Utah County Birders Newsletter
February 2004


Wednesday, February 18th.
Meet at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.

Our speaker will be Jackee Alston, Sensitive Species Specialist. She will be discussing new listings and other related information.


Saturday, February 14th
Farmington Bay
Meet at 7:30 a.m. at the Orem Center Street Park and Ride.

Saturday, March 13th
Delta - Snow Goose Festival
Meet at 7:30 a.m. at the Payson Exit #254 Park and Ride

Reed’s Ramblings
by Reed Stone

It’s exciting to see the interest and excite-ment of a new year with new challenges. There are also feelings of birding being a bit dull and slow in the winter. We all experience those feelings. One of the things that brightens things up is to share birding with friends. That just about makes any day.

There are the unusual sightings such as the Eurasian Wigeon at Carol Jean’s back yard. Many of us were able to see it, for some it was a lifer. The Harris’s Sparrow at the silage pit and also at Tuula’s back yard. The Sandhill Crane below the dam from Mona reservoir, Pelicans at Mt. Timpanogos Sewage Treatment Ponds. There are always some migratory deviants to surprise and delight us. I have even seen Magpies carry-ing nesting materials for this year’s nests.

We are in the depths of winter, and by the time this is in your hands, the Great Horned Owl will be incubating eggs. These large predators start early. Soon the Horned Lark will follow suit. The Snow and Ross’s Geese will settle down in and around Delta on their way to their nesting grounds. Shortly after that it will be the Sage Grouse making preparations for this year’s crop. After that the main migration starts full swing.

As the pendulum swings toward summer watch for the color changes from the drab winter plumage to the brilliant spring courting "suits." Instead of flocking up birds begin to pair up. Ducks start exploring for nesting locations near water.

Things to keep in mind to get the most productive use of birding time are: know the habitat, the environment most likely to attract the species you want to see; know the food requirements.

Seed eaters have a broad span of time in which to feed, starting at dawn. Insect eaters like Creepers, Nuthatches and most Woodpeckers can start early because their feast is basically stationary. These insects are available throughout all seasons. Members of the Warbler families glean leaves and crevices for dormant insects and insect eggs. Later in the year, when leaves develop, larva become part of the diet. Flycatchers will not arrive till larva have fledged. They also have to wait till they are warmed by the morning sun to begin moving around and become available. Water foul and shore birds are able to feed almost any time of the day. So viewing time is generally extended. Goatsuckers and Owls feeding times start late evening and continue through the darkness of night.

Generally early morning is the most productive birding time followed by evening. Keep in mind when birds wake up after a nights sleep they are hungry. Before they go to roost they like to do it with a full stomach. Courtship time is when most birds are visible. Nesting time about half of them are on the nest. I realize this is quite brief. My hope is that we will all make a real effort to understand the lives of our feathered friends.

By understanding the various needs of avian life, feeding, courtship and environment, we can all make our birding time more rewarding and interesting. Go for it, have a great birding year!

Challenge Installment #2:
by Merrill Webb

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter my purpose in writing these installments is to assist birders in their search for specific groups of birds in order to satisfy the requirements of challenge #3, Target Birding, in this years birding contest.

As I reflect on the good old days when there were quality cartoons at the movie theaters I wonder how much characters like Daffy Duck, the Roadrunner, and Woody Woodpecker influenced my interest in birds. I imagine my interest was piqued because they were so entertaining. It was a long time before I realized that roadrunners didn’t go, “Beep, Beep”, and that woodpeckers didn’t sound like Woody.

As a group, woodpeckers are ecologically important and anatomically interesting. They are forest excavators; drilling holes for nests and vacating them for new ones every year. But the holes they leave behind are essential for many cavity-nesting birds such as mountain bluebirds, tree swallows and saw-whet owls, to name a few. The majority of cavity-nesting birds are insectivorous. Because they make up a large proportion of the forest-dwelling bird population, they play an important role in the control of forest insect pests. Woodpeckers are especially important predators of many species of tree-killing bark beetles.

Structurally the long, barbed tongue of woodpeckers wraps around the skull and is anchored at the base of the bill. This, along with a coating of sticky saliva, helps in extracting insects from holes. They have padded skulls to reduce brain damage from drumming against hard surfaces, and their tail feathers are stiffened to help support upright position on tree trunks.

At any rate, there are nine woodpeckers that are seeable in Utah so I will list some of the places where they can be found.

1. Lewis’s Woodpecker. This species, which I think is one of the most beautiful birds in Utah, is listed as an uncommon permanent resident on the state checklist. Unlike most woodpeckers, it flies steadily and straight like a crow, and can often be observed flycatching from exposed branches. It is usually associated with open woodlands and riparian forests where there are many dead trees. However, in Utah County this woodpecker is usually found where there is abundant, mature Gambel’s Oak that supplies them with acorns. One of the most reliable places to observe this species in Utah County is east of the town of Salem and north of Woodland Hills where there is a band of Gambel’s Oak that lines the south part of the valley. Be sure to check out the telephone poles in this area, and also in the area of the Salem Cemetery because they seem to like “perching” on these exposed poles. Two other consistent localities has been Harker Canyon in the Sheeprock Mountains southwest of the small town of Vernon in Tooele County and Milburn, a small farming community, just north of Fairview in Sanpete County. In eastern Utah one of the most dependable localities has been Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. When visiting these sites be sure to check the large, dead, or dying, cottonwood trees.

2. Acorn Woodpecker. This colorful, clown-faced species is listed as a rare permanent resident on the state checklist. It is not easy to find, even when birding the right habitat, but look for it in large, dead or dying ponderosa pines. I have observed this bird in four different places—all in southern Utah. Devil’s Canyon along Utah State Highway 191 between Monticello and Blanding in southeastern Utah has many big ponderosa pine trees with an oak understory which provides suitable habitat. One or two birds have been seen on the south slope of the Boulder Mountain in Garfield County between Grover and Boulder. There have been sightings (although not recently) in the ponderosa-oak community of Zion National Park between the town of Virgin and Kolob Reservoir. One of my first southern Utah sightings of this species more than twenty years ago was in the tall ponderosa pines in the area of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Kane County. Subsequent visits to that area failed in locating it.

3. Williamson’s Sapsucker. This is another beautiful woodpecker, especially the male, and it’s not easy to locate either. Listed as uncommon summer and rare winter on the state checklist one of the most consistent locations recently has been near Provo Falls on the Provo River just off State Highway 150 (Mirror Lake Highway) east of Kamas in the Wasatch National Forest. Other sightings this year have been at Lytle Ranch and Pine Valley campground in southwestern Utah, Main Canyon west of Strawberry Reservoir in central Utah and in the Brighton area in the mountains east of Salt Lake City. This is a high elevation bird and seems to prefer a mixture of aspen and conifer trees, especially fir. Unlike all other woodpeckers in the U.S., this species shows a strong difference between male and female plumages.

4. Red-naped Sapsucker. This woodpecker is listed as common summer and rare winter on the state checklist. Quoting Sibley, “Nests in mixed coniferous woodlands. Winters in any woodlands. Drills rows of small shallow holes in tree bark, feeding on sap and on insects attracted to sap.” Sapsucker tongues are somewhat shorter than the other woodpecker’s tongues. They have fine, hairlike process on their tips for obtaining sap by capillary action. In my experience I have found this species in Utah County most consistently on the Alpine and Nebo Loops where there is a mix of aspen-conifer. While conducting breeding bird surveys during nesting season I have found them in Soapstone Basin, Diamond Fork Canyon, Strawberry Valley, and Sheep Creek Canyon along small streams where there are abundant willows adjacent to thick stands of aspen. During winter bird surveys in Washington County I have observed them in orchards at Lytle Ranch, Rockville, and Grafton.

5. Ladder-backed Woodpecker. This species is a fairly common permanent resident of desert plant communities in Washington County. This is another of the unique birds found in Utah’s Dixie. Generally this bird can be found in riparian woods (Beaver Dam Wash and Santa Clara Creek, i.e., Mathis Park and Tonaquint Park), but it also gets out into the Joshua tree forests on the Beaver Dam slope. During the winter I have found this woodpecker in orchards in Grafton and Rockville as well as in the cottonwood trees at a couple of the St. George golf courses. Lytle Ranch is one of the most consistent sites to find this species.

6. Downy Woodpecker. Listed as a common permanent residence this species is one of the woodpeckers that can be attracted to suet feeders during the winter. Nesting in deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands it can usually be observed in Utah County on the Alpine and Nebo scenic loops. During the winter look for it in the deciduous trees that border Hobble Creek, and the Spanish Fork and Provo Rivers.

7. Hairy Woodpecker. Listed as a fairly common permanent resident this species is usually associated with mature forests. Can be found locally along the Alpine and Nebo scenic loops as well as in the Uintah Mountains. I have observed it consistently at Aspen Grove up the road from Sundance Resort and at Big Springs (if you don’t mind a one mile hike) in the south fork of Provo Canyon.

8. Three-toed Woodpecker. This rare permanent species is classified as a “sensitive species” in the Intermountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, and as a “species of concern” by the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources. This means that the population viability is of concern for whatever reason and is to receive special consideration when projects may impact its numbers. The Three-toed is a challenging bird to locate due to its rather retiring nature. It prefers burned tracts of forests or conifers (especially spruce) sick or dead from insect infestation. One of the best indicators of its presence in a particular area is to look for large patches of bare tree trunks where the bark has been flaked off. One of the most consistent localities for finding this woodpecker has been the Uintahs, especially in the Trial Lake and Mirror Lake areas. Other sites have been the Silver Lake area at Brighton up Big Cottonwood Canyon, Main Canyon east of Strawberry Reservoir and, in appropriate habitat, headwaters of the White River northeast of Soldier Summit up Spanish Fork Canyon. When searching for this species please resist the urge to use taped calls.

9. Northern Flicker. In my experience this is the most common woodpecker in Utah, and is probably the one that is best known even by non-birders. It is widespread in many different habitats and is one of the few woodpeckers that actively forages on the ground. One study found more than 200 ants in the stomach of a single flicker.

Hopefully this information has added to your appreciation for this group of Utah birds and will also be helpful in locating the woodpeckers I have indicated above. Three other species of woodpeckers have been observed in Utah, but since these are so rare they are not required on the challenge list
and I have not described them.

The group to be addressed in the next newsletter will be the thrushes.

GPS; the unfulfilled promise.
by Robin Tuck

By the way some of us talk, you would believe that all you needed to do to never be lost and to always know where you were going is to buy a GPS unit.

Ummmmm, No!

That would be wrong. Well, perhaps not entirely wrong, but certainly not absolutely right. The truth is that using a GPS can tell you where you are and can tell you where you are going if, and this is a big if, you understand what it is telling you and how to interpret the information using ordinary maps. This is non-trivial (read 'Hard!').

The basis of the information provided by a GPS is latitude and longitude coordinates, although you can set the device to give you coordinates using other systems, such a UTM. Going back to latitude and longitude coordinates, it is possible to locate any point on the earth's surface using longitude and latitude. In fact, longitude and latitude are used all the time for navigation purposes. I get a mental picture of some old sea captain on a square rigger sighting through his sextant determining his position using the stars. This image is old fashioned, but the principle is modern since recently, just prior to the GPS era navigators on ships and planes all used stellar navigation to chart their course.

Back in the far past, someone divided a circle into 360 degrees, and each degree into 60 minutes, and each minute into 60 seconds. I don't know which came first, dividing a circle or dividing the earth, but interestingly, applied to the earth, the sun moves (actually the earth does the moving) 15 degrees per hour across the sky. So we divide hours into minutes and seconds, but I digress.

Longitude lines run north and south, all intersecting at the poles, therefore longitude tells you how far east or west you are. Latitude lines, called parallels, go around the earth telling you how far north or south you are. I remember the difference by thinking of the rungs of a ladder being like latitude lines, remembering the near rhyme between latitude and ladder.

Aside from remembering crossing the 45th parallel and seeing a sign along the road when driving I-84 just north of Farewell Bend in Oregon, I cannot remember any reference to latitude or longitude that an ordinary person would run into. Real people do not use latitude and longitude. If you pick up a state road map, there are no references to latitude and longitude, and you cannot find latitude and longitude markings on the map anywhere.

So, there you are, GPS in hand. How do you get the latitude and longitude coordinates from the GPS onto the map? If you are lucky, you purchased a GPS unit with maps built in, and the unit shows you where you are at on a teeny-tiny map. Admittedly, some maps are 'GPS enabled' meaning they have minute markings on the edges of the maps. The big Gazetteer maps are a good example.

All is not consistent in the world of latitude-longitude coordinates though. There are many ways of writing the coordinates that look similar but are enough different to cause confusion. Remember that there are 360 degrees around the earth. It is easy enough to remember that longitude lines are numbered from -180° to +180° with zero being over Greenwich, England. Utah covers -114° to -109° longitude although we most always leave off the minus sign. Latitude lines start at zero on the equator and go to 90 at the poles. Utah covers 37° to 42° latitude. Problems begin to arise when we get to the minutes and seconds. Often a latitude is written 40° 20' 15", which happens to be where the Bonneville Shoreline trail takes off near Bridal Veil Falls. This is easy to understand when you remember there are 60 minutes (') in a degree and 60 seconds (") in a minute. But wait. Sometimes people like to leave off the seconds and give the coordinate using decimal minutes, which would yield 40° 20.260'. This is OK because you can set up your GPS to give you the coordinates either way. But wait again. Some people like to leave off the minutes and express the coordinate in decimal degrees, which would yield 40.3377°.

We can live with these inconsistencies if we can set all our maps and programs and devices to use the same coordinate representation, but we cannot. I just purchased Microsoft Streets & Trips and found it uses decimal degrees. All my Delorme Gazetteer maps have minute hash marks on each page at the edge of the maps which means that decimal degrees don’t work for it. The National Geographic Maps CDs I use on my computer will not take decimal degrees either.

My GPS can be set to whatever format I want but what is right for one program is wrong for another. I wish there was a good answer, one that worked for the common man.

There was a story out of the war in Afghanistan several years ago where the navigator in an Air Force jet was calling coordinates to an Army artillery unit for an important target. When the first round landed way off target, the navigator remembered the Army used a different coordinate system than the Air Force, so he whipped out a calculator (while flying around in the jet) and did the conversion and radioed the corrected values to the Army unit. The next round was right on. The problem was decimal degrees versus decimal minutes. Even the experts have problems with coordinate systems.

I wish there was an easy, consistent solution. Get ready to whip out your calculator. Note that I am still in favor of birders purchasing and using GPS devices and learning how to use them. There are times when being able to report a location with the accuracy of a GPS is quite important. Spend a little more and get one with the built in map. It’s worth it.

Membership List

It has been requested that we publish a list of members in the newsletter soon. However, this is difficult to determine because our policy is that anyone may attend meetings and field trips for free. Membership dues support the newsletter, gifts, expenses, and worthy projects. Anyone who has paid dues this year will automatically be on the list unless you contact Eric Huish. If you have not paid dues but wish to be on the list, please feel free to contact Eric so that active birders can interact. Call Eric at 360-8777 or write to newsletter@utahbirds.org.

Hotline Telephone Tree

Some members do not have the internet, so a telephone tree is still important. Who would like to be included? Call Julia Tuck to report exciting bird sightings or to be a part of the phone tree. Her home phone number is 377-8084. After April 5th, she will be working part-time at the Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service: 851-8460, press 0, then ask for Julia Tuck.