From Ancient Rivers to Silent Cliffs
The Geomorphology of Golden Eagle Nesting and Hunting Habitats in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming
By Gretchen Hurley
April 5, 2018
Join us for our April Draper Natural History Museum Lunchtime Expedition lecture. Gretchen Hurley, P.G., Geologist, with the Bureau of Land Management’s Cody Field Office, presents From Ancient Rivers to Silent Cliffs: The Geomorphology of Golden Eagle Nesting and Hunting Habitats in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming.
The Bighorn Basin is rich in varied landforms and vegetative communities, all of which support a rich and iconic western fauna. Recent research on golden eagles conducted by Draper Natural History Museum Curator Dr. Charles Preston and his team is geared toward improving wildlife and land management, as well as improved stewardship of natural resources in the basin, which supports an abundant population of golden eagle nesting pairs. Recent research conducted by Draper Curatorial Assistant Bonnie Smith highlights the importance of sandstone cliffs as a palette for ancient Native American artists in depicting area wildlife, including thunderbird forms.
Hurley’s talk ties in to this recent research by exploring the geological nature of these sandstone cliffs as preferred by golden eagles for nesting habitat, hunting, and reconnaissance perches. Golden eagle nests are typically clustered along prominent cliff faces adjacent to large, open foraging areas. These cliffs and sandstones also provide important habitat for other wildlife such as cottontails and other prey species, and result from a series of geological events, including tectonic and fluvial processes, which took place millions of years ago. Hurley presents a discussion of the various formations, their stratigraphy, structural geology, and geomorphology. She highlights the sandstone cliffs of the Frontier, Mesa Verde, Lance, and Willwood formations, as well as other natural landforms important to golden eagles and their prey species in the Bighorn Basin.
About our speaker
Gretchen Hurley’s primary interests include environmental geology, botany, wildlife, and ecology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Natural Science and Mathematics with a major in Geology from the University of Wyoming in 1981. She began her career working as a “mud logger” on wildcat oil and gas wells in Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, and Montana. Over the past 37 years, Hurley has worked in the fields of synthetic fuels research for Western Research Institute in Laramie, in mining and reclamation in the Hanna and Powder River basins, and in oil and gas exploration throughout the Rocky Mountain West. She has also worked in the fields of pipeline construction, geological site investigation, mapping, environmental regulation, water rights, water quality sampling, surface and groundwater hydrology, and watershed and land use planning.
For eight years in the 1990s, Hurley served on the board of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. She also served on the Wyoming State Board of Professional Geologists from 1999–2007. In addition to her work as a geologist for the BLM Cody Field Office, Hurley also owns a geological consulting firm, Hurley Geological Consulting.
Draper Natural History Museum Lunchtime Expeditions are supported in part by Sage Creek Ranch and the Nancy-Carroll Draper Foundation.
Join us the first Thursday of each month February through December for a Lunchtime Expedition. These free lectures explore a variety of natural history subjects and issues. Lectures take place in our Coe Auditorium at 12:15 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
Upcoming Lunchtime Expeditions
- May 3: Dr. Charles R. Preston with The Eagle and the Rabbit – Predator and Prey in the Sagebrush Sea
- June 7: Brian Woodbridge with From Sagebrush Sea to Pacific Ocean: Golden Eagle Conservation in the Big Picture
- July 5: Gary Beauvais with The Wyoming Natural Diversity Database
- August 2: Larry Loendorf with Wildlife in Rock Art
- September 6: Holly Copeland with Wind Energy in Wyoming
- October 4: Zach Wallace with Golden Eagle Conservation in the Wyoming Basin Ecoregion
- November 1: Bonnie Lawrence-Smith with Golden Eagles in the Rock Art Record
- December 6: Bryan Bedrosian with Lead Poisoning in Wildlife