Utah County Birders Newsletter
December 2007

    December Meeting
    Upcoming Field Trips
    Merrill's Musings
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report - Deer Creek, East Canyon and Antelope Island Causeway
    Backyard Bird of the Month
    November Hotline Highlights


Wed, Dec 12th.

Christmas Bird Count Preparation - Merrill has prepared a lecture on the history of our Provo CBC (past experiences, data collected, exciting birds seen, etc.). The Provo CBC has been run continuously for 35 years and there is a wealth of fascinating information that will get us excited for the big day (Dec 22nd).

Bring your field guides with you, we may discuss some birds that might pose an identification problem. Final assignments will be made for areas to cover during the count, and folders will be distributed to area leaders.

Please contact Merrill as soon as you can if you plan on participating in this year's CBC (801-224-6113 or merrill_webb@yahoo.com) .  Come to the meeting  prepared for an assignment if you can't contact Merrill earlier. It would be nice to have all assignments made by the end of the meeting.

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


December 22 (Sat): Provo CBC - Please contact Merrill Webb as soon as you can if you plan on participating in this year's CBC (801-224-6113 or merrill_webb@yahoo.com) .

December 29 (Sat): Bluff CBC - contant Lu Giddings at seldom74@xmission.com for more information

January 25 - 27, 2008: St. George Winter Bird Festival - - make your own arrangements and accommodations - see http://www.sgcity.org/birdfestival/

February 9, 2008: Bald Eagles at Farmington Bay: details TBA

Merrill's Musings
By Merrill Webb

Christmas Bird Counts
I realized the other day while thinking about this year's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) that many of them I have participated in are like some of the girls I dated before I married: some were memorable and others weren't quite so memorable. The memorable ones (bird counts, that is) were because of the people I was with, or because of the birds I saw, or, sometimes a combination of both.

As a lister, one of the things I became aware of early on in my quest for numbers, is that the more CBC's I participated in the better chance I had of adding new birds to my state and/or year lists. The reason being, of course, is that the more birders in an area the better chance there is of finding a rarity. Hence my reason for participating in many different counts in Utah over the last thirty-five years. There are other reasons, naturally, for helping with these counts such as contributing to a scientific data base, competition between local counts, camaraderie, being out in nature on a cold, usually blustery, wintery day, etc. But in retrospect, the real reason I have endured these winter counts over these many years is the hope that either I or someone else in the count circle will find a really good bird. As a compiler, I used to give chase for two reasons: one, to document, and one, to find--to add to my list. But now, with most birders documenting their birds with photos the need to chase in order to document has become secondary. For example, one year during the Provo CBC Mark Bromley and his group found a Vermilion Flycatcher in south Provo near Footprinter's Park. I questioned him even though he was a competent birder, mainly because the bird was out of range and out of season. Well, he not only had written it up, but he also produced a photograph of the bird. And sure enough, that's what it was--a Vermilion Flycatcher. The next day many of us went out to find it, but during the night a blizzard had blown in and the bird was nowhere to be found.

During the 1978 Zion National Park's CBC I was assigned the town of Rockville. While working the Grafton area, a ghost town downstream from Rockville, I heard a magpie. At the compilation that evening I reported that I had heard a magpie and even though I hadn't seen it I asked innocently if it could be counted. Jerome Gifford, who was a long-time resident of the area and had helped with the Zion bird count since its inception just about came out of his chair.  "Are you sure?" he questioned. I had only lived in Utah County for a short time at that point, but long enough that I knew what a magpie sounded like. So I answered, "Yes, I'm certain that's what it was." I described the general location of where I had heard it. Two days later, I found out that Jerome had gone to the area the next day and observed not one, but three magpies. To this day that is the first and only sighting of a Black-billed Magpie in Washington County.

December 28, 1984 while helping with the St. George CBC, Ray Johnson and I were working a dry alfalfa patch out in the Washington Fields. A small flock of birds took flight--and neither Ray nor I knew what they were. They weren't pipits, and they weren't Horned Larks. As some of you know who have been in a situation like that, that's when it gets exciting. We chased that small flock all over the field trying to identify them. They would land--and then disappear among the alfalfa plants. Finally, we were able to verify the field marks in flight--a tail pattern with a black, inverted T. The next day this is what I wrote in my Birder's Life List and Diary, "Actually saw it on the 28th and misidentified it as a Lapland Longspur. Went out the next day after looking at field guides and verified it as McCown's Longspur.  Tried to collect one, but couldn't bring myself to shoot it." There are two things that stand out from this experience. First, that was the first time that particular species had ever been seen on a St. George CBC, (it was a "lifer" for me as well), and I didn't know if anyone would believe me when I wrote it up--hence the perceived need to collect it. Secondly, the importance of writing down the information--to keep a record--of an unusual sighting. That was twenty-three years ago, and as I read it while writing this article it still seemed as exciting as when it happened.

In December of 1978 while helping with the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge CBC, I observed another good bird. Quoting again from my journal. "Observed a single bird out on the south side of refuge dike.  Able to get within 10-15 feet of bird for a good long look before it flew away. Was with Dennis Shirley, Bob Parsons, and David Ng." (David was, or had been, one of my students at Provo High). The bird was a Lapland Longspur, a "lifer". I had seen this species six years before seeing the McCown's, and I still had problems with identification. Hence the reason for my trying to assign more than one observer to an area to help with the identification of any unusual bird. Another memorable set of experiences--this from two different CBC's in two different states in two different years, but involving the same species of bird. From my journal: "Observed the first one during the CBC in Pipe Spring, Arizona on December 29, 1975". (I actually was with Jerome Gifford and J.L. Crawford. They had invited me to participate with them on that count because they were having a hard time finding observers. After participating in a couple of Zion CBC's up to this point, I suppose they figured that I was good enough to help them on this count). Anyhow, the bird was a White-throated Sparrow. When I called Jerome over to verify my sighting he looked at it and then looked at me in a way I knew that I had "arrived" as a birder. "Yep, that's what it is alright." Jerome wasn't ever very talkative, but was one of the best birders I have ever seen, so I considered that a real compliment. "Utah sighting was December 22, 1980 during the Bear River Bird Refuge CBC. Both time (birds were) in heavy underbrush near water." So, I saw my "life" White-throated Sparrow in Arizone, five years before I saw the same species in Utah for the first time--and both were while on a CBC.

One of the main reasons I went south every year to help with the Zion CBC was because they kept reporting Wood Ducks on their count, I had never seen one, and that was a bird I seriously wanted to add to my life list. So, I volunteered to walk the Virgin River in Rockville during two to three different years in the anticipation of finding the duck. Not finding it, I then asked to be assigned the river within the park boundaries. That was a mistake, too.  Year after year I would go to the compilation that evening having missed the duck, and every year Jerome would report seeing a couple or more in his area.  Finally, I asked him where he was finding the ducks.  "Oh, at the Springdale Ponds," he answered, like I should automatically know where those were. But I didn't. And I couldn't get myself assigned to Springdale because that was Jerome's area. He had covered it forever.

Again, quoting from my journal, "Finally found 2 Wood Ducks on the Grafton sewage ponds March 6, 1983 with help from Jerome Gifford." So, it wasn't on the Zion CBC, but it was with, and because of, a birder I had met during my participation on a winter bird count. One last reminiscence. I have mentioned that I was the compiler of the St. George CBC. I restarted it after a five year hiatus and continued for quite a few years as the compiler. One of the local observers who I depended on in those early years was a man by the name of J.L. Crawford, whom I have already mentioned.  He had known both my parents when they were all students at Dixie Jr. College in St. George. He was a retired national park employee living in St. George and was pretty good at identifying birds. He would always ask to be assigned to an area of the count circle that included the Red Hills Golf Course, which, as most of you know, has "produced" some pretty good birds over the years. It wasn't until I had relinquished the compilership to a resident birder that I found out the reason J.L. always requested this area. He always combined his bird search with a round of golf. Kind of like "killing two birds with one stone", or one golf ball.

photo by Kent Keller


Bird of the Month

Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
by Grant Jense

While taking my almost daily walk through my neighborhood, I was taking note of the birds that were present and considering several that I had been thinking of for the bird of the month. I saw 3-4 different flickers noisily feeding in trees that are now leafless, making bird observations much easier. I thought, why not? The flicker is my kind of bird: easily identified, noisy, making it easy to locate and does not skulk in the thick cover.

The flicker is a fairly large woodpecker averaging 12.5 inches long with a 20 inch wingspan. It has a fairly long tail and a long, slightly down-curved bill and broad wings. Its striking plumage is distinctive.

Two distinct groups occur: 'Yellow-shafted Flicker' in the east and far north, and 'Red-shafted Flicker' in the west. Both forms have brown backs with black barring, white rumps, and spotted underparts with black breast crescents. The Yellow-shafted form shows yellow in wings and undertail in flight; crown is gray with red nape patch; male has black mustache. The Red-shafted form has salmon in wings and undertail; crown is brown with no nape patch; male has red mustache. The Gilded Flicker, Colaptes chrysoides, which has received separate species status, will hybridize with Northern Flickers and looks much like the red-shafted form of Northern Flicker but with yellow in its wings.

The yellow-shafted and red-shafted forms were once separated by open plains, but now overlap in their distribution and interbreed due to extensive tree planting. Birds combining features of both forms occur well beyond the zone of contact.

The call of the Northern Flicker is quite distinctive with a wick-er heard on the breeding ground and a loud klee-yer is given year-round. Twice I have been awakened at daylight in the spring by flickers drumming out their mating call on cabin stove pipes. That is what you call a rude awakening!

Northern Flickers cover much of North America and are nearly ubiquitous below tree line where nest sites and open ground for feeding occur together. They winter within North America. Flickers are largely insect eaters and eat more ants than any other North American bird, therefore, they are observed feeding on the ground quite often. They occasionally eat seeds, acorns nuts and grain.

Flickers lay 5-8 eggs and prefer to nest in snags and will use a variety of cavities in poles, posts, houses, banks, haystacks and boxes. Large clutch sizes usually represent output from two females. Both sexes brood, but mostly the female.

Next time you are out enjoying a day of bird watching and spot a Northern Flicker, don't think or say "oh its just a flicker", watch the bird for a few minutes and take note of its striking plumage and behaviors.

Field Trip Report
Deer Creek, East Canyon and Antelope Island Causeway
  - 17th November 2007
Trip Report by Eric Huish

Looking for Loons at Jordanelle - 17 Nov 2007
photo by Lu Giddings

 Long-tailed Ducks, Antelope Island Causeway - 17 Nov 2007
photo by Lu Giddings

On Saturday November 17th Lu Giddings led a very successful field trip in search of loons and winter waterfowl. 13 birders met in Provo at 7:30 a.m. Our first stop was Deer Creek Reservoir where we were able to spot at least a dozen Common Loons plus some waterfowl, a Western Grebe, a Downy Woodpecker and a flock of Pipits. We saw a flock of Wild Turkey along the side of the road near Midway.

We made a quick stop at a pull-off along the highway overlooking Joranelle Reservoir but it didn't have much on it. We saw one distant loon and some distant small groups of waterfowl as well as a Red-tailed Hawk on a nearby power-pole.

We then headed to East Canyon and made a few stops overlooking the Reservoir. There were some Western Grebes near the dam, some Black-capped Chickadees working the brush along the East side of the Reservoir, a couple of Bald Eagles along the West side of the reservoir and a Great Egret flew over. The best viewing was at the South end of the reservoir where the stream comes in. Here we saw lots of waterfowl including a beautiful pair of Barrow's Goldeneye, good looks at several Hooded Mergansers, lots of Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers and an interesting loon we studied for a while before deciding it was just another Common Loon.

We then headed out of the mountains to check out the Antelope Island Causeway. There had been lots of great birds reported there and we weren't disappointed. We went straight to the last bridge before the island and Lu immediately found a Black Scooter. Well it was just a whirlwind of great birds from then on. More and more birders were coming along and joining us at the last bridge. Everyone had to run to the south side of the causeway to look at the many Long-tailed Ducks then run back to the North side when the White-winged Scoters showed up. We ran to the South side again when someone spotted the Snow Bunting. We piled up on the North side again because a couple Surf Scoters came in, then back to the south to see the Greater Scaup and a closer view (very close) of the Snow Bunting. Of course all this time there were a thousand Eared Grebes at very close range and beautiful Bonaparte's Gulls flying by. The best part for me was seeing all the scoters in their often confusing immature plumages. I have seen many scoters on both coasts but these were extra close and made for great comparisons. Juvenile Surf and White-winged Scoters can be hard to differentiate at times and here we were able to see every detail up close, side by side. It was a great Grand Finale to a beautiful day.

Backyard Bird of the Month
November 2007

Steve Carr - Holladay
Brown Creeper - Only the 4th year in 37 years, but 3 out of the last 4 years; wonderfully unusual.

Lynn Garner - Provo
A Western Scrub-Jay sampling all the feeders, one after another.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
A large flock of Morning Doves sometimes more than 30 at once.

Milt Moody - Provo
A pair of Cassin's Finches.

Carol Nelson - Provo
Expecting the arrival of the Bald Eagle for its yearly visit, I have scoped every big bird which paused in its favorite tree. I was awarded this morning with an early gift. In almost predawn light, I thought I was looking at a Northern Goshawk. I called Milt who came within 10 minutes and confirmed my ID. My best sighting ever of a Goshawk. Surely Santa was responsible.

LeIla Ogden - Orem
A Coopers Hawk eats dinner often in my pine tree. (Located just right of feeders) I also have had Spotted Towhee and Mountain Chickadee. Many birds at feeders now.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
2 Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Red-Tail Hawk - Roosting in the tree every night.

Tuula Rose - Provo
American and lesser goldfinches galore. A black backed male Lesser Goldfinch comes along with the regular green backed ones. He is bright yellow on the belly with jet black head, back and wings.

Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
Blue Tit - Near Bitburg, Germany [Darren's back yard feeder].

Reed Stone - Provo
"My" White-breasted Nuthatch excites me on an irregular schedule also Cedar Waxwings.

Alton Thygerson - Provo
Last month I had one Stellerís Jay; this month Iíve had four at the same time.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
American Kestrel - Only bird seen on my Thanksgiving Bird Count and it was outside the circle.

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.

Membership Dues: As you contemplate the new year ahead, put on your list of considerations the 2008 Utah County Birder's dues. A bargain at $15.00 a year, they will provide you with a hand copy of the newsletter, and help support the website. Dues may be sent to:
Carol Nelson
2831 Marrcrest West
Provo, Utah 84604