Utah County Birders Newsletter
December 2008

    December Meeting
    Provo Christmas Bird Count
Upcoming Field Trips
Merrill's Musings
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report
- Loon Loop
Backyard Bird of the Month
November Hotline Highlights


Thursday, December 11th.

Christmas Bird Count Preparation - We will receive instruction and assignments for the Provo CBC.
Please bring your field guides with you, we will be quizzed on 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.

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


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Please circle December 20th on your calendars so you can avoid conflicts. Get your Christmas shopping done early. Come to the Utah County Birders Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 11th or contact Merrill Webb at 801-224-6113 or merrill_webb@yahoo.com.

We will compile the results at 6:15 P.M. at the Utah County Academy of Sciences, 940 West 800 South, Orem. We are not meeting in the same building as last year. We will meet in the new Activity Center (Brick Building North of the parking lot). We will have much more room in the activity center.

Please Bring a Pot Luck dish to share. Don’t miss the compilation. It is great fun. Even if you can’t make the count you are still welcome to join us for the compilation.


December 20 (Sat): Provo Christmas Bird Count - Please circle December 20th on your calendars so you can avoid conflicts. Get your Christmas shopping done early.

January 2009: Friday 1/30 - Sunday 2/1:  St. George Winter Bird Festival - Make your own travel and lodging arrangements.   Click here for a Festival Brochure

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

      The Audubon-sponsored Christmas Bird Count has been an annual occurrence in the Provo area since 1973.  The six counts in Utah that year have now grown to a total of twenty-one, reflecting the increase in numbers of birders in the state over the last 35 years.  And, if you were so inclined you could participate in a different count every day in Utah during the two and half week count period sandwiched around Christmas day.  I read an account in one of the yearly count summaries that Chandler Robbins, the originator of the North America Breeding Bird Survey, and the lead author of the Golden Field Guide, Birds of North America, participated in 21 straight CBC’s during the Christmas season a number of years ago. 


     Having been involved with the Provo count since its inception, I decided to look back over each of the 36 counts since that time and provide a brief summary of each year’s results.  As we prepare for this year’s survey on December 20, I hope that your reading of the following accounts will encourage you to get out early and search for rarities in your respective areas.


Short History of Provo Christmas Bird Counts


Year      # of Birds   # of Observers   Unusual Birds                                  # of Utah Counts  


1973             55                4               Cinnamon Teal (7),                                  ?                         

                                                           Bohemian Waxwing (540),

                                                           Harris’s Sparrow (1)

1974             78               17               Evening Grosbeak (97),                     6; SLC high  

                                                           Goshawk (1), Short-eared Owl (2)     with 84 sp.


1975             68               12               Double-crested Cormorant (9),          7; SLC high

                                                           Chukar (2)                                           with 82 sp.

1976             63               12               Greater Yellowlegs (4),                     5; SLC high

                                                           Evening Grosbeak (11)                     with 84 sp.


1977             91               29               Swainson’s Hawk (1),                        7; Provo

                                                           Plain (Juniper) Titmouse (5),                  (91)

                                                           Northern Shrike (2)

1978            79                22               Willet (1), Marbled Godwit (2),         7; Logan (82)

                                                           Wilson’s Phalarope (10),

                                                           Harris’s Sparrow (2)


1979            88                19               Barrow’s Goldeneye (1),                    8; St. George

                                                           Snow Bunting (4)                                     (88)

1980            89                22               White-faced Ibis (1),                           8; Provo

                                                           Greater Yellowlegs (2),                           (89)

                                                           Clark’s Nutcracker (1),

                                                           Saw-whet Owl (2)



Year   #of Species   #of Observers  Unusual species                             #of counts


1981        82                 30              Turkey Vulture (4),                         10; Kanab (86)

                                                       Common Gallinule (Moorhen),

                                                       House Wren (2)

1982        79                 28              Hermit Thrush (1),                            10; St. George,

                                                       Orange-crowned Warbler (1),                 (92)

                                                       Red Crossbill (12) 


1983         84                24              Eurasian Wigeon (1),                        11; St. George,

                                                       Peregrine Falcon (3)                                (94)

1984         96                22              Least Sandpiper (14),                         11; St. George,

                                                       Band-tailed Pigeon (1),                            (105)

                                                       Winter Wren (1), Varied Thrush (1),

                                                       White-throated Sparrow (1),

                                                       Snow Bunting (1)


1985        101               50              Tundra Swan (2), Thayer’s Gull (6),    11; Provo (101)

                                                       Blue-winged Teal (1), Glaucous-

                                                       winged Gull (2), Lewis’s Woodpecker (1),

                                                       Swamp Sparrow (2), Red Crossbill (3),

                                                       White-winged Crossbill (15), Pine Grosbeak (4),

                                                       Evening Grosbeak (163)

1986        83                 47              Peregrine Falcon, (1) Pygmy Owl (1),    11; SLC, (90)

                                                       Snow Bunting (3), Brown-headed

                                                       Cowbird (1), Harris’s Sparrow (3)


1987        89                 42              Chukar (15), Ruffed Grouse (2),             12; Provo

                                                        Red-naped Sapsucker (2),                             (89)

                                                        Rock Wren (4), Winter Wren (1),

                                                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (5),

                                                        Black and White Warbler (1)

1988       96                 59                Sandhill Crane (1), Wilson’s Warbler    10; Logan

                                                        Swamp Sparrow (2), Red Crossbill (2)         (98)

                                                       White-throated Sparrow (2),

                                                        Evening Grosbeak (69)                           


1989       96                 65               Wood Duck (1), Oldsquaw (1),               12; Provo

                                                       Blue (Dusky) Grouse (1),                               (96)

                                                       Thayer’s Gull (1), Mt. Bluebird (4),

                                                       Red-naped Sapsucker (1), Lincoln’s

                                                       Sparrow (1)





Year   #of Birds   #of Observers   Birds of Interest                                       # of Counts


1990       93               55              Am.  White Pelican (2),                               13; Logan

                                                    Red-shouldered Hawk (1),                               (95)

                                                    Greater Yellowlegs (5),

                                                    Lesser Yellowlegs (4), Least Sandpiper (19),

                                                    Franklin’s Gull (1), Vermilion Flycatcher (1)

1991     107              42              Wood Duck (1), Cinnamon Teal (2),            13; Provo

                                                    Turkey Vulture (1), Am. Avocet (21),              (107)

                                                    Red-shouldered Hawk (1),

                                                    Greater Yellowlegs (19), Least Sandpiper (1),

                                                    Say’s Phoebe (1), White-throated Sparrow (5)


1992      94               46               Glaucous Gull (1), House Wren (1)             13; SLC,

                                                    Savannah Sparrow (2), Rosy Finch (382)         (103)  

1993      95              49                Red-breasted Merganser (12), Lesser             ?    ?

                                                    Yellowlegs (7), Glaucous Gull (1)


1994      103            54                 Hooded Merganser (19), Surf Scoter (1),     12; Provo

                                                     Western Grebe (1), Am. White Pelican (1)        (103)

                                                     Franklin’s Gull (1), Saw-whet Owl (1)

                                                     No. Mockingbird (1), Golden-crowned Sparrow (1)

                                                     Gt.-tailed Grackle (13)                                    

1995       98             46                 Horned Grebe (1) Wood Duck (12),             11; Provo

                                                     Long-billed Dowitcher (2),                                  (98)

                                                     Nashville Warbler (1), Swamp Sparrow (1)


1996     105             57                 Trumpeter Swan (1), Grtr. Scaup (1),            13: St.

                                                     Surf Scoter (1), Sandhill Crane (2),               George                            

                                                      Thayer’s Gull (1), Glaucous Gull (1),            (109)

                                                      No. Waterthrush (1), Snow Bunting (1),

                                                      Red Crossbill (20)

1997     97             65                   Peregrine Falcon (2), W. Screech Owl (7),    14; St.

                                                     Golden-crowned Sparrow (1)                     George (105)


1998     89             51                   Green Heron (1), Mourning Dove (3)            14; Silver

                                                     Juniper Titmouse (1), Winter Wren (2)          Reef  (107)

                                                     Swamp Sparrow (1), White-throated

                                                     Sparrow (1), Harris’s Sparrow (1) 

1999     87            54                    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1),                             14; St.

                                                     Gt.-tailed Grackle (20)                                 George (100)      






Year   #of Birds   #of Observers  Interesting Species                                # of Utah Counts


2000      106             58                Wood Duck (2), Grtr. Scaup (1),                 16; St. Geo.

                                                     Common Moorhen (1), Red-shouldered            (108)

                                                     Hawk (1), Red Crossbill (50)

2001    101             43                  Double-crested Cormorant (1)                     16; Provo

                                                     Gt. Egret (1), Ross’s Goose (1)                          (101)

                                                     Cinnamon Teal (5), Ferruginous Hawk (1),


2002     94              47                  Clark’s Grebe (1), Am. Avocet (100),          17; Logan

                                                     Eurasian Collared Dove (10),                             (99)

                                                     Mourning Dove (170), Lewis’s

                                                     Woodpecker (1), Harris’s Sparrow (2),

                                                      Brown-headed Cowbird (10)

2003     93             41                  Wood Duck (9), Western Sandpiper (4),         18; Logan

                                                     Eurasian Collared Dove (9)                                  (98)


2004     95              41                  Wild Turkey (14), Sandhill Crane (82),          20; Silver

                                                      Am. Avocet (156), Eurasian Collared                  Reef

                                                      Dove (28), Red Crossbill (16)                              (104)

2005     101            37                   Least Sandpiper (80), Mew Gull (1)               20; Kanab

                                                      No. Pygmy Owl (2), Saw-whet Owl (1),              (108) 

                                                      American Tree Sparrow (76)


2006      100           42                   Barrow’s Goldeneye (1), Gt. Egret (1),            21; Provo

                                                      White-faced Ibis (1), Eurasian Collared                 (100)

                                                       Dove (61), Short-eared Owl (2),

                                                       Mountain Bluebird (5), Savannah Sparrow (1),

                                                       Swamp Sparrow (1), Fox Sparrow (1),

                                                       Black-Rosy Finch (50)

2007     97            44                      Eurasian Collared Doves (80),                         21; SLC

                                                       Brown Creeper (23), No. Shrike (2),                     (106)

                                                       White-breasted Nuthatch (4),

                                                       Bohemian Waxwing (239), White-throated

                                                       Sparrow (1), Gray-crowned Rosy Finch (165),

                                                       Black Rosy-Finch (25)


     In the last couple of years there has been a continual loss of valuable habitat within our count circle which, I believe, will make it more difficult to find some of the unusual birds that have helped make us a leader in the state.  One major loss has been the Geneva Steel cooling ponds where waterfowl congregated when Utah Lake froze over.  Accessibility to certain areas, especially along the north shore of Provo Bay, has hampered efforts to survey that area.  So, what we need this year is a lot more observers.  Encourage everyone you know who has helped in the past, and try recruiting some new observers.  The more eyes—the better our chances will be for finding the species we need.   




Snow Buntings - photo by Keeli Marvel

Bird of the Month

Snow Bunting

Plectrophenax nivalis
by Keeli Marvel

This month’s bird of the month is the Snow Bunting. I chose to highlight this bird because of the chance (hopefully) many of us have gotten recently to see one up close, and somewhat closer to home at Lincoln Beach. While we unfortunately do not get a chance to see the full breeding plumage here in Utah, I think this bird is beautiful and unique in breeding and non-breeding plumage alike.

The Snow Bunting is classified in the Emberizidae family that includes other groups such as sparrows and longspurs. It is one of the few buntings that occur here in the U.S., and the only one that is observed fairly regularly here in Utah, with the bulk of the other bunting species occurring across the Eurasian continent. The Snow Bunting’s wintering habit stretches across the northern United States (including the northern part of our state) and up through Canada. Their breeding range is from Alaska east to Greenland and Iceland, with a good portion of it occurring well above the Arctic Circle.

Because of their harsh habitat, Snow Buntings have adapted to survive subzero temperatures as low as fifty-eight degrees below zero using adaptations such as tunneling under the snow in grass or shrub patches in order to keep warm. They have been observed to bathe in the snow, and are fairly opportunistic in their food selection. Their preferred habitat is dry tundra, rocky shores (like Utah lake and the Great Salt Lake), grassy or stubble fields or sand dunes, and coastal shores where they forage on the ground for things like seeds, insects, and caterpillars. Coastal birds have even been observed taking small crustaceans and mollusks.

The breeding coloration of the Snow Bunting is also likely another adaptation to their snowy breeding habitat. During breeding season they lose all color except black on their backs and wings and may appear completely white when seen in flight from below, like a very large snowflake flitting across the sky. Snow Buntings are monogamous and the males set up and compete for the best breeding territory weeks before the females return from their wintering grounds. They build cozy nests nestled far back in rock cracks and crevices and line them with feathers and fur to keep the eggs warm. The female stays on the eggs almost constantly to keep them warm, and relies on the male to feed her for the entire two weeks the eggs are incubating.

One thing I found really interesting about Snow Buntings was the way they developed their breeding plumage. At the end of the summer, the males molt and have the brownish black backs streaked and spotted with cinnamon on their sides and face. However, underneath the colored feather tips, their back feather are pure black and the body feathers are all white (regardless of the color on top). The males develop their bold black and white breeding plumage as their feather tips wear off, and will actively rub them on the snow until the bright white and jet black feathers are all that are left just in time for breeding season to begin.

I’ve only been able to see a Snow Buntings a total of two times, the first time, I spotted a pair last winter hopping around on the rocks next to one of the bridges on the Antelope Island Causeway, and once this winter again hopping around the north jetty rocks at Lincoln Beach. I really enjoyed learning about the unique attributes of this species, and hope you all get a chance to see at least one this winter!

Smithsonian Birds of North America, by Fred J. Alsop III
National Audubon Society The Sibley Guide to Birds, by David Allen Sibley
Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Snow Buntings webpage found at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Snow_Bunting_dtl.html#sound



Utah County Birders at East Canyon - 15 Nov 2008
photo by Eric Huish

Field Trip Report

November Loon Loop - 15 November 2008
Trip Report by Lu Giddings - led by Lu Giddings

A UCB field trip to Deer Creek reservoir, East Canyon reservoir, and Antelope Island Causeway was held today. It was a beautiful day to be out birding. A bit cold in the morning, but by afternoon things were lovely.

Trip highlights include:

- Bald Eagles at Deer Creek reservoir, East Canyon reservoir, over the freeway as we drove through north Layton, and Antelope Island Causeway.

- Barrow's Goldeneyes and Hooded Mergansers near the inlet end of East Canyon.

- It was amazing to see how few birds were frequenting the usually teeming waters at the Big Bridge on the causeway. However, over the course of roughly 90 minutes, we spotted a female black scoter, a female long-tailed duck, and what I believe was a first winter female white-winged scoter. We did not see the surf scoter or the snow bunting. It was also quite remarkable to see the tens of thousands of northern shovelers along the north edge of the causeway, and what appeared to be several thousand swans a few miles north of the causeway.


Backyard Bird of the Month
November 2008

Steve Carr - Holladay
Cooper's Hawk - Showed up 3 times in one day and stayed for 15-30 minutes each time.

Lynn Garner - Provo
American Goldfinches at my stocking feeder.

Alona Huffaker - Springville
The Spotted Towhee(s) I hear when I go out to feed the dog.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Townsend's Solitaire - Outside the kitchen window during a big family holiday meal.

Milt Moody - Provo
A female Downy Woodpecker that was interested in my dead May Day Cherry tree.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
Downy Woodpecker - It has been several months since I have seen one in my yard.

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Scrub Jays - They have so much personality!

Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
37 California Quail, 1 Chukar.

Alton Thygerson - Provo
Spotted Towhees - a pair of these ground feeders amongst the backyard shrubs.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
House Sparrow - The only species I got on my Thanksgiving Bird Count.

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.