By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Despite persistent rains and intermittent thunderstorms from Wednesday through Sunday, organizers of the first Spring Into Yellowstone Festival are proclaiming their inaugural bird and wildlife watching event a success, and have announced plans for a second event next year.
More than 140 people from 14 states and three countries participated in the inaugural Spring into Yellowstone Birding and Wildlife Festival last week, said Barb Cozzens, northwest Wyoming director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Nearly a dozen partners and sponsoring organizations supported the event, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Cody Chamber of Commerce, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and National Park Service.
Cozzens said a mix of hardcore bird-watchers and others interested in viewing the unique combinations of wildlife and habitat in the Bighorn Basin turned out for the event.
That included about a dozen curious bird-watchers form Michigan, Cody and elsewhere who rallied for a 4:30 a.m. call on Friday to view greater-sage grouse between Cody and Clark, Wyo.
Destin Harrell, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management, led the bird-watchers in a pre-dawn excursion to take in the unique and quirky sage grouse mating ritual, wrapping up in May as the male birds strut, cluck, whistle, pop and whoot in search of a female partner.
“These clear, calm mornings are very important for sage grouse, so that popping and whooshing sound you hear will carry, and advertise for a female for them to mate with,” Harrell told members of his group Friday in the pre-dawn twilight east of Cody.
The sage grouse, warranted but not listed as an endangered species, uses more than 1,000 distinct calls in its efforts to attract a mate, Harrell said, as a a mellifluous cacophony of vesper sparrows, sage grouse and other birds greeted the Wyoming dawn along Chapman Bench, an unheralded birders’ paradise that hosts rare shorebirds and endangered sage grouse, plus a few dozen other species.
Harrell’s trip was one of several field trips led by supporting agencies and volunteer organizations focused on the region’s birds, wildlife, geology and history. Events ranged from guided tours in Yellowstone National Park to expeditions to view grizzly bears in the Shoshone National Forest and to see d grouse on public lands near Cody, Wyo.
“I was pleased to hear that the inaugural festival was a successful event,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. “Wyoming has so much to offer, and this event is another way for visitors to enjoy our state.”
Luke Seitz, a bird-watcher from the Cornell School of Ornithology who led several field trips aid that the “incredible array of bird life and wildlife on the Absaroka-Beartooth Front absolutely amazes me”
joe Alexander, supervisor for the Shoshone National Forest, said that Spring Into Yellowstone was a “a wonderful opportunity to explore the public lands in the Cody area” via a “unique mix of partners (who) came together to celebrate the abundant wildlife in our area.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].