Mark Davis Powell Tribune via Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL – Despite sturdy branches and stems penetrating the dual track trail and scratching the side of Rob Koelling’s new pickup truck, he continued to advance through areas 8 and 9 of the Tailed Wildlife Habitat Management Area yellow.
John Campbell winced with each excruciatingly long cry, erasing long streaks of clearcoat. But Koelling didn’t think about it. He bought the truck to take it to the birding habitat and has already had his share of repairs.
There is a price to pay for the stunning photographs Koelling takes of our feathered friends. Yet there is an even higher price to pay for refusing to follow his dream of documenting his favorite subjects.
âI didn’t even watch,â Koelling said of his new stripes. “It’s going to knock a bit.”
He’s been on the trail of every bird since his youngest child graduated and sports weren’t a big concern anymore – around 14 years ago, he believes. During this time, Campbell hunted birds for most of his life. He was there 30 years ago when the National Audubon Society’s first Christmas Kane Bird Count was held in Yellowtail.
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Over the entire three decades, Campbell has counted in Area 9. His knowledge of the habitat and the birds that make it their home is almost frightening. As the two traveled on dirt roads, some with a light coating of snow and all bumpy, Campbell proclaimed, “This is a good place for robins.”
In a minute or two, the first robin of the day moved from branch to branch as the truck approached, finally joining a small group of a few dozen on the bare branches of a nearby tree. Campbell once again demonstrated his seemingly magical abilities with the Shrike and Goldfinch – each turning out to be exactly where he knew they would be based on his years of experience. There is joy in recognizing the models, Campbell said.
“The [Christmas bird] the count is a long-term picture of the condition of the birds, âhe said. âThis is one of the most important citizen science data that we collect in the country. “
In total, the dynamic duo saw 22 species of birds in six hours of cruising their section of the 19,214-acre habitat. Although not a competition, Campbell seemed jealous that Eric Atkinson, assistant professor of biology at Northwest College, had seen 31 species. (Koelling and Campbell are both former
college professors.) He was especially jealous that Atkinson saw Lapland buntings and redpolls in his area.
This is the 122nd year that the Audubon Society has organized the event. Over the past two holiday seasons, Kane’s number has been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I miss the camaraderie of the game after the count,” said Campbell.
Eighteen participants covered the entire habitat. Christy Fleming, Chief Interpreter at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, has been doing the tally for the past few years and is keeping the stats up to date. The combined volunteers walked 5.8 miles, walked 183.3 miles, saw 66 bird species and counted 9,099 birds in total on Saturday. The Lapland Sparrow was the rarest bird seen, and the California quail was new to the list – possibly escaped from a local bird farm.
The group is always looking for new volunteers to join the count, Fleming said. Those interested can call him at 307-548-5406.
Campbell will return to Yellowtail in January for the Bureau of Land Management’s annual Eagle Count. And Koelling will continue to hunt the birds of Big Horn Basin daily, hoping to capture their beauty in his lens.
A recent show featuring the footage of Koelling raised approximately $ 2,700 for Ironside Bird Rescue, Inc. by Susan Ahalt, in Cody. It’s unclear how many nicks, bangs and scratches his new truck suffered for the collection, but it’s clear they won’t be the last.