Saturday, August 25, 2007

Trip Report Part 9: Snowy Range, WY (Aug 11)

I'll keep this one short and mostly let the photos speak for themselves - in part because it was short - for around three hours on Saturday, our group left Laramie and drove into the Snowy Mountains to the west, to get another one last shot at alpine habitat.

Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel

My life Pine Grosbeaks
Left to right: Me, Ben, Scott, Erin, ShawnSame faces as above, minus Erin, plus Brian:
My lists. My lifers are in caps. X's indicate no counts. TMTC = too many to count.


LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus) - 3
Colorado/Uinta Chipmunk (Tamias quadrivittatus or T. umbrinus) - x
Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) - x


American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) - 3
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - 2
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) - 3
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - 1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) - 2
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) - 9
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) - 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) - 1
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) - 3
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) - 2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) - x
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) - x
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) - 1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine) - 3
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) - 1
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) - 2
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) - x
Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) - 2
LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena) - 1
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) - 2
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator) - 3
CASSIN’S FINCH (Carpodacus cassinii) - 6
Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) - x

Part 10: The End

Friday, August 24, 2007

Trip Report Part 8: AOU (Aug 8-11)

This part will be short: the 125th Stated Meeting of the American Ornithological Meeting, the whole reason behind the big trip. It was, in short, phenomenal. Not much to write about, as I have no pictures, and can't replicate the work of all the great talks I saw. I did a lot of networking and grad school prospecting. I met many fascinating people, including but not limited to (be sure to check these people out for some great research!):

Darren Irwin (U British Columbia), working on hybrid zones between Eastern and Western bird species in British Columbia, including Winter Wrens, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and some newly discovered contact zones.

Kevin J. Burns (San Diego State U), working on California phylogeography and the phylogeny of Tanagers.

Robert Moyle (U Kansas), working on systematics and biodiversity in Southeast Asia.

Sara Morris (Canisius), working on songbird migration.

Jed Burtt (Ohio Wesleyan),
working on feather structure.

Mara McDonald (U Wisconsin), did her Ph.D dissertation on the same birds I'm working on - the Hispaniolan Palm-Tanagers (Phaenicophilus).

Scott Lanyon (U Minnesota), working on the Icterid phylogeny.

Zac Cheviron (LSU, grad), working on variation in Zonotrichia capensis.
Matt Carling (LSU, grad), working on the Lazuli/Indigo Bunting hybrid zone.

If any of you happen to read this - thanks again for being so generous with your time and responding to all my grad school questions! I had a great time and look forward to seeing you in the future.

In addition to the conference staple of talks, talks, and talks, there was the Student Quiz-bowl. Team Ergaticus Major (Big Red Warblers, anyone?), consisting of Scott Haber, Shawn Billerman, and myself, were there representing Cornell undergrads. Cornell was also present in two other teams: the Red-cockaded Nighthawks, with Cornell alum Erin Hewitt and Cornell grad student Rebecca Lohnes; also the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Menials, with Cornell alums Colby Neuman and Pete Hosner, as well as friend Nick Block. There were nine teams in all, competing in three rounds of three teams before the winners go on to the championship round. Ergaticus Major won the first round, knocking out in good sport the Red-cockaded Nighthawks. LSU's team the Van Remsen's, consisting of Zac, Matt, and James Maley, won the second round, and the Menials won the third. These three heavyweight teams came together for the finals in a rough slugging match of ornithological wit and wisdom - but always in good humor. It came down to final jeopardy, neck-and-neck. We were barely ahead, thanks to Scott's lightning-quick buzzer-finger. Final jeopardy question - What bird is on the Mexican Flag? Our answer of Golden Eagle, and some good brinksmanship number-crunching, landed Ergaticus Major the victory. Of course, there was much discussion during the celebration later that night with the other teams whether it was actually a Golden Eagle or it was meant to be a Caracara (the "Mexican Eagle").

Over-dramatized quiz-bowl shenanigans aside, we had a great time at the meeting. We also racked up a decent campus list:


Fox Squirrel


Turkey Vulture
Great Horned Owl
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Mountain Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
House Finch
Pine Siskin
House Sparrow

Two final notes: Laramie has some of the funniest gas station names ever, including Loaf 'N' Jug, and Kum & Go ("We Go All Out!"). The campus also has a really cool, detailed sculpture of Chief Washakie:

Part 9: Snowy Range

Trip Report Part 7: Laramie, WY (Aug 8-11)

We arrived in Laramie late on Tuesday night and got ourselves set up in the dorm housing the conference provided. We connected with friends, and made morning plans. In the a.m., our group of four joined Cornell alums Erin Hewitt and Pete Hosner, Erin's friend Brian, and what must have been the entire Kansas Ornithological department in their red KU van.

We caravaned north out of town to route 34, where we birded the prairie. The habitat was more or less over-grazed, low-quality sage prairie. We were on a long, wide prairie bounded by the Medicine Bow Range to the west and the Laramie Mountains to the East. Pronghorn were abundant, as were Horned Larks and others prairie birds.

(Previous 4 photos by Shawn Billerman)

Around clusters of old sheds, we found a lot of roosting Nighthawks, along with bunches of Brewer's Sparrows. The first big birding hit, though, was the Greater Sage-Grouse. We found a group of 8, then a few more groups down the road. We were even lucky enough to see a few flush and get to watch them fly.

Can you see the Sage-Grouse?
(Next three photos by Shawn Billerman)

We had hoped for these birds, but we never expected to be so lucky as to see more than 15 a day. Others who returned to this spot later saw nearly 30.

Soon after seeing the grouse, we succeeded in finding our net major target: longspurs. Both Chestnut-collared and McCown's Longspurs breed on the prairie in Wyoming, and they would be lifers for Shawn, myself, and many others in our group. We heard a few longspurs as calling flyovers, but a ways down the road we finally found a male McCown's close into the road, offering excellent looks. Being a small bird in a big field, this is the best I could manage:

Farther down the road at a watering hole, among many Horned Larks we managed to get brief looks at some Chestnut-collareds.

Our third major target for the prairie, Mountain Plover, we failed to locate. However, our quest to locate these birds took us to many prairie locations near Laramie, including Hutton Lake NWR. At another pond we found a group of White Pelicans:

We finally found a Ferruginous Hawk, my lifer. It's perched on left edge of this Butte. If you zoom in you can probably see the pinprick dot:

We found one more life mammal, White-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys leucurus):

Swainson's Hawks were fairly abundant on the roadside fences:

Finally, as we entered a miles-long dirt road loop near Hutton Lake, we made the excellent decision to leave our car and ride instead in the back of Erin's rental F-150.

(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

Riding around for miles on dirt roads in the expansive prairie was quite unlike anything I could experience here in the northeast. It was wonderful.

We got out a few more times during the conference for short excursions, not well photo-documented and a repeat of the places covered above. I'll end with a few photos of a very cooperative Vesper Sparrow that perched on a roadside fence:

Look - every field mark in one photo! Facial pattern, rufous shoulders, and white tail edges.

My lists. My lifers are in caps. X's indicate no counts. TMTC = too many to count.


Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) - TMTC
WHITE-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys leucurus) - x
Wyoming Ground-Squirrel (Spermophilus elegans) - x


Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - 75
Gadwall (Anas strepera) - 3
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) - x
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) - 3
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) - 3
GREATER SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus urophasianus) - 25
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) - 2
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) - 10
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) - 8
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) - 5
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) - 6
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) - 8
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - 10
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) - 3
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) – 34
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) – 4
FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis) - 9
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) - 2
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - 2
PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus) - 2
American Coot (Fulica americana) - 20
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) - 5
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana) - 1
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) - 2
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) - 5
Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) - 3
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) - 3
Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) - 7
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - x
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) - 3
Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) – 12
CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD (Stellula calliope) - 1
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) - 2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) - 1
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) - 2
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) - 1
Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) - 7
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) - 4
Common Raven (Corvus corax) - 16
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) - TMTC
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) - x
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) - x
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) - x
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) - x
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) - 6
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) - 1
Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) - 15
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - 25
BREWER’S SPARROW (Spizella breweri) - 26
Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) - 13
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) - 6
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) - 11
MCCOWN’S LONGSPUR (Calcarius mccownii) - 5
CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR (Calcarius ornatus) - 14
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) - 7
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) - 3
BREWER’S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus) - 30
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) - 1
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) - 3
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) - 3

Part 8: AOU Conference

I'm a movie star!

Not really, but you can see me for about five seconds examining a Collared Lizard in one of Joe Farah's excellent field herping videos:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Thursday marks the start of class, or as I like to put it:


I'm insanely busy trying to finish getting settled in my new apartment, get classes settled in, get back to work, get back to the lab and work on my honors thesis, organize Herp Club activities, the Montezuma Muckrace and migration, etc etc. I won't have much time to blog for the foreseeable future, but I do have a lot on deck: finishing up trip reports, lots of accumulating tidbits and ramblings, new interesting papers in the Auk, etc. I'll be around, don't give up on me if I don't post again for a week or two. Get out there and enjoy the migrants that are starting to move through. Bird!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trip Report Part 6: Rocky Mountain National Park (Aug 7)

Tired of trip reports yet? Haha... I'm probably going to have 10 posts in all. If you want to skip all my writing and just look at pictures, I'm posting my albums here. It's not my normal webshots page, because I've switched to photobucket for the ease of use in posting photos. Anyways, check out the photos there, especially if you want to see larger versions. The small versions in these post just don't do the photos justice. You can also click on the pictures in my post and view a large version. With all that aside, where does that leave me?

Tuesday, August 7th. I awoke after not enough sleep, quite exhausted from the nearly 750 miles I'd driven since Saturday night. Even though it meant missing out some morning herping at some spots near Denver, I very much needed to crash last night in Idaho Springs and get a little extra sleep. I couldn't be happier for it to be Tuesday, because I was driving down to Denver to pick up our friends and recent Cornell graduates, Ben Winger and Scott Haber, who were renting a different car and taking over driving duties. We made our rendezvous with them and got out of the city by mid-morning, heading north for Rocky Mountain National Park, and Laramie, WY by nightfall for our ultimate goal: the AOU conference.

I think I slept most of the way, I can't remember much of the drive either way, but I do remember making one stop along the way. We saw a Golden Eagle soaring overhead, and heard Lesser Goldfinches calling. Those would be a lifer for me, so we pulled off and spent a few minutes until I found them. I ended up seeing several of both genders. Lazuli Buntings were heard calling, another potential lifer for me, but I missed them.

The park itself was very populated. Around the entrance visitor's center we had a few Violet-green Swallows flying around, providing better looks than my lifer look just yesterday. There was also good scenery starting right at the entrance:

Scott and Ben were both also hoping for the high-elevation specialties, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan, so we decided to head up to the far top of Trail Ridge Road, which runs along an alpine tundra ridge, and then work our way back down. Of course it didn't work that way.

We first made a stop on the road off to Endovalley. Where a creek comes Roaring down out of the mountains, creating an alluvial fan in the valley, we found Dipper. Dipper are fascinating birds, I could go on at length about them. Instead, check out some video clips from Macaulay.

In the picnic area near the Alluvial Fan, which was packed with tourists, family groups of Stellar's Jays, Chipmunks, and Ground Squirrels were abundant and tame. I couldn't resist getting some shots, but they didn't all turn out as well as I hoped. The Stellar's Jays were a lot of fun, though.

Wyoming Ground-Squirrel

We continued down the Endovalley side road to the campground. There we spent some time walking around in the coniferous forest, seeing a few new things. We got a glimpse at MacGillivray's Warbler, some tantalizing but too-quick-for ID finchy flyovers, a Clark's Nutcracker, and Red Squirrel. We also found this cool Tachinid Fly, Adejeania vexatrix (thanks again Will for the insect ID's).

Finally, we decided to get ourselves up the main road and back into alpine tundra. We drove up the mountains, right into rain and, of all things you wanted to find on a narrow road at 12,000 feet, construction and traffic. It was miserable and cold, and we clawed our way most of the way down the road to the Alpine Visitors Center. The Center was packed with tourists avoiding the traffic and the rain. We tried vainly at the overlook windows to scan for Rosy-Finch, but couldn't see anything but more Pipits and decided to turn back.

On the way back, we did a little hiking at the Rock Cut pulloff, with no luck on alpine birds. On the way past Rock Cut, we did run into some roadside Elk:

As we continued back down the road, I snagged some more good scenery pics. The mountains across the valley are the Continental Divide.

The rain stopped just in time for the last alpine pulloff, the Ute Trail. Scott, Ben, Shawn and I got out for a little hiking. We found no birds, but we did get a new mammal and some great views.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

One of my favorite shots from the whole trip. Be sure to view this one full-size:

We were really itching to get off the mountain and get to Laramie, but we made one last stop on the way down to a pulloff where Clark's Nutcrackers come in for handouts. We weren't disappointed: Nutcrackers, Gray Jays, Stellar's Jays, Colorado/Uinta Chipmunks, and Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels all made appearances. At one point we could get all three corvids in one binocular view.

Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel
Colorado/Uinta Chipmunk
By far the farthest Nutcracker:
(Photo by Shawn Billerman)

Here is a video demonstrating how approachable the Nutcrackers were:

And a video in which a Nutcracker gives its unmusical call:

As you can guess by now, I have quite fallen in love with western corvids!

The view from this overlook was spectacular. You can even see the alluvial fan where the Dippers were:

(Previous 2 photos by Shawn Billerman)

From here, it was time to head out. While dining in Estes Park, we picked up one more bird - my lifer White-throated Swifts, then drove into the night to reach Laramie, Wyoming.

My lists. My lifers are in caps. X's indicate no counts. TMTC = too many to count.


Colorado or Uinta Chipmunks (Tamias quadrivittatus or umbrinus) - x
Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) - 2
WYOMING GROUND-SQUIRREL (Spermophilus elegans) - 1
YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris) - 3
ELK (Cervus canadensis) - 3


Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) - 1
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) - 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) - 5
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) - 1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - 3
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) - x
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - x
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis) - 3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) - 7
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) - 3
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) - 4
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) - 15
Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) - 6
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) - 20
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) - 10
Common Raven (Corvus corax) - x
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) - 1
Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) - x
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) - x
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) - 10
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) - 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) - 2
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus) - 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) - 3
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) - 10
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - x
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) - 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) - 4
MacGillivray’s Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) - 1
Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena) - 1
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) - 1
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Carduelis psaltria) - 10
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) - 4

Part 7: Laramie, WY