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.

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Drawing by Jane Dorn and design by Chris Hoffmeister.

Big Days compared

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It was chilly May 15 at 6 a.m. at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. More than 30 people came out to help Noah Strycker find 100 bird species in Wyoming in one day. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 

Published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/bird-banter-for-june-big-days-compared June 18, 2018 and in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle July 1, 2018.

By Barb Gorges

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society has been holding an annual Big Day Bird Count at the height of spring migration since at least 1956 (see more at https://cheyennebirdbanter.wordpress.com). But this year we essentially did two counts five days apart.

It started with birder and author Noah Strycker visiting mid-May to give a talk at the library about his 2015 record-breaking global Big Year (6,042 species) and his book, Birding Without Borders. He had the next day free, May 15, before heading for another speaking engagement. Naturally, we volunteered to take him birding.

He said since he’d never been to Wyoming before and he wanted to see 100 species. I enlisted the help of Bob and Jane Dorn, authors of “Wyoming Birds,” and Greg Johnson, also a chapter member, whose global bird life list is just over 3,000 species.

An ambitious route was mapped out, starting at 6 a.m. with a couple hours at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch, then Lions Park, onto Pole Mountain and over to Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the other Laramie Plains lakes. This would be followed by a drive down Sybille Canyon over to the state wildlife areas and reservoirs on the North Platte.

Thirty-six people signed up in advance for the field trip. Most couldn’t come for the whole day, peeling off early, like the two birders from Jackson, three from Lander, one from Gillette and four from Colorado. By dinnertime, there were only 10 of us left.

After the Laramie Plains Lakes, we’d only made it to Laramie, and Noah had seen 118 species so we had dinner there and returned to Cheyenne by 8 p.m. The day before he saw a life bird in Colorado on the way up from the airport—Lark Bunting—Colorado’s state bird. The day after the field trip Greg took him to see another life bird, Sharp-tailed Grouse, on the way back.

Somehow the carpooling worked out—ten vehicles at the most. Noah rode at the front of the caravan with the Dorns and saw birds the rest of us didn’t. That’s the way it is with road birding. But even on foot at the ranch, 30-some people didn’t see all the same birds.

It was a beautiful day. Not much wind and we dodged all the rain showers. Noah is welcome back anytime.

2018-06HuttonLakeNWR-by Barb Gorges

May 15, Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, south of Laramie, Wyoming. The men with optics are (l to r) Pete Arnold, Noah Strycker, RT Cox, Bob Dorn and Jon Mobeck. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The following Saturday lived up to its terrible forecast so Greg rescheduled our regular Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count for the next day, May 20, when it finally warmed up a bit and stopped raining.

Only eight of us showed up at 6:30 a.m. and represented a wide spectrum of birding experience. We searched Lions Park thoroughly, then the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and the High Plains Grasslands Research Station (permit required)—very little driving. I think we had about 80 species by 3 p.m. Four other people were birding the local area as well.

The final Big Day tally was 113. Not bad, considering we stayed within a 15-mile-diameter circle centered on the Capitol—essentially our Christmas Bird Count circle. That’s consistent with recent years.

Ted Floyd, the American Birding Association’s magazine editor (who birded at the ranch with Strycker, his associate editor) and I have discussed whether a birder will see more birds on their own or with a group.

Ted birds by ear, so not having a lot of people-noise works for him. For me, I appreciate the greater number of eyeballs a group has—often looking in multiple directions—and the willingness of people to point out what they are seeing. Presumably a group of 30 birders sees more than a group of eight, however the larger group may be looking at several interesting birds simultaneously, making it hard to keep up.

But there’s nothing much more enjoyable in spring than joining gatherings of birds and birders, or any time of year. Look for Cheyenne Audubon’s field trip schedule at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.

Cheyenne Big Days compared

The 118 birds with an “N” before their name were seen by Noah Strycker in southeastern Wyoming May 15. Additional birds he saw are marked *. The 113 birds with a “B” were counted in the Cheyenne area on the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count May 20. The combined list has 145 species.

N B  Canada Goose

N B  Wood Duck

N B  Blue-winged Teal

N B  Cinnamon Teal

N B  Northern Shoveler

N B  Gadwall

N      American Wigeon

N B  Mallard

B  Northern Pintail

N      Green-winged Teal

N      Canvasback

N B  Redhead

N      Ring-necked Duck

N B  Lesser Scaup

N B  Ruddy Duck

N*   Sharp-tailed Grouse

N B  Pied-billed Grebe

N B  Eared Grebe

N B  Western Grebe

B  Clark’s Grebe

N B  Double-crested Cormorant

N B  American White Pelican

N B  Great Blue Heron

B  Great Egret

N B  Black-crowned Night-Heron

N B  White-faced Ibis

N B  Turkey Vulture

B  Osprey

N B  Golden Eagle

N      Northern Harrier

N      Sharp-shinned Hawk

N B  Cooper’s Hawk

N B  Bald Eagle

N B  Swainson’s Hawk

N B  Red-tailed Hawk

N      Ferruginous Hawk

N      Sora

N B  American Coot

N      Sandhill Crane

N      Black-necked Stilt

N B  American Avocet

N B  Killdeer

N      Least Sandpiper

N      Long-billed Dowitcher

B  Wilson’s Snipe

N B  Wilson’s Phalarope

N B  Spotted Sandpiper

N      Willet

N      Lesser Yellowlegs

N B  Ring-billed Gull

N      California Gull

N B  Black Tern

N B  Forster’s Tern

N B  Rock Pigeon

N B  Eurasian Collared-Dove

N*    White-winged Dove

N B  Mourning Dove

N B  Eastern Screech-Owl

N B  Great Horned Owl

B  Chimney Swift

B  Broad-tailed Hummingbird

N B  Belted Kingfisher

B  Red-headed Woodpecker

N B  Downy Woodpecker

N      Hairy Woodpecker

B  Northern Flicker

N B  American Kestrel

N B  Western Wood Pewee

N      Least Flycatcher

N      Dusky Flycatcher

N B  Cordilleran Flycatcher

N B  Say’s Phoebe

N B  Western Kingbird

N B  Eastern Kingbird

B  Warbling Vireo

N B  Blue Jay

N B  Black-billed Magpie

N B  American Crow

N B  Common Raven

N B  Horned Lark

N B  Northern Rough-winged Swallow

N B  Tree Swallow

B  Violet-green Swallow

N B  Bank Swallow

N B  Barn Swallow

N B  Cliff Swallow

B  Black-capped Chickadee

N B  Mountain Chickadee

N B  Red-breasted Nuthatch

N B  House Wren

N      Marsh Wren

B  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

N B  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

N      Mountain Bluebird

B  Townsend’s Solitaire

N B  Swainson’s Thrush

B  Hermit Thrush

N B  American Robin

N B  Gray Catbird

B  Brown Thrasher

N B  Sage Thrasher

N B  European Starling

N      McCown’s Longspur

N*    Ovenbird

N*    Tennessee Warbler

N B   Orange-crowned Warbler

B  MacGillivray’s Warbler

N B  Common Yellowthroat

N B  American Redstart

N      Northern Parula

N B  Yellow Warbler

B  Chestnut-sided Warbler

N      Blackpoll Warbler

N B  Yellow-rumped Warbler

B  Wilson’s Warbler

N      Grasshopper Sparrow

N B  Chipping Sparrow

N B  Clay-colored Sparrow

N B  Brewer’s Sparrow

N B  Lark Sparrow

N B  Lark Bunting

N      Dark-eyed Junco

N B  White-crowned Sparrow

N B  Vesper Sparrow

N B  Savannah Sparrow

N B  Song Sparrow

N      Lincoln’s Sparrow

N      Green-tailed Towhee

B  Western Tanager

N       Black-headed Grosbeak

B  Lazuli Bunting

N B  Yellow-headed Blackbird

N B  Western Meadowlark

B  Orchard Oriole

N B  Bullock’s Oriole

N B  Red-winged Blackbird

N B  Brown-headed Cowbird

N B  Brewer’s Blackbird

N B  Common Grackle

B  Great-tailed Grackle

B  Evening Grosbeak

N B  House Finch

N B  Pine Siskin

N B  American Goldfinch

N B  House Sparrow

2018-06Ted Floyd & Noah Strycker

Ted Floyd’s son Andrew helps him smile, but Noah Strycker needs no help. Ted is editor of the American Birding Association’s magazine, Birding, and Noah is associate editor, however they seldom meet in person since Ted is located in Colorado and Noah in Oregon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

World birder Noah Strycker to visit Cheyenne

World-record-setting birder and author to visit Cheyenne—and Wyoming—for the first time

Also published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/world-record-setting-birder-and-author-to-visit-cheyenne-and-wyoming-for-the-first-time.

By Barb Gorges

World-record birder Noah Strycker is coming to speak in Cheyenne May 14, 2018, sponsored by the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society and the Laramie County Library (7 p.m., 2200 Pioneer Ave., Cottonwood Room, free admission, open to the public).

Strycker is the author of the book Birding Without Borders, An Obsession, A Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World. His talk, humorous and inspiring, will reflect the subject of his book.

stryckerwithfieldguidesImagine travelling non-stop for a year, the year you are turning 30, taking only a backpack that qualifies as carry-on luggage. At least in this digital age, the maps Strycker needed and the six-foot stack of bird field guide books covering the world could be reduced to fit in his laptop.

Also, it was a year of couch surfing as local birders in many countries offered him places to stay as well as help in locating birds. There were knowledgeable bird nerds everywhere that wanted him to set the world record. First, he used https://eBird.org to figure out where the birds would be and then he looked up http://birdingpal.org/ to find the birders.

Strycker planned to see 5,000 species of birds, nearly half the 10,365 identified as of 2015, to break the old record of 4,000-some. But he hit that goal Oct. 26 in the Philippines with the Flame-crowned Flowerpecker and decided to keep going, totaling 6,042 species.

Strycker is looking forward to visiting Wyoming for the first time. The day after his talk, on Tuesday, May 15, his goal is to see 100 species of birds in our state. This is not an impossible feat at the height of spring migration.

He’ll have help from Wyoming’s best-known birders, Jane and Robert Dorn, who wrote the book, Wyoming Birds.

Robert has already plotted a route for an Audubon field trip that will start in Cheyenne at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch at 6 a.m. and move onto Lions Park by 8:30 a.m. Soon after we’ll head for Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge west of Laramie and some of the Laramie Plains lakes before heading through Sybille Canyon to Wheatland, to visit Grayrocks and Guernsey reservoirs.

There’s no telling what time we’ll make the 100-species goal, but we expect to be able to relax and have dinner, maybe in Torrington. Anyone who would like to join us is welcome for all or part of the day. Birding expertise is not required, however, brownbag lunch, water, appropriate clothing and plenty of stamina is. And bring binoculars. To sign up, send your name and cell phone number to mgorges@juno.com. See also https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/ for more information.

I don’t know if Strycker is going for a new goal of 100 species in every state, but it will be as fun for us to help him as it was for the birders in those 40 other countries. I just hope we don’t find ourselves stuck on a muddy road as he was sometimes.

Anyone, serious birder or not, can enjoy Strycker’s Birding Without Borders, either the talk or the book. The book is not a blow by blow description of all the birds he saw, but a selection of the most interesting stories about birds, birders and their habitat told with delightful optimism. But I don’t think his only goal was a number. I think it was also international insight. Although he’s done ornithological field work on six continents, traveling provides the big picture.

Strycker is associate editor of Birding magazine, published by the American Birding Association. He’s written two previous books about his birding experiences, Among Penguins and The Thing with Feathers.

You can find Strycker’s Birding Without Borders book at Barnes and Noble and online, possibly at the talk. He will be happy to autograph copies.

His latest writing is the text for National Geographic’s “The Birds of the Photo Ark.” It features 300 of Joel Sartore’s exquisite portraits of birds from around the world, part of Sartore’s quest to photograph as many of the world’s animals as possible. The book came out this spring.

Bird-finding improves

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Strycker’s book is due out Oct. 10, 2017.

Published August 20, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird-finding improves from generation to generation.”

By Barb Gorges 

When your interest in birds takes you beyond your backyard, you need a guide beyond your bird identification book. That help can come in many forms—from apps and websites to a trail guide book or local expert.

Noah Strycker needed a bird-finding guide for the whole world for his record-breaking Big Year in 2015. His book, “Birding without Borders,” due out Oct. 10, documents his travels to the seven continents to find 6,042 species, more than half the world total.

In it, he thoughtfully considers many bird-related topics, including how technology made his record possible, specifically www.eBird.org. In addition to being a place where you can share your birding records, it’s “Explore Data” function helps you find birding hotspots, certain birds and even find out who found them. Strycker credits its enormous global data base with his Big Year success.

Another piece of technology equally important was http://birdingpal.org/, a way to connect with fellow enthusiasts who could show him around their own “backyards.” Every species he saw during his Big Year was verified by his various travelling companions.

Back in 1968, there was no global data base to help Peter Alden set the world Big Year record. But he only needed to break just over 2,000 species. He helped pioneer international birding tourism through the trips he ran for Massachusetts Audubon. By 1981, he and British birder John Gooders could write “Finding Birds Around the World.” Four pages of the nearly 700 are devoted to our own Yellowstone National Park.

When I bumped into Alden at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (a birding hotspot) in 2011, he offered to send me an autographed copy for $5. I accepted, however, until I read Strycker’s book, I had no idea how famous a birder he was.

As Strycker explains it, interest in international birding, especially since World War II, has kept growing, right along with improved transportation to and within developing countries, which usually have the highest bird diversity. However, some of his cliff-hanging road descriptions would indicate that perhaps sometimes the birders have exceeded the bounds of safe travel.

For the U.S., the Buteo Books website will show you a multitude of American Birding Association “Birdfinding” titles for many states. Oliver Scott authored “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming” for the association in 1992. Robert and Jane Dorn included bird finding notes in the 1999 edition of their book, “Wyoming Birds.” Both books are the result of decades of experience.

A variation on the birdfinding book is “the birding trail.” The first was in Texas. The book, “Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail,” enumerates a collection of routes connecting birding sites, and includes information like park entrance fees, what amenities are nearby, and what interesting birds you are likely to see. Now you can find bird and wildlife viewing “trails” on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. Many states are following their example.

2017-08WyoBirdTrailApp

The Wyoming Bird Trail app is available for Apple and Android smartphones.

People in Wyoming have talked about putting together a birding trail for some years, but it took a birding enthusiast like Zach Hutchinson, a Casper-based community naturalist for Audubon Rockies, to finally get it off the ground.

The good news is that by waiting this long, there are now software companies that have designed birding trail apps. No one needs to print books that soon need updates.

The other good news is that to make it a free app, Hutchinson found sponsors including the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society, Murie Audubon Society (Casper), Wyoming State Parks, and WY Outside – a group of nonprofits and government agencies working to encourage youth and families in Wyoming to spend more time outdoors.

Look for “Wyoming Bird Trail” app on either iTunes or Google Play to install it on your smart phone.

Hutchinson has made a good start. The wonderful thing about the app technology is that not only does it borrow Google Maps so directions don’t need to be written, the app information can be easily updated. Users are invited to help.

There is one other way enterprising U.S. birders research birding trips. They contact the local Audubon chapter, perhaps finding a member, like me, who loves an excuse to get out for another birding trip and who will show them around – and make a recommendation for where to have lunch.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet breeding?

Ruby-crowned_Kinglet-wikipedia

Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 19, 2016, “New bird on the block singing, maybe breeding.”

By Barb Gorges

There is a new bird on our block. It’s a loud bird. That’s how I know it is here, even though it is tiny, 4.25 inches long, and prefers to hang out unseen around the tops of mature spruce trees while gleaning insects and spiders.

The ruby-crowned kinglet, despite its name, is not a brightly-colored bird. It is mostly an olive-gray-green, with one white wing-bar. Only the male has the red crown patch and he may show it when singing, but the red feathers really stand up like a clown’s fright wig when he’s around other male ruby-crowneds.

We get a variety of small migrating songbirds in our Cheyenne yard in May: lazuli bunting, pine siskin, clay-colored sparrow, and even our first ever yellow-breasted chat this year.

This isn’t the first time for a ruby-crowned kinglet in our yard. I recorded one at www.eBird.org on April 25, 2012, and another April 24, 2015. They are usually on their way to the mountains to nest in the coniferous forest of spruce, pine and fir.

The difference this year is that beginning May 8 I’ve been hearing one every day. My hopes are up. Maybe it is going to nest. My neighborhood has the requisite mature spruce trees.

I talked to Bob Dorn May 27, but he thought that it was still too early to suspect breeding. They might have been waiting out cold spring weather before heading to the mountains. Bob is the co-author of “Wyoming Birds” with his wife, Jane Dorn. Their map for the ruby-crowned kinglet shows an “R” for the Cheyenne area, “Resident”—observed in winter and summer with breeding confirmed.

The Dorns’ breeding record is from the cemetery, where they saw kinglet nestlings being fed July 18, 1993. They also suspected breeding was taking place at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station just west of the city June 2, 1989 and June 15, 1990.

For more recent summer observations that could indicate breeding in Cheyenne, I looked at eBird, finding three records between July 3 and July 7 in the last five years, including Lions Park. There were also a couple late June observations at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and Lions Park in 2014.

I first learned the ruby-crowned kinglet’s distinctive song in Wyoming’s mountains. You’ve probably heard it too. Listen at www.allaboutbirds.org. It has two parts, starting with three hard-to-hear notes, “tee-tee-tee”, as ornithologist C.A. Bent explained it in the 1940s, followed by five or six lower “tu or “tur” notes. The second half is the loudest, and sometimes given alone, “tee-da-leet, tee-da-leet, te-da-leet.”

Those who have studied the song say it can be heard for more than half a mile. The females sing a version during incubation and when nestlings are young. The males can sing while gleaning insects from trees and while eating them. Neighboring kinglets have distinctive signature second halves of the song and males can apparently establish their territories well enough by singing that they can avoid physical border skirmishes.

Actual nesting behavior is not well documented because it is hard to find an open cup nest that measures only 4 inches wide by 5 to 6 inches deep when it is camouflaged in moss, feathers, lichens, spider webs, and pieces of bark, twigs and rootlets—and located 40 feet up a densely branched spruce tree.

The female kinglet builds the nest in five days, lining it with more feathers, plant down, fine grass, lichens and fur. She may lay as many as eight eggs. The nest stretches as both parents feed the growing nestlings tiny caterpillars, crickets, moths, butterflies and ant pupae.

Ruby-crowned kinglets winter in the Pacific coast states and southern states, but breed throughout the Rockies and Black Hills and in a swath from Maine to Alaska. If my neighborhood kinglet stays to breed, it will be one more data point expanding the breeding range further out onto the prairie.

While kinglets are not picky about habitat during migration, for breeding they demand mature spruce-fir or similar forest. Particular communities of kinglets decrease in the wake of beetle epidemics, salvage logging and fires. However, the 2016 State of the Birds report, www.2016stateoftheBirds.org, shows them in good shape overall, scoring a 6 on a scale from 4 to 20. High scores would indicate trouble due to small or downward trending population, or threats to the species and its habitats during breeding and non-breeding seasons.

As of June 13 [now June 19], the kinglet is still singing—all day long. If it is nesting on my block this summer, I must thank the residents who planted spruce trees here 50 years ago. What a nice legacy.

We should plant some more.

Curiosity, generosity rewarded by the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute

Biodiversity Institute logo

The University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute was organized in 2012.

Published Nov. 10, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Curiosity, generosity rewarded by UW’s Biodiversity Institute.”

2014 Update: Chris Madson continues to write at his blog, http://www.thelandethic.com. Many of the Dorns’ publications are available.

By Barb Gorges

It’s wonderful when friends are recognized for a lifetime of work they enjoy.

Last month, the Biodiversity Institute recognized Chris Madson of Cheyenne, and Jane and Robert Dorn, formerly of Cheyenne, now residing near Lingle.

The Biodiversity Institute, established in 2012, is a division of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. It “seeks to promote research, education, and outreach concerning the study of living organisms in Wyoming and beyond (www.wyomingbiodiversity.org).” This was the first year for what will be biannual awards.

Chris’s award for “Contributions to Wyoming Biodiversity Conservation,” highlights his 30 years as editor of Wyoming Wildlife, the magazine published by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The week before the awards ceremony, he retired.

Each issue has been a compilation of the work of the best nature and outdoor photographers and writers, who were attracted to the prize-winning magazine. Judith Hosafros, longtime assistant editor, should also be credited for her attention to graphic details and proofreading that made it easy to read all these years.

Most subscribers turned to page 4 first, to read Chris’s monthly elucidation of issues or hosannas to nature, and then they looked for any articles he authored.

Getting in touch with Chris for what might have been a minute could turn into a conversation exploring a topic in nearly any field–not surprising for a man with degrees in biology, English, anthropology and wildlife.

Chris’s dad was also a writer and conservationist in Chris’s native state of Iowa. He remembers his dad interpreting the scenery on long car trips. When I spoke to two of Chris and Kathy’s three daughters at the awards, Erin and Ceara, they both mentioned long drives as favorite times with their dad.

Chris made Wyoming Wildlife much more inclusive than the typical hook and bullet publication—for instance, the October issue had three major non-game bird articles. Illuminating the conservation ethic was always uppermost for Chris, and that’s why he was nominated for this biodiversity award.

The Dorns received the Contributions to Biodiversity Science Award. Both Bob and Jane trained as scientists: Bob with a doctorate in botany, and Jane with a masters in zoology. They met in 1969 at UW, he coming from Minnesota and she from Rawlins. They have been a productive partnership ever since.

When Bob first started his studies at UW that year, he realized there was no single good plant guide for Wyoming and he set out to correct that, publishing “Vascular Plants of Wyoming” in 1977. It’s essentially a key he made for identifying hundreds of plants, based on his and many others’ research, and Jane has provided scientific illustrations for it. The third edition, still with a humble, plain brown paper cover, is available through UW’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium. It’s considered the bible by anyone working in botany in Wyoming.

Bob has had his own biological consulting business, working on clearances and inventories for threatened and endangered species, reclamation evaluations and wetland determinations.  But he has continued to have scientific papers published, and other books. Many of his contracts called for inspecting remote areas and at this point, out of the 448 units he divided the state into back in 1969, he has botanically surveyed 445.

Jane is no slouch, botanically. Growing up, she spent a lot of time on her grandparents’ ranch and her parents impressed on her that everything has a name. I’m not sure it is possible to divide Bob and Jane’s joint interests in botany and birds, but when researching in the nation’s great scientific libraries, Jane tends to find the birds.

Having met them through the local Audubon chapter, Bob and Jane became my mentors when I first started writing this bird column in 1999. They put their research into two editions of their book, “Wyoming Birds.” Doug Faulkner continually credits them throughout his 2010 book, “Birds of Wyoming.” Jane wrote the chapter for him on the history of Wyoming ornithology and Bob wrote the chapter on landforms and vegetation.

While both books often save me from having to make phone calls, the Dorns’ book also has 70 pages of Wyoming birding hotspots and directions on how to get to them.

What Jane, Bob and Chris have in common is not only intelligence and education, but insatiable curiosity that has and will keep them going long after any official retirement; the afternoon before the awards ceremony on campus I found Bob doing research in the herbarium.

And they also share a huge spirit of generosity, making all of us, maybe unknowingly for many people, beneficiaries of their scientific and conservation passions.

Book Review: “Wyoming Birds”

Dorn's Wyoming Birds

“Wyoming Birds,” by Jane Dorn and Robert Dorn

Published Aug. 5, 1999, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birding know-how a matter of degree.”

2014 Update: “Wyoming Birds” is still available. Send $19 (out-of-state orders) or $20.08 (Wyoming orders) to: Rocky Mountain Herbarium, Department of Botany Dept. 3165, University of Wyoming, 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071-3165, http://www.rmh.uwyo.edu.

By Barb Gorges

The phone rings. “Is this the Audubon Society?” I say yes and introduce myself to the caller.

“There’s this bird in my yard. It’s brown with red on its face.”

This is where I offer up my best guess, the house finch. Usually I can tell by the way callers word the question whether they are, in my mental hierarchy, working on their “first degree” of bird watching or working on a higher degree of proficiency.

Some of our bird knowledge seems to be genetic. I have yet to give a talk at a school where the children didn’t correctly name the robin. But after that the names seem to be generic categories: “blackbirds,” “seagulls,” or “ducks.”

The ordinary person does not look for birds. He only notices that some bird hit his windshield, the cat dragged in some feathers or some bird has left berry droppings on the front steps.

The first degree of bird watching begins when a person notices that some black birds have iridescent heads (grackles), parking lot sparrows come in two styles (male and female house sparrows) and not all birds swimming at Lions Park are ducks (coots and grebes).

To meet the requirement for this first degree, one must find a way to cross paths with birds intentionally. This usually means throwing seed or bread crumbs on the deck or patio. At our house we put up a bird feeder.

This naturally leads to trying to figure out what birds are visiting.

Bird watching isn’t just about identification of course. It’s also about observing behavior: a flock of goldfinches plays king of the hill on the thistle feeder; the mourning doves have a very peculiar walk; and blue jays grip sunflower seeds in their bills and hammer them against the feeder to break the hulls.

Bird watchers attempting the second degree are ready to look beyond their backyards. Birding with other people is the easiest. I started showing up for Audubon field trips. It’s so handy to point and ask, “What’s that?” And it’s even more fun when other people point out a bird and tell me facts not in the field guide.

But perhaps Audubon field trips aren’t scheduled as often as the budding birder would like. Here’s the first step of the third degree: He decides to plan his own field trip to some of the places he’s been before.

However, to really accomplish the third degree in my hierarchy, the birder must intentionally decide to explore a new place. It’s finally time to invest in a bird finding book like Oliver Scott’s “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming” or, fresh out this spring, the second edition of “Wyoming Birds” by Jane L. Dorn and Robert D. Dorn. For those of you with the first edition, this one is worth getting. It has easier to read typeface, water-resistant cover, a new introduction with helpful subheadings and more maps and information.

Page of Wyoming Birds

In the Dorns’ book, “Wyoming Birds,” the range of each species that occurs in Wyoming is indicated by latilong. The grid is in increments of degrees of latitude and longitude. Key to observation status: R=resident (summer and winter, breeding confirmed), r=resident (breeding suspected but unconfirmed), B=summer (breeding confirmed), b=summer (breeding suspected but unconfirmed), Y=year round (summer and winter but probably non-breeding), W=winter, S=summer but probably non-breeding, M=migration seasons, O=observed but status indeterminable.

The Dorns have written up 437 Wyoming species, drawing on more than 30 years of personal observation and records going back 150 years. They have charted each species’ seasonal occurrence around the state using the latilong system, which divides Wyoming into 28 rectangles and have listed sites where each species has the best chance of being seen.

So, if a birder were to examine her life list for Wyoming and discover she’s missing Amphispiza belli, the sage sparrow, the entry in “Wyoming Birds” would tell her to look in medium to tall sagebrush between May and September. The best places to look would be 5 to 35 miles west of Baggs, 5 to 10 miles south of Rock Springs, the Fontenelle Dam area in Lincoln County and the Gebo area west of Kirby in Hot Springs County.

The Dorns’ book can also be used in reverse. At the back is a list of 124 birding hotspots listed by county. Each entry notes directions for getting there, expected species, best season for visiting and available amenities such as restrooms or campgrounds. Several maps help those of us who do better visualizing directions than reading them.

New to this edition is a section devoted to directions for day tours that link the most notable birding spots.

Just remember to be prepared for Wyoming weather and road conditions so that a day tour doesn’t become a week of winter camping.

The further degrees of my bird watching hierarchy pertain to how far one travels and how much time is spent birding. Even further up are the birders who volunteer to collect information for scientific studies or get involved in habitat conservation. Somewhere beyond are the people who share their knowledge, leading field trips and writing books. That’s where I find the Dorns, helping us all to reach the Nth degree.

Book review: “Birds of Wyoming,” by Doug Faulkner

Birds of Wyoming book

Birds of Wyoming, by Douglas Faulkner

Published July 7, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “”Birds of Wyoming” is a must have treasure.”

2014 Update: Information about birds is always changing, especially information about where birds are and when, which is the topic of this book. While much current information about Wyoming’s birds can be gleaned from www.eBird.org, this fills in historic information for all species and general information for less common birds.

By Barb Gorges

Birds of Wyoming by Doug Faulkner, c. 2010 by Roberts and Company Publishers, Greenwood Village, Colo., 404 pages, 8.25 x 10.25 inches, full color, $45.

The book, “Birds of Wyoming” by Doug Faulkner is here. You can find a copy at local and national booksellers.

The birdwatching community, state and national, has been waiting for this book ever since the University of Wyoming announced hiring Faulkner, a professional wildlife biologist and super birder, for the project enabled by a generous donation from Robert Berry.

This is not a field guide. Although it has color photos of our state’s 244 resident species, it won’t give you tips on identifying them. There are another 184 species, migrants and other regular visitors, with no photos.

Nor is it Oliver Scott’s “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming” which gives directions to birding hotspots, but as you browse the new book, you’ll see some place names pop up again and again.

This book most resembles the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s bird atlas and Jane Dorn and Robert Dorn’s “Wyoming Birds,” but with much more discussion and information.

Each account will give you an idea of where, when and with what abundance a species occurs in Wyoming, and how wide spread it is in the world.

I found myself referring to the accounts in “Birds of Wyoming” often this spring as each migrating species made an appearance. I was able to find out if they breed in Wyoming and, if so, in what habitat, and found out just how uncommon it is to see a rose-breasted grosbeak in my backyard.

If you are new to birding in Wyoming, this book gives you much of that intimate knowledge of its avian life without having to be, or hang out with, an old timer.

In the first chapter Jane Dorn introduces the history of Wyoming ornithology, beginning with a French Canadian fur trader’s notes in 1805. Other chapters describe Wyoming bird conservation and management challenges. Robert Dorn neatly lays out the landforms of Wyoming and associated plants and birds. Unfortunately, unlike other scientific publications, no credentials are given for the eight authors of the chapters.

I hope the next edition comes with a more conventional map inside the covers, one with major landforms, cities, towns and public birding spots named on the map rather than numbered, with an accompanying alphabetical index with reference grid locations.

While Doug is listed as the author, he is quick to acknowledge the numerous people, including photographers, who contributed to the project. However, for many species he writes that more information is needed.

We need to get out and bird more and put our observations into a public database like www.eBird.org, instead of in a shoebox, before the next edition comes out in five or 10 years.

This is a big book, but if you want to learn about the birds of Wyoming, you’ll want your own copy.

 

Bird-watching basics: Jane Dorn and Gloria Lawrence interviewed

Birdwatchers

Attending a bird class or a field trip is a good way to learn more about birdwatching. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published June 8, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Go Birding! Mastering bird-watching basics will enhance your time in the outdoors.”

2014 Update: Binoculars continue to improve and new field guides keep coming out. Both the Casper and Cheyenne Audubon chapters continue to offer bird classes, field trips and programs.

By Barb Gorges

Bird watching is an all-inclusive hobby that has grown immensely in popularity in recent years.

From young children to the elderly or disabled, almost anyone can pick up a pair of binoculars and a field guide and begin to enjoy watching and learning about birds.

Southeast Wyoming lies along the migratory paths of a wide array of bird species and is the year-round home to many birds that are as beautiful as they are fascinating.

From identifying birds at the backyard feeder to becoming a full-blown amateur ornithologist, bird watching can be as simple or as all-consuming as you choose to make it.

So what steps do experienced birders recommend to the casual backyard observer who wants to fan that initial spark of interest in birds into a bigger flame?

“I would suggest you take a class” said Gloria Lawrence. “Or go birding with a group. Go birding every chance you can with people who know birds or fumble through the field guide.”

The spark

Lawrence, who lives near Casper, keeps the Wyoming Birding Hotline up to date. Her interest in birds was sparked by a northern mockingbird that spent a summer singing from the yard light pole when she was a child growing up on a ranch near Chugwater.

She and her husband, Jim, began feeding backyard birds, and they learned to identify them, along with those they saw on outdoor trips.

“The spark turned into a roaring fire when Jim and I took a class from Oliver Scott in 1984,” Lawrence said. “The fire is burning out of control. I realize in a lifetime I’ll barely scratch the surface of what there is to know about birds.”

Cheyenne birder Jane Dorn got the tinder for her “spark”—as birders refer to the beginning passion for birds—as a small child growing up near Rawlins, part-time on a ranch, with a family that hunted and fished.

Dorn could identify game birds and the songbirds her mother fed before she was old enough to go to school.

“I’ve always watched birds; it’s something I grew up doing. I wasn’t intensely interested until after taking a college ornithology class,” she said.

Jane and her husband, Robert, are co-authors of “Wyoming Birds,” a book documenting the occurrence of bird species throughout the state.

“The more you do, the better you get,” she said. “Taking a class or going out with a birder is a huge boost to your bird-watching knowledge and shows you what’s what locally.”

Can one be too old or too young to take up bird watching?

No, said Lawrence, Gloria, who helps teach the annual 12-week bird class offered by the Murie Audubon Society at Casper College.

“Many students are middle-aged or older, and many are retired,” she said.

“It’s a hobby you can pursue for a lifetime,” said Dorn, who helped teach a birding class at Laramie County Community College this year.

Birding is ideal for the disabled, and it’s easy to add to other outdoor family activities.

One example Lawrence gave of the spark flaming at a young age is Joe Scott, whose grandfather, Oliver Scott, wrote the American Birding Association’s “A Birder’s Guide to Wyoming.” The young Scott, now in high school, and his father, Stacey, like to make the trek from Casper for the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society chapter’s annual spring bird count.

Scott recently received a grant from the Governor’s Youth Initiative for Wildlife. It and other funds he raised will help him build a new flight cage for Casper bird rehabilitators Lois and Frank Layton.

There are just two pieces of equipment needed to enjoy bird watching: A pair of binoculars and a field guide.

Binoculars

“Get the very best equipment you can afford,” Lawrence suggested. “I started out with 7 x 35 Tasco binoculars. When I got my Bausch and Lombs, it opened up a whole new world. Good optics just make birding more enjoyable.”

Dorn recommends a minimum power of 7. Go with 8 or 9 if you can afford it. (See the accompanying article on binoculars for a discussion of magnification.)

“Ideally you want to try as many kinds of binoculars as you can,” Dorn said.

Choosing binoculars that fit your style of bird watching is as important as fitting them to your hands and eyes.

“If you’ll be doing little walking, you can afford heavier binocs with a wider field of view,” Dorn said.

She estimated that $200 would buy an acceptable pair of birding binoculars.

Top birders spend as much as $1000. With improvements in quality in recent years, such as lens coatings that improve the brightness of the image, you can get more capability for the same money now.

As a hobby, bird watching doesn’t have to be expensive. “You don’t need as much (equipment) as golf,” Lawrence said.

And, said Dorn, bigger is not always better. “More magnification is not necessarily better. Anything above a 10 you cannot hold steady enough. You buy a scope with a tripod when you get serious about shorebirds and waterfowl.”

The most important thing about binoculars is to use them, Lawrence said. “Once you get binoculars, use them and use them,” until focusing is fast and automatic. And learn how to use the individual eye focus to adjust for differences between your eyes.

Dorn advises testing binoculars for alignment as well. If the two barrels aren’t lined up, you may have a headache by the end of a day of birding.

Field guides

Field guides are a less expensive tool, running from $15 to $25 apiece

But, said Dorn, “You’ll find you’ll want to own more than one.”

Lawrence will attest to that. “Jim and I have six bookcases. One is entirely filled with bird reference books, floor to ceiling, probably 250 books,” she said.

Both women recommend the newest edition of the National Geographic guide because it’s the most up to date and it covers bird species for the whole United States as well exotic species that may show up accidently.

“Peterson’s (guides) are still excellent, but you need both the Eastern and the Western guides,” said Dorn. “The old Golden (guide) is good but the nomenclature is sort of out of date.”

After the initial investment in binoculars and field guides, you can enjoy bird watching from home.

“You don’t have to live any place special to bird watch,” Dorn said.

You may enhance home bird watching by making your yard attractive to birds, providing food, water and shelter. On a day too rainy to go out last month, just before the peak of spring migration, Lawrence and her husband counted 38 species from their window.

It is possible to spend a lot of money on the hobby. Birding magazines advertise birding eco-tours to all kinds of international, bird-rich destinations. And the number of bird festivals around the country, usually celebrating particular species, continues to grow.

There’s always more to learn about birds, even when you’re the teacher. “I learned as much as the students,” Lawrence said of her experience. “When you try to describe (an ordinary bird) for someone else, you become more aware of what really looks unique about it.”

And there’s no limit to how much time some people put into bird watching. Lawrence, who goes birding all the time, related a typical story. “It’s a habit. I was coming up the stairs with a load of laundry when I saw a painted bunting.”

This type of bunting shows up accidentally in Wyoming, with only three documented sightings listed in the Dorns’ book. After documenting it with photographs, Lawrence added it to the bird hot line report.

[The bird hot line has given way to the Wyobirds elist. See information for Wyobirds, local bird classes and field trips at Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society’s website: http://home.lonetree.com/audubon/.%5D

Bird Watching Stats (circa 2000)

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., the number of birders in the United States is now estimated at 60 million. No one seems to have kept track of the statistics over the decades, but it’s generally accepted that number has grown exponentially in recent years.

According to the lab:

–Bird watching is the fastest-growing form of outdoor recreation in America, second in overall popularity only to gardening.

–By 2050, birding is the only major outdoor recreation that will have grown faster than the national population: It’s expected to increase in participation by 53.9 percent.

Peregrines come back with help from friends

Peregrine Falcon

Without captive breeding techniques honed by centuries of falconers, the population of Peregrine Falcons may not have recovered. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published May 13, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Peregrines back with a little help from friends.”

2014 Update: eBird shows several peregrine observations in the area around Cheyenne, but nothing more recent than 2010.

By Barb Gorges

Peregrine falcons were listed as endangered in the U.S. two years before I opened my first bird field guide in 1972.

The guide, “The Birds of North America,” published by Golden Press in 1966, did not allude to the peregrine’s diminishing population. It only said it was “a rare local falcon.”

However, in the era of an awakening environmental consciousness, we all heard about the peregrine, a very handsome poster child for the drive to ban DDT, one of the pesticides responsible for poisoning birds of prey and causing their eggshells to be too thin for un-hatched young to survive.

One doesn’t expect to meet an endangered species in the wild, especially when ornithologists had declared it extirpated in the eastern U.S. by 1970 and in trouble in other parts of the world (peregrines are found everywhere except the Sahara, the Amazon and Antarctica). But I had another encounter with a peregrine last month, just outside Cheyenne.

My six peregrine observations, all since 2003, have been around Cheyenne, at either Wyoming Hereford Ranch or Lions Park. All but one were in spring.

I remember the first sightings, on Audubon field trips, for which I was relying on more experienced birders for identification. Once, at WHR Reservoir No. 1, we saw a peregrine in one of those legendary dives–once clocked by a scientist at 200 miles per hour.

It slammed into an unsuspecting duck standing on a sandbar. The peregrine’s former common name was “duck hawk”–ducks being a favorite among the many kinds of birds they eat.

Last month, my husband Mark and I saw a bird sitting in a cottonwood below the same reservoir, watching us. It had all the peregrine field marks, including the dark cheek patches, which must have been the inspiration for those cheek pieces for first-century Roman centurions’ helmets.

Peregrines have been favorites of falconers for 3,000 years. While the young can be taken from wild nests, they are also bred in captivity. In 1970, the founder of The Peregrine Fund, Tom Cade, began breeding them in earnest, as did Bill Burnham of Fort Collins, future president of TPF, beginning in 1974.

By 1984, TPF had opened the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. By 1997, 4,000 peregrines had been bred and released into the wild. By 1999, the peregrine was off the Endangered Species list. The fund continues to work to conserve raptor species around the world.

It isn’t quite the same as the old days for the peregrines. Someone thought of also introducing–or hacking–them into cities that have plentiful pigeon prey and tall buildings that would imitate their cliff-face nesting habitat. Urbanites could be seeing peregrines much more often than we do.

While peregrines went missing in the eastern U.S., what happened to them in Wyoming? I asked Bob Dorn, co-author with his wife, Jane Dorn, of the book, “Wyoming Birds.” From his research, he was able to give me a list of over a dozen observation dates back to 1929.

In 1939, Bob said O. C. McCreary categorized the peregrine as “a rather rare summer resident,” usually indicating that they are breeding, and “an uncommon migrant,” meaning not quite so rare during migration. As Bob put it, “When you’re at the top of the food chain, you are in scarce numbers.” (Somehow, that isn’t true of humans.)

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s species account states that by 1970 Wyoming had no viable breeding population. They formed a partnership with TPF and over 15 years, 1980-1995, introduced 384 captive-bred peregrines. It was successful. There were 90 breeding pairs recorded in 2009, the most recent information available.

Today, breeding peregrines tend to be found in the northwest part of the state. Down here in the southeast, we have the potential to see migrants from April through May.

The most recently published field guide I have, “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America” (2009), does mention the peregrine was endangered—small concession to the idea that the hobby of bird identification can no longer be divorced from bird conservation.

The new “Peterson” range map shows there is still a big empty area in the middle of the country where the “Golden” guide had indicated wintering peregrines nearly 50 years before. But it also shows summer range, presumably breeding range, where the “Golden” guide did not.

Unfortunately, many threatened or endangered birds are not as charismatic as the peregrine. Experience with captive breeding may be nonexistent and the reason for a species’ plummeting population may not be as simple as a particular pesticide. The commonality however, is that human experiments with new technology often produce unexpected, bad consequences for some birds, while accidently promoting the unwanted reproduction of others–think starlings.

Meanwhile, birders continue to collect and share observations, causing range maps to continually be redrawn. Mark’s and my single peregrine sighting on April 8 becomes part of the larger story.

Keep your eyes open, too.