Utah County Birders Newsletter
October 2008

    October Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
Merrill's Musings
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report
- River Lane
    Field Trip Report
- Sanpete County
    Field Trip Report - Squaw Peak Road - Hawk Watching
    UOS Conference Report
    440 and Counting
Backyard Bird of the Month
September Hotline Highlights


Thursday, October 9th.

Our speaker will be Dr. Steven Petersen of the BYU Plant and Wildlife Science Department. He will discuss Sage Grouse, including the use of remote sensing in identifying Sage Grouse habitat and the effects of mining and other types of development on Sage Grouse populations.

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


October 12 (Sun): The Big Sit - Provo Airport Dike - led by Eric Huish - We will be sitting out on the Southeast corner of the Provo Airport Dike. Meet us anytime during the day.  Come and go as you like. Eric will be there from 6:30 a.m. to about 1:00 p.m., then again from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Ned Bixler will be there for part of the afternoon. 

October 18 (Sat): Mona Reservoir, Goshen Canyon, and the Elberta-Goshen area. Half-day trip - led by Lu Giddings - Meet at 7:30 a.m., Payson Walmart, just off the south Payson off-ramp and east of the freeway, (I-15 Exit 248).

November 15 (Sat): Loon Loop - Led by Lu Giddings - 7:00 a.m., meet at Sam's Club parking lot, 1313 S. University Ave., Provo: we plan to visit various reservoirs and lakes in search of loons and winter waterfowl, depending on bird activity. Last year's stops included Deer Creek and Jordanelle reservoirs, East Canyon Reservoir, and the Antelope Island Causeway.

December 20 (Sat): Provo CBC, details TBA

We are actively recruiting people to lead local half-day field trips, any time, any place.  If you would like to lead a field trip or if you have any ideas for this year’s field trips, please contact Lu Giddings at - seldom74@xmission.com.

Merrill's Musings
By Merrill Webb

Pete Dunn, nationally acclaimed birder, has compiled a list of 23 events or people that has had a major impact on the popularity of birding. August 18, 2006 he shared these with a group of birders who had gathered together at the Bear River Bird Refuge to learn about and share information on Utah birds. Fifteen of these 23 are listed below. It may be interesting to see how many of these have personally affected you.

   1. President Eisenhower's proposal and subsequent development of the United States Interstate Highway System. Instead of being restricted to urban birding, birders could now travel farther faster.
   2. Death of Roger Tory Peterson. People all over the country were made aware of his tremendous contribution. His fieldguides were a major reason for an increase in the popularity of birding.
   3. Ross's Gull. This rare gull showed up at Newbury Port, Mass., and birders from all over the country flocked to this community to add this bird to their life lists. The media in that area devoted a surprisingly amount of print to this event.
   4. Birding tours. Travel and ecotourism companies have increased in number making trips to areas with excellent guides available to a greater number of birders. I personally have taken advantage of this opportunity and added a lot of birds to my life list.
   5. The development of the 7 x 42 binoculars by Zeiss in 1987. This provided the opportunity to study birds up close. Provided the catalyst for the development of similar types of optics.
   6. Black Oil Sunflower seed (thin, small seed). If you keep your bird feeders stocked during the winter you know the significance of this development. Feeder watching has become a major source of enjoyment for many.
   7. The American Birding Association (ABA). This organization started in the 1970's and became a vehicle for birders to share their passion.
   8. The National Geographic Society's Fieldguide. It involved the best minds in birding and the best bird artists in crafting a new fieldguide.
I'm sure that most of us have at least one of these guides.
   9. Cell phones. Makes possible speedy deployment in finding that rarity.
  10. Hot lines. Taped messages to "hot" sightings. A thing of the past now.
  11. Internet. Think of how many ways you have used the internet to find out about birds or locations to go birding just in the last week.
  12. Birding Festivals. These festivals not only provide ways for birders to mingle and see new birds, but they also boost the local economy. How many have you attended in the last two years?
  13. Jim Lane Guides. Great source for detailed instructions on finding good places to bird in a given locality.
  14. GI Bill. This provided money for former military people to go to college and earn a degree. This in turn made possible a higher stardard of living providing more money for more leisure time -- "birding".
  15. Kowa TSN spotting scope. The first of the really good spotting scopes now on the market.

I think it's interesting how many of these have had a direct impact on improving my skills as a birder.


American Dipper - photo by Paul Higgins

Bird of the Month

The American Dipper
Cinclus mexicanus
by Landon Jones

Last week I went to a lovely picnic at South Fork Canyon Park with my good friend and his family. He just finished law school and got a good job with a law firm, and I hadn’t seen him for a year of so. After discussing his work a little he asked me if there were any strange or interesting birds in Utah. Pointing to the stream running through the park, I told him about one of the most amazing and specialized birds in the U.S., the American Dipper.

The American Dipper, Cinclus mexicanus, frequents fast-flowing mountain steams and rivers year-round. It obtains food by diving under water, walking upstream against the current, and turning over rocks and searching along the bottom for tasty invertebrates. “What???!!!” I said in my mind, the first time I heard this. “Surely I must have heard incorrectly.” No, you heard it right. “It walks underwater, not swims, in mountain streams created from snowmelt, even in the winter, and eats bugs off the bottom?” Yes. “That’s crazy! How can it do that??!!” Dippers sport some fascinating adaptations for their frigid aquatic lifestyle.

Most aquatic birds are fairly large, so as to conserve as much body heat as possible, but dippers are rather small at about seven and a half inches in length. Larger animals retain more heat as they increase in size because their volume increases little as mass increases, leaving less surface area for heat to dissipate away from them, keeping them warmer. Dippers also have little in the way of fat reserves compared to other aquatic birds. They do, however, have lots of down feathers, to keep them warm while diving, which is quite a divergence from the typical passerine body plan. Dippers also have an enormously enlarged preen gland (ten times the size of other passerines), which allows them to waterproof their numerous feathers. Water just rolls off them as they come up for air after a dive. Also related to thermoregulation, dippers have very short tails and wings compared to other passerines. Long tails and wings would quickly dissipate much of the heat necessary to keep them warm. Their body plan is as close to a sphere as possible, the most efficient shape for heat conservation, without compromising other morphological traits necessary for life in their habitat. Dippers can survive winter temperatures as low as -49° F.

Dippers are also well-adapted to their unique environment. The first time I saw an American Dipper, I thought it was a rock on a sandbar in the middle of the river until it moved and sang its clear notes. Their plumage blends well with their surrounding habitat. Logically, dippers would do well in the water with webbed feet, but as passerines, their feet are fixed in the typical passerine toe configuration, which constrains the development of this trait. However, dippers have strong legs and well-developed claws, allowing them to forage on the stream bottom under continuous pressure against the fast-moving current. Their chest muscles are also very strong compared to other passerines so they can flap their wings underwater, their primary means of locomotion in their habitat. They also have a third eyelid, which is clear and protects their vision underwater (built in goggles, wouldn’t that be handy!). They also have movable flaps to cover their nostrils when diving (and noseplugs too!).

American Dippers defend linear stretches of streams as their individual territory, year-round. One of their most interesting attributes that they share with no other bird outside their family is a feathered eyelid. The eyelid is white and conspicuous against their drab gray plumage, warning other dippers to stay out of their territory. This adaptation allows them to stay relatively incognito from predators most of the time, but the flash of white is unmistakable when they want to be noticed.

Dippers are in the family Cinclidae, and all are in the genus Cinclus. There are only five species in the world, almost one for every major continent. The American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) resides in western North America, from Alaska to Panama. The Rufous-throated Dipper (Cinclus shulzii) occurs in South America along with the White-capped Dipper (Cinclus leucocephalus) which is confined mostly to the Andes mountain range. The White-breasted Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is distributed throughout Europe and into a little bit of North Africa. The Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii) is found throughout Asia. Dippers are currently placed as most closely related to thrushes. However, their unique adaptations to take advantage of a very harsh and specialized feeding niche make them, in my eyes, birds nothing short of miraculous. When I ask birders from the east coast what species they would like to see in Utah, they often say “show me one of those dippers.” The concept of an American Dipper is simply unreal until you have seen one; they are truly one of the marvels of the west.



Downy Woodpecker - September 3, 2008 -  photo by Cheryl Peterson

Field Trip Report

River Lane - 3 September 2008
by Cheryl Peterson

Bonnie Williams, Eric Huish and Cheryl Peterson birded River Lane in hopes of finding migrants, especially warblers. While we enjoyed the birds we saw, it was disappointing that we didn’t see as many birds as we had in previous years.

We saw 5 warblers: Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s. Two Wood Ducks on the Spanish Fork River were a nice find. There were also at least 5 Downy Woodpeckers. Other bird that we saw or heard: Canada Goose, Ring-necked Pheasant, Sandhill Crane, Caspian Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Western Wood-Pewee, Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Black-billed Magpie, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, American Robin, Gray Catbird, European Starling, Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-headed Blackbird and American Goldfinch.



Field Trip Report

Utah County Birders in Maple Canyon - September 6, 2008 -  photo by Eric Huish

Sanpete County - 6 September 2008
by Yvonne Carter

In attendance on this field trip was Lu Giddings our leader, with Steve Carr, Merrill Webb, Bart and Yvonne Carter, Ned Bixler, Eric Huish, and Joe Marty. Seven great guys and one woman. Hey Gals! Where were you?

Leaving the Springville Walmart parking lot and heading south to Nephi on the I-5, we headed east out of Nephi on Highway 132 to Sanpete County. Turning off to the right into the farm lands west of the main highway, we birded along the way to the Fountain Green Fish Hatchery. And then further south through the town of Fountain Green, Freedom and Wales to the Wales Reservoir. Doubling back we went up Maple Canyon which is west of Freedom (look for the Freedom cemetery sign).

We observed Canadian Geese, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, White-faced Ibis, Turkey Vultures, Northern Harrier, Swainson's Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit, Baird's Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Stellar's Jay, Black-bellied Magpie, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Violet-Green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Bluebird, Robin, Sage Thrasher, Starlings, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, Brewer's Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbirds, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

We had great weather, perfect temperatures and a good number of birds as you can see. A good time had by all!



Field Trip Report

Utah County Birds atop Hawk Knoll - September 27, 2008 -  photo by Keeli Marvel

Squaw Peak Road - Hawk Watching - 27 Sept 2008
by Eric Huish

Utah County Birders met at the Orem 8th North Park-and-Ride at 9:00 a.m. On our way to the Squaw Peak Overlook we stopped at Canyon View Park and Hope Campground. At Canyon View Park, in Provo Canyon, we saw nothing. I think I heard a Magpie. We walked the loop at Hope Campground where there were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and lots of campers.

The birding was slow so we went out to watch hawks which was the main purpose of the field trip. We stopped at the DWR Raptor Watch Day at the Squaw Peak Overlook. They had seen a flock of Pinyon Jays fly past about an hour before we got there. We didn't stay long at the DWR Raptor Watch Day. We headed to the hilltop above the parking area. We could see the crowds that came to the raptor watch throughout the day. It looked like it was a popular event.

We watched for hawks for several hours from our hilltop. We were hoping for a Broad-winged Hawk. Didn't see one. I checked birdnet when I got home and saw that there were a few Broad-wings seen by hawk watchers in the Wellsville mountains. I guess the Wellsvilles were the place to be that day. We did see many Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and Red-tailed Hawks, some Golden Eagles, a couple Kestrels, a Merlin and three Turkey Vultures. There were Wild Turkey in the area. A few turkeys flew off the hillside near us and into the oaks. We also had Mountain Bluebirds land in a nearby tree for good viewing. The scenery was awesome.


Utah Ornithological Society Conference Report

12-14 September 2008
by Eric Huish

The Utah Ornithological Society's Annual conference is always a great event. With field trips, paper presentations on a variety of bird related subjects and an evening social with a keynote speaker, the conference is a great place to learn more about birds. This year's conference was held in Ogden at Weber State University and hosted by the Wasatch Audubon Society.

Friday Field Trips

Fall Maples at Maple Campground - September 12, 2008 -  photo by Keeli Marvel


I went on the Snowbasin field trip led by Les Talbot. We reached snowbasin at 8:45 a.m. and walked the trail out to the Maples C.G. It was a beautiful crisp mountain morning. We could hear Clark's Nutcrackers up on the mountainside and a Red-breasted Nuthatch off in the forest somewhere. Down the trail we came across a group of young Juncos. The birding was kind of slow until we came across a small flock of birds at the campground that included Yellow-rumped, Wilson's and Townsend's Warblers, Black-capped Chickadees and a Downy Woodpecker. On our way back to the car we got a good look at a Sharp-shinned Hawk and found a few Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Cassin's Vireo in a pine tree. The Cassin's Vireo was a lifer for a couple people in the group.

We made a stop at Middle Fork WMA. There were very few birds here.  Best bird was an American Kestrel.

Our last stop was at the North Arm Natural Area. Here we had Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks and a Swainson's Hawk soaring overhead. Along the trail we saw Orange-crowned Warblers, another Townsend's Warbler along with a few other passerines.

Bear River Refuge

Conference attendees met at the Bear River Refuge visitor's center at 8:30 a.m. for a tour of the closed-to-the-public D line of the refuge led by Betsy Beneke. I didn't go on this trip but the response I got most when asking people about it was "lots of brown Ducks". Their best birds were a few Great Egrets and a Solitary Sandpiper. They also saw the 'regulars' one would expect on a tour of the refuge. Tuula Rose told me about one of her favorite sights of the day; several Turkey Vultures on fence posts (closer than she had ever seen before) on both sides of the vehicle as they drove through the fields to the D line of the refuge.

Rainbow/Birdsong Trail

This trip was led by Mort and Carolyn Somer. I didn't hear how this trip went. All I heard is that due to the wind they ended up at the Cemetery. I'm sure they got some good birds.

Friday Evening Social

Several UOS members met at Jeremiah's Restaurant for an evening social with hors d'oeuvres, beverages and a keynote speaker. Dr. Dale Clayton, Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, spoke to us about feather lice and other bird parasites. It was a very fascinating presentation. I know you think I'm just saying that, but it was fascinating!  Ask anyone who was there.

Saturday Bird Walk and Paper Session

Beus Park

Birding Beus Park - September 13, 2008 -  photo by Eric Huish

Jack Rensel led a bird walk around Beus Park early Saturday before the paper session started. Jack informed us of the history of the park and how the Wood Ducks got there. As we were walking around the pond a couple of large objects came crashing down from the tops of the trees to the forest floor. Beus Pond is a small pond surrounded by tall trees.  Two Canada Geese had hit the treetops as they were coming in for a landing and fallen straight down through the trees.  We watched a Goose walking through the forest towards the pond. The goose seemed okay.  It was a comical sight.


There were many birds around that morning. Downy Woodpecker, Western Wood-pewee, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robins, Townsend's Warbler, Wilson's Warblers, Western Tanagers, Song Sparrows, House Finches and up-close beautiful views of a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Very good for a short early morning walk.

After the bird walk we headed to the Shepherd Union Building at WSU for a continental breakfast and paper presentations by graduate students and researchers on a variety of subjects. The paper session is always the most interesting part of the UOS Conference. We had breaks during the day when the attendees could socialize. I enjoyed meeting people I only know from posts on the listserv and birders I don't see very often.

Sunday Field Trip


North Arm Natural Area

Birding North Arm Natural Area  - September 14, 2008 -  photo by Keith Evans

There were two field trip choices on Sunday, meeting at the same place and time.  Seven people showed up. Since it was not a large group, we decided not to split up. Kristin Purdy led us to the North Arm Natural Area then to Jefferson Hunt Campground. The North Arm was full of birds. Across the field from the parking area was a tree full of Turkey Vultures (15) and a pair of Sandhill Cranes flew in as we started down the trail. There was so much bird activity it took us 45 minutes to walk the short distance from the parking area to the first bridge over the stream. At the bridge the birds were still thick enough to keep us planted in one spot. Between the parking lot and the bridge we heard a 'Solitary' Vireo and saw a Downy Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Orange-crowned Warblers, Virginia's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warblers, MacGillivray's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warblers, many Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrows, Lazuli Buntings, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch and American Goldfinch.

We eventually broke ourselves away from the bridge and walked the trail through the thick vegetation, then up along the hillside where we could get a view of the area from above. Along here we were able to find Northern Flicker, Dusky Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrow and Lincoln's Sparrow. On our way out we heard and, after a second of searching, saw a pair of Pinyon Jays flying over. It was an unexpected sighting for this area. Other birds seen in the North arm area included Canada Goose, Black-billed Magpie, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Swainson's Hawk.

At Jefferson Hunt Campground we walked a trail out to a spot where we could overlook a distant Pineview Reservoir. We saw 17 species. Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher and Western Wood-Pewee were added to our day list.


It was a great weekend.



440 and Counting

Painted Bunting - photo by Paul Higgins

by Milt Moody

With the addition of four new species so far in 2008 the number of officially documented species seen in Utah is a whooping 440. That makes 14 new species added since the publication of the official state checklist by the Utah Bird Records Committee in 2004, and there may be more to come.

The four new species added so far this year are the Painted Bunting that showed up at Fish Springs in the west desert, Cape May Warbler seen at Red Cliffs Golf Course in St. George, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at the Antelope Island Causeway and a Pine Warbler discovered at Lytle Ranch in southwestern Utah. And there may be more coming before the year is out. Right now there are six sight record for new Utah species under review by the Records Committee. Several of them look like they may have a pretty a good chance to be accepted increasing our state list by several more. A record for a Whip-poor-will is looking very good (or should I say sounding very good since the main documentation is from sound recording) and a well documented Purple Finch record is looking very promising as well. (Several previous Purple Finch sightings have been submitted but have not had sufficient documentation to be accepted until maybe this one). Other possibilities are Gilded Flicker and Baird’s Sparrow records which are in the second round of reviews, which indicates that there were significant questions in the first round on these records. Records for Mississippi Kite and Mountain Quail are still in their first round so a possible new Utah species may come from one of these records as well. (These records can be found and perused on the Records Committee pages of the utahbirds.org website).

The 1998 checklist for Utah listed 406 species. About 10 years later, 34 new species have been added. It looks like the increased number of birders, better communication, more easy-to-carry digital cameras producing easy-to-share pictures have contributed to this boom in new birds for our state. How many more species could we see in Utah? Well, if the following list of “unconfirmed species” is any indication, we’re not done yet.

Sixteen species that have been reported in Utah but not confirm: Tufted Duck, Leach's Storm-Petrel, White-tailed Hawk, Bar-tailed Godwit, Laughing Gull, Black-tailed Gull, Iceland Gull, Parakeet Auklet, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Pileated Woodpecker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Sprague's Pipit, Blackburnian Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Olive Warbler, and Varied Bunting.


Backyard Bird of the Month
September 2008

Steve Carr - Holladay
Little Corella - My new backyard in Australia. Actually, an escaped cage bird of the Cockatoo family.

Yvonne Carter - Highland
The chickadees are taking over the finch feeders.

Lynn Garner - Provo
Western Scrub-Jays returning to my platform feeder.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Orange-crowned Warbler - skulking in the bushes.

Milt Moody - Provo
California Quail - wandering pretty friendly herds.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Calliope Hummingbird

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Western Wood-Pewee - Another sign of fall (dangit!)

Tuula Rose - Provo
A female Wilson's Warbler busy in the bushes, occasionally flitting over to the grass catching little moths.

Reed Stone - Provo
Western Scrub-Jay - The only time I see Scrub-Jays in the yard is when the Oak tree is full of acorns.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Ring-necked Pheasant - he stays around here all year.

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.