Utah County Birders Newsletter
August 2005

Contents   
    August Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Feather Talk
    Identifying Female Hummingbirds
    Field Trip Report - Tintic Mountains - 9 July 2005
    Field Trip Report - Payson Canyon - 13 July 2005
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    July Hotline Highlights


AUGUST MEETING:

Wednesday, August 10th.

Pot Luck, Summer Social - Meet at 6:30 PM at Alton & Aridith Thygerson's house - 3300 Mohican Lane, Provo. Pot Luck -- bring a salad, vegetables/fruits, or dessert. Meat, drinks, plates and utensils will be furnished by the Thygersons. For directions call the Thygersons at 377-3300.


FIELD TRIPS:

August 6th (Sat): Strawberry Valley - Meet at 7:00 A.M. at the Orem Center street Park & Ride (I-15 exit 274).

August 27th (Sat): River Lane - This is the time of year that rare birds have shown up at River Lane in the past. If there’s not much happening at River Lane we will head out to LeBarron Pt. to search for shorebirds. Meet at 7:00 A.M. at the Sam's Club parking lot in East Bay in Provo (1313 S University Ave). We meet at the end of the parking lot next to University Ave.
 

 • Mark your calendars for the 2005 Utah Ornithological Society Fall Conference  Co-sponsored by the Bridgerland Audubon Society, Utah State University and the UOS. -  Logan: 16-18 of September 2005 - There are some great field trips shaping up!  Watch the Utahbirds.org website for more detail.


Feather Talk
By Alton Thygerson

Now I Hear You; Now I Don’t

How many movies or television programs you have watched where the bird sounds were obvious and even more obvious was the fact that the sound didn’t match the habitat.   During the television series, Into the West, aired on TNT, the use of the Great Horned Owl was used in territory fit for a Burrowing Owl but not a Great Horned and the producers used it to heighten suspense in broad daylight several times during the program.

Despite my knowing that the TV producers had goofed, I don’t pretend to be a whiz at identifying a lot of birds by calls or songs.   On many a field trip, a person nearby and I look at each other and both either say, “what’s that” or shrug our shoulders and nod our heads negatively to indicate that we didn’t know the name of the bird making the sound.

I saw a professional bird guide walk through Pt. Pelee in Ontario, Canada, and without glancing at one bird, recited the names of a dozen different birds he heard while pointing in their various directions—“there’s a Pine Warbler, that’s a Prothonotary Warbler, over there is a Prairie Warbler”, and on and on he went.  What an amazing trick, I thought.  He hadn’t even looked at one bird. 

I am very grateful to Bryan and Dennis Shirley because many of the birds I have on my several bird lists were acquired while on their birding tours.  Many were first identified by voice before seeing the bird.  For example, on a South Florida trip this year, we had been searching for an Antillean Nighthawk without success.  On the way out of the area, Bryan Shirley had his window down and suddenly said “I hear it!”  We all piled out of the two vehicles, and far off in the distance was an Antillean Nighthawk whose call Bryan had recognized and was doing the well-known nighthawk flight pattern.  Adding to the excitement of seeing this uncommon bird was that it flew right over us.  Sibley says that this particular nighthawk is closely related to the Common Nighthawk and is usually distinguishable only by voice. 

The two ways that birders locate birds is by either their movement and/or their song and call notes.  Even if you don’t know the difference between the voices of a domestic chicken rooster and a pheasant rooster, their sounds will alert you to their presence.  So for those who do not know bird calls or songs, at least know that a bird is in the vicinity which you can search for and identify by sight if not by sound.

Fortunately, I ran into Bruce Robinson while I went after the Ovenbird reported in the Ogden area this year.   He had located the Ovenbird, and I was on my way up the trail to locate it.  What a generous birder he is.  He took me to the spot.  He identified its voice for me, and we chased it around the trees and brush for 20 minutes before I got a great look as it perched.  Kris Purdy originally found the Ovenbird because its voice was not familiar, and with her curiosity she tracked it down, identified it, and fortunately for those who saw it, reported it on the hotline of utahbirds.org.

Another example, indicating the importance of voices is that of the Varied Thrush near the Rock Canyon Park this spring.  Ned Hill and his wife while on a walk heard the bird.  Ned is very good at identifying birds by their songs and calls and despite initially not seeing it, reported it on the hotline.  Another great bird for Utah. 

Incidentally, a bird song is a repetitive pattern of musical notes.  North American bird songs are almost exclusively performed by adult males on or en route to their established territories during the spring and summer months.  The male is advertising for a female. 

Not every sound a bird makes is a song.  Short chips, whistles, trills, twitters, and chirps are referred to as bird calls.  Birds use them to keep contact with the flock, warn of predators, and to signal food.  Bird calls are much shorter and less musical than songs. 

For many people bird songs are strings of nonsense sounds.  A mnemonic helps you remember something.  Here is a chart listing some of the traditional mnemonics for some common birds. 

Bird

Mnemonic

Belted Kingfisher

Flight call sounds like a baby’s rattle 

California Quail

Chi-CA-go!

Olive-sided Flycatcher

I say there.  (the middle note highest, last one sliding)

Yellow Warbler

Sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Yank Yank   (sounds as if it came from a toy horn)

Black-capped Chickadee

Chick-a-dee-dee-dee (says its name)

Common Yellowthroat

witchity-witchity-witchity


The next time you say “How did you know that?” after a birder identifies a bird by its voice, it might be a secret trick known amongst good birders.  The secret trick is the 4 Ss.  The Ss are:  site, season, situation, and sound.  It’s knowing which birds are found in specific sites or habitats (e.g., Juniper Titmouse and Pinyon Jays are found in pinyon-juniper woodlands), time of year (e.g., Yellow-billed Cuckoos won’t be a potential bird in Utah Valley until summer), and by their situation (e.g., Acorn Woodpeckers are known for their elaborate caching methods). 

Every birder should know that Empidonax flycatchers are usually identified by “ear only.”  Each species within this group is separable from each other only by voice.  On a field trip I noticed that Eric Huish, an excellent Utah County birder, has on his checklist a space for Empids to record this tough-to-identify group of birds which are best recognized by sound. 

While some Eastern birders in areas with thick forests claim to identify over 80% of their birds on a trip by ear without seeing the bird, few of us are in that category.  The world’s best ornithologist, Ted Parker was said to be able to identify over 2,000 bird species by ear.  (note:  Ted Parker died in 1993 when his light plane crashed into a mountainside while making a treetop survey of an Ecuadorian cloud forest)

Some birders, especially as you get older, may have difficulty hearing high-pitched bird songs.  Hearing aids adapted for use outdoors work well.  The larger sporting stores have them (e.g., Sportsman’s Warehouse, Cabela’s).  One technique which increases the hearing by 25% in most people, and which I have seen only one birder, Eric Huish, use is to place cupped hands behind both ears.  Try it, you will be surprised at the increased volume. 

Birding by ear takes practice.  The best way to learn bird songs is to see and hear the bird in the field.  To learn faster, listen to birdsong tapes, CDs, or software programs—even the internet has bird song sites.  Its a great winter time activity when few song birds are around, and it gets you ready for spring.  Remember to concentrate on the birds you are likely to see and not a rarity.  Another time to listen is while driving; however, I get bored after about 10 minutes.  You can’t go wrong by purchasing the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs (Western Region).  Our own Dr. Kevin Colver of Elk Ridge, Utah (south end of Utah County) did the western bird recordings for the Stokes CDs (also Dennis Shirley accompanied and helped Dr. Colver for many of the recordings).
 


Identifying Female Hummingbirds
by Eric Huish

Calliope Hummingbird     photo by Eric Huish

In birding there are many ID challenges that require an eye for slight differences between similar species.  The ideal way to learn the finer details of identification with such species is to find time to study live birds of similar species side by side at close range.  Such conditions are sometimes hard to come by but about a month from now many of us will have such ideal conditions right in our own backyards. In the late summer and fall season my hummingbird feeders swarm with female and immature hummers and if I stand very still I can watch the birds from just a couple of feet away. 

Two years ago I saw a plain hummingbird at my feeders that looked extra small to me.  Up to that point I had been passing most female hummingbirds by without identifying them to species. "Just wait for a male to come along."  Since a Calliope would be a Lifer I decided to see if I could put a positive identity on this small hummingbird. So I pulled out my field guides to learn what a female Calliope would look like and found it harder to identify than anticipated.

I spent a few evenings that year and the next studying the hummingbirds at my feeders and now, if I get a good look, I feel I can identify many (not all) of the female hummingbirds I see here in Utah. If you would like to try this, here are some tips:
1) The hummingbirds come to feeders in especially large numbers (and are more likely to come up to the feeder with you standing there) in the evening about a half hour before they have to retire for the night so this is the best time to watch. 
2) Read up on identifying hummingbirds before you go out so you know what to look for.  You can find ID information on hummingbird web-sites, in field guides and hummingbird books.  I found Advanced Birding by Kenn Kaufman especially helpful.
3) Spend 15 minutes watching the birds at least a few nights during the fall season.  Your ability to recognize the differences will increase with the practice.

I became familiar with only the four species that come regularly to my feeders.  For the most part, these four are the only species we get in central Utah.  They are; Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Rufous and Calliope.  Below are some differences I noticed between each. Most of these field marks I noticed after being told what to look for in books.  I am not an expert, so use your field guides and trust them over what you read in my descriptions.  The following descriptions are for female/juvenile birds only.

Photo 1. Broad-tailed (center), Black-chinned (right) and Rufous (left) Hummingbirds.  During fall migration you are often able to compare different species side by side. Note the Broad-tailed's broader tail with much rufous at the base but less extensive rufous than the Rufous Hummingbird in the background. 
Photo 2.  Black-chinned Hummingbird. Note the grayish color and no rufous at the base of the tail feathers. Photo 3.  Rufous Hummingbird.  Many female Rufous have the rusty coloring up onto the uppertail coverts.
Photo 4. Calliope (Left) and Broad-tailed (right) Hummingbirds.  Note the size difference and the long tail on the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.
Photo 5. Calliope (left) and Rufous (right) Hummingbirds.  When these two species are side by side you can see the slight size difference but a lone young Rufous Hummingbird can look very small.  Note the short tail on the Calliope.
Photo 6. Calliope Hummingbird.  Note the small amount of rufous color at the base of the outer tail feathers.  This photo is a little blurry but look at the shape of the central tail feathers and compare them to the central feathers on the Broad-tailed in photo 1 which are similar in shape to Rufous Hummingbirds. Photo 7. Calliope Hummingbird (foreground). In this photo it is hard to tell if the wings are projecting beyond the tail tip or not but you can see that it is close. There  is an adult female Rufous Hummingbird in the background.
 

Black-Chinned Hummingbird - The females are fairly plain and grayish (photo 1 & 2) compared to Broad-tailed, Rufous and Calliope which have rufous or buffy coloring in the tail and on the flanks. (I have seen some juvenile Black-chinneds with buff edges on their back feathers). To me the Black-chinneds often look knob-headed (except on cold days when they puff up their feathers). They often have a dark grayish smudge behind their eyes and their bill looks a little decurved. The two Utah hummers most easily confused with black-chinned are Anna's and Costa's which I am not very familiar with.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Broad-taileds have a broad tail (photo 1) which with practice should help you in identifying this species.  Broad-taileds are larger than Rufous and Calliope (photo4), they have less rufous coloring at the base of their tail than Rufous Hummingbids (photo 1) and more than Calliope (photo 6).

Rufous Hummingbird - Adult females are easy to identify because they have so much rufous feathering (photo 3) and have an orange-red central spot on the throat (photo 7). Juvenile females are plainer.   Rufous Hummingbirds are larger than Calliope (photo 5) and smaller than Broad-tailed but if you see them alone it is hard to judge size.  The rufous on the flanks is usually darker than in Calliope and Broad-tailed and it washes out to white in the center of the chest. Juvenile female Rufous Hummingbirds are very similar to Calliope Hummingbirds and I have seen birds at my feeder that (even from a few feet away) I couldn't identify.

Calliope Hummingbird - Calliopes are the smallest and have shorter bills and tails.  They have a little rufous coloring at the base of the tail (photo 6) which is often hard to see.  The buffy wash on the chest is paler and more uniform than on Rufous hummingbirds.   The oft-read-about field mark of the wing tips reaching slightly beyond the tail tip on a perched Calliope (photo 7) is a helpful characteristic, but occasionally the tail can appear to reach beyond the wing tips and young Rufous Hummingbirds wingtips can appear to reach the tail tip.  The Calliopes' tail looks short even if the wingtips aren't there to measure it by (See photo at top of article).  The spatulate or 'peanut shaped' central tail feathers of the Calliope (photo 6) are, I think, the most diagnostic feature of that species although very hard to see. The tail feathers are a little narrower in the center like a peanut. If you hold very still and keep your head right next to the feeder the birds will sometimes land close enough for you to see this characteristic.  After first seeing this characteristic I was finally confident enough in my identification of a Calliope to concentrate on the other, more subtle, differences between that bird and the others.

One other interesting note: When I was standing very still next to the feeders and couldn't move my head I could often tell when a Calliope or Broad-tailed was about to come into my field of view because their wings 'hummed' at a higher (Calliope) and lower (Broad-tailed) pitch than the Black-chinneds and Rufous.

 


Field Trip Report
Tintic Mountains - 9 July 2005

by Flora M. Duncan

Utah County Birders near Chimney Rock - 9 July 2005 
photo by Eric Huish

Nine early morning birders gathered with expectation of seeing Bush Tits, Pinyon Jays, Burrowing Owls.

We traveled first to Mile Marker 1 north of Elberta, then via Chimney Rock Pass to Eureka and Dividend.

Of the twenty-nine species, several birders had lifers for Utah County or lifers for Utah. Some of the first sightings for some are: Sage Thrasher, Gray Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Gray Flycatcher. Of special interest were four Canyon Wrens close to the road. Eric’s sharp ears detected several birds heard only.

Someone observed that the Horned Larks and Meadow Larks looked strange--probably because they were fledglings.

Bonus sightings included: two Pronghorns, Mule deer and a Jack Rabbit.

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Field Trip Report
Payson Canyon - 13 July 2005

by Eric Huish

Watching the Purple Martins in Payson Canyon - 13 July 2005 
photo by Eric Huish

We had a very large turnout for this evening field trip up Payson Canyon led by Dennis Shirley. The temperature down in the valley had been incredibly hot for days, so it was nice to greet refreshingly cool temperatures at our first stop in the canyon.

The views lit by the evening light were very scenic and we saw many birds. Highlights included: Singing Fox Sparrows at our first stop, the Purple Martins nesting alongside the road and the Pine Grosbeak Aaron Smith found at the Nebo Bench trailhead.

 


Backyard Bird of the Month
July 2005

KC Childs - Orem
Lesser Goldfinch - there’s not much buzzing around.

Steve Carr - Holladay
Black-headed Grosbeak - Nesting pair.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Mallard - Hen with six newly hatched ducklings.

Milt Moody - Provo
Black-headed Grosbeak family - 3 kids, two parents

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Black-capped Chickadees and Hummingbirds have been so fun to watch.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Lesser Goldfinch - with almost all white tail.


We would like you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite bird at the end of the month to [email protected] or call 360-8777. If you would like a reminder at the end of the month e-mail the above address.