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 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
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
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
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

Friday, June 6, 2014


Migration never ceases to amaze me.... This is from the June Birding Community E-bulletin


At least one individual Red Knot has traveled from the tip of South America to the top of Canada after passing through the famous stopover site of the Delaware Bay for 21 years. This knot is nicknamed "Moonbird," because the bird has already flown the equivalent distance between the Earth and the moon and more than halfway back during its epic migrations. The bird has been making the trip for over two decades and this spring was observed on 25 May at Reeds Beech, New Jersey, with its identifiable orange-colored leg-band and the number "B-95" on it.

Red Knots feasting on horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay have dropped in numbers from over 100,000 to perhaps under 25,000 in about a dozen years. Not surprisingly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced an extension (to 15 June 2014) for public comment concerning a proposed Threatened listing of the rufa subspecies of the Red Knot under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

You can read more on Moonbird here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

5th Annual BioBlitz

Red Canyon Ranch, Lander Wyoming | June 21-22 2014

Audubon of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, and the UW Biodiversity Institute have partnered to bring together some of the best biologists and naturalists in Wyoming, resulting in an amazing weekend experience just for you! We hope you'll join LAS for the unique opportunity to explore and learn about birds, bats, herps, fish, and more with hands-on activities.

Register by June 7!

The 2014 BioBlitz, held this year in beautiful Red Canyon Ranch, 20 miles south of Lander, Wyoming, will bring together scientists and the public to survey for every type of organism we can find in an area within a couple of days. The BioBlitz will be a 24-hour event in which teams of scientists, teachers, volunteers, environmental educators, and community members join forces to find, identify, and learn about as many local plant, insect and animal species as possible.

Activities include bird mist netting, herp sampling, bee and butterfly identification, plant walks, bat mist netting, small mammal trapping and more!

Full schedule of events and location information.

Join us for part or all of the event. Free, open to the public, & family friendly. PTSB credits available for teachers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Upcoming trip: Hutton NWR and Chimney Rock

Hoge Lake at Hutton NWR
Join us for a field trip to Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge this Saturday, June 7th. We expect to see waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, and more. After Hutton we will head to the Sand Creek/Chimney Rock area to see if we can find nesting Prairie Falcons, Ferruginous Hawks, or Golden Eagles. Along the way, we'll stop by a small wetland where we heard a Veery call last year. Former Laramie Audubon president and professional bird tour leader, Tim Banks, is back in Laramie and will lead this outing.

Meet downtown at Coal Creek (110 Grand Ave) at 8 am to caffeinate and carpool. All Laramie Audubon field trips are free and open to the public; families are welcome. Bring water and snacks, field guide(s), binoculars, spotting scope if you have one, and dress for the worst weather. Gas up ahead of time. This trip will last several hours but if you have your own vehicle, you may leave any time you want.