Monday, March 7, 2011

BBHC hosts "Spring Fling" field expedition

From the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody:

Early spring in the Yellowstone area brings the stirring of wildlife -- as well as of wildlife watchers. In two upcoming field expeditions organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s Draper Museum of Natural History, participants have the chance to glimpse the fascinating courtship dance of sage grouse or tour a stretch of prime predator habitat.

The “Spring Fling” field expedition on April 16 visits a lek, the communal dancing grounds for the greater sage-grouse. In a courting ritual described by Jennifer McDonald, who spearheads the field expeditions, “The males puff up their chests, fan their tails, and inflate special air sacs in their necks. As air passes in and out of the air sacs, the birds make bizarre popping sounds.” She adds, “To see and hear the dance is quite a treat for our participants.”

McDonald is the natural history program manager and a biologist with seventeen years of experience in the Yellowstone region. Her areas of specialty include songbirds, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears. She co-leads the “Spring Fling” with Destin Harrell, a wildlife biologist with the Cody Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management who has studied and written about the Big Horn Basin’s greater sage-grouse.

Participants on the day trip depart the Buffalo Bill Historical Center at 5 a.m. April 16 and return by 11 a.m. Cost of the trip is $50, with a rate of $45 for Historical Center patrons. Coffee and breakfast are provided.

In late May, McDonald teams up with Interpretive Specialist Emily Buckles, an outdoor environmental educator with several years of experience leading field trips about the ecology and natural history of the region. “Predator Parade” heads to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park for a wildlife viewing tour, with likely sightings of grizzly and black bears, wolves and coyotes, golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Participants may also see elk, pronghorn, bison, and bighorn sheep, including newborns at this time of year.

“Predator Parade” is an overnight trip, May 27 and 28, with accommodations at Silver Gate Lodging in Silver Gate, Montana. Reservations can be made for parties of one to four, with rates as follows: $275 for single occupancy, $425 total for double, $530 total for triple, and $600 for quadruple. Two lunches and a breakfast are included. Half the registration fee is due to hold the reservation, with the balance due two weeks prior to departure.

Both field expeditions require advanced registration, as space on the popular trips is limited. Contact McDonald at or 307.578.4121 to register. For both trips, participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and camera, and warm layered clothing including rain gear. For more information on natural history programming at the Historical Center, visit and explore “Greater Yellowstone Natural History.”

Committed to connecting people with the Spirit of the American West, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms technology and Yellowstone natural history—into the rich panorama that is the American West. The Center, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is now operating its spring schedule, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. For general information, visit, or call 307.587.4771.

Photo: Greater sage grouse, 2006. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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