there is a no-cost alternative, why not spend the money on say, bird habitat protection or improvement? Also, the new option allows photos and the old one didn’t.

            But the new outlet for chatting about birds in Wyoming works a little differently and everyone will have to get used to it. We’ve changed before. We had the Wyoming Bird Hotline until 2006 for publicizing rare bird alerts only. No one called in about their less than rare backyard birds, their birding questions and birding related events like they do now on Wyobirds.

            The only problem with leaving the listserv is figuring out what to do with the digital archives. They may go back to 2004, the first time Wyobirds was mentioned in Cheyenne Audubon’s newsletter.

            Now the Wyoming birding community, and all the travelers interested in coming to see Wyoming birds, can subscribe to Wyobirds (no donations necessary) by going to Google Groups, https://groups.google.com/, and searching for “Wyobirds.” Follow the directions for how to join the group so that you can post and get emails when other group members post. I opted to get one email per day listing all the postings. That will be nice when spring migration begins and there are multiple posts each day.

            Google Groups, a free service from Google, is one way the giant company gives back and we might as well take advantage of it.

Wyoming Master Naturalists

            Wyoming is one of only five states that does not have a Master Naturalist program, however it’s in the discussion stage.

            What is a Master Naturalist and what do they do? Jacelyn Downey, education programs manager for Audubon Rockies who is based near Gillette, explained at the January Cheyenne Audubon meeting that programs are different in each state.

            Most are like the Master Gardener program, offering training and certification. Master naturalists serve by taking on interpretive or educational roles or helping with conservation projects or collecting scientific data. The training requires a certain number of hours and keeping up certification requires hours of continuing education and service. But it’s not a chore if you love nature.

            Master Gardeners is organized in the U.S. through the university extension program. Some Master Naturalist programs are too, as well as through state game and fish or parks departments or Audubon offices or other conservation organizations or partnerships of organizations and agencies.

            Colorado has at least two programs, one through Denver Audubon, and another in Ft. Collins to aid users of the city’s extensive natural areas.

            Dorothy Tuthill also spoke. She is associate director and education coordinator for the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute. She pointed out that several of their programs, like the Moose Day surveys in which “community scientists” (another term for people participating in citizen science) gather data, are the kinds of activities a Master Naturalist program could aid.

            Audubon and the institute already collaborate every year with other organizations and agencies on the annual Wyoming Bioblitz. It’s one day during which scientists, volunteers, teachers, families and kids together gather data on flora and fauna in a designated area. This year’s Bioblitz will be July 17-19 near Sheridan on the Quarter Circle A Ranch, the grounds of the Brinton Museum.

            With a Wyoming Master Naturalist program, a trained corps of naturalists could be available to help agencies and organizations by visiting classrooms, leading hikes, giving programs and helping to plan and participating in projects and surveys.

            Audubon chapter volunteers are already involved in these kinds of things: adult and child education, data collection on field trips and conservation projects. Many of us might broaden our nature expertise beyond birds and learn more about connecting people to nature. But it would be nice to wear a badge that guarantees for the public that we know what we are talking about.

            Just how a Wyoming Naturalist Program would be set up is being discussed right now. Maybe a Google Group needs to be formed. If you’d like to be in on the discussion, please contact Dorothy Tuthill at dtuthill@uwyo.edu and Jacelyn Downey at jdowney@audubon.org.

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.


Drawing by Jane Dorn and design by Chris Hoffmeister.

Riparian areas as valuable to us as to the ancients

Tensleep Preserve

The Alcove at The Nature Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve in Wyoming. Photo courtesy TNC

Published Sept. 6, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Riparian areas: Ancient sacred sites still valuable today.”

2014 Update: For more information about The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, visit http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/wyoming/

By Barb Gorges

Nearly 30 years after applying for a “wider opportunity” to spend a week at Girl Scout National Center West, I finally made it to the camp, now known as The Nature Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve, located near Ten Sleep on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains.

The occasion of my visit was the last hurrah of the Wyoming Riparian Association, of which my husband Mark was a member.

It’s not too often a group’s mission is accomplished and it formally disbands.

The WRA was formed in 1989 at the request of Gov. Mike Sullivan in order that disparate groups from agriculture and environment, and resource professionals from agencies, would begin discussing what they could agree upon regarding the future of riparian areas.

It was a forerunner of Cooperative Resource Management, now a commonly used strategy for resolving natural resource conflicts.

A riparian area is a type of wetland that is the transition zone between water (rivers, streams, lakes and ponds), and dry upland. It is productive for both wildlife and livestock.

Riparian areas account for only one to two percent of Wyoming’s acreage, but if a birder only visited those areas, he’d eventually see one-third of the 398 bird species listed in Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s bird checklist.

Birds whose habitats are listed as wetlands–the actual marshes, lakes and rivers–account for almost another third.

Tensleep Preserve harbors a few wet spots deep in canyons. Naturalist James “Tray” Davis took us to Canyon Creek. We first dropped down into the canyon the depth of a mere flight of stairs, but switched immediately from aridity to humidity.

A huge bush of Rocky Mountain bee plant was humming with butterflies and hummingbird moths. Boxelder and wild clematis formed a screen hiding cliffs rising increasingly higher as we hiked upstream.

We waded the creek several times to get to our destination, the Alcove. Its sandstone overhang had the acoustics of a band shell. Imagine carrying on a conversation with someone 50 yards away as if they were next to you–provided you faced the rock when talking.

The Alcove is considered to have been sacred to Native Americans for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

All along the wall we saw pictographs which experts have recently decided depict images of ancient tobacco seeds, part of a cultural tobacco reverence, perhaps marking growing plots.

Before you spend too much energy considering what archeologists will think of our tobacco advertisements in two thousand years, consider this: a thousand years in the past, a riparian area like the Alcove was receiving special treatment.

The day before, our family unexpectedly visited another ancient riparian landmark, the Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site outside Hyattville.

We were on the way to see the dinosaur tracks between Hyattville and Shell, driving the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway through desert as dry as the name of the road.

Around a corner we encountered an old pickup pulling a travel trailer, but it was stalled broadside to the deserted road where the driver had attempted to turn around. He said he and his wife were supposed to meet friends at a campground when their engine apparently vaporlocked on the hot, steep, treeless hill.

We determined their destination was not in the forest up ahead, but 20 miles back at the archeological site. So we took the wife down and found their friends.

Three of the men quickly organized a rescue party while the women stayed behind on the banks of Medicine Lodge Creek, in the shade of cottonwoods, not far from pictographs painted by ancients who had made this riparian area another of their sacred places.

On the way home we drove the Hazelton Road, a primitive scrape along the spine of the southern Big Horns. Our experienced eyes could visualize the treachery that would probably result with snow or rain, even though the nearly treeless slopes were now too dry.

Every other fence post seemed to sport a hawk and horned larks blew with dust across the road.

The only signs of humans were a few travel trailers and shacks off in the distance now and then, marking summer sheep or cow camps.

The only people we saw were rounding up and loading their livestock–early no doubt, due to the drought. Water is everything.

During its 12-year life, the WRA provided funds for ranchers to improve their riparian areas and for workshops examining riparian values and best management practices.

And now the WRA can be laid to rest because the ancient message has been relearned. The former members will continue to retell it so it will spread like water on parched earth: our green oases are most valuable. They are life.

Wyobirds elist builds community

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwits are an uncommon species for Cheyenne, seen only during spring and fall migration. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published May 13, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Get gossip on Wyoming birds by phone, web.”

2014 Update: The phone number for Wyoming bird alerts is no longer in service. Wyobirds now has more than 280 subscribers. Currently, photos cannot be posted. Donations from Wyoming Audubon chapters and subscribers keep subscriptions free and the posts free of advertising. To subscribe, go to http://home.ease.lsoft.com, to the archives and scroll to the bottom and click on “Wyobirds.” You’ll find information on how to subscribe.

By Barb Gorges

Much of spring bird migration is invisible, especially the species that fly at night—and especially if your birdwatching is confined to your windshield as you commute back and forth to work.

Obvious migrants like robins are visible flocking on lawns. Grackles, shiny black with iridescent heads and long tails, have been clustering in blooming crabapples and raiding bird feeders. Mourning doves are pacing the pavement or clutching powerlines.

An astute or lucky birdwatcher can find Swainson’s hawks cruising Cheyenne’s residential neighborhoods now that they’ve returned from wintering in Argentina. Two flew over our house today. I wonder if they’ve found a spruce tree to nest in nearby or if the harassing blue jays and crows will be too much to put up with.

If you don’t have time to scope out local reservoirs or glass the treetops carefully, the parade will pass you by unless you have a source for avian gossip. Traditionally, birders have used the phone to spread the word about rare and unusual bird sightings. [Gloria Lawrence used to maintain the Wyoming Bird Hotline sponsored by Murie Audubon Society.]

If you see something worth crowing about, say white-faced ibis or marbled godwit, you can leave a message including your name, phone number and when and where you saw the bird. Gloria then adds your bird to the message she leaves for callers who check in periodically to see what’s up.

A few years ago, mention of a snowy owl just north of Cheyenne brought birders in from over 100 miles away. It was a life bird for several people, the first time they had ever seen the species.

Now we also have the Wyobirds e-list for spreading the bird word. Internet-savvy folks groan when they think about subscribing to another e-list. If the membership is large and vocal, it can mean a lot of e-mail messages every day. But this is Wyoming, so there are fewer of us, and we’re a bit taciturn.

Currently there are about 70 members. Messages average less than a dozen a week, with a few more during migration, so it’s obvious there are a lot of “lurkers”—people who read but never write. Shyness may have to do with a subscriber’s confidence in identifying birds correctly, but Wyobirds is not about snobbery.

Recently, a subscriber received kindly worded help identifying a confusing-looking bird in a photo he had taken and attached to his query. Two possibilities, both gray birds with white eye-rings, were deftly sorted out by list owner Will Cornell.

Will, a birder in Rock Springs, began the Wyobirds e-list in 2001, modeled after his experience in another state. An Internet company provides the service for free (a small charge Will pays eliminates the advertising) so subscription is also free.

Will’s description of the list is, “Wyobirds is a medium by which birders can post birds seen in Wyoming, upcoming bird related events, keep in contact with other birders, post photographs of birds in Wyoming, ask questions and keep abreast of bird related news. Basically, if it relates to birds in the state of Wyoming, it is welcome for posting to Wyobirds.”

Over the last few weeks postings have mentioned American pipits and broad-winged hawks near Casper, a peregrine falcon south of Cheyenne, a common loon near Sundance, a snowy egret near Rock Springs, mountain blue birds nesting north of Cody and American white pelicans at Saratoga Lake.

The e-list can also work in reverse. Travelers post messages asking where to find a particular species they want to add to their life list or where to find good birding. Researchers ask for help and Audubon chapters post field trips.

Since Will is the owner and manager of the Wyobirds e-list, he is the person who deals with the hosting company, arbitrates good taste and good manners, and who encourages the timid to post. However, it is all the subscribers who participate who give the e-list content and voice.

That means 70 potential reporters can help you stay connected and “see” migration this year—even if you are trapped at your computer too many of the daylight hours.

Birders use cyberspace to advantage

2002laptopMSPublished March 7, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birders use cyberspace to advantage.”

2014 Update: Wyobirds is still running. Sign up http://home.ease.lsoft.com/archives. There are now 280 members.

By Barb Gorges

Ever have the feeling you live in a parallel universe? Once in awhile you find a metaphorical door open and discover, for instance, that people you talk to regularly are having a whole other conversation among themselves via e-mail.

Some months ago a birding friend held a door open for me, but I put off stepping through until a couple weeks ago when I finally signed up for the Wyoming Bird Discussion Group and Bird Alert listserv known as Wyobirds.

Some of you savvy Internet users know all about listservs, and now I’m convinced they are the greatest thing since spotting scopes.

Serious birders have always had a communications system. When Gloria Lawrence saw a pale-phase gyrfalcon in her backyard on the banks of the North Platte River west of Casper on Feb. 26, she knew exactly which birding friends would want a phone call. She also posted her sighting for all the Wyobirders.

Gloria maintains a toll-free, state-wide bird hotline, 307-265-2473, sponsored by Murie Audubon Society. She can receive and post rare bird reports and migration information. Too bad my phone doesn’t blink when something exciting happens.

Now that I’ve subscribed to the Wyobirds listserv, reports from a network of nearly 50 members around the state (plus a few northern Coloradans who occasionally bird Wyoming) come right to my computer as e-mail messages.

Some of you will cringe at the idea of even more e-mail. One option is not to subscribe, but to just go to the Web site and peruse the archives at your leisure. However, if you want to post any replies or reports for the edification of the group, you need to subscribe, which costs nothing except the time it takes to send an initial e-mail.

Wyobirds was started last May by Will Cornell of Rock Springs. A recent transplant from Kansas, Cornell modeled his listserv after one for that state managed by his friend and birding mentor, Chuck Otte.

Starting with only five members, the first few postings were Will’s reports from birding trips. Then other birders from Rock Springs and also Green River and Casper began sharing their observations and answering each other’s questions about where to find birds.

The summer months were slow, except for an announcement in July from a member in Laramie that the fall shorebird migration was underway. By September the first sighting of a rough-legged hawk was reported. That’s the Arctic-nesting hawk that thinks Wyoming is a balmy place to spend the winter.

Migration is a good time for finding birds rare to Wyoming. Last fall there was a red knot near Casper, a surf scoter near Lake Hattie and a little gull (that’s its official name) at the sewage ponds in Green River.

Spring migration is already astir, with reports of mountain bluebirds north of Cheyenne Feb. 19 and eastern bluebirds Feb. 21 at Bessemer Bend.

For serious birders able to chase after rarities, the listserv makes an excellent, low cost alert system. Meanwhile the rest of us enjoy knowing there’s more out there than the house sparrows in our backyards.

But some discussions and reports are of interest to backyard birders too, such as where blue jays are nesting or that a Townsend’s solitaire was heard singing somewhat prematurely Feb. 21 in Green River or that someone has rosy finches at their feeders.

I saw one example of political lobbying in the archives, but it was quite forgivable. It was against a proposed law allowing falconers to remove wild peregrine falcon chicks from nests and raise them for their sport.

Wyobirds is a good place to pose a bird question. What is the name for a female swan? The young are cygnets, the male is a cob and the female is called a pen.

If you are a grad student studying the mountain plover, this is the group to ask if they’ve sighted any. Or if you are traveling across Wyoming on Christmas break, Wyobirders will gladly help you find rosy finches.

Late fall there was a flurry of messages about dates and contacts for various Christmas Bird Counts and already there’s increasing discussion of spring birding trips. But unlike members of listservs for indoor hobbies, there’s a chance when we Wyobirders go outside we’ll see each other.