Utah County Birders Newsletter
departure place and time
|May 12||Utah county desert birds - Trip Leader: Eric Huish||day trip; leave Payson WalMart 7:00 a.m.|
|May 17-22||Great Salt Lake Bird Festival||please make your own arrangements|
|May 26||UCB Big Day - Trip Leader: Dennis Shirley||leave Provo East Bay Sam's Club 7:00 a.m.|
|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|
By Merrill Webb
Last week-end, April 20-21, I visited an old friend in southern Utah, a friend that has been battered and abused. It disturbed me to see what has happened to her. I don't know how long it will take her to recover--in fact, parts of her may never recover during my lifetime.
I am referring to Utah's Mohave Desert west of St. George and the main riparian community, Beaver Dam Wash that bisects that desert ecosystem. Fires and floods have had a major, negative impact on the whole landscape. I grew up not too far away from "the wash" as my dad used to refer to it, even hunted quail there when I was a teen-ager, so I have a fond place in my heart for the area.
Now, Beaver Dam Wash is littered with the skeletons of large, dead cottonwoods, uprooted and washed downstream by the torrents of flood water that ravaged the area two years ago. Standing on the reconstructed bank of the irrigation pond at Lytle Ranch I noticed a tree that had a yellow, metal sign nailed to it. The large tree was lying horizontal in the dry, rocky channel and I couldn't make out what the writing on the sign was. So I walked over to it. "The Nature Conservancy Wildlife Preserve," it read. Before the flood I remember this tree standing upright on the northern boundary of the Lytle Ranch Preserve about one mile upstream from its present resting place. I walked up the dry stream bed over rocks and litter not seeing a single bird. The main stream is just a trickle to the west of me. As I reached the cottonwood forest I noted that some of the understory vegetation that had been washed away has recovered a little bit. There were a few scattered squawbushes under the cottonwoods, and a few seep willows coming up along the main water course. The few cottonwood seedlings that had germinated had been eaten down by cattle, relishing I suppose, the little bit of greenery they can still find which is absent on the parched slopes where cheat grass now abounds. Ahh, cheat grass, the alien invader that has no nutritional value, and when dry serves as fodder for the next range fire.
And speaking of range fires have you seen what has happened to the vegetation on the Beaver Dam Slope in the last two years? I'm referring to the area between the old Highway 91 turn-off at Castle Cliff and the 11 miles or so of dirt road you have to drive over to reach Lytle's Ranch. It is the part of the desert that has been scarred by fire, leaving the Giant Joshua Trees charred skeletons against the blue desert sky. Cholla, Ephedra, Yucca, black brush, creosote bush--all gone. Totally. Well, almost totally. There are a few isolated pockets of desert vegetation that the fire missed, but along the north side of the road, most of the vegetation is gone--except the cheat grass, amber waves of cheat grass, dry and ready to ignite when the next lightning bolt strikes the ground.
I recently visited with Dr. Stanley Welch, retired B.Y.U. taxonomist, and asked him about the possibilities of recovery for this unique Utah plant community on the slope. I was not encouraged by his response.
He indicated that cheat grass arrived in the West in 1894. Sometime later, two other non-native annual grasses, red brome and Arabian grass, arrived on the scene. The Mohave Desert never had annual grasses until these three invasive species arrived. Plus, the vegetation of the Mohave Desert has never developed under a fire regime. Now, when growing conditions are right including the right amount of moisture at the right time of the year, these grasses grow rapidly and abundantly. Then, during the summer they dry up. When lightning bolts strike the ground during the summer thunderstorms these grasses ignite readily and the fire spreads rapidly. Creosote bushes grow quite a ways apart and under normal conditions aren't going to burn. But when the dry grasses are interspersed among them, the fire spreads rapidly, burning the creosote, the blackbrush and the Joshua trees. And none of these plants grow back by resprouting (like oak does). They only grow from seeds. So, what is the prognosis? Dr. Welch paints a rather gloomy picture when he says, that in his opinion, "the Giant Joshua and the creosote will never recover. The black brush might recover, but it will take 50-100 years, if there are no more fires."
What has been the effect of fire on desert birds? It's not hard to imagine the impact. Black-throated Sparrows have decreased in numbers. Same with Cactus Wrens and Loggerhead Shrike. Scott's Orioles, which were never abundant anyway--gone. On Utah Hill where finding Black-chinned Sparrows and Gray Vireos was a given. It will require much more effort to find them now. There's no vegetation left to support these avian populations.
How about the health of another important riparian community, the Santa Clara Creek? Fire didn't quite reach the major channel area, but the floods had an effect on cottonwood trees, uprooting some and washing away most of the understory. But you can't blame the flood for the dearth of vegetation along the stream channel. Not entirely, anyway. Try the City of St. George's thirst to provide water for its golf courses and burgeoning population. They have buried a pipeline right down the middle of the channel, diverting the water into the pipe and dewatering the stream below the Gunlock Reservoir leaving the cottonwoods to survive on a limited amount of rainwater. Without water they are more susceptible to disease and to the tent caterpillars which had almost completely defoliated the trees by last week-end. By comparison, the cottonwoods in the Beaver Dam Wash, the ones that have survived the floods, had a few of the tent caterpillar cocoons, but weren't completely defoliated. I even saw a Plumbeous Vireo eat a couple of the caterpillars in a cottonwood tree along the wash. Compare the numbers of birds on the Santa Clara Creek above the Gunlock Reservoir where there is ample vegetation with the numbers of birds below the dam where the vegetation is sparse and dying. Yellow Warblers and Lucy's Warblers are quite numerous upstream from the reservoir. Below the dam, hardly any.
So, what's to be done? "You know Mother Nature is a woman," Dr. Welch said, referring to what the fires and floods have done to the habitat in Southern Utah. "Always changing the furniture around." The implication is that we can't do much about the floods and the fires, so adjust to it.
Nine years ago I did a quick study of the bird populations in a unique area along the road to Motoqua, a small community abut 25 miles upstream from the Lytle Ranch Preserve. The study area was an ecotone, which by way of definition is where two or more different plant communities meet and integrate. The vegetation was characterized by pinion-juniper trees, Joshua trees, black brush, Yucca and great basin sagebrush. About twenty-fife years ago I remember observing this unusual mix of desert vegetation for the first time, and thinking how strange it was to see Giant Joshua interspersed among pinion pine trees and great basin sagebrush. In 1998 I revisited this unique plant community four different times during one breeding season and counted the birds at ten different points along a two-mile transect. I ended up with a total of 29 different bird species, 18 of which I determined to be resident breeding species.
I visited the same area last year (2006), one year after the fire had destroyed the vegetation in every direction as far as the eye could see. I saw one bird--a lark sparrow.
Dr. E.O. Wilson, a renowned Harvard biologist, in a presentation entitled "The Future of Creation," given on February 28, 2007 at the University of Utah, stated that there are five factors having a negative effect on biodiversity worldwide. These five can be remembered by the acronym HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population increase, and over harvesting. On a relatively small scale I have seen the impact of three of these factors in southern Utah in the last two years.
How does "Cheat Grass Biome" sound to you?
photo by Jim Huddle
Submitted by Alton Thygerson
Scientific name: Sturnella neglecta
Meadowlarks are members of the blackbird family.
the state bird of:
Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming
In 1844, John James Audubon commented on the “curious notes” uttered by meadowlarks along the upper Missouri River in today’s North Dakota. He observed that although the species was known to members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, no one had taken the “least notice” of these birds since. Therefore, Audubon named the western meadowlark Sturnella neglecta.
songbird with a short tail -- shaped like a Starling
• Throat, chest, and belly yellow
• Black “V” across chest
• Back brown and streaked
• White outer tail feathers – shows patch of white on each side when it flies
• Several quick wing flaps alternate with short glides.
Differences between Eastern and Western Meadowlarks:
Westerns prefer drier grasslands and the Eastern chooses more moist locations. Only the Western is found west of the Great Plains. East of the Great Plains, the Eastern predominates although the Western has extended its summer range into the Great Lakes region and the Ohio Valley.
The two species are very difficult to tell apart. A key difference is the extent of yellow on the feathers below the eye. In the Western, the yellow feathers extend behind the lower jaw, while in the Eastern the yellow feathers top on the throat below the lower line of the lower jaw.
The songs of the two are very different. The Eastern has a simple, clear, slurred whistle while the Western’s song is complex, garbled and abrupt. Some describe it as a distinctive flute-like yodel. It’s a memorable song, produced by the males, performed to attract females, and is a proclamation to other males that the territory is occupied.
Habitat: Grasslands, pasture, and cultivated fields. Found across western and central North America to northern Mexico.
Migration: They are permanent residents throughout much of their range. Northern birds migrate to the southern parts of the range.
Utah County Locations: Fields east of Skipper Bay Trail (north of Utah Lake State Park), county’s pasture and agricultural areas which are more readily accessible in the southern part of the county.
Behavior: The male arrives at the breeding ground a couple of weeks before the female. It likes to perch on fences, poles and wires to claim and guard its territory. A male’s home range is about six or seven acres. If another male invades his territory, he may get into a fight with the intruder. Fighting meadowlarks lock their feet together and peck at each other.
When the male finds a female that he wants to mate with, he points his bill in the air, puffs out his yellow throat and flaps his wings above his head. If that doesn’t get the female’s attention, he hops up and down.
Feeding and Diet: Forages almost entirely on ground, gathering grain, seed, and insects. Feeds mostly on insects during the summer, grain in winter and early spring, and weed seeds in the fall.
Reproduction: Males often are simultaneously mated to two or more females. Females build a domed nest that is placed on the ground. An average of five eggs are laid late April-early August. Incubation is 13-14 days; fledging at about 10-12 days. Single brooded, but females renest if their first effort was unsuccessful.
Conservation Status: Not threatened. Widespread and common, but numbers declining in many areas. Agricultural practices affect breeding, destruction of nests by equipment and trampling of nests by livestock.
The Cornell Lab or Ornithology gives these interesting facts:
• The nest is partially covered by a grass roof. It may be completely open, or it may have a complete roof and an entrance tunnel several feet long.
• Rarely do the Western and Eastern hybridize. Captive breeding experiments found that hybrid meadowlarks were fertile, but produced few eggs that hatched.
• When Western and Easterns nest in the same area, the Western male will defend his territory against all male meadowlarks of either species.
• The Western uses a “chase” display during pair formation, with the male chasing the female. The female usually starts the display, and she determines the speed of the chase. If a male has two mates, both females may participate in the display at one time.
Alderfer, J. (2006). Complete Birds of North America. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
[ 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
Fish Springs, Callao, & Delta - 14 April 2007
by Lu Giddings
We had a great day of birding in the Great Basin yesterday. Five vehicles and 16 birders left the Payson Walmart at 6:00 a.m. and made the trek to Fish Springs. After spending nearly six hours cruising the dikes and checking the picnic area and the visitor's center, we made the drive to Callao and the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the eastern foothills of the Deep Creek Mountains. From there we drove into Delta and stopped at several fields inundated with irrigation water and also at Gunnison Bend reservoir. Many in the group who lasted until sunset - when we finally called it a day - went home with 70-80+ bird species for the day. As a group, at least 93 species were reported. Trip highlights included:
- a juvenile golden eagle sitting unconcernedly on a fence post about 15' away from us as we drove past, just east of the IPP
- almost upon arrival we were treated to Savannah sparrows, black-throated sparrows, sage thrashers, and American pipits in the sage flats to the south and west of the NWR entrance
- the many dozens of nesting sandhill cranes, white-faced ibis, American white pelicans, great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, and cattle egrets in the south ponds at Fish Springs that were kind enough to put on a real show for us
- two greater white-fronted geese and at least two greater scaup, the former at the northeast end of Harrison pool, the latter in the pool to the south of Harrison (thanks to Jack Skolicky for alerting the Sommerfelds to the geese!)
- the flooded fields in Delta, the first with many hundreds of gulls and waders, the second with more long-billed curlews than I have ever seen in one place in Utah. I counted 46 birds in one 20x scope field of vision, which covered less than 25% of the birds present, while Steve Sommerfeld counted over 60 curlews in one binocular field of vision in the same place.
- a pair of courting Clark's grebe's dancing together on Gunnison Bend reservoir.
Black-crowned Night-Heron at Fish
Springs - 14 April 2007
Black-bellied Plover - Fish Springs -
14 April 2007
Milt, Carol, Bonnie and Stephanie at
Fish Springs - 14 April 2007
Singing Savanna Sparrow
Many thanks to those of you who made it such an enjoyable day! Trip
Stephanie and Matt Mills
Carol Jean Nelson
Cindy and Steve Sommerfeld
And finally, a few photos from the field trip may be seen here.
Total Count: 93 species
Greater White-fronted Goose
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Capitol Reef & Torrey - 28 April 2007
by Lu Giddings
Seven birders had a great time in Sevier and Wayne counties yesterday
afternoon and today. Perfect weather, beautiful country, and great birds made
the drive more than worthwhile. A partial list of the places visited includes
Richfield, Sigurd, Koosharem reservoir, Fish Lake, Loa, Fremont, Bicknell and
Bicknell Bottoms, Torrey, Teasdale, Boulder Mountain, the Fruita district of
Capitol Reef, and the Fremont River as it runs east out of the National Park.
Trip highlights include the following:
- a Lucy's warbler was observed in a grove of mature cottonwood trees on Highway 24, along the Fremont River and about 2.5 miles east of the Notom road. This is, as far as I know, the most northerly sighting of a Lucy's warbler in Utah, and the first reported sighting of which I am aware in Wayne county. In this same stand of trees we also observed an ash-throated flycatcher, an olive-sided flycatcher, a yellow warbler, an orange-crowned warbler, a plumbeous vireo, and a female black-chinned hummingbird constructing a nest.
- several Grace's warblers were heard singing in the Single Tree campground on Boulder Mountain. In this general vicinity we also observed red-breasted nuthatches, white breasted nuthatches, pygmy nuthatches, Clark's nutcrakers, Cassin's finches, and red crossbills.
- the sighting of a bald eagle and also, later, a golden eagle in the Bicknell Bottoms area. Numerous waterfowl species were also seen in this area, along with great and snowy egrets.
- Koosharem Reservoir was just ducky! While American coots were easily the most abundant species on the water, in total numbers they were matched by many hundreds of various waterfowl species, including a pair of greater scaup seen this afternoon and a pair of common loons.
- Fish Lake had five pairs of common loons and an osprey.
- a number of first-of-year observations of common birds were enjoyed, including Wilson's phalaropes, black-throated gray warblers, yellow warblers, lark sparrows, and Bullock's orioles.
Thanks for a great trip and good company to Larry Draper, Sue Hinde, Eric Huish, Milt Moody, Tuula Rose, and Merrill Webb!
Capitol Reef National Park - 28 April
Yellow-headed Blackbirds near Bicknell
- 28 April 2007
Bicknell Bottoms - 27 April 200007
Where to next?
A partial trip list of the birds observed by one or more trip participants in
Sevier and Wayne counties is as follows:
Total Count: 112 species
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Backyard Bird of the
Steve Carr - Holladay
Canada Goose - Never seen so many flying over as in April.
Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Yellow-rumped Warbler - Brightly colored male singing loudly.
Milt Moody - Provo
Cassin's Finch, 2 Males, 1 Female - it's been a while since I saw them in my yard.
Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Dark Eyed Junco - A little slow heading back to the mountains.
Reed Stone - Provo
Green-tailed Towhee - scratching and feeding.
Alton Thygerson - Provo
Northern Flicker - loud drumming on the neighbor's gutter rattles the neighborhood and me out of sleep.
Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
American White Pelicans - My 100th backyard Bird!
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.