Utah County Birders Newsletter
May 2006

    May Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Feather Talk
    A Texas Hail of a Mess
    Field Trip Report - UOS Field Trip to San Juan County - April 7th-9th, 2006
    Field Trip Report - Provo Airport Dike - April 15, 2006
    Field Trip Report - Jordanelle Wetlands & Deer Creek Reservoir - April 29, 2006
    Random Observations
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    April Hotline Highlights


Wednesday, May 10th.

8th Annual Great Salt Lake Bird Festival Presented by Lee and Paula Shirley.
A power point presentation about the upcoming Festival which runs from May 18 -23,2006 will be presented along with brochures and itineraries. This year the GSLBF will offer 66 field trips and assorted presentations. Many "Behind-the-Gates" field trips to most of the major wildlife management areas are included. Remember our 2006 BIRDING CHALLENGE- GSLBF field trips will cover seven counties. It should be a fun and enjoyable evening.

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


Saturday, May 6th
7:30 am join Robert Brown at the BYU Botany Pond on 800 N for a Bird Walk in the Arboretum area on the South edge of Campus.

Friday and Saturday, May 12th - 13th
Friday - St. George area -Leaving 39 N. Valley View Drive #1 - 7:00 A.M.
Saturday - Beaver Dam Wash and Lytle Preserve - Leaving 39 N. Valley View Drive #1 - 6:00 A.M.
Valley View Dr. runs west of, and parallel to Bluff St. The black hill separates the two. Please arrange your own rides down and your lodging. Lytle has no camping because of the flood. If you have questions call Carol Nelson 801-362-8288, or Tuula Rose 377-5477

Tuesday, May 23rd
Our traditional Utah County Big Day with Dennis Shirley. Meet at 7:30 am at the Springville DWR office at 1115 N Main Street. We will again try for 100 species in one day.

Saturday, June 3rd
We’ll do a Big Sit. Come and go as you wish. Location to be announced.

Feather Talk
By Alton Thygerson

Can Birding Become an Obsession?

Birders know the Phoebe Snetsigner story. She is one of two people to see more than 8,000 birds. After receiving a diagnosis of having cancer and given six months to live, she decided to forgo treatment and chase birds. She thrived and counted for 17 years, and then was killed in a car crash on a remote road in Madagascar as she approached her 8,500th species. She’d talked about quitting because reaching numbers that high requires travel to distant and dangerous places but she admitted that she was unable to stop. Her story reminded me of the old cigarette advertisement slogan of “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” She couldn’t shake the addiction just as millions have been unable to stop puffing on tobacco.

Listing has become an obsession with some birders. They live for the chance to add a bird to any of their various lists. These people are called listers, and represent a small portion of the birding community.

A lister is a collector, no different from collectors of postage stamps, matchbooks, rare paintings or polished rocks. Their pleasure comes not just in the birds themselves, but also in the opportunity to add one to their collection.

Like many readers of this article, I plot ways to go birding near and far. Birders who say they are not really into listing usually keep some type of record of what birds have been seen despite openly saying that they keep no bird lists.

A Recent Passion for Lifers

In mid-April, my wife and I drove to Windsor, Colorado (near Ft. Collins) to visit a son’s family and to witness our oldest grandson’s baptism. We left on a Wednesday afternoon traveling on Interstate 80 through Wyoming. All was going well until Rawlins when snow started falling horizontally until the Colorado state line south of Laramie, Wyoming. We arrived at 10:00 pm.

The alarm clock went off at 3:15 am and I quickly dressed and headed out alone for Wray, Colorado to see a Greater Prairie-Chicken to add to my life list. The Wray Chamber of Commerce sponsors a tour to see these birds, but because of a family activity I couldn’t attend their tour. I took a chance and drove for over two hours using specific directions off the internet about a lek north of Wray. About 20 birds were on the lek for a lengthy time until a Northern Harrier scared them off.

I drove back toward Windsor through the Pawnee National Grasslands searching for a Mountain Plover and McGown’s Longspur. Many McGown’s were seen but no luck for a Chestnut-collared Longspur. A California couple was also searching for the plover, and we team-up and finally located one. That made three target birds and lifers in one day.

We left Windsor and drove to Campo, Colorado where I had heard and read about a lek of Lesser Prairie-Chickens that displayed around sunset as well as at sunrise. My wife and I got to the lek early but by 8:00 pm not a bird had appeared. It was dark and we had a decision to make about staying or finding a motel an hour away then getting up early and driving back before sunrise. Our decision was to stay in the car overnight and hope that birds would be at the lek in the morning. We weren’t prepared for the overnighter. We leaned the back of our seats back, had a uncomfortable restless night, heard coyotes howling, and at sunrise saw four males displaying 50 yards away. That was the fourth target bird and another lifer.

After the sun was up, we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico where a Yellow Grosbeak was being reported. We had the address and the Map Quest directions took us right to the front door. The owners were not at home but had signs pointing the way to their backyard. In the backyard were lawn chairs set up and a log of visitors from all over the country and from foreign countries. The most recent reports said that the bird was most reliably seen at 4:30 in the afternoon. We were there at 1:15 and within five minutes of sitting in the yard, I heard a “piik” just as Sibley describes in his book. I looked in direction of the sound and couldn’t believe my good fortune of looking at the Yellow Grosbeak after being there for only five minutes. That was the fifth target bird and another lifer.

With a lot of daylight left, we drove to Monticello, Utah where we stayed overnight, but in a motel this time, and then the next day on to Provo.

Five or so years ago I would never have thought that I would make such a drive unless it was because of an emergency. Even the round trip Reed Stone, Kay Stone, and Merrill Webb to Sun Valley, Idaho to see a Northern Hawk-Owl pales to this one.

Despite hearing my sons and a few friends say: “You did what?” after telling about our trip. I’m not in the same league told about the birder who used the rent money to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast to see a new bird. He returned home to find that he, and his family, had been evicted. Still he felt the new bird was worth it.

Incidentally, I’m heading to the Big Bend National Park in Texas for an 11-mile hike to see a Colima Warbler and Scaled Quail and then drive eastward to locate a Black-capped Vireo before flying and driving to the King Ranch for a day of birding and the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Wish me success, just as I do you in seeking and finding that next target bird for your list.

A Texas Hail Of A Mess
by Dennis Shirley

I just returned from a little spin to Texas to bird, sightsee, and explore. My birding goal was to mop up a couple of loose birds, one a Hook-billed Kite in the Lower Rio Grande Valley [which I got after 30 hours of driving and 30 minutes of birding at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park], two a Greater Flamingo at Goose Island State Park, where it has taken up residence since hurricane Rita last fall, and three, a Yellow Rail at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, which was easy on one of the FWS sponsored Rail Walks.

I couldn't find my other two targets, a Black Rail along the coast, or migrating Golden-winged Warbler in the High Island area.

The trip turned out to be a family affair. First, I met Bryan in Houston, who flew in from an Ecuador bird tour, and we birded together a couple of days, before he took off for a trip to Costa Rica. We found a flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a life bird for Bryan.

Next, Carolyn flew down during spring school break, to sightsee and drive back with me. Our plan was for me to get all the birding done before she arrived, then the rest of the trip would be just basic sightseeing, which turned out to be a good plan. I hardly got my glasses out after she got there. Of course, there were no new birds left to get either, which helped.

On our way home through Texas we toured the Johnson Space Center, the capitol buildings in Austin, Lady Bird Johnson's Wildflower Center, and the German town of Fredericksburg.

A most unexpected adventure happened near Pedernales River State Park west of Austin. We got involved in an awesome "Texas style" thunderstorm/tornado/hailstorm and had to abandon ship[truck] and take cover in a campground restroom. The tornado went around us but the accompanying hailstorm didn't. We helplessly watched as tennis ball sized hail pulverized my truck, breaking out the windshield, a headlight, and basically hammering the entire body of the truck. When it was over the truck looked like someone had gone over it with a ballpeen hammer.

The truck was still driveable [ so after we called our insurance we spent the next three days limping home. We found out on the news that night that 20,000 cars had been damaged in the storm.

Later the insurance adjuster estimated the damage to be about $5,000, and I'll be without a truck for three weeks while it's fixed. Oh well! The three life birds of the trip were still worth it. Just another day at the office.

From this time on the Texas anti-littering slogan, "Don't Mess With Texas" will always have an added meaning to me.

Field Trip Report
UOS Field Trip to San Juan County - April 7th-9th, 2006
by Tim Avery

UOS Birders at Recapture Reservoir - 8 April 2006
photo by Tim Avery

Memoirs of a San Juan Weekend

  GPS and Bird Statistic:
  911.34 miles traveled by car
  35 hours and 46 minutes spent driving and birding
  105 species seen

This past weekend I took part in the Utah Ornithological Society San Juan Field trip. The 3 day trek from Salt Lake City to the extreme southeast corner of the state brought several surprises as well as a better understanding of the birding in San Juan County. Friday began with birders from Wyoming, Connecticut, Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo meeting in Utah county to travel southward for an investigatory weekend in birding the southeast. The groups first stop was in Juab county at Burriston Ponds. Right as we pulled up a pair of LONG-BILLED CURLEW flew over us heading northwest. Also of note here were: Great-tailed Grackle, Wilson's Snipe and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. As we headed back through Mona we saw a Eurasian Collared- Dove along Main Street. Our next stop was Chicken Creek Reservoir which was covered with waterfowl and a number of grebes. By far the best bird was a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER molting into breeding from basic plumage, along with what was a molting Long-billed Dowitcher. Kelly Holtman spotted a CATTLE EGRET on the south side of the Reservoir, the only egret of the trip.

The next stop was at Sevier Bridge Reservoir where the wind was blowing and there wasn't much on the lake. Several COMMON MERGANSER were seen from the restrooms. The only SAGE THRASHER's of the trip were seen here as well. From the lake we traveled west along dirt roads to Highway 28. About a 1/2 mile from 28 a BURROWING OWL flushed from a cattle guard in the road and sat in the brush just 40 feet from the road. We traveled south to Salina, then headed southwest to Sigurd, before heading back southeast to Bicknell to look into Bicknell Bottoms, which were rather barren…… Form here we dropped into Canyon Country and made a quick stop at Fruita which again was rather "bird-less". As we passed through Capitol Reef we were rewarded with looks at WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, WESTERN KINGBIRD, and several saw a rather drab female WILD TURKEY.

As we left the Reef and headed towards Hanksville the birds were again far and few between. We headed south and crossed the Colorado near Hite and made a quick stop east of here to try for Juniper birds. A JUNIPER TITMOUSE called but wouldn't show for everyone to see. As the sun began to set we crossed some beautiful country and rolled into Blanding just before dark. After a dinner break I headed to Devil's Canyon to try my luck at a Saw-whet, and ran into 3 others from the group who wanted to try their luck too. After a short whistling contest, I was able to locate a Saw-whet in loop A, or B, what one I am not sure, it is the one to the right when you enter the campground. We all got brief looks, of the bird flying, and I was able to get a nice look as it perched low in a juniper. I also heard either a Barn or a Great Horned Owl screech 3 times while I was whistling, but never got a great fix on the call. After nearly 15 hours on the road and birding I headed to Monticello for the night.

Day 2 began at 5:45 am at the Triangle H motel, the pride of Monticello, not exactly 5 star. We headed northwest of town to look for GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE. With all the leks being closed to the public until the 15th, we were just hoping to get lucky. As luck would have it we saw 6 or 7 of these dainty grouse…… flying away as we drove along the road. Unfortunately no one got a world class look at the smaller cousin to the Greater Sag-Grouse of northern Utah. Shortly after exhausting the road we were traveling on within Utah we headed back towards Monticello. On the road back, Hickman Flats road (San Juan county road #332), in the same location Lu located an American Golden-Plover last fall we saw 3 TUNDRA SWAN, several RING-BILLED GULL, heard and saw our first VESPER SPARROW of the trip, and were verbally warned by a DWR officer that if we left the road to pursue grouse, we would be cited…… He need not worry, we left the area to pursue other birds.

After a stop in Monticello for breakfast it was back south for more birds. Out first stop was at Devil's Canyon, where 2 ACORN WOODPECKER delighted us along HWY 191. In the campground were a healthy helping of new birds for the tip, including: PYGMY NUTHATCH, WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH, HAIRY WOODPECKER, RED CROSSBILL, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, CASSIN' FINCH, SPOTTED TOWHEE, and a few more for kicks. Back in loop A, or B as I stated earlier, which I still can't remember, we found a BUSHTIT nest, and not a whole lot else.

At Recapture Reservoir were more waterfowl, 2 COMMON LOON, 8 or 9 EARED GREBE, a singing JUNIPER TITMOUSE and several AMERICAN CROW. We headed into Blanding for lunch, and then headed south yet again. We stopped at the waste water treatment plant just south of town, which was chock full of waterfowl, and lord knows what else. We added RING-NECKED DUCK, as well as YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD for the trip. Heading further south, we arrived in Bluff in the early afternoon. First we went to the "swimming hole", which was rather void of wildlife, but looked great for rails and bitterns. The highlight here was a GREAT BLUE HERON perched about 200 feet above us on the red rock. Also here were more Swift's and a TURKEY VULTURE. The next stop was in "historic" Bluff, where Lu took us to his dove spot. There was a WHITE-WINGED DOVE as well as 2 EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE hanging out right in the middle of town.

Heading southwest we stopped along the San Juan river at Sand Island Campground. Right off the bat we were treated to a GRAY FLYCATCHER and 15-20 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW. In the midday heat the birdlife began to thin, and we headed back east through Bluff to Swinging Bridge. Not a whole lot in the way of birds but a neat stop. We went back to Bluff and had a leisurely dinner before heading north into Cottonwood Wash to take a break and do some light birding before the owling began. This is where the treat of the trip was located. We walked north into the canyon towards a watering hole. As I was watching several Ring-necked Ducks, Kelly Holtman, hollered that she had a sparrow. Most of the group looked on, and began naming species. I took a gander but in my brief glimpse said the bird flying away looked like a House Sparrow. After several naysayers let me have it I decided to investigate, and relocated the bird about 75 feet away over a hill. As soon as I got it up on a bush I hollered to Lu that it looked like a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW. The group came over and everyone got great looks at the bird, a lifer for several.

We headed back to Bluff in the dark and crossed south through town to the river. Within minutes Lu had 2 WESTERN SCREECH-OWL 15 feet away from the group calling up a storm. We left these birds be, and headed north back to Devil's Campground for another shot at the Saw-whet. At the first spot we were skunked when the Wyoming crew let us know they had had one calling further up the road. We drove to the spot and after 10 minutes of no replies most of the group left. I tried calling once more, and with only 7 of us still there we got a response. We ventured into the woods and quickly realized the bird was only a short distance away. I decided a whistling duel was needed and got into it with the little owl. It began moving closer until finally it sounded like it was only 15 or 20 feet away. Bob MacDougall and I flashed our spots into the tree in front of us, and out on a limb only 25 feet away sat a beautiful little owl, out in the open. Everyone got fantastic looks and then headed off for another much needed night of sleep.

Meeting at 8 am this morning we birded some more around Monticello. Near the old Blue Mountain Ski resort we saw RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, a WILD TURKEY and the surprise of the day, 3 VIOLET- GREEN SWALLOW flew over us. This was a surprise as there was still 6-8 inches of snow on the ground…… After this the group worked north and made a few stops. The last that I took part in was near the town of La Sal where we added SHARP-SHINNED HAWK to the list, and enjoyed the last birding of the trip.

I headed back north to Moab, I-70, Price, and finally back to Salt Lake. My skin burnt bright red from the desert sun on Saturday, all but a thick white patch where my neck strap lay, my car low on gas and covered in dust, and my eyes aching from just 10 hours of sleep in the last 72, I was ready for a nap. I would like to thank Steve Carr for planning this little outing which gave most of us a crash course in birding in San Juan. A huge thanks to Lu Giddings for dragging us around and showing us the ropes. With a new appreciation for a much under-birded part of the state, I can definitely say this was one of the better field trips I have been on.

The total number of 105 was the number of birds I saw. Bob Huntignton and Bob MacDougall also noted: FERRUGINOUS HAWK and SHORT-EARED OWL. I think that about covers it. I know this was long, and if anyone is interested in particular details please email me back channel and I will let ya know!

Field Trip Report
Provo Airport Dike
- April 15, 2006

by Reed Stone

Saturday Apr. 15 Start 8:00 A.M. Lead by Flora Duncan.

Six hardy birders met at the Ox Bow. We started by going around Provo Airport Dike because of the light rain. The birds: 50 species not every one saw every bird.

Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Cinnamon Teel, Green-winged Teel, Readhead, Ring-necked Pheasant, Ca. Quail, Pied-billed Grebe, Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe, American White Pelican, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, Northern Harrier, R. T. Hawk, Am. Kestrel, Virginia Rail (heard only), American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs (heard only), Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Black-billed Magpie, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Marsh Wren (heard only), American Robin, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee (Ox Bow), Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Brown-headed Blackbird, House Finch and House Sparrow.

Jordanelle Wetlands - 29 April 2006
photo by Eric Huish

Field Trip Report
Jordanelle Wetlands & Deer Creek Area
- April 29, 2006
by Alona Huffaker

Ten lucky Utah County Birders spent a few hours out birding up Provo Canyon and in Heber Valley. It was a bit chilly for part of the trip, but a good day all in all. There were about 55 species seen, including Violet Green, Barn, Tree, Bank, Northern Rough Winged, and Cliff Swallows! At Jordanelle we saw a pair of Osprey fishing the river and a Sandhill Crane flew silently right over our heads. That was a sight to see! The yellow color of the Yellowheaded Blackbird, the Yellow-rumped Warbler and the American Goldfinches was absolutely brilliant! Several people got to see their first Brown headed Cowbird of the year, and most of us had never seen a Eurasian Collared Dove in Wasatch County before (It was in the park near the turnoff from the Provo Canyon Highway to go to Charleston, as were Common Grackles in those tall pine trees).

During a brief stop at Deer Creek Lake State Park we saw four Grebes: Horned, Eared, Pied-billed and Western! Dippers, a Black Crowned Night Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Fox Sparrow, Scrub Jay, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Common Loon were some of the other birds we saw! Thanks group and leader (Tuula) for a very enjoyable spring morning.

Random Observations

It was the avian equivalent of me crawling under the sneeze guard at Baskin Robbins. I haven’t done that because I have a large brain and know it would be a stupid move, and I have a large body which my brain tells me wouldn’t fit. But the little female house finch had neither and she was stuck inside my nearly empty birdfeeder.

The feeder is one of those with the clear plastic sides in a barn shaped cedar body; a basic off the shelf type. The little bird must have slipped into the slot where the seed falls into the tray. I was out in the yard walking my dogs when I noticed her. She was futilely hopping against the plastic sides trying to escape.

My dogs, who spend most of the day barking at birds, thought it was the coolest dog toy they had ever seen. I had to hold their leashes in one hand and pull the roof part of the feeder up the hanging strings and tip the feeder sideways to let her fly free. She sat in our maple tree and gave me her opinion of bird grabbing feeders then slipped into the Blue Spruce to wait until I refilled the feeder.

The dogs keep eyeing the feeder hoping for another bird. Frankly I’m not too sure it won’t happen again, maybe even with the same bird. Birds can get “trap happy” as wildlife biologists can testify, and let themselves be trapped over and over for the food. She might be low enough on the Darwinian scale of intelligence that if the birdfeeder trap didn’t get her something else will.

But it’s the first time I’ve had that happen and the feeder has been in the yard for over a year.

  ~ Lana Creer Harris

We would like to hear your random observations. If you have an observation to share send it to newsletter@utahbirds.org .

Backyard Bird of the Month
April 2006

Glenn Barlow - Fruit Heights
Cassin’s Finch

Steve Carr - Holladay
Northern Flicker - Present several times a day every day.

Flora Duncan - Orem
California Quail - I hope they come back.

Alona Huffaker - Springville
Sandhill Cranes - I hear them from my front porch!

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Cliff Swallows - Flew over. My first swallows of the year.

Milt Moody - Provo
Male Black-headed Grosbeak - I always forget how striking they are.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Cassin's Finch

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
California Quail - 2nd year in a row--maybe babies this year!

Tuula Rose - Provo
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet found my suet feeder and visited every day for three weeks.

Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
Green-tailed Towhee - Seems early!
Cassin's Finch - 4 males, 6 females.

Stan Smith - Cedar Hills
Say’s Phoebe - 3rd year in a row.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Green-tailed Towhee - always fun to see.

We would like you to share your favorite backyard bird each month. Please send your favorite bird at the end of the month to newsletter@utahbirds.org or call 360-8777. If you would like a reminder at the end of the month e-mail the above address.