“Cheyenne Birds” available online and in Laramie

Pete Arnold’s and my book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month, 104 Species of Southeastern Wyoming’s Resident and Visiting Birds,” is now available in Laramie at the University of Wyoming University Store.

                For those of you neither in Laramie nor Cheyenne, you can find it at the UW University Store’s uwyostore.com website: https://www.uwyostore.com/search_index_results.asp?search_text=Cheyenne+Birds&pageaction=redirect.

                And if you are in Cheyenne, there are copies available at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Cheyenne Pet Clinic, PBR Printing, Riverbend Nursery and the Wyoming State Museum.

                If you know of a store that would like to carry the book, have them contact me. The season for warmer birding is approaching and we’ve heard that readers who profess to be non-birders think of this as a field guide! It’s two-thirds Pete’s great photos and one-third text.

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.

Explore and enjoy Project FeederWatch

BobVuxinic-Project FeederWatch

A Dark-eyed Junco enjoys seed at a platform feeder. Because it shows no rust or “pink” coloration, no white wingbar and no pale head, it is the slate-colored subspecies. Photo by Bob Vuxinic/Project FeederWatch.

By Barb Gorges

Despite snow on the ground and pea soup fog at South Gap Lake in the Snowy Range (11,120 feet elevation), on Sept. 27 I saw a flock of dark-eyed juncos. They like snow. Usually I see the first ones down in my yard mid-October, when alpine winter conditions get too rough.

Juncos are those little gray birds that come in five subspecies and multiple hybrid colorations in Cheyenne, but they all have white outer tail feathers. They are my sign of the start of the winter bird feeding season–and the Project FeederWatch bird counting season.

Project FeederWatch is a citizen science opportunity for people with bird feeders to count the birds they attract as often as once a week (or less) between November and early April. Begun in Canada in 1976 and in the U.S. in 1987, more than 20,000 people participated last year. Data are used in scientific studies, many of which are summarized on the project’s website.

Participation costs $18. You receive a research kit, bird identification poster, the digital version of Living Bird magazine and the year-end report.

If you feed wild birds or are considering it, you must visit the Project FeederWatch site, https://feederwatch.org/, whether you register for the program or not. It is now beautifully designed and packed with information.

For instance, in the “Learn” section, I can find out juncos prefer black-oil sunflower seeds–and seven other kinds. I personally stick with black-oil because it’s popular with many species in Cheyenne. I also learned juncos prefer hopper-style feeders, platform feeders or feeding on the ground.

Seventy-one species are listed as potential feeder birds in the Northwest region, which stretches from British Columbia to Wyoming. However, about 15 of those species have yet to be seen in Cheyenne, so click on the “All About Birds” link to check a species’ actual range.

The Project FeederWatch website addresses every question I can think of regarding wild bird feeding:

–Grit and water provision

–Feeder cleaning

–Predator avoidance

–Squirrel exclusion

–Window strike reduction

–Sick birds

–Tricky identification, like hairy vs downy woodpecker.

In the “Community” section you’ll find the results of last season’s photo contest, participants’ other photos, featured participants, tips, FAQs, the blog, and the FeederWatch cam.

I find the “Explore” section fascinating. This is where you can investigate the data yourself. The “Map Room” shows where juncos like to winter best.

Based on last season’s data, in the far north region of Canada, juncos were number 12 in abundance at feeders. In the southeastern U.S., they were number 13. However, in the southwest, which has a lot of cold high elevations, they were number two, as they were in the northeast region, and number three in the central region, the northern Great Plains. Here in the northwest region, they were number one. We have perfect junco winter conditions, not too cold, not too warm.

However, looking at the top 25 species for Wyoming in the same 2016-2017 season (based on percent of sites visited and the average flock size), juncos came in fifth, after house sparrow, house finch, goldfinch and black-capped chickadee. Other years, especially between the seasons beginning in 2007 and 2013, they have been number one.

I looked at my own Project FeederWatch data to see if I could spot any dark-eyed junco trends.

I get in 18-20 weekly counts per year. In the past 18 years, there were three when the juncos missed none or only one of the weeks, in 2001, 2005 and 2008. Those seasons also happened to be the largest average flock sizes, 8.65 to 9.72 birds per flock.

Later, there were three seasons in which juncos came up missing six or seven weeks, 2011, 2013 and 2016. Two of those were the seasons of the smallest average flock sizes, 1.6 to 2.5 birds per flock.

It appears my local junco population was in a downward trend between 2008 and 2016. Let’s hope it’s a cycle. Or maybe our yard’s habitat has changed or there are more hawks or cats scaring the juncos away. Or some weeks it’s too warm in town and they go back to the mountains.

One yard does not make a city-wide trend, but we won’t know what the trend is unless more people in Cheyenne participate.

How many FeederWatchers are there in Cheyenne? We’ve had as many as four, back in 1999-2004, but lately there’s only been one or two of us. Statewide, Wyoming averages 25 participants per year.

If you sign up, you’ll have your own red dot on the map (but your identity won’t be publicized). I hope you’ll become a FeederWatcher this season.

 

2017-10 junco 1 by Barb Gorges

A photo taken through my Cheyenne, Wyoming, kitchen window shows a Dark-eyed Junco that is probably the pink-sided subspecies, or maybe a female of the Oregon subspecies–or maybe a hybrid. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Bioblitz at the Belvoir Ranch

2016-7Bioblitz7 Barb Gorges

Jacelyn Downey, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, is getting ready to let a young citizen scientist release a yellow warbler that was caught in a mist net during the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Kids explore nature of the Belvoir Ranch.”

By Barb Gorges

I was delighted to recognize my neighbor at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz last month. She is going to be a senior at Cheyenne East High in the fall and was there with two friends. All three were planning to spend the weekend looking for birds, mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), pollinators, macroinvertebrates and plants, to fulfill more hours required for their Congressional Award gold medals.

The weekend could have served for all four award areas: volunteer public service (we were all volunteer citizen scientists collecting data), personal development (the staff taught us a lot of new things), physical fitness (hiking up and down Lone Tree Creek in the heat was arduous), and expedition/exploration (many of us, including my neighbor and her friends, camped out and cooked meals despite being only 20 miles from Cheyenne).

Mark and I have attended other bioblitzes around the state, but this was the first one close to Cheyenne. With all of the publicity from the four sponsoring groups, Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, a record 100 people attended, plus the staff of 50 from various natural science disciplines.

When I asked my neighbor why she and her friends had come, she said, “We’re science nerds.” That was exciting to hear.

2016-7Bioblitz2 Barb Gorges

My neighbor and friends net aquatic invertebrates including dragonfly and damselfly larvae.  A blue and green pollinator trap is set up on the far side of the pond. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were a lot of junior science nerds in attendance with their families. Small children enjoyed wading into the pond along the creek to scoop up dragonfly and damselfly larvae —and even crayfish.

A surprising number of children were up at 6 a.m. Saturday for the bird survey. The highlight was the raven nest in a crevice on the canyon wall, with three young ravens crowding the opening, ready to fledge.

Sunday morning’s bird mist netting along the creek was very popular. Several birds that had been hard to see with binoculars were suddenly in hand.

2016-7Bioblitz8 Barb Gorges

Zach Hutchinson, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, discusses the captured bird he is holding in his left hand. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because it wasn’t at an official bird banding site, the mist netting was strictly educational and the birds were soon released. Several young children had the opportunity to hold a bird and release it, feeling how light it was, how fast its heart beat and feeling the little whoosh of air as it took flight. What I wouldn’t give to know if any of the children grow up to be bird biologists or birdwatchers.

The Belvoir Ranch is owned by the city of Cheyenne and stretches miles to the west between I-80 and the Colorado-Wyoming state line. The city bought it in 2003 and 2005 to protect our upstream aquifer, or groundwater, as well as the surface water.

2016-7Bioblitz6 Barb Gorges

Bioblitz birdwatchers head down along Lone Tree Creek at 6 a.m. on June 12 to survey the birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While limited grazing and hunting continues as it did under private ownership, other parts of the master plan have yet to come to fruition: wind farm, landfill, golf course, or general recreation development. It is normally closed to the public. However, progress is being made on trails to connect the ranch to Colorado’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and/or Red Mountain Open Space.

A good landowner takes stock of his property. The city has some idea of what’s out there, including archeological sites. But with budgets tightening, there won’t be funding to hire consultants for a closer look. But there are a lot of citizen scientists available.

The data from the Bioblitz weekend went into the Wyobio database, www.wyobio.org, a place where data from all over Wyoming can be entered. The bird data also went into eBird.org.

2016-7Bioblitz4 Barb Gorges

A University of Wyoming graduate student and a citizen scientist filter water from the creek to prepare it for DNA analysis. The sample will show what amphibians have been swimming there. Photo by Barb Gorges.  

The data began to paint a picture of the Belvoir: 62 species of animals including 50 birds, 8 mammals, 4 herps, plus 13 taxa of macroinvertebrates (not easily identified to species) and 12 taxa of pollinators (bees and other insects), plus many species of plants. All that diversity was from exploring half a mile of one creek within the ranch’s total 18,800 acres–about 30 square miles.

2016-7Bioblitz3 Barb Gorges

This ground nest seems to have one smaller egg laid by an interloper. Many grassland bird species build their nests on the ground. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The members of the City Council who approved the ranch purchase are to be congratulated on making it public land in addition to protecting our watershed. Sometimes we don’t have to wait for the federal and state governments to do the right thing.  The essence of Wyoming is its big natural landscapes and we are lucky to have one on the west edge of Wyoming’s largest city.

Let’s also congratulate the parents who encouraged their children to examine the critters in the muddy pond and pick up mammal scat (while wearing plastic gloves) on the trails among other activities.

2016-7Bioblitz5 Barb Gorges

A Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist introduces a Wandering Garter Snake to a young citizen scientist. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Someday, these kids will grow up to be like my high school neighbor and her friends. Someday they could be the graduate students, professors and land use professionals. No matter what they become, they can always contribute scientific data by being citizen scientists.

2016-7Bioblitz1 Barb Gorges

Citizen scientists of all ages learned to identify types of aquatic invertebrates at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Big Day bird count big picture

2016-05BigDay2-byMarkGorges - CopyPublished in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Opinion section May 22, 2016, “Bird count day gives us big picture.”

By Barb Gorges

            May Hanesworth was ahead of her time. An active Cheyenne birder as early as the 1940s, she made sure the results of the local spring bird counts were published every year in the Cheyenne paper. She recruited me in the 1990s to type the lists for her. She felt that someday there would be a place for that data and she was right.

            A few years ago, members of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society collected and uploaded that data to eBird.org, a global database for bird observations. The oldest record we found was for 1956.

            We refer to the count we make at the height of spring migration as the Big Day Bird Count. Elsewhere in the world, competitive birders will, as a small team or solo, do a big day to see how many species they can find in a specified area. But the idea of a group of unlimited size like ours going out and scouring an area is unusual, though closer to what the originator, Lynds Jones, an Oberlin College ornithology professor, had in mind back in 1895.

            Now eBird.org has started a new tradition as of last year, the Global Big Day. This year it was scheduled for May 14, the same day as ours. Results show 15,642 people around the world saw 6,227 bird species. For our local count, 20 people looked for birds around Cheyenne, and 107 species were counted [Results were published elsewhere in the paper. See the list below.].

            Finding our favorite birds in the company of friends is a good incentive for taking part, but there is the science too. Back in the spring of 1956, May saw 85 species. And when Mark and I started in the 1990s, 150 seemed to be the norm—perhaps because Cheyenne had more trees by then. However, the last 10 years, the average is lower, 118.

            Maybe we aren’t as sharp as earlier birders. Or we are missing the peak of migration. Or we have lost prime habitat for migrating birds as the surrounding prairie gets built over and elderly trees are removed in town. Or it’s caused by deteriorating habitat in southern wintering grounds or northern breeding grounds.

            But imagine where we would be without the Migratory Bird Treaty.

            This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first agreement, in 1916, between the U.S. and Great Britain (signing for Canada), followed by other agreements and updates. In summary: “It is illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, offer for sale, purchase or barter any migratory bird, or parts, nests or eggs.”

            Even migrating songbirds, like our Wyoming state bird, the western meadowlark, are protected.

            But who would want to hurt a meadowlark?

            Look at the Mediterranean flyway. Birdlife International reports 25 million birds of all kinds along it are shot or trapped every year for fun, food and the cage bird trade. Perpetrators think the supply of birds is endless. But we can point to the millions of passenger pigeons in North America prior to the death in 1914 of the last one, to show what can happen.

            The city of Eliat, Israel, is the funnel between Africa and Europe/Asia on the Mediterranean flyway, and to bring attention to the slaughter, the annual Champions of the Flyway bird race is based there. A big day event, this year it attracted 40 teams, Israeli and international, which counted a combined total of 243 species during 24 hours.

            This year, funds raised by the teams are going to Greece, to support education and enforcement—killing migratory birds is already illegal. Some of the worst-hit areas are in forests above beaches popular with tourists. Attracting birdwatching tourists could pay better than killing and trapping birds, a kind of change that has been beneficial elsewhere.  

            Many factors affect how many birds we see in Cheyenne on our big day, but we do have control over one aspect: habitat. If you live in the city, plant more trees and shrubs in appropriate places. If you live on acreage, protect the prairie and its ground-nesting grassland birds. And then join us on future Cheyenne Big Day Bird Counts and contribute to the global big picture of birds.

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count results affected by cold, wet weather

By Barb Gorges

            The 2016 Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count was held May 14. It was cold (33-43 degrees F), wet and foggy. Conditions kept down the number of birdwatchers participating as well as the number of birds observed.

            Thirteen Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members and friends birded as a group at Lions Park, Wyoming Hereford Ranch and the High Plains Grasslands Research Station. Seven others birded on their own and contributed to the total of 107 species observed. Last year’s total was 110 species.

            Few flycatchers, vireos and warblers were seen because few insects, their primary food, were around due to the cold. Few kinds of shorebirds were seen at area reservoirs. High water levels from previous rain and snowfall left few areas of shallow water and exposed sandbars for them.

            Although many of the species that migrate through Cheyenne were seen, including willet, broad-winged hawk, Forster’s tern, ruby-crowned kinglet and western tanager, the day, weather notwithstanding, may not have represented quite the peak of spring migration.

             A highlight of the count was a black-and-white warbler at the research station. It is considered an eastern warbler, rarely seen this far west, although it does nest in the Black Hills.

            The Cheyenne Big Day ran concurrent with the Global Big Day. For a look at local and global results, see www.eBird.org/globalbigday. 

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count

May 14, 2016

107 species total

Canada Goose

Gadwall

American Wigeon

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Green-winged Teal

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Bufflehead

Common Merganser

Ruddy Duck

Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Clark’s Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

White-faced Ibis

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Cooper’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Coot

American Avocet

Killdeer

Spotted Sandpiper

Willet

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

Bonaparte’s Gull

Franklin’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Forster’s Tern

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

American Kestrel

Prairie Falcon

Western Wood-Pewee

Least Flycatcher

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Tree Swallow

N. Rough-winged Swallow

Bank Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Veery

Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush

American Robin

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Black-and-white Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Palm Warbler

Yelllow-rumped Warbler

Green-tailed Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Western Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Bullock’s Oriole

House Finch

Pine Siskin

Lesser Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Cheyenne Big Day 2015—changes?

Cliff Swallows

Mid-May at Wyoming Hereford Ranch, Cliff Swallows are picking up daubs of mud from the corrals to build their nests under the eaves of a nearby barn. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published June 14, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Changes in spring bird count bring up questions.”

By Barb Gorges

A Virginia’s warbler was the celebratory guest at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society’s Big Day Bird Count May 16.

This southwestern bird is a rare migrant in our area. Two other rare migrants were broad-winged hawk, an eastern species, and black tern.

This year 110 species were counted. This is lower than a typical count the last several years—and way lower than the counts in the 1990s, averaging 140-150 species.

It could be the result of a change in the birders participating. For many years, the Murie Audubon Society put on a bird class in Casper every spring and many of the students made an overnight excursion to be here at the crack of dawn for the Big Day. More eyeballs equals more birds seen. This year only one person came down.

However, the Laramie Audubon Society has taken to scheduling a field trip to the Wyoming Hereford Ranch on our Big Day. This year they brought 14 people to augment our 20.

Possibly another change is that back in the 1990s, Bob and Jane Dorn birded the High Plains Grasslands Research Station at 6 a.m. Now we don’t get there until nearly lunch time, after birding Lions Park and the ranch. Birds are more active early in the day.

In the world of birdwatching, a big day is a marathon to see how many species an individual or a small team can see in 24 hours. The area birded may be limited. The American Birding Association, for the sake of competition, has rules that describe how many people can be on the team and what percentage of the species counted have to be seen by all team members.

By contrast, Cheyenne’s count starts out as one big group and slowly dissolves into individuals by afternoon. Perhaps we should lean more toward the Christmas Bird Count model and have groups of people birding each hot spot simultaneously at dawn.

There’s also the possibility that the birds have changed over the years. While Cheyenne residents have planted more trees, inviting more songbird species, areas of prairie we used to check are now developed and thus, no burrowing owls or longspurs found on the day of the count.

Typically, spring migration is a short burst, compared to fall migration, which begins sometime in July with shorebirds and still finds some species straggling south in November and December.

Now we can look at observations for this May in Laramie County at www.eBird.org to see where the peak of migration was. There was a total of 173 species observed for the month. Keep in mind many pass through within a week’s time or less:

1st week – 79 species

2nd week – 99 species

3rd week – 145 species

4th week – 128 species.

The third week includes our Big Day, but had 35 more species than we saw on May 16, which was a cold day so perhaps birds were sitting tight and were more visible the rest of that week.

Even in the age of eBird, our Big Day is worth the effort, I think. It’s a chance to learn to identify, with the help of the best local birders, species that are here rarely or for a short time, like the Virginia’s Warbler.

Simply, it is a great time for birders to flock together and enjoy the magic of migration.

Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count 2015

Canada Goose

Gadwall

American Wigeon

Mallard

Blue-winged Teal

Cinnamon Teal

Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Lesser Scaup

Ruddy Duck

Ring-necked Pheasant

Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Western Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

American White Pelican

Great Blue Heron

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Turkey Vulture

Cooper’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel

American Coot

Killdeer

American Avocet

Spotted Sandpiper

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson’s Phalarope

Franklin’s Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Black Tern

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Eastern Screech-Owl

Great Horned Owl

Chimney Swift

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Western Wood-Pewee

Willow Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe

Cassin’s Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Plumbeous Vireo

Blue Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Tree Swallow

Bank Swallow

Barn Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

Red-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Swainson’s Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Northern Waterthrush

Orange-crowned Warbler

Virginia’s Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Green-tailed Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Song Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Tanager

Black-headed Grosbeak

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Orchard Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

House Finch

Red Crossbill

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Bird count results diminished by snow

Guernsey Reservoir

Guernsey State Park, Wyoming, makes up part of the count circle for the Guernsey-Fort Laramie Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 8, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Snow diminishes results of Christmas Bird Count.”

2015 Update: See http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

By Barb Gorges

If someone was counting the human population of Cheyenne last Saturday, based on the number of pedestrians observed, they might have come up with only 14 of the 53, 011 reported by the Census Bureau – those of us foolish enough to be outside on the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Birds visible in the blowing snow underrepresented actual numbers as well. Most were hunkered down, waiting out the storm. Where one might expect the twitter and movement of juncos and other sparrows in tangles of shrubs, or the rhank-rhank of nuthatches in trees, most often there was only the steady tisp-tisp of tiny snow pellets hitting Gore-tex outerwear. Some years we see more than 50 species. This year it was 35, plus three observed week of the count (the three days before and three days after count day, Jan. 3).

Canada geese, however, were easy to find, bunched up in open water, unwilling to fly out to snow-covered fields to feed as usual. Water in this dry country is easy to pinpoint. Between Hereford Reservoir #1, Lake Minehaha and Sloans Lake, 2092 geese were counted, up from 1451 last year.

House sparrows were in great abundance if you knew where to look. At Avenue C-1 and Jefferson Street, a couple hundred swarmed between feed at one house and cozy bushes at another.

Over at the South Fork subdivision west of South Greeley Highway, what at first looked like another flock of house sparrows feeding on the ground between homes turned out to be 40 horned larks. The presence of grassland birds wasn’t too surprising since the subdivision was recently carved out of the surrounding prairie.

Lapland Longspur

A Lapland Longspur was found on the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Jan. 3, 2004. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Lapland longspurs are not found often, but a birder joining us from Ovid, Colo., who has lots of longspur experience from living in Kansas, was able to identify their peculiar call as they flew over with flocks of horned larks.

House sparrows and European starlings don’t seem to limit activity during snowy weather and I would think American crows wouldn’t either, but on this count we were hard put to find them and their close relations, the black-billed magpies. Last year we counted 250 crows and 48 magpies. This year we were down to 41 crows and six magpies. Since crows and magpies are among the most noticeable birds to be affected by West Nile Virus, this decrease isn’t too unexpected after a summer when the first human cases occurred here.

Warblers don’t normally show up on our Christmas count. In 29 years of available data, only twice have they been observed. The yellow-rumpeds seen Saturday are the most likely to winter here since they are one of the few warbler species that can change from a summer insect diet to an after-frost berry diet.

In great contrast was the Guernsey – Fort Laramie count held Dec. 20. This is a new count designed by the Cheyenne count’s former compiler, Jane Dorn, who, with her husband Bob, has retired to the Lingle area.

The center point of this count circle is the Platte-Goshen county line where the railroad tracks cross it. The 7.5-mile radius stretches from the east end of Guernsey State Park to the west side of Fort Laramie National Historic Site. A map shows no mountain ranges on this far eastern edge of Wyoming, but the land is a wonderful jumble of geology and habitats.

Ten of us met at the main entrance to Guernsey State Park, drove along the reservoir edge and hiked up Fish Canyon. There was snow in the old road tracks in the shade, but otherwise, we were shedding layers as we went. The high for the day was 61 degrees.

There was some activity in the junipers and pines, but it always seemed to turn into Townsend’s solitaires or robins.

After lunch at the Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site, we explored Hartville, an old mining town set in a narrow, winding canyon. We parked by the churches for a better look at a downy and a hairy woodpecker in the same tree and were greeted by two locals—two inquisitive black dogs. Further up, we were entranced by a front yard feeder full of goldfinches.

Lucky for us, the open water at Grayrocks Reservoir was at the lower end, within the count circle. A thousand mallards attracted 31 adult bald eagles and 3 immatures. Most of the eagles merely stood around on the ice, but one aerialist performed, stooping to slam into, then eat a duck.

We ended the count at Fort Laramie, the historic site, not the town, hiking the Laramie River in two groups in opposite directions and finding great blue herons.

While the group I was with waited back at the cars for the other, the sunset turned the hills pink and two bald eagles flew low overhead, along with skeins of geese so high they could have been mistaken for wisps of cloud.

We missed the expertise of Barbara Coustopolous of Guernsey, whose husband’s funeral and burial was that same day. We counted 31 species this year (plus seven week of the count), but with her help next year, who knows?

Christmas Bird Count

A Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count “field party” checks out Lions Park. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count, Jan. 3, 2004

14 observers

35 species

4579 individuals count day

cw – count week only, 3 species

[Species names and order reflect the AOU checklist as of 2004.]

Canada Goose 2092

Mallard 796

Northern Shoveler cw

Green-winged Teal 3

Common Goldeneye 10

Common Merganser 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 1

Rough-legged Hawk 4

American Kestrel 1

Wilson’s Snipe 2

Rock Pigeon 133

Belted Kingfisher 1

Downy Woodpecker 4

Northern Flicker 8

Blue Jay 3

Black-billed Magpie 6

American Crow 41

Horned Lark 305

Red-breasted Nuthatch 9

White-breasted Nuthatch cw

Brown Creeper 5

Golden-crowned Kinglet 6

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1

Townsend’s Solitaire cw

American Robin 60

Brown Thrasher 1

European Starling 369

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2

American Tree Sparrow 16

Song Sparrow 7

Harris’s Sparrow 1

White-crowned Sparrow 2

Dark-eyed Junco, race unknown 50

White-winged Junco cw

Slate-colored Junco 35

Gray-headed Junco 8

Oregon Junco 10

Pink-sided Junco 54

Lapland Longspur 2

Common Grackle 1

House Finch 74

Pine Siskin 1

House Sparrow 454

Guernsey State Park

Birders hike Guernsey State Park for the Guernsey-Fort Laramie Christmas Bird Count

Guernsey – Ft. Laramie Christmas Bird Count Results, Dec. 20, 2003

31 species and 2907 individuals count day

cw – count week only, 7 species

Canada Goose 938

Mallard 1528

Green-winged Teal 2

Common Goldeneye 4

Common Merganser 1

Hooded Merganser cw

Wild Turkey 12

Great Blue Heron 2

Bald Eagle, adult 31, imm. 3

Sharp-shinned Hawk 1

Rough-legged Hawk 1

American Kestrel cw

Merlin cw

Killdeer 1

Ring-billed Gull cw

Herring Gull cw

Rock Pigeon 2

Belted Kingfisher 3

Downy Woodpecker 3

Hairy Woodpecker 1

Northern Flicker 3

Northern Shrike 2

Blue Jay 8

Black-billed Magpie 9

American Crow cw

Horned Lark 6

Black-capped Chickadee 9

Townsend’s Solitaire 35

American Robin 70

European Starling 131

American Tree Sparrow 20

Song Sparrow cw

Dark-eyed Junco 26

Red-winged Blackbird 13

House Finch 4

Pine Siskin 5

American Goldfinch 26

House Sparrow 7

Bird count finds four new species

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Eurasian Collared-Doves were observed on the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count for the first time Jan. 4, 2003. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 9, 2003, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird count picks up four new species.”

2015 Update: See http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

By Barb Gorges

[This article was updated with two Steller’s Jays after it appeared Jan. 9 in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle.]

No snow, no wind to speak of and temperatures ranging from 32 to 50 degrees made comfortable conditions for 21 observers participating in the annual Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Jan. 4.

The tally was 5650 individual birds of 48 species, plus one species observed during the week of the count but not count day.

Mild weather this winter may be responsible for the number of robins still here and the absence of northern or high altitude species such as the rosy finches.

In the eastern U.S., West Nile Virus has decimated crow populations, but in the 15-mile diameter count circle centered on Cheyenne, 250 crows were counted, up from 97 last year.

Crows were not observed on counts before 1987.

Four species appeared on the count for the first time: Eurasian collared-doves have been showing up regularly at a south-side feeder; the northern bobwhite was observed feeding on food scraps thrown by crows from a trash container; the white-throated sparrow, considered an eastern U.S. species, was visiting a north-side feeder; and the wood duck has been observed at Lions Park for several months.

Five species have been seen on this and the 40 previous counts: northern flicker, horned lark, Townsend’s solitaire, house finch and house sparrow.

Ten other species have been seen on this and at least 35 other counts: mallard, rough-legged hawk, great horned owl, downy woodpecker, blue jay, black-billed magpie, mountain chickadee, American robin, European starling and dark-eyed junco (slate-colored and Oregon races).

The redhead (duck) has been recorded only once before. Ruby-crowned kinglets have been observed on two other counts and Harris’ sparrow on three.

Christmas Bird Count data for previous years and other locations is available online, http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count, Jan. 4, 2003

21 observers

48 species

[Species names and order reflect the AOU checklist as of 2003.]

*Species observed week of the count, but not count day.

Canada Goose 1451

Green-winged Teal 2

Mallard 1776

Northern Shoveler 9

American Wigeon 2

Redhead 1

Common Goldeneye 20

Wood Duck 1

Northern Harrier 2

Sharp-shinned Hawk 4

Northern Goshawk 1

Red-tailed Hawk 3

Ferruginous Hawk 1

Rough-legged Hawk 7

American Kestrel *

Merlin 1

Northern Bobwhite 1

Wilson’s Snipe 2

Rock Dove (pigeon) 265

Eurasian Collared-Dove 3

Great Horned Owl 3

Belted Kingfisher 2

Downy Woodpecker 11

Northern Flicker, red-shafted 9

Horned Lark 74

Stellar’s Jay 2

Blue Jay 5

Black-billed Magpie 10

American Crow 250

Black-capped Chickadee 4

Mountain Chickadee 22

Red-breasted Nuthatch 34

White-breasted Nuthatch 7

Brown Creeper 10

Golden-crowned Kinglet 6

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3

Townsend’s Solitaire 7

American Robin 11

European Starling 687

American Tree Sparrow 4

Song Sparrow 5

White-crowned Sparrow 1

Harris’ Sparrow 3

White-throated Sparrow 1

Dark-eyed Junco, race unknown 48

Dark-eyed Junco, slate-colored 12

Dark-eyed Junco, white-winged 1

Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon 8

Dark-eyed Junco, pink-sided 10

Dark-eyed Junco, gray-headed 4

Red-winged Blackbird 138

House Finch 129

American Goldfinch 8

House Sparrow 515

Looking for birds in all the right places

Golden-crowned-Kinglet

A Golden-crowned Kinglet was found on the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Dec. 29, 2001. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Jan. 10, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Looking for birds in all the right places.”

2015 Update: See the previous post for the particulars of this Christmas Bird Count.

By Barb Gorges

Turnout for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Dec. 29 was better than any other year we can remember….for number of observers participating.

Despite the bank’s temperature proclamation of 17 degrees at 7:30 a.m., 20-odd people (and maybe we did look odd to early post office patrons) were gathered in the downtown post office lobby, ready to beat the bushes.

We had enough people to choose three teams so we could hit our three favorite birding spots simultaneously. But unlike choosing up grade school kickball teams, team members chose which team they wanted to join.

The downtown, Capitol complex buildings were not very exciting this year. I can tell you where we’ve seen a great horned owl, brown creepers and Townsend’s solitaires in previous years, but this time we didn’t have much to show the folks new to our count except for the three species federal law allows to be “controlled” without special permits: pigeons, starlings and house sparrows.

By 8:30 a.m. we were at Lions Park, and luckily it was early enough or cold enough the mallards and Canada geese were still on the ice sleeping, their heads tucked under their wings, instead of swimming in the open water. Counting sleeping birds is so much easier.

Ten common goldeneyes dropped in, their white breasts and sides making them easy to pick out from the 700 mallards and geese.

A tree full of goldfinches delighted us, along with a downy woodpecker, over by the old greenhouse. On the west side of the park, the cottonwoods gave us eight brown creepers, flickers and both kinds of chickadees.

The highlight was six golden-crowned kinglets playing a fast-paced game of hide and seek among the branch tips of a spruce, frequently hanging upside down for a moment.  Their constant frenetic movement in search of bugs and their size of about three and a half inches long combined to make trying to glass their best field mark, golden head stripes, quite a challenge.

As our group straggled around Discovery Pond on our way back to the parking lot, I found myself alone, and attracting squirrels. Did you know the fox squirrels in the park have gotten so tame they will approach and sniff a stick you hold out to them?

As one squirrel and I re-enacted Columbus meeting a New World native (no shared spoken language, just lots of eye contact and gestures), I was aware the tribe was gathering around us. Not only six or eight more squirrels, but a dozen mallards were quietly moving in.

Just call me St. Francis of Assisi–courtesy of the folks who feed wildlife in the park.

Luckily I rejoined the birders in time to have a solitary Townsend’s solitaire pointed out to me before it flew over the Botanic Gardens’ greenhouse roof.

As I traversed our traditional routes I was remembering birds we’ve seen other years and bird watchers who’ve died or moved away. I was even thinking fondly of trees and bushes the parks department has removed.

The bush where we unexpectedly found the sage thrasher several years ago was taken out when the sunken garden was filled in. I know the park people think shrubbery can hide people with nefarious agendas and is not safe, but I hope they will replant some.

The trip out to the base in the afternoon was a little different this year, due to security concerns. My family, including my visiting sister and brother-in-law, had to show photo identification, even though we had a vehicle sticker.

I’m not sure all the fuss was worthwhile. Where Crow Creek runs through the family camping area, it looks like good, brushy bird habitat with great big cottonwoods overhead. But all we counted were about a dozen magpies and a flock of pigeons in the distance.

As we tromped through the fresh skiff of snow all the way down to the bridge and then back up and around to the nature trail, I wondered if we were just visiting at the wrong time.

Maybe we need a fourth group first thing in the morning to check the base when birds are most active.

Finally, just after 4 p.m., as we skirted the backside of the mall in the van, I saw black birds in the cattails. Mark obligingly backtracked through the parking lot and we were able to tell that they were four red-winged blackbirds.

I wonder if those birds decided belatedly to head south to join the rest of their species after we saw them on a day so much colder than any up until then. I always think of the red-winged blackbird’s song as an element that proves it’s spring, even if we’re due for a few more snow showers.

Then again, along with the robins, one of the other groups counted, perhaps red-wings are only a sign of spring to those of us who stay inside too much all winter.

Bird count finds state record bird

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush is rare in winter in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but was seen on the Christmas Bird Count December 29, 2001 . Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Jan. 10, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird Count identifies second winter state record for hermit thrush.”

2015 Update: See http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

By Barb Gorges

A hermit thrush, aptly named for its shy and retiring ways, was the star of the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count held Dec. 29.

Birder Bob Luce, new to the Cheyenne count, pointed it out, and with help from experienced Cheyenne birders, was able to identify the robin-like bird with the spotted breast.

Jane Dorn, count compiler, said there has been only one other winter record of the thrush in Wyoming, which is otherwise a somewhat common bird in summer in the state’s coniferous forests.

Normally the hermit thrush winters no farther north than central Arizona and New Mexico.

Total number of birds counted, 4,138, and total number of species counted, 36, were down from last year’s 5,686 birds and 43 species despite 24 observers, nearly double the number for previous counts.

The weather was colder than last year, with a high of 29 degrees, and a low of 11 degrees.

There was no precipitation and only a trace of snow on the ground.

The wind was out of the northeast and fairly calm, with gusts reaching only 18 mph.

Though the 1,536 Canada geese counted were not as many as last year, only one other CBC has recorded over 1,000 geese. In the 1980s geese were sometimes not observed on the CBC at all.

Crows also seem to be following the same pattern. While 97 were seen this year compared to 109 last year, crows used to be scarce. Only by the 1994 CBC did numbers counted exceed 10.

The pine siskin was reported only during the week of the count (the three days either before or after the count) and not on the count day. However, their winter populations are irruptive, meaning they go where the food is. So apparently some other location had a better seed crop.

Neither white-winged nor red crossbills, other irruptive species, were seen on the count this year.

Rough-legged hawks, as expected, continued to be the most numerous raptors in winter.

Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 29, 2001

24 observers

36 species, plus one other species seen week of the count.

[Species names and order reflect the AOU checklist as of 2001.]

Canada Goose 1536

Mallard 574

Green-winged Teal 3

Common Goldeneye 12

Northern Harrier 2

Red-tailed Hawk 2

Rough-legged Hawk 18

Golden Eagle 2

American Kestrel 1

Common Snipe 1

Rock Dove (pigeon) 376

Great Horned Owl 1

Belted Kingfisher 5

Downy Woodpecker 12

Northern Flicker 11

Blue Jay 4

Black-billed Magpie 41

American Crow 97

Horned Lark 21

Black-capped Chickadee 3

Mountain Chickadee 10

Red-breasted Nuthatch 6

Brown Creeper 10

Golden-crowned Kinglet 14

Townsend’s Solitaire 29

American Robin 24

Hermit Thrush 1

European Starling 792

American Tree Sparrow 14

Song Sparrow 5

White-crowned Sparrow 1

Dark-eyed Junco (total: 78)

Gray-headed 3

Oregon 14

Pink-sided 20

Slate-colored 8

unspecified 33

Red-winged Blackbird 42

House Finch 41

Pine Siskin (week of the count only)

American Goldfinch 19

House Sparrow 330