Local park receives IBA status

Sloans Lake

Sloans Lake is part of what attracts migrating birds to Lions Park, a Wyoming Important Bird Area located in Cheyenne. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published October 31, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Local park receives IBA designation.”

2014 Update: The Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society members continue to monitor both the Lions Park and Wyoming Hereford Ranch IBAs. Alison Lyon Holloran is now executive director of Audubon Rockies (Colorado and Wyoming). Check this link for more about Wyoming Important Bird Areas: http://rockies.audubon.org/wyoming-ibas.

By Barb Gorges

Lions Park is finally an official state Important Bird Area. Those of us who start our annual spring bird count there thought it deserved recognition as soon as we heard the definition of an IBA.

However, it was not easy to convince the technical review committee.

The idea of identifying places important to birds, publicly or privately owned, was started in Europe in the mid-1980s by Birdlife International. The National Audubon Society translated it for the U.S. in 1995.

Audubon Wyoming began soliciting for nominations a few years later and hired an IBA director, Alison Lyon, in 2001 with help from Partners in Flight and other grantors.

Alison, who earned her Master’s at the University of Wyoming studying sage grouse, is developing a program that can directly improve the welfare of birds in Wyoming.

When Alison asked Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society members if we had a site to nominate, we immediately thought of Lions Park.

Art Anderson, chapter president and retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, took charge of the nomination, setting up a meeting in the spring of 2001 with Dave Romero, head of the park and recreation department, now retired.

Dave and his staff were very enthusiastic about the nomination and provided maps. IBA designations can be touted in civic and tourism advertising and funding may be available for conservation improvements. There is no regulatory component.

An IBA must meet at least one of four criteria and Lions Park meets numbers one, two and four.

The first criterion includes importance for a species of concern in Wyoming, which in this case would be the western grebe that nests at the lake.

The second criterion, a site important to species of high conservation priority, is met by several of the species on that list that have been seen at the park.

The fourth is the park’s strongest suit: a site where significant numbers of birds concentrate for breeding, during migration or in the winter.

 

Lions Park

Lions Park’s cottonwoods and willows also attract migrating birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lions Park has a reputation during spring migration for diversity and numbers of birds. I once recorded 60 species in two hours. Migration was also Gloria Lawrence’s arguing point in getting the nomination accepted.

Gloria and her husband Jim drive down from Casper every spring to join our chapter in birding the park. She is one of the seven members of the Wyoming IBA technical review group made up of a cross-section of our state’s ornithological experts.

The members are Stan Anderson, University of Wyoming, Laramie; Tim Byer, Thunder Basin National Grasslands, Douglas; Andrea Cerovski, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Lander; John Dahlke, consultant and raptor expert, Pinedale; the Lawrences, Murie Audubon Society, Casper; and Terry McEneaney, Yellowstone National Park.

The nomination originally included all Cheyenne’s city parks and the Greenway. However, some technical review group members argued that a city park’s intense human use couldn’t possibly be compatible with bird use. Maybe, they suggested, Lions Park is more important to bird watchers than to birds.

In reality, the parks are microcosms of the city. Cheyenne is an oasis for migrating birds that funnel along the Front Range.

While Lions Park has gotten a close inspection every year for one day mid-May, turning up all sorts of warblers thought to be unusual for this area, undoubtedly these same warblers can be found in any neighborhood with large trees and many bushes. That was true this spring when a chestnut-sided warbler visited my backyard and a magnolia warbler visited the neighbors’.

Lions Park does have one characteristic that our backyards don’t have—a lake. So in addition to neotropical migrants like warblers, it gets a variety of shorebirds and waterbirds.

Funding from Partners in Flight, passed through Audubon Wyoming, has become available to our local Audubon chapter for monitoring work.

Many of the previous records are from Christmas Bird Counts and spring Big Day Counts which lump observations from around the city.

Now the chapter needs to plan for making more detailed surveys, training volunteers in survey protocol and compiling databases useful to science. Then we can figure out what conservation projects might be of benefit to both birds and the park.

While Lions Park will never achieve global IBA status like Yellowstone National Park may, the information we collect at least gives us more understanding about where we live.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Lions Park is also home to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Important Bird Areas in Wyoming and Cheyenne

IBA sign 1

This is one of three signs at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch, a Wyoming Important Bird Area located outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Apr. 5, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Wyoming has 48 places that are important to birds”

2014 Update: The number of approved Wyoming IBAs as of 2013 is 44. Find Alison Lyon-Holloran, and information about Audubon in Wyoming, at the Audubon Rockies office, in Fort Collins, Colo., http://rockies.audubon.org/.

By Barb Gorges

Spring means a birder’s thoughts turn to migration and those hotspots where birds will be thickest.

Some spring hotspots are on a national list of Important Bird Areas. Two of those IBAs are right here in Cheyenne. No entrance fees required.

BirdLife International has identified places important to birds on every continent, in 100 countries and territories. Places like Fiji, Romania and Peru. They work with local agencies to help implement conservation and education plans.

In 1995, the National Audubon Society became the sponsoring organization for the IBA program in the U.S. While some places are rated as globally important, such as Yellowstone National Park, others are recognized as important at the national and state level.

Audubon Wyoming has recognized 48 places as important to birds in our state so far. Coordinator Alison Lyon-Holloran is still taking nominations. Contact her at aholloran@audubon.org. Check to see which sites are already in the program.

What makes a place important to birds? It is important to birds during migration, and/or breeding and/or wintering seasons for one or more species, meaning birds can find food, shelter and water and whatever else they require during a particular season. Alison also requires approval from the landowner before reviewing the nomination.

Nominating Lions Park was a no-brainer for my local chapter, Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society. We have people traveling to Cheyenne from a 200-mile radius because the park’s trees, shrubs and lake attract so many species during spring migration. At the mid-May peak one year I counted 60 species in two hours.

The nomination stalled at first when the ornithologists on the technical committee countered that we only saw a lot of birds at the park because a lot of people birded there. Yes, but we could probably find the same diversity and abundance of songbirds, if not the waterfowl, in all of the old neighborhoods. We couldn’t very well walk through everyone’s yard.

 

IBA sign 2

Another informational sign at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. Photo by Barb Gorges

CHPAS continues to monitor the park’s bird life through seasonal surveys and evaluates the impacts of new park developments.

The Wyoming Hereford Ranch has had a long and friendly relationship with the local birding community. Anna Marie and Sloan Hales welcome inspection by binocular, as long as no one disturbs the livestock, hops the fences or intrudes on the residents of the ranch.

Again, I’d venture to say that other properties along cottonwood-filled creeks in southeastern Wyoming might have similar abundance and diversity. The difference is the Hales.

Not only have they welcomed birders, but they were thrilled to be part of the nomination process. They’ve worked with the Laramie County Conservation District to improve wildlife habitat and in cooperation with Audubon Wyoming to install this spring educating visitors about why their ranch is an IBA. The Hales have also created a little nature trail.

The ranch, as an oasis of wildness on the edge of Cheyenne, will only become more and more important a refuge as high density housing and commercial enterprises continue to move into their neighborhood. Who knew more than 100 years ago when the ranch was established people would want to build houses in cow pastures 10 miles from the State Capitol building?

IBA sign 3

The third sign at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch Important Bird Area. Photo by Barb Gorges

IBA designation doesn’t bind any landowner to any course of action. But it does make people aware that their actions will have an impact on birds. It make us stop and think about beings besides ourselves and we get back to the original question: Does a bird have any value if you aren’t a birdwatcher?

Sometimes it has an obvious usefulness, such as keeping pests under control. If nothing else, birds are a part of nature and contact with nature is being scientifically proven to improve our mental health.

With the onset of spring and many of us are looking for excuses to get outside. Here in Cheyenne we don’t have to travel to Important Bird Areas, even our local ones, to see special birds. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open in our own backyards.