Laramie Audubon Society has planned a series of birding trips around the region this spring, with local hot spots and regional destinations on the list.
The first trip of the spring is scheduled for today, when Gary Beauvais, who directs the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, is leading a winter tracking trip at Chimney Park, a trail network about 35 miles west of Laramie just off Wyoming Highway 230.
Beauvais will lead participants by snowshoe or on skis along the trails looking for tracks in the snow and other signs of birds and mammals. Participants are meeting at 8 a.m. at Coal Creek Coffee Downtown, 110 Grand Ave., to carpool.
“He’s always had really interesting things to tell us about what’s happening under the snow, or about scratch marks on trees, or how to tell whether it’s a bear or an elk or a porcupine,” said Audubon member Kathy Rittle.
Rittle said participants should bring plenty of warm clothing, snacks and water, and prepare to be outside for several hours.
“Bring more warm clothes than you think you’ll need,” she said.
The spring schedule continues with a “bird hop” Feb. 29, when the group will visit feeders in Centennial and Albany, and then have breakfast at Albany Lodge, which has views of feeders from its windows.
On March 7, an evening trip is scheduled to the Snowy Range to look for owl species that have been seen in the area in the last few years. That trip will require several miles of snowshoeing.
Trips are scheduled for the Laramie plains lakes on March 28 and Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge on April 4. At both spots, birders will be looking for migrating waterfowl, raptors and songbirds.
Rittle said someone in the group usually brings a spotting scope, which is useful across the long distances of the open water.
“It helps so much on a lake,” she said.
On April 11, the group has scheduled its annual trip to watch greater sage grouse on a lek north of town, where males will be performing their courtship display. The early-morning trip is scheduled to depart at 5 a.m.
A trip to spots within the city limits, such as Greenhill Cemetery and LaBonte Park, is set for April 18, followed by a clean-up of a stretch of the Laramie River Greenbelt.
A highlight of the spring is a trip to Hereford Ranch in Cheyenne, one of the best spots in southeast Wyoming to view spring migrants, some of which aren’t seen farther west in Laramie.
“There’s usually something that people get pretty excited about, that we don’t see in Laramie,” Rittle said.
The season is set to conclude with a sunrise trip to Tie City to listen for breeding species and learn the songs they use to defend their territory and attract mates, led by an ornithology graduate student at the University of Wyoming. The trip will require 1-2 miles of walking on uneven ground.
Rittle said Laramie Audubon Society benefits from the presence of students and faculty at UW who share their specialized knowledge.
“We’re really lucky in Laramie that we have this resource of not only the enthusiastic citizen birders, but also UW grad students who bring so much knowledge and enthusiasm, and they’re happy to share the stuff they know to our group,” she said.
She said she sees far more birds while birding in a group than she would on her own, because she’s able to benefit from the expertise of those around her.
“The people who are good are good are so good at finding them, and telling you what to look for, and telling you how to know what it is,” she said.
Outings to Centennial, the plains lakes, Hereford Ranch and Laramie hot spots are among the easier ones for walking distance and difficulty of terrain.
Groups usually meet at Coal Creek to carpool or caravan, and participants are welcome to drive themselves. Trips usually return to town at noon or 1 p.m. All trips are free and open to the public.
Laramie Audubon Society meets monthly at the UW Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center for evening programs. The spring slate of topics includes upland birds on Feb. 26, honey bees and native bees on March 25 and black rosy finch research on April 29. Go to laramieaudubon.blogspot.com for more information.