Aug. 11, 2019 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle as “Audubon Photography Awards
feature Pinedale photographer”
Last month, a familiar name appeared
on my screen, “Elizabeth Boehm.”
I was reading an email from the
National Audubon Society listing the winners of the 2019 Audubon Photography
I have never met Elizabeth in
person. But she was one of the people who replied when I put out a request on
the Wyobirds e-list for photos of the few bird species we didn’t have for
photographer Pete Arnold’s and my book published last year, “Cheyenne Birds by
the Month.” She generously shared six images.
With my similar request on Wyobirds
back in 2008 for “Birds by the Week” for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Pete
supplied most of the 104 photos (the others were stock), and he contributed 93
for the book. Here’s the small world connection: Pete is Elizabeth’s neighbor
whenever he and his wife visit his wife’s childhood home in Pinedale.
Now here is the big world
connection: Elizabeth won the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards in the
professional category. To qualify as a professional, you must make a certain
amount of money from photography the previous year.
A week later, Audubon magazine
arrived and there, printed over a two-page spread, like the grand prize winner,
was Elizabeth’s winning photo: two male sage-grouse fighting on an entirely
white background of snow.
I decided it was time to get to know
Elizabeth better and interviewed her by phone about her prize-winning
photography. Elizabeth won the Wyoming Wildlife magazine grand prize a couple
years ago and one year she was in the top 10 for the North American Nature
Photography Association. Her photos have been published in Audubon magazine. “I
was totally surprised,” she said of her latest win.
More than 8,000 images were
submitted by 2,253 U.S. and Canadian photographers. Categories included
professional, amateur, youth (13-17 years old), Plants for Birds (bird and a
plant native to the area photographed together) and the Fisher Prize (for originality
and technical expertise).
Elizabeth started shooting
landscapes and wildflowers 25 years ago, then started selling images 10 years
later, adding wildlife to her subjects. Now she works her day job only two days
Of her winning image she said, “I
usually go out in the spring. I know the local leks. I like snow to clean up
the background. The hard part of photographing fights is they are spontaneous.
It’s kind of a fast, quick thing.”
males fight in the pre-dawn light for the right to be the one that mates with
all the willing females. “I set up the night before or in the middle of the
night. It’s better waiting and being patient,” she said.
visits leks one or two times a week March through April. This past spring was
too wet for driving the back roads. Even the grouse weren’t on the leks until
late. They don’t like snow because there is nowhere to hide from the eagles that
prey on them.
This winning photo is from three or
four years ago. Elizabeth came across it while searching her files for another
project and realized it could be special with a little work.
allows nothing other than cropping and a few kinds of lighting and color
adjustments. At one point, Audubon requested Elizabeth’s untouched RAW image. See
the 2019 rules, and 2019’s winning photos, at https://www.audubon.org/photoawards-entry.
Her camera is a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon 500 mm EF f/4L IS USM lens. The photo
was taken at 1/1500 second at f/5.6, ISO 800.
In September, National Audubon will
finalize the schedule for the traveling exhibit of APA winners.
Elizabeth sells prints at the Art of
the Winds, a 10-artist gallery on Pinedale’s Main Street. You can also purchase
images directly from her at http://elizabethboehm.com.
offers guided local birding tours and is also the organizer for the local
Christmas Bird Count.
are a dime a dozen in the Yellowstone – Grand Teton neighborhood where
Elizabeth shoots. She works hard to have her work stand out. She also donates
her work to conservation causes like Pete’s and my book which is meant to get
more people excited about local birds and birdwatching.
Look on the copyright page of
“Cheyenne Birds by the Month” for the list of Elizabeth’s contributions. You
can find the book online through the University of Wyoming bookstore, the
Wyoming Game and Fish store and Amazon, etc.
Cheyenne it’s at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Cheyenne Depot
Museum, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Riverbend Nursery,
Cheyenne Pet Clinic, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Pink Boutique, Barnes
and Noble, PBR Printing and out at Curt Gowdy State Park.
Pete Arnold and I will be doing a book signing Aug. 10 at the Barnes & Noble store in Cheyenne, 1851 Dell Range Blvd. The signing will be 1 – 5 p.m.
At 1:30 p.m. I’ll do a talk, “What Birds Want from Your Backyard” followed by Pete talking about wildlife photography.
You are welcome to bring a book you have already purchased or buy one at the store.
While we’ve had several book signings around town at the different shops that carry our book, this is the first one at a book store. And it’s Barnes & Noble. Back in 1979, before B & N opened stores everywhere, I visited the flagship store in New York City. It was overwhelming. Multiple floors crammed with books on every subject. I wanted to read them all. And now “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” has joined the catalog!
P.S. Books are also available in Cheyenne at the Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming State Museum, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne Pet Clinic, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, Riverbend Nursery, Cheyenne Pet Clinic and PBR Printing. And also at the Curt Gowdy State Park visitor center and the University of Wyoming bookstore in Laramie. And online at the UW bookstore, Game and Fish, as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Published July 5, 2019 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle as a guest editorial, “Participating at the Roundhouse hearing was an intense adventure”
By Barb Gorges
The Cheyenne –
High Plains Audubon Society agrees clean energy is needed. However, wind energy
is deadly for birds when they are struck by turbine blades.
Beginning last December,
CHPAS discussed its concerns about the Roundhouse Wind Energy development with
company, city and county officials. The 120-turbine wind farm will extend from
Interstate 80 south to the Colorado state line and from I-25 west to Harriman
The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council hearing for the
approval of the Roundhouse Wind Energy application was held June 13 in a
Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society filed
as a party, preparing a pre-hearing statement. The other parties were the
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Division,
Roundhouse, and Laramie County, also acting on behalf of the city of Cheyenne.
presented our opening statements. Then the Roundhouse lawyer presented her
expert witnesses, asking them leading questions. Then I, acting in the same
capacity for CHPAS as the lawyer for Roundhouse, cross-examined her witnesses.
One was a viewshed analysis expert from Los Angeles, the other a biologist from
Western EcoSystems Technology, the Cheyenne consulting firm that does
contract biological studies for wind energy companies across the country.
presented our expert witness, Daly Edmunds, Audubon Rockies’ policy and
outreach director. Wind farm issues are a big part of her work. She is also a
wildlife biologist with a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming.
rushed getting our testimony in before the 5 p.m. cutoff for the first day
because I was not available the next day. I asked permission to allow Mark
Gorges to read our closing statement the next day, after the applicant had a
chance to rebut all the conditions we asked for.
council members chose not to debate our conditions. Some conditions were echoed
by DEQ. But it was a hard sell since Wyoming Game and Fish Department had
already signed off on the application.
Here are the
conditions we asked for:
1) Some of the recommended wildlife studies will be one and a half years away
from completion when turbine-building starts in September. Complete the studies
first to make better turbine placement decisions.
2) Do viewshed analysis from the south and share it with adjacent Colorado open
space and natural area agencies.
3) Get a “take permit” to avoid expensive trouble with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service if dead eagles are found.
4) Use the Aircraft Detection Lighting System so tower lights, which can confuse
night-migrating birds, will be turned on as little as possible. This was on
DEQ’s list as well.
5) Use weather radar to predict the best times to shut down turbines during
6) Be transparent about the plans for and results of avian monitoring after the
7) Relocate six of the southernmost turbine locations because of their impact
on wildlife and the integrity of adjacent areas set aside for their
half of the hearing dealt with county/city requests for economic impact funds
from the state. The expected costs are from a couple hundred workers temporarily
descending on Cheyenne requiring health and emergency services.
At the June CHPAS
board meeting, members approved staying involved in the Roundhouse issue. The
Roundhouse folks have a little mitigation money we could direct toward a study to
benefit birds at this and other wind farms. There is a Technical Advisory
Committee we need to keep track of. And we need to lobby to give Game and
Fish’s recommendations more legal standing so they can’t be ignored.
It’s too bad
I don’t watch courtroom dramas. The hearing would have been easier to navigate.
But everyone—DEQ employees, the Roundhouse team, council members, hearing
examiner, court reporter—was very supportive of CHPAS’s participation. They
rarely see the public as a party at these hearings. I just wish we could have
had one or more conditions accepted on behalf of the birds.
Barb Gorges is the most
recent past president of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society which
represents Audubon members in Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties.
Early summer exploded with babies.
In addition to our family adding the first baby of the new generation (do wild
animals relate to their grand-offspring?), I noticed a lot of other baby
Driving past Holliday Park at
twilight at the end of June I caught a glimpse of what looked like three loose
dogs. They were a mother racoon and two young scampering across the lawn.
Walking our dog around the field by
our house I saw a ground squirrel mother herd a youngster out of the street and
back to the safety of the grass. There’s also an explosion of baby rabbits in
that field driving everyone’s dogs crazy.
We have a pair of Swainson’s hawks
nesting in our neighborhood and they are using the field as their grocery store.
I’m not sure exactly where they are nesting, but I’m guessing it is one of the
large spruce trees. Whenever I’m at the field, I catch a glimpse of at least
one hunting. But I also glimpse them from my kitchen window soaring, meaning I
can add them to my eBird.org yard list. The yard list is all the species I’ve
seen from the window or while out in the yard. The Swainson’s have put me at 99
species so far—over about 12 years.
When it warmed up, we spent more time
in our backyard and I noticed other signs of family life. We always have a
raucous community of tree squirrels, one generation indistinguishable from the
next, chasing each other round and round in our big trees.
This year I’ve been hearing a
mountain chickadee sing. No, not the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call—that’s their
alarm call—but a sweet three-note song (listen at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/).
I’m also learning the various
phrases American goldfinches use while they spend the summer with us. We’ve
left our nyger thistle seed feeder up for them (no, nyger thistle is not our
noxious weed and it is treated not to sprout). They sometimes come as a group
of four, including two males and two females, and sometimes a younger one.
The downy woodpeckers have been
visiting as well. They go for one of those blocks of seed “glued” together that
you buy at the store. You would think they would go for bugs hiding in the
furrowed bark of the tree trunks. Maybe they do, in addition to the seed block.
The robins have been busy. I
observed a youngster walking through my garden as it tried to imitate the foraging
action of the nearby adult, but it finally resorted to begging to be fed.
Within the space of a couple days I
was contacted about two problem robins attempting to build nests on the tops of
porch lights. Porch lights, because they usually provide a shelf-like surface
under the safety of the roof overhang, are quite popular. But not everyone
trying to use the adjacent door likes getting dive-bombed by the angry robin
In the first situation, Deb, our
former neighbor, said the robin was trying to build a nest on a porch light
with a pyramidal top. The bird could not make her nest stick and all the
materials from all her attempts slid off and accumulated on the porch floor.
Providing another ledge nearby might not have worked for such a determined
bird. Instead, Deb opted for screening off the top of the light. Hopefully Mama
Robin found a better location in Deb’s spruce trees.
Our current neighbor, Dorothy,
texted me the next day, wondering what she and her family were going to do
about being attacked by the robin which had built a nest on her (flat-topped)
front porch light. Maybe avoid walking out the front door and walk out through
the garage instead, I said. I asked her if she had a selfie stick so she could
take pictures of the inside of the nest to show her two young boys.
Down at Lions Park a new colony of
black-crowned night-herons has been established. Listen for them behind the
conservatory. The colony at Holliday Park is still going strong.
In the far corner of Curt Gowdy
State Park, I caught a glimpse of a bird family I hadn’t seen together before.
Way up on the nasty El Alto trail, I saw a brown songbird I couldn’t identify
readily. And then the parent came to feed it, a western tanager. The youngster
has a long way to go before attaining either the look of its mother, if female,
or if male, the bright yellow body with black and white wings and the orange
head like its father.
Published April 21, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
By Barb Gorges
Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America by Rick Wright, c. 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Birders can be nerdy.
This is a book for sparrow nerds and would-be nerds.
There are three main parts to Wright’s multi-page treatment of each of 76 sparrow species or major subspecies: history of its scientific description and naming, field identification, and range and geographic variation.
Did you know the
pink-sided junco (dark-eyed junco subspecies) has Wyoming roots? A Smithsonian
collecting trip, the South Pass Wagon Road expedition, made it to Fort Bridger,
in the far southwest corner of what is now Wyoming, in the spring of 1858.
Constantin Charles Drexler, assistant to the surgeon, collected a sparrow
identified as an Oregon junco and shipped it back to Washington, D.C.
About 40 years
later, experts determined it was the earliest collected specimen of pink-sided
junco and Drexler, who went on many more collecting forays, lives on, famous
forever on the internet.
Wright’s feather by feather field identification comparisons will warm a birder’s heart, as will the multiple photos. However, over half of each account is devoted to range and geographic variation. No map. No list of subspecies by name. To the uninitiated, including me, apparently, Wright’s writing rambles. If you would become an expert on North American sparrows, you will have to study hard.
Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America by Nathan Pieplow, c. 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Each species gets a page with a small range map and a short description of habitat. The tiny painting of the male bird (and female if it looks different) is not going to help you with feather-splitting identification problems. It’s just a faster way to identify the page you want if you are already familiar with the bird.
Each species’ page
has diagrams of the sounds it makes, spectrograms. They aren’t too different
from musical notation. The introduction will teach you how to read them. In
addition to the standard index for a reference book or a field guide, there is
an index of spectrograms. It works like a key, dividing bird sounds into seven
categories and each of those are subdivided and each subdivision lists possible
Then you go online
to www.PetersonBirdSounds.com to listen. I looked up one of my favorite spring
migrants, the lazuli bunting. There are 15 recordings. Birds can have regional
accents, so it was nice to see recordings from Colorado, including some made by
Pieplow, a Coloradoan. If you’ve ever wanted to study birdsongs and other bird
sounds, this is the field guide for you.
Season on the Wind, Inside the World of Spring Migration by Kenn Kaufman, c. 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I referenced the advance reading copy of this book a couple months ago when discussing the coming development of the wind farm at Cheyenne’s Belvoir Ranch. It gave me insights into the impact of wind energy on birds and bats.
The larger part of
this book is about spring migration where birds and birdwatchers congregate in
droves along the southwest shore of Lake Erie.
It’s as much about the birds as it is the community of birders, beginning with those year-round regulars at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory like Kaufman and his wife, Kimberly Kaufman, the executive director, and the migrant birdwatchers who come from all over the world, some year after year.
Even if you know a lot about bird migration, this is worth a read just for the poetry of Kaufman’s prose as he describes how falling in love with Kimberly brought him to northwestern Ohio where he fell in love again, with the Black Swamp, a place pioneers avoided.
the Mountain, The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Bryce Andrews, c. 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Are you familiar with the genre “creative nonfiction”? It means a book or other piece of writing is factual, but uses literary conventions like plot, character, scene, suspense. This is a suspenseful story. We already expect a death, based on the book’s subtitle.
Rancher-writer-conservationist Andrews documents how a bear he refers to as Millie, an experienced mother with three cubs, gets in trouble in the Mission Valley of western Montana despite his efforts to protect her and other bears from their worst instincts.
Don’t turn out the lights too soon after following Andrews into the maze of field corn where grizzlies like to gather on a dark night.
Last year, the folks at Cornell Lab
of Ornithology improved and enhanced BirdCast, http://birdcast.info/. You can now get
a three-night forecast of bird migration movement for the continental U.S. This
not only helps avid birders figure out where to see lots of birds but helps
operators of wind turbines know when to shut down and managers of tall
buildings and structures when to shut the lights off (birds are attracted to
lights and collide), resulting in the fewest bird deaths.
The forecasts are built on 23 years
of data that relates weather trends and other factors to migration timing.
Songbird migration is predominately
at night. Ornithologists discovered that radar, used to detect aircraft during
World War II and then adapted for tracking weather events in the 1950s, was
also detecting clouds of migrating birds.
There is a network of 143 radar
stations across the country, including the one by the Cheyenne airport. You can
explore the data archive online and download maps for free.
CLO’s Adriaan Doktor sent me an
animation of the data collected from the Cheyenne station for May 7, 2018, one
of last spring’s largest local waves of migration. He is one of the authors of
a paper, “Seasonal abundance and survival of North America’s migratory
based on radar information.
At the BirdCast website, you can pull up the animation for the night of May 6-7 and see where the migrating birds were thickest across the country. The brightest white clouds indicate a density of as many as 50,000 birds per kilometer per hour—that’s a rate of 80,500 birds passing over a mile-long line per hour. Our flight was not that bright, maybe 16,000 birds crossing a mile-long line per hour. A strong flight often translates into a lot of birds coming to earth in the morning—very good birdwatching conditions. Although if flying conditions are excellent, some birds fly on.
I also looked at the night of May
18-19, 2018, the night before last year’s Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count—hardly
any activity. The weather was so nasty that Saturday, our bird compiler
rescheduled for Sunday, which was not a big improvement. We saw only 113
Twenty-five years ago, the third
Saturday of May could yield 130 to 150 species. Part of the difference is the
greater number of expert Audubon birders who helped count back then. Birding
expertise seems to go in generational waves.
But we also know that songbird numbers are down. I read in Scott Weidensaul’s book, “Living on the Wind,” published in 1999, about Sidney Gauthreaux’s 1989 talk at a symposium on neotropical migrants. He used radar records to show that the frequency of spring migrant waves across the Gulf of Mexico was down by 50 percent over 30 years. Radar can’t count individual birds or identify species, but we know destruction or degradation of breeding and wintering habitat has continued as people develop rural areas.
But I also wonder if, along with plants blooming earlier due to climate change, the peak of spring migration is earlier. A paper by scientists from the University of Helsinki, due to be published in June in the journal Ecological Indicators, shows that 195 species of birds in Europe and Canada are migrating on average a week earlier than 50 years ago, due to climate change.
Would we have been better off holding last year’s Big Day on either of the previous two Saturdays? I looked at the radar animations for the preceding nights in 2018, and yes, there was a lot more migration activity in our area than on the night before the 19th. Both dates also had better weather.
As much fun as our Big Day is—a large group of birders of all skill levels combing the Cheyenne area for birds from dawn to dusk (and even in the dark)—and as much effort as is put into it, there has never been a guarantee the Saturday we pick will be the height of spring migration.
The good news is that in addition to our Big Day, we have half a dozen diehard local birders out nearly every day from the end of April to the end of May adding spring migration information to the eBird.org database. It’s a kind of addiction, rather like fishing, wondering what you’ll see if you cast your eyes up into the trees and out across the prairie. I recommend that you explore BirdCast.info (and eBird.org) and sign up to join Cheyenne Audubon members for all or part of this year’s Big Day on May 18. See the chapter’s website and/or sign up for the free e-newsletter, https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/newsletters/.