Utah County Birders Newsletter
March 2004


Wednesday, March 17th.

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

Milt, Bryan, and Junece will report on their trip to Japan.


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

Sometimes our best made plans were just not meant to be. It was an early cloudy but still pleasant Thursday morning when four avid birders, (Alton, Kay, Tuula and Reed) headed north to see a rare bird. There was a hint of some storminess, however the weather prognosticators had reported nothing serious would reach the region until late afternoon. There was high anticipation of a great day and a lifer or two for each of us, the Northern Hawk Owl and possibly a Redpoll.

We had prepared well with plenty of warm clothing, camera, food, a shovel, and a tow rope. Alton had specific directions and a local birder to help where needed. We were prepared for almost any unanticipated event. We cruised along the freeway enjoying the ride. It was almost full daylight. As we approached northern Utah the weather started to close in around us. We were nearing exit 32 on I-84, Whites Valley exit, the weather suddenly changed and in a few minutes there was an inch of slush on the road, a car had slid off the side into deep snow with a trucker assisting them.

With sleet coming down hard and a treacherous road we decided to do a 180 and get out of the storm. As quickly as we had driven into the storm we emerged out of it.

With a desire to salvage our disappointment we decided to go to Antelope Island. At about the six mile marker we saw a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying ahead of us on the south, the windward side, of the causeway. They were flying about ten feet above the ground. As we approached them they began to rise. They rose together, about 100' high and then they began their courtship "dance". With powerful grace they came down like rockets barely above the ground. Then they would zoom up once again with amazing speed and repeat diving to a point one began to wonder if they would crash into mother earth.

To us it appeared they were each enjoying the company of the other, showing there power and fitness. We slowed down to watch them demonstrating their prowess. The production went on for about a mile when they veered away indelibly leaving a great experience in our memory bank.

Still we were smarting some because of our missing out on seeing the Owl. We continued on toward Garr Ranch. With high hopes of seeing the Northern Shrike that had been reported in the area. Kay and Tuula saw a shrike but were unable to determine which kind it was. We cruised the area back and forth a few times and finally with another failure returned home. Not a total failure because we had each been witnesses to a flight demonstration which will never escape our memories, the Peregrine Courtship "Dance".

One week later: Alton, Merrell, Kay and Reed struck out on another attempt to see the Northern Hawk Owl. We were aware that the time for it to leave could come at any moment. Once again the weather gave us some concern. We left Alton’s at 5:00 AM. There were very light snow flakes intermittently falling. As we approached Salt Lake it grew worse. There was a car upside down in the median near the Point Of the Mountain. There were many emergency lights flashing. We pushed on and sleet was falling and growing worse. It got severe enough as we were passing through Salt Lake City that we were all thinking, "Maybe we should turn around, maybe it was not to be?” With some determination we pushed along. It eventually let up and our hopes raised.
The farther we went the better it looked. There were weather cells along the way so our concern remained. We saw a big rig with two trailers on its side near the Idaho line. The road was being salted because of icy conditions. Finally about 80 miles from our destination we could see clearing conditions ahead. The sky was blue with a few clouds.

Following the precise directions that Pomera had supplied us with we drove right to the street location and there as big as you please, sitting prominently on the tip top of a 25' tall spruce tree, was our target bird, the Northern Hawk Owl!!! What a sight!!! We must have watched it for 20 minutes from a distance of about 20 yards. Its head filled our scopes. It locked on to us eye ball to eye ball. Finally success!!!

We drove around the area looking for more species. Returning by way of the NHO, it was still there. It was a lifer for each of us.

We returned home feeling good about the success of the trip. Persistence really does pay, at least this time.

Challenge Installment #3:
by Merrill Webb

To me a couple of thrushes represent some of the most melodious singers we have a chance of hearing in Utah. And I consider another couple of thrushes among some of the most beautiful of our Utah birds. There are eight required species of this family (Turdidae) that are seeable, but finding two of these presents a challenge.

1. Western Bluebird. With its bright blue upper body contrasting with its orange breast this is one of the two thrushes I consider among the most colorful of our Utah birds. It doesn’t venture north of the central part of the state very often, so let’s list a few places down south where this bird can be found. During the winter it can usually be found along the Beaver Dam Wash where it feeds on the mistletoe in the acacia trees. During Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) I have seen it commonly in the Grafton and Rockville areas as well as in Zion National Park. During the summer they aren’t as gregarious and are more difficult to locate, but look for them in oak savannas bordered by agricultural land such as in the area between Zion and Mount Carmel Junction, and from Kanab north on Highway 89 through Garfield County and over to Bryce Canyon National Park.

2. Mountain Bluebird. This beautiful, sky blue bird is listed as a common summer resident and uncommon winter resident. During the winter they are found mainly in the southern part of the state in loose-knit foraging flocks in open, agricultural areas. During the breeding season since they are a cavity nesting bird look for them in aspen forests such as can be found on the Nebo Loop and Mt. Timpanogos scenic highways. Also, since the Salt Lake Audubon Society has placed a number of nesting boxes in the Strawberry Valley this is an excellent place to observe this species.

3. Townsend’s Solitaire. Listed as a common permanent resident this is one of the few Utah songbirds that can be heard singing its melodious song during the winter. Usually it nests in higher elevations in coniferous forests. During the winter, however, it frequently can be found at lower elevations like the Provo Cemetery in Utah County where it feeds on juniper berries, or at the Lytle Ranch in the Beaver Dam Wash where it is fond of the mistletoe berries. Rock Canyon, east of Provo, and American Fork Canyon, especially the trail up to Timpanogos Cave, are also consistent places to find it. Recently (December), I was in Ophir Canyon in Tooele County and found close to a dozen scattered about in the area east of the town.

4. Veery. Listed as a rare summer visitor this is a bird I have never seen in Utah County. The only place I have observed it is in the area below Deer Creek Dam on the Provo River. During migration it has been reported at the Garr Ranch on Antelope Island and also in the area of dam. It frequents willows and may be hard to observe. Best indication of its presence is its beautiful, downward spiraling song.

5. Swainson’s Thrush. Fairly common in moist, mixed woods. Best places to find this species in Utah County are the following: South Fork of Provo Canyon, trail up to Stewart Falls in the North Fork of Provo Canyon, and the lower part of Diamond Fork Canyon. Become familiar with its beautiful, flutelike rising song to help in locating this species. Seems to prefer wetter habitat than the Hermit Thrush.

6. Hermit Thrush. Listed as common summer and rare winter this bird is the most beautiful songster in the forest (my opinion). Best places to look (and to listen) for this species in central Utah are any of the forests containing a mixture of aspen, conifer and even oak. Since it is so widespread one would think it would be easy to see, but this isn’t always the case because it is a denizen of the thick understory of the forest. When out in the woods just find a comfortable place to sit, locate the bird by its song and wait for it to move. This species can also be found during the winter, but again it prefers protection provided by thick vegetation.

7. American Robin. Contrary to popular opinion this bird is not a harbinger of spring—at least not in Utah County and particularly not this winter (2003-4) in Utah where it is widespread. It has been seen on every Provo CBC beginning in 1973 to the present with the lowest number (19) in 1979 and the highest (2044) in 1990. Since this is a very common yard bird I doubt that detailed descriptions of where to go to find it is needed.

8. Varied Thrush. Listed as a rare winter visitor (seen only once on the Provo CBC-1984), it nonetheless seems to turn up at least somewhere in the state almost every year. This year two have been observed in Logan; in fact Cache Valley seems to have the majority of sightings in the state over the years. Perhaps the best way to find this species is to double check every Robin in a flock of Robins during the winter. Easier said than done.

Next month: Blackbirds and Orioles

Utah Breeding Bird Atlas Project
by Robin Tuck

Members of the Utah County Birders would have had to have their 'head in the sand' to not know we tried an experimental Breeding Bird Atlas project in 2003. Seven birders from our club accepted the task to survey 'squares' in the county in preparation for a full-scale launch of the Utah Breeding Bird Atlas project. We learned a lot from that experiment and have refined the procedures and are now ready to go at it for real.

Most states have completed or are currently doing a Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) project. Utah, and several other large western states have not done one yet, although the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources suggests we really need one. An atlas is a book of maps; a breeding bird atlas is a book of maps by species showing where birds breed, nest and rear their young.

The Utah BBA project, currently being considered for sponsorship by the Utah Ornithological Society (UOS), is being started in 2004, and will provide an opportunity for local birders to gather scientifically significant information from locations all over the state.

The project consists of qualified birders visiting assigned 'squares' 3 to 5 times during the breeding season, recording their sightings, then submitting the sightings for compilation.

Due to the size of the state and the relative low number of birders available, the state has been subdivided into squares, with 8% of the land being selected for surveying, yielding about 700 3 mile by 3 mile squares.

Any birder wishing to participate would select a square and request to have it assigned to them, then would visit the square 3 to 5 times, visiting each habitat type represented in the square and recording the birds and their observed behavior. Shortly after completing their survey, they would enter their sightings using the Internet for compilation. It is expected this project will take 5 years and will produce an Atlas Book detailing the breeding distribution of all birds breeding in Utah.

A Web site has been set up with extensive information and directions for accomplishing the BBA project. Interested birders can learn more about this project at http://www.utahnature.com/utahnature/utahbba.php. They may also register and request squares using this site. Please note that although a large effort has been made to create this site, it has a long way to go to be truly user-friendly, and additions are being made to it weekly.

BBA training classes will be held throughout the state starting the end of March through April at dates and locations to be announced.

Robin Tuck, Utah BBA Chairman