It’s a chicken or the egg conundrum. Which comes first, lots of birds or lots of birders?
It’s true that the more birders there are out looking, the more birds are seen. But the way to get more birders out to look for them is for there to be more bird reports coming in. That piques interest, and more birders go out looking, instead of doing mundane household chores.
Mark, my husband, was out nearly every morning the first two weeks in May to one of several of his favorite hotspots: Wyoming Hereford Ranch, Lions Park (both are Wyoming Important Bird Areas), Laramie County Community College (the pond areas) or F.E. Warren Air Force Base (ponds there, too).
When he came home, he’d give me a report on what interesting migrants he’d seen and show me photos he’d taken before adding them to the checklists of birds he’d seen and entered through the eBird.org phone app. He’d tell me, too, who else he’d met, mostly birding friends, but sometimes visitors.
In the evening, he liked to check eBird to see what sightings local birders had entered for the day. And he’d check birdcast.info to see if birds were going to be making a strong migratory push through our area overnight – and coming to earth here to rest and refuel in the morning.
Every year, for 60-plus years, the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society designates a date for its Big Day Bird Count and hopes to hit the biggest migratory push. It’s usually the third Saturday in May. Sometimes, we’ve had icy storms and wonder if we should pick a later date. Sometimes eBird reports show that there just isn’t a peak to the migration. We wonder, too, if climate change means we should move it up a week.
This year, we had a good lead-up that encouraged more people to be out on our Big Day, May 15. We had a couple of sharper-than-average birders joining us, too, Nathan Pieplow, author of the “Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America,” and his friend, Will Anderson.
Nathan signed books the evening before. It was going to be an outdoor event, but thank goodness the Hales family lent us one of the WHR barns as backup, because a good gully washer blew in.
Saturday morning was chilly and foggy, but the birds and birders were out. We weren’t all in one big group, but we would get the scoop on cool birds from each other when we met up.
The next day, Mark started compiling the list of birds, looking at checklists on eBird for sightings in the Cheyenne vicinity.
At least 30 people submitted, or were included on, 74 checklists. I submitted a couple just for our bird feeders when we took a break at home.
It was one of the best Big Days in Cheyenne in a while: 136 species. And the warbler count was very good: 12 species.
Sunday, there were still a lot of migratory birds in town, including 50 pine siskins under our thistle feeder for an hour.
But the show was over by Monday – both out in the field and at our now deserted feeder.
This year, migration seems to have peaked on the Saturday we picked, making it like Christmas in May.
Barb Gorges invites readers to share their bird sightings and stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 307-634-0463. She is the author of “Cheyenne Birds by the Month,” available through outlets listed at www.YuccaRoadPress.com.