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. 2 -- November 2009


A Message from Your President

It has been ten years! Ten years since a pioneering group of local birders decided to organize and influence the region with beautiful field trips, thought provoking speakers, effective projects, and community education. I remember this "core" group of dedicated individuals sharing refreshments and good conversation, and how they welcomed my participation. I remember early morning departures with warm drinks, hiking with strangers and knowing them well by day’s end.

Organizational Postcard 1999Click here to open full size photo in new window (25K)

Sent to interested and prospective members of a proposed new Audubon chapter, this postcard from January 1999 is the earliest item in MS 329, the archives of Meadowlark Audubon Society, housed in the McCracken Research Library of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

One decade down; now let's all try to reflect on the influence this organization has had in our lives.

Our local chapter has set an example for other organizations of exemplary community development through members' initiative and dedication. That's what it takes to grow grass roots and after all we are firmly rooted to the ground. If you are ready for the next decade and are able to donate additional support in the form of service, money, or supplies, then let me ask you to please consider doing so. We can always use donations for scholarships, projects and outreach. Leftover stamps from rate changes is one less painful way to donate. Books or other items that can used as door prizes for our members’ meeting raffles would also be very much appreciated.

We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I recently backpacked through the Thorofare, across this grand region. I must say I teared up as I recognized the vast opportunity of true wilderness experience. Wildlife is all around us and we have benefited from efforts of National Audubon (incorporated 1905) who lobbied for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918, which fully protects ALL migratory birds. You are a part of this and the legacy we have created. Our members are showing their desire for sustainable and ecologically balanced living.

Click here to open full size photo in new window (30K)

On Meadowlark Audubon’s second field trip, on May 22, 1999, participants hiked up Elk Fork in the Shoshone National Forest. Front row, l. to r.: Jennifer Miller, Dave Burke, Joyce Cicco, Susan Ahalt, Ester Murray. Back row, l. to r.: Billie Wilkerson, John Ross, Renata Martin, Jim Platt, Neil Miller, Richard White, Frank Wilkerson. Photographer: Eda Williams. (Meadowlark Audubon Collection, MS 329, McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Historical Center)

We must keep vigilant, as federal policies change and habitat degradation and fragmentation continues. We will continue to develop projects that help alleviate impacts on ecosystems we treasure so much. Our members’ meetings and field trips will continue to offer first-rate education on our natural world. I believe an educated public is the first deliberation of democracy.

Happy holidays, and good luck to all those who will be monitoring birds this winter.
-- by Destin Harrell

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Cody's Christmas Bird Count

Cody’s Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, December 26, 2009, with a backup date the following Saturday in case of extremely bad weather. Each participant will receive a packet in the mail with a route map, checklist, and other information. Birders are divided into groups of one or more people, with each group responsible for canvassing an assigned route within Cody’s 15-mile diameter count circle.

At 6:00 p.m. on the count day, participants will gather at Christ Episcopal Church parish hall for the tally of the birds seen during the count, led by Chuck Neal. A potluck supper will follow with soup and beverages provided by the organizers, and appetizers, casseroles or desserts supplied by the participants.

The first Christmas Bird Count was held on Christmas Day in 1900 with just 27 participants in 25 locations across the United States and Canada. This year’s event will mark the count’s 110th anniversary with tens of thousands of volunteers in the Western Hemisphere. The information gathered during the counts allows researchers to study the long-term status of bird populations across North and South America. This research has resulted in conservation measures being implemented to protect threatened bird species. To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count, please visit <http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html>

The National Audubon participant fee is still only $5, which helps with the cost of the compilation and maintenance of the national Christmas Bird Count database; those 18 and younger can join the count at no charge. Cody’s Christmas Bird Count Organizers, Joyce Cicco and Susan Ahalt, are always looking for new folks to join the group for the count, so if you are interested in signing up or would like more information, please call Joyce at 307-527-5030, or Susan at 307-527-7027.
-- by Joyce Cicco

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Editor's Notebook
Converging Thoughts
    --by John C. Rumm, Meadowlark Newsletter Editor

Picture in your mind’s eye a chunky, long-billed, short-tailed songbird with brown streaks on its back, a bright yellow breast featuring a bold black “V,” white tail feathers that are prominently displayed during flight, and an elongated claw on the hind toe. If you’re thinking of “our” namesake, the Western Meadowlark, you’re right . . . or maybe not. You could be envisioning its mirror-image twin, the Yellow-throated Longclaw, found in central and southern Africa. The similarities between these two birds are more than physical: they have similar foraging and nesting habits, nearly identical calls, and an affinity for perching atop stumps or fenceposts. Yet they belong to two entirely different families—meadowlarks to Icteridae, the blackbird family, and longclaws to Motacillidae, the pipit family. As noted by Mark Riegner in his article “Look-alike Birds from Distant Lands” (Birder’s World, June 1997), the similarities between meadowlarks and longclaws offer “perhaps the most striking example [in the world] of convergence.”

Convergence is the term biologists used to describe how unrelated, geographically separated organisms exhibit outwardly similar structures and/or behavior patterns. Dolphins, and sharks, for example, both have streamlined bodies and fins that enable them to move swiftly through water, but dolphins are mammals, while sharks are fishes. Within the world of birds, convergence is a widespread phenomenon. Examples include penguins (South America and Antarctica) and auks (Northern Hemisphere), brown creepers (North America and Eurasia) and tree-creepers (Australia), and hummingbirds (Western Hemisphere) and sunbirds (Africa). At times, convergence has been used to classify similar-looking birds into the same order, only to have later research show that such birds really are unrelated. For many years, for example, Old and New World Vultures were thought to be closely related, but DNA analyses conducted during the past two decades has established conclusively that the closest relatives of New World Vultures are storks.

What convergence does demonstrate is how similar environmental conditions can lead to similar adaptations among unrelated organisms. An ecosystem comprised largely of grasslands and scrubby shrubs—such as the savannas of Africa or the prairies of North America—tends to favor birds with brownish upperparts, bright yellow breasts and black bands for display. Along with meadowlarks and longclaws, another unrelated species inhabiting such an ecosystem shares some of their attributes—the Dicksissel, closely related to buntings and cardinals.

Yet even though the principle of biological convergence is fairly well understood, the reasons for its occurrence are less so. Are there “rules” or “design standards” that can be identified for different types of ecosystems? Population biologists aren’t sure. Nor, for that matter, are they sure about the mechanisms that, over time, tend to favor certain attributes over others, or about the specific combination of environmental factors that would cause some characteristics to be more “favored” over others.

A remarkable phenomenon, convergence offers an excellent lesson in scientific humility—reminding us how much we know, and yet how much there is to learn, about the natural world.

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Winter: The Season of Hope

Editor’s note: Over the course of two decades, from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, Edwin Way Teale, one of America’s greatest naturalist-writers, traversed the United States with his wife, Nellie, traveling more than 100,000 miles to follow, and survey, the natural history of the seasons. Teale chronicled their observations and experiences in the “American Seasons” project with four books, each treating a separate season. The passage below is taken from his final volume, Wandering Through Winter (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1965):

"Darkness comes swiftly in the Long Night Moon of December. At the end of the twenty-first day of the month, this shortest day of the year, this time when, in other ages, men lit bonfires to strengthen the expiring sun. . . .[t]he year has reached the instant of the winter solstice. In that moment, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun. A season dies; a season is born. We take one breath in autumn, the next in winter.

"This fourth season of the year, this final act in the “eternal drama,” this time when nights are longer than days, this season means many things in many places. In the California deserts, it means more rainfall. In the high Rockies, it means blizzards. In New England, it means skating and skiing. It means toboggan rides and hockey games and fishing through the ice. It means the beauty of snowflakes and trees mantled in white.

"Dorothy Wadsworth, in October 1802, wrote in her journal: It is a pleasure to the real lover of Nature to give winter all the glory he can, for summer will make its own way, and speak its own praises. Of the four seasons, spring entices, summer makes you welcome, autumn gives you a lingering farewell, but winter remains aloof. We think of it as harsh and uncompromising. We speak of the dead months, the night of the year, the return of the ice age, the winter of our discontent.

"Yet, paradoxically, in its own way, winter is a time of superlative life. Frosty air sets our blood to moving. The nip of the wind quickens our step. Creatures abroad at this season of the year live intensely, stimulated by cold, using all their powers, all their capacities, to survive. Gone is the languor of August heat waves. Winter provides the testing months, the time of fortitude and courage. For innumerable seeds and insect eggs, this period of cold is essential to sprouting or hatching. For trees, winter is a time of rest.

"Throughout this long flow of the season, life in an infinite variety of forms, life dormant in bur and bud, in burrow and pupa-case, life biding its time, will respond to the increasing warmth. Under the ice crystals of the drifts, beneath fields of white and rivers of ice and in the hard and frozen ground, life is waiting, confident, undespairing. Its activity is merely suspended. The stillness, the seeming death of winter, is but an illusion. The apparent conquest of the season is only temporary. Like the moon’s waxing and waning, like the tide’s ebb and flow, life retreats and is triumphant again.

"[Winter] is a season of hope. The days are lengthening. The sun is retuning. The whole year is beginning. All nature, with bud and leaf and egg, looks forward with optimism."

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USGS Releases Sage Grouse Monograph

Meadowlark members, especially those who have been monitoring the ongoing debate about whether the Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, may be interested in reading a new monograph, Ecology and Conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse: A Landscape Species and Its Habitats, a collaborative effort involving 38 experts from federal, state and nongovernmental organizations. Through a special arrangement with the authors, the University of California Press, and the Cooper Ornithological Union, the United States Geological Survey is making 24 of the monograph’s 25 chapters available on its SAGEMAP project website.

Click here to open full size photo in new window (15K)

Male Greater Sage-Grouse. Photograph copyright by Terry Steele, used by permission of the United States Geological Survey.

The monograph’s authors treat topics such as Greater Sage-Grouse ecology, conservation and management status, sagebrush ecology, and population trends and habitat relationships. Among the study’s key findings is that the range of the Greater Sage-Grouse, which extends through Wyoming and 10 other Western states, has declined to about half of what it was prior to human settlement, due largely to conversion of its sagebrush habitat to cropland. Full texts of the chapters can be found via the following link: <http://sagemap.wr.usgs.gov/monograph.aspx. >
-- by John Rumm, with thanks to Joyce Cicco

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A Joy of Wings: Chief Joseph Highway Butterfly Field Trip

Butterfly field trip groupClick here to open full size photo in new window (828K)

Butterfly field trip group. Left to right: Liana Cherni, Jo Cook, Jarren Kuipers, Tara Kuipers, Hollis Jones, John Osgood, and Joyce Harkness. Also on the trip but not pictured, Stephen and Elizabeth Danforth. Photo by Bobbie Holder.

Despite the threat of bad weather, several Meadowlark members and other participants found much to delight in during a high-elevation butterfly field trip and count along the Chief Joseph Highway on Saturday, August 8, 2009. Bobbie Holder, horticulturist with the Park County Extension Office and an avid butterfly photographer and observer, hosted the discovery trip. Bobbie and her group live-caught and photographed nine butterfly species (numbers in parentheses represent number of individuals):

Small Wood Nymph (Cercyonis oetus) (2)
Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) (3)
Great Basin Fritillary (Speyeria egleis) (4)
Melissa Blue (Lyaedides melissa) (1)
Boisduval’s Blue (Plebejus icarioides) (1, tentative ID)
Arctic Blue (Agriades glandon) (1)
Blue Copper (Lycaena heteronea) (2)
Purplish Copper (Lycaena heliodes) (4)
Phoebus Parnassian (Parnassius phoebus) (1)
 

purplish copper butterflyClick here to open full size photo in new window (104K)

purplish copperClick here to open full size photo in new window (107K)

Smaller than a fingertip, this Purplish Copper was among ten species identified on the Chief Joseph Highway butterfly trip and count on August 9, 2009.

In addition, the group captured a pair of mating Hera Buckmoths (Hemileuca hera). Adults of this species, which is a member of the wild silk moth subfamily, emerge in late summer and early fall. Their eggs, laid in rings around twigs of sagebrush bushes, overwinter and hatch in the spring.

hera buckmoth laying eggsClick here to open full size photo in new window (189K)

hera buckmothClick here to open full size photo in new window (247K)

Bobbie documented this female Hera Buckmoth as she laid her eggs on Sunday morning, the day after the mating pair was captured.

Counts such as this are critical for monitoring the status of butterflies and moths in North America. Many species are considered threatened or endangered over all or portions of their range, including Great Basin Fritillary, Boisduval’s Blue and Blue Copper. The habits and life-cycles of other species, such as the Phoebus Parnassian, are poorly understood.

Bobbie is planning a Wyoming Butterfly Count for 2010 in the same area, and will let Meadowlark Audubon know when it will occur. She thanks everyone who took part this year!

melissa blueClick here to open full size photo in new window (110K)

phoebus parnassianClick here to open full size photo in new window (168K)

sulphurClick here to open full size photo in new window (141K)

Top to bottom, Melissa Blue, Phoebus Parnassian, and Sulphur

 

great basin fritillaryClick here to open full size photo in new window (185K)

great basin fritillaryClick here to open full size photo in new window (165K)

Closed wing and open wing views of Great Basin Fritillary

-- article by John Rumm, with thanks to Bobbie Holder. (All photographs in this article copyright by, and used with permission of, Bobbie Holder, 2009)

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Engaging Young Minds through Encounters with Nature: Discovery Field Trips at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center

“When I am just walking around, I see butterflies everywhere. I never knew there were so many!” A student said this to me as we were packing up the van to return to Cody after a two-day Yellowstone excursion. I turned to her and smiled, although there were firecrackers going off in my head. “I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I replied.

Seeing things in a new way was the purpose of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s Discovery Field Trip series this summer. Students from around the region participated in these overnight programs, which were offered once a month through the Center’s Education Department. We designed the field trips to encourage middle school students to observe nature and feel more comfortable learning and playing in the Greater Yellowstone region.

In June, we focused on capturing the natural world through digital photography. Our original plan was to take the students up Heart Mountain, but it rained for two weeks prior to our trip. The clay soils of Heart Mountain became so slick that we could not drive the van down the road to the trailhead, so we opted instead to explore the North Fork corridor.

With their natural inclination to technology, engaging middle school students has never been so easy. Through this technology, the cameras helped focus their attention on the minutest details of nature. We spent hours examining how ants decomposed a log and how flowers sprouted from old stumps. They looked at nature from varied and interesting perspectives. Furthermore, I was the one on our hike who had to ask them when we were going to turn around.

Our July field trip was a “Butterfly Bonanza,” but the exploration of butterflies was only half of the “discovering” that we did. For three of the 14 students, this field trip was their first trip into Yellowstone National Park, and for another three, their first tent camping experience. I could tell that nerves were running rampant as the volume and speed of their chit-chat increased as we got closer and closer to our campsite. Putting up our tents took close to an hour, and people were “hearing” bears at every quiet moment. Yet once we explained how to be safe in bear country, and where to find the port-a-potty, camp quieted down for at least a little bit and allowed us to begin preparing dinner.

In my experience working with kids in the outdoors, I have learned many things, but one of the most important is this: Most kids, especially middle schoolers, are very fussy about their food, but if they make it themselves, it is the greatest dish ever served. We taught them to make their own tinfoil dinners (a favorite of scouts around the country), and then completed our meal with a few s’mores. With full bellies, they nestled into their tents for card games. Despite the giggles, which seemed to last until dawn, we all got a pretty good night’s rest.

The next morning, we began our butterfly inventory with the assistance of some great instructors with the Yellowstone Institute. The count was part of a national survey to determine the diversity and abundance of butterflies across the country. Scientists do not yet know a lot of basic information about butterflies such as: what are their courtship behaviors? What flowers do they prefer? And where do they migrate? Surveys like this one in Yellowstone provide good baseline data for scientists and help us better understand the needs and threats to these friendly fliers.

Over the course of the day, citizen scientists like us recorded more than fifty different species in and around the park. Our students recognized how fun and meaningful this project was and jumped in with two feet. For four hours, they ran through meadows with their nets outstretched, chasing down butterflies, and finding some “rare” species, such as Hayden’s Ringlet (Coenonymphia haydenii), which are found nowhere else in the world!

In August for our last field trip, we examined the “Ancient Lives and Current Clues” of Native Americans who inhabited this region before Euro-American settlement. Dr. Larry Todd, prominent archeologist and Draper Museum of Natural History Advisory Board member, guided us through this experience on a site in the Shoshone National Forest. In two days, the students were immersed in an archeological study. They set up camp (this time without port-a-potties), formulated research questions, surveyed the site on both a macro- and micro- scale, and recorded their findings in journals and GPS units. Shoulder to shoulder with other researchers, the students participated in Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating—a cutting edge procedure that dates soil minerals based on how long ago they were exposed to sunlight. Students also found time to relax and enjoy the landscape around them. They threw atlatls, hiked a beautiful ridge with an amazing view, told stories around the campfire, played cards, and learned to canoe. In their own words, these are some of their comments about what they learned:

- I really enjoyed learning about the people who stood right here 10,000 years ago.
- I learned what to expect if you go into a career in archeology.
- I learned that archeology can be super fun instead of work.
- I realized how much I love the mountains.
- I learned that I can have patience.
- I learned that I could keep warm at night if I snuggle all the way to the bottom of my sleeping bag.
- I learned that I am not as quiet as I think I am.

So, what did I learn from all of this? How do I see the world around me differently than I did at the beginning of the summer? I don’t see uninspired teens and pre-teens ignoring the world around them as they focus on iPods and cell phones. I see young people who are struggling to find their passion in life. I see potential young minds that are waiting to be engaged. In the grand scheme of things, it does not take much to stimulate them—a little positive encouragement, our own contagious enthusiasm, and a place in nature to explore, play, and experiment. Like the natural world, kids continually amaze me. So, with their raw emotions and endless energy, they taught me to look more closely, change my perspective, and begin to understand.
-- by Emily Hansel

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Membership Renewal Reminder

Please note that Meadowlark Audubon Society chapter-only annual memberships expired on August 31. If you have not sent in your renewal yet, please take a moment to do so.

Chapter-only membership 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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