Utah County Birders Newsletter
October 2002

October Meeting:

Wednesday, October 23rd.

Meet at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.

Jack Rensel, long-time employee of the Division of Wildlife Resources,
recently retired supervisor of the Northern Region, will present the
program. He will speak on the history of the white-tailed ptarmigan in
the Uinta Mountains
. He will share details concerning the original
introduction of the birds from Colorado to the Uintas. He will also give general
information on the biology of the birds and, of most interest to the
bird watchers, will discuss where and how to find these elusive birds.

Anyone interested in this game bird, be it birdwatcher, hunter, or nature
lover, will find his discussion most informative.
The general public is welcome.

Field Trips:

Saturday, November 2nd.
Full Day

Meet at the Provo Temple Street parking at 7:00 A.M.
Destination and target species will be
determined by the Hotline reports.

Another "Winter of Our Discontent?"
by Dennis Shirley

Last Saturday night, after getting home from our Utah County Birders field trip to Arches N. P. about 9:00 p.m., and realizing that the BYU game was half over and there was no point watching the second half as they had already been blown away, I chose to update my bird list for the year. I realized that I had much birding work to do before December 31.
     I checked my year's records and found that I have at least sixteen rare winter visitors left to find. Since I didn't find them in the early months of 2002, I'll need to scramble and have luck to find them before the end of the year.
     So the question is, "what will this coming winter bring?" We've all heard the predictions of another winter of higher than normal temperatures and lower than normal snowpack, but who knows for sure? We do know that the drought conditions across the western states and up into Canada have had detrimental effects on the breeding success of North American
     Across the board, all duck species that nest in the Canadian provinces are down. As examples, northern pintail populations have dropped 46% since 2001.
     Others, such as the northern shoveler, blue-winged teal, redhead, canvasback, and gadwall are down about 25% in one year.
     I would think that the western drought conditions can be either detrimental or beneficial to Utah winter birding. On the one hand, we know that waterfowl numbers will be markedly lower because of poor habitat conditions in the North, but who's to say that some bird populations may show up in greater numbers than normal. Maybe this winter, we will again have an influx of common redpoll or hopefully, bohemian waxwings. Maybe with poor prey populations to the north, gyrfalcon, snowy owl, and even great-gray owl could show up in Utah this year. Who knows?
     Some early reports from birders could indicate things to come. Steller’s jays are once again in the valleys at feeders, which seems early. An unusual report already lists gray jays at a feeder in the Uintah Basin. It seems we've already had an unusually high number of uncommon and rare winter visitors reported in the state: golden-crowned sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, and merlin.
     So what's your guess? Will the winter be another of our discontent, or will the sun also rise? Let's hope for the latter!


Georg Steller and the Steller’s Jay
by Tom Williams

If you want a new species to be named for you, you’ve got a better chance with bugs than birds. Approximately one million six-legged species have been described and estimates of the total number go as high as thirty million. In comparison there are only some ten thousand species of birds and any changes we can expect in that number will likely be through splitting and
     So it seems a shame that some naturalists to have multiple species. Georg Steller, for example, has the Steller’s Jay, Steller’s Eider, and Steller’s Sea Eagle, not to mention Steller’s Greenling – a kind of trout – and Steller’s Sea Cow, which is now extinct. In addition he described two other species, Steller’s Sea Monkey and Steller’s White Raven, which have
never been seen by anyone else and probably never existed, at least not species.
     Steller himself was a bit like the jay that’s named for him – curious, quarrelsome, and at times obnoxious. He was born in Austria in 1709 and studied botany and medicine at Halle University. Hearing of a Russian plan to explore North America from Siberia, he made his way first to St. Petersburg and then across Siberia to the Kamchatka peninsula. There he convinced Vitus Bering, a Dane who was in charge of the Russian ships, to sign him on as a physician and naturalist.
     Two ships headed east from Avacha Bay early in June 1841. The St. Peter, carrying Bering and Steller, soon lost contact with the St. Paul but continued towards North America. Steller was in frequent conflict with the crew and officers, both because he was not Russian and because, in spite of his complete lack of experience at sea, he persisted in telling them
how to run the ship. Mockingly called “The Little Commander,” he complained bitterly in his journal that “they commenced to ridicule sneeringly and to leave unheaded every opinion offered by anyone not a seaman.”
     In mid-July they reached the coast of what is now Alaska. Bering had been ill most of the voyage and was eager to return to Russia. Rather than explore the coast, he merely sent ashore a party to fill the ship’s water barrels. Initially Bering would not permit Steller to accompany them, but after an argument in which Steller characterized Bering as “a weakling and an old woman” he gave permission.
     It was during this ten-hour stop that Steller saw and described a single specimen of the jay that bears his name. When the dead bird was brought to him, he immediately recognized it as a close relation of the Blue Jay of eastern North America that he had seen as a painting in Mark Catesby’s book Natural History of Carolina, Florida, etc. in the library at St. Petersburg
     On the return trip, the St. Peter ran ashore on what is now called Bering Island and the crew was forced to winter over. Bering died during this stay but Steller at least partially won the respect of the crew by brewing herbal remedies that cured the scurvy from which they suffered. In the spring, after surviving the winter mostly on a diet of sea otter, they began construction of a new, smaller vessel from the remains of the old one.
     In August they sailed it back into Avacha Bay.
     Steller’s ill feelings over the voyage and his natural pugnacity brought him in to conflict with local authorities. He was arrested and later released, but he soon began drinking heavily and died in November of 1742 at age 37.
     If you are interested learning more about Steller, a good starting point is Where the Sea Breaks Its Back: The Epic Story of Early Naturalist Georg Steller and the Russia Exploration of Alaska, by Corey Ford. At about 200 pages it’s an easy read and has an excellent bibliography. The book’s not in either the Orem or Provo public libraries, but it is in the BYU library. And
I’d be happy to lend you my copy – there’d be no fine if you returned it late.

Copyright ©© 2002 by L. Thomas Williams

I Once Saw A Bird ...
by Margaret T. Sanchez

One day, my daughter Bea and I visited Laguna Atascosa NWR in Texas by the Rio Grande Valley. There we saw a Black-crested Titmouse, an Olive Sparrow, and a Green Jay which I never saw again elsewhere. And years ago, my cousin Gertrude drove me to Mount Diablo in northern California, and on the way we found a Yellow-billed Magpie, which frequents the Sacramento Valley.
     These are experiences which I will never forget.
     On a trip to southeastern Arizona with the Utah County Birders, led by Ned Hill, I saw many new birds—just once in my life. In Madera Canyon, I saw a Bridled Titmouse, a Painted Redstart, and a Scott’s Oriole. I caught only a glimpse of the latter two, not enough for a photograph, but enough to identify them. An Elf Owl poked its head out of a hole in a pole by
Santa Rita Lodge. At other locations, I saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a Rose-throated Becard, a flock of Scaled Quail, a Vermilion Flycatcher, a Gila Woodpecker, an Elegant Trogon, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird (the most beautiful hummingbird I ever saw, with its violet cap, red bill, and white underparts), and the Zone-tailed Hawk flying high above Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains. Thanks, Ned, for these wonderful birds, and many others.
     With my sister Alice in Kentucky, I saw a Swainson’s Thrush, an Indigo Bunting, and a Carolina Wren. At the Lexington Cemetery, I saw and identified my only Veery. When Alice and I visited Florida, we watched a Pileated Woodpecker in Corkscrew Swamp, and a Palm Warbler, several Wood Storks, and a Red-shouldered Hawk in the Everglades National Park.
     When Bea and I visited the Upper Texas Coast, we saw a Least Bittern at Anahuac NWR—I still haven’’t seen the American Bittern. And we saw Neotropic (Olivaceous) Cormorants at Sea Rim State Park. (Which reminds me that
on our Monterey birding trip, Ned showed us both the Pelagic Cormorant and Brandt’s Cormorant side by side, as well as a Townsend’s Warbler.) When I was with Bea in southern California at Bolsa Chica, one of my favorite places to bird along the coast, I once saw some Brants. I visited the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont on several occasions, and there saw one Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a Cactus Wren, and a beautiful Hermit Warbler.
     At Island Park, Idaho, I saw a Red Crossbill, and a juvenile Great Gray Owl. This past summer, with Bea at Benton Lake NWR near Great Falls, Montana, I saw a Chestnut-collared Longspur (unfortunately just when my telephoto lens gave out), and an Upland Sandpiper. At Divide Picnic Area in Yellowstone National Park, I at last saw a Gray Jay!
     With its varied habitats at different elevations, Utah is a wonderful state for birding. I appreciate very much the many opportunities I have had to go birding with the Utah County Birders. Thanks to Robin Tuck for getting this organization started back in 1993! I also owe to Robin my record year of seeing and photographing some 200 species of birds in Utah in
1976—170 or so in Utah County alone!
     Dennis Shirley pointed out a Short-eared Owl flying over the fields west of Utah Lake. I managed to see the Northern Pygmy-Owl at Zion National Park, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl in Alona Huffaker’s front yard. I had a good view of a female Blue Grouse in Payson Canyon, and of the Ruffed Grouse which posed for me by the picnic area of Shingle Creek Campground in the Uintas. I glimpsed a Greater Sage-Grouse flying by at Deseret Ranch—and saw a Sage Sparrow. Black Swifts flew over my head one night when I was up at the Squaw Peak Overlook. At Lytle Ranch, I saw one Ladder-backed
Woodpecker and a Hooded Oriole. On the Provo River by Utah Lake I once saw a Glaucous Gull…
What a joy it is to see a new bird clearly—even briefly—even once!