Wind farm on the Belvoir Ranch

Be careful what you wish for: wind development on the Belvoir Ranch has its downsides

The prairie is green June 11, 2016, on Lone Tree Creek on the Belvoir Ranch, 10 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

This edition of Bird Banter was published Feb. 10, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            This month marks the 20th anniversary of my first Bird Banter column for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. I wrote about cool birds seen on the ponds at the Rawhide coal-powered plant 20 miles south of Cheyenne,

            This month’s topic is also connected to Rawhide. It’s NextEra’s 120-turbine Roundhouse Wind Energy Center slated partly for the City of Cheyenne’s Belvoir Ranch.

           Roundhouse will stretch between I-80 south to the Wyoming border and from a couple miles west of I-25 on west 12 miles to Harriman Road. The Belvoir is within. It’s roughly a two-to-three-mile-wide frame on the north and west sides. All the power will go to Rawhide and tie into Front Range utilities.

            The 2008 Belvoir masterplan designated an area for wind turbines. In the last 10 years I’ve learned about wind energy drawbacks. I wish the coal industry had spent millions developing clean air technology instead of fighting clean air regulations.

            We know modern wind turbines are tough on birds. Duke Energy has a robotic system that shuts down turbines when raptors approach ( Roundhouse needs one—a raptor migration corridor exists along the north-south escarpment along its west edge.

            But in Kenn Kaufman’s new book, “A Season on the Wind,” he discovers that a windfarm far from known migration hot spots still killed at least 40 species of birds. Directly south of the Belvoir, 125 bird species have been documented through eBird at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and 95 at Red Mountain Open Space. Both are in Colorado, butting against the state line.

           Only a few miles to the east, Cheyenne hotpots vary from 198 species at Lions Park to 266 at Wyoming Hereford Ranch, with as many as 150 species overall observed on single days in May. With little public access to the Belvoir since the city bought it in 2003 (I’ve been there on two tours and the 2016 Bioblitz), only NextEra has significant bird data, from its consultants.

            There are migrating bats to consider, plus mule deer who won’t stomach areas close to turbines—even if it is their favorite mountain mahogany habitat on the ridges. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department can only suggest mitigation and monitoring measures.

            There are human safety and liability issues. The Friends of the Belvoir wants a trailhead on the west edge with trails connecting to Red Mountain and Soapstone. Wind turbines don’t bother them. However, during certain atmospheric conditions, large sheets of ice fly off the blades–“ice throw.” Our area, the hail capital, could have those conditions develop nearly any month of the year.

            The noise will impact neighbors (and wildlife too) when turbines a mile away interfere with sleep. Disrupted sleep is implicated in many diseases.

            Low frequency pulses felt six miles away (the distance between the east end of the windfarm and city limits) or more cause dizziness, tinnitus, heart palpitations and pressure sensations in the head and chest. The Belvoir will have bigger turbines than those on Happy Jack Road, reaching 499 feet high, 99 feet higher.

            A minor issue is the viewshed. In Colorado, the public and officials worked to place the transmission line from the Belvoir to Rawhide so that it wouldn’t impact Soapstone or Red Mountain. What will they think watching Roundhouse blades on the horizon?

            Because this wind development is not on federal land, it isn’t going through the familiar Environmental Impact Statement process. I’d assume the city has turbine placement control written into the lease.

           The first opportunity for the public to comment at the county level is Feb. 19. And in advance, the public can request to “be a party” when the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council meets to consider NextEra’s permit in March.

            NextEra held an open house in Cheyenne November 28. They expect to get their permits and then break ground almost immediately. This speedy schedule is so the windfarm is operational by December 2020, before federal tax incentives end.

            It doesn’t seem to me that we—Cheyenne residents—have adequate time to consider the drawbacks of new era wind turbines—for people or wildlife. Look at the 2008 Master Plan,  Is it upheld by spreading wind turbines over the entire 20,000 acres, more than originally planned? People possibly, and wildlife certainly, will be experiencing low frequency noise for 30 years.

            At the very least, I’d like to see NextEra move turbines back from the western boundary two miles, for the good of raptors, other birds, mule deer, trail users, and the neighbors living near Harriman Road. The two southernmost sections are already protected with The Nature Conservancy’s conservation easement.            

           What I’d really like to see instead is more solar development on rooftops and over parking lots in Cheyenne. Or a new style of Wyoming snow fence that turns wind into energy while protecting highways.

Bioblitz participants look and listen for birds along Lone Tree Creek on the Belvoir Ranch June 11, 2016. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Sage grouse captive breeding success doubtful

220px-Centrocercus_urophasianus_-USA_-male-8 Wikipedia

Greater Sage-grouse. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 10, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Critics of sage grouse captive breeding doubt it will succeed.”

Note: The American Ornithological Society’s spelling is “Greater Sage-Grouse.”  The Associated Press style when the full name is not used is “sage grouse.”

By Barb Gorges

Over the eons, the greater sage-grouse figured out how to prosper in the sagebrush.

It’s not an easy life. Some years are too wet and the chicks die. Others are too dry with few leaves, buds, flowers or insects and the chicks starve. Some years there are too many hungry coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Every spring the sage grouse go to the meet-up at the lek, the sage grouse version of a bar [To find where to see sage grouse in Wyoming go to grouse-Management/Sage grouse-Lek-Viewing-Guide]. The males puff out their chests vying for the right to take the most females, then love them and leave them to raise the chicks on their own.

Experienced hens look for the best cover for their nests. They teach the young how to find food and avoid predators. In fall, every sage grouse migrates to winter habitat, 4-18 miles away.

In the past hundred years, obstacles were thrown in the path of sage grouse, including in their Wyoming stronghold where sagebrush habitat can be found across the whole state except in the southeast and northwest corners.

The low-flying birds collide with fences, vehicles, utility lines. The noise from oil and gas operations pushes them away. Sagebrush disappears with development.

Each state is responsible for all wildlife within its borders. But if a species heads for extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service steps in. Since 1985, the sage grouse population declined 30 percent across the West. It looked like the species might be listed as either threatened or endangered, curtailing oil and gas drilling and other development.

Last month I explained how Wyoming conservationists, sportsmen, the oil and gas industry, agricultural interests and state and local government collaborated on a state plan to conserve sage grouse. However, the current federal administration wants all the state plans to be examined to see if sage grouse habitat can be more densely developed.

Wyoming’s collaborators strongly disagree with the attempt. Public comments were solicited by the Bureau of Land Management through the end of November and the Forest Service is taking comments through January 5 [ In the search area type: Ask Forest Service to Amend Greater Sage-Grouse Land Use Plan.].

Meanwhile, a Wyoming man is hoping to change the dynamics of the sage grouse issue by increasing their population through captive breeding.

Diemer True, of the True Companies (oil and gas drilling, support, pipelines, and seven ranches), and former president of the Wyoming Senate, bought Karl Baer’s game bird farm in Powell.

True convinced the Wyoming Legislature to pass legislation during the 2017 session to allow him and Baer to apply for a permit allowing them to take up to 250 sage grouse eggs from the wild per year and experiment for five years with captive breeding. The idea is that birds can be released, bring up the numbers and maybe allow higher density of development in protected areas.

But no one has been very successful captive breeding sage grouse. No one has successfully released them to procreate in the wild and, if True is successful, he wants his techniques to be proprietary—he won’t share them. He wants to profit from wildlife rather than take the more typical route of supporting academic research.

Gov. Matt Mead signed the captive breeding legislation into law this fall. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission wrote very specific regulations about it, which you can read at

Five permits are allowed, for a total withdrawal of 1,250 eggs per year, but it is doubtful that anyone besides True and Baer will qualify. Consensus among wildlife biologists I spoke to is that True will have trouble finding 250 wild eggs for his permit.

The facility requirements mean True is building new pens separated from the bird farm’s other operations. Despite these best management practices, there’s still a chance captive-bred birds could infect wild birds when they are released.

[The Wyoming Game and Fish Department monitors sage grouse leks every spring to see how successful the previous year’s breeding was. Numbers naturally vary widely year to year. The effects of captive breeding on these surveys will be included when setting hunting limits.]

No one who knows sage grouse well believes they can be bred in captivity successfully. Young sage grouse learn about survival from their mothers. By contrast, the non-native pheasant captive-bred here is acknowledged to be a “put-and-take” hunting target. It hardly ever survives to breed on its own.

We can only hope that this sage grouse experiment will go well. If captive-bred chicks don’t thrive in the wild, there will be some well-fed coyotes, badgers and ravens.

Southeast Wyoming birding destinations abundant

Birding Sage-Grouse lek

Very early morning in early spring near Laramie, Wyoming, birders focus on a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 5, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Resolution produces list of field trip destinations.”
2015 Update: So many places, so little time.
By Barb Gorges
Here we are at the top of the 2005 calendar, with a total of 53 Saturdays for field trips. This year has a bonus because it starts and ends on Saturdays.
My resolution is to get to know birds better by getting out more often. One of the best ways to do this is on organized field trips.
A week or so ago I was compiling a record of Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society field trips for the past 17 years. There is a noticeable, yearly pattern.
Unlike scheduling monthly chapter programs for variety, field trips thrive on return engagements. In bird watching, no matter how may days you visit the same place, any one of them could be the day you see an interesting bird behavior, a bird that’s new for you, or rare for the whole birding community.
The field trip year for Cheyenne birders is anchored by two major events, the Christmas Bird Count, usually held the Saturday after Christmas, and the Big Day bird count held on, or the first Saturday after, May 15. Both events concentrate on Cheyenne, especially the two designated state Important Bird Areas, Lions Park and Wyoming Hereford Ranch. Both sites are representative of the city in general, a forested island on the plains, attractive to avian life.
What also attracts birds and makes a good field trip location is water, the centerpiece of both of those IBAs and most of the past destinations.
Time of year is also important. With the exception of the Christmas Count and excursions around town in January, mostly to combat cabin fever, admire chickadees and to see if there is any open water where a lost duck has unexpectedly dropped in, migration is the big draw.

Hutton Lake NWR

Field trip participants check out Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in early summer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mountain bluebirds cruise in as early as February and after that, it’s a steady stream of visitors. Things settle down briefly in June, but then in July, Arctic-nesting shorebirds have finished their parental duties and start the parade through Wyoming in reverse.
By November, birders are watching for stragglers, wondering if they’ll stick around to be counted at Christmas and wondering also if later and later dates for the last observation of a migrating species reflects global warming.
With the advent of spring migration, and again in the fall, the chapter’s constellation of field trip destinations is broader. To the west are Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge and all the other Laramie Plains Lakes.
To the east are sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds and further east is the area referred to as Goshen Hole, a collection of public access areas in the vicinity of Hawk Springs Reservoir, such as Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Table Mountain and Springer-Bump Sullivan Wildlife Habitat Management Areas.
To the south are Pawnee National Grassland and the reservoirs along the Colorado Front Range.
The big reservoirs to the north, along the North Platte, Alcova, Pathfinder and Seminoe, are a little far for a day trip, but Murie Audubon members from the Casper area keep close tabs on them.
Though farther, Cheyenne birders are much more likely to make an overnight trek to Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration sometime during the height of the phenomenon, between mid-March and mid-April. We’re there more to enjoy the mass of birdlife rather than the diversity of species, but also cherish the hope we’ll glimpse a rare whooping crane.

Sinks Canyon

Wyoming birders head for the mountains in summer. This is Sinks Canyon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Come summer, water is still an attraction, but Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon members also begin to head for the mountains, just like the juncos. It looks like the Snowy Range survey for brown-capped rosy-finches will be repeated after last summer’s success.
Then there’s the annual chapter camp out which over the years has met more weather-induced obstacles than the Christmas Count. We’ve tried twice to hold it at Friend Park, at the foot of Laramie Peak, but the first time we got smoked out by a forest fire and last year the mud was too deep.
This year, the plan is to schedule the camp out for July 8-10 and headquarter it at Battle Creek in the Sierra Madres. The gathering of birders will be put to work looking for nesting flammulated owls and purple martins.
One of the enjoyable past camp outs was to the Saratoga area. Several Wyoming Game and Fish Department public access areas, Treasure Island, Foote, and Saratoga Lake, are in the North Platte River valley, featured in the annual Platte Valley Festival of the Birds June 5-6.
Other areas with public access administered by Game and Fish are cataloged in their publication, Access to Wyoming’s Wildlife. Reviewing the table of contents is like reading the names of old friends, stirring up memories of many family outings, with or without Audubon.
Bird watching is a classic example of what can be a solo recreational pursuit. But the advantage to an organized field trip is that someone is bound to know something more about birds than I do, which is a much better way to learn than by reading, especially since local knowledge of local birds may best that of a book written for all of North America.
I don’t know yet how many return engagements will be scheduled by the chapter this year. Each will be a welcome reunion, if not an adventure to some place new.

Wyoming Hereford Ranch

The Wyoming Hereford Ranch, outside Cheyenne, yields interesting migrants in early fall. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lifetime license lends legitimacy to non-native

Ice fishing

A lifetime Wyoming fishing license means never having to worry about having to buy a new one each year, making it easier to celebrate New Year’s Day by ice fishing. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 25, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Lifetime license lends legitimacy to non-native. Wyoming lifetime licenses and conservation stamps also help non-game species prosper.”

2015 Update: We eventually bought resident lifetime fishing licenses and conservation stamps for our sons. Current information for these and other lifetime licenses (small game and game bird) is available at Non-residents are allowed to purchase the lifetime conservation stamp, which is required for all licenses.

By Barb Gorges

I wish I could be a Wyoming native, but some things I just can’t help—such as where my mother was when I was born.

I can’t even claim any Wyoming ancestors because mine decided to establish a Midwestern dairy farm instead of a Wyoming cattle ranch.

Sometimes it seems that to lobby state legislators effectively I should have a Wyoming surname of several generations’ standing. So, how can I prove that Wyoming is where I want to be?

Perhaps I should pin on a list of places I’ve worked or lived: Crook County, Rock Springs, Bitter Creek, Flaming Gorge, a gravel pit west of Green River, Laramie and Casper–besides Cheyenne.

Buying property or financially investing locally won’t impress the natives as any sign of permanence as both are reversible.

But last week I put my money into, and my signature on, two irreversible Wyoming investments: a life-time Wyoming fishing license and a life-time Wyoming conservation stamp.

Available to anyone who has endured Wyoming for at least 10 years, they are economically sensible.

To be honest, though, my annual fishing licenses have not been economical. Last year, for instance, I caught a total of six nice kokanee—in 30 minutes the last week in December at Granite Reservoir.

Being ready to throw a line when the fishing’s hot is part of the cost of being married to a fisherman.

My lifetime fishing license will pay for itself in about 16 years–or less if fees go up. If I move out of state (heaven forbid!) I won’t have to buy an expensive nonresident license.

The conservation stamp, is required in addition to any kind of annual Wyoming hunting or fishing license. Now that the annual fee is up to $10, the lifetime version will pay for itself in 7 1/2 years.

The real benefit in my mind is that presumably lifetime fees are being invested by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to benefit wildlife.

Whatever benefits game species probably will benefit non-game animals. Like birds. (You were wondering how this discussion would relate to birds, weren’t you?)

I visited with Kathy Frank from Game and Fish, and she said this is how things break down:

Lifetime fishing license fees are placed in a special fund invested by the state treasurer. Each year, interest goes to Game and Fish general operations to help even out financial ups and downs. The department otherwise is dependent on annual license fees and is not funded by the state government.

General operations such as law enforcement, education and habitat management directly affect game and non-game species. The Game and Fish staff even includes a non-game bird biologist.

The lifetime conservation stamp fees go into the department’s Wildlife Trust Fund, established just a few years ago. In addition to the fees, the $14 million principal incorporates the former Conservation Fund and income from Game and Fish products like T-shirts.

The trust fund generates around $1 million a year in interest, which is directed to funding two kinds of grants.

Wildlife Worth the Watching grants totaling $100,000 or more each year fund programs that improve people’s appreciation of wildlife. Past grants have paid for projects all over the state such as installing interpretive signs and building nature trails.

The remainder of the interest goes to all kinds of habitat improvement projects.

For you recent immigrants and non-residents, investing in the annual fishing license or any of the other kinds of licenses means you are also investing in the work of the Game and Fish. Part of the annual conservation stamp fee goes to improving hunting and fishing access as well.

Of course, you can always make a direct donation. If it’s more than $1,000, Kathy said, it can be directed to a grant for a particular project.

You can invest in a conservation stamp without buying a hunting or fishing license. People who enjoy non-consumptive uses of wildlife—for instance, drinking in the view of an elk rather than consuming it—don’t pay fees for the privilege otherwise.

The conservation stamp is the perfect way to put your money where you put your camera lens or binoculars.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering just how I can casually flash my new permanent-plastic-lifetime-fishing-license-with-conservation-stamp while leaving messages on the Voter Hotline for my state legislators when I call about wildlife bills.

Perhaps I can figure out how to use it as a name tag next time I visit the Capitol.

Birds featured in calendar

Wyoming WIldlife calendar

The 2015 Wyoming Wildlife Calendar is included in subscriptions to Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s magazine, “Wyoming Wildlife.” Photo of calendar cover by Barb Gorges, photo on calendar cover by Meg Sommers.

Published Dec. 8, 2004, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birds are featured in calendar from Game and Fish.”

2014 Update: Wyoming Wildlife magazine’s new editor is Amber Leberman and so the 2015 calendar is formatted a little differently, but still with outstanding wildlife photography, including three months with birds. Call 1-800-710-8345 to see about a copy of the calendar or subscribing to the magazine.

By Barb Gorges

The bright goldfinch on the front told me something interesting was afoot when Wyoming Department of Game and Fish’s 2005 Wyoming Wildlife magazine calendar showed up in the mail recently. I was right. Seven of the 12 months feature birds, and three of those are songbirds.

I also like the pithy comments by the magazine’s senior editor, Tom Reed, which tie each featured species to that particular month, that pose and that species’ status in Wyoming, all with entertaining informality.

Judith Hosafros, assistant magazine editor, is in charge of the calendar project. She said it has mainly been a subscription promotion—give a gift subscription and get a gift—but it’s so popular now, the calendar has been designed to be offered to the public as well. In the future it should be available wherever the magazine is sold. Profits support wildlife habitat acquisition.

Judith had some design help this year, but format decisions, making it 14 by 22 inches when open, using slick paper and including moon phases and the previous and next month on each page, were hers. The calendars were printed by Pioneer Printing of Cheyenne,

Always a very elegant publication, previous calendars have placed in the top four at the Association for Conservation Communication competitions. I think this next year’s will do well also, especially since the photos are less stereotypical.

The bald eagle is standing over its (mostly hidden) dinner, with commentary pointing out how roadkill benefits our national symbol. The obligatory elk picture is of a cow and nursing calf rather than a trophy bull.

The idea of featuring a particular photographer each year started a few calendars ago. This time it’s a team, F.C. and Janice Bergquist, of Saratoga. I recognized them not only because they frequently have work published in Wyoming Wildlife and national birding magazines, but because a few years ago, editor Chris Madson introduced me to them and they generously donated use of many bird images for the Wyoming Bird Flashcard CD project.

Francis began his fascination with wildlife photography around 1976. Janice blames herself for that because a friend helped her pick out his first camera as a present. It was a hobby until Francis retired three years ago—but a hobby that has paid for itself.

The first step was to research magazines and send for their want lists.

“The more you send, the more you get published,” said Francis in a phone interview. The more familiar your name, the more likely publications will call you for particular photos, he added.

Janice has always been involved in the business end and recently has begun taking photos herself, her specialty being butterflies and flowers.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said.

Their son Greg is also getting published, including the cover of the latest Birds in Bloom magazine and the cover of Wildbird sometime this spring.

Wildlife photography becomes an obsession, Janice said, especially in spring with migrating birds. She and Francis are up at daylight and out until 10 or 11 a.m. when the light becomes too harsh. When I called, Francis was out in their yard attempting to shoot a flock of hundreds of Bohemian waxwings.

He hasn’t gone digital yet, he said, since so many publications still want slides. However, they can be scanned if digital is required. When he does convert, Francis expects all of his Canon lenses will fit the Canon digital body. His largest is a 500 mm, onto which he can add a converter to make 700 mm, but Francis thinks anything larger is too heavy. His portable, tent-like blind works well to bring birds close. Within minutes of setting it up, the birds forget all about him.

Most of the Bergquists’ photography is within 100 miles of home, plus a few trips to Arizona, New Mexico and Nebraska. Francis considers himself to be a birder, but doesn’t keep a life list. However, he does keep track of great birding locations, such as the Tucson, Ariz., water treatment plant. He says it looks like a pristine marsh—with viewing platforms.

Give a gift subscription to Wyoming Wildlife ($12.95) between now and January 31 and get a free calendar sent to you. Call the subscription service at 1-800-710-8345.

There’s nothing like sending a bit of Wyoming when I think my friends and relatives have everything else. And there’s nothing like a bit of Wyoming’s wildlife in the kitchen to improve my daily view.

Cardinals are top Christmas card bird


The Northern Cardinal would be one eastern bird species we’d like to see in southeastern Wyoming. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 26, 2002, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Cardinals top Christmas cards, if not bird count.”

2014 Update: We keep hoping for cardinals here in southeastern Wyoming.

By Barb Gorges

There’s the Christmas Bird Count and then there’s the Christmas card bird count. As I write this Dec. 19, the tally is two chickadees, six cardinals, a cinnamon teal, five birds of undeterminable species—and two penguins.

Last year I identified Canada geese, blue jays and a junco plus the popular chickadees and cardinals.

The jackpot was provided by an Audubon card sent by Audubon friends featuring a red-bellied woodpecker and a white-breasted nuthatch.

John Hewston, compiler of the Thanksgiving count, has also noticed the northern cardinal seems to be a favorite on Christmas cards, “or of people who select them.”

I think cardinals are so popular because their bright red feathers fit the seasonal color scheme when they are depicted perched in an evergreen.

However, I was surprised to find a cardinal on the cover of this month’s issue of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “Wyoming Wildlife” magazine.

What was Editor Chris Madson thinking? He’s a pretty astute student of nature and I would expect he’d be aware that cardinals are considered to be rare in Wyoming.

“Rare” is the technical term used in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “Wyoming Bird Checklist” and rates “1” on a scale of abundance from one to four. The Checklist also identifies the cardinal as a species seen in Wyoming only during spring and/or fall migration.

Of the 28 latilongs formed by the gridwork of degrees of latitude and longitude that biologists use to locate animal observations in this state, the cardinal has only been seen, and without any signs of breeding activity, in seven latilongs, as shown in the “Atlas of Birds, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians in Wyoming” also published by Game and Fish.

One of those seven latilongs contains Cheyenne. However there is no asterisk to indicate the observation has been scrutinized and accepted yet by the Wyoming Bird Records Committee.

And in the list published by the Cheyenne High Plains Audubon Society, no cardinals have been seen in any of 40 years’ worth of data for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count.

Cardinals are most abundant in southeastern United States. Thirty or forty years ago I would see them at my grandparents’ feeder south of Chicago, but not at home a mere 100 miles to the north. Since then they have extended their range north through most of Wisconsin.

Cardinals are classified as permanent residents within their range, so the few observed in Wyoming were more likely to be juveniles on a road trip, now that their range extends as far west as the Wyoming-Nebraska border, than birds lost during migration

It appears Chris is another victim of a pretty passerine face. He explained to me that he’d had this particular cardinal in the photo file for several years and kept passing it over for each December issue, because he knew cardinals are not typical Wyoming wildlife.

He took as a sign the submission by a Wyoming photographer of another cardinal that he could finally justify using it on the cover.

Cardinals are also just over our southern border, in Colorado. It’s only a matter of time before they become common residents of eastern Wyoming too, like the blue jay, another formerly eastern U.S.-only species. Chris’s cover choice serves as a heads-up. When you hear that distinctive cardinal whistle, look up.

It would be neat if a cardinal made an appearance for the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count Jan. 4. Why not plan to join in the fun and look for cardinals—and maybe be part of a historic moment?

Other winter birds are drab by comparison, though close examination shows the beauty of their sophisticated, subtle coloration. Why is the chickadee motif nearly as popular as the cardinal? Maybe it’s because their black and white heads make them easy to depict. Or maybe it’s because in cold weather they fluff up into little round balls, multiplying their cuteness factor.

But there’s something even more appealing about a red bird in winter. When snow makes the landscape monochromatic, or as is the case most of the winter in Cheyenne, the snowless landscape is dull, red is a desirable accent. Our eyes are attracted to red-stemmed shrubs, red sumac, red berries and red bows.

How did red become a symbolic color for this time of year? There’s probably an anthropologic answer published somewhere explaining why people have a yen for red in winter. I suspect both our hunter-gatherer ancestors and animals today roaming the land had/have an eye out for the color that could mean dried rosehips or other fruit. Marketers of packaged foods certainly understand the use of the color red.

Christmas card designers no doubt have their own statistics showing the appeal of cardinals. So when you go out today to buy next year’s Christmas greetings on sale, don’t be surprised if the cardinal cards have already flown.

If you missed them, you could still buy cards with a nice winter landscape and ink in a small red dot on a distant tree branch. Everyone will know it could only be a cardinal.

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

Biodiversity Institute logo

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

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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