Meadowlark Masthead

The Official Newsletter of the Meadowlark Audubon Society of the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming

Non-member subscriptions of printed copies of this newsletter are available for an annual fee of $6.00 to cover postage and printing.
Make your check out to Meadowlark Audubon and send to: Meadowlark Audubon Newsletter; P.O. Box 2126.; Cody, WY 82414.

Vol. 7, No. 3 -- March 2007


Vote

Election of Officers and Directors at April 12 Annual Meeting

Members in good standing will vote on a slate of officers and directors for 2007-2008 during the annual meeting. The nominations committee will present the following suggestions, and nominations can be offered from the floor at voting time. All terms are for one year except for the president, who serves two years.

Dennis Saville, President
Donna Haman, Vice-president
KaCey Ross, Secretary
Treasurer, open

Directors:
 
Destin Harrell
Lisa Marks
Suzanne Morstad
Larry Roop
Sean Sheehan
Don Smith/Kristi Jondall
(one board position)

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Meadowlark Audubon Officers and Directors

Dennis Saville, President, 307-527-4622
Joyce Cicco, Vice-President, 307-527-5030
KaCey Ross, Secretary, 307-587-5282
Dee Oudin, Treasurer, 307-587-2451
Dave Goswick, 307-587-3219
Donna Haman, 307-587-4190
Destin Harrell, 899-0147
Gilbert and Sue Hatcher, 307-527-6387
Don Smith and Kristi Jondall, 307-645-3085
Daryl and Carolyn LeFevre, 307-587-5136
Julia Smith Lewis, 307-527-6595
Sean Sheehan, 250-0251

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New state guidebook

Book Amasses Information About All Birds in Wyoming

A new book about Wyoming birds is in preparation, according to the lead authors at the University of Wyoming. Craig W. Benkman, Professor of Ecology, David B. McDonald, Associate Professor of Zoology and Physiology, and Doug Faulkner, formerly of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, are preparing the definitive work. The following information is taken from Dr. Benkman's web site at <http://www.uwyo.edu/benkman>.

Birds of Wyoming, begun a year ago, will update the status, distribution, and conservation issues of Wyoming's avifauna. Such a comprehensive book has not been published since 1939 and will be the first to include habitat-based GIS maps.

The text will begin with three introductory chapters: history of ornithology in Wyoming by Jane Dorn; vegetation and landscapes of Wyoming by Bob, Dorn; and avian conservation in Wyoming by Bob Oakleaf. Following these chapters are one-page individual species accounts featuring professional-grade photos taken in the state of all the common species.

The Wyoming Natural Diversity Database will produce distribution maps of the bird species regularly found in the state. These maps may extend 1° latitude and longitude outside of the state so that distributions of species (and possibly subspecies) in Wyoming can be put into context on a regional scale.

Doug Faulkner is the main person conducting the research, compiling information, and writing the species accounts for Birds of Wyoming. He expects to be completed with early drafts for all 400+ species by June 2007.

The authors' intent is to provide useful information for a wide range of professional disciplines, land managers and amateur birders so all will have easily accessible information (and Literature references in most cases) for every species known to have occurred in the state. Sample species accounts may be available on-line as early as spring of 2007.

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Outstanding resource

Want to Know More About the Habits of Birds? --Reviewed by Joyce Cicco

Having heard that the McCracken Research Library in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (BBHC) in Cody had a recent publication about North American birds, I decided to check it out. The BBHC allows the use of its materials within the library at no charge, but a call beforehand is advised as the hours of operation are limited. Materials may not be checked out.

The item of interest was The Birds of North America - Life Histories for the 21st Century, jointly published by The American Ornithologist's Union and The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. I was pleasantly surprised with this 18-volume set, which "provides a new set of Modern, scientifically accurate profiles of life histories that enable informed conservation management of our native birds..." Each volume is made up of approximately 40 booklets, with each booklet covering a single bird species.

A Cumulative Index lists 716 individual species/booklets, both by scientific and common name, making it quite easy to locate a bird of interest. In addition, a glossary is included with definitions of 175 technical terms, which are used within the publication. Furthermore, each species profile includes its own bibliography of references.

The birds included in these profiles include the birds that breed in the continental United States north of Mexico, and in Canada, Hawaii and Baja California. Not included are the tropical and southern hemisphere seabirds that migrate to North America.

Each booklet has a color picture of the species on the first page, along with colored maps which provide information about breeding, wintering and year round distributions. The annual mating and molt cycles are covered, along with the birds; distinguishing characteristics, migration, habitat, food habits, sounds, behavior, breeding, measurement, and other information.

The Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, is the subject of booklet #104. The species profile covers 15 pages, with an additional two pages of references and author profile. As an example, the following quotes were taken from this booklet. "Although the Western Meadowlark was known to Lewis and Clark, John James Audubon was impressed with the degree to which it had subsequently been overlooked and gave the bird its Latin name, Sturnella neglecta...

"Sexual Behavior - Mating system. Polygyny: males usually have two mates concurrently, rarely three." "Pair bond. Females arrive 2-4 weeks after males; are recognized by their indifference and lack of posturing typical of trespassing males. Pairing occurs immediately upon arrival...

Biologists conducting field studies should be aware that meadowlarks are extremely sensitive to presence of humans in breeding territory. Female flushed from next during incubation invariably aborts that nesting. Disturbance near nest with young les likely to cause desertion, but adults become wary, secretive, and will delay visits to nest."

The Birds of North America, published through 2003, sold for $2950. This wealth of information is available to you for free at the McCracken Research Library, or you can subscribe to the online version for $40/year from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at <http://bna.birds,cornell.edu/BNA/>

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Featured Bird

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) --by Neil Miller

It was just dusk that gray wintery January day with light snow falling, when she came through the gap in the hedge. Two feet above the snow-covered ground, she came like a light-brown specter of death, wings flat with a slight up-curl at the tip.

She careened around the bird-watering station and drove into the flock of feeding House Finches and House Sparrows. The small birds erupted like autumn leaves before a gust of wind. They dove into the hedge in front of them, into the side row of honeysuckle, into the grape arbor, and some high into the air. They were too quick for the young hawk.

When the flurry of action was over, the immature Sharp-shinned Hawk perched forlornly, I thought, on the feed station and looked around. The little birds were gone and she was facing another subzero night with an empty crop. She then flew off into the gathering dark.

Worse than just hungry she, as with all immature predators, was facing starvation. She must hone the skills of predation quickly or perish. She did not hunt small birds because she was mean, or heartless, or vicious, or bloodthirsty. Her kind had evolved over the millennia in that particular niche. She was a predator.

She could not live by eating strawberries, or nuts, or insects. She must hunt small birds. Her entire body had evolved for this purpose. From her slender powerful talons, sharply hooked beak, piercing eyes (pale yellow now in immaturity, dark red in maturity), and her broad, silent, powerful wings, to her unusually long beautifully banded tail, she was built to pursue small birds in their environment, the forest.

And the small birds needed her! She and her ancestors had made the small birds what they are today. She kept the genes of the slow, careless, weak, dull-witted and diseased from ever entering the gene pool. Survival of the fittest! She moved the small birds around in their range and discouraged them from collecting in large groups, thus inhibiting the spread of disease.

Alas, she, like all raptors, wolves, grizzly bears, cougars, and coyotes, is largely despised by man. In spite of her great contribution to her prey species and the ecosystem, her superb flying skills and magnificent natural beauty, she is still hated and vilified.

She is a predator, a competitor, one who once preyed on man's domestic birds. Birds that undoubtedly were much needed for man's sustenance, even his very survival then. But those days are long gone.

Let the hatred and vilification cease. Nature needs its predators. Let us respect and admire, yes even revel in the skill and magnificent beauty of the Sharp-shinned Hawk for what it is: A marvelously adapted, spectacular little hawk and an important member of Nature's pruning and cleaning crew.

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Winter Bird Counts

Clark CBC Almost Blew Away --by Lefty Klein

The 2006 Clark Christmas Bird Count almost didn't happen, as winds the day before crested at around 70 miles per hour. Bt the morning of December 14 dawned with "gentle" breezes of only about 35 mph, and we decided to brave the day.

Due to unexpected health problems, some expected birders could not make it: who would agree that knee replacement surgery, or impacted teeth, would be a reason to miss the count? So, just seven of us searched our circle, centered at Edelweiss in Clark: Marion Laffin and her son Jay, Dennis Saville, Roxy Corbett, Dave Karnos, and Thom and Lefty Klein.

Because of the strong winds the day before, we all noticed an absence of small songbirds, and we had to look hard to find those that we did. We counted 41 species with a total of 1,417 birds. The number of birds was down about 44% from last year, while the species number dropped about 11%.

The highest counts came from Canada Geese and European Starlings (boo), followed by goldeneyes, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, magpies, Chukars, ravens, pheasants and Horned Larks. The sighting of the day was made by Dennis Saville, who spotted a Snow Goose in north Clark.

We all enjoyed our day of birding, the good company, and the delicious pot luck meal in the evening. The next day, the wind returned with a vengeance. That just goes to show that God smiles on birdwatchers!

(Editor's note: Thom and Lefty expect to move away from this area in the near future, making this the last Clark count she will organize. Meadowlark Audubon appreciates her efforts to keep the Clark count going.)

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Kane CBC --by Suzanne Morstad

the Kane Christmas Bird Count was held on 12/16/06 in Lovell, Wyoming. The Lovell Fire Department generously loaned their Fire Hall as a base of operations.

It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 20's to 30's, no wind and a sunny sky. the total number of species seen was about average (43) but the total numbers (4,208) the lowest in the past 16 years except for December, 1997. We did not see the tremendous numbers of crows or starlings seen in previous counts. The Shoshone River was open and the Bighorn River had open areas, resulting in a lot of Canada Geese.

The Yellowtail Habitat continued to be impacted by drought with little evidence of seed or berry production the past summer. For example: Most of the seedheads on the sunflowers and other fall composites were from 2005 with very few current ones.

If you want the actual counts per species, I would be glad to send that to you. [Suzanne may be reached at (307) 568-2128]

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Cody CBC --by Joyce Cicco

Cody's Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday, December 30. The 30 birders who participated in the 107th annual count took to the field on a calm and clear morning, and by the day's end, had covered 44 party miles by foot, and 194 party miles by car. Temperatures ranged from 0 to 39 degrees during the day, with individual experience depending on location and time of day. Birders who traveled along the Shoshone River corridor early in the day reported the colder temperatures.

The species total was 61, with a total of 5,977 birds. Among waterfowl, 54 Gadwall, 121 American Wigeon, 59 Green-winged Teal, 91 Barrow's Goldeneye, and 34 American Coots were all count highs, and two Great Blue Herons were an interesting addition. Rough-legged Hawks, at 34, were also a count high. Most other bird numbers were lower than normal, with one lone Marsh Wren making its appearance again this year, as well as one Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Horned Larks at 30 were surprisingly low. The one Northern Goshawk was a nice addition, and the three Prairie Falcons tied the high count seen on the 100th count. Harris's Sparrows reported on two routes, for a total of six, one Wilson's Snipe and one Short-eared Owl all added their interest to the count.

Twenty people attended the evening tally at the Christ Episcopal Church, and 18 folks stayed for the soup and potluck supper afterward. The organizers, Joyce Cicco and Susan Ahalt, thank everyone who participated, and those who made contributions toward the supplies, postage, map printing, and supper. Especially appreciated are the Sunset House Restaurant, which donated the chicken noodle and vegetable soup, the BLM office for help with copying, and the Christ Episcopal Church for the use of its facilities.

Next year's Cody CBC will be held on Saturday, December 29, 2007, with a backup date in case of storm on Saturday, January 5, 2008. If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating next year, please contact Joyce Cicco at 527-5030, or Susan Ahalt at 527-7027.

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Mid-winter Eagle Survey --by Dennis Saville

Eager and devoted volunteer surveyors, aided by excellent weather conditions, produced one of the best Bighorn Basin mid-winter eagle counts ever recorded on January 13, 2007

Bald Eagle numbers were an all time high since the volunteer count in the basin began 20 years ago. The 85 volunteers logged 174 adult and 63 immature balds, topping the previous record 2005 count of 170 and 61. The adult to young ratio of 2.8:1 continued to be good and indicates good reproductive success and survival of juveniles. It also reflects a stable and healthy Bald Eagle population wintering in the Bighorn Basin.

Golden Eagles also appeared in robust numbers, with 79 adults and 38 immatures counted. This total for goldens is only slightly behind the combined record of 75 and 45 counted in 2002. The Golden Eagles (year around residents in the Bighorn Basin) had an adult to young ratio of approximately 2:1, also indicative of a healthy population.

The 2007 survey Saturday had very cold temperatures but was a clear and calm day without strong winds. There was some fresh snow cover over most of the basin, making conditions excellent for observation of birds. The cold temps caused eagles to sit for most of the day.

Counters eyed approximately 210,000 acres, from Thermopolis and Tensleep; north to the Montana border and 30 miles along the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River up to Laurel, Montana; west along the Absaroka mountains; and east along the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains.

Other raptors reported included 9 unidentified eagles, 125 Rough-legged Hawks, 3 Prairie Falcons, 29 Red-tailed Hawks, 9 Northern Harriers, 13 American Kestrels, 2 Ospreys, and unspecified numbers for Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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Have You Seen a Wing-Tagged Turkey Vulture?

A flyer with the following text was sent out this winter. The photos cannot be reproduced here. Access the poster at <http://tinyurl.com/yw6mhq>, which requires Adobe Reader to open. Or simply go to <http://www.hawkmountain.org> and follow the links. The vultures' breeding range overlaps the Big Horn Basin, and a group of them regularly roost within the Cody city limits. Keep your binoculars handy and see if you can spot the colored flaps that are attached to the leading wing edge.

"Researchers at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, together with colleagues in Venezuela, recently placed color wing tags on more than 100 Turkey Vultures over-wintering in northwestern Venezuela. The tagged birds are members of the meridionalis, or western north American, subspecies. The birds were tagged to study long-distance migration in the species. They are expected to begin migrating back toward their breeding areas in February. Their movements should take them through Central America and Mexico and into the western United States and Canada. Reports of these birds will help Hawk Mountain scientists determine the timing and geography of migration in Turkey Vultures, as well as the breeding areas of the birds. Some of the birds have red tags with white numbers; others have light-blue tags with black numbers.

"Please report the date and specific location of your sighting, color and number of the tag, the wing (right or left) to which the tag is attached, and the circumstances of the sighting, including whether or not the bird was alone or in a group of vultures, flying or perched, feeding or roosting, etc. Dead birds also should be reported. Report sightings to Keith Bildstein, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Acopian Center for Conservation Learning, 410 Summer Valley Road, Orwigsburg, PA 17961; <Bildstein@hawkmtn.org>; 1-570-943-3411 ext.108. All reports will be recognized, and individuals reporting tagged birds will receive summary information about the study. Thank you."

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Birds and Baling Twine Can Be a Bad Combination --by Dee Oudin

Orange-colored plastic baling twine is about as common a sight as House Sparrows or cowboy boots around here. It's seen everywhere - where it should be and where it shouldn't.

With its trait of stubbornly refusing to rot, plastic twine will stay where it's put or left. That way, of course, hay bales stay baled, which is the purpose.

Used lengths of twine, after removal from bales, also are handy. Keep a couple in your pocket and you can catch a horse, do all sorts of temporary repairs, and tie up just about anything.

There's the down side, of course. Baling twine (any color) strewn on the ground may wrap so tightly around the axles of machinery it would take dynamite to remove it. A discarded piece of baling twine can kill a horse or a dog, which happens to swallow it, as it saws its way through the intestines and cuts the tissues, or merely plugs the digestive tract.

Birds, too, often have a sorry experience with baling twine left lying about. Many bird species come into contact with it, some intentionally, some not.

A recent Associated Press article in the Billings Gazette calls attention to the Osprey's unusual fondness for orange baling twine in the next and often-deadly result. You can find the original article at <http://tinyurl.com/37goac>. Thanks to Neil and Jennifer Miller for telling me about this article.

According to the article, some Montana researchers are hoping to get hay-using folks to pick up their leftover twine for the sake of Osprey. The Osprey stuff it into a high percentage of their nests, the researchers said. Hawks and eagles don't share this attraction

The researchers have documented a number of Osprey deaths and severe injuries because of baling twine that entangled the birds' legs. That doesn't have to happen, if people would just pick up their baling twine litter.

From my own observations, I have seen how some other birds interact with baling twine. Once I saw a wild turkey hen that struggles with a mass of frizzy twine that got wound around her leg and became ever tighter. She carried it around for several weeks one winter but never could get rid of it. I think she died when those unbreakable trailing filaments finally tethered her permanently to a tree or some brush.

Alluring as building material, baling twine strands show up in lots of nests. I've seen oriole nests that were entirely bright orange on the exterior, not so mysterious given the oriole's fondness for color. I've found it in nests built by House Wrens, American Robins and House Sparrows.

For a bird nest, twine may seem to be fine - unless it ensnares legs and feet. Then it's just one more hazard careless humans inflict, even if unknowingly as is usually the case, on other creatures.

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Interested in Volunteering for the U.S. Forest Service?

The jobs include backcountry ranger, campground host, forest fire lookout, research projects, general office work and much more. Many volunteer positions offer free housing plus a subsistence allowance. The 2007 catalog may be viewed online at <http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/volunteer> or at <http://www.volunteer.gov/gov>. also, Meadowlark Audubon has a catalog, which you may have by calling 307-587-2451.

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