Utah County Birders Newsletter
Upcoming Field Trips
Five “Code 5” Birds in
Trip Report - Tooele County - March 12th
Field Trip Report - Utah Lake Tour - March 26th
Field Trip Report - Southern California Birding Trip - March 19th - 26th
News from Our Website
Backyard Bird of the
Wednesday, April 13th.
Two BYU graduate students will give presentations on their research.
1. Rick Baxter will give results of the
reintroduction of Greater Sage Grouse into Strawberry Valley. They have had
2. Randy Larsen will discuss his study on
guzzler use by Chuckar and other birds on the West Desert mountain
Meet at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.
April 2nd (Sat): Carbon County Sage Grouse
Lek, Scofield Reservoir, Carbon County hot spots. Meet at 5:00 am at
the Sam's Club parking lot in East Bay in Provo. (starting time subject to
change, watch for reminder at the end of March)
April 16th (Sat): Sanpete County Tour
around the San Pitch Mountains. Chicken Creek Reservoir, Juba Lake, Wetlands by
Fayette, Gunnison Reservoir, back by Moroni and Fountain Green. Meet at Sam's
Club in East Bay in Provo at 7:00 am. Back by mid-afternoon.
April 30th (Sat): Trip to Simpson Springs
and Fish Springs in west Tooele and
Juab Counties. Meet at Orem Center Street Park and Ride at 7:00 am. Back by
By Alton Thygerson
Field Trips – 1 of 2 Parts
Do you remember your first birding field trip? For some of us it may have
been as memorable as going on our first date or the first day in the first
My first field trip was as a boy scout while growing up in Texas. The scout
camp was near Canadian, Texas (Panhandle part of Texas), and the scouts owned a
chunk of land with a large lodge where all the meals were cooked and served
(that’s my kind of scouting). During an evening campfire, it was announced that
those wanting to go on a bird walk could meet early the next morning. I just
happened to have the boy scout binoculars (about a 3 power) and a strong
interest in nature. The only bird I remember from the experience was a
Mississippi Kite and how the guide was excited to show us the bird as it glided
high over our heads.
Skip forward to the early 1970s for my next organized birding experience with
others in the field. Merrill Webb was leading his second Christmas Count, and I
along with Bill Ratcliffe went out with Merrill. Bill worked as a professional
photographer at Dugway and when not working, took a lot of nature-oriented
photographs. Another occasion involved Merrill leading a group to a Greater Sage
Grouse lek in the west desert. This particular event remains memorable because
we had to go through a couple of roadblocks set up by law enforcement officers.
A plane was high-jacked, money was paid, and then the high-jacker bailed out
over Utah County.
Then my life made a lot of demands and off-the-job time was spent helping my
wife raise six children. About the same time, my employer began emphasizing
"publish or perish," and I thought I could earn some extra income through
Wanting an outdoor hobby which could extend through retirement, I renewed an
interest in birding around 1996 and soon learned about the Utah County Birders.
I learned that the UCB conducted field trips, and found myself getting in with a
bunch of strangers into Robin Tuck’s van as several carloads went birding around
the south end of Utah County.
Interesting things are learned on field trips other than determining "what
bird is that" and "chalking up another one for the life list." One field trip
had me sitting next to a stranger named Natalie Tanner. The significance of our
conversation was that I knew her father, Clarence Robison, who was my track
coach at BYU—one of the most influential people in my life.
A Deseret Ranch tour guided by Mark Stackhouse had me sitting next to Jack
Binch. You should know Jack by his fabulous bird photos posted at utahbirds.org.
During the trip, we learned that he and my wife were in the same Carbon High
School (Price, Utah) graduation class.
The bi-annual UCB Birding Challenge (Contest) sparked me to expand my
horizons beyond the county and state. Fortunately, my "publish or perish"
efforts paid off and placed me in the position of going on birding tours
elsewhere in the USA (e.g., AZ, TX, AK, OH, KY, FL, CA) and other countries
(e.g., Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia).
See next month’s Feather Talk for Part 2 and more on field trips.
SPECIAL NOTE: Those on the Southern California Birding Trip are very
appreciative of the guiding and arrangements made by Aaron and Shauna Smith.
While a few specialties were missed (e.g., Mountain Quail) most of the Southern
California specialties were seen. These included: White-headed Woodpecker,
Red-breasted Sapsucker, Le Conte's Thrasher, California Thrasher, California
Gnatcatcher, California Towhee, Island Scrub Jay, Gull-billed Tern, and over 180
other birds. All participants added to their life lists. Merrill Webb surpassed
the 600 bird mark for the continental U.S. states (lower 48). Look for the
complete report by Bill Slater.
Five "Code 5" Birds in TexasNed C. Hill March 2005
The Rio Grande Valley of Texas is one of my favorite
birding places in the U.S.—especially in winter. There is always a chance of
vagrant birds that come up from Mexico and plenty of wintering birders to spot
them. When a university assignment in February took me to Waco, Texas, to
consult Baylor University, I couldn’t resist the invitation from Matt DeVries
(formerly one of our very active Utah County Birders, now in Omaha) to extend my
trip by three days and join him in “The Valley.” The rare bird alerts were
reporting not just one or two vagrants, but five! These were birds of legend not
often seen north of the border: Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Gray-crowned
Yellowthroat, Golden-crowned Warbler, White-throated Robin and Roadside Hawk.
Several more rarities—Green-breasted Mango (a Code 5 hummingbird) and Social
Flycatcher (Code 5)—had already come and gone and a Rufous-capped Warbler (Code
4) was still being seen but it was too far north of The Valley to chase. But
there was a shot at finding five vagrants within a few hours of McAllen. A
couple of bonus lifers for Matt were also possible: Elegant Trogon and
Rose-throated Becard—not code 5 but classy birds. Baylor University even offered
to pay for the change in tickets. How could I refuse? Besides, Matt had been the
one to help me find my 700th ABA bird a few years ago in
California—the Nutting’s Flycatcher. Good things always happen with Matt around.
What’s a “Code 5” bird? The coding system was developed by
the American Birding Association to give birders some idea of how easy or
difficult it is to find a given bird in the ABA area (see ABA Checklist:
Birds of the Continental United States and Canada). A vast majority of birds
are classified “Code 1.” They are relatively easily found in the proper habitat
and season. “Code 2” birds—including Western Screech-Owl, Green Kingfisher and
Sage Grouse—are a little more difficult to find even if you look in the right
habitat. “Code 3” birds, like the Tufted Duck, Kirtland’s Warbler and
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, are always in the ABA area but never easy to find. “Code
4” birds may not be findable anywhere in the ABA area in a given year or they
have a very restricted range that’s difficult to get to. Examples are Wood
Sandpiper, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Whiskered Auklet, Bluethroat, and Brambling.
“Code 5” birds are vagrants—never to be expected anywhere in the ABA area in a
given year. They show up when they show up. There is actually a “Code 6,” too.
Birds so classified are thought to be extinct (e.g., Ivory-billed Woodpecker and
Bachman’s Warbler), live elsewhere but have not been seen in the ABA area for
100 years (e.g., Bumblebee Hummingbird), or exist only in captivity or release
programs (e.g., the California Condor). When Ivan Call and I were on Attu Island
in 1996, we saw five Code 5 birds, many Code 4’s and Code 3’s. So, a report of
five Code 5 birds in one relatively small area in Texas was quite a draw.
Frontera Audubon Center
Arising early on the first day in McAllen, we choose to try
the nearest vagrants at the Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco. The center is
just a small building and few acres of native, south Texas flora next to a
cemetery. When we arrive at the crack of dawn, a number of other cars are
already in the parking lot and more will come later filling the lot and all the
roadways nearby. As we step out of the car, Great Kiskadees call their
names (“kisk-a-deeee”) from the tops of trees, a Long-billed Thrasher
sings its beautiful jumble of song and a White-eyed Vireo gleans insects
from a nearby tree, singing as it goes. We register in the small building, pay
our fee and pick up a map of the trails. The lady helpfully marks the areas
where the rarities are most likely to be found. We immediately check out the
feeder station and find the striking Green Jay (Code 2), a
Buff-breasted Hummingbird (Code 2), White-breasted Nuthatch, Ovenbird,
many White-tipped Doves (Code 2) and Northern Cardinals along with
several Common Ground-doves and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers. Some
very noisy Plain Chachalacas (Code 2) fight over position under the
feeders. But we don’t stay long as rarer birds beckon. At the trail near the
cemetery, a birder motions to us and points out two very dark birds in a small
tree near the fence. One glance through my binoculars reveals a very striking
black grosbeak with a brilliant red collar and red breast—a Crimson-collared
Grosbeak (Code 5). A duller colored female is nearby. They fly up into a
higher tree where we are able to point them out to several other arriving
birders. That was easy! I remember when these birds were in the national news in
the 1980’s. All serious listers in the country flew to Texas to see them.
The robins had typically been seen from another nearby
wooded trail that extends about 50 yards and ends at the cemetery fence. Before
long, about 40 birders crowd that trail, talking very quietly in reverent
anticipation of a very rare bird sighting. We walk it several times and get our
hopes up at the sight of any thrush we see. A beautiful Elegant Trogon
(Code 3), usually found in southeastern Arizona but rare in south Texas, perches
momentarily on the top of a small snag. It has a bright red breast and deep
green back—a lifer for Matt and many others on the trail.
Matt sees a dark-backed robin fly from the main trail
towards the 50-yard trail. He thought he saw the bird’s white throat but
concludes it must be a Clay-colored Robin (Code 4). We eventually
get good looks at American Robin, Hermit Thrush and Clay-colored’s. After
walking the trails for about an hour, I happen to be standing by a very good
birder (we will run into him later and get to know him better) who suddenly
calls out, “I have the robin!” He directs us to a bird walking in the underbrush
just 15 feet away. The White-throated Robin (Code 5) has a very slaty
back and a white crescent below its chin. But it quickly disappears into the
dense foliage before many get a good look. Matt, after studying more
Clay-colored Robins, concludes that the bird he had seen earlier was, indeed,
In the same area, we find a very noisy Carolina Wren
along with Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Summer Tanager,
Black-throated Green, Black-and-white and Orange-crowned Warblers.
Brownsville and the Sable Palm Sanctuary
Elated at our initial successes, we think we have seen all
we can see at Frontera and decide to move to the next targets in the Brownsville
area. A good divided highway leads southeast about 40 miles to this furthest
southern city in the continental U.S. Signs are everywhere leading to the
Mexican border and the roads are filled with large trucks bringing billions of
dollars of goods to and from Mexico each year. We head over to the east side of
the city to the Sable Palm Sanctuary operated by the Texas Audubon Society. The
parking lot is nearly full. The feeders near the headquarters building are
visited by Green Jays and Plain Chachalacas. Black-crested Titmice,
split from the Plain Titmouse, whistle from the trees and Turkey and
Black Vultures soar overhead. Several elusive Olive Sparrows (Code 2)
scamper on the ground under the feeders. We head for the portion of the trail on
the far side of the small lake. Common Yellowthroats call from the reeds.
On the lake are Least Grebe (Code 2), Double-crested Cormorant,
Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Anhinga, Common Moorhen, American Coot,
Ruddy Duck, Mallard, Great Egret, Ringed Kingfisher (Code 2) and
Black-crowned Night-Heron. We walk around the area where the Gray-crowned
Yellowthroat was reported just an hour ago but we don’t find it. We also look
for the Rose-throated Becard but have no success. It’s now very warm and into
the slow part of the day. We decide to head over to the campus of the University
of Texas, Brownsville, where the Golden-crowned Warbler has been reported.
Due to confusing directions and road signs, we have some
difficulty in finding the designated location. We eventually find the levy next
to a small fringe of forest and swamp. On a waterway we see Lesser Scaup,
Gadwall, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, American White Pelican, Roseate
Spoonbill, White Ibis and Snowy Egret (in addition to other birds
previously mentioned). The warbler was said to be in the company of other
warblers. There are certainly plenty of warblers but mostly Yellow-rumped,
with a few Nashville, and Orange-crowned thrown in. We hear a
Sora call from the cattails. Of course, the ever present Great-tailed
Grackles fill the airwaves with sound. Some smiling birders emerge from the
trees reporting that they just saw the Golden-crowned. We rush to the area and
comb through it with several others. Then a man patiently waiting below the levy
reports he has the bird. We plunge through the undergrowth (hoping the snakes
are not waiting for our ankles) to join him. The bird does not appear again. As
I stand on the levy, flocks of both Green Parakeet and Red-crowned
Parrot (Code 2) noisily fly overhead. Matt finds a Yellow-bellied
Sapsucker crawling up a tree. We finally give up on the warbler for today
and head back to McAllen and our motel, stopping for a tasty Mexican dinner. Two
wonderful Code 5 birds and an Elegant Trogon but we were greedy and had hoped
Birders yesterday had told us the Roadside Hawk is “easy”
to find in San Ygnacio when it leaves its nighttime perch and flies into trees
or poles near the intersection of Trevino and Washington Streets at around 7:15
am. But we’ve learned to be very wary of the term “easy!” We arise very early
and drive the two and a half hours before dawn to San Ygnacio up river from
McAllen. At the appropriate intersection, we scan every tree and utility pole
for 20 minutes—but to no avail. After 7:15 passes, some other birders come up
from the trail leading down to the river and tell us they have just seen the
hawk well in a tree we should have been able to see. But we didn’t look that
direction. Oh, my. Joel, who created and owns the little private sanctuary
there, tells us the bird is very difficult to find during the day except,
perhaps, along the “Raptor Trail.” Had we only looked a few degrees away from
where we were looking!
We walk the Raptor Trail with the fellow who showed me the
White-throated Robin yesterday. In addition to some of the birds we saw before,
we add to our trip list: Cactus Wren, Brown-headed Cowbird, Western Kingbird,
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Eastern Phoebe, Chihauan
Raven, Song, Savannah and Lincoln Sparrows, House Finch, and
Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The trail winds down to the river but we see no
raptors at all—let alone the rare Roadside Hawk. On the return hike, we find a
striking Black-throated Sparrow and several Eurasian Collared Doves.
At the feeders in the sanctuary, we see no White-collared Seedeaters (they are
supposed to come in next week) but do find: Clay-colored Sparrow, American
and Lesser Goldfinch, Altimira Oriole, tons of Red-winged Blackbirds.
We decide to leave San Ygnacio until near dusk when the
hawk should return on schedule to its roosting spot. We stop at Tina’s
Restaurant on the southern end of Zapata for lunch. It’s famous among
birders—especially for its Banana Split pie. On the way, we find Crested
Caracara and many Harris’s Hawks. Then we pass an unknown hawk
perched on a pole. Since it’s on the side of the road, we’re hoping it’s a
“Roadside Hawk.” But we study it for a while until it takes off showing white
crescents towards the end of the wings—Red-shouldered Hawk.
An hour back down the road towards McAllen is the very
small river town of Salineño. It is one of my favorite places to bird. As we
drive through the town and down to the river, we see a lot of activity—several
police cars and many border patrol officers. It turns out that a drug runner had
run into and damaged the small boat of a birder who was trying to find Muscovy
Ducks along the river. When he called “911,” officers came, questioned the man
in the larger boat and had their drug-sniffing dog go through his craft. The dog
went wild when it sniffed the locked cargo doors. They took the man off to jail,
impounded the boat and were hauling it away when we arrived. A man in a bathing
suit yells at the police from the Mexican side and talks into a radio—was that
his boat and employee the police had just captured?
After the excitement, the birders standing around get back
to scanning the river. We find American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Neotropic
Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, and Tree Swallow. A Glossy Ibis
wades over on the Mexican side. If a bird is more than half-way across the
river, it is not countable in the ABA area—that’s the rule.
Back up the road a few dozen yards is a travel trailer
occupied in winter months by a couple from Michigan—“snow birders.” They stock
many feeders and set out lawn chairs for anyone who wants to come for a visit
and watch the birds. We see at their feeders Altimira and Audubon’s
Orioles (Code 2), Green Jay, Brown Jay (Code 2), Golden-fronted
Woodpecker, Pyrrhuloxia, N. Cardinal, Western Meadowlark, and Chipping
Sparrow. Is there anything more stunning than seeing side by side a
Cardinal, Green Jay and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker?! Birders point us to a
nearby tree where an Eastern Screech Owl (Code 2) is sticking its head
out. After a relaxing few minutes near the trailer, we link up with two couples
from Maryland who hike through the trees to a better view of the river. We find
a great little Green Kingfisher (Code 2) perched on a low branch over the
river. It darts out and comes back to the branch several times. We find an
injured Barn Owl (Code 2) whose beak has been broken or shot. It
gradually hides from us but it will not live long in that condition. We hike
along a trail that takes us further inland and don’t find much except another
Back to San Ygnacio
At about three in the afternoon, we head back up river to
San Ygnacio. Some birders tell us they have just seen the Roadside Hawk at the
end of the Raptor Trail. So we head back down to the river along that trail with
a small group of people. We carefully approach the spot where it was reported
but no hawk. We hike back to the observation platform and await the return of
the famed raptor. Joel tells us it can arrive anytime between 5:45 and 6:45 pm.
Last night it was 6:05. Ten of us, the max Joel will allow, stand on the
somewhat rickety platform with a good view of trees and roof the hawk comes
into. Once in its roost, no one has ever been able to see it. Someone spots a
distant hawk to the south. We study it carefully and determine it is a Gray
Hawk (Code 2)—a close relative of the Roadside. Its white face shows it is
an immature. Another couple of raptors fly over towards the river—Sharp-shinned
Hawks. A small flock of Long-billed Curlew fly overhead headed north.
The spring migration is underway.
While 10 of us are on the platform, another 20 or so gather
on the grass below. How strange—30 people from all over the U.S. intently
straining to see one bird for just a few seconds. Finally, at 6:15, the
Roadside Hawk (Code 5) makes its very brief appearance. It does not pause on
the TV antenna or roof as it sometimes does, but flies through the tops of the
trees and then darts into its roosting area. None of us get more than a
two-second look. Fortunately, I have seen one before in Costa Rica so a perfect
“lifer look” is not as necessary. One man grumbles, “I’m going to report this to
the ABA—no one should put that bird on their life list with that kind of a
look!” A bit disappointed we didn’t get a better look, we head back to McAllen.
Final Day in Brownsville
We are determined to see the two or three birds we missed
in Brownsville. So we leave early and arrive at Sable Palm Sanctuary at about
8:00 am and head right out to the site for the yellowthroat. Many birders are
already there. We hear a yellowthroat calling off in the weedy field. Its call
is a bit different from other yellowthroats. Soon a group from Michigan has the
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Code 5) in a scope. They only let their own
group see it, however, so the rest of us strain to see the bird through our
binoculars. Matt sees it well and I get a glimpse. The bird then appears closer
to the trail for better looks. It is not as striking as the common with its
black mask. The gray-crowned has dark lores, a yellow belly and a grayish back.
I’m so glad to have seen this bird since the individual I saw in San Ygnacio
several years ago was called into question when someone determined through
mitochondrial DNA testing that it was a hybrid. Now I can really count it on my
ABA life list (I also saw one in Costa Rica). It sings constantly but hides very
well. A couple of Smooth-billed Anis (Code 2) fly in and a
White-tailed Kite hovers above the field. We walk around the butterfly
garden for a few minutes hoping to see the becard but no success.
We drive over to the campus to search again for the
golden-crowned. A number of birders are there and it has been reported this
morning. Again we stake out the most likely area. One man reports seeing it and
we all come running. He is standing exactly where I was just a few minutes
before. How frustrating. We comb through the area but just see Lesser and
American Goldfinches. Later the man checks his fieldguide and sheepishly
reports to us that he misidentified the warbler—it was probably a goldfinch.
When I reach the point of giving up birding altogether, I see Matt and another
fellow running like mad back toward the road. I take back my vow and run, too.
It turns out that a 15-year old birder we had been running into all morning had
left the main group to bird by the river. He called his friend on a cell phone
and very quietly said, “I am looking at the warbler right now.” Matt was
standing next to the man who received the call. When we get there, the boy has
the bird flitting around low in some branches just above the water. We get a
great look at a beautiful Golden-crowned Warbler (Code 5) before it dives
down lower and out of site. The group from Michigan arrives but by then the bird
has disappeared. As we walk back to the car a Tropical Kingbird (Code 2)
With a few hours until we have to head back to the McAllen
airport, we decide to bird one of the ABA area’s most famous birding hot
spot—the Brownsville landfill. We find it after some difficulty and drive to the
active dump site. A man waves us away and tells us to go back to a more
restricted area where birders can congregate. As we turn the car around, a black
bird about the size of a raven appears on a fence. Does it have a rounded or a
wedge-shaped tail? We think it may be a Tamulipas Crow (Code 3). There are
plenty of Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls. We later read that the
rare crow is now only very rarely seen at the dump. When I was here a few years
ago, they were common—but no more. What we saw was probably a Chihauan Raven.
Matt drops me off at the airport but his flight is not
until the next morning. With a few more hours of daylight, he drives to a
private sanctuary that is fairly new. A man has converted his substantial yard
into a haven for birds. When Matt enters the property, he very quickly sees a
Rose-throated Becard (Code 2) and many other species we had seen earlier.
Thus ended a great birding trip filled with the rarest of rare birds. The
other birders were wonderful—always helping you in any way they could. There
seems to be a spirit of camaraderie among birders that is not found in many
other groups. Once again, the Rio Grande Valley proved a most enjoyable place to
go birding in the winter. And once again, I enjoyed the company of a dear friend
on an exciting birding adventure.
Birders at Clover Springs Campground - March 12, 2005
photo by Eric Huish
Field Trip Report
Tooele County - March 12th
by Bonnie Williams
Eighteen birders left Orem on March 12th to visit Tooele County.
Our first stop was the James Walter Fitzgerald WMA. There were lots of waterfowl
on the pond. A few that we saw were Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Common
Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Rudy Duck and American Avocet. We also saw a
Great Horned Owl. (Thanks to Eric who found it in a tree across the water on a
very low branch.)
We then headed to Clover Springs. On the way we saw a Golden Eagle,
Rough-legged Hawk and wonderful looks at a Sage Thrasher that sat on top of a
fence post and sang for us.
There were more Boy Scouts at Clover Springs than birds but most everyone got
to see a beautiful Red-naped Sapsucker.
Two of the group left us at this time and the rest went on to Ophir. On the
way a Bald Eagle flew by the cars. In the canyon we stopped to get good looks at
Mountain Bluebirds. At Ophir we saw a beautiful Cassin’s Finch at a feeder with
the Juncos, Siskins and Black-capped Chickadees. After we left Ophir and were
headed home a huge flock of Pinyon Jays went by on both sides of the road.
We made a quick stop at the Camp Floyd State Park. The best bird here was a
Bewick’s Wren. Total species for the trip (a few heard only) was 54. Beautiful
weather, good company and a fun, fun day.
Field Trip Report
Utah Lake Tour - March 26th
by Reed Stone
Nine faithful birders (low numbers because of the competition with the
S. California tour) met at the Orem Center St. park and ride. The first stop was
at the American Fork Marina. While there we saw: GREATER and LESSER SCAUP, SNOWY
PLOVER, a flock of YELLOW HEADED BLACKBIRDS, EARED GREBE, RUBY CROWNED KINGLET,
AMERICAN AVOCET and several other more common waterfowl. At Geneva settlement
ponds there were a few DOUBLE CRESTED CORMORANT.
Powel Slough had little to offer except for a possible PEREGRINE FALCON. It
was too far away and behind branches making it difficult to identify.
At Utah Lake State Park we saw CINNAMON TEAL, GREEN WING TEAL, REDHEAD and
other common ducks. On Provo Airport Dike we all got great looks at the SAGE
SPARROW. We were able to watch its unique behavior as well as its distinctive
markings. We also saw a female RED BREASTED MERGANSER.
We saw a total of 39 species for the tour. It was a great day for birding.
|Birders in California prior to boarding the ferry/ship/boat to Santa
Cruz Island in search of the Santa Cruz Island Jay.
left to right - Larry Draper, Aaron Smith, Arnold Smith, Alton Thygerson,
Merrill Webb, Kay Stone, Bill Slater, Steve Carr.
Field Trip Report
Southern California Birding Trip - March 19th - 26th
by Bill Slater
Early morning 19 March 2005, 14 birders set out for a week long birding trip
in Southern California. Included in the group were Burt and Sylvia Cundick,
Steve Carr, Larry Draper, Margaret Sanchez, Bill Slater, Aaron and Shauna Smith,
Celeste Smith (the youngest and cutest birder), Arnold and Linda Smith, Kay
Stone, Alton Thygerson, and Merrill Webb.
Stops the first day included Confluence Park in St. George. Among birds seen
there were Juniper Titmouse, Verdin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gambel’s Quail. A
stop at Beaver Dam, Arizona produced among others Eurasian Collard Dove, and
Greater Roadrunner. The next stop at Henderson, Nevada produced other
interesting birds, including a Green Heron, Common Moorhen, Greater Yellowlegs,
Cassin’s Kingbird, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, American Pipit, and Savannah
Sparrow. An Osprey was also spotted in the Mojave Desert 15 miles East of
Barstow, California. The desert was unbelievably green and sprinkled with tons
of wild flowers.
Upon departing Barstow the morning of March 20th, in the Motel 6 parking lot,
the group was treated to an Anna’s Hummingbird and a nest with three chicks
being fed. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was also seen there. A stop at Inyokern,
California provided sightings of a Le Conte’s Thrasher family, Costa’s
Hummingbird, and several other species.
At Kern River Preserve a Nuttall’s Woodpecker was seen, and not far down the
road from there Tricolored Blackbirds were spotted. From Kern River, the group
proceeded to Lake Isabella to look for the Red-breasted Sapsucker. It was
briefly spotted but not seen by all, prompting a need to return for more looks
following a trip up the mountain to a place called Greenhorn to look for
white-headed Woodpeckers. However, the group had to settle for Band-tailed
Pigeons and a California Towhee. Back at Lake Isabella some of the group got to
see the Red-breasted Sapsucker. Good looks were also gotten of a pair of Acorn
Woodpeckers and an Oak Titmouse.
On March 21st, birding was done between Bakersfield and Ventura, California,
resulting in the sighting of at least sixty species. Among the many birds seen
were Acorn Woodpecker, Rose-ringed Parakeet (not currently on the ABA
checklist), Golden-crowned sparrow, Burrowing Owl, Savannah Sparrow, Merlin,
White-breasted Nuthatch, White-headed Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Phainopepla,
Western Bluebird, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Bushtit, Purple Finch, Yellow-billed
Magpie, and Surf Scoter.
A day never to be forgotten! Early morning March 22nd, the group ventured
aboard a boat bound for Santa Cruz Island, hoping to see the Island Scrub-Jay
and a few Pelagic birds. The ride was a little windy, bumpy, and rainy, but it
produced some good looks at three Gray Whales, and a playful pod of Dolphins.
The rain became more persistent as the boat approached the island dock, which
prompted the boat captain to warn of no shelter on the island, and to offer safe
passage back to the mainland and a rebate on the ticket. Needless to say,
birders were not going to pass up this opportunity to add the Island Scrub-jay
to their lists. Immediately upon de-boarding the boat, the rain became a very
heavy downpour that lasted for four hours. The National Parks Department tour
guide who accompanied the group took pity on the drenched birders and asked a
worker there to open an old brick shed which provided shelter and some drying
while they awaited the return of the boat. Although the rain never let up, a
very wet but accommodating Island Scrub-Jay did show itself outside the shed.
Some of the other birds seen that day were Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants,
Pigeon Guillemots, Black-vented Shearwaters, Black Turnstone, Black
Oystercatcher, White-tailed Kite.
March 23rd was spent in the greater San Diego area where some of the birds
seen included Clapper Rails, Red-breasted Merganser, Marbled Godwits, Willets,
Whimbrels, Blue-winged Teal, Anna’s Hummingbird, Eurasian Wigeon, Common
Yellowthroat, Savannah Sparrow, California Thrasher, California Towhee,
Orange-crowned Warbler, Wrentit, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Gold-crowned
Sparrow, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Elegant Tern, Royal Tern,
Caspian Tern, Heermann’s Gull, Western Gull, Little Blue Heron, Western and
Semipalmated Sandpipers, Black Skimmer, Common Loon, Brandt, Red-crowned Parrot
(ABA List?), and Cassin’s Kingbird.
The plan for Thursday March 24th was to travel from San Diego to El Centro
California. Prior to departure, the birders made stops at some of the previous
day’s sites. It was at Otay Lakes that Merrill Webb spotted his 600th lifer in
the contiguous U.S., a California Gnatcatcher. A brief ceremony celebrating the
milestone included a 600th pinning, congratulations, and even a piece of pie for
Merrill. Other birds that day included Surfbirds and Ruddy Turnstones.
Friday March 25th included visits to Fig Lagoon, and Sunbeam Lake near El
Centro, and later, the Salton Sea area. Birds seen included Cattle Egret,
Eurasian Collared-dove, Abert’s Towhee, and Burrowing Owls, Common Ground-Dove,
Ruddy Ground-dove, Inca Dove, four Flamingo (possibly escapees), Western and
Semipalmated Plovers, Western Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Greater Roadrunner,
Wilson’s Snipe, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Yellow-headed Blackbird,
and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers.
Saturday was travel home day. Traveling through Joshua Tree National Park
produced sightings of the Black-throated Sparrow, White-winged Dove, Lawrence’s
Goldfinch, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Brewers Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,
Common Yellowthroat, Phainopepla, Scott’s Oriole, Cactus Wren, Bewick’s Wren,
White-throated Swift, and several birds. At Morongo Preserve a pair of
Vermillion Flycatchers was seen, as were a Red-naped Sapsucker, a Black-throated
Sparrow, Western Bluebirds, and Loggerheaded Shrikes.
Aaron and Shauna Smith are to be thanked for putting in a lot of time and
effort planning the itinerary and patiently guiding the birders to excellent
birding locations. Over all about 190 species were recorded. Most people added a
number of lifers. Novices scored big-time! Thanks for a great trip!
At a recent Salt Lake Birders party I was the lucky recipient of a door
prize that is proving to be a great addition to my yard attractions. It is a
nesting material ball that I hung in a tree near the feeders. It has natural
lambs wool in a netting bag that a couple of pine siskins are already pulling
fiber out of. I haven't been able to figure out where they are taking it to yet,
but hopefully this could lead me to discover where my regular diners are
I thought I knew my yard inside and out only to discover that last spring I
had missed a nest in a small Blue Spruce right next to the picnic table where I
spent a lot of time reading. Just saw it a couple of weeks ago and determined it
to be old, and now it is going to bug me to no end trying to guess which ones of
my regular visitors were nesting right there under my nose without me noticing .
I will be more vigilant this spring! Now is a good time to put up those nesting
boxes and some material for our friends.
A few weeks ago (March 10, 2005) I bought a hotdog and some french fries,
then drove up to the parking area at the mouth of Grove Creek Canyon. As I was
sitting in my truck eating, I saw a couple of magpies fly up into the sagebrush
on the hillside about 40 feet from me. When I noticed a streak of white, I
looked up in time to see a beautiful Long-tailed Weasel, still in its white
winter pelage, zip around some sagebrush and dart under a boulder. The magpies,
now three of them, were watching the weasel intently.
When I saw a rodent dart out from under the bolder and dash away into a clump
of brush I thought the weasel had missed its meal, but the weasel kept hunting
under that boulder. It would run around the boulder darting under it in
different places, always keeping its eyes on the magpies. Finally it came out
from under the boulder with a rodent in its mouth and ran for a clump of brush.
It dashed, carrying its prey, from hiding place to hiding place with the magpies
in hot pursuit. Then it emerged from a particularly thick bunch of rabbitbrush
and sagebrush without its prey and started making its way back to the boulder,
leaving one of the magpies searching the area for the stashed meat.
Again the weasel pulled a rodent out from under the boulder and bolted for
cover. I watched it pull at least four rodents out from under that rock and
cache them each where the magpies couldn’t get to them.
When the magpies finally gave up and left, the weasel took a rodent from its
stockpile and carried it up over the hill and out of sight. It was about 10
minutes before the weasel came back to retrieve another one of its kills. After
it disappeared over the hill again, I hiked up to a vantage point where I could
see the area in which the weasel was headed. It was quite easy to follow the
weasel as it tried to sneak across the hillside. The weasel was brilliant white
and there was no snow anywhere. I was afraid the nearby Golden Eagle was going
to spot the weasel but the eagle was to busy trying to impress someone with his
swooping power dives. As I watched the weasel dashing across a clearing it
disappeared straight down into the ground. I guess that hole in the ground was
its den or maybe a pantry. All in all, a very fun observation.
We would like to try to have a monthly ‘Random Observations’
column in the newsletter. If you have a random observation you would like to
share please send it to
News from Our Website
by the webmaster
The New “Rare Bird Finder”
Among other things, we’ve added a “Rare Bird Finder” to our website. This new
feature can be used in several ways. If you want to know what rarities may show
up in the present month, you can look down the “Rare Bird Finder Table” which is
divided into half months and see what rare birds have shown up in past years,
then you can click on the map to see where they have been seen and then if you
want to see more details of the sightings you can click on the bird name to get
the full listing.
Another way you can use the new “RB Finder” is to decide on a bird you’d like
to see and check out when and where it’s been seen in the past. Then check the
details of the sightings to see the exact locations and other details that might
be helpful in finding the birds. Or, if either of the two above procedures don’t
work you can just let the “real rare bird finders” Dennis, Merrill, Tuula and
Eric (among others – sometimes), find the birds and then just waltz out there
and pick ‘em up just like that (the method we’ve been using for years).
In other news from the website: The average sessions per day on our website
has jumped from about 800 per day, about a year ago, to about 1,400 per day in
the last month. The precipitous increase has a distinct correlation with the
installment and Eric Huish as the Assistant Webmaster. Eric has been doing a
great job with the monthly hotline reports and fast and accurate state calendar
updates, and is now in charge of the “Utah County Birders” pages and recording
sightings of Review Species for the archives, among other things. The solid
underpinnings of the website, allowing its virus-and-spam-free function, is due
to the ever-vigilant eye of Weldon Whipple to whom we own a great debt of
gratitude, among other things.
The website is rolling along. Thanks to those who have contributed sightings
and valuable birding information, among other things.
Backyard Bird of the
Steve Carr - Holladay
Mandarin Duck - Feral male watching over its mate in a hollow tree trunk.
KC Childs - Orem
Townsend Solitaire - Singing.
Wade Covert - Provo
American Goldfinch - Their "gold" is getting brighter.
Alona Huffaker - Springville
Western Screech-Owl - New for yard.
Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
American Crow - Fly over, yard lifer # 82.
Milt Moody - Provo
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Two feet from the feeder.
Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Red-tailed Hawk - In the tree behind my house.
Tuula Rose - Provo
Mourning Dove - Now two sitting in a tree, cooing to each other.
Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
American Robins, in large flocks hit the area the past few days. The
White-throated Sparrow is still here too!!
Stan Smith - Cedar Hills
Say’s Phoebe - Second year we’ve had them in the area.
Alton Thygerson - Provo
Spotted Towhee - Observed while eating breakfast.
Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
American Goldfinch - Changing into breeding plumage.
Backyard Bird of the Month is a new monthly column. We would like
you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite
bird at the end of the month to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-8777. If
you would like a reminder at the end of the month e-mail the above address.