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;

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 ( 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.