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.