WFO Annual Conference Is Back!

Leucistic Red-breasted Sapsucker, found on the Alpine County field trip. Photo: Linda Pittman

The 46th annual conference was held in Reno, Nevada, September 7–11, 2022. WFO’s first in-person conference since 2019 attracted 215 participants. Many helped to make this event possible. Ed Pandolfino initiated the planning for this event in 2019, and Diane Rose invested many hours in building and rebuilding the conference registration platform through two years of postponements. A dedicated crew of volunteers helped at the conference with registration, field trip mustering, and other aspects of setting up and conducting the meeting, including Liga Auzins Wurster, Wendy Beers, Linda Easter, Kimball Garrett, Jen Hajj, Lena Hayashi, Karen Havlena, Robin Leong, Kurt Leuschner, Maci MacPherson, Don Marsh, Diane Rose, Steve Rose, and Shaun Wilde.

2020 Student Scholars

We welcomed six scholarship students: Nicholas Earnhart, Ellen Liu, Yating (Bella) Liu, Santiago Lupi, Asher Perla, and Lara Tseng. Among their activities at the conference was a reception for this year’s scholars and alumni from previous years. The Great Basin Bird Observatory hosted a special field trip at its banding station at McCarran Ranch. WFO thanks the many donors who have continued to support our student programs, including the conference scholarship program and the research grant program. This year we are grateful to Sierra Foothills Audubon Society for supporting a conference scholarship and a graduate student research grant recipient. See Maci MacPherson’s story on the students’ activities at the conference.

Dennis Serdehely (center) preparing to lead, with his wife, Becca, a field trip to McCarran Ranch Preserve.

Four Days of Field Trips

The Reno conference featured 49 field trips to 26 different locations. Temperatures were high, as a dome of high pressure remained over much of the western US during the conference. We were fortunate that smoke from the nearby Mosquito Fire affected fewer field trips than it might have, had wind conditions been different. We appreciated the flexibility of field trip leaders and participants in dealing with smoky conditions and in some cases modifying itineraries.

Because WFO changes its conference location annually, it is a big job to recruit field trip leaders and determine field trip locations. Local knowledge is paramount, and at this conference we were fortunate to have the assistance of leaders from the Great Basin Bird Observatory and the Lahontan Audubon Society. Special thanks are due to GBBO’s Elisabeth Ammon and Lahontan’s Diane Wong-Kone for their help in setting up trips and recruiting leaders. Jon Dunn led a three-day preconference field trip to Lassen County. A highlight was a late Semipalmated Sandpiper at Eagle Lake. At least 172 species were observed during field trips. Rarities included Laughing Gull, Gray Catbird, and Northern Waterthrush. A good variety of shorebirds was observed: Snowy and Semipalmated Plovers, Marbled Godwit, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers, and Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes.

Birders on the Pyramid Lake field trip, led by Paul Hurtado and Lauren Harter, hiked to the Truckee River Delta to view shorebirds. Photo: Lauren Harter

A Full Slate of Workshops

Workshops at our conferences provide opportunities to study topics in depth, learn new technologies, and explore aspects of bird biology and birding that lend themselves to a classroom environment. This year we offered five workshops. Mario Cordoba gave a workshop on birding in Costa Rica, emphasizing the diversity and ecology of areas of endemism. Blythe and Fianna Wilde spoke about using art to mitigate light impacts on migrating birds. Jon Dunn and Lara Tseng discussed status, distribution, and identification of shorebirds, focusing on the Calidris species, followed by a field trip on Saturday. Nathan Pieplow focused on ear-birding with your phone, with a Sunday morning field trip. Tom Blackman shared techniques for improving nature photography.

Elisabeth Ammon, Great Basin Bird Observatory executive director, led off the afternoon Science Sessions with her plenary address, “Current Bird Conservation Studies in Nevada and the Role of Community Science,” using GBBO’s work on Pinyon Jays as an example. Fourteen presentations on current research in the WFO area were given over the two afternoon sessions. We also heard reports from the California and Nevada bird records committees. Kimball Garrett ably organized and moderated the sessions.

ID panels followed the Science Sessions. Ed Harper challenged his photo ID panel with his photographs of birds from the WFO region. Ed presents photographs with a wide range of difficulty, giving the audience a chance to hone their knowledge of bird identification while at times befuddling both the audience and the ID panel. Jon Dunn, Kimball Garrett, Lauren Harter, and Asher Perla were on this year’s panel. Nathan Pieplow presented his sound identification team challenge. This year he added the possibility of using Merlin sound ID as part of the competition.

The Banquet—Was Something Missing?

Part of our annual banquet was a brief business meeting at which the members approved new Board members Elisabeth Ammon, Teresa Connell, Dan King, and Daniel Ruthrauff. We thanked outgoing Board members Kimball Garrett, Dan Gibson, Karen Havlena, and Diane Rose. Two awards were presented at the banquet. The Swarth award, presented to Robert E. Gill, honors a body of work that significantly advances field ornithology in the West. The Craig award, presented to Kenneth P. Able, is given for exceptional service, leadership, and dedication to WFO over a sustained period of time. Read more about Robert Gill and Ken Able and their contributions.

Morgan Tingley, keynote speaker. Photo: Tom Blackman

The banquet concluded with keynote speaker Morgan Tingley, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles. His talk, “Avian Responses to Climate Change in a Rapidly Warming World,” provided a synthesis of the current state of knowledge on the complex ways that birds are adapting to climate change. Range and elevation shifts, timing of migration, evolution, and complex interactions are among these responses and are all significant ways in which birds are adapting to rapid change.

Former WFO presidents at the conference. Back row, from left: Dave Shuford, Kurt Leuschner, Jon Dunn, Dave Quady, Tim Manolis, Tom Blackman. Front row, from left: Kimball Garrett, Ed Pandolfino, Catherine Waters. Photo: Tom Blackman

Many conference attendees noted that the banquet meal lacked a dessert! Conference chair and incoming president John Harris accepts responsibility for this debacle, and will appoint a Dessert Coordinator for next year’s conference in Colorado.

Look for an announcement in the spring newsletter requesting volunteers for this critical position on the conference committee.

Leave a Reply

  1. I always loved the scientiic papers. In the future, is it possible to record them and the main speaker, and keep them on-line? I am no longer sure I can get to the conferences. Thank you.

    1. Hi Janet–Thanks for your suggestion. The conference next year will be in Colorado (see separate eNews item) and is a dual WFO-CFO event. I’ll pass this thought to the WFO president. Recording the papers may be a challenge as the conference changes venue every year. It may also involve getting the permission of each speaker. However, some organizations have YouTube channels where their zooms are posted. Thanks again for writing.–Judith Dunham, eNews editor

    2. Hi Janet,
      There is some active discussion going on about this among the members of the Board; it is an idea that I think should be strongly considered. Thank you!
      John Harris, WFO President

  2. I wish I had known about the Reno conference, I just joined WFO and so I did not know about your group. I joined CFO this year and attended the conference here in Colorado in May. Excited about July’s meeting, can’t wait to hear more about it. But oh I wish I had known about Reno, lol, would have loved the field trips.

    1. Hi Carla–I’m sorry you just missed the Reno conference. The field trips were marvelous, as were the indoor sessions. On the positive side, you missed temperatures hovering around 100 F and the arrival of wildfire smoke. Nevertheless, everyone had a fine time. Future issues of the newsletter, as well as email blasts, will provide details about the CFO-WFO joint event in July.–Judith