Meet the 2023 Crew: Commissary Ridge HawkWatch

Although Commissary Ridge HawkWatch is our newest fall count site, this year’s team is full of veteran hawkwatchers. With a combined 26 years of experience hawkwatching, 10 years of which have occurred at Commissary Ridge HawkWatch, this year’s team has the expertise to guide you. This experience, in conjunction with its accessibility, makes it a no-brainer to visit. Some of our sites are quite the climb to reach, but our Wyoming site is just a moderate, short hike to the ridge. If you are looking for a site that is easy to access for all ages while still offering sweeping views and plenty of migrants, Commissary Ridge HawkWatch is the spot for you.

The site is home to four incredible crew members this fall, some of whom you may recognize from seasons passed. Keep reading to get to know the biologists generously offering their time and enthusiasm in the field this migration.

Frankie Vierela

This will be Frankie’s third season at Commissary Ridge, and she is so excited to be back! Fall migration is her favorite time of year! Frankie is looking forward to getting to know new crewmembers as well as reconnecting with returning crewmembers. Frankie has worked with birds (mostly raptors) for the past 9 years. She has a background in wildlife rehabilitation as well as many seasons of fieldwork. Frankie worked in the Conservation Science Department of HawkWatch International this past year on the Eagle Vehicle Strike program, Parker Mountain Raptor Surveys, and Mexican Spotted Owl Surveys. Outside of birding, Frankie enjoys hiking, and camping and is starting to get into climbing as well—basically anything that can keep her outdoors. Her favorite raptor is constantly changing as she loves aspects of all of them, but the top contenders are Sharp-shinned Hawks and Goshawks, however Red-tailed Hawks are always up there as well. Commissary Ridge may be known for its (at times) harsh weather conditions, but for Frankie, it’s her home away from home, and she can’t wait to spend the next 10 weeks up on the Ridge counting hawks and enjoying the beautiful Wyoming landscape.

James Petersen

James is coming back for his 7th season counting raptors, with 5 of those seasons at the Commissary Ridge HawkWatch. He got his degree from the University of Maine, and since then, has traveled the United States working wildlife jobs with birds, finding raptors to be one of his favorites to work with. In his free time, he likes to birdwatch. He is most looking forward to counting raptors and dealing with whatever rough conditions the Commissary Ridge HawkWatch throws at us this year. His favorite raptors are either an American Goshawk or a Merlin. In the famous words of Cody Allen: layers and prayers.

Katelyn West

This is Katelyn’s second hawkwatching season at Commissary Ridge HawkWatch. Katelyn is originally from Ontario, Canada where she earned her diploma as a Fish and Wildlife Technician. Later on, as a practicing falconer, Katelyn discovered the ecological significance of wild raptors, and moved to British Columbia to pursue adventures in raptor research and conservation. She has now been working with raptors in numerous capacities for nearly a decade and has assisted with projects studying Northern Spotted Owls, Cooper’s Hawks, various species of North American buteos, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Bald Eagles, and even a raptor-like passerine: the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike. Katelyn’s favourite raptor is an Osprey, as she is an avid angler as well. Katelyn is excited to return to Wyoming, to be reunited with part of her HawkWatch International family, and to continue to fine-tune her raptor ID, trapping, and banding skills—all while contributing to HawkWatch International’s conservation efforts!

Yutong Sun

Yutong Sun just graduated from the University of Washington-Seattle with a Bachelor of Science degree in both Biology and Environmental Science and a minor in Dance. Yutong’s bird-related experience is mostly with bird specimens and cold data, so she is really excited to work with live raptors, especially her favorite American Kestrel. Her interest in bird migration started two years ago when she helped with research on seabird mortality, the behavioral impact of radio tags, and bird-building collisions. Yutong’s greatest achievement in her undergrad time, in her opinion, is the dance piece she choreographed with her friend about bird ecology. They named it Cygnus Lake as a scientific version of Swan Lake. Yutong likes to do all kinds of dance in her free time, so it’s an honor to combine both of her interests and perform it for a large audience.

If you need help planning your trip or are curious about how the count is going throughout the season, join our “Friends of Commissary Ridge HawkWatch” Facebook group! There you can chat directly with our crew and other bird nerds excited about the fall count.

This blog was written by Sammy Riccio, our Communications Manager, as well as our 2023 crewmembers. You can learn more about Sammy here.

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