Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Laramie Christmas Bird Count Results

The Laramie Christmas Bird Count was held on December 14, 2013 this winter. Seventeen volunteers braved the cold, blustery conditions and counted 34 total species, with 3,050 individuals, down from previous years. By far the most numerous bird counted was Mallard, coming in with 1,031 individuals. Other good counts came from Rock Pigeons, House Sparrows, European Starlings, American Crows, and Common Ravens, all with over 100 counted.

Other highlights included a good diversity of raptors, with Bald and Golden Eagles, Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, Ferruginous, and Rough-legged Hawks, as well as two Merlins and two Prairie Falcons. Three Northern Shrikes were also recorded. However, songbirds were generally way down, with low counts of both chickadees and sparrows.

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) - Albany Co., WY
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) - Nassau Co., NY

These results generally agree with results coming in from other Wyoming Christmas Bird Counts, with generally low counts of many birds, perhaps owing to an early season cold snap. As we continue into the winter, many typical winter birds are still absent from Wyoming or present in only very small numbers, such as rosy-finches. Normally found in good sized flocks in the foothills, rosy-finches are all but absent from most areas of the state.

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch - Laramie Co., WY

Hopefully birds will begin to show up before too long. Many waterfowl and gulls begin arriving around Laramie around mid-March, with spring migration picking up steam through April and May. So, get ready for some exciting birds soon! Until then, stay warm!

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman

Monday, January 27, 2014

January LAS Meeting

Laramie Audubon Society will kick off its 2014 program series on Wednesday, January 30th with a presentation on Ecosystem Engineers, Wetlands, and Amphibian Diversity by University of Wyoming student Vicky Zero. Vicky, a Master's student in Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management, will discuss her research on the distribution of local amphibian populations, particularly in relation to beaver presence and activities. Vicky studied northern leopard frogs, boreal chorus frogs, and tiger salamanders at Pole Mountain wetlands in 2012 and 2013.

Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata) - Churchill, MB

In addition to using traditional methods of surveying amphibians, Vicki also used an emerging technique that uses environmental DNA collected in water samples to detect the presence of these amphibians. Come and find out what she learned about the factors that determine why our local amphibians occur where they do.

As always, our meetings will take place in the Berry Center Auditorium on UW Campus. The reception begins at 6:30 PM, with our talk beginning at 7:00 PM. Please join us to learn more about our local amphibian species.

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Project SNOWstorm

With the recent unprecedented Snowy Owl invasion throughout eastern and central North America, ornithologists have taken the opportunity to learn more about the owls that are showing up. Major questions about Snowy Owl biology stand to be addressed with a recent collaborative effort, dubbed Project SNOWstorm.

One of the major aims of Project SNOWstorm is to attach lightweight tracking devices to Snowy Owls that are captured to track their daily movements. This will help answer basic questions, such as when Snowy Owls actually hunt on their wintering grounds, and how far they roam on a day-to-day basis. These lightweight devices transmit data via cellular networks, with the ability to store hundreds of thousands of localities until close enough to a cell tower to send the data. Not only will we be able to see daily movements of Snowy Owls, potentially gathering data on movements for years, but by catching birds, researchers can learn about the health and condition of the birds that are showing up so far south of their normal range, and be able to say whether these are adult or young birds. To that end, Project SNOWstorm is also asking birders and photographers to submit their sightings, especially photographs that show the spread wings and tails of Snowy Owls, as that is the most useful way to age and sex an owl, to get an idea of what owls are showing up where.

Snowy Owl - Nassau Co., NY 
Snowy Owl - Nassau Co., NY

To accomplish all of these goals, and to take full advantage of the Snowy Owl irruption of 2013-2014, Project SNOWstorm is looking for donations to help fund the purchase of additional tracking units. To see how you can help, see their website here.

If you were wondering on the choice of name for the project, and why "SNOW" is capitalized, SNOW is the four-letter code for Snowy Owl used by bird banders and birders.

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman