Sunday, July 21, 2013

Breeding Birds of the Laramie Plains

By mid-July here in Laramie, breeding season is well under way, and for some species, already over.  While early summer can be a slow birding time in many parts of the country, things are still quite interesting and exciting here in Albany County.

Out on the plains around Laramie, many songbirds are busy feeding nestlings and fledglings.  I recently took a trip up to the Old Laramie River Road, which runs through a variety of grassland types, from the typical dry shortgrass prairie to wetter, longer grass habitats closer to the Laramie River.  This variety of grassland habitats means that this area has some of the best diversity of grassland species in Albany County, including both longspurs, Lark Buntings, and Vesper Sparrows, among many others.

Many species, including Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris), and McCown's Longspurs (Rhyncophanes mccownii) have fledged young, and already seem to be flocking in preparation for their southward migration toward the end of August.

McCown's Longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) fledgling - Albany Co.
In addition to McCown's Longspurs, Old Laramie River Road is probably the best spot in Albany County to see Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus).  In wetter, longer grass, this species is quite easy to find as they sing from any elevated perch.  Like McCowns, Chestnut-collared Longspurs also skylark, singing in flight, although their skylarking display is not as impressive as that of McCown's Longspur.

Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) - Albany Co.
Chestnut-collared Longspur fledgling - Albany Co.
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) - Albany Co.
In addition to the great songbird activity, Old Laramie River Road has also had an exciting diversity of raptors, with many fledgling Swainson's Hawks foraging across the plains.  There have also been Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, American Kestrels, and Prairie Falcons.

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) juvenile - Albany Co.
Despite the heat of the summer, there is still quite a bit of bird activity out there, so get out there and see what you can find.  This is a really interesting time of year, and you never know what might show up.

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman


  1. Where is Old Laramie River Road? I can't find it on google or in the WY Atlas. Thanks!

    1. On Google Maps, its called Howell Road, and has the number County Road 51. The easiest place to get on the road is just before the town of Bosler off of 287. I then just follow it south until it reconnects to 287 just north of Laramie.