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. 8, No. 3 -- March 2008


Calling All Members! Election of Officers at the April 10th Annual Meeting!

It’s time to cast your vote! All current members of the Meadowlark Audubon Chapter will vote on nominated officers and directors for 2008-2009. The nominating committee was made up of Dennis Saville, KaCey Ross, and Deb Woodbridge. Additional directors may be nominated by members attending the meeting.

President: Dennis Saville
Vice-president: Donna Haman
Secretary: KaCey Ross
Treasurer: Lisa Marks
Destin Harrell
Sean Sheehan
Suzanne Morstad
Deb Woodbridge
John Osgood

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A Cautionary Tale: The Skua that got Away

If you think you might be observing a bird that has never before been seen in Cody, Wyoming, let us say you believe you might be looking at a South Polar Skua, what do you do? Rare bird sightings are referred to as “reviewable” which means that your observation of this pelagic bird, rarely seen other than on the high seas, must be reviewed by a special board of professionals before it can be “officially” recorded. A rare bird sighting is quite an event and there are a lot of rules you should know about before your sighting becomes “official” and may be admitted to the state records.

1. To be on the safe side, in addition to a variety of field guides, carry with you in your car a copy of the latest list of the birds most likely to be seen in Wyoming. These lists can usually be obtained from the Game and Fish Department, or from specific sites like Yellowstone National Park. If you have a GPS unit, carry it so that you can make a note of the Latitude and Longitude.

2. Carry into the field a list of phone numbers of other local birders, so that if you do find a potentially reviewable bird, you can call someone to come check it out. If you are really feeling brave, call 307-265-2473 which will put your sighting on the Rare Bird Alert and you will shortly be joined by hoards of birders hoping to catch a glimpse of your rare South Polar Skua.

3. Carry either a pen and paper, or a voice recorder into the field to record your notes. Best of all, carry a spotting scope with a digital camera so that you can record your sighting – review boards love good photos.

4. Describe the entire bird, from tip to tail, not just key field makers, starting with which family the bird belongs to. Include in your report how you have eliminated similar species. If you check the first few pages of any good field guide, you will find the pertinent parts of a bird clearly defined.

5. If you are actively watching the bird you may consult the field guides for key field marks, and include those field marks in your report as well as the names of the field guides you consulted. It is preferable that you consult the field guides IN the field, since your memory might play tricks on you later.

6. Be prepared to provide some basic level of written documentation even if you are only submitting digital images.

Be sure to include date, location, time of day, etc. and be sure to include your name.

In Wyoming, if you think you see a South Polar Skua, you should report the sighting to Andrea Cerovski at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department:

Formed in 1989, the Wyoming Bird Records Committee consists of five voting members who evaluate and offer opinions on records and new species. The Committee’s three main functions are (1) to solicit, organize and maintain records, documentation, photographs, tape recordings and other materials relative to occurrence of birds in Wyoming; (2) to review reports of rare species or species new to the State and to maintain an official list of the birds recorded in Wyoming; (3) to disseminate useful and pertinent material concerning the field identification of Wyoming birds. They request that all documentation of rare birds in the State be sent to their address.

However if, like three members of Meadowlark Audubon, you actually thought you saw a South Polar Skua on Alkali Lake in Cody last fall, and you didn’t follow some of the reporting procedures above, your sighting will not become “official” and the South Polar Skua will remain on the list of birds never recorded as occurring in Wyoming. What we saw was a unique bird exhibiting many of the field marks of the South Polar Skua, however our sighting is not “official.” It was still exciting, and observing this stocky, gull-sized, smooth gray-brown bird with a pale nape will remain in the observer’s minds as a special experience.
--by Deb Woodbridge
With thanks to Phil Davis, Secretary, Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee

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A Skua on the Loose in Cody!

The Beck and Alkali Lake Monitoring group got an eyefull on Monday, November 12th when a South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) decided to drop by and visit the Cody area. On a routine monitoring Monday, Deb Woodbridge, John Osgood, and Joyce Harkness were counting gulls, only to notice a bulkier form in the feeding flock. After much time spent scoping, and some later checks into field guides, they determined that this gull-like stranger must be a skua.

The South Polar Skua is quite unusual to see around here, as it nests in the Antarctic and usually only visits the coasts of North America between the months of May and October. Now, the last time anyone checked, Cody, Wyoming was not considered a “coast” of North America, putting the skua a bit off his usual course.

Great work to our local Skua Patrol! The Meadowlark Audubon Chapter knows you saw that skua!

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2007 Clark Christmas Bird Count

The 8th Clark Christmas Bird Count was held on December 19, 2007 on a thankfully balmy and windless day. Twenty-five to fifty-six degrees is not bad for the dead of winter! Nine observers covered 218 miles to log in 3,714 birds of forty-three different species.

Our species count was average based on the previous years’ data, with Canada Geese and Mallards at an all-time high. Unusual species included a Western Screech-Owl, three Tundra Swans, and two Long-billed Dowitchers.

Our birders were: Mark Badura, Mike and Stacy Huston, Dave Karnos, Thom and Lefty Klein, Ken and Kathy Lichtendahl and Dennis Saville. This was Mark Badura’s first bird count. It was gratifying to hear him say the next evening that we had “ruined” him: “I spent the entire next day running to my window with my binoculars,” he complained.

Our day in the field concluded with a potluck dinner at Edelweiss, where we compiled lists and enjoyed fine food and good company.

The Clark CBC will need a new coordinator next year, as Lefty and Thom have sold Edelweiss, and will be participating in the Evanston CBC in 2008. Please contact Lefty or Meadowlark Audubon if you are interested.
--by Lefty Klein

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2007 Cody Christmas Bird Count

Thirty-four birders awoke on the morning of Saturday, December 29, 2007, to single digit temperatures. Undeterred by the chill, they managed to cover over 48 party miles by foot and 245 miles by car in search of all feathered critters, large and small, which could be found within Cody’s 15-mile diameter Christmas Bird Count (CBC) circle. All this effort produced 64 species, which included 8,263 individual birds. Results of the Cody CBC may be found on the Audubon Website at Cody’s Count Code is “WYCO”. You may select either “Current Year’s Results” or “Historical Results.”

Open water on the Shoshone River and an opening in the ice on Beck Lake held large numbers of waterfowl, with the 59 Lesser Scaup taking honors by bettering their previous high of 12 seen in 1988. Canada Geese, although falling short of record numbers, were logged in at an impressive 1,205, with Mallards not far behind at 1,156.

Another notable water bird was the Pied-billed Grebe, with two spotted a couple of days prior to the count, and again following count day, but not making an appearance on the 29th. Two other count-week birds were the Common Grackle and the Belted Kingfisher.

Red-tailed Hawks almost doubled their previous high of 10, coming in this year at 19. Black-billed Magpies received the “ubiquitous award,” being tallied on all seventeen routes.

Six of the 64 species recorded were represented by one individual bird. One lone Marsh Wren made its appearance, as did one each of the Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. Other lone species were a Northern Shrike, a Cooper’s Hawk, and a Northern Goshawk.

New to the Cody count were the 23 Eurasian Collared-Doves reported on three different routes. This species has been on the increase throughout the state.

Other species with scarce numbers included Redheads-5, Bufflehead-4, Sharp-shinned Hawk-5, Merlin-2, Prairie Falcon-3, American Coot-5, Wilson’s Snipe-2, Hairy Woodpecker-2, Clark’s Nutcrackers-2, Harris’ Sparrow-2, and White-crowned Sparrow-2.

The Christ Episcopal Church was the setting for the evening count tally and potluck supper and the Sunset House Restaurant was the donor of the soup and crackers. Private property owners in the Cody area kindly gave permission to access their property, and count participants provided the 77 party hours of observation time. Chuck Neal, in addition to being a count participant, assisted by presiding over the evening tally of the results. The Cody Christmas Bird Count organizers, Joyce Cicco and Susan Ahalt, appreciate the assistance of all those who helped make this annual event a success.

This coming winter’s 109th National Christmas Bird Count will also be the 25th anniversary of Cody’s CBC. Be sure to mark your calendar for Saturday, December 27, 2008, and come join the fun. For more information, call Joyce Cicco at 527-5030, or Susan Ahalt at 527-7027.
--by Joyce Cicco

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2007 Kane Christmas Bird Count

The 2007 Kane Christmas Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 15th with the Lovell Visitor Center for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area as the center of operations. This represents a return to a tradition that began in 1990 when Terry Peters was the Resource Manager for the Recreation Area. The day was cold, but calm and sunny making for great viewing. The rivers and ponds were frozen except for open patches on the Shoshone. There was 1-3 inches of snow on the ground. After the count, everyone (14 participants plus NPS staff) met at the Visitor Center for a potluck and chili supper with the compilation of the day’s counts. There were a total of 39 bird species seen and 6553 birds reported. The numbers were about average. About half of the birds were mallards, Canadian Geese, crows, and waxwings. Two new species were recorded, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Eurasian Collared Doves; both of which moved into the Bighorn Basin over a year ago. Noticeably absent were the meadowlarks, mountain bluebirds and other summer residents often seen on this count, probably related to the unremitting cold of the past month. Magpie numbers were low but no lower than the average of the past four years. It was an excellent year for raptors with nine different species seen, including a Northern Goshawk. Next year’s Kane CBC will be scheduled for December 20th and the Park Service staff has tentatively agreed to use of the Visitor Center. Meadowlark Audubon thanks them for their help in making this a fun and productive count!!
--by Suzanne Morstad

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Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey Results

With reasonably moderate temperatures, the 2008 Big Horn Basin Mid-winter Eagle Survey was once again very successfully conducted on January 12th. Ninety-six volunteers joined in to count bald and golden eagles as well as other winter raptors on routes covering the entire Big Horn Basin. This year, moderate temperatures and generally above average ice and snow cover may have been the reason for a slight decrease in bald eagle counts this year. But there were still 118 adult and 45 juvenile bald eagles recorded. This year’s golden eagle count was the highest it has been since the survey started 22 years ago. There were 94 adult and 36 juvenile golden eagles recorded. Other notable survey totals included: 128 Rough-legged Hawks, 35 Red-tail Hawks, 15 Northern Harriers, 3 Ferruginous Hawks, 4 Swainson’s Hawks, and a Northern Goshawk.

This mid-winter survey uses methods that try to avoid any duplicate counts of individual eagles and is always a very conservative estimate of their wintering population. Many of our Meadowlark Chapter members participate in this survey regularly. Because of the efforts of volunteer birders, this is one of the best winter count databases of eagles in the United States.

The success of our Big Horn Basin winter eagle survey gets local and regional news coverage and is a great example of citizen science birding. It is great that we get noticed for our efforts to conserve and track birds in our area through this survey, our Christmas Bird Counts, Backyard Bird Counts, and our IBA monitoring (ebird) work!!
--by Dennis Saville

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Local Audubon Improves Habitat in the Buchanan Wildlife Sanctuary


The Elaeagnaceae family is elegant, although there is a noxious member. Russian Olive, is native to parts of Eurasia and is invading with salt cedar to occupy riverways with thorny tenacity. These trees grow very tall and outcompete natives like willows and cottonwoods. There is an alternative. We have our own; we don’t need theirs! Whether it’s buffalo berry with opposite leaves and branches bearing yellow or red fruit, or Silverberry with alternate leaves and branches bearing fleshy colored fruit, these native species are much preferred. Silverberry rarely grows more than 12 feet, so it won’t outcompete cottonwoods which provide cavity nest sites. Destin H.
Photo by Deb Woodbridge
Here is what the Russian Olive looks like!
native olive
Russian Olive photo credit:
Herman, D.E., et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook.
USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU
Extension and Western Area Power Administration,
Bismarck. Courtesy of ND State Soil Conservation
Committee. Provided by USDA NRCS ND State Office.
United States, ND.
The local Audubon Society had a work day at the Buchanan Wildlife Sanctuary near the airport to reduce Russian Olive so it wouldn’t take over the alkaline wetland, which is so productive for waterfowl, and shorebirds.
Cottonwoods are very important for cavity nesting birds. Silverberry is very valuable for wildlife and is also much less thorny and more pleasant to be around if you like walking along creeks. You can see this native along the banks of the South Fork of the Shoshone.
Cutting Russian Olives
Photo by Deb Woodbridge
Russian Olive growth rings
Photo by Deb Woodbridge
Members took up arms this last fall with chainsaws, shears, and herbicide for painting the cut stumps. There were also great refreshments as always. We will monitor these treatments to see how successful they were and keep control of this state listed noxious weed. The stump to the left is only eight years old; we will try to keep it under control.


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Beck and Alkali Lake Fall Bird Count can be Viewed on eBird

Exciting news for Basin birders! The Alkali and Beck Lake monitoring results are now posted on eBird! Thanks to Deb Woodbridge, area bird species will now be easily available for residents and visitors to the area.

eBird was created in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. In 2006, more than 4.3 million bird observations from across North America were entered on the website. With eBird, birders with records are able to enter when, where, and how they went birding and then fill out a checklist of birds noted. Data can be gathered in many ways including through point counts, transects, and area searches. All entries are reviewed before they are officially entered.

While Deb was donating her time to enter all of this data, she set up an account for the Meadowlark Chapter. For now on, all of our special events such as the Mid-winter Eagle Count, the Beck Lake/Alkali Lake IBA, the Christmas Bird Count, and even our own local field trips will be entered for all to see. Thanks Deb!!

If you want to learn more or view bird information, abundance, or distribution in any area, visit You can also set up your own username and password on the website and begin entering your own notebooks full of bird sightings. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it contributes to the amount of knowledge we have of local birds.

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Buchanan Wetland Update 2008

With the recent removal of Russian olive from the Buchanan wetlands, the area is ripe for further conservation work! During February or March, more ponds will be dug and a trail that will hopefully one day have interpretive signs will be created. A raised blind (raised to keep your bird-watching talons dry!) will also be installed in an area with a good view of the water. We will keep you posted as these plans proceed!

Thanks again to everyone who helped fund this great conservation project through last year’s raffle!

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Meadowlark Scholarship

During 2008, the Meadowlark Audubon Chapter will be raising money in order to award a scholarship to a high school student in the Big Horn Basin!

The funding will be earned through t-shirt, polo shirt, and cap sales. These wonderful items will be adorned with photographs of our local birds. A photo contest is being held in which any photographer can enter their bird portraits; the date for entries has been extended until Friday, March 28th. Entries can be dropped off at the Bureau of Land Management Office in Cody, addressed to Dennis Saville, or given to any Audubon board member. Please include your name, number, and brief photo descriptions with any entries (Dennis has forms at the BLM office where you can fill this information in). Winners will be given free Audubon attire with their photos decorating them! We hope that this will be an annual contest with new shirts every year, so keep taking those pictures!

The scholarship is available for any student in the Big Horn Basin who plans on having a career that will in some way support the Audubon Society’s mission statement: To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. Many careers would provide an opportunity to do this. Applications for the scholarship will be available as soon as the Chapter has raised enough funding for the award.

So, enter you bird photos now!! We need pictures of every local bird; variety is the spice of life! All pictures are welcome, whether you take photos for fun or as your job. If you have photos, we want to see them!

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Enormous thanks to all who contributed to this month’s newsletter! If anyone has articles they would like to include in the August newsletter, please e-mail them to Lisa Marks at <> Articles are difficult to come by during the busy summer months, so any contribution would be greatly appreciated!

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