Monday, December 15, 2014

Brambling in Carbon County

On the morning of November 21st, Francis and Janice Bergquist discovered a strange bird coming to their feeder. After sending a photo to Matt Fraker, word quickly went out that they were hosting a Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) at their feeders, a finch native to much of Europe and Asia. While regularly encountered during migration on Alaskan islands in the Bering Sea, with double-digit flocks sometimes being recorded, Brambling are very rare anywhere in the lower 48 states.
Brambling - Carbon Co., WY, © Libby Megna

Like other "winter" finches of North America, such as crossbills and redpolls, some years are definitely better for Brambling in the lower 48 than others. This year seems to be just such a year, with at least two found in Washington, one in northern California, one in Montana, and one as far east as Ontario. Hawaii even got their first record of Brambling when a flock of 15 was discovered. So, when I got a phone call that a Brambling was found in Wyoming, I wasn't too surprised.

Pending acceptance by the Wyoming Bird Records Committee, this represents the third time Brambling has been found in the state, with both of the other records coming in November of 1985, another "irruption" year for the species.

Brambling - Carbon Co., WY, © Shawn Billerman

Over the weekend, a bunch of graduate students at the University of Wyoming here in Laramie made the trek to Saratoga. We were treated to wonderful views of this beautiful little finch. Over the course of the hour we were watching the bird, it hung out in the large spruce next to the house, in mixed company with House Sparrows and House Finches, and would feed on the ground. In between foraging bouts, the Brambling would hide in the dense cover of the spruce, trying to avoid being noticed by the Sharp-shinned Hawk that was constantly patrolling the feeders. Many thanks to the Bergquists for graciously allowing birders to come see this beautiful bird.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Red Knot Listed as Federally Threatened

Big news came out of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday, December 9 when they announced that the rufa subspecies of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) would be listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service sites extensive coastal development along the East Coast of the United States and climate change as two important factors contributing to the drastic, rapid decline of this incredible species.

Red Knot (Calidris canutus) - Tompkins Co., NY (photo © Jay McGowan)

The rufa Red Knot is one of the most incredible long-distance migrants on the planet, with some individuals regularly migrating 18,000 miles in a single year from their breeding grounds in the high Canadian Arctic to their wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina ("Moonbird" is part of this subspecies) . In the spring, huge flocks of Red Knots migrate north, stopping at traditional stopover sites along the East Coast of North America to fuel up not only for the rest of their journey to the arctic, but also to gain important resources for the breeding season (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2013). One of the most famous stopover sites for the Red Knot is coastal Delaware Bay in Delaware and New Jersey, where Red Knots gorge themselves on horseshoe crab eggs. Regular surveys at sites along Delaware Bay, as well as wintering sites in Chile and Argentina documented drastic declines in the early 2000s, with populations declining 75%. Many of these declines in the early 2000s were attributed to excessive horseshoe crab harvesting, reducing their food source at key stopover sites. While populations have stabilized recently, future coastal development and habitat changes due to future change may be detrimental to the Red Knot (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2014).

To read more about the listing of the Red Knot and other fun facts about Red Knots, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service's website here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Volunteers needed for 115th Christmas Bird Count

Common Redpoll. Photo © Shawn Billerman.
The Laramie Audubon Society will again take part in a 100-year-old Christmas tradition, the annual Christmas Bird Count. Volunteers are welcome to join in the count with the LAS chapter as it conducts the Albany County Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 14.  This will be the 37th count of the Albany County circle. Volunteers are needed to help count every bird present in the 15-mile diameter circle around Laramie on the day of the count. Novices are welcome, and will be paired with more experienced bird watchers.

Volunteers can call ahead (307-286-1972) or meet at Coal Creek Coffee at 7:30 am on the day of the count to get data forms and team assignments. Some teams walk, while others drive through their territory. Volunteers will reconvene at The Grounds Internet and Coffee Lounge at 12:00 pm to drop off morning reports and regroup for those continuing in the afternoon.

Volunteers should wear warm, layered clothing and boots, and bring water, snacks and binoculars if you have them. Feeder watchers are also welcome.  Volunteers are invited to a chili supper where results will be compiled beginning at 4 pm the home of Shay Howlin. Potluck items welcome, but not required.  Please contact Shay Howlin if you would like to be assigned a route early, would like forms for feeder watching, or have any questions (307-286-1972; wolfhowlin@gmail.com).

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. Photo © Shawn Billerman.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Proposed Wyoming Toad Conservation Area

The area along Old Laramie River road,
which falls under the proposed Wyoming
Toad Conservation Area, is the best habitat in
Albany County for Chestnut-collared
 Longspurs. Photo (c) Shawn Billerman.
This week we have a great opportunity to show our support for wildlife in the Laramie Basin. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing to establish a conservation area that would expand the boundaries of Hutton Lake, Mortenson Lake, and Bamforth National Wildlife Refuges (see map below). The agency hopes to protect over 43,000 acres via negotiation of conservation easements and land purchases from willing sellers, but can only do so by establishing a conservation area within which the agency can work. The proposed project will contribute significantly to the conservation and recovery of the critically endangered Wyoming toad, which only lives in the Laramie Basin, and will protect additional habitat for birds and other organisms.

The Service needs to see a big show of support for our local refuges and wildlife for this project to go through. So, please come to a public meeting on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 5:30 pm at the Albany County Fairgrounds. The Service will provide more information about the project and try to gauge how much support there is for wildlife conservation in the Laramie valley. Let's show the agency how much we care about our birds, our own Wyoming toad, and other local wildlife by attending this Thursday's meeting.

If you can't attend the meeting, USFWS is requesting public comments via email (wtca_comments@fws.gov) or US mail:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Attn: Amy Thornburg, Planning Team Leader
134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300
Lakewood, CO 80228

For more information about the proposal, see the USFWS's site, USFWS's news release, a short pamphlet explaining the proposal, or the in-depth Draft Environmental Assessment and Land Protection Plan.

Map of the proposed Wyoming Toad Conservation Area, outlined in brown.
Citation: Fish and Wildlife Service. 2014. Draft environmental assessment and land protection plan--Proposed Wyoming Toad Conservation Area, Wyoming. Lakewood, Colorado: U. S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Do you have 5-10 minutes and internet access?

Be a citizen scientist! These 2 fun and interesting projects need your help.


© Project Nightjar
 
  Project Nightjar investigates how birds use camouflage and their surroundings to evade predators. See the world with the vision of a mongoose, monkey, or genet (a relative of cats and mongooses) and try to spot the camouflaged birds or their eggs. Are you fast enough to join the top 10? 







© Condor Watch










Condor Watch uses remote cameras to monitor condors for signs of lead poisoning. By identifying tagged individuals and recording feeding behavior, you can help researchers and possibly save a life of one of these amazing birds!


Friday, November 21, 2014

Parade of Plumage Challenge

The National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Biodiversity Institute, and the University of Wyoming Museum of Vertebrates have teamed up to bring you the Parade of Plumage Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to get folks to identify birds in French artist François Nicolas Martinet's bird engravings. The National Museum of Wildlife Art is currently displaying 98 of Martinet's engravings, many of which either lack species names, are misidentified, or have outdated names. Some of the world's leading ornithologists have identified these birds, and now its your turn!

To participate, visit this site: http://paradeofplumage.com/

Contest rules are available on the website. Fantastic prizes are available to those who identify all of the species correctly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Board meeting

We will hold a board meeting this Thursday, November 20 at 6:30 pm. We will meet in room 227 of the Berry Center. Our board meetings are open to the public; if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes of the Laramie Audubon Society, feel free to join us.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Upcoming talk by Tim Banks

The last speaker for this fall is our very own Tim Banks. Please join us for his talk entitled "Sandhill Crane Natural History and Behavior (and More!)" next Wednesday, 19 November at the Berry Center auditorium. We will also hold board member elections during this meeting; if you are a member of the Laramie Audubon Society you can vote to confirm or oppose election or re-election of board members. If you can't attend the talk, you can vote online here.

Schedule of events
6:30 pm - Mingling and refreshments
7:00 pm - Election of board members
7:15 pm - Sandhill Crane program

Below, Tim gives us a sneak peek of his talk.

~~~

Sandhill Crane. Photo © Tim Banks.
Cranes are the stuff of magic, whose voices penetrate the atmosphere of the world's wilderness areas, from arctic tundra to the South African veld, and whose footprints have been left on the wetlands of the world for the past 60 million years or more. - Paul Johnsgard

Standing up to 46 inches tall and with a wingspan of six feet, a sandhill crane is an impressive bird. Put together 500,000 of them during the peak of spring migration in central Nebraska, and you have one of the most awe-inspiring wildlife spectacles in North America. That alone may make a road trip to view these magnificent birds well worth the effort, but there is much, much more to their story.

For one thing, these birds have charisma! They dance, they bicker, they fight--sandhill cranes, like all cranes, are social and their interactions suggest that there is a lot more drama within the flock than you might imagine at first glance. The more you know about their behavior, the more fascinating these birds become.

The goal of this talk is to introduce you to some of "the rest of the story" of cranes in North America, to inspire you to take a trip to see them, and to  entertain you with amusing anecdotes about just how the speaker came to learn some of these things. You will learn, for example, how this guy contributed to a lifetime of fascination with cranes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Upcoming field trip: Raptors of the Laramie Plains

UPDATE: The raptor trip has been moved back a week due to inclement weather. Corrected dates included below.

Chad Olson will lead a field trip next Saturday, November 22. Chad will help us search the Laramie Plains for raptors and teach us about the natural history of the local species. This is a great trip for birders of all skill levels. If you aren't very familiar with the raptors around Laramie, don't worry--come on out and we'll help you strengthen your skills.

We will meet at Night Heron at 8:15 am. We should be back to Laramie by 12:30 pm. We try to carpool as much as possible, because this trip involves a lot of driving.

All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather.

This is our last field trip of the fall--hope to see you there!

Ferruginous Hawk. Photo © Shawn Billerman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Upcoming talk by Beth Fitzpatrick

Our next fall speaker is Beth Fitzpatrick, a PhD candidate at the University of Wyoming who studies the effect of development on Greater Sage-Grouse. Please join us for her talk entitled "Using Science to Solve Problems: Planning Future Restoration for Long-term Persistence of a Species" this coming Wednesday, 29 October. The talk will begin at 7 pm at the Berry Center auditorium, but refreshments and mingling will start at 6:30 pm.

For a sneak peek, here is Beth's description of her work:
"This research focuses on the effect of development on genetic connectivity of Great Sage-Grouse leks. Leks are found at specific locations within sagebrush habitat and many habitat or landscape characteristics may influence those locations. Development is known to increase the likelihood of lek abandonment and has been associated with sage-grouse population declines. One process that helps breeding sites persist is dispersal of offspring to different lek sites. This can be assessed by measuring gene flow or connectivity between pairs of breeding sites. Certain habitat and landscape characteristics may also be associated with successful dispersal. Habitat and landscape characteristics found to influence connectivity of leks can then be used to predict how connectivity of leks might change with development or restoration of sagebrush habitat. This will allow both land managers and developers to make decisions on where to prioritize restoration efforts."

Beth's blog has more info on the project and great documentation of her adventures with sage-grouse.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Upcoming field trip: Plains Lakes and Hutton NWR

Tim Banks will lead a second Hutton Lake NWR and Plains Lakes trip this Saturday, October 18th. There are tons of waterfowl on the lakes this time of year! There could be rare gulls, or jaegers! Meet at 8:00 am at Night Heron Books to caffeinate and carpool. This trip usually lasts until 1 or 2 pm, but feel free to join us for only part of the time--though you may need to drive your own vehicle.

All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Upcoming Field Trip: Laramie Hotspots!

Clay-colored Sparrow © Shawn Billerman
Join us this Saturday, October 4th for a morning outing to some of Laramie's birding hotspots, including the Greenbelt Trail, Optimist Park, and Greenhill Cemetery. If we have time, we will also stop to scan the pond at LaBonte Park for migrant waterbirds. Join field trip leader Shawn Billerman as we search for migrant songbirds, with a strong focus on sparrows and lingering warblers. Other potential birds we could find include sapsuckers, finches, kinglets, and nuthatches.

Meet downtown at Night Heron Books and Coffeehouse at 8AM where we will caffeinate and carpool to our local birding destinations. We expect to be done no later than 12PM; if you can only join us for part of the time, be prepared to drive your own vehicle.

All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Upcoming talk by Charlotte Gabrielsen

 Laramie Audubon Society will initiate its fall speaker program this Wednesday, September 24, with a talk by Charlotte Gabrielsen, entitled “Climate change effects on amphibian persistence in the Plains and Prairie Pothole Region".

Charlotte is a University of Wyoming doctoral student and Laramie Audubon small-grant recipient. She will share her findings regarding wetland drying under various climate change scenarios and tell us how such changes might affect the amphibians that depend on these ephemeral water bodies.

The talk begins at 7 pm at the Berry Center auditorium, but refreshments and mingling will start at 6:30 pm. Laramie Audubon will be hosting this program jointly with the Travelle Chapter of the Izaac Walton League.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Field trip report: Hereford Ranch

This past Saturday six intrepid Auduboners awoke extra early for a pilgrimage to one of the best migrant traps in southeastern Wyoming: the Hereford Ranch.

True to form, the cottonwoods and willows of the riparian areas at the Ranch were hopping with migrants. The vast majority were Wilson's Warblers, but we did turn up an American Redstart and a Cassin's Vireo in company with Plumbeous Vireos. The Eastern Screech-Owl continues to cooperate--he or she is still occupying the willow cavity near the corral next to the parking lot.

We saw 48 species total--plus several Empidonax flycatchers, likely comprising two species. Below is the link to the eBird checklist and the complete trip list.

Wyoming Hereford Ranch

Species List
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Red-naped Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee
Empidonax sp.
Say's Phoebe
Plumbeous Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Townsend's Solitaire
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Northern Waterthrush
Orange-crowned Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Western Tanager
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Photos by Libby Megna.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Upcoming field trip: Hereford Ranch

Orange-crowned Warbler, Albany Co, WY. Photo © Shawn Billerman.
Our next field trip is this Saturday, September 13th. Note that we'll be leaving from Night Heron Books at 7 am (one hour earlier than usual) because we are heading to the Hereford Ranch on the east side of Cheyenne. Libby Megna will lead the search for songbird migrants; in particular, we should find good sparrows, vireos, and warblers.

Again, meet downtown at Night Heron Books at 7 am to caffeinate and carpool. We will be back to Laramie by noon--if you can only join us for part of the time, be prepared to drive your own vehicle.

All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ed Scholes at UW this week

Ed Scholes, evolutionary biologist and Curator of Video at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library, will be visiting the University of Wyoming this week. Scholes, with National Geographic photographer Tim Laman, recently finished a project documenting all species in the birds-of-paradise family. Check out the Birds-of-Paradise Project for more info and great video of gorgeous birds.

Scholes will give two talks:

Video analysis, specimen imaging and 3D modeling: New perspectives on courtship displays in a bird-of-paradise
     Friday, Sept. 12, 12:10 pm, Berry Center 138
     Part of the weekly Zoology/Physiology Departmental seminar, co-hosted by Biodiversity Institute

Birds of Paradise: Revealing the World's Most Extraordinary Birds
     Friday, Sept. 12, 7:00 pm, Berry Center 138
     Booksigning to follow
     Hosted by the Biodiversity Institute

Additionally, the Biodiversity Institute will show the National Geographic film "Winged Seduction: Birds of Paradise" on Wednesday, September 10 at 5 pm and on Sunday, September 14 at 2 pm.

All events are free and open to the public. 

Click on the image below to download a poster that you can share with interested parties.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Field trip report: Plains Lakes & Hutton NWR

Yesterday's inaugural field trip of the fall did not disappoint: the birds were great, the weather flat-out exceeded expectations, and the company was convivial. The major avian highlight of the trip was a juvenile Sabine's Gull at Lake Hattie. A juvenile Sanderling in fresh, crisp plumage at Meeboer was another group favorite.

Waterfowl are increasing in number on Hutton and Hoge Lakes. Lake Hattie is still relatively devoid of waterfowl but that will change over the next few weeks--and as evidenced on the trip, rare gull season is in session! Several raptor species were conspicuous, especially the Swainson's Hawks, which are amassing before their southward migration.

We saw 73 species total; below are links to the eBird checklists for each hotspot and the complete trip list.

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

Species List
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Redhead
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Swainson's Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Virginia Rail
Sora
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Sanderling
Baird's Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Wilson's Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Sabine's Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Northern Flicker
Prairie Falcon
Loggerhead Shrike
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
American Robin
Sage Thrasher
European Starling
Chestnut-collared Longspur
McCown's Longspur
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Brewer's Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
American Goldfinch
Photos of Auduboners at Lake Hattie by Libby Megna.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Upcoming Field Trip: Hutton and Plains Lakes

Lake Hattie. Photo by Libby Megna.
Join us this Saturday, September 6th as we kick off the fall season with a trip to Hutton Lake NWR and the Plains Lakes. Shawn Billerman will lead us on the search for migrant waterfowl and shorebirds. September 6th is also World Shorebird Day! We'll do our part by submitting data on the shorebirds we observe to eBird.

Meet downtown at Night Heron Books at 8 am to caffeinate and carpool. We expect to be back to Laramie around 1 pm; if you can only join us for part of the time, be prepared to drive your own vehicle.

All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, binoculars, a spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cheyenne Audubon's 40th Anniversary


The Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society will be celebrating its 40th anniversary September 26-28. Laramie Auduboners and all other interested persons are invited; mark your calendars and plan to celebrate with our neighboring Audubon Society!

The weekend lineup includes
  • A variety of bird-related talks--including a talk by John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at the Saturday banquet
  • A field trip to the Hereford Ranch with Ted Floyd from the American Birding Association
  • Activities for kids grades K-8
The complete schedule of events is available here along with info on registration fees and location.
Most events require registration by Sept. 17. You can register online or mail in the form found at the previous link.

For more information, please contact Barb Gorges.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch Survey

by Sophie Osborn
Black-capped Rosy-Finch. Photo © Shawn Billerman.

Hello Auduboners!

Please join Laramie Audubon for a day of hiking and bird surveying in the beautiful Snowy Mountains! We will be conducting the Laramie Audubon Society’s annual Brown-capped Rosy-Finch survey on Saturday, July 12, 2014 this year.

The Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is a species of concern because it breeds only in the Snowy Mountains and on mountain peaks in Colorado and northern New Mexico. If the current global warming trend continues, its mountain habitat islands are likely to shrink and to be invaded by other avian species that are currently excluded by the harsh conditions. Documenting how many Brown-capped Rosy-Finches are in the area and where they are feeding and nesting can help us to monitor this population and determine how the birds are faring.

Last year, the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database helped Laramie Audubon develop additional survey routes so we can get a more complete picture of where rosy-finches occur and are nesting in the Snowies. So we have lots of routes to cover! Some of these routes are off-trail and involve rigorous hiking. We hope to GPS our observation points and any nest locations that we find to make our surveys more useful, so if you have a GPS and are willing to use it, please bring it.

Please let Sophie know if you plan to join us on the survey and if you can supply your own GPS unit at sophie_osborn@hotmail.com

We will meet on July 12, 2014 at 7:30am at the Forest Service Visitor Center, on WY 130, approximately 1-2 miles west of Centennial WY. After an orientation session, we will divide the group into teams and will divide up the survey routes (orientation and route assignments may take as long as an hour).

What to expect:  Be prepared to spend the day hiking and looking for rosy-finches. The birds are difficult to find and are not in predictable locations so considerable hiking may be required. Some of the trails have fairly steep portions and the elevation can be challenging for some people. You may also spend time sitting in certain areas to search for or observe birds. Some survey routes are along established trails; some routes are off-trail and may be challenging.

What to look for: In spring and summer, Brown-capped Rosy-Finches often feed at the edge of snowdrifts, where seeds that were blown onto the snowpack during winter emerge from the melting snow cover. Spring winds also blow insects from lower elevations that settle onto the snow where they can be found by birds that are gathering food for their nestlings. Nests are well hidden in talus and in shallow crevices in rock faces. When seen feeding on bright snow, rosy-finches may appear to be a solid dark color. In better light, their light-pink flanks and rumps are visible and they show a flash of pink in their wings when in flight. 

What to bring:  Binoculars and/or spotting scope, a field guide, a GPS unit if you have one, warm clothes and rain gear, good hiking shoes, lunch and snacks, water, and sunblock. We will provide route maps.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Field Trip Report: Sagebrush Songbird Nesting Research

Big thanks to Jason for taking us out to his PhD study area in the sagebrush sea and to him and his crew for being such wonderful tour guides! We saw Brewer's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark, and Sage Thrasher nests and young at a variety of stages - eggs, nestlings, and fledgings.


It was a beautiful day with larkspur, lupine, bitterroot, and Sego lilies all in bloom. We enjoyed wide-open vistas while being serenaded by cicadas.


 Jason and his eagle-eyed crew showed us how they find sagebrush songbird nests, including the impressive feat of relocating them with just UTMs and a sketch of the area. We successfully tracked down a radio-tagged Brewer’s Sparrow fledgling. They appear to depend heavily on camouflage to keep them safe during this life phase, as the one we tracked sat quietly in a sagebrush shrub while we all got a good look at close range.


We ended the day with Jason banding and placing radio-backpacks on Brewer’s Sparrow nestlings. Despite their tiny size, they were only a few days away from leaving the nest. We all got to take part, with members of the group selecting the bands, preparing them to be placed on the nestlings’ legs, and recording data. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Upcoming field trip: Songbird research site

by Anika Mahoney

Join us for a day-long field trip to observe and take part in songbird nesting ecology research! UWY PhD candidate Jason Carlisle will take us on a tour of his research sites in the Jeffrey City area.

When: Saturday, June 28 7am - 5pm (or return sooner if in your own vehicle)

Vesper Sparrow. Photo © Shawn Billerman.
What to expect:
  • See active nests (likely nestlings by that date, maybe some still on eggs) of Brewer's Sparrow, and likely Sage Thrasher and Vesper Sparrow. 
  • See areas mowed this past winter to improve Greater Sage-Grouse habitat.
  • See songbird-fledgling-sized radio transmitters and try your hand at radio telemetry. We should have a handful of radioed Brewer's Sparrow fledglings to relocate.
  • Beautiful sagebrush steppe!
It's an approximately 3 hour drive from Laramie to Jeffrey City. We will meet at 7am on Saturday, June 28 at Coal Creek Coffee downtown to carpool/caravan.

Please bring: Snacks, lunch, and plenty of water. Be prepared for hot temperatures and variable weather –hats, sunscreen, bug repellant, rain gear, etc.
Optional: Snack/late lunch on the way home at the Split Rock Café in Jeffrey City.

RSVP: Anika Mahoney at laramie.audubon@gmail.com. Minimum group size: 5 participants.

Want to turn this into a weekend trip? Camping is available in Jeffrey City (where Jason’s crew camps in trailers), and the Green Mountain Motel recently reopened here in town.  I'm told it’s clean and costs $55 per night.  The Split Rock Bar/Cafe has food/drink, restrooms, free internet, etc.

Monday, June 9, 2014

June eBird Challenge

Pine Siskin gathering nest material. Cassia County, ID.
Each month the folks at eBird issue a specific data-collection challenge to birders in order to improve the eBird database and our knowledge of birds. This month's challenge is to submit breeding codes with your complete checklists. Time you spend in the field this month will yield valuable information on the timing of breeding, location of breeding, and number of breeding birds. This info can greatly increase our understanding of Wyoming birds in particular, where data is sparse both geographically and temporally.



Savannah Sparrow nest. Churchill, MB.
Contributing breeding bird data is extremely easy: any observation of a singing male, or an adult carrying nest material or food for young, can be noted in an eBird checklist. You don't have to invest a ton of time finding the actual nest--although if you do find a nest, that's awesome because it confirms breeding. A detailed explanation of the breeding codes and how to use them is here. Well worth reading before you start using breeding codes, so that you know which behaviors fall into each category. Also see an example checklist. In that list there are breeding codes for pretty much every species because I'm a huge fan of breeding codes, but breeding info for just a few species is valuable too! Got an American Robin nest in your backyard? eBird it!

Brown Creeper at nest. Lake County, OR.
Northern Pintail nest. Churchill, MB.

All photos © Shawn Billerman

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Field trip report: Hutton NWR & Chimney Rock

The hubbub of bird breeding activity was (in my opinion, at least) the highlight of today's field trip to Hutton National Wildlife Refuge and Chimney Rock. We observed nestlings in each of two Ferruginous Hawk nests near Hutton, Black-crowned Night Herons carrying sticks, as well as White-faced Ibises and a Northern Harrier working on nests at Rush Lake. All this plus the Yellow-headed Blackbird philharmonic.

Ferruginous Hawk - Sand Creek Road, Albany Co., WY (photo by Shawn Billerman)

We detected a total of 56 species; links to the eBird checklists for each hotspot and the complete trip list are below.

Birding at Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Libby Megna)
Chimney Rock (photo by Libby Megna)

Sand Creek Rd
Hutton NWR
Sand Creek Rd again
Chimney Rock area

Species List
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Redhead
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis
Golden Eagle
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Swainson's Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
American Coot
American Avocet
Killdeer
Willet
dowitcher sp.
Wilson's Phalarope
California Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Common Nighthawk
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
American Kestrel
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Rock Wren
Sage Thrasher
McCown's Longspur
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Brewer's Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird