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. 10, No. 1 -- August 2009


Greetings from New Chapter President Destin Harrell

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am truly honored to become Meadowlark Audubon Society’s new President. Some of you know me, but others may not, so I’d like to tell you a bit about myself. I grew up in Arvada, Colorado and graduated from Western State College in Gunnison, where I studied biology. My love of land management and nature arose when I volunteered for three summers surveying and studying Goshawks for the U.S. Forest Service. In 2000, I was hired to monitor wolf presence and scavenging behavior at wolf-killed carcasses in Yellowstone, and to study wolves’ effects on willow regeneration. After my experiences there that winter, I knew this region was special. Returning to Gunnison, I coordinated the transplant of Gunnison Sage Grouse to an unoccupied Poncha Pass for the Division of Wildlife, which led me to the BLM in Gunnison and the desire to study Sage Grouse. In 2001, after being hired by the BLM as a wildlife biologist to implement fuel reduction treatments to benefit wildlife, I moved to Cody. That’s where I met Dennis Saville, the BLM’s wildlife biologist and former president of Meadowlark Audubon Society, and first became involved with this wonderful organization. I replaced Dennis as the local BLM wildlife biologist when he left for the BLM Wyoming State Office, and have been so fortunate to learn from Dennis and others while in Wyoming. Through BLM I also met my “significant other,” Lisa Marks, a Minnesota transplant, and together we have had many opportunities for adventure and exploration while living here.

I love the Bighorn Basin and everyone who gathers at the Audubon meetings and field trips. They are a neat group of people who share a passion for learning, service and nature. We have an active board and with the help of our members, I look forward to keeping this chapter exciting and to continuing the good influence our group brings to the Bighorn Basin.
-- by Destin Harrell

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New Officers Chosen for Meadowlark Audubon Society

At the general meeting on April 9, 2009, members of Meadowlark Audubon Society unanimously approved the election of the following slate of officers for 2009-2010:

President: Destin Harrell
Vice President: John C. Rumm
Secretary: KaCey Ross
Treasurer: Lisa Marks

In addition to these officers, key positions in the Society will be filled by the following individuals:
Membership Chair: Donna Haman
Newsletter Editor: John C. Rumm
Publicity Chair: Dee Oudin
Field Trip Chair: Joyce Harkness
Webmaster: Joyce Cicco

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The Voice of the Meadowlark
    --by John C. Rumm, Meadowlark Newsletter Editor

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this column as the newly-appointed Editor of The Voice of the Meadowlark, the newsletter of Meadowlark Audubon Society of the Big Horn Basin and Northwest Wyoming. I would be remiss if, at the outset, I did not acknowledge my gratitude to three individuals: Lisa Marks, my predecessor, who so ably edited the newsletter for the past two years; Lisa’s predecessor, Dee Oudin, who offered many helpful hints; and lastly, my wife, Lyn Stallings, who, in addition to having been my birding companion for 31 years, is a still gifted editor and wordsmith, and designed our new masthead. My efforts as editor have been, and will be, greatly improved by the counsel I’ve received from these colleagues.

As a lifelong birder who has recently returned to the West after a fifty-year hiatus, I am thrilled to be living and birding in this area, whose avifauna had been all but unknown to me. My first visit to Wyoming, for a job interview in December 2007, whetted my birder’s appetite: looking out at a feeder during a break, within five minutes I added three new species to my life list—Black-billed Magpie, Pine Siskin and Cassin’s Finch. Since then, I’ve added another 50 or 60 birds to my life list, including Golden Eagle (something I would’ve given my eye-teeth to see back East!), American Dipper, American White Pelican, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Bluebird, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, and many others. Each one, in its own way, has been memorable, and seeing them again still quickens my pulse.

But even were I not Meadowlark Audubon’s newsletter editor, I’d still regard, as one of the most prized species on my list, the Western Meadowlark.

Even as I write these words, sitting here at my office computer, I can hear the full-throated whistling of a Western Meadowlark as it sings its heart out from atop a fencepost in our pasture. Its voice is like that of no other bird in my experience—perhaps only the Northern Mockingbird rivals it in the insistency and frequency of its vocalization.

Many authors have waxed rhapsodically on the voice of the Western Meadowlark. Richard J. Cummings, for example, recalled in An Enchantment of Birds: Memories from a Birder’s Life (Greystone Books, 2007), how his earliest childhood memories were of meadowlarks’ songs ringing “through my open bedroom window as the morning sky brightened,” becoming his “alarm clock” for greeting each new summer’s day. The songs of the Western Meadowlark, he wrote, “are the anthem of the grasslands, as much a part of life in the West as the taste of Saskatoon berries, the smell of sagebrush after a thunderstorm, and the color of the evening sky above the black mountains in the summer twilight.”

Eighty years before Cummings’ book appeared, Ralph Hoffmann had this to say about the voice of the Western Meadowlark in his classic field guide, Birds of the Pacific States (Houghton Mifflin, 1927):

There are about a dozen birds whose removal from the landscape would be noticed even by the average person, and one of the first to be missed would be the [Western] Meadowlark. There is so much unforested country along the coast, so many rolling brown hills or cultivated fields that would be suddenly silent if the rich, throaty chuckle of the Meadowlark were no longer heard. Even above the noise of the motor car it explodes on one’s ear from the long uplifted bill of the bird on a post by the roadside. . . . Who would attempt to describe [its] song? Any one, however, can hear it on almost any day of the year . . . . To any one familiar only with the plaintive whistled song of the Meadowlark in the East, the throaty quality, the vigor and joyousness of the loud sudden outburst is so unexpected that one must see the bird utter the sound to connect it with a Meadowlark.

Exuberant and full-throated, vibrant and joyous—this is the voice of the Western Meadowlark.

How fitting, then, that this special bird, whose strong, distinctive voice so epitomizes the West, should serve as our namesake. In what we do, in what we say, and in who we are, we, as members of Meadowlark Audubon, give voice to the Meadowlark. In celebrating the natural diversity of the Big Horn Basin and of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, our voice should ring out exuberantly. In advocating for the careful stewardship and safeguarding of the environmental resources and natural wonders of this region, our voice should ring out loudly and clearly. And in working to ensure that not only the Meadowlark, but all the birds that live or pass through here, never fall “suddenly silent,” our voices should ring out strongly, “on almost any day of the year,” wherever we are.

This newsletter is for you—The Voice of the Meadowlark. Join with us, and add your voice to our collective chorus as we work to make a difference in the life of this incomparably beautiful natural region.

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Feeding Birds, Not Bears

Bear with Hummingbird Feeder
Photo courtesy of Tara Teaschner
Do you live in an area where black or grizzly bears are present? If so, you should take special precautions when using seed, suet or hummingbird feeders to attract and view songbirds. Such feeders not only can, but do, attract bears to your property.

A bird feeder offers an easy, high-calorie meal for a bear. In fact, gram for gram, sunflower seeds used in feeders are the caloric equivalent to cutthroat trout. Once a bear obtains a food reward from a bird feeder around your home, the bear is likely to become “food-conditioned.” Bears that have become food-conditioned lose their natural fear of humans, display persistent or aggressive behavior, and often stay in the area, thus creating a safety issue.

If you feed birds and live in bear country, you must take the responsibility to insure that you are feeding birds, not bears. It is best to avoid feeding birds at all during the months when bears are most active--from April through October. If you must use bird feeders during this period, be sure to hang them at least 10 feet high and four feet from vertical supports, as shown below:

Bear Deterrent Illustration
Illustration courtesy of Tara Teaschner

 

Using a rope-and-pulley system offers a convenient method to raise and lower the feeder for refilling, while using a catch-pan under the feeder prevents seed from falling and collecting on the ground.

For more information on bears and attractants, or to find out if you live in an area where bears are present, please feel free to contact me at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as shown below.

-- by Tara Teaschner, Bear Wise Community Coordinator, 307-272-1131; <tara.teaschner@wgf.state.wy.us>

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Spring 2009 Migration Stats

Editor’s Note: Since 2006, a cadre of several dedicated volunteers has met once a week for nine weeks each spring and fall at the Beck Lake complex east of Cody, continuing an ongoing effort, first begun by longtime Audubon members Gilbert Hatcher and Nancy Ryan, to tally migrating waterfowl and other avifauna. According to Ryan, whose personal goal “was to learn the ducks—and I certainly have!”—the project seeks to compile baseline data that “will be available for future study and help affect decision-making in the growth of the area.” Data gathered in the field are furnished to the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where volunteers enter the statistics into a database. Ryan and fellow Audubon member Jo Cook (whom team members affectionately refer to as “Hawkeye”) co-chaired this past spring’s effort and will undertake the fall count in September. Here is Ryan’s report on the results of the spring tally:

What does appear to stand out is the drop in species numbers this spring:

Year
Total Birds Seen
Species
2006
3189
49
2007
  1917*
61
2008
3725
67
2009
2116
29

* Note: Due to some lost weeks in 2007, an average of the other weeks was used in place of them.

This spring’s tally was actually a little higher than Spring 2007; at this point it looks like the springs of 2006 and 2008 were higher while those of 2007 and 2009 were lower.

The only really specific thing I have noted this year is a lower number of warblers. You must understand that I am only a 10-year birder and my sight is not what I would like. But Jo Cook, my far-sighted friend, says that she, also, has noted their absence. We saw some, of course, but not the volume of numbers and varieties of earlier years. I did not see a Black-necked Stilt this year, although someone else did. I saw large numbers of American Avocets—amazing, since we typically see only a few over several weeks. There also were large numbers of raptors this year—no surprise, as we are overrun with rabbits and mice.

Our “low” count this spring may only be (or partly be) a pattern that will eventually emerge; we will perhaps need to do a comparison of the fall migrations and see what we can discern there. It is all part of a great and wonderful mystery. I personally believe it is far too soon to say that we have a pattern, or to attribute causes. But all this offers ample evidence that we are collecting valuable data, and must continue to do so. It gives new meaning to the phrase “It’s for the birds!”

Please note that we are always interested in having new volunteers join our ranks, whether active birders or “by-standers.” This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning the birds. Anyone interested in participating should contact me at (307) 754-0114 or (307) 202-1334.
-- by Nancy Ryan

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Membership Renewal Reminder

Please note that Meadowlark Chapter-only annual memberships expire August 31st. Check your mailing label to see your membership expiration date. If you have not sent in your renewal, we would appreciate it if you would take a moment to do it now. Chapter-Only dues are still only $12 per year. Please send your dues to Donna Haman, Membership Chair, at P.O. Box 593, Cody, WY 82414. Thank you!

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Field Trip Reports

April 18, 2009 - Sage Grouse Lek Watch

On Saturday, April 18, I led a Sage Grouse viewing tour near the beautiful Heart Mountain for members of Meadowlark Audubon. Where the foothills meet the sagebrush steppe and the break of dawn comes by 5:30 am, a hearty group of about eight people were treated to an amazing display of 66 males and 21 females. We were out-numbered! The hens were mostly grouped around the "most desirable male;" we couldn't tell the difference. Proper viewing etiquette was followed. We stayed in our cars, viewed from a distance and left when the grouse started to leave for the day. When the dance was over, all that remained were the droppings and a few feathers amongst the thread leaf sedge, phlox and the mother sagebrush.

We were fortunate to see so many females since their peak lek attendance is usually a week earlier and a female may only visit a lek once in a year (depending on weather). The male count was very high compared with other years, where typically only 20 or 30 males attend. Be sure to come next year, we may see Long-billed Curlews, or the occasional Upland Sandpiper; although we saw neither this trip, they are plentiful in this area.
-- by Destin Harrell

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May 16, 2009 - Cottonwood Canyon Hike

Saturday, May 16, turned out to be a very nice spring day, and Cottonwood Canyon, in the Bighorn Mountains just east of Lovell, was a great place to spend it. The V-shaped notch of the canyon where it emerges into the pediment four or so miles beyond the causeway that crosses Bighorn Lake is one which beckons and invites exploration. The two of us in our group—Glenda Bell and myself—arrived at the trailhead parking area and campgrounds around 10 a.m., and found that we had the place to ourselves. The hike is a grade, but not very steep, and we walked our way into the chasm along the creek. It was like being a youngster again, because around each bend was a new adventure. In just a third of a mile or so, we left the desert environment of the Lovell basin country, and found ourselves viewing thick stands of conifer on the north-facing but south side of the creek as it rose 1500 and more feet above us. It was a slope that looked like it wanted to be explored, also, but not this day.

Shortly into our hike we saw a small falcon fly over us; it appeared to be a Merlin. A minute or so later, a larger falcon soared closely, and stayed over us for a while. It had no black axillars, and I felt it could only be a Peregrine—a very nice introduction to the Bighorns! I felt like we had stepped out of one world and into another—which, in a way, we had. We’d left behind the world of pavement, cars, schedules, deadlines and choreographed lives, to enter one of 360-degree natural sights, sounds and smells: a world where natural processes occur daily and hourly, and one which we humans only encounter when we make the effort to leave our manmade one. It is too bad, I reflected, that we humans have chosen to divorce our selves from the world of nature, when that natural world has so much to offer and teach us, if only we will listen.

Continuing up the trail, we enjoyed more that the canyon had to offer. A lunch stop in some shade, since the sun had become hot, and then we went on to where the trail crosses the creek and takes on a steeper pitch. We cast a last look at the mountains which rose above us, made a point to remember their vividness and beauty, and then turned back down the trail.

It was a delightful day, and our only regret was that more folks had not been able to join us. The good news is that the canyon is still there and awaiting, and the hiking season is still running strong. Cottonwood Canyon is truly a great place to visit!
-- by John Osgood

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June 27, 2009 - Trip to Shell Creek and Upper Shell Canyon

Nearly 30 people enjoyed the early summer birding and wildflower stroll on the Adelaide Trail beside Shell Creek in the Bighorn Mountains. Birders from as far away as Thermopolis and Cody were represented. The weather was cool, and typical of this spring, bird activity and flower blooming seemed to be occurring later than average. A special treat was the close viewing of a Red-breasted Nuthatch excavating a possible nesting hole in a live aspen tree beside the trail. On the return walk we also experienced seeing at close range a young bull moose with an atypical rack. He was browsing and grazing beside the trail on some of the numerous spectacular wildflowers we encountered.
-- by John McGough

Special thanks to Suzanne Morstad for compiling the bird list and Neil and Jennifer Miller for song identification:

Bird and Mammal List, Adelaide Trail, June 27, 2009:

Birds
American Robin
Warbling Vireo
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
Olive-sided Flycatcher
House Wren
Red-naped Sapsucker
Western Wood Peewee
Chipping Sparrow
Pine Siskin
Golden Eagle (Imm.)
Mountain Bluebird
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Flicker
Spotted Sandpiper
Dark-eyed Junco
Lazuli Bunting
Tree Swallow
Western Tanager
Flycatcher sp., probably Dusky (Clearly not a Western or Gray; habitat not right for Hammonds)
Audubon’s Warbler
Mountain Chickadee
 
Mammals
Least Chipmunk
Golden Marmot
Mule Deer
Moose

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Newsletter Article Contributions

E-mail newsletter articles to John C. Rumm at <JohnR@BBHC.ORG>
or mail to Newsletter Editor; P.O. Box 2126; Cody, WY 82414. Contributions are encouraged and appreciated.

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