Friday, August 24, 2007

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

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