By Barb Gorges
Cheyenne Audubon’s 61st Big Day Bird Count May 16 was the best in 18 years: 142 species, with 39 people contributing observations. In those 18 years, the total number of bird species counted ranged from only 104 to 132.
Thinking about the decline in North American birds over the past 50 years (https://www.3billionbirds.org/), it isn’t surprising that the average count for 1992-2002 is 147 species (range: 123 – 169) and the average count for 2009-2019 is 114 (range: 104 – 128).
In a way, I think the pandemic made a difference this year, plus a lucky break offset not being able to access F.E. Warren Air Force Base and part of the High Plains Grasslands Research Station.
The Cheyenne Big Day is held the third Saturday in May, as early as May 13 and as late as May 21, hopefully catching the peak of spring migration.
Sometimes migration runs late, as it apparently did in 1993 (record high total count 169 species), when wintering species like dark-eyed junco and Townsend’s solitaire were counted—but we also aren’t clear how far from the center of Cheyenne people were birding back then—some of our winter birds go only go as far as the mountains 30 miles to the west.
Sometimes, like 1993, we get interesting shorebirds, usually heading north earlier than songbirds. Or, if the reservoirs are full, we don’t have any “shore” and thus few shorebirds.
1993 and 2020 have some other interesting comparisons. Great-tailed grackles, birds of the southwest, were first reported breeding in Wyoming in 1998 and now their Cheyenne presence is spreading. Eurasian collared-doves, escaped from the caged bird trade and nesting in our neighborhoods, were not recorded here before 1998.
But in 1993, we knew where to find burrowing owls. Now that location is full of houses.
The number of observers might matter, especially their expertise. Traditionally, we meet as a large group and hit the hotspots one at a time, Lions Park, Wyoming Hereford Ranch, the research station. The experienced birders might zero in on a vireo’s chirp buried in the greenery while the bored novice birder notices American white pelicans flying overhead at the same time.
But this year might be proof that birding on our own (at least by household) as we did, ultimate physical distancing, could be more productive. All the birding hotspots were birded first thing in the morning, when birds are most active and most easily detected.
In addition, it was a magnificent spring migration day. While home for breakfast, lunch and dinner between outings, Mark and I observed a total of 23 species in our backyard, more than any of the days before or after May 16, more than any day in the last 30 years.
Now that we have lots of local birders reporting to eBird, it is easy to see the 16th was the best birding day of May 2020 in Cheyenne. However, the next day we found species we missed, the pelicans and the American redstart.
The thrill of seeing colorful migrants and welcoming back locally breeding birds was as wonderful as every year. But I missed the gathering of birders.
For the Excel file comparing hot spots and the 1993 to 2020 Big Day tallies, go to: 2020 Cheyenne Big Day Count vs 1993 – with 2020 Locations Final
Cheyenne Big Day Bird Count, May 16, 2020
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barb Gorges invites readers to share their bird sightings and stories. Email email@example.com or call 307-634-0463. Her bird columns are archived at http://cheyennebirdbanter.wordpress.com.