Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/try-these-bird-and-wildlife-books-for-winter-reading-and-gift-giving. It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

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Yellow-rumped warbler last to leave

Yellow-rumped Warbler

In the fall, Yellow-rumped Warblers are not this bright. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Oct. 11, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “The last to go, warblers put on a late season show.”

2014 Update: The spring migration Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count total warbler species count is now at 31. Click HERE for the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count Warbler List.

By Barb Gorges

As the leaves turned yellow-green in late summer, you may have noticed them shaking without benefit of a breeze.

Did you see small, greenish yellow warblers picking through the foliage for insects?

Since 1993, Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society has documented 29 species of warblers on its Big Day counts held mid-May, at the peak of spring migration.

We haven’t given the same scrutiny to fall migration since warblers trickle through Cheyenne beginning late August and on into October. In the spring, the timing of their migration is more concentrated.

Most of the reports I’ve received this fall are for easily recognized warblers: Townsend’s with its mask, Wilson’s with its black cap and beady black eyes and yellow-rumpeds with their yellow rump in contrast to blue-gray back and wings.

The yellow-rumped warbler stands out in many ways. First, it’s just about the most common wood warbler species, which is probably why it has a well-known nickname.

Can’t you just hear the ornithologist tracking the quick-flitting unknown bird deep in the bushes and finally exclaiming, “It’s just another butter butt!”

The yellow-rumped comes in two forms that were previously two separate species. One, the myrtle warbler, has a white throat, and is considered the eastern form. The other, Audubon’s warbler, has a yellow throat. It breeds in the Rocky Mountains and winters in southwestern U.S. and Mexico.

We see both forms in Cheyenne so it is always worthwhile to scrutinize this common bird.

The yellow-rumped has odd habits for a warbler. Last month friends and I hiked up to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, elevation 10,000 feet. Although there was fresh snow on the peaks and aspen in full color lower down, we found yellow-rumpeds busy catching flying insects in a most unwarbler way.

They perched on a picturesque dead tree at the lake’s edge, then flew out over the water after their prey and circled back to their perches. This activity is called hawking and flycatchers are the group of birds that use it most often. According to my books, it’s a recognized feeding behavior for yellow-rumpeds too, but not for most warbler species.

What also sets the yellow-rumped apart is its wide range of gastronomic preferences. Other warblers have to head south when it is too cold to find live insects, but the yellow-rumped starts picking berries. That’s how the myrtle got its name—it likes to eat wax myrtle berries.

Apparently, yellow-rumpeds have a digestive system that can deal with the berries’ waxy coating. I don’t think around here we have any myrtle, or bayberry, its other favorite food.

But both Audubon’s and Myrtle forms stick around Cheyenne quite late, eating other kinds of berries and seeds. Robert and Jane Dorn list records as late as the first week in December.

Other warbler species’ latest dates are in mid-October.

Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion calls yellow-rumpeds “The Swarm Warbler.” I have seen this phenomenon myself, in Lions Park.

Warblers migrate at night. By morning they are ready to come to earth and refuel.

As I walked the dog one spring morning, between the new community house and the lake, yellow-rumped warblers tumbled across the path at my feet like wind blown leaves.

While they may swarm during migration, yellow-rumpeds prefer to spread out for breeding in the coniferous forests of the mountains and the north. Little is known about this part of their lives compared to that of other more gregarious songbirds.

David Flaspohler, one of the authors of the extensive account in Birds of North America, made a lot of observations while completing his dissertation on metapopulation dynamics and reproductive ecology of northern forest songbirds in the upper Great Lakes.

Yellow-rumpeds are considered to be monogamous. The female is usually the sole nest builder though the male may sing and keep her company while she works.

Flashpohler was able to watch at least eight nests in northern Wisconsin in 1996 and documented that incubation is almost entirely done by the female.

“Male often sings in vicinity of nest during incubation,” he wrote.

When it’s time to feed the young, the male helps, in between bouts of singing. In other species, parent birds are very quiet near the nest because they don’t want to attract predators.

Many other sections of the account, however, state “No information.” It looks like aspects of butter butt life history could provide many more topics for theses and dissertations.

For instance, the last time yellow-rumpeds were tested for the effects of spruce budworm pesticides was 1987, in only one place and for only one kind of pesticide.

Or, why was the yellow-rumped the most abundant warbler found in collisions with towers in Florida, but rarely in Pennsylvania?

Yellow-rumped populations are said to be stable or increasing, but standard avian demographic data is lacking.

Another species, the greater sage-grouse, is suffering from rampant oil and gas development in Wyoming today and is finally attracting lots of research funds.

Had more research been done earlier, wildlife biologists may have been able to make better recommendations sooner to stave off the disastrous situation we have now. Then again, sound biological recommendations need to fall on willing Administration ears to have any effect.

Meanwhile, enjoy warbler watching. Consider posting your bird observations on eBird.com. Every little bit helps us figure out the puzzle that is life on Earth.

Fall birding is as exciting as spring

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebirds are an unusual find in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Oct. 2, 2003, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birding not just a springtime joy anymore.”

2014 Update: Doug Faulkner is the author of “Birds of Wyoming,” a compendium of species distribution and status and other information published in 2010 by Roberts and Company. Doug currently works for an environmental consulting firm.

By Barb Gorges

The next time Doug Faulkner plans to come up from Colorado to bird Cheyenne, I hope to tag along again.

He’s one of those people who, after scanning acres of ducks, can look around and say, “Gee, it’d be nice to see a peregrine,” and wham, something nails a duck and seconds later we all get a chance to see a peregrine falcon standing on its prize on a sandbar in the middle of a drought stricken reservoir, only a mile south of Cheyenne’s city limits.

By the way, the colloquial name for the peregrine was duck hawk. Chicken hawk, a name I mentioned in my last column, referred to red-tailed hawks.

For whatever reason, perhaps years of attending children’s soccer games on Saturday mornings, I’ve never done much purposeful birding in the fall. Besides, it didn’t seem appealing because many birds are more difficult to identify than in the spring. They’ve molted out of their distinctive breeding plumage or they are the young of the year and haven’t acquired adult feathering.

Fall birding for me has always been just a matter of what crosses my path. So it was interesting to revisit spring birding haunts and see what was flitting. Technically, this excursion was during fall migration, even though it was the last weekend of summer.

Doug, who is a bird specialist for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory located at Barr Lake State Park outside Brighton, Colo., gathered up a group of six other birders for a second annual fall foray to Cheyenne.

First stop, where I met the group, was at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch by the horse barn, overlooking the riparian thicket of Crow Creek. I arrived earliest, but the vista was pretty quiet. Two big bird lumps were sitting in the treetops, one a turkey vulture and the other an unidentifiable hawk showing me only a speckled shoulder.

A lone car pulled into the avenue of cottonwoods and then stopped—a birder, of course. It was Gary Lefko, part of Doug’s group. He was studying a small bird lump in one of the trees, which in turn studied us. It had a faded red breast, white belly and a face like a bluebird. It hunched like a bluebird, but had its wings tight across its back where we couldn’t examine them for blueness.

Was it an eastern or a western bluebird? Mountain bluebirds have no red markings. When Doug came along at last, he pointed out the obvious field mark. Easterns have a red breast that comes up to their chins like a turtleneck sweater while westerns have the equivalent of a v-neck. So we had an eastern.

“O.K., we can go home now!” said Doug. Eastern bluebirds are rare enough here to be celebrated as the find of the day.

Back at the creek overlook, the turkey vulture took off, the hawk had gone and small birds were jumping. “Western tanager, western wood peewee, Townsend’s solitaire, ruby-crowned kinglet, Wilson’s warbler!” Everyone was calling something.

Some of these species, such as the tanager and later, the green-tailed towhee we saw by the office, come through my neighborhood in the spring on route to the mountains, but I had never seen them in the fall before.

The Wilson’s warblers were the most numerous. At Lions Park, they seemed as thick as butterflies in the garden. Over the course of the morning we also saw yellow-rumped, orange-crowned, Townsend’s and MacGillivray’s warblers plus a chestnut-sided warbler which had none of its chestnut-colored field markings this time of year.

Undoubtedly, any neighborhood in Cheyenne with mature trees is hosting these travelers. The week before I’d glimpsed a Townsend’s warbler in my own bushes as it fueled up on bugs in order to continue its trip from breeding grounds somewhere between southeast Alaska and Washington State to wintering grounds stretching from California into Mexico and Central America.

At the reservoir, the coots were easily identifiable, with the same all-black plumage. Pintails still had pointy tails and gadwalls were still black behind. We’d seen blue-winged and green-winged teal in the creek.

The birds that had lost the most coloring were the phalaropes, those sandpipers that swim in circles to churn up food. In the spring, the Wilson’s phalaropes are marked with red and black, but now they have winter plumage that is gray and white.

Then it was pointed out that these particular little whirling dervishes were red-necked phalaropes instead. They were just passing through from a summer spent high in the Arctic.

Since my North American bird field guides don’t show where these phalaropes winter, I had to do a little more research to discover that they prefer the open ocean, south of the Equator, off western South America. It’s amazing the endurance of a 1.2 ounce bird with a wingspan of only 15 inches.

I’m glad the visiting Colorado birders took me along for a bit. Birding in the fall, though challenging, turns out to be just as exciting as in the spring.

Following flock to Colorado Field Ornithologists’ meeting

Unknown flycatcher

Here’s a candidate for the next Jeop-birdie quiz. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Sept. 21, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Following flock of birders to Sterling was fun.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Mark and I decided to attend the annual meeting of the Colorado Field Ornithologists. The group’s name sounds so formal.

Their 51st annual meeting was held over Labor Day weekend in Sterling, Colorado, only two hours southeast of Cheyenne. Like other conventions, it included talks, vendors and a banquet with a keynote speaker, but unlike other conventions, there were dozens of field trips.

I worried I might feel out of place, even if the information on the website, http://cfobirds.org/, assured me that beginning birdwatchers were welcome. CFO is all about the study, conservation—and enjoyment of birds.

Enjoy we did. Our first trip leader, CFO member Larry Modesitt, not only patiently explained field marks for common birds to several trip members who needed help, but he was also able to discuss the finer details of flycatcher fall plumage with one of the other members who surveys birds for a living.

CFO takes birding quite seriously. Each day, 14 field trips left every 10 minutes beginning at 5:20 a.m. One even started at 4 a.m.

Each field trip had a designated leader who contacted all of their trip participants at least a week in advance to discuss routes, carpooling, rest and lunch stops, and even how much to reimburse drivers for gas.

Our third trip leader, Nick Komar, also a CFO member, consulted with other people on what had been seen where we were going, and then worked hard to help us find those birds.

It was while visiting a designated birdwatching bench along the South Platte River at the Brush State Wildlife Area that our group saw warblers in clear view, all in one bush, six to eight at a time: Wilson’s, orange-crowned and yellow-throat. They were flitting about gleaning bugs, sparkling like yellow ornaments. At the other river overlook nearby, we found a plethora of woodpeckers: a redhead family, several red-bellied woodpeckers, a hairy woodpecker and yellow-shafted flickers.

While our first trip was filled with flycatchers and our third highlighted woodpeckers and warblers, the second, with Mark Peterson, was about shorebirds.

The whole idea for Sterling as a convention site was to catch the shorebird fall migration. Usually, the CFO annual meeting is planned around the spring migration. This was only the third time for a fall gathering. The keynote speaker was John Dunn, co-author of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and shorebird expert.

But all the lovely summer rains keeping the prairie green around Cheyenne and Sterling kept the reservoirs full. And when they are full, there is no shore, no bare sand or mudflats for shorebirds to pick over. But we got lucky and found muddy shores at a small pond at the Red Lion SWA—and shorebirds.

Shorebirds are right up there on my list of difficult-to-identify species, partly because I don’t see them often and partly because I see them in migration when they aren’t very colorful. I thought John Dunn’s after dinner talk on shorebird identification might help. But it was definitely over my head.

However, if I keep looking at shorebirds in photos and in the flesh, eventually my identification skills will improve. Luckily, there was no quiz afterwards.

There was, however, a quiz the afternoon before: Jeop-birdie. Categories, among many, included identifying famous ornithologists, poorly photographed birds and types of bird nests. Very entertaining.

Larry Modesitt told me CFO began because Colorado needed an arbiter to sort through claims of unusual bird species seen in the state (Wyoming has a rare bird records committee). Many members also belong to Audubon.

CFO also supports bird research. A number of the papers given Saturday afternoon were partly supported by CFO funding. Many looked at facets of bird life that once understood, such as the impact of oil and gas drilling noise on nesting birds, might make it easier to make land use decisions.

It isn’t easy walking into a group of 200 unknown people, but when they are all dressed like me, in field pants, sun-protection shirts or T-shirts printed with birds, large-brimmed hats and binoculars, it’s less intimidating. It’s very easy to start a conversation with “What field trip are you going on tomorrow?”

And after birding together, sharing exciting bird observations, many faces become familiar over the course of the weekend.

Next year, the convention will be in Salida, Colorado, first weekend in June. Now, there’s a spot I might pick up some new life birds.

Gosh, did I just sound like a dyed-in-the-wool, serious species-nabbing-twitcher? Yikes!

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.

Fall bird migration infiltrates Cheyenne

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Sept. 19, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Some migratory birds more obvious than others.”

2014 Update: I keep working on my warbler and shorebird identification skills in hopes I’ll find more migrating bird species.

By Barb Gorges

It isn’t a good idea to park in the shade in our driveway this time of year. Splatters of orange fruit are augmented with crunchy seeds. The robins are fattening up for migration.

The neighbors across the street have a lovely old mountain ash full of orange berries. The robins seem to know better than to defile a tree that provides their food source, so they come across to ours to perch and defecate.

It’s really not a problem. We park in the garage and the fruit stains disappear with a snowfall or two. The seeds get swept away with each pass of the snow shovel.

We’ve actually benefited because mountain ash trees have sprouted in our garden and last year one was big enough to transplant.

The robins are very obvious as they swoop back and forth across the street. If we’re lucky, they won’t eat all the berries right away and there will still be some for the Townsend’s solitaire if it spends the winter in our neighborhood again.

Just when the leaves begin turning yellowish is the right time of year to keep an eye open for leaf-sized yellowish birds flitting among them. I’ve already seen a couple Wilson’s warblers (black spot on top of the head) inspecting the bushes for insects.

Many migrating birds merely infiltrate the local landscape, the way warblers do. Others, such as the shorebirds, stop over in wet places that are only on the regular routes of committed bird watchers.

Doug Faulkner of Denver is one of those birders. Here’s the list he reported on the Wyobirds listserv for Cheyenne, Sept. 8. It includes local wet areas such as Lions Park.

 

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The sightings include: Wilson’s warbler, Townsend’s warbler, MacGillivray’s warbler, blue-gray gnatcatcher, Cassin’s vireo, Empidonax sp. (flycatcher species), hermit thrush, Swainson’s thrush, black-headed grosbeak, short-billed dowitcher, American avocet, pectoral sandpiper, stilt sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, least sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, Wilson’s phalarope, Franklin’s gull, ring-billed gull, California gull, ducks, mostly mallard and northern shoveler.

I’m sure Doug saw other, more common species, including the Canada geese at Lions Park, but because they are common, they didn’t catch his interest.

I’m impressed by the list of sandpipers. These are the little brown birds with long legs that skitter at the edge of the water, probing the muck with their long bills, looking for invertebrate animals to eat.

Spotted sandpipers, which breed here in the summer, are not on Doug’s list and may have migrated already. However, the pectoral, stilt and Baird’s sandpipers are on their way back from nesting above the Arctic Circle.

When those three species migrate, they bustle right through here to spend the winter in southern South America.

The least and solitary sandpipers also breed in Alaska and Canada, but not quite as far north.

The least winters from the southern U.S. into the northern half of South America. The solitary prefers to winter further south, from the tip of Texas into Argentina.

“Our” sandpiper, the spotted, breeds all across the U.S., except for the southeast and far southwest, and doesn’t winter nearly as far south as the others mentioned above.

It’s really a pity that none of my six bird watching field guides have range maps that extend farther than central Mexico.

Instead, I depend on the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Ontario website, http://wildspace.ec.gc.ca/, to find out the rest of the story.

This oversight on the part of the field guides is either because the information wasn’t available at the time they were written, or because they are, after all, merely North American field guides.

But it leads to this provincial feeling that migratory birds are “our” birds and they merely visit lands to the south during inclement winter weather.

In truth, some species spend more time away than here, especially migrants passing through.

We don’t have an international airport in Cheyenne, but if you know where to hang out, where the travelers come to roost, this is a good time of year to catch a glimpse of a few fascinating foreigners.

Our berries, our insects and our muck are our gifts of hospitality.

Bird tourist season begins

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

During spring migration, a few Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, an eastern species, visit Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 6, 1999, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Out-of-towners flocking to southeast Wyoming.”

2014 Update: This year, the Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count is May 17. Check the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society website for details: http://home.lonetree.com/audubon.

By Barb Gorges

Every spring, for several weeks, Cheyenne experiences a flood of visitors that receives no fanfare like Frontier Days, yet the advertising is in place year round.

The influx reaches its peak mid-May. About that time, overcrowding causes some of the out-of-towners to set up camp in my backyard. One year there was no mistaking for locals the brightly-dressed visitors I had: Indigo Bunting, Lazuli Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Rufous-sided Towhee, American Goldfinch and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

This big event is, of course, spring migration. Up to 150 species of birds have been counted by members of the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society on the annual “Big Day” count.

Just as Frontier Days brings visitors from across the country, so does spring migration. One year the celebrity was a Prairie Warbler, another year it was a Prothonotary Warbler. Both normally range only east of the Mississippi.

For birds headed further north, Cheyenne is an oasis in a sea of grass.

The mature cottonwoods in our parks and along our creeks are like billboards. The coniferous forests of our older neighborhoods and the reservoirs and creeks make this as much a haven for traveling birds as for dusty drivers on their way to Yellowstone.

Many Audubon chapters, like Cheyenne’s, have a traditional Big Day count scheduled for the peak of migration. The actual date depends on the chapter’s location because the peak of migration moves north with spring-like weather.

A few years ago, concerned birders set the second Saturday in May as International Migratory Bird Day, to catalyze attention on the decline in migratory bird populations.

Development and other changes in North American breeding areas and wintering grounds in Central and South America have been detrimental to neotropical migratory birds.

For instance, the old way of propagating coffee was to grow it under the protection of shade trees, inadvertently replacing the original forest, to the benefit of many species of birds. Modern technology has been doing away with shade trees. So bird lovers are encouraging coffee drinkers to look for and buy shade-grown coffee.

To try some locally, join Cheyenne Audubon members Friday, May 7 at Wild Wick’s Coffee, 1439 Stillwater (off Dell Range) from 7 to 9 p.m.

Then, the next morning, on International Migratory Bird Day itself, drink some more coffee to wake up and join Audubon members for a beginner’s bird walk around Lions Park, starting at the Botanic Gardens at 8 a.m.

The tourism bureau will be happy to know that the natural phenomenon of migration does bring cash to the local economy, if not on the same scale as Frontier Days.

Traditionally, the bird watching class from Casper drives in Friday night before the Big Day and meets us locals Saturday morning to check out our (or should I say, the birds’) favorite hot spots.

During these weeks, scrutinize any movement in the treetops, bushes and unkempt corners of the city. It may be more than the wind.

Thick spots on fences and phone lines may turn into kingbirds or kestrels.

Specks on the far shores of reservoirs could be sandpipers and waterfowl. If you stare at the prairie long enough, you’ll start to see shapes like curlews and godwits.

Clouds can turn into white pelicans.