Spring Season in the High Plains District! Sage Grouse, Wildflowers, and Dinosaurs Galore!!!!!

Remote Sensing

I am processing cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) data at full force now!! Hundreds of aerial images have been processed, and I am at the point where I can calculate percent cover and canopy densities of cheatgrass in the Powder River Basin. I have clipped the soil layer of the Powder River Basin and overlaid the cheatgrass signature raster layer in order to start my next processing step. My goal was to see if certain soils contain larger cheatgrass densities than others. This information would be used for future cheatgrass treatment.  There were some errors with the computer script that needed to be fixed. When the statistics tool encountered an area with no cheatgrass signatures, the processing stopped completely and showed an error message. No worries, this issue should be resolved soon.  Another problem involved the Citrix server. Lately, the server was really slow, so instead of processing each tile at five minutes, it took around forty five minutes to process a tile. (UGH!!!) During the processing time, I have been studying all the plants in our district, learning about birds, and have been doing side missions for the BLM staff. I have been learning more about the remote sensing program known as ENVI. This very powerful program has been very interesting to work with. There have been some difficulties working with this software, but I am learning!!

Favorite screenshots!

Some of my favorite screenshots of the aerial photographs I am processing!

Final Product!!

This is the final product of all the cheatgrass processing! The lime green represents 0-15% cheatgrass cover. Yellow represents 16-25% cheatgrass cover. Orange represents 26-50% cheatgrass cover. Red represents 51-100% cheatgrass cover. The dark green tiles have to be processed. There is still a lot of work to do, so what you see above is a work in progress.

My desk!!

This is my desk area in case you were wondering.

Sage Grouse and Sharp Tailed Grouse!!
Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) monitoring was in full swing at the Buffalo Field Office! I have been to a few more lek sites that have been extremely active! I went with a few Buffalo BLM Wildlife Biologists to some of the more active lek sites. (Before I went to some lek sites that have not been active or had at least fifteen males.) Recently, I went to a lek site that had around forty five displaying males!!! We pulled up right near them and I was able to zoom in and take pictures and video. These male grouse were really active and displayed their hearts out for the surrounding females! Some males were battling each other by doing a side dance and pushing against each other. Other males were on the sidelines and were resting. One male thought it was a good idea to display himself on a hill a quarter of a mile away from the rest of the males (No other males were in the area). The females were sitting around a few choice males. One single female was interested in a group of younger males. The younger males were trying so hard to impress her, but I thought she was just there to encourage them….or silently judge them.

((Please click the link below for a video!!!))
Sage grouse found to the east of Buffalo, Wyoming!

Sage grouse!!!!

Sage grouse!!!!

Another grouse species we were monitoring were the sharp tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) aka the Planes of the Sagebrush Community. You may be wondering why I called them planes? Well, when they were displaying themselves for the females, they looked like airplanes. I think it was hilarious how five males would get low to the ground, spread their wings and stomp their feet all at the same time….then they cease their dancing all at the same time. I think this was the funniest thing ever!! The sharp tailed lek we did visit had a Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) standing in the middle of the lek! O_O She was sitting on sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. Wyomingensis) as five sharp tailed grouse were displaying twenty feet away. I think the grouse were more interested in attracting the females than being eaten. When the harrier did fly, the grouse hid for cover until the harrier landed again in the same stop. The female sharp tailed grouse were smart and were watching the males from the cover of sagebrush.

When monitoring grouse, I made note of all the other species of birds I have seen out in the sagebrush community. I really wanted to see a mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), but the muddy roads and wet weather made the plover species elusive. The western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), northern harrier and short eared owls (Asio flammeus) have been actively flying around. The meadowlarks were all over the place!!  I am still waiting for the sparrows to come into the area. I really want to see a sagebrush sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) in our district. Vesper (Pooecetes gramineus), grasshopper (Ammodramus savannarum), Brewer’s (Spizella breweri), and savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) species were on my “To See” list this year.  There were a variety of duck and wetland species in our area. I loved to watch the common goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula), northern shoveler (Anas clypeata), gadwalls (Anas strepera), green winged teals (Anas crecca), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), American coots (Fulica americana), and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). I was fortunate to watch a Common Loon (Gavia immer) for awhile!!  I am waiting for the oriole (Icteridae) and warbler (Parulidae) species to come into the area in May. I will be traveling to Devil’s Tower to look for rare bird species such as red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), Townsend’s solitaire (Myadestes townsendi), and some flycatchers (Tyrannidae) soon. Hopefully, I will get the chance to travel to the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone to look for Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinators), Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator), rosy finches (Leucosticte), Barrow’s goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), and other rare birds.

Birds that are active in the Buffalo, Wyoming.

Interesting birds in the Buffalo, Wyoming area. Barrow’s goldeneye migrating through or the bird took a wrong turn? Western meadlowlark are everywhere! Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are active in the fields. The secretive sora rail (Porzana carolina) is walking among the wetland grasses.

Fantastic Voyage: Mosier Gulch and Thermopolis
Beyond bird counts and the remote sensing projects I was working on these past few weeks, I was able to go with the recreation planner for our office to a place called Mosier Gulch! This area was considered a BLM recreation picnic area located at the edge of the Bighorn Mountains. The day was pretty hazy due to the smoke coming from the fires in Canada, but we had fun! There were ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) everywhere and a large stream to go fishing in! I helped with cleanup of the site and made sure every cigarette butt was collected. (Those things never seem to decompose!) Also, we had to get rid of man-made fire places. Even though there was a large sign that said, “NO FIREPLACES”, there were still fires being built. We went to this area at the right time! Many spring flowers were blooming!!! Star lilies (Leucocrinum montanum), western spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata), cutleaf pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla patens), shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum), biscuitroot (Cymopterus spp.), and buttercup (Ranunculus spp.) species were prevalent! In the tree canopy, there were many black capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and ruby crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) chirping and feeding in insects. Common magpies (Pica pica), ravens (Corvus corax), crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) were very active in the area as well!

Wildflowers of Mosier Gulch!!

Wildflowers of Mosier Gulch!! Pasqueflower, star lilies, buttercup spp., and western spring beauties!!

After helping the recreation planner clean up all of the sites in Mosier Gulch, I decided to take a half day and travel with my parents to Thermopolis for a small break! My parents were in town and we wanted to look at various sites around central Wyoming! We traveled to different dinosaur museums in Worland and Thermopolis and viewed a variety of many unique and bizarre fossils from the Cambrian to the Pleistocene. We also celebrated my birthday as well. <_<;; On Friday in Thermopolis,  I was able to go fishing and caught a rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) named Jasper! (I released the fish back into the wild!) Thermopolis was one of my favorite towns to visit, because they had many hot springs and very good rock hounding sites! You could find a variety of dinosaur and leaf fossils all over the Bighorn Basin! I enjoyed this very small vacation! ^_^

Thermopolis and Worland Museums!

I visited museums in Thermopolis and Worland to look at various dinosaur displays and statues.

A rainbow trout named Jasper!!

A rainbow trout named Jasper!!

Moment of Zen

Hot Springs in Thermopolis!

Hot Springs in Thermopolis!

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About Justin

Hello! My name is Justin! I am an intern working for the BLM in Buffalo, Wyoming! I will be working on remote sensing and GIS projects. My favorite outdoor hobbies include bird watching, plant identification, rock hounding, exploring, and fishing.

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