Friday, March 27, 2015

Field trip report: Plains Lakes

The weather was great for our trip last weekend, but disappointingly the waterfowl were largely absent from the lakes. Ducks and gulls were moving through in good numbers earlier in the week, but the lakes were relatively empty on Saturday. But migration and the nesting season are ramping up--we were treated to views of Great Horned Owls on nests and recently returned Red-winged Blackbirds and Western Meadowlarks.

More migrants will be passing through in the next several weeks, and waterfowl migration is far from over.

In total we detected 33 species. Below are links to our eBird checklists and the species list for the day.

Blake's Pond
Meeboer Lake
Gelatt Lake
Twin Buttes Reservoir
Lake Hattie Reservoir
Hutton Lake NWR

Species List - 21 March 2015
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Redhead
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
American White Pelican
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Coot
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Horned Owl
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
House Sparrow
Photos by Libby Megna.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Upcoming talk by Frank Rahel and Jessica Dugan

Little Laramie River. Photo by Libby Megna.
Have you ever wondered what lurks below the surface of the Laramie River as you stroll along the Greenbelt? Now is your chance to find out! Although brown trout get most of the attention, the Laramie River also has a healthy assemblage of native, nongame fishes. This Wednesday, 25 March, University of Wyoming professor Dr. Frank Rahel and his graduate student Jessica Dugan will provide a glimpse into the finny biodiversity that lives largely unseen within the Laramie River by enlightening us about the biology of these species and telling us how they have responded to habitat improvements along the Laramie Greenbelt.

As always, we will meet in the Berry Biodiversity Center auditorium for refreshments and mingling at 6:30 pm, and the talk will begin at 7 pm. See you there!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Upcoming trip: Plains Lakes

This Saturday, 21 March, Shawn Billerman will lead a trip to the Plains Lakes. Ducks and gulls are coming through in good numbers already, so the birding should be great! Red-winged blackbirds, mountain bluebirds, and western meadowlarks have also already made an appearance on the plains.

Meet downtown at Coal Creek Coffee at 8 am to carpool. We should be back to Laramie by 12-1 pm, but feel free to join us for only part of the time--though you may need to drive your own vehicle. Feel free to email us if you'd like arrange a ride with somebody beforehand.

Redheads on Lake Hattie. Photo © Shawn Billerman.
All Laramie Audubon trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and be prepared for vagaries of weather.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Upcoming trip: Greater Sage-Grouse Lek

DISCLAIMER: This trip is subject to schedule changes depending on the road conditions. Please check back here frequently for updates.

Female Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo © Shawn Billerman.


This Saturday, March 14 we will head out to a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. Come and watch these iconic birds strut their stuff. Meet at 6 am at the Eppson Senior Center parking lot, at Curtis St. and 3rd St.  We will carpool to the lek (display ground) at 6:10 am sharp.  The early start is totally worth it--there's nothing like being audience to dozens of male Sage-Grouse calling and dancing to attract mates. You will need 4WD or AWD to navigate the dirt two-track, or share a ride with somebody who does. Please call Vicki at 307-760-9518 if you plan to attend so we will be sure not to leave without you.

It will be cold and windy on the prairie so dress very warmly.  Bring spotting scope, binoculars, warm drinks, and snacks.  We should be back to Laramie by 8 am.  At this time, alternate dates are March 21 and March 28, meeting at the same place, same time, unless notified differently.

Male Greater Sage-Grouse on the lek. Photo © Shawn Billerman.

More details on possible schedule changes:
With the unusually warm weather melting snow, warming the ground and causing rivulets through mud, the trip may not be possible this Saturday.  Perhaps if it stays below freezing in the mornings, we will be able to get out there but we would have to leave the lek before it warms up enough to thaw the ground. We will check conditions Wednesday or Thursday morning to see if it is doable, and give further details then. You may call in advance to be sure the trip is not postponed or cancelled.

Watching the lek. Photo by Libby Megna.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rosy-Finch Extravaganza

The recent cold snap that has plunged Laramie back into winter may not be welcomed by most people, but for birders, it is giving us a rare chance to experience the wonders of rosy-finches. In Wyoming, we can see all 3 North American rosy-finch species, as well as another distinct subspecies.  The three species include the Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata), Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte australis), and the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), as well as the 'Hepburn's' Rosy-Finch, a distinct subspecies of Gray-crowned. All of these can even be seen in a single flock, especially here in the Laramie area, the only area in the state where you can our local breeder, the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.

Black (left), Gray-crowned (center), and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (right)

Outside of North America, there are 4 additional species of Leucosticte, all inhabiting alpine or tundra habitats. In the past, our North American rosy-finches were lumped with the Asian Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte arctoa) (Macdougall-Shackleton et al. 2000, Johnson 2002), but have since been split on the basis of molecular data and studies of a hybrid zone between Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-Finch (Johnson 2002).

Rosy-finches are famous denizens of the high alpine regions of the Rocky Mountain region, nesting far above treeline in talus slopes and cliff faces, foraging for seeds and insects at the edges of snow fields. Due to the remoteness of their nesting habitat, relatively little is known of the breeding biology of the three rosy-finch species. Each species largely breeds in mountain ranges isolated from the other species, with Brown-capped Rosy-Finches nesting from far northern New Mexico, through much of the alpine of Colorado, and reaching its northern limit in the Snowy Range of Wyoming (Johnson et al. 2000). Black Rosy-Finches are the "middle" rosy-finch, nesting in the Uinta Range of Utah, through the Wind River Range of Wyoming north to the Bitterroots in Montana, and west to central Nevada (Johnson 2002). Finally, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches are the most widespread species, nesting in Sierra Nevadas in California all the way north to Alaska and the Pribilof Islands. They get as far east as northern Montana, where they occasionally hybridize with Black Rosy-Finches in the Bitteroot Mountains (Macdougall-Shackleton et al. 2000, Johnson 2002).

Rosy-finch habitat - Mount Evans - Clear Creek Co., CO

Even in the winter, rosy-finches can spend a lot of time high in the mountains, sometimes only descending in bad weather to the valleys, foothills, plains, and high deserts of the West (Macdougall-Shackleton et al. 2000, Johnson 2002). Again, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch is the most widespread and frequently encountered species in most places, but in some areas of Utah and New Mexico, Black and Brown-capped Rosy-finches may outnumber them. In Colorado, southeast Wyoming, and northern New Mexico, large mixed flocks containing all 3 species can be found.

Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-Finch flock - Albany Co., WY

Here in southeast Wyoming, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is by far the most abundant species, with flocks numbering in the hundreds not uncommon in some places, swirling through the air and raiding bird feeders. Within these Gray-crowned flocks, most represent the "interior" subspecies; up to 10-20% of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch flocks may be made up of the "coastal," Hepburn's subspecies, characterized by entirely gray cheeks and face as well as crown.

'Hepburn's' Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - Laramie Co., WY

'Interior' Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - Laramie Co., WY

'Interior' Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - Albany Co., WY

In the foothills of the Snowy Range, small numbers of Brown-capped Rosy-Finches can also be encountered amidst the large Gray-crowned flocks. These are often difficult to pick out, as some Brown-capped Rosy-Finches can show fairly extensive gray in the head, best told by the extent and contrast of the gray with the brown on the face and head.

Brown-capped Rosy-Finches - Larimer Co., CO

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (with Gray-crowned) - Laramie Co., WY

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch - Albany Co., WY

Generally one of the harder species to find, Black Rosy-Finches are only occasionally encountered in flocks in southeast Wyoming. Farther west, they are much more common, sometimes being the dominant species along the foothills of the Wind River Range and in the Jackson Hole region. While adult male Black Rosy-Finches are very distinct and easy to identify, females and young birds can be surprisingly tricky, best separate from both Brown-capped and Gray-crowned by the overall "cold" brown and charcoal gray plumage on the body.

Black Rosy-Finch - Albany Co., WY

As winter continues in Wyoming, you can still expect to find rosy-finches close to the mountains, with birds generally returning to their breeding grounds by April when still snow covered. March can be an especially good month to find big mixed flocks of rosy-finches outside of Laramie, as birds from farther south are beginning to return northward. Occasionally, large flocks of rosy-finches can be found coming to feeders around the foothills as late as May when large spring snow storms come through. So, get out there and go see these spectacular birds of the alpine tundra of the West. 

All photos in this post © Shawn Billerman and are not to be used without permission.

References:

Johnson, RE, P Hendricks, DL Pattie and KB Hunter. 2000. Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte australis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/536

Macdougall-Shackleton, SA, RE Johnson and TP Hahn. 2000. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/559

Johnson, RE. 2002. Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/678

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Colorado and Wyoming eBird Blog

Attention eBirders of Wyoming! There is new blog out there, Colorado and Wyoming eBird, which was spearheaded by Tony Leukering, the lead eBirder reviewer for Colorado, and with contributions from eBird reviewers from across Wyoming and Colorado. The eBird review teams of the two states see this blog as a way to impart information about all aspects of the eBird review process to the region's eBirders, with its primary purpose to make the review system more transparent. Posts will include essays on how filters are created, how they work, what filters mean for entering checklists, as well as information on how to get the most out of eBird, from using all of the data output tools to exploring the birds of different regions. For those of you who don't use eBird, check it out here. Its a fantastic resource for finding out what can be seen in your area, planning out a birding trip in a new and exciting place, and keeping track of your own sightings. Please check the new Wyoming and Colorado eBird blog here, and let us know what you think!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Laramie CBC Results

The Laramie Christmas Bird Count, held on Sunday, December 14th, tallied 44 species and included one new species to the count: an adult male Great-tailed Grackle was found by Craig Benkman near Optimist Park. Since the count, additional Great-tailed Grackles have been found in the same area, totaling 18 individuals, by far the largest count of this species in Wyoming in winter. The count also tallied a total of 3,802 individuals. Twenty-seven people participated this year, birding in 11 teams, a new Other highlights included a male White-winged Crossbill on the University of Wyoming campus with a flock of Red Crossbills, 4 Lapland Longspurs, and a Northern Shrike along the Laramie River. Detailed results were included in our January newsletter.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) © Shawn Billerman
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) © Shawn Billerman
Many thanks to everyone who participated and helped to make the Laramie Christmas Count a great success this year!