Utah County Birders Newsletter
March 2007

    March Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Merrill's Musings
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report - Bald Eagle Day at Farmington Bay - 10 February 2007
    Field Trip Report - Delta, Snow Geese - 3 March 2007
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    February Hotline Highlights


Wed, March 14th.

Steve Carr - Birding Salt Lake County.

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


Friday - Saturday, March 30th & 31st (New Date)
Sharp-tailed grouse lek and Pocatello Valley, NW Utah

Friday: overnight stay in Brigham City Crystal Inn* (http://www.crystalinns.com/bgcut.html), UCB group rate $69, call to reserve your room at 435-723-0440 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group.

Saturday: leave Crystal Inn Saturday morning 4:00 a.m.; leave Tremonton I-15 exit #385 4:30 a.m.

Saturday, April 14th
Fish Springs and Callao, west desert birds
- Day trip; Leave Payson Walmart 6:00 a.m. (I-15 exit #249?)

Friday - Saturday, April 27th & 28th
Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park
- Friday: overnight in Torrey; Best Western Capitol Reef Resort Torrey* - UCB group rate $65, call Beth or Chris to reserve your room at 435.425.3761 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group. More details TBA.

Saturday, May 12th
Utah county desert birds
- the great Utah county - day trip; leave Payson WalMart 7:00 a.m.
More details TBA.

* (People who attend the overnight trips are not obligated to stay in the hotels in which Lu has made accommodations. They are, for any reason, welcome to stay where ever they like and to simply meet up with us in the morning at the departure time.)

UCB Field Trips 2007

We are actively recruiting people to lead local half-day field trips, any time, any place.  Call Lu Giddings if you would like to help.

departure place and time
Mar. 30 & 31

(new date!)

Sharp-tailed grouse lek and Pocatello Valley, NW Utah Friday: overnight stay in Brigham City Crystal Inn (http://www.crystalinns.com/bgcut.html), UCB group rate $69, call to reserve your room at 435-723-0440 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group.

Saturday: leave Crystal Inn Saturday morning 4:00 a.m.; leave Tremonton I-15 exit #385 4:30 a.m.
Apr. 14 Fish Springs and Callao, west desert birds day trip; Leave Payson Walmart 6:00 a.m. (I-15 exit #249?)
Apr. 27 & 28 Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park Friday: overnight in Torrey; Best Western Capitol Reef Resort Torrey - UCB group rate $65, call Beth or Chris to reserve your room at 435.425.3761 and remember to mention you're with the UCB group.

More details TBA
May 12 Utah county desert birds - the great Utah County day trip; leave Payson WalMart 7:00 a.m.

More details TBA
May Utah county Big Day with Dennis Shirley trip is still being arranged and is not set; details TBA
May 17-22 Great Salt Lake Bird Festival please make your own arrangements
June 9 (to be confirmed) Oquirrh Mountains with Ann Neville day trip; details TBA
June 22 & 23 Grouse Creek mountains, NW Utah overnight in Brigham City Friday night; details TBA
July 13 & 14 Bryce National Park details TBA
Aug. 11 Uintah Mountains North Slope road day trip; details TBA
August UOS conference; date and location pending  
September Kennecott's Island Sea preserve with Ann Neville day trip; date and details TBA
September Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge, NE Utah overnight stay in Vernal
Oct. 13 & 14 Zion's National Park details TBA
Nov. 3 & 4 Moab and Canyonlands National Park details TBA
December local Christmas bird counts, Provo CBC details TBA
Dec. 29 Bluff Christmas bird count details TBA


Merrill's Musings
By Merrill Webb


In the teaching profession it is common to assign a more experienced teacher to help and to monitor the progress of a new teacher--to be a mentor. This helps the rookie teacher to monitor and to adjust to the challenges and the frustrations that are so common to a first year teacher. This has proven to be beneficial to the new educator because they don't become so easily discouraged, plus it helps provide them with insights that might take longer to learn otherwise. The whole idea is to help them become more proficient, to combat discouragement, and to become more confident in their teaching.

I think back on my days of becoming successful at identifying birds. Each step along the way there were mentors--someone who cared enough about me to help me improve my skills and to keep me from becoming discouraged. I would like to share with you the names of a few of those people who have mentored me.

The first one was my father. As a farmer he was out in the fields a lot and knew many birds by sight. Some of the names of these birds were not in the field guide, but nonetheless he knew what they were and he could identify most of them. "Catbirds" "Peachbirds", "Greenheads", "Butcherbirds", and "Bullethawks" were some of the birds I learned from him. And when I obtained my first Peterson's Field Guide, I had to unlearn some of these names--and it took me a while to do it. His "Catbirds" turned out to be Western Kingbirds; I couldn't find "Peachbirds" anywhere in the index, (or the book), but I found out that House Finches looked amazingly like what my dad referred to as "Peachbirds." Even though some of the names were a bit off, he was still the first who influenced my interest in birds.

After returning from six months active duty training in the military I enrolled at Dixie Junior College in St. George, and promptly signed up for an ornithology class without taking the prerequisite biology class. I assured the instructor, Dr. Andrew
Barnum, that I could handle the class okay. I did alright, except for the application of taxonomic principles. The lab was totally enjoyable because we got to identify stuffed specimens during the two hours of each lab. And I became pretty proficient. The only drawback was the requirement to learn the taxonomic family and order of each bird, an exercise I considered in my youthful inexperience to be superfluous and a waste of time. Dr. Barnum frequently asked my advice on where to go for fieldtrips to look for certain species of birds because I was out looking for birds a lot. I appreciated his confidence in my abilities. But due to learning only the common names without the associated classification levels I didn't do so well on the lab test and ended up receiving a B for a final grade in the class, a mark that has always bothered me--because with a little extra effort I could have done better. Since I have started teaching my own zoology classes I have realized the error of my ways; I now know how important classification is to the whole process of science--not just to birds.

After graduating from Dixie I enrolled at BYU and my scientific training intensified. However, I didn't really know where to look for birds in the Utah County area. In the meantime I had joined the Salt Lake Audubon Society and went on occasional fieldtrips with them. A lady by the name of Helen Chindgren took a special interest in me and helped and encouraged me in learning some of the birds in this area. I remember joining them for a fieldtrip to Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, a location I had always wanted to visit. With her encouragement I started on my journey of becoming a more competent observer of waterfowl. And I even had the opportunity the following summer of working at Farmington Bay as a trainee for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources where I really improved in my waterfowl identification skills.

Later, in 1971, a local chapter of the Audubon Society was organized here in Utah Valley, and another special person took an interest in helping me. I had taken a religion class from him at BYU, and he had never mentioned his interest in birds in class during that semester. But due to the association that occurred through that chapter Bob Parsons and I soon started taking a lot of birding trips together. He was instrumental in helping me improve my identification skills. On one trip he took me and Daniel Simmons, a high school student, on an overnight trip into the Uintahs to see some of the
birds associated with the alpine environment. We made camp in the dark. The next morning we heard a lot of activity in the tree above us. Looking up we discovered we had pitched our tent right under an active nest of a Williamson's Sapsucker, a "lifer" for me.

Gradually, my skills improved, but there was one group of birds that still gave me fits. These were the shorebirds, especially during fall migration. In fact, I usually totally avoided mudflats during September and October so I wouldn't be so frustrated at trying to identify them. However, there was a graduate student attending Utah State University who was very good at shorebird identification. Mike Tove was from North Carolina where he had developed his skills at identifying shorebirds and gulls. The two of us hooked up on a number of occasions. Using his spotting scope he tutored me on the nuances of figuring out the differences between a Western Sandpiper and a Least Sandpiper ("look at the leg color"); and how to tell a Baird's Sandpiper from a Pectoral Sandpiper ("look at the wing extension, and the size"). Finally, shorebirds were no longer the bane of my existence, and another major milestone was reached.

So far most of my birding had been confined to Utah. But another birder, who was also a biology teacher and a good friend invited me to go on a trip with him to the Dry Tortugas. This would be the first of many ecotours I would later embark on. So, Mark Bromley and I flew to Florida where I had my first encounter with oceanic birds. What an eye-opener! It was great. Later, we took our own families on a pelagic trip out of Monterey, California with Debbie Shearwater, another milestone in my birding experiences. These probably would not have happened when they did without the encouragement of Mark.

So, hopefully, as I have mentioned some of these people and places, you have also had occasion to think back on those individuals who have helped you along your way to becoming a better birder. And perhaps you have decided how you can become a mentor to someone who also needs a little extra help in improving their skills.

Bird of the Month

photo by Jack Binch

American Tree Sparrow
by Tuula Rose

If you are a lister, there are a number of winter species that you would be looking for right now to get your numbers up where you want them by the end of the year. American tree sparrow is one of those migrants whose wintering grounds are the Southern Canadian Provinces and northern United  States, pretty much from east to west, but more concentrated in the plains states according to Christmas Bird Count Statistics.

In Utah they are considered an uncommon winter visitor in their preferred habitat of fields, marshes and brushy edges of open spaces.  In Utah County your best bet of finding one, or more likely a small flock of 3 or 4 is somewhere around Utah Lake,  the Airport Dike,  the Boat Harbor, maybe Powell Slough.

Seems that I always need to brush up on the field marks of migrants not to confuse them with similar species. Here are some comparisons with other sparrows that have a rusty cap. (By the way,  the good old Peterson Field Guide shows the rusty-capped sparrows on the same page for good comparison.)

-         The chipping sparrow at first glance is a look-a-like, except the line through the eye and behind the eye in ATS is rusty to match the cap color instead of black.  And remember that chipping sparrows are not here in the winter!

-         The swamp sparrow, rare here in the winter, has a rusty cap, but it has a dark-colored bill and no wing bars, when the ATS has a bi-colored bill with black upper and yellow lower mandible, and two white wing bars.

-         The first year white-crowned sparrow, an abundant all-year resident in similar habitats, has rusty stripes on the crown and a clear breast, but is lacking the best identifying field mark of the ATS, the dark central spot on the clear breast.

Both sexes are alike and they are monogamous. Despite its name, it forages on the ground.  It eats nearly 100% animal matter  (insects and spiders) in the summer and turns to eating entirely seeds and other plant foods in the winter. It breeds in the arctic far north in Alaska and Canada, above the tree line and nests on the ground. It is abundant and widespread throughout its range.

American Tree Sparrow’s call is a musical “teedle-eet”.  The song begins with several clear notes, followed by a variable and rapid warbler. Both sexes use calls, but male sings only one song. The flight call is a high and sharp “tsiiw”.

I found an interesting tidbit of information on this sparrow on the web (Cornell Lab):

“A study found that the American Tree Sparrow seems to prefer to look for predators out of its left eye. This preference may be because the right hemisphere of the brain is dominant for processing visual information. Oddly, the Dark-eyed Juncos examined in the same study preferred to look out of their right eyes.”     -   Who knew!

[ The Bird of the Month is a new monthly column in our newsletter. We will ask a club member (that’s you) to write about a bird each month. Tuula Rose has agreed to coordinate the Bird of the Month column. If you have a bird you want to write about let Tuula know before your bird is taken by someone else. ]

Field Trip Report
Bald Eagle Day
at Farmington Bay - 10 February 2007
by Eric Huish

Yvonne and other UCB Participants watching Eagles at Farmington Bay - 10 February 2007
photo by Eric Huish


Seven Utah County Birders met at 8:00 a.m. at the East Bay Sam’s Club Parking lot where we were told our leader was ill and couldn’t make it. We appointed Ned Bixler our leader and headed North. We met two more Utah County Birders at Farmington Bay.

We had heard that there weren’t good numbers of eagles at Farmington Bay this year but when we got there we were pleased to see MANY Bald Eagles. I counted 70 Eagles from one spot and we saw at least 100 Eagles in and around Farmington Bay.

There were also lots and lots of people out for the Official Bald Eagle Day. It was good to see so many people out enjoying birds.

Besides all the eagles we also saw hundreds and hundreds each of Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal and Ring-billed Gulls at Farmington Bay.

In smaller numbers we saw Gadwall (quite a few), Mallard (lots), Cinnamon Teal (6), Canvasback (1), Redhead (a few), Lesser Scaup (2), Bufflehead (2), Common Merganser (lots and lots), Ruddy Duck (2), Pied-billed Grebe (2), Great Blue Heron (2), Northern Harrier (about 6 or 7), Red-tailed Hawk (1), Rough-legged Hawk (1), American Kestrel (4), American Coot (2or 3), Killdeer (1), California Gull (lots), Herring Gull (lots), Common Raven (a few), European Starling (I only noticed one in Farmington Bay), Song Sparrow (heard only) and Red-winged Blackbird (heard only).

It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. After the weeks of below freezing temperature it felt nice to spend some time outside in 50 + degrees.


Field Trip Report
Delta, Snow Geese
- 3 March 2007
by Merrill Webb

We got great views of Snow Geese Flying in right near us - 3 March 2007
photo by Lu Giddings

Geese filled the sky in Delta - 3 March 2007
photo by Lu Giddings

Snow Geese on Gunnison Bend Res. - 3 March 2007
photo by Lu Giddings


Uncommon dark phase Ross's Goose - 3 March 2007
photo by Eric Huish

For those returning from the 250 mile roundtrip to Millard County on Saturday, March 3, there were smiles all around. And why not? Mother Nature had served up a smorgasbord of at least 50 different birds including 18 species of migrating waterfowl.

So," you say, "I've seen Snow Geese before. Got my Snow Goose for the year at Utah Lake State Park in January."

Too bad. You haven't seen them like we saw them at Gunnison Bend Reservoir near Delta. Not like this time, you haven't. "Ross's Goose? No big deal--seen it before, too." Uh huh.

I would bet it's been a long time since you saw close to 1,000 Snow Geese sitting on ice, accompanied by 13 early migrating Avocets. Or watched wave after wave after wave of beautiful white geese homing in on the little bit of open water on the reservoir and then covering it to the extent that any open water was difficult to see. And then, sorting through all the Snow Geese to find at least 2-300 Ross's Geese, including a rare blue phase one, among the more than 12,000-15,000 Snow Geese. It was just spectacular, and hard to describe to someone who wasn't there. all of this in spite of the bone-chilling, finger-numbing cold. and to top it off there were all kinds of ducks in their splendid nuptial plumage: Mallards, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Common Mergansers, Green-winged Teal--all provided excellent looks. Even a lone Clark's Grebe mingled in among the ducks. There were also California and Ring-billed Gulls on the ice, a Mountain Chickadee in the brush below the dam, and a Great-tailed Grackle in the residential area by the reservoir. As good as all this was, these birds were just the appetizer.

On the way to Clear Lake Waterfowl Management Area, about 20 miles south of Delta, we spotted a pair of Prairie Falcons.

Upon arriving at the management area we were greeted to ponds totally frozen over with ice (didn't look very productive, at first sight). However, there was one isolated area that was ice free which begged investigation. With eight observers sharing four different spotting scopes and some standing in the back of pick-ups to facilitate better viewing of the ducks, one would expect that nothing could escape detection. And nothing did. Waterfowl were concentrated in this small patch of open water by the hundreds. There were fourteen different species represented: a single male Bufflehead, a pair of Common Goldeneyes, a pair of Lesser Scaup, 20-30 Cinnamon Teal, a few Gadwall, and lots of Redheads, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail. As Eric was scanning the mixed flock of ducks with his scope I heard him gasp, in fact it was more of an expulsion of air. "A Eurasian Wigeon!" Sure enough a beautiful male wigeon, one considered by the Utah records committee as an 'occasional transient', and without doubt the best bird of the trip--the dessert, if you will.

All of us had a chance to view the wigeon--and it wasn't easy while it intermingled with all the other ducks, swimming in and out of view among the Redheads and American Wigeon. While watching these ducks we were treated to the courtship flight of a Northern Harrier as well as a flight of more than 120 White Pelicans gleaming white in the blue sky as they wheeled in gigantic circles high above us.

Thanks to Lu Giddings, the trip leader. Other participants included Ned Bixler, Yvonne Carter, Eric Huish, Junice Markham, LeIla Ogden, Bonnie Williams and Merrill Webb. Also, Lynn Garner and his wife met us at Clear Lake and then left shortly before we found the wigeon.

Backyard Bird of the Month
February 2007

Steve Carr - Holladay
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Three visits in one month.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Red-tailed Hawk - Flew over.

Milt Moody - Provo
Fox Sparrow still here -- going on 3 months.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
An American Kestrel made three attempts to take House Finches off the feeders.

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
American Goldfinch - What's not to like about these little guys?

Tuula Rose - Provo
Mourning Dove, first of the year, scratching the snow under the feeders for seeds.

Alton Thygerson - Provo
Northern Flickers - 2 at the same time.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Downy Woodpecker - 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.