Bioblitz at the Belvoir Ranch

2016-7Bioblitz7 Barb Gorges

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz2 Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz8 Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz6 Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz4 Barb Gorges

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz3 Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz5 Barb Gorges

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

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

2016-7Bioblitz1 Barb Gorges

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

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Find gifts for birders

Charley Harper puzzle

Environment for the Americas, the folks who organize International Migratory Bird Day, are offering this Charlie Harper puzzle titled, “Mystery of the Missing Migrants.”

Published Dec. 6, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Get creative with gifts for birders.”

2014 Update: The websites listed at the end of this column have been updated. There are now newer editions of the field guides mentioned. Bird-friendly coffee and chocolate are more widely available now at natural food stores.

By Barb Gorges

A good gift is useful, educational or edible, if not homemade. If someone on your gift list truly cares about wild birds, they don’t want energy and resources harvested from sensitive bird habitats wasted on making junk.

Here’s my list, sorted somewhat by a recipient’s degree of interest in birds.

First, for anyone, armchair bird watcher to ornithologist, Houghton Mifflin has three new illustrated books.

“Letters from Eden, A Year at Home, in the Woods” by Julie Zickefoose ($26) includes her watercolor sketches. A frequent contributor to Bird Watcher’s Digest, her bird and nature observations are often made in the company of her young children on their 80-acre farm in Ohio or from the 40-foot tower atop her house.

Zickefoose’s tower may have been her husband’s idea. He is Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and editor of “All Things Reconsidered, My Birding Adventures,” Roger Tory Peterson ($30).

Peterson was the originator of the modern field guide. From 1984 until his death in 1996, he wrote a regular column for the Digest. Peterson had the gift of writing about birds, bird places and bird people so anyone could enjoy his choice of topics. Anyone can enjoy this photo-illustrated book.

The third book, “The Songs of Wild Birds.” ($20) is a treat for eyes and ears. Author Lang Elliott chose his favorite stories about 50 bird species from his years of recording their songs. Each short essay faces a full page photo portrait of the bird. The accompanying CD has their songs and more commentary. My favorite is the puffin recording.

The field guide is the essential tool for someone moving up from armchair status. National Geographic’s fifth edition of its Field Guide to the Birds of North America ($24) came out this fall.

New are the thumb tabs for major bird groups, like old dictionaries have for each letter. It has more birds and more pages plus the bird names and range maps are updated.

Binoculars are the second most essential tool. If you are shopping for someone who hasn’t any or has a pair more than 20 years old, you can’t go wrong with 7 x 35 or 8 x 42 in one of the under $100 brands at sporting goods stores. You can also find an x-back-style harness ($20) there, an improvement over the regular strap.

Past the introductory level, a gift certificate would be better because fitting binoculars is as individual as each person’s eyes.

Spotting scopes don’t need fitting. However, if you find a good, low-end model, don’t settle for a low-end tripod because it won’t last in the field.

For extensive information on optics, see the Bird Watcher’s Digest Web site.

Bird feeders, bird seed, bird houses and bird baths are great gifts if the recipient or you are able to clean and maintain them. To match them with the local birds at the recipient’s house, call the local Audubon chapter or check the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch and Birdhouse Network sites.

You can make a gift of a Lab membership ($35), which includes several publications, and of course, there’s Audubon and its magazine ($20 introductory offer). Bird Watcher’s Digest ($20 per year), mentioned above, makes learning about birds fun, as does Birder’s World magazine ($25 per year).

For someone who wants to discuss identifying obscure sparrows and other topics of interest to listers, they might be ready for membership in the American Birding Association ($40). The ABA also has a great catalog available to everyone online. It’s filled with optics, gear and every bird book and field guide available in English for the most obscure places in the world.

The ABA tempts members with mailings for trips to exotic birding hotspots, as well as its annual meetings held in different parts of the country. Also check Bird Watcher’s Digest for nationwide bird festival listings.

One subscription valuable to an academic type who doesn’t already have access, is the Birds of North America Online ($40). Every species has as many as 50 pages of information and hundreds of references to studies.

For the computer literate, Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America, version 3.5 ($75), includes photos, songs, videos, life histories, quizzes and search functions.

After the useful and educational, there’s the edible. Look for organically grown products because they don’t poison bird habitat. The ABA sells bird friendly, shade grown coffee and organic chocolate through its Web site.

Coffee and other items are available also at the International Migratory Bird Day web site, and support migratory bird awareness and education.

If the person on your list is truly committed to the welfare of wild birds and wildlife in general, skip the trinkets such as the plush bird toys that sing and don’t add to their collection of birdy t-shirts.

Look for products that are good for the environment. These are items that are energy efficient, solar-powered, rechargeable, refillable, fixable, recyclable, made from recycled or organic materials, or are locally grown or manufactured.

Or make a donation in their name to an organization like Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy or The Nature Conservancy which work to protect bird habitat.

Presents along these lines would be great gifts for your friend or family member, and for birds and other wildlife, any time of year.

American Bird Conservancy: membership, research, advocacy, publications, gear, www.abcbirds.org.

American Birding Association: membership, publications, books, optics, gear, travel www.aba.org.

Birder’s World: magazine, http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com.

Bird Watcher’s Digest: magazine, bird info, bird festival listings and gear for sale, www.BirdWatchersDigest.com.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: membership, bird info, Citizen Science projects, www.birds.cornell.edu.

International Migratory Bird Day (Environment for the Americas): education, online store, www.birdday.org.

National Audubon Society: membership, magazine, research, advocacy, directory of chapters www.audubon.org.

North American Birds Online: Internet data base, http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna.

Thayer Birding: software, www.thayerbirding.com.

The Nature Conservancy: membership, publications, gear, www.nature.org.

Riparian areas as valuable to us as to the ancients

Tensleep Preserve

The Alcove at The Nature Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve in Wyoming. Photo courtesy TNC

Published Sept. 6, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Riparian areas: Ancient sacred sites still valuable today.”

2014 Update: For more information about The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, visit http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/wyoming/

By Barb Gorges

Nearly 30 years after applying for a “wider opportunity” to spend a week at Girl Scout National Center West, I finally made it to the camp, now known as The Nature Conservancy’s Tensleep Preserve, located near Ten Sleep on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains.

The occasion of my visit was the last hurrah of the Wyoming Riparian Association, of which my husband Mark was a member.

It’s not too often a group’s mission is accomplished and it formally disbands.

The WRA was formed in 1989 at the request of Gov. Mike Sullivan in order that disparate groups from agriculture and environment, and resource professionals from agencies, would begin discussing what they could agree upon regarding the future of riparian areas.

It was a forerunner of Cooperative Resource Management, now a commonly used strategy for resolving natural resource conflicts.

A riparian area is a type of wetland that is the transition zone between water (rivers, streams, lakes and ponds), and dry upland. It is productive for both wildlife and livestock.

Riparian areas account for only one to two percent of Wyoming’s acreage, but if a birder only visited those areas, he’d eventually see one-third of the 398 bird species listed in Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s bird checklist.

Birds whose habitats are listed as wetlands–the actual marshes, lakes and rivers–account for almost another third.

Tensleep Preserve harbors a few wet spots deep in canyons. Naturalist James “Tray” Davis took us to Canyon Creek. We first dropped down into the canyon the depth of a mere flight of stairs, but switched immediately from aridity to humidity.

A huge bush of Rocky Mountain bee plant was humming with butterflies and hummingbird moths. Boxelder and wild clematis formed a screen hiding cliffs rising increasingly higher as we hiked upstream.

We waded the creek several times to get to our destination, the Alcove. Its sandstone overhang had the acoustics of a band shell. Imagine carrying on a conversation with someone 50 yards away as if they were next to you–provided you faced the rock when talking.

The Alcove is considered to have been sacred to Native Americans for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

All along the wall we saw pictographs which experts have recently decided depict images of ancient tobacco seeds, part of a cultural tobacco reverence, perhaps marking growing plots.

Before you spend too much energy considering what archeologists will think of our tobacco advertisements in two thousand years, consider this: a thousand years in the past, a riparian area like the Alcove was receiving special treatment.

The day before, our family unexpectedly visited another ancient riparian landmark, the Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site outside Hyattville.

We were on the way to see the dinosaur tracks between Hyattville and Shell, driving the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway through desert as dry as the name of the road.

Around a corner we encountered an old pickup pulling a travel trailer, but it was stalled broadside to the deserted road where the driver had attempted to turn around. He said he and his wife were supposed to meet friends at a campground when their engine apparently vaporlocked on the hot, steep, treeless hill.

We determined their destination was not in the forest up ahead, but 20 miles back at the archeological site. So we took the wife down and found their friends.

Three of the men quickly organized a rescue party while the women stayed behind on the banks of Medicine Lodge Creek, in the shade of cottonwoods, not far from pictographs painted by ancients who had made this riparian area another of their sacred places.

On the way home we drove the Hazelton Road, a primitive scrape along the spine of the southern Big Horns. Our experienced eyes could visualize the treachery that would probably result with snow or rain, even though the nearly treeless slopes were now too dry.

Every other fence post seemed to sport a hawk and horned larks blew with dust across the road.

The only signs of humans were a few travel trailers and shacks off in the distance now and then, marking summer sheep or cow camps.

The only people we saw were rounding up and loading their livestock–early no doubt, due to the drought. Water is everything.

During its 12-year life, the WRA provided funds for ranchers to improve their riparian areas and for workshops examining riparian values and best management practices.

And now the WRA can be laid to rest because the ancient message has been relearned. The former members will continue to retell it so it will spread like water on parched earth: our green oases are most valuable. They are life.

BioBlitz finds birds, butterflies, bees, bats, botany and much more Wyoming biota

Mist netting

Participants in the 2014 BioBlitz at Red Canyon Ranch near Lander, Wyoming, watch as Jacelyn Downey, community naturalist for Audubon Rockies, untangles a Common Yellowthroat caught in a mist net. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published July 20, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “BioBlitz finds birds, butterflies, bees, bats and more.”

By Barb Gorges

“A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteers, scientists, families, students, teachers, and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi and other organisms as possible.” National Geographic Society

Microbes?! No one went looking for microbes during the Wyoming BioBlitz.

It was held last month on the longest day of the year at The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch near Lander. And hopefully, no one took home any unwanted microbes.

But we did find lots of other life. More than 70 people participated: putting out pollinator traps, extracting birds from mist nets, bouncing over a mountain meadow after butterflies and bees, dip netting for macroinvertebrates, electrofishing a stream, botanizing up the side of the canyon, searching for reptiles and amphibians, setting small mammal traps, attracting moths to blacklight, and until nearly midnight, netting bats, only to roll out of sleeping bags or beds in town the next morning to count birds before sunlight hit the canyon floor.

It’s one thing to have a scientist come and present their work in a lecture, as they do, for instance, for Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meetings. It’s quite another to find out firsthand how difficult it is to untangle a bird from a mist net in order to study breeding patterns and longevity.

Then there was the chance to perfect my butterfly net technique with Amy Pocewicz of The Nature Conservancy. It’s like tennis, but butterflies are more erratic and the court is littered with shrubby obstacles.

Sometimes field work is monotony. I went with Wyoming Natural Diversity Database’s (WYNDD) Ian Abernathy and his group to pick up small mammal traps in the sagebrush, little folding aluminum boxes baited with sweetened oats. Each had a tuft of polyester batting thoughtfully provided so the mouse or vole could bed down comfortably for the night in a place not as warm as their own burrow.

To check the traps, we all had to don disposable face masks and gloves to protect us from possible exposure to hantavirus.

We were led by an indefatigable 4-year-old who enjoyed marching ahead to pluck the pin flag marking the next trap.

No critters were captured in any of the 60 traps in the sagebrush and only one in the 20 traps along the creek. Too much human scent from the group setting traps the night before?

Martin Grenier, Wyoming Game and Fish Department non-game biologist, set a mist net over the creek in the evening and his group was able to catch four bats of three different species.

The same evening, Lusha Tronstad, invertebrate zoologist with WYNDD, hung two white table cloths on the Learning Center’s patio, placing one small blacklight against each, and then turned off the regular lights. Moths and nocturnal wasps flocked in and extremely small insects were “vacuumed” into a glass bottle for close inspection.

One special moth will have to be identified by an expert in Florida.

Audubon Wyoming, now Audubon Rockies, is the originator of Wyoming’s BioBlitz, holding the first one in 2008, and has partnered with various organizations, agencies and companies to hold it in different locations around the state.

Wyoming teachers can receive continuing education credits—it’s a lot more fun, one teacher from Bighorn told me, than attending lectures.

This year, the Red Canyon BioBlitz sponsors and partners also included, in addition to those mentioned earlier, the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Native Plant Society. During a creative interlude, an artist from the Lander Art Center had us harvesting cheatgrass—an invasive plant—and making art out of it.

The very first BioBlitz was held in 1996 at a park in Washington, D.C., where National Park Service naturalist Susan Rudy coined the term from the German word “blitz,” meaning lightning, or fast.

Search online for “BioBlitz” and you will find 20 more listed in this country plus Korea, Canada, New Zealand and especially, the United Kingdom. It’s a plot to infect people with the awareness and joy of biodiversity.

One of my favorite memories of the weekend, besides all the biota, is camping out on the lawn by the Learning Center and going to bed with the stars in my eyes and waking with birdsong in my ears. The other favorite memory is meeting old friends and new, all interested in the wonderful biodiversity of our home state.

You too, can come along next year, wherever BioBlitz may be.

Related websites:

Audubon Rockies, http://rockies.audubon.org

Lander Art Center, www.landerartcenter.com

The Nature Conservancy, http://www.nature.org/wyoming

UW Biodiversity Institute, www.wyomingbiodiversity.org

WyoBio, www.wyobio.org

Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, www.uwyo.edu/wyndd

Wyoming Game and Fish Department, www.wgfd.wyo.gov

Wyoming Native Plant Society, www.wynps.org

Bird banding volunteers aid research

Mist net and chickadee

Bird banding involves first capturing birds in a mist net, and then untangling them before putting an identification band on their leg. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 6, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Banding volunteers aid research, get up-close contact with birds.”

2014 Update: Andrea (now Orabona) and Audubon Rockies’ Community Naturalists continue to operate two banding stations in Wyoming. Find out more at http://rockies.audubon.org/maps-bird-banding.

By Barb Gorges

Volunteering to band song birds supports science. It’s also a chance to hold a wild creature in your hand and feel its beating heart.

The volunteers on a recent June morning shared these reasons for gathering on the banks of Deep Creek, but otherwise we were an eclectic bunch:

Donnabelle Leonhardt, retired dairy farmer; Eva Crane, keen birder; J.R. Horton, state parole and probation officer—all from the Lander/Riverton area—and me and my 11-year old son, Jeffrey, from Cheyenne. Two high school students, Joe Scott and Peter Cook, drove over from Casper.

Andrea Cerovski, Lander-based nongame bird biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, was in charge of the banding station, assisted by Laurie Van Fleet of Game and Fish.

Situated on Red Canyon Ranch outside Lander, the Deep Creek banding station is one of nearly 500 across the country that are part of the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program begun in 1989 by the Institute for Bird Populations.

A cooperative effort of agencies and organizations, MAPS provides basic data about birds for land conservation and management planning.

In the predawn darkness we divided into three teams and headed off in different directions. Heading into the willows, we opened 10 mist nets, each 12 meters long, in likely bird thoroughfares.

Forty-five minutes later, we hiked back to check the nets. Irrigation boots were indispensible for getting to nets four and five, which stood in mud next to a beaver pond.

Extracting tangled birds from the fine, hairnet-like threads is difficult. I used a tiny crochet hook to lift a noose-tight filament over the head of a goldfinch.

After being released from the net, birds are slipped into white cotton bags and carried back to the processing table, where they are banded and information such as wing, tail and culmen (nostril to beak tip) measurements, fat deposits and brood patches are recorded.

Determining age sometimes requires using “the Bible,” a thick reference book containing esoteric data such as how feathers change with age.

Many of the birds on the recent operation were recaptures, most having been banded there within the last two years. One yellow warbler was banded in 1995, the first year Deep Creek was in operation.

After the first two runs, breezes began to blow away horse flies, but they also billowed the nets, making them visible to birds and making the other six runs less productive.

This was Deep Creek’s second banding day of the summer, and there will be more every 10 days or so until the beginning of August.

Cerovski doesn’t lack for volunteers despite the 4 a.m. start time, and she does require prior banding experience or attendance at a training session at the beginning of the season to participate.

Visitors are welcome, however; that day they included home schoolers from down the canyon and third- and fourth-grade students from Ft. Washakie who, along with the volunteers, get the chance to hold and release the birds.

Birds on rangeland

cowboy

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Published Feb. 20, 2003, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Thanks to awareness, birds now visible on the range.”

2014 Update: Bob Budd is currently the director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, http://wwnrt.wyo.gov.

By Barb Gorges

The Society for Range Management held its six-day, annual meeting in Casper earlier this month. In the 23 years I’ve been a member, there have been noticeable changes.

First, a majority of presentations were made with PowerPoint rather than slide or overhead projector. The abstracts were on CD rather than in a book. Fewer people wore ties. More women attended in a professional capacity.

Most amazing to me was the inclusion of three sessions of papers on rangeland birds.

The society began in about 1948 as a group of western public land managers who seceded from the Society of American Foresters to concentrate on rangeland, usually considered to be the naturally treeless regions.

The new society soon attracted producers (ranchers), wildlife biologists (primarily big game) and more recently, folks from the minerals industry concerned with mined land reclamation.

This year a symposium titled “Rangeland Birds and Ecosystems,” sponsored by Audubon Wyoming, broadened SRM’s perspective even more. It was divided into three sessions: “Birds as Environmental Indicators in Rangeland Ecosystems,” “Resources and Management Practices for Healthy Rangeland Ecosystems” and “Partnerships and Funding Opportunities.”

For most ranchers and others working on rangeland, birds have merely provided background music, but interest is building. As many as 150 people at one time attended these talks.

How did birds get on the agenda of a society which uses a cowboy, “The Trail Boss,” for its logo?

The invitation came from Bob Budd, an extraordinary man who has been building bridges for sometime now between livestock producers and the environmental/biology community.

Years ago he was in Cheyenne as the executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Even though I represented Audubon, I found him easy to visit with and open-minded.

I wasn’t nearly as shocked as the ranching community was when he took a position with The Nature Conservancy to manage their Red Canyon Ranch property near Lander. He now also directs science stewardship and planning.

Bob has been able to demonstrate ranch management practices that benefit livestock and wildlife. He won’t allow ranchers to make “environment” into a four-letter word, or on the other hand, let environmentalist keep old stereotypes of ranching.

Bob’s credibility continues to remain high, high enough to be the newly elected president of SRM.

At the bird symposium I was reminded one can never generalize about rangeland. Fire as a management tool may work wonders in one place and create a long-lived disaster in another.

One can’t generalize about rangeland bird species either. One prefers bare ground, another prefers a jungle of sagebrush. One species is happy with a couple hundred acres of unfragmented grassland, another needs 50,000 acres including three distinct types of habitat for breeding, nesting and raising young.

One of few generalizations to be made is that bird species present in a rangeland ecosystem can indicate its health—usually taken to mean approximating historical conditions.

Managers have learned to create perfect and uniform pastures with plants livestock need to graze for maximum weight gain. But just a little untidiness, a little bare ground here, a little ungrazed patch of shrubs there, can produce the full historical spectrum of birds.

This sounds suspiciously like advice given to birdwatching homeowners to lay off the pesticides and pruning shears and let at least part of the yard go natural.

Wildlife biologists at the symposium presented best management practices for birds for several types of habitat. I thought, gosh, I’ve heard this before—20-some years ago from my range management professors at the University of Wyoming. Maybe what’s good for cows can be good for birds.
Rangeland has perpetuated itself for millennia and we are still figuring out the intricate relationships between climate, soil, plant and animal, and how to take advantage of them.

No one can predict when a tiny facet of scientific understanding will catch the light and shine it on matters of human importance.
Three of my former University of Wyoming classmates, also still SRM members, study things as obscure as the way mesquite beans weather in Texas. Seems to me the study of rangeland birds has as much beneficial potential.