An English Visit to Southern Utah
From the e-mail of Robert Grimmond
Kent, United Kingdom
Hi to all on this list!
Since several of you responded to my RFI for our trip to Utah in May, I am posting this general report on this list. Our five days in Utah were part of a trip to Arizona and Utah between 6th and 27th May. Lifers are marked with an asterisk.
Mid-afternoon we crossed over into Utah on US 89, via Kanab. We were going to spend three nights at the Best Western Zion Park Inn at Springdale so we made a brief stop in Zion National Park en route. At Checkerboard Mesa , just inside the east entrance on Hwy 9, we saw Ash-throated Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee and Western Tanager.
I got up early to walk round Springdale Pond area, between the Inn and the Virgin River. There wasn't a great deal around apart from a Mallard with 3 ducklings, Black Phoebe, a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows using a nest hole in the river bank,Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Red-winged Blackbird and Lesser Goldfinch.
After breakfast we went into Zion NP and parked near the Lodge so we could walk the Emerald Pools Trail. The trail was more notable for superb scenery rather than birds (and an incident that I will describe shortly). There were some Violet-green Swallows, Black Phoebe, American Robin (including a juvenile being fed by one of its parents), Canyon Wren, Bushtit and Spotted Towhee. On the way back down, I caught sight of a snake in the brush by the trail only five feet or so away and quietly warned Kay, my wife, to step back gently. I then saw the rattle at the end of the tail! After calling out to people coming up to take care I saw the snake slither down across the trail where it paused briefly at a safe distance (allowing a photograph). Later scrutiny of the photo showed it was a Western Rattlesnake (around 4 feet long). It was one of the most memorable events of the trip - particularly since we had gone all through Arizona and seen only one Kingsnake!
Our next stop in the Park was at Weeping Rock. Here we had good views of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Canyon Wrens. On the trail up to the rock we heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl calling several times (even answering my own 'toots'!) and glimpsed it briefly as it flew behind the trees. On the way back, there were few birds around Zion Lodge - just a single Bewick's Wren.
After lunch we headed west out of the Park and took the road up to Kolob Reservoir, where I was hoping I might find Gray Vireo. We got as far as the Reservoir before turning back and took a short tour past Blue Springs Lake. The bird list was pretty good and included Golden Eagle, American Coot (on Blue Springs Lake), Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Scrub jay, Common Raven, Mountain Bluebird (above Blue Springs Lake), Juniper Titmouse, Plumbeous Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Brewer's Blackbird and Western Meadowlark. Best of all were the two Gray Vireos* we found in the pinyon-juniper zone on the way up (near the Zion NP boundary), picked up at first by song. One gave very good views.
Our primary target for the day was Ferruginous Hawk, in Iron County. On the way, though, we decided to go up Kolob Reservoir Road again, because Roland Wauer's book, "Birds of Zion NP and the Vicinity" suggested that we might find Black-chinned Sparrows in the Cave Valley area (where there is sagebrush and slopes, just beyond the pinyon-juniper zone). We got to the area, stopped and listened for several minutes. We heard a singing bird a few times then at last saw two Black-chinned Sparrows* in a bush. They promptly disappeared and were not seen again but singing persisted for a while. Other birds along Kolob Reservoir Road were Black Phoebe, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, Gray Vireo (singing in the same area as the previous day), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping and Lark Sparrows and Spotted Towhee.
Not having long to linger we headed up to Cedar City via Hwy 9 and I-15. From there we went west on Hwy 56 for approximately seven miles, to just after where the road bends to the left. Here on the power line poles we had two Ferruginous Hawks*. There were a number of nests on the poles on either side of the road but they seemed to be occupied only by Common Ravens. Another raptor here was American Kestrel.
Since it was only late morning and we had plenty of time on our hands, we decided to go up to Cedar Breaks N.M, since the road had just been opened for the summer. Here the views were superb, particularly since there was still some snow on the ground (and the remnants of 4-5' drifts by the roadside on the way up!). We got talking to the Ranger who told us his descendants came from the same county as us in England a couple of generations ago. In the parking lot we had good views of a Gray Jay, very-white headed compared to north-eastern birds. Elsewhere in the general area we had American Robin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chipping Sparrow and another of my target birds, Pine Siskin*, which had eluded me on previous North American trips. There was a lot of water around through snow melt.
On the way back to Springdale we saw a Northern Mockingbird at Toquerville. Black-capped Chickadees were calling by Springdale Pond in the evening.
We checked out of the Zion Park Inn (excellent motel with superb views). As we were packing the car a Cooper's Hawk shot past at low level, hotly pursued by a Kingbird! Our ultimate destination that day was Bryce Canyon.
We had not seen many water birds so we thought we would try our luck at some lakes. The first stopping point was Duck Creek Reservoir and Campground, just off Hwy 14 between Long valley and Cedar City. This was a great spot - on our arrival we had two Ospreys circling and fishing. A walk round the east side of the lake and into the campground produced a good list, namely Great Blue Heron, American Wigeon (31), Lesser Scaup (12), Northern Pintail, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed hawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Northern Flicker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, American Dipper (1 on the fast flowing section of the creek, below the dam), Mountain Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Clark's Nutcracker (5), Yellow, Virginia's and Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-headed Grosbeak, Brewer's Blackbird, Pine Siskin and Cassin's Finch.
Rather than go straight back to US 89 we decided to go past Cedar Breaks and up to Brian Head. From a distance, it looked as if we might be able to get up the access road to the latter. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, there was a snow bank on the crest of the hill just a couple of hundred yards past the intersection with Hwy 143. Another 4WD vehicle tried it but gave up so that made my mind up for me! I had wanted to look for American Pipits here so I parked the car and walked up the hill, past the snow patches. I caught sight of some small passerines and started to get excited but then a look through the binoculars revealed two Horned Larks! Still it was nice to see them in breeding habitat (and they are very uncommon winter visitors at home). I could hear what I thought were Pipits singing so I pressed on up the hill a bit further. After a bit of minor puffing and panting (I was at 10,500+ feet!), I managed to find two American Pipits*, one of which gave good close views on the ground.
On the way back, we stopped at the view point on Hwy 143 near the intersection between Hwys 148 and 143. As I got out of the car, a woodpecker flew over us and into the trees on the other side of the road. It was worth investigating so I picked my way carefully over the soft ground to a more observable distance. I relocated the bird and discovered it was a Three-toed Woodpecker (new for my ABA list). Returning to the car, I saw another woodpecker on a tree on the west side of the road - another Three-toed Woodpecker! Kay was experiencing difficulties with the altitude so we drove off quickly to lower altitude, to Panguitch Lake, by Hwy 143.
We drove right round the lake and stopped on the far side for lunch. It was a real spectacle! On the lake itself we had 200+ Eared Grebes, 400+ Clark's Grebes, a Common Loon, 50+ American Wigeons, 6 Redheads, 2 Canvasbacks, several Lesser Scaup, a Green-winged Teal, a few Ruddy Ducks, lots of American Coots and 25+ Wilson's Phalaropes (another new ABA bird for me). Around the lake were 3 Black-crowned Night Herons, 3 White-faced Ibises, 40+ California Gulls, 4 Franklin's Gulls* (a real bonus bird that I hadn't really expected to see), 7 Marbled Godwits, a Spotted Sandpiper and a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Mountain Bluebirds, American Robins and Yellow Warblers and a single Vesper Sparrow. This was quite an outstanding spot!
In birding terms, we hadn't quite finished for the delay. On seeing some stands of Aspen near White Bridge Campground, further east down Hwy 143,we stopped to look for Red-naped Sapsucker, which had so far eluded us. A walk along the road produced Broad-tailed Hummers, American Robin and Yellow Warbler but no Sapsucker. After a while we gave up and turned back. Just as we crossed the road, a Red-naped Sapsucker* flew low past us, just a few feet away! We failed to relocate it in the trees.
Later in the afternoon we checked in at the Best Western Ruby's Inn, Bryce Canyon for two nights. Our stay here was interesting to say the least! No hot water, then we were moved to another room that had clearly been used by smokers (despite all rooms being non-smoking). A brief spray of air freshener by one of the motel staff didn't do much good. It was impossible to get a meal in the dining room without joining a queue of 60 or more so we went to the fast food diner next door. To crown a great evening, the hot water in our new room had gone off by the time we got back to our room, by which time I was getting tired of complaining (but it was luckily back by next morning otherwise I would have gone ballistic)!
We were going to spend most of the day down in Bryce Canyon, for birding and sightseeing. Our first stop was at the North Campground. A walk around here produced Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Bluebird, Plumbeous Vireo, Clark's Nutcracker, Grace's Warbler, Chipping Sparrow and Western Tanager. Stops at various viewpoints, including Sunset Point and Yovimpa Point, produced similar birds, such as White-throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven (including some very tame birds at Yovimpa parking lot), Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Gray Warblers.
Mid-afternoon we left Bryce Canyon and headed down to Tropic Reservoir, down a gravel road, a few miles west off Hwy 12. Along the access track we saw Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, Clark's Nutcracker and American Robin. At the south end of the Reservoir, a low-flying Golden Eagle was being mobbed by a Raven. Down this end of the Reservoir, we had a good variety of water birds - Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, Canada Goose, Mallard, Lesser Scaup (6), Ring-necked Duck (8), Cinnamon Teal (4) and a single Common Merganser (another new ABA bird for me). At the north end we had good, close views of a Sharp-shinned Hawk, plus Broad-tailed Hummer, Dark-eyed Junco and Chipping Sparrow.
Back at Ruby's Inn we had another interesting experience - someone opening our room door using an access card with the same code as ours! It was more embarrassing for the other person but it seems the reception staff had slipped up ("This should be impossible" I was told). When I went back to them to complain yet again I had the feeling they were beginning to duck on seeing me! We did have a good meal in the dining room though and no queues! Apparently they get 15-20 bus loads of tourists for dinner each night - they just hadn't turned up yet! They are in the process of extending the dining room but whether it will cope with the numbers remains to be seen. The whole place was very busy and was a culture shock after earlier experiences. I don't think we would stay there again if we went back to the area! Others might find it different.
Wednesday 24th May
After breakfast we discovered a lake behind the motel, called Lake Minnie. Before checking out we stopped here again and were glad we did. Birds included Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, Gadwall, Killdeer (the only one of the trip), a Short-billed Dowitcher (I'm confident it was this species, based on its white lower belly and lack of the heavy barring that Long-billed has), Spotted Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, Yellow-headed Blackbird (4) and Pine Siskin. Mammals were 2 Beavers (our first) and an Otter!
Rather than take the long way back to Page in Arizona, we headed east from Bryce Canyon to Cannonville, where we turned south onto the Cottonwood Canyon Road. This is a dirt road, very sandy in places. I had read that it is impassable in wet weather and kept casting an anxious look at the clouds. Luckily it stayed dry. Be warned though that it is a remote area with no facilities at all (though there is plenty of through traffic). We stopped several times en route. Birds included Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-billed Magpie (just south of Cannonville, to remind us of home!), Cassin's Kingbird, Mountain Bluebird, Horned Lark (2 miles north of the junction with US 89), Sage Thrasher, Spotted Towhee, Lark, Black-throated, Brewer's and Sage Sparrows (the latter heard rather than seen). The star bird, however, was Pinyon Jay*, two groups of 6 and 3 being seen. Not only was this a bird that had eluded us in California the previous year but it was a landmark 400th ABA bird for me!
We crossed back into Arizona for the rest of our trip. In our short stay in Utah we had 103 bird species, of which 8 were lifers.
If anyone is interested in my trip reports for Arizona I'll be happy to provide copies. I intend to produce more detailed reports in due course.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Utah birders who responded to my RFI. Your information was a great help. Hopefully we'll be back one day to do other parts of the state!
Robert Grimmond Kent, UK