Big Days compared


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 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 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

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.


Bird books worth reading

Published Mar. 12, 2017 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird books worth reading.”

By Barb Gorges

If you are the books you read, here is what I’ve been this winter.

2017-3Genius of BirdsThe Genius of Birds” by Jennifer Ackerman, c. 2016, Penguin Press

This was a Christmas present from my daughter-in-law, Madeleine, who teaches cognitive psychology. It’s an enthralling overview of the latest studies that show how much smarter birds are than we thought, sometimes smarter than us in particular ways. They can navigate extreme distances, find home, find food stashed six months earlier, solve puzzles, use tools, sing hundreds of complex songs, remember unique relationships with each flock member, engineer nests, adapt to new foods and situations. They can even communicate with us.

2017-3GoodBirds“Good Birders Still Don’t Wear White, Passionate Birders Share the Joys of Watching Birds,” edited by Lisa A. White and Jeffrey A. Gordon, c. 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The previous volume, in 2007, was “Good Birders Don’t Wear White, 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders.”

One of my favorite essays is by our Colorado friend Ted Floyd, “Go Birding with (Young, Really Young) Children.” Having frequently accompanied him and his children, I can say he does a terrific job of making birdwatching appealing.

Many of the essays start out with “Why I Love…” and move on to different aspects of birding people love (seabirds, drawing birds, my yard, spectrograms, “because it gets me closer to tacos”), followed by tips should you want to follow their passions.

2017-3ABACalifornia“Field Guide to the Birds of California” by Alvaro Jaramillo, c. 2015

This is part of the American Birding Association State Field Guide Series published by Scott & Nix Inc. The series so far also includes Arizona, the Carolinas, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Each author writes their own invitation to the beginning birdwatcher or the birder new to their state.

While a few birding hotspots may be mentioned, the real service these books provide is an overview of the state’s ecological regions and what kind of habitats to find each species in, not to mention large photos of each. I’ll probably still pack my Sibley’s, just in case we see a bird rare to California.

2017-3PetersonGuidetoSong            “Peterson Field Guide to the Bird Sounds of Eastern North America” by Nathan Pieplow, c. 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

While including the usual bird pictures and range maps, this book is about learning to identify birds by sound and corresponding audio files can be found at

Bird songs are charted using spectrograms, graphic representations of sound recordings.

You can think of spectrograms as musical notation. They read from left to right. A low black mark indicates a low-pitched frequency. A thin, short line higher up indicates a clear sound with few overtones, higher pitched and short-lived. But most bird sounds are more complex, some filling the spectrogram from top to bottom.

Pieplow explains how to read spectrograms, the basic patterns, the variations, the none-vocal sounds like wing-clapping, and the biology of bird sounds.

Once you can visualize what you are hearing, Pieplow provides a visual index to bird sounds to help you try to match a bird with what you heard.

Taking a call note I’m familiar with in my neighborhood, the one note the Townsend’s solitaire gives from the top of a tree in winter, I find that Pieplow categorizes it as “cheep,” higher than a “chirp” and more complex than “peep.” It’s going to take a while to train our ears to distinguish differences.

2017-3WarblerGuide            “The Warbler Guide” by Tom Stephenson and Scott White, c. 2015, Princeton University Press and The Warbler Guide App.

Spectrograms are a part of the 500 pages devoted to the 56 species of warblers in the U.S. and Canada.

The yellow warbler, whose song we hear along willow-choked streams in the mountains in summer, gets 10 pages.

Icons show its silhouette (sometimes it can be diagnostic), color impression (as it flies by in a blur), tail pattern (the usual underside view of a bird above your head), range generalization, habitat (what part of the tree it prefers) and behavioral (hover, creep, sally, walk).

Then there’s the spectrogram comparing it to other species and maps show migration routes and timing, both spring and fall. We can see the yellow warbler spends the winter as far south as Peru.

Forty-one photographs show all angles, similar species, and both sexes at various ages.

The companion app, an additional $13, has most of the book’s content, and lets you rotate to compare 3-D versions of two warblers at a time, filter identification clues and listen to song recordings.

This is a good investment for birding in Cheyenne where we have seen 32 warbler species over the last 20 springs.

Interview with Smithsonian bird field guide author Ted Floyd

Smithsonian field guide

Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America by Ted Floyd.

Published Oct. 28, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Celebrity field guide birder visits Cheyenne.”

2014 Update: Ted returned to Cheyenne this fall to guide a field trip and make a presentation at the 40th anniversary celebration for the founding of the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society. His newest book is the “American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Colorado.”

By Barb Gorges

In September, Ted Floyd was a guest of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society. He is the editor of the American Birding Association’s magazine, the author of the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and a really sharp birder.

On the field trip along Crow Creek, he was able to identify a first of the year female chestnut-sided warbler (rare in Cheyenne), in a treetop. It didn’t look very distinctive, but behavior and voice helped him identify it.

Ted has a rather humble attitude towards his birding and literary talents, as evidenced by the following interview.

What was your first field guide when you started birding in 7th grade?

Ted:        The fourth edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s Eastern Birds. It was brand-new at the time.

How many bird field guides do you have in your collection?

Ted:          Hundreds. Literally.

When did you start dreaming about writing your own bird field guide?

Ted:          I’ve been thinking about writing a field guide almost from the very beginning. When I was in the eighth grade, I created my own “checklist sequence”–I thought it was better than Peterson’s.

How did you get to be the author of the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America?

Ted:          Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. The folks at Scott & Nix contacted me; then we had a long series of informal chats; and, eventually, we all agreed that we’d do the field guide. My name is on the front cover, but it’s been a collaborative effort.

How did Charles Nix and George Scott think this field guide could be different and better than all the North American guides currently available?

Ted:         The Smithsonian Guide is holistic. It encourages birders to employ a “whole-bird” approach to bird ID: Look at the bird, listen to the bird, pay attention to molt and behavior, take note of ecology and the environmental context–and do that all at once. It’s a very natural approach for beginners. For more experienced birders, who can be very rigid and compartmentalized about bird ID, some amount of reprogramming may be required.

How long was it after signing the contract before the books were on store shelves? How much of that time did it take you to actually write the field guide?

Ted:         The guys at Scott & Nix are slavedrivers, and I mean that in a good way. They were excellent at keeping the project on schedule. I would say the project took about a year of organization, and then it took me a year to write the book.

When you were writing the 28-page introduction to birdwatching and the species accounts, what kind of birdwatcher did you have in mind?

Ted:         Anybody who’s interested in nature and open-minded about new ways to engage the natural world.

In your research for this guide, what was the most surprising thing you learned about a bird you thought you knew?

Ted:         As I listened to recordings of duck vocalizations, I was enthralled by how beautiful they are. I have come to believe that the Redhead has one of the most arrestingly beautiful songs of any North American bird species–right up there with the Hermit Thrush or Winter Wren. I wonder how many birders even know that Redheads say anything at all.

If Paul Lehman is the go-to guy for range maps for North American field guides, including this plus National Geographic’s and the Sibley Guide, was your personal knowledge of bird ranges added to any of the maps?

Ted:         Yes, but it’s not as if I “overruled” Paul Lehman on anything. Rather, the folks involved with map production (including me) had conversations about range limits for certain species. We also had conversations about the best color scheme to use.

On pages where more than one species account appears, they are often laid out side by side, but when they are laid out one over the other, it is easy to miss the lower one when rapidly flipping pages to i.d. a bird from a large group such as warblers or shore birds. Am I the only one who has problems with that?

Ted:            You need to slow down when you read, Barb…        No, seriously, layout is a huge issue with this or any field guide. I can’t begin to convey to you how much time all of us labored over where to place the species. In the linear format of a book–you go from page 1 to page 2 to page 3–it’s impossible to present the multi-dimensional problem of comparing species. I think we got it right in most instances.

I’m grateful for comments like yours. That’s because a second edition is in the offing, and we’ll be tweaking the formatting in places. If you or anybody has suggestions, please tell me about it ( You’ll make a difference.

What other kinds of changes will you be making in the second edition?

Ted:          New taxonomy, a few new names even, and some changes to range maps.

We’ll also correct the single typo from the first edition…On a substantive note, look for some new photos. There will be more photos showing distinctive geographic variation and more photos showing cool bird behaviors.

Warbler migration coming through a town near you

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s race), first to show up in spring, last to leave in fall. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Sept. 16, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Warblers winging their way through on migration path.”

2014 Update: The spring migration Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count total warbler species count is now at 31. Click  warblers-1993-2016 for the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count Warbler List.  It would be fun to peruse eBird records for the fall species count.

By Barb Gorges

Early mornings mid-August get a chill snap to them that foreshadows September and indicates warbler weather—warbler migration weather.

A trickle slowly builds through the last week of August. By then you can stare at almost any deciduous tree and see the flutter of the leaves, branch by branch, as these small passerine birds hunt for insects and other arthropods.

The migration will continue into October. The last warblers to leave will probably be the yellow-rumpeds. They don’t mind eating berries when the insects die off. The other warbler species are stricter insectivores.

The best time to look for warblers is early morning. They migrate at night and come to earth by dawn quite ravenous. They flit frantically, as if they’ve had three cups of coffee on an empty stomach. It makes them hard to track with binoculars, especially since they all seem to be shades of yellow, greenish yellow or olive green—the same colors as leaves losing chlorophyll.

Identifying fall warblers can be tough since the adult males are no longer in their distinctive breeding plumage, the young don’t have all their adult feathers and the females are so subtly marked, they tend to look all alike. But if you identify them as Wilson’s warblers around here, you could be right as often as fifty percent of the time.

The last weekend in August, our family attended the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory member’s picnic at their headquarters in Barr Lake State Park near Brighton, Colo. One of the activities was visiting a bird banding station in the park.

With newly banded birds in hand, RMBO staff member Arvind Panjabi was able to compare male Wilson’s of different ages. The younger the bird, the more yellow-green feathers are interspersed with the cap of black feathers on the top of its head. For the females, the cap is just a gray-green smudge.

Arvind didn’t think the Wilson’s warblers being caught in the mist nets that day were the ones that spent the summer in the mountains. He suggested that these were the birds that nested in Alaska and Canada and the mountain populations migrate later. No one will know for sure until more banded birds begin to be recaptured at other banding stations.

The different populations of Wilson’s probably winter in different areas as well. Some go only as far south as the Gulf Coast and Florida and some are found throughout Central America. Other warbler species spread out into South America.

Another activity at the picnic was a talk by RMBO volunteer Bill Schmoker about learning to recognize bird songs and calls. He claims bird songs aren’t any harder to remember than snippets of popular songs, even bird calls of just one note.

It helps to see the bird which is singing or calling when learning new vocalizations. I had that opportunity to make a connection at the banding station when some of the Wilson’s chipped loudly while being held. When released, they didn’t fly far and continued their one-note chips from cottonwood branches overhead.

Back at home, with a window open one morning, my subconscious identified the same chip and sure enough, there was a Wilson’s in the tree outside. However, even if it had never made a sound, I could have found it by following the stares of my two indoor housecats.

Warblers weren’t the only species to be caught in the mist net while we visited. A young western wood-peewee modeled its cream-colored wingbars which will turn whiter with age. We were also afforded the treat (well, maybe you have to be a birder to enjoy it) of watching a Hammond’s flycatcher, a petite bird, work to swallow a moth.

We have spring migration records for about 25 warbler species in Cheyenne from our Big Day bird counts, but we don’t have a comprehensive count like that in the fall, and because there’s no guarantee that what flies north will fly the same route south, we can’t suppose all the same species will be here now in the fall.

However, we do have observations accumulating through e-mail postings to Wyobirds. One e-mail posted last week by Ted Floyd, editor of the American Birding Association’s magazine, after a visit to Cheyenne, listed yellow, yellow-rumped, Townsend’s and MacGillivray’s warblers and the common yellowthroat. Also, Vicki Herren, a Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society member, identified a Nashville warbler, considered a rare migrant here.

September is the height of the warbler season, so it isn’t too late to get out and look for activity in the tree branches. By October the show will be over except for a few stragglers and some of those berry-eating yellow-rumpeds hanging out as late as November.

The Sibley bird books are probably the best at elucidating the different species at this time of year. There’s also the Stokes Field Guide to Warblers, though I haven’t seen it yet myself.

But like not knowing the name of the driver on a country road who gives you a happy wave of the hand in passing, it isn’t necessary to know a bird’s name to enjoy that brief moment when it examines you with its bright black eyes before turning to clean another beetle from the branch.

Bird field guide choices many

Peterson field guideSibley field guideSmithsonian field guideStokes field guideNatl Geographic field guideGolden field guideKaufman field guidePublished April 5, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Field guide choices now are many. Years ago, you pretty much had a choice between Peterson’s and Peterson’s.”
2014 Update: In addition to new editions of the field guides mentioned, we also now have “Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America” by Ted Floyd, 2008, Collins. We’re waiting for the western version of the “Crossley ID Guide – Eastern Birds” by Richard Crossley.

By Barb Gorges

Field guide: A reference book small enough to be carried outdoors yet comprehensive enough to answer most identification questions for a group, such as birds, mushrooms, rocks, etc.

For us bird watchers in the Rocky Mountain West, Roger Tory Peterson’s “A Field Guide to Western Birds” has long been a standard. Published in 1941, it was the first book with a systematic approach to bird identification and small enough–at 4½-by-7 1/4 inches and 300 pages–to drop into a pocket, squeeze into a pack or throw onto a dashboard.

Twenty-five years later the Golden guide came out, about the same size, but including all of North America–very handy for us living on the eastern edge of the West.

Golden was an improvement on Peterson’s, because cheap modern color printing allowed bird pictures, descriptions and range maps to be printed on the same page: one-stop-look-up.

Another twenty years later, in 1983, we got the National Geographic guide. More drawings for each species of juveniles, females plus obscure species made it measure 5-by-8 inches and 460 pages. Audubon came out with the first photographic guides for Eastern and Western birds, but no one I know uses them as a primary guide.

In the last five years interest in bird watching has skyrocketed, and so has the number of general field guides. (I haven’t room to mention all the specialty guides for groups of species or particular locations.)

First was Stokes in 1996, followed by the American Bird Conservancy’s radical guide organized by bird feeding behaviors, National Geographic’s third edition and Peterson’s third edition of the Western guide.

Last fall everyone was talking about advent of “The Sibley Guide to Birds.” At 9½-by6½ inches and 544 pages, it would be huge for a field guide, but doesn’t pretend to be a “field” guide.

Advanced birders love the way David Allen Sibley distinguishes details such as the five populations of horned larks and various feather molts of other species. He spent years sketching birds up close while they were being banded.

I like the range maps and the thumbnails comparing similar birds in flight, but for the casual birder, 26 variations on the dark-eyed junco may be overwhelming.

I once identified Kenn Kaufman, author of my favorite “Lives of Birds,” at an Audubon conference without being close enough to read his nametag because I noticed the flock of binocular-wearing females surrounding him. He’s one of few bird book authors with his picture on the back cover–and it doesn’t need digital enhancement. He does, however, use digital technology to improve the bird photos in his new field guide, taking away misleading shadows and cropping distracting background.

Kaufman’s guide has the usual accouterments: quick index by generic name, color coded pages, introduction to bird watching basics and comments on habitat and voice for each species. His range maps are exceptional. Not only do they depict summer, winter, year-round and migration ranges in different colors, but where a species rarely occurs or is rare, the colors are paler.

The only disconcerting thing for a veteran field guide user is that Kaufman deviates somewhat from organizing his book in ornithological order. His color-coded table of contents had me stumped when it listed “medium-sized land birds,” but immediately following was a photographic table of contents to show what he meant.

I still check off my life birds in the back of a first edition Golden guide my mother gave me in 1973. I bought the next edition in the 1980’s and it’s still the one I grab for field trips.

Now a new Golden edition is out. Names are updated, descriptions have been reworked by new authors and a quick index has been added–though they forgot the check boxes in the regular index. What I wish they had added are state lines in their range maps. It was one thing to bird in the corner of the country formed by lakes Superior and Michigan back in my youth, but it’s pretty hard to eyeball Cheyenne’s location in relation to the Canadian and Mexican borders.

So, had I researched the newest field guides sooner, I probably would have chosen copies of Kaufman’s as the prizes for the Audubon Award winners from the school district science fair this year.

Oh well. I just hope when I start hinting that I’d like Kaufman for Mother’s Day, my family understands it’s for the range maps, not the back cover.

A Field Guide to Western Birds, Roger Tory Peterson, 1998, Houghton Mifflin.
All the Birds of North America, American Bird Conservancy, 1997, Harper Perennial.
Birds of North America, Golden Field Guide, 2001, St. Martin’s Press.
Birds of North America, Kenn Kaufman, 2000, Houghton Mifflin.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society, 1999, National Geographic Society.
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (western volume), 1994, Knopf.
The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley, (National Audubon Society), 2000, Knopf.
Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region, Donald and Lillian Stokes, 1996, Little Brown.

Patch birding

Flying Swallows

“Flying Swallows,” quilt and photo by Barb Gorges

Published Feb. 13, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Patchwork birding benefits birds.”

2014 Update: Sign up to bird your patch on

By Barb Gorges

Patchwork. The word draws my eye the way “quilt” does because both describe my indoor hobby the way “bird” describes my outdoor hobby.

But why was Ted Floyd, editor of “Birding,” the American Birding Association magazine, making an obscure reference to patchwork in a recent issue? I emailed him and he sent a link to a blog post he’d written about it and how it relates to green, environmentally friendly, birding,

Patchwork birding refers to birding in your own patch—your yard or a local park where you go often, versus jumping in the car or on a jet to see a rare bird.

Ted is concerned that birding has evolved into the hobby of the affluent who indulge in expensive travel and equipment, as has quilting, I would add, leaving huge carbon footprints right across great bird habitat.  Of course, extreme birders wouldn’t know about most rarities if local birders weren’t regularly examining their local patches.

Just the week before reading Ted’s patch reference, I finished reading “Life List” by Olivia Gentile, a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger. Snetsinger was the woman determined to see as many of the world’s bird species as possible.

She started birdwatching in 1965, but became obsessive about it after being diagnosed with terminal melanoma in 1981. Aided by an inheritance from her father, she went on multiple foreign bird tours every year. She valiantly endured bad weather, bad trails, and bad men, finally dying in a vehicular accident in 1999 in Madagascar, leaving a worldwide record of nearly 8400 bird species, the most anyone had seen at that time.

We can charitably say Phoebe was birding before carbon footprints were in our vocabulary and that extreme birding kept her sane and kept professional bird guides and tour operators employed. I hope someone has transferred her carefully kept note cards to eBird, the digital  archive where scientists can make use of personal birding observations.

Soon after Ted’s reply I got an email from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describing a new eBird feature: patch and yard birding record keeping set up to allow for friendly competition within one’s county. It will also give ornithologists more intensive information about birds. I imagine Ted knew all about this when he wrote his blog post—the world of professionals in birding is very small.

So now there is a name for the kind of birding most of us do. Most of us who begin to keep notes on the birds in our own backyards are already patchwork birding. I highly recommend as a record keeping alternative to notebooks and scraps of paper.

Ted thinks patchwork birding is the responsible, green way to bird—no great amounts of fuel are wasted in long distance travel.

It’s amazing how many species of birds pass through my favorite patches: 50 in my backyard and a different 50 in Holliday Park here in Cheyenne since April 2010, when I began recording sightings on eBird. That’s not a lot of species among obsessed birders. However, frequently birding those areas helped me know exactly where to find an American kestrel for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count.

I’ve been thinking about how to control the size of my patchwork quilt making carbon footprint. Maybe I should spend less time quilting and more time walking around town watching birds.