Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Laramie Bird Notes -- Week of 3/20/2017

Bird activity continues to increase in the area as migrants keep trickling in!

On the plains, Says' Phoebe, Brewer's Blackbird, Sage Thrasher, Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal are recent arrivals, and Western Meadowlarks showed up in huge numbers seemingly overnight this week. Indeed, during this past weekend's trip to the Greater Sage-Grouse lek north of town, several meadowlarks serenaded the group as we enjoyed the truly bizarre courtship ritual of 56 grouse.

New migrants in town include a somewhat early Ruby-crowned Kinglet for the Laramie Valley on UW campus. Another early migrant was a Red-naped Sapsucker found in a patch of aspens on the east end of town. Common Grackles joined the Red-winged Blackbird flocks around town as well. While Northern Goshawks can be found in the mountains year-round, a young bird soaring over UW campus this week was a nice surprise. Finally, Turkey Vultures are slowly but surely making their way back, with a few reports coming in this week from around town.

Black Rosy Finch. Photo by Nate Behl.
The mountain bird community continues to increase in diversity. American Robins, Townsend's Solitaire's, and Gray-headed Juncos have all returned to high elevations in the Snowy Range. Cassin's Finches continue to increase in number as well and can be heard singing relentlessly from tree tops. An American Goldfinch and a Mountain Bluebird at ~11,000 ft in the Snowies were somewhat odd sightings for the time of year. American Three-toed Woodpeckers have started drumming in spruce forests where they seem to be moderately common and taking advantage of the extensive bark beetle outbreak. Rosy-finches put in a good show this past week, with a handful of Brown-cappeds and Gray-crowneds seen at feeders around Centennial. A flock of 50 rosy finches on an exposed, south-facing slope higher up in the Snowies had all three species, including a gorgeous male Black Rosy Finch!

American Three-toed Woodpecker. Photo by Cody Porter.

In non-bird news, Tiger Salamander migration has picked up around La Bonte park. Be on the lookout for moving salamanders on rainy nights for the rest of the spring! Also, a pasque flower was found in bloom in the Snowies!

Blooming pasque flower. Photo by Cody Porter.

Tiger Salamander. Photo by Cody Porter.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Upcoming talk: Small Grants updates

Please join us this coming Wednesday, March 29 for two talks by our most recent Small Grants recipients. Both Gabe and Andy received LAS funds to help with their research efforts. See below for descriptions of their projects.

As usual, we will meet in the Berry Center auditorium. Parking adjacent to the building is free after 5 pm. Bird chat and refreshments begin at 6:30 pm, and the talks will begin at 7:00 pm.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired: Can amphibians combat a deadly disease? by Gabe Barille

In recent decades, many amphibian populations have declined worldwide, and conservation relies on understanding how different stressors affect these amphibians. This research studied how boreal toad movement and habitat selection changed in the presence of livestock grazing and disease in western Wyoming. By assessing how multiple stressors may interact to influence amphibian behavior, ecology, and habitat quality, we may provide a framework for future research evaluating amphibian declines.

CSI Medicine Bow: Where have all the frogs gone? by Andy Gygli

Amphibians play critical roles in ecosystem function and are declining globally. Good conservation depends on accurate distribution data, but searching for a two inch long, camouflaged and aquatic animal is especially challenging. How can we use new DNA technology for more accurate surveying and more effective management?

 Photos courtesy of Gabe and Andy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Laramie Bird Notes -- Week of March 13

It's beginning to feel a lot like spring in the Laramie Valley, though we're not celebrating just yet. Nevertheless, the warm weather has really stirred up bird activity in the past week!

Waterbird migration continues to supply the bulk of new birds to the area, with American White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Greater Scaup, and Cinnamon Teal making appearances on the plains lakes recently. Ring-billed, Herring, and California Gulls have also moved back into the area in good numbers. Now would be a good time to pick through those gulls carefully, as there are several interesting species along the Front Range that could conceivably make their way through our area soon (Thayer's, Iceland, and Mew Gull among these species). Great Blue Herons, Sandhill Cranes, and Killdeer are also new additions this week.

In town, Northern Flickers, House Finches, Song Sparrows, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and Pine Siskins are all singing. Juncos are still around, though less common than a few weeks ago when we had colder weather. American Robins have also made a major push into the area and seem to be setting up territories.

Sandhill Cranes. Photo by Nate Behl.

On the plains, Mountain Bluebirds and Horned Larks continue to increase in numbers. Curiously, there are still no Western Meadowlark reports from the plains, though they are almost certainly out there. McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs are making their way up the plains along the Front Range and should be arriving in the next week or so, as should Say's Phoebes. A Marsh Wren at Gelatt Lake marks the first of this species in the area this year.

Pine Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, and Red Crossbills continue to impress in the Snowies. By contrast, passerine numbers are just starting to increase in the Laramie Range, most notably with the arrival of American Robins. Male Dark-eyed Juncos were heard countersinging in the Snowies, suggesting that Gray-headed Juncos may have arrived and are setting up territories, though no visuals were obtained. At least one Bohemian Waxwing was found along Sand Lake Rd. in the Snowies. As the snow continues to melt, south facing slopes with juniper and bearberry are being exposed, providing food for this and other frugivorous species. Hairy Woodpeckers were also heard singing and drumming in both the Laramie and Snowy Ranges this week and a couple Dusky Grouse were found in the Snowies.

Sadly, Saturday's owling trip to various places in the Laramie Range failed to yield a single owl, as did at least one trip to the Snowies. It's possible that we're just a bit early for owls to be easily detected. Nevertheless, several moths were found flying around at night in both locations, and butterflies should be emerging any day now -- Mourning Cloaks and Milbert's Tortoiseshells were seen in Cheyenne and Curt Gowdy State Park. In other non-avian news, Tiger Salamanders, Boreal Chorus Frogs, and possibly Wandering Garter Snakes should be emerging any day now.

The next few weeks should be quite exciting. This is the time of the year when spring migration combined with heavy, wet spring snowstorms can produce magical birding opportunities in the Rockies. At least some snow is forecast for this week, so get out there!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Upcoming trip: Plains Lakes

This Saturday, March 25 we will head out to the Plains Lakes for some spring birding. This is a great opportunity to learn duck identification and visit some of the best birding spots in the Laramie Plains. We usually stop by Blake's Pond, Meeboer Lake, Gelatt Marsh, and Lake Hattie.

This trip will take place after the sage-grouse lek trip. Feel free to join us for either or both trips! Meet at Coal Creek Coffee at 8 am to caffeinate and carpool. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope if you have one, dress for the weather, and bring water and snacks. We should be back in Laramie around noon.

Male Lesser Scaup Closeup

Upcoming trip: Sage-grouse lek

This Saturday, March 25, we will head out to a Greater Sage-Grouse lek north of Laramie. Come and watch these iconic birds strut their stuff on their display ground.

Meet at 6 am at the Eppson Senior Center parking lot, at Curtis St. and 3rd St. We will carpool to the lek at 6:10 am sharp.  The early start is totally worth it--there's nothing like being audience to dozens of male Sage-Grouse calling and dancing to attract mates.

In case of inclement weather or poor road conditions, we will reschedule to April 1. This post will be updated in case of cancellation, and we will send out an update email. If you have any questions, contact us via email.

Greater Sage Grouse

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Laramie Bird Notes: Week of March 6, 2017

It was a week of moody weather in the Laramie Valley, with a couple of signs that bird life is returning to the high plains.

Overhead, you may have begun seeing several groups of birds common during early Spring migration: ducks, geese, and gulls. Due to open water on the plains lakes, many ducks have been reported. Some diving ducks like Lesser Scaup, Redhead, and Canvasback as well as dabbling ducks like Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Gadwall all appear to be spending time in our fair county. If you pay attention to the skies above you, even in town, you might have noticed several groups of Canada Goose as well as a dozen or so solitary gulls flying overhead. Yesterday, two birders found a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Meeboer Lake. Gull diversity has certainly grown leaps and bounds in the past week!

Bald Eagle, a bird seen pretty commonly in our area, seem to be migrating through in large numbers lately. Over 30 individuals were reported on the drive back to town from Lake Hattie yesterday.

Up in the Medicine Bow Range on the other side of the valley, our local crossbill experts are still finding birds pairing up to raise young. If you've ever wondered why crossbills breed at all times of the year or anything else about crossbills, check out Cody's lead article in our December 2015 newsletter which you can download here.

As far as songbirds, a quick look on the eBird data report for Albany County shows the only newly reported bird last week was a Cassin's Finch. Mountain Bluebirds continue to pour onto the plains; Cody saw 50 or so yesterday when out birding with a friend. Be heartened, early migrants typically begin showing up in our area beginning in mid- to late-March. Who among us will see the first Lincoln's Sparrow, or Say's Phoebe, or Hermit Thrush of the year? These are all birds that you might expect to show up early, especially if you look hard enough for them. I hope all of you have a chance to go out and look for birds as the weather becomes a bit more friendly.

Good birding,
Cody and Doug

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Upcoming trip: Owling in the Laramie Range

Owls are one of the most celebrated yet least understood groups of birds. Despite a handful of chance encounters over the years, relatively little is known of owl abundance and diversity in the Laramie Range. On this trip to Happy Jack/Vedauwoo, we will target species that have been found in the area, including Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Northern Pygmy-Owl. Join us this Saturday, March 18, for an evening owling trip to the Laramies.

We will meet at 6 pm at Coal Creek Coffee downtown. Expect to hike or snowshoe for 2 - 3 miles, and bring flashlights/headlamps. Dress warmly!

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo (c) Nicholas Sly.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trip report: Montane Bird Hop

Clark's Nutcracker. Photo by Lisa Cox.
This post is by Lisa Cox, I'm just putting it up. --Libby

Saturday's Bird Hop was a lot of fun. We had ten total, including two kids, one of whom ticked off two lifers and one who got one.

There was no action at The Beartree, so we wandered around the back into the trees, and found a home with feeders and ALL the action! The owner eventually came out to chat with us, said he'd seen maybe 20 to 22 Clark's Nutcrackers and a bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds earlier in the morning. He invited us back any time, and some of us were talking about how it would be fun to return seasonally just to chat with him and see what's happening around the feeders.

As we were gawking there, a young couple joined us who hadn't been able to get to town in time to meet up. Luckily, we had ended up in front of their house!

We moved on to Albany via Dinwiddie Road, and found the feeder on the deck at the Lodge full, but no birds around there or in the nearby trees. A couple of the guys at the Lodge explained they'd had three cats around for a year, and the birds just haven't really come back since the cats have been gone. Our small group decided to have a late breakfast (great move!) and keep our eyes on the feeder. It was a gorgeous sunny day, with not much wind, and we all enjoyed each other's company--but still saw no birds there.

Here's our list for the day:
Centennial feeders:
7 Evening Grosbeaks
5 Black-billed Magpies
6 Steller's Jays
2 Mountain Chickadees
2 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Oregon Dark-eyed Junco
4 Clark's Nutcrackers
We heard a nuthatch in the trees, but no one spotted it.

Along the way out and back:
Scads of Canada geese- "Scads" is the proper technical term, yes? ;)
1 Bald Eagle
2 unidentified raptors
several Horned Larks
several Common Ravens
More elk and deer than you can shake a stick at, as my dad would say.

Great trip. Would love to do it again.

Steller's Jay. Photo by Lisa Cox.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Laramie Bird Notes: Week of February 27, 2017

Despite the windy weather over the last week, bird activity was pretty impressive for this time of the year!

In the migrant department, Dark-eyed Juncos continue to trickle into town and are abundant on UW campus and especially at Greenhill Cemetery. Pink-sided, Slate-colored, Oregon, and White-winged juncos have all been seen around town and in the Snowies recently. Many individuals have been singing, reminding us that spring is...still a couple months away in Laramie. The only missing subspecies is the locally breeding Gray-headed Junco, which should be showing up at some point this month. Mountain Bluebirds and Red-winged Blackbirds also continue to push into the Laramie Valley, so keep an eye out for them on the plains and in the wetlands around town. American Goldfinches, which are pretty uncommon this time of year, were detected at feeders on the east end of town. Thanks to the open water on some of the plains lakes, waterfowl are already making their way into our area in decent numbers. Mallard, Common Merganser, Canada Goose, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, and Ring-necked Duck have all been seen on either Blake's Pond or Lake Hattie. Nate Behl also had a Barrow's Goldeneye, an uncommon migrant in our area, on Lake Hattie.

Raptors, the staple of winter birding on the high plains, put in a good show this past week, with Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Rough-legged Hawks being especially common. Red-tailed Hawk numbers seem to be slowly increasing. A pair of Ferruginous Hawks, a species that overwinters on the plains in low numbers, were seen between Laramie and Centennial hunting prairie dogs. The pair included one dark and one light morph individual.

The diversity of birds in the Snowy Range this winter continues to delight. Red Crossbills, Pine Siskins, Clark's Nutcrackers, and Pine Grosbeaks are all quite abundant and gearing up to breed. Black-capped Chickadees were heard singing in high elevation drainages this week and a few pairs of Mountain Chickadees were seen nest building. A few Golden-crowned Kinglets and American three-toed Woodpeckers were also found in the spruce forest along Sand Creek Road. With the warm weather this winter, the feeders in Centennial have been less active than usual, though two Gray-crowned Rosy Finches and several Evening Grosbeaks were highlights this week.

Pine Grosbeak feeding on aspen buds. Photo by Cody Porter.
The undisputed highlight of this past week was a flock of 50 Bohemian Waxwings found along the Laramie River west of town. Now would be a very good time to check trees and shrubs with fruit and to pick through those Cedar Waxwings carefully!

Good birding,
Cody and Doug