Utah County Birders Newsletter
July 2003

July Meeting:

Wednesday, July 23rd.

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

Field Trips:

Saturday July 19th

Mirror Lake area. Targets will be the usual high elevation stuff
including Sapsuckers, 3-toed woodpecker, Pine Grosbeaks, etc.

Meet at 7 AM in front of the Provo temple or at the Provo River Falls around 8:30ish.

A Roadrunner Called Tommy
by Reed Stone

This is the 2nd and last part of Tommy the Roadrunner

My relationship with Tommy progressed to a point that he would hop upon the window sill of our enclosed patio and tap on the window with his beak to get our attention. I would usually go out and give him a burger ball. Other times when I was away, my wife informed me, Tommy would fly into the screen door for attention. I am aware that he was more interested in a burger ball than he was with me, however, he would follow me around the yard like a puppy dog and respond to my talking to him. It even progressed to the point that I could call him much as one would call a dog and he would appear with a hungry look in his eye.

It was Christmas time and our oldest son was visiting with his family. Their two pre-teen aged daughters had never seen a roadrunner. I told them I might be able to call one in. It was a frosty morning. I looked around in the brushy surroundings and at last I saw what looked like Tommy. I had some meat balls in my hand. The girls were at the window, inside, as Tommy was shy of "strangers". I called out Tommy, "come on Tommy", I got his attention. He was not inclined to come as he was sunning himself. I tossed a burger ball up and caught it a few times while I continued calling. He was about a block away, he turned and came running and sailing across the washes till he arrived on my driveway. I crouched down and now quietly called him in till he took several burger balls from my hand. It positively
enchanted every one.

In the spring when the June bugs arrived they would come to the light over my garage door, during the night, and eventually fall exhausted on the driveway where I would find them in the cool mornings. I would sweep them up and put them into a large jar. When Tommy arrived I would take a live beetle, about 5/8" long and 3/8" inches in diameter, in my hand and toss it to Tommy. After he had eaten a few I noticed he would latch on to the nape of the neck, give it a crunch, and swallow it. Eighteen were his limit in one sitting.

As my garden matured and the tomato vines were large enough the tomato worms appeared. Tommy would patrol the garden. When he saw a tomato worm or
a grasshopper he would pounce upon it, grab it by the nape of the neck, tenderize it on a convenient rock, and swallow it. This would go on for the full season. With Tommy I had no worries about tomato worms or grasshoppers.

When the eggs hatched I observed the feeding. When they left the nest they would negotiate the branches by walking and balance by flapping with their wings. They would follow their parents around the yard, peck at things and beg by opening their beak and flap their wings. I could always tell when the eggs had hatched. Before the hatching the parents would immediately swallow the meat balls. When the eggs hatched, instead of eating them, they would hold the balls in their beak and take them to the young.

When road runners go to roost for the night, they would never fly up into the tree. They jump with an assisting flap of their wings to a low branch, then they would continue by the same method, branch to branch, till they arrived to a location that suited them, usually 20' to 30' up in the tree. When they left the tree in the morning they would open their wings, give a little hop, and sail down to the ground.

Road runners are well designed to deal with the elements. Earlier I mentioned Tommy sunning himself. Roadrunners have a solar heating panel on their back. It is a large black patch. When it is cold, and they need to warm up, they turn their back to the sun, lift their feathers open, and let the sun shine in. Their long tail is a good rudder in high speed turns when pursuing prey. It is also used as a detractor to the prey while stalking. They wag their tail back and forth keeping the attention of the victim while training their sights on their next meal. Another adaptation, or technique, is, they "shift into four wheel drive" when conditions call for lightning starts or tight high speed turns. For example, one day I was leaving for work and saw what I thought was a small dust devil. It seemed somewhat unusual so I stopped to observe what was happening. When the dust began to settle I could see it was Tommy. I could see he had something in his beak and it appeared to be a lizard. Lizards are capable of making swift tight turns. Without the assistance of their wings a roadrunner would be unable to make the tight turns it takes to catch one.

Now back to the rearing of the young. I would try to feed the young as I would feed the adults, without success. I would toss them a burger ball and they would not touch it. Then the adults would come in and pick the morsel up and offer it to the young which readily accepted and swallow it. What a great protection for the young.

When the young had matured enough to make it on their own the adults would fiercely attack them and drive them off. Then one of the adults would leave. Only one would remain in the vicinity of our yard until the next spring. When the love bug strikes. At that time he would sit on top of our evaporator cooler and start cooing, much like a mourning dove. With in a day or two a mate would appear. Roadrunners are solitary except for the times of mating and rearing their offspring.

The Roadrunner is indeed my most interesting bird.

Costa Rican Birding Adventure

Part 3 – The Arenal Volcano Area
by Ned C. Hill

This is a story of a birding adventure taken by ten Utah County Birders to Costa Rica, March 6-16, 2003, where they saw over 300 species. Bryan and Dennis Shirley were the trip leaders.

Around Lake Arenal

We left Monteverde at around 9:00 am and headed down that long, bumpy, dirt road towards Lake Arenal. We arrived at a paved road (applause and shouts of
joy) at Tilaran. We stopped several times to bird but the wind kept most birds down and out of sight. We did find a Swainson’s Hawk (so this is where they come in the winter) and some Montezuma Oropendula. The road took us all around Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica. It is about 50 miles long, narrow and surrounded by volcanic mountains. At this lower elevation, the wind died down and we started to see more birds. At a finger of the lake, we found Muscovy Duck (wild down here), Passerini’s Tanager (males identical to Cherrie’s but females are much plainer), Gray-capped Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Elaenia (a flycatcher). We found Black Phoebe and both Green and Amazon Kingfishers perched in low trees along the shore. We ate lunch at a very nice restaurant with a terrace and saw a Black-cowled Oriole visiting the flowers bordering the lawn.

Arenal Volcano

Turning off the main highway, we drove about 10 miles up a dirt road to our motel, the Linda Vista del Norte a few miles from the Arenal Volcano. It is active, but the top was shrouded in clouds. When the night is clear, one can sometimes see the lava flows glowing red. The motel is very nice and commands an excellent view of the forested valley below on one side and the lake on the other. From the parking lot, we looked into some nearby trees and found Melodious Blackbird, Giant Cowbird, Thick-billed Seedfinch, Tropical Peewee, White-winged Dove, and Grayish and Buff-throated Saltators. We checked into our rooms. I took the upper bunk—hoping I wouldn’t fall out during the night!

A trail leads along a ridge overlooking the forest just outside the motel. We took that and found a huge tree in a field. As we looked at the Red-lored Parrots in the tree, we saw something chasing them—a Laughing Falcon! This is a great find for Costa Rica. The bird feeds on snakes and is generally a challenge to find. It evidently has a nest up there—as the field guide says “in a great tree.” We also found a kettle of tanagers: Red-thighed Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded, Blue-gray, and others. We saw several toucans and Rufous-collared Sparrows were common. Dinner at the motel was excellent; most of us enjoyed “lapia” a local fish from the lake. We’re starting to drink the water up here—they said it’s from a local spring and very pure. Hope that’s right. As darkness descended, I heard a familiar sound— Common Pauraque coming from the direction of the lake. I had heard and seen them in Bentsen State Park, Texas. We tried calling them in but failed.

I telephoned home to talk to Claralyn and she excitedly reported that Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old girl (daughter of my second cousin) who was kidnapped last June, was found in Salt Lake City alive. She was living with a strange couple that had abducted her. The man who called himself  “Emanuel,” professed a new religion and claimed Elizabeth as his second wife. She had been held for several months in the hills just above the Smart’s Salt Lake City home. Amazing! I did not think they would ever find her alive. I quickly went around to everyone’s room and shared the good news. We were all so happy for the family.

The Howler Monkeys

We awoke to very strange sounds coming from the forest below us— Mantled Howler Monkeys. They roar like a tiger with a cold—a hollow, haunting, penetrating roar. We looked and looked but could not see them in the trees. It rained lightly but we went out anyway and were not disappointed. Some of the same birds were there—this time I got to see the Red-thighed Dacnis myself. We also heard and then found an Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and later a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat for comparison. Back on the motel grounds we found a gorgeous Crimson-collared Tanager —one of the most colorful of all the tanagers. A Bronzed Cowbird —also in the SW US—was in a tree in the motel property.

After breakfast at the motel, we loaded up and headed down towards our next location. But we stopped along the way and found a tree full of Black-headed
Saltators. At that same site we found a Purple- crowned Fairy working the flowers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker —a familiar woodpecker of the eastern
US. We also saw a Yellow-billed Cacique in some vines. Gray- headed Chachalacas called from the trees and displayed for us.

Then we headed down to a much lower elevation on the Caribbean side towards the most famous birding site in all of Costa Rica: la Selva