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. 3 -- March 2010


President's Message

I can’t believe the winter is almost over! Winter has done a fine job of laying the grass in the ground, recharging the soil with water in a frozen state, that, when melted in the spring, provides our nutritious native forage with a first drink. Spring brings with it the birds, too, so look for the migrants ahead of the nesters.

Over the winter, I have also noticed how the Big Horn Basin is making strides in cooperative resource management groups to reduce Russian olive’s dominance in riparian areas. This non-native tree outcompetes native olive (silverberry), cottonwoods, willows, dogwood, and sumac, among others. Our riparian areas are more diverse than people realize. After the impenetrable thickets of Russian olive and salt cedar are cleared, the niches will once again be available for vast plant community changes for the better. These habitats will support more wildlife in the future. It is exciting to see local people take charge and steward the land. The Big Horn Basin has able and can-do people!

Over the winter, we have been fortunate to have interesting and inspiring speakers who showed the mechanics, spirit and beauty of nature—all of which is important to understand as a student of the natural world. Here is but one example of something to ponder. You may have all noticed more golden eagles this year. Our mid-winter eagle count has confirmed this: there were almost twice as many golden eagles observed this year as compared to last! I like to wonder about what the mechanics of this increase were. Maybe you have your own ideas as to how and why this happened—if so, I look forward to hearing them!

Enjoy the spring!
-- by Destin Harrell

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Annual Election 2010

It’s time to cast your vote! Meadowlark Audubon Society’s annual election of officers and directors for 2010-2011 will take place at the April 8th general meeting. All members in good standing are eligible and invited to vote. The Nominating Committee was made up of Destin Harrell, John Rumm, Lisa Marks, Donna Haman, KaCey Ross, John Osgood and Sean Sheehan. Sadly, two longtime directors (John Osgood and KaCey Ross) must leave the Board for health reasons; nominations to fill their seats, and any additional nominations, will be accepted from the floor prior to the vote.

President: Destin Harrell (2nd year of 2-year term)
Vice-President: John Rumm (1-year term)
Secretary: Rosemary Hughes (1-year term)
Treasurer: Lisa Marks (1-year term)
Directors: (1-year term): Sean Sheehan

If you are interested in becoming a Board member, please contact Destin Harrell, 307-899-0147 or <destin.harrell@blm.gov >.

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Cody Christmas Bird Count

The 110th Christmas Bird Count was held in Cody the day after Christmas with 39 adults and 3 youngsters participating. Some 5,000 birds were counted, comprising 57 species. Participants covered 37 miles by foot and 319 by car. In addition, people counting birds at their feeders spent a total of 19 observation hours.

Bald Eagles were more numerous than in past counts with 20 tallied (13 adults and 7 immature). Other high counts included 99 Northern Flickers, 85 Dark-eyed Juncos, 69 American Crows, and 556 Common Ravens. If you would like to see a large number of ravens in one location, check out the Cody landfill! Waterfowl numbers were generally lower than in many past counts, perhaps due to the much lower than average temperatures during the first half of December and the few days before the Cody count, resulting in the lakes and all still water being frozen over. Temperatures were low on the day of the count, but the sun was shining and there was almost no wind, so participants completed their routes in relative comfort.

Several species were represented by a single bird: Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Hairy Woodpecker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Brown Creeper, American Dipper, and Red-winged Blackbird. A large flock of 100+ Snow Buntings was seen this year, and although 774 European Starlings were counted, that total falls far short of the 3,444 seen ten years ago.

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Participants in Cody’s 2009 Christmas Bird count tallied three of the “Four Wyoming Crows”—American Crow, Common Raven and Clark’s Nutcracker—shown in this illustration from Wilbur Clinton Knight’s The Birds of Wyoming (1902), with Pinyon Jay being the lone exception.

Most of the day’s participants joined in the evening tally of the count led by Chuck Neal, held at the Christ Episcopal Church Parish Hall. The potluck and soup supper followed, and all enjoyed good food and camaraderie.

To view the entire results for this and preceding year’s counts, visit the National Audubon site at http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html, and, on the menu, choose either Current Year or Historical Results. Cody’s Count Code is WYCO. To join the group for the 111th CBC, on Sunday, December 26, 2010, please call Joyce Cicco at 527-5030, or Susan Ahalt at 527-7027.
-- Joyce Cicco

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Kane Christmas Bird Count

Kane’s 2009 Christmas Bird Count took place on December 19. Eight dedicated participants managed to field all of the routes. The weather was calm and cold, with frost crystals covering many surfaces. The National Park Service (Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area) again hosted us at the Lovell Visitor Center.

Counters tallied 3828 birds, representing 34 species. American Crows were down (only 12 were found, versus 102 in 2008), as were Rock Doves (520 versus 1287) while Common Ravens were up, from 20 in 2008 to 50 in 2009, as were Black-billed Magpies at 30 birds, more than double the number reported in 2008. The bad news is that tallies of almost all birds were lower than in previous years—and, in some cases, markedly so. Apart from Canada Goose (899), Mallard (36) and Barrow’s Goldeneye, no waterfowl were reported, likely due to a lack of open water: all of the ponds and most of the Bighorn and Shoshone were ice-covered, and only a few small, spring-fed creeks had open water. Yet the numbers of birds usually seen in fields or at feed lots were also down, and for this there is no obvious explanation. To cite just one example, 506 Red-winged Blackbirds were counted in 2008, and 222 the year before; the 2009 count yielded only three blackbirds. Also absent, or present only in reduced numbers, were raptors, woodpeckers (except for 41 Northern Flickers), Horned Larks, chickadees, waxwings, most sparrows, Pine Siskins, and finches. Full results are available at http://cbc.audubon.org/cbccurrent/current_table.html, using the code “WYKA.”

Thanks to everyone who participated—we hope to see you, and others, for the 2010 CBC in December!
-- Suzanne Morstad

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Citizen Scientists Needed in 2010

“Citizen Scientists”—individuals or networks of volunteers—typically lack specific scientific training, but increasingly are playing vital roles in performing or managing tasks such as field observations or data analysis. Wyoming Game and Fish Department is recruiting Citizen Scientists to participate in three ongoing projects during 2010:

Breeding Bird Survey Results

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), the longest running bird-monitoring program in the United States and Canada, began in 1966 in the East and two years later in the West, and now monitors almost 3,000 routes run each year. BBS data are used to monitor population trends of bird species that nest in North America. Each BBS route is 24.5 miles long and comprised of 50 stops, ½-mile apart. Beginning at sunrise, observers record all birds seen and heard during a three-minute count period at each stop. Every BBS route and all 50 stops on each route remain consistent from year-to-year so that population trends can be determined over time. Wyoming has 108 official BBS routes, about 30 of which are available for monitoring, including four within Meadowlark Audubon’s coverage area (Park, Big Horn, Washakie and Hot Springs counties). If you can identify birds by sight and sound, the Wyoming Breeding Bird Survey program can use your expertise!

Great Blue Heron Rookery Monitoring

Great Blue Herons built their nests together in colonies in tall, mature cottonwood trees along rivers all across Wyoming. During the breeding season, herons can be very sensitive to human-related activities and disturbances near their nesting colonies. The number and location of breeding sites can vary from year to year as herons shift their rookeries up and down a drainage, or move away altogether as stands of cottonwood trees die out. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department are working together to survey known rookeries during 2010 and 2011. Audubon members can help by “adopting” one or more of the approximately 25 breeding sites identified within Meadowlark’s coverage area. Observers, who must stand at least 250 meters back from the rookery on land (150 meters on water) and observe using binoculars or, preferably, a spotting scope, will tally the total number of nests, the number of nests occupied by adults and/or young herons, and the numbers of adults and/or young herons observed, and use a GPS unit to record each rookery’s UTM coordinates. Wyoming’s data will be added to those of ten other western states to produce an Atlas of Colonial Waterbird Sites in the Western United States.

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Breeding Bird Survey [BBS] route locations within Meadowlark's coverage area are shown on this map of northwest Wyoming. Courtesy Andrea Orabona, Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Mountain Plover Surveys

Five Mountain Plover breeding concentration areas have been positively identified in Wyoming, and the potential exists for more, including sites within Meadowlark’s territory. In an effort to locate and identify additional breeding concentration areas, Wyoming Game and Fish Department is looking for volunteers to conduct Mountain Plover surveys between May 1st and June 15th in parts of their breeding range here in Wyoming. Surveys are conducted from a vehicle, with observers stopping every ¼ mile along an established road or 2-track to search the area for plovers.

To find out how you can become a Citizen Scientist and collect valuable information for any or all of these monitoring programs, please contact Andrea Orabona, by email at <Andrea.Orabona@wgf.state.wy.us>, or by phone: 307-332-7723 ext. 232, or toll free at 1-800-654-7862.

-- by Andrea Orabona, Nongame Bird Biologist, Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

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Meadowlark Scholarship Program

This year, Meadowlark Audubon hopes to award a $1,000 scholarship to a deserving high school senior residing in its regional area (Big Horn, Park, Washakie and Hot Springs counties).

Our chapter began developing the scholarship program back in 2007. Deb Woodbridge, who passed away in 2008, was hugely instrumental in launching the program. Through t-shirt sales and donations made in her name, we raised enough money to establish the scholarship fund.

The scholarship will be awarded to a high school senior (including home-schooled students) who will be graduating in 2010, and whose career goals support the mission of the Audubon Society—focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats, and conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

For more information, e-mail Lisa Marks at <arithon_7@yahoo.com>.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this scholarship possible!
--Lisa Marks

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Meadowlark in the McCracken

Meadowlark Audubon members will be pleased to learn that their society’s institutional archive has been permanently preserved in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s McCracken Research Library. With records dating back to 1999, MS 329, the Meadowlark Audubon Society Collection, is housed in four boxes and comprises five series (categories): Field Trips, Newsletters, Projects, Members’ Minutes, and Board Minutes. A finding guide (detailed inventory) of the collection has also been prepared. In addition to complete runs of minutes and newsletters, the collection includes organizational records, hundreds of photographs, project files, field trip reports, press releases and historical materials. McCracken archivist Samantha Harper, who processed the collection, congratulates Meadowlark’s members for being “so interested and proactive in their approach to preserving their organizational heritage.”

While many Meadowlark members have been instrumental in helping to produce, assemble and preserve documentation of the society’s operations, special appreciation goes to three individuals who held the position of Chapter Historian/Scrapbook Chair since the organization’s inception: Jackie Platt (1999-2001), Susan Ahalt (2001-2005), and Sue Hatcher (2006-2009). Along with them, Joyce Cicco has unofficially been the “keeper of the institutional memory” from the outset, and spent untold hours producing a detailed history of the society from 1999 through 2007, a copy of which is included in the collection. We deeply appreciate their vision, dedication and commitment to ensuring that Meadowlark’s organizational heritage is preserved for posterity!

In addition to documenting the formation, activities and projects, and operations of Meadowlark Audubon Society, materials in the Meadowlark archive will offer future researchers invaluable details about migratory and resident bird populations, the ecology of the Big Horn Basin, and regional conservation and environmental efforts during the first decade of the twenty-first century. The materials currently comprising the Meadowlark archive represent the first installment of what, it is hoped, will become a growing collection to document the society’s ongoing history. Harper especially urges Meadowlark members to consider donating materials in their possession that can help “personalize” the collection, such as correspondence, field notebooks, diaries or written reminiscences about their experiences with the organization. The finding guide to the collection will help interested members learn what materials already exist in the archive.

The Meadowlark Audubon Society Collection is available to researchers by appointment at the McCracken Research Library. To make an appointment, please contact the Library at 307-578-4063, or via e-mail at <hmrl@bbhc.org>.
-- John Rumm

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Theodore Roosevelt on Springtime Birds of the Northern Great Plains

Editor’s note: Well before he became our twenty-sixth president, Theodore Roosevelt had written books on hunting, ranching, and the American West. As in evident in this excerpt from one of those books, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (1885), Roosevelt was also an avid birder; he received his first pair of binoculars at the age of five. As president, Roosevelt sometimes cut short or delayed Cabinet meetings so that he could observe birds on the White House grounds. Historian Douglas Brinkley’s recent biography, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (Harper Collins, 2009) offers a meticulously detailed portrait of the man many hailed as the “naturalist-president.”

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Theodore Roosevelt on a backcountry sojourn in the northern Great Plains, 1885 (National Park Service.)

In the spring, when the thickets are green, the hermit thrushes sing sweetly in them; when it is moonlight, the voluble, cheery notes of the thrashers or brown thrushes can be heard all night long. One of our sweetest, loudest songsters is the meadow-lark; this I could hardly get used to at first, for it looks exactly like the eastern meadow-lark, which utters nothing but a harsh, disagreeable chatter. But the plains air seems to give it a voice, and it will perch on the top of a bush or tree and sing for hours in rich, bubbling tones.

Out on the prairie there are several kinds of plains sparrows which sing very brightly, one of them hovering in the air all the time, like a bobolink. Sometimes in the early morning, when crossing the open, grassy plateaus, I have heard the prince of them all, the Missouri skylark. The skylark sings on the wing, soaring over head and mounting in spiral curves until it can hardly be seen, while its bright, tender strains never cease for a moment. I have sat on my horse and listened to one singing for a quarter of an hour at a time without stopping. There is another bird also which sings on the wing, though I have not seen the habit put down in the books.

One bleak March day, when snow covered the ground and the shaggy ponies crowded about the empty corral, a flock of snow-buntings came familiarly round the cow-shed, clambering over the ridge-pole and roof. Every few moments one of them would mount into the air, hovering about with quivering wings and warbling a loud, merry song with some very sweet notes. They were a most welcome little group of guests, and we were sorry when, after loitering around a day or two, they disappeared toward their breeding haunts.

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Conservation Calls to Action

Meadowlark Audubon is undertaking two conservation projects later this spring, and your participation would be greatly appreciated!

Spring Creek Springhead Enclosure
[The workday scheduled for May 1, 2010 has been cancelled due to weather and will be rescheduled at a later date]

For this project, scheduled to take place on May 1, Meadowlark will be erecting roughly 600 running feet of buck-and-rail fence to enclose a springhead and riparian flat at the head of Spring Creek on Sheep Mountain, southwest of Cody, on property owned by the Bales family. The enclosure will keep grazing cattle away from the springhead, which is a known nesting site for Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus), a Species of Concern in Wyoming; the site has also been used by Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), and is a stopover for migrating songbirds. Wyoming Game and Fish will be running additional fence adjacent to that being erected by Meadowlark. Funding for the project comes from Meadowlark’s conservation budget, with the generous assistance of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is donating materials and supplying tools for the project.

Volunteers should bring water, lunch and sunscreen. If you plan to participate and will be coming from Cody or points to the north and east, please meet at the west end of the WalMart parking lot by 9 am.; if you will be coming from the South Fork area, please meet at the intersection of Lower Southfork Road and Old Stagecoach Trail at 9:15. In case of inclement weather, the project will be rescheduled for late May.

For more information, please contact Sean Sheehan, <ssheehan@tritel.net>.

Greater Sage-Grouse Mortality Abatement

In this project, which will take place on June 12, Meadowlark will be affixing plastic reflective markers on barbed-wire fencing adjacent to Greater Sage-Grouse leks on YU Bench northeast of Cody. The markers, which have been installed elsewhere near known lek-sites, greatly reduce grouse mortality rates by deterring them from flying into, and becoming impaled on, barbed-wire. Volunteers will attach two reflectors per 16 running feet of barbed-wire fences located within a six-mile radius of a lek-site, and will cover roughly 70 miles of fencing. In addition to affixing the reflectors, volunteers will also help track grouse mortality by looking for feathers as they walk the fence-lines. We greatly appreciate the support of Rex Myers and Susan Richards, who are generously underwriting the purchase of the reflectors. Volunteers should bring gloves, water, lunch and sunscreen, and meet at the K-Mart parking lot by 9 a.m. In case of inclement weather, the project will be rescheduled for later this year. For more information, please contact Destin Harrell, 307-899-0147 or <destin_harrell@blm.gov>.
--John Rumm

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Spring Field Trips Announced

Meadowlark Audubon invites members, their families and guests to participate in three exciting field trips this spring:

April 24, Sage Grouse Lek Watch

As he did last year, Meadowlark president Destin Harrell will conduct an early morning Greater Sage-Grouse lek viewing tour near Heart Mountain northeast of Cody. Last year, viewers witnessed an amazing display by 66 males and 21 hens.

Afterwards, we’ll plan to look for Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) and Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), both of which are plentiful in the area. If attending, please bring water, lunch and your camera and/or spotting scope, and meet at the K-Mart parking lot by 5 a.m. For more information, please contact Destin at 307-899-0147 or <destin.harrell@blm.gov>.

May 8, Cottonwood Canyon Nature Hike

Join Meadowlark directorJohn Osgood on a hike into beautiful Cottonwood Canyon, in the Bighorn Mountains east of Lovell. In previous years, hikers have viewed Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus), towhees and a variety of raptors, along with spectacular mountain scenery. If attending, please wear appropriate footwear and bring water and lunch, and meet at the Lovell Visitor Center of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area at 9:30 a.m. For more information, please contact John at 307-587-9097 or <osgoodj@gmail.com>.

May 22, Shoshone River Warbler Walk

Meadowlark vice-president John Rumm will lead an early morning walk along Cody’s scenic Shoshone River Trail. In addition to warblers, this trail offers good habitat for tyrant flycatchers, blackbirds, thrushes, waxwings, orioles and other perching birds. If attending, please wear appropriate footwear and bring water, and meet at the parking lot beneath the Belfry Bridge (off 12th Avenue) at 7:30 a.m. For more information, please contact John at 307-899-3087 or <johnr@bbhc.org>.

--John Rumm

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