Spring has finally sprung as the days grow longer and temperatures finally rise and stay there for at least a few days. It’s one of the best times of year to search for wildlife, not only of the feathered kind, but pretty much all critters great and small.
Knowing where to go, what to look for and what it is you’ve discovered once you’re there can be a challenge for those new to birding. One great way to learn the different species is to join members of the Laramie Audubon Society on one of their many outings.
Libby Megna, secretary for the organization, invites both novices and seasoned birders on any of their upcoming field trips.
“We have an increasing number of participants that range in age from pre-teens up to 80-plus,” Megna said.
“We help out those who are just learning their birds and we also take trips to a variety of different habitats and areas to keep it interesting.”
While the group often sticks close to home with trips to local birding hot spots, the next three trips go a bit farther afield.
The May 5 field trip is to Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge near Walden, Colorado. Tim Banks, current president of LAS, said he thinks of the Arapaho refuge as Hutton Lake’s big sister. Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located a few miles south of Laramie and covers nearly 2,000 acres while the Arapaho refuge is a sprawling 23,000 acres of wetlands, riparian areas and sagebrush steppe.
“There is a similar assortment of plains lakes and wetlands,” Banks said. “There’s even a nice boardwalk trail through the willows and meadows on the Illinois River. There’s even a good chance of seeing a moose, too, and that’s always a big treat.”
Next up on the schedule is a trip to the Hereford Ranch near Cheyenne on May 12. Megna said this is a family farm whose owners allow birders to wander and search for wildlife.
“On this trip we get a lot closer to the birds as compared to when we have trips at the Laramie Plains lakes.” Magna said. “That makes them much easier to identify. Plus it’s a little lower elevation and farther to the east so we can get more species migrating through the area.”
Banks was on the Hereford Ranch trip last year and said they had quite the day. The group spotted a total of 42 bird species including a lazuli bunting, plubeous vireo and black-headed grosbeak.
“We also found a great horned owl nest and even spotted a mink along the river,” Banks said. “The mink was a real treat since it’s not just about birds on these trips.”
If you don’t know a bunting from a vireo or grosbeak, that’s just fine. Both Megna and Banks stress that the seasoned birders are more than willing to help those who are just getting started in bird identification.
“There’s always a good mix of people on these, including some old hands and others who are new to birding,” Banks said. “The best thing is that everyone learns from everyone else, no matter the experience level.” Birding by its very nature is slow, too, so these aren’t killer hikes.
“We go at a deliberately slower pace,” Banks said. “It’s as much an auditory experience to attempt to identify birds by their vocalizations. We take time to look and listen.”
The third longer distance outing is May 26 with a trip to an area called Goshen Hole. This wetland complex, located along the North Platte River near Hawk Springs, is an important migration corridor and stopover habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and a range of other avian species.
For the upcoming trips, unless otherwise stated on the LAS website, participants meet at 8 a.m. at Coal Creek Coffee Co.’s downtown location, 110 Grand Ave. Those who want can carpool to the day’s location. Dress for Wyoming weather and bring drinks and snacks as well as binoculars, spotting scopes, field books and friends.
“We try to be done by noon when at local hot spots,” Megna said. “Expect to go a bit longer for those locations farther away.” Megna said any beginners in need of binoculars can email her ahead of time at email@example.com and she’ll try to round up extra gear, if possible.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.