“Cheyenne Birds” book signing Dec. 9

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyDear Readers,

Photographer Pete Arnold and I are having a book signing for “Cheyenne Birds by the Month, 104 Species of Southeastern Wyoming’s Resident and Visiting Birds.” Join us this Sunday, Dec. 9 from 1 – 3 p.m. at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, 710 S. Lions Park Drive, Cheyenne, Wyoming. People are telling us Pete’s photos are helping them identify birds!

Books are available at the Gardens’ Tilted Tulip gift shop Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon – 5 p.m. You can also find the books at the Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming State Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing.

Immediately following the book signing is a reception for the new Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Artist in Residence exhibit, “Garden of Quilts,” featuring 10 of my flower and flower-bright quilts. My husband Mark is baking cookies for it. The exhibit will be up through Jan. 27.

Hope to see you,





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.

Making birds at home in our urban forest

Bluebird nestbox

This example of a bluebird nestbox shows the side-opening panel to make it easy to clean each season. It also has a collar outside the entrance hole to make it difficult for racoons to reach in. Stratification below the entrance hole inside helps fledglings climb out. Photo courtesy of the North American Bluebird Society.

Published April 13, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Making birds at home in our ‘urban forest’.”

2014 Update: For lists of trees and shrubs suitable for Cheyenne, see the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, www.botanic.org. Look for “Gardening Tips.” For information on feeding birds, visit http://feederwatch.org/. Search Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, http://www.allaboutbirds.org, for information about nest boxes (bird houses).

By Barb Gorges

Over the last hundred years, part of the prairie in Laramie County has been converted to forest by the residents of Cheyenne.

Either to remind ourselves of homes back East or to block the wind, we’ve plant trees.

Naturally irrigated areas on the prairie, the riparian zones along streams, rivers and lakes, grow thick sod, cottonwoods and willows. But here in town our lawns and trees grow with the help of irrigation water piped over the mountains or pumped from the ground water.

When we want to attract birds to our urban yards, we mimic the amenities of the forest. Sometimes the improvements benefit us as well as the birds.

First, we plant more trees and shrubs, especially the hardy native species requiring less water. Dense plantings, coniferous or deciduous, give birds places to nest and good protection from bad weather and predators such as roaming domestic cats. They may provide food as well for berry eaters like robins and waxwings.

Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, recommends growing Nanking or sand cherries, woodbine, New Mexico privet and juniper. Other recommendations from the gardens’ website include serviceberry, chokecherry, sumac, and varieties of currant.

Besides giving us a little protection from wind, plantings protect us from views of unsightly garbage cans or compost piles.

Birds help us maintain trees. In the spring, warblers can be seen gleaning bugs from the new leaves. Woodpeckers, including flickers, and brown creepers search every inch of the tree trunks year-round.

A plain, ordinary lawn can also attract the native pest patrol. Grackles will patiently pace your sward of green, shoulder to shoulder, their yellow eyes gleaming like searchlights as they delve with their long, sharp bills into the turf for miscreant grubs.

Your end of the lawn maintenance deal is to switch from chemical lawn fertilizers to child/pet/bird-compatible products. Ken Stevens of Riverbend Nursery recommends “Sustane,” a slow-release, balanced fertilizer with microbes that encourage the natural decay and nutrient cycle.

Pesticides? Why use them, when you are inviting avian experts? As for weeds, healthy grass will crowd them out. Occasional dandelion digging is good exercise, and if you miss one, the seeds will be appreciated by goldfinches.

As testimony to 11 years of organic care, infrequent, deep watering, and grass cutting at the highest blade setting, our lawn has never needed de-thatching or aerating and looks much like the rest of our neighbors’ lawns.

But why settle for a boring Kentucky bluegrass lawn? For the same amount of water, or even less if you practice xeriscaping, why not convert to native grasses or the visual diversity of gardens providing seeds and berries for birds?

The birds attracted to our urban forest are often cavity nesters. Trees have to be old and decadent enough to get cavities, but when they reach that point, we usually cut them down because they threaten our safety.

So we provide bird houses for house wrens, house finches, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

When you are perusing bird house plans, make sure you pick those for species that occur here. For instance, we are not in the purple martin’s normal range. Make sure the entrance dimensions exclude pesky non-native species like house sparrows. Let them build their nests in discount store signs. And erect your house so marauding cats, squirrels and starlings can’t kill nestlings.

For the cavity nesters as well as the branch and bush nesters like gold finches, provide fiberous materials like string and hair from people and pets, but not fishing line or in lengths longer than six inches. And leave some mud for the robins and swallows to plaster their kind of nests.

Bird bath

Water attracts birds, for both bathing and drinking. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Forest birds like water for drinking and bathing, though some prefer dust baths. Realistically, during lawn watering season, there’s always some water slopping into gutter streams or sidewalk micro ponds. But what about the rest of the year?

If you want to provide five-star accommodations, offer a pool. It doesn’t have to be Olympic-sized–I’ve noticed birds using the dog’s water dish. Heated is nice in winter. Moving water is especially attractive, whether a fountain or just a milk jug full of water you hang up and then made leak at the rate of a drip every second or so.

Putting food out is always a popular way to attract birds. It is most successful when water and shelter are also present. Offering sunflower and niger thistle seed right through the summer gives a nutritional boost to brooding birds and parents feeding nestlings. But in warmer weather, it’s doubly important to keep feeders clean and free of deadly bacteria and diseases.

There are lots of selfish reasons for encouraging wild birds to come and live among us: their songs, their colors, their antics and their utilitarian contributions.

Most importantly, birds are still the “canaries in the coal mine” in our age of continuing industry and development. A forest without birds is cause for trepidation.

Mystery bird photographer identified

cameraPublished March 8, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Mystery photographer identified.”

2014 Update: The Clapps are still our neighbors.

By Barb Gorges

Our story so far: Slides of birds, circa 1960-1980, donated to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, cause local Audubon members to seek the identity of the photographer. Photos of two people found with the birds are published with the Feb. 22 Bird Banter column…

Home-delivered Wyoming Tribune-Eagles are on doorsteps by 6 a.m. weekdays. By 8 a.m. Feb. 22, I had my first call, from Cindy Braden. She identified the woman pictured as her husband’s late grandmother, Rhea Clapp.

“She wouldn’t be related to my next door neighbor, Bob Clapp, would she?” I asked.

“She’s his mother.”

I love coincidences.

Cindy, Bob’s niece-in-law, was unsure of the man’s identity, but she did know the location of the backyard. Bob’s daughter, Robin Waterhouse, still lives in the house at 1518 E. 22 St.

The next call was from Jeanette Vandorn. She led a 4-H group years ago that was sponsored by the Cheyenne Garden Club, of which Rhea was an active member. Vandorn remembers sitting at Rhea’s kitchen window bird watching.

Another caller thought the dapper man in the photo had to be Kirk Knox – the man most widely recognized in Cheyenne today for wearing a hat that’s not a Stetson or a ball cap.

Marjorie Brink had more information. She was a close friend of Bob’s sister, Anna Marie, or Ann as she was called. Their father Leo was a meteorologist in Cheyenne. She thought the Clapps had come from Nebraska originally.

So I went to school Thursday morning pretty sure the unknown woman was Rhea Clapp, garden club member and birdwatcher, and still assuming the man pictured was her husband. Until the next call, from Lela Allyn.

“The man in the photo is definitely Cliff Colgin,” she said. “I bought my last car from him at Tyrrell’s.”

Since I couldn’t recall the car salesman I met last summer, I was doubtful.

“Oh yes, I remember him,” Allyn said. “I bought the car in 1978, and I still have it.”

By this time I figured I should call neighbor Bob, but he and his wife Corky appeared to be on one of their out-of-town jaunts.

Saturday I got a call from Helen Colgin. The man in the photo was her husband.

The Clapps and the Colgins were good friends and frequently traveled someplace like Estes Park on Sundays. And yes, they’d wintered in Phoenix. Cliff Colgin always wore a white shirt and jacket, even hunting. They did a lot of fishing, too. And they all took pictures.

Finally, Sunday night Bob called, fresh from a trip to Omaha to visit his 98-year-old aunt, his mother’s sister. His parents came from Gordon and Hastings, Neb., small towns nearby (OK, so I was off by a bridge-length when I guessed Iowa.). The pictures of the cardinals are probably from there. Perhaps the zoo pictures too.

Leo Clapp began his meteorology career at age 18, flying weather kites, said Bob. He retired from the weather bureau after more than 40 years, in the early 60s. Then he took up photography. So the “LC” on some of the slides is his initials.

We still have to presume he took the other slides as well. He died in 1988 at the age of 89, having lived in Cheyenne for more than 70 years.

Rhea Clapp was a member of Audubon back in the days when there was one chapter for the whole state of Wyoming. She was also known for her expertise in roses, judging shows in the area and once even in Chicago. She died in 1991 at the age of 89. It was then that Bob donated the bird slides and stacks of gardening magazines to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

In 1938 the Clapps built the house on East 22nd, when Bob was 8 years old. They planted the landscape themselves. Rhea brought back an acorn from Chicago and got it to sprout and grow in the backyard. Robin, Bob’s daughter, remembers when bird feeding took up the whole back side of the house.

The Colgins lived two houses away from the Clapps while Bob was growing up, and they became close friends.

Leo and Rhea did travel to Arizona quite a bit, mostly around Phoenix, a destination still popular with Cheyenne’s retired population.

And, like many people’s children, Ann and Bob left Cheyenne. Ann and her husband lived in California and Oregon before returning. Her widower and three children still live here. Bob spent 23 years in Colorado before coming home. He and Corky sometimes travel to Arizona themselves, to see Corky’s sister.

Part of bird identification involves learning a species’ preferred habitat and life history. I’ve been in Cheyenne long enough to recognize a certain human life history pattern that still holds today: parents back in Nebraska, children in Denver or California, and winters in Arizona.

Are our migration patterns genetically wired into our brains? Are they the result of environmental influences such as windy winters or overcrowding in the “old country”? Or are they the result of cultural knowledge we pick up from our tribe?

Some juvenile birds make their first migration without any experienced adults along. Do you suppose these youngsters aspire to southern winters after hearing Mom, Dad and the neighbors talk? At this point, late in Wyoming’s winter, I myself could stand to hear more.

Wind energy for the birds

Vertical axis wind turbine

A vertical axis wind turbine and solar panels grace the Paul Smith Children’s Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne, Wyo. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Feb. 16, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Let’s rethink mega wind farm on behalf of birds, efficiency.”

Note: This column ran in the same edition as “Firm in California seeks to harness Wyoming’s wind,” by Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times, about the Anschutz Corporation’s plans for the 500-square-mile ranch they bought south of Rawlins, Wyo., on which they plan to spread 1,000 turbines (the Chokecherry project) and build a 750-mile transmission line to take it all back to California. California environmentalists are not happy. Read his story here: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-wyoming-wind-20140209,0,3366359.story#axzz2tbMTmglR.

By Barb Gorges

David Yarnold is not happy.

The president of the National Audubon Society writes in the January/February issue of Audubon magazine that our country’s wind farms kill 573,000 birds, including 83,000 raptors.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act should be protecting most of those birds, he says.

It’s illegal to kill them without a permit, but the Interior Department has only enforced the law once, he says. Apparently, wind farms don’t have permits for all the birds killed.

A new federal rule allows wind companies to get 30-year permits. But to Yarnold, that represents too many birds, with no incentives to cut the number of deaths.

Wind energy is a great idea. It’s been used for centuries to propel boats, to grind grain, to pump water.

A structure for catching the wind can be erected wherever the power is needed, though a backup system is essential for windless days. People are working on more efficient battery systems.

But leave it to American ingenuity to take a simple idea and enlarge upon it, making it industrial sized, much like family farming morphed into industrial agriculture.

Wind energy is clean, producing no pollution except whatever manufacturing the components entails and maintenance requires. We need cleaner energy sources like wind since the traditional fuel-burning, power-producing businesses are reluctant to make their energy production cleaner. Never mind the climate change debate–we all have to breathe.

But wind energy has an Achilles heel. Developers want to site numerous turbines in the windiest places, which also attract birds. Collisions with the blades, the towers and the transmission lines kill birds and bats. Wind farms have mazes of roads running over habitat, forcing out wildlife.

Audubon suggests targeting development for areas that are already disturbed or developed, avoiding areas known to be dense with birds, such as the Prairie Pothole region, the Texas Gulf Coast, and the Northeast’s raptor migration bottlenecks.

If you don’t care about birds, I suppose you wouldn’t see any of this as a problem. But you should care. To sum up Basic Ecology 101, every living thing, including you, is connected to every other living thing. It’s hard to predict how a loss of birds may affect you. It could be as simple as insect populations getting out of control and decimating crops.

But there are other reasons to rethink the concept of the mega wind farm.

I am a fan of dispersed power production, placing it among the structures where we live and work. For instance, solar panels over every roof, providing extra roof insulation and hail protection. Solar panels over parking lots would keep cars and asphalt cool. Small windmills could be placed along every highway where power lines are already strung. What if we were to place constellations of pinwheels on the outer walls of a skyscraper to produce power for that building?

The advantage of disbursed power production is we don’t lose the power consumed by transporting it over long distances. Plus, any power outages would affect fewer people at a time.

OK, so every location in the country isn’t terribly windy, but as a descendent, and mother, of engineers, I think we can engineer our way to more efficient turbines. It’s happening already.

Last month, a story in this paper mentioned in passing that Ogin Inc. has invented a wind turbine with cowling, or shrouding as they are calling it. I went online to www.oginenergy.com to see what it was about.

Compare the old-style propeller-driven plane with the more efficient, more powerful jet engine enclosed by cowling. This new wind turbine design is the same thing. According to their information, “energy output is increased up to three times per unit of swept area.”

Ogin turbines are smaller, at 200 feet versus the current 500-foot tall turbines, so they can fit into already developed landscapes more easily. Because they are shorter and the tips of the blades are outlined by the shrouding, it is believed fewer birds would be killed.

Testing of this new design will be happening at the infamous Altamont Pass in California, where some years ago, biologists helped engineers change turbine tower designs from open lattice work into the smooth cylinders we know today—taking away perches for raptors which were otherwise unwittingly launching themselves into the blades.

There are vertical axis wind turbines, identical to the one in Cheyenne at the Children’s Village, which at only 30 feet tall, have far less impact visually and environmentally.

Vertical turbines would even be a good replacement in wind farms, says California Institute of Technology professor John Dabiri. Placing them close together improves their efficiency by a factor of 10, using a much smaller footprint per kilowatt of production than current, giant horizontal axis turbines we see. [http://www.caltech.edu/content/caltechs-unique-wind-projects-move-forward]

Ever since we first felt the wind pushing at our backs, we have been refining ways for it to aid us. The challenge is to make our design choices work for other species as well.

Mystery bird photographer

cameraPublished Feb. 22, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Photographer’s identity a mystery.”

2014 Update: See the solution published March 8, 2001 and posted as “Mystery bird photographer identified.” Check archives for March.

By Barb Gorges

Let us call this “The Case of the Unidentified Photographer” or “Who Shot Those Birds?!”

It was late on a dark and stormy night in January when I finally checked my phone messages. I had an urgent call from Claus Johnson, assistant director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

Would I, for the sake of bird lovers everywhere, be willing to take on two carousel slide trays labeled “Birds, No. 1” and “Birds, No. 2?” No one, as far as he knew, had ever investigated the contents. Perhaps the local Audubon chapter could make use of them.

Certainly, I said when I called back the next day.

The Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society has a birding class beginning in April at Laramie County Community College. Last year we had to pay $3 apiece for slides to fill out our collection.

More is better. Different lighting conditions or stages of plumage must be compared to help the beginning bird watcher learn identification tricks.

The dark brown cardboard boxes holding the trays sat on my kitchen counter for two weeks like unopened jewel cases. I wanted to wait and share the riches with someone who could truly appreciate them – someone like expert birder Jane Dorn.

Also, as my sweet spouse pointed out, these slide trays wouldn’t fit our Kodak projector. This was my first clue to the origins of the slides.

Kodak-style carousel projection has become standard amongst institutions, while these other carousel styles persist in homes.

On a cloudy winter afternoon, I pulled slides while Jane peered at them through an antiquated viewer.

It soon became apparent we were looking at the work of a backyard bird photographer. The same platform feeder showed up again and again, with different birds perched on it each time.

The backdrop was either the backside of the neighbor’s house, a modest one-story with grayish-greenish siding and a hipped roofed shingled in green, or the alleged photographer’s house, with white siding.

Most of the feeder shots were in winter, showing some leafless trees (maybe a crabapple), a juniper, a sturdy clothesline of the type supported by metal pipe, a wire fence and a metal gate opening to the alley.

Jane and I agreed it could be a neighborhood in Cheyenne, most likely one old enough to have mature trees pictured in slides the most recent of which was labeled with the year 1980.

Some of the slide frames had dates back to 1961. There was no personal notation on any of the slides except for an occasional discrete “LC” in a corner.

Several different slide processors were represented: Agfa, Kodak, GAF, Perutz (German, c. 1963), Ansochrome and RGM Denver. One said “Arizona Color,” which led me to wonder if our photographer was retired and sometimes traveled to Arizona.

The birds represented could be from Cheyenne, even the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, which appears to be caught in a typical late April/early May snowstorm. The summer tanager, though, would be a state record if we knew when and where it was photographed.

After viewing fifty or so slides, we found a silver-haired woman wearing a dress and a red-and-black plaid wool shirt, hand feeding a gray jay while sitting on a log in a forest, c. 1970. Perhaps she was the photographer’s wife?

The shots must have been made with decent equipment—the birds are more than mere specks. Retired men frequently take up hobbies involving lots of technical gadgets.

There were 175 slides between the two bird trays,  plus another tray labeled “Animals, No. 1” which we didn’t have time to investigate. (I’ve looked since: elk being fed up by Jackson, zoo animals, etc.)

The last dozen bird slides proved the most interesting. Part of a man wearing plaid pants appeared in a shot meant to feature a peacock at a picnic area, perhaps the Denver Zoo? One shot featured a pink flamingo walking a manicured lawn.

Then the silver-haired woman reappeared in two shots. This time she was feeding a Clark’s nutcracker, possibly at a scenic overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park.

And then – a-ha! The photographer himself, a smiling, silver-haired gentleman dressed as if for a Sunday drive, feeding birds at the same overlook. Perhaps he handed the camera to his wife. The slide is dated 1978.

My scenario could be wrong. Not all the bird slides feature that particular backyard. I have to wonder about the shots of a pair of cardinals and some backgrounds that look suspiciously like rural Iowa.

We could be dealing with multiple photographers. We could be dealing with a photographer who took pictures of silver-haired people.

Unlike fictional mysteries, this one doesn’t have a solution yet. If you recognize the alleged photographer and his wife, please call me at 634-0463.

I hope it’s not too late. I hope their children didn’t all move to California. Maybe the photographer and his wife instilled a love of birds in someone younger than themselves who yet survives to read this bird column.

Not only do I want to satisfy my curiosity, but when we use the slides in our bird classes, I’d like to be able to give credit to the photographer(s).

And remember: Label and sign your own work!