Spring offers a birding bonanza

Andrew Towne/lusk herald An osprey comes for a landing at its nest Monday near the North Platte River in Goshen County southwest of Lingle.

LINGLE – Are you a new or experienced bird watcher? Spring, especially the time from mid-April to mid-May, is the peak time of year for bird watching. It is a birding bonanza.

Millions of birds are flying north to summer nesting grounds. All along their migratory paths, they stop to rest, feed, drink and bathe before again taking to the air for another long day or night of flying. No matter where you look you can find migrating birds, but they prefer rest stops where cover such as trees or bushes, food and water are available.

Eastern Wyoming is no exception. In Spring you can expect to find close to 200 species in the area in a variety of habitats. Many migrate from the south to nest in the area during the long days of summer. Others are just passing through, on the way to northern boreal forests or the Arctic tundra. 

There are many places nearby to take a bird-watching excursion. City parks offer good locations with trees, bushes, and the river to seek birds. The parks in Lingle and Ft. Laramie are also good places to check. The Rawhide Wildlife Habitat Management Area between Torrington and Lingle is a great place to enjoy a short hike and look for birds.

Fort Laramie National Historic Site offers two good bird watching opportunities: the Confluence Trail which starts at the Iron Bridge; and the picnic area and Laramie River near the park buildings. Table Mountain Wildlife Habitat Management Area southeast of Huntley has many shallow lakes that are particularly attractive to migrating shore birds, ducks and geese.

A bit further afield, the walking path along the river at Guernsey is always a good place to find birds, and Guernsey State Park offers excellent bird watching opportunities. Gray Rocks reservoir is a good place to look for waterfowl and shorebirds. 

All you need to launch your bird watching hobby is a pair of binoculars and a desire to enjoy nature. You can start just by sitting quietly in your own back yard, particularly if it offers some of the necessities of a bird rest stop. One feature to add, if not already available, is a source of clean water in a bird bath or shallow pan placed near some cover. If you have a small fountain, birds are especially attracted to the sound of moving water and will come to drink and bathe. 

Take a walk around your neighborhood or a nearby park; check out the trees, bushes and open spaces. This is a good family activity for all ages. Kids are often better at spotting birds than adults and may develop a lifelong interest in birds.

Use not only your eyes, but also your ears to locate birds. In Spring, the male birds are often singing to advertise territories. Move as quietly as possible, stopping often to look around. If you spot a bird, take a few minutes to watch its behavior and become familiar with its appearance. Can you identify it? If not, memorize some key features to check later in a field guide or phone app. Take a photo with your phone. Even a low quality photo can often help with identification.

Our two favorite field guides are National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America and Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. There are many apps available to download to your iphone or tablet, including ones to go with the various field guides. Some are free, the most expensive is about $20. Cornell Lab of Ornithology at https://www.allaboutbirds.org offers many free bird identification resources including Merlin, a free ID assistant for 650 species of North American birds. It is easy to use, even if you just know size and some colors. It can also be put on your iphone, but does require quite a bit of memory. 

Get started today on becoming a bird watcher. Just go outside, notice the birds, take time to watch their behavior, try to identify them. Practice using your binoculars to quickly zero-in on a bird. Keep moving and looking, don’t worry if you cannot identify many birds to start with. Even experienced birders make mistakes and can’t identify every bird. You will get better with practice and the help of field guides, apps and more experienced birders if you know some. 

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