Archiving bird columns shows changes


Hard copies of 16 years of Bird Banter columns published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle are filed away. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 11, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Archiving bird columns shows changes.”

By Barb Gorges

I’m afraid to mention this, lest the editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle think I’ve been doing this too long, but next month is the beginning of my 17th year writing this bird column.

It started because Bill Gruber, the Outdoors editor in 1999, asked me if I’d be interested.

I protested that there were people in town more knowledgeable—and there still are. But I had the time. And I could always research and ask the experts.

Besides Bill, I’ve worked with these other editors: Ty Stockton, Cara Eastwood Baldwin, Shauna Stephenson, Kevin Wingert and now Jodi Rogstad. All have been kind in their editing, catching style and grammatical errors.

A year ago, I had this great idea to archive all of my past columns as blog posts. I’d taken an online course in blogging as part of my teaching recertification and I was intrigued. For one thing, I could add a widget that allows me to search all my past posts. So I could find out how many times I’d written about say, the Christmas Bird Count (about a dozen times).

I decided to make it a publicly accessible blog, So far, I have 86 followers from all over the world without actively publicizing it.

Because bird topics are seasonal, and because there might be followers, strict chronological order wouldn’t be best. So I used chronological order within each month, starting with February. The first post was the column I wrote that month, in 1999, followed by the one from February 2000, and so on.

Then I realized that these old columns could be outdated. So each one is accompanied not only by the date it originally was published, but by a short update on the topic.

There are some things that just don’t change in the bird world, but technology has. I can now find an incredible amount of information online, and I can ask experts questions without having to call them long distance or mail a letter to them.

The most dramatic change in the bird world has been the advent of eBird, of course. The first column mentioning it was in 2003. It seems like every six months they come up with a new way for all of us citizen scientists to explore the eBird database—and more easily contribute to it. Amazing scientific studies are generated by it too.

The birds themselves continue to change. Mostly, it’s population numbers and distribution.

For instance, there are more crows in Cheyenne today. There are way too many more Eurasian collared-doves now than there were in 1999, a year after the first one in Wyoming was identified in Cheyenne.

Do we have fewer numbers of any species? Evening grosbeaks don’t seem to be visiting anymore. But a few years ago, lesser goldfinches started becoming regular, if still uncommon, visitors.

There is never a lack of topics to explore in the bird world. Feedback shows that a lot of WTE readers are willing to come along on these sometimes intellectual excursions with me.

Hearing from readers is what makes writing these columns better than merely writing in a diary or notebook.

Information from readers has driven me to investigate topics, especially when there are several calls about the same thing. What to do about flickers drilling holes in wood siding is a column I’ve forwarded often since writing it.

Interestingly, for a while if you googled my name, the column that seemed to come up most often—because a friend in Colorado reposts my columns to his blog—is the one I wrote about the University of Wyoming graduate student studying hummingbird metabolism. In fact, it has been included in some online science anthology I can’t access without buying a subscription.

There are now more than 300 Bird Banter columns posted. It has been fun looking back at them, seeing how, between the lines, they reflect my family’s life. And I’m happy to have become the community bird lady, a responsibility which I appreciate.

More conventionally, I can be classified as a science writer. Actually, that isn’t too far off from my course of study in college—and what one of my professors thought I should be.

Well, thanks, WTE editors and readers, for this monthly privilege. What’s up at your bird feeders these days?