Utah County Birders Newsletter
March 2009

    March Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    Ned's Notes
    Bird of the Month
    Field Trip Report
- Farmington Bay
    Backyard Bird of the Month
February Hotline Highlights


Thursday, March 12th.

“An Update on Birds of Prey and Utah’s Mountain Plovers” by the world’s leading raptor expert, Professor Clayton White, recently retired faculty member from BYU.

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


April 25 2009: Fish Spring & Callao - Day trip; leave Springville Walmart at 5:30 a.m.

May 14-18 2009: Great Salt Lake Bird Festival - make your own arrangements.

June 5 & 6 2009: Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge - looking for an opportunity to work on your Daggett county bird list? Here’s the trip for you. 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.

Ned’s Notes

By Ned Hill – President, Utah County Birders

“Enrich Your Birding Experience through Bird Sounds”

One morning in early May my wife and I were walking through our Provo foothills neighborhood. Just a few houses down our street I heard a loud, ringing tone coming from the hillside. After a brief silence—another ringing tone on a different pitch. I knew that was not a sound usually heard in our neighborhood; but I had heard it often in the wet forests of the Northwest. Without my binoculars, I couldn’t locate the bird as it was against the sun in dense oak; but the sound was diagnostic. Nevertheless, I put it on the Birdtalk and soon interested birders came into the neighborhood and many were able to see their first Varied Thrush, a Utah rarity.

While the public frequently refers to our avocation as “bird watching” we refer to ourselves as “birders”. Why? Birding is so much more than simply watching birds. We study them, feed them, go on strenuous adventures to find them, and very often listen to them. In some cases, we even smell them (e.g., Hoatzin’s in South America)! For anyone who knows bird vocalizations, birding takes on an exciting added dimension. If you have ever birded with someone who is experienced in bird sounds, you learn that you can find many more birds than you otherwise could. One of my early experiences in Utah was birding with Merrill Webb. As we hiked up a canyon in winter, Merrill said, “Hear that high-pitched call? That’s a Townsend Solitaire. And those are Chukar’s chucking. And I hear Horned Larks flying over…” all of this without seeing one of those birds—at least at first.

Bird sounds are often important in differentiating closely related species. Empidonax flycatchers, for example, look almost identical and some species can only reliably be identified by sound.

How does one make sense of all those different bird sounds? While it can be overwhelming initially, many birds are quite consistent in their calls and songs. And, fortunately, people have recorded many of these sounds and made them available on CDs (or even tapes). I started learning bird sounds by listening to such tapes in my car as I drove to work or around town (much better than the news). I played the songs of our more common birds and listened to them over and over until they began to become familiar. One very helpful series of CD’s (“Birding by Ear—Western”) groups birds by those that sound similar. The commentator points out what differences to listen for. Other CD’s (including those by our own Dr. Kevin Colver) have no commentary but include many of the sounds from the more common field guides. You can also find recordings of birds of other countries to help you prepare for birding adventures abroad.

Of course, one always has to be cautious about bird sounds. A few years ago I was in the Anhuac NWR in Texas looking for rails in wet grasslands. We had just found half a dozen Yellow Rails but we all hoped for a look at the very rare Black Rail. As we returned to our cars, I heard the distinct call of a Black Rail! But the habitat around the cars just wasn’t what one would expect for a rail. As we all searched for the rail, we found perched in the top of a tree a Northern Mockingbird, happily mimicking the call of a Black Rail! I still haven’t seen one of those “mythical” birds.

To enrich your birding experience this year, why not challenge yourself to learning the sounds of the birds around your neighborhood and then expanding to birds that migrate into or through our state. You’ll be glad you did.

Field Trip Report
Farmington Bay
- 21 February 2009
By Lu Giddings

Brittany, Amy and Milt

Stephanie and Matt

Photos by Lu Giddings

Utah County birders visited Farmington Bay on Saturday February 21st. The weather was warm, beautiful, and perfect for birding. While we managed to avoid the large crowds one typically sees on February weekends, there were still plenty of people traveling the muddy roads viewing the remaining eagles. Northern Harriers were abundant, and Tundra Swans were seen in substantial numbers. Perhaps the best bird of the day was a Glaucous Gull seen at the south end of the road, in the company of numerous Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.

Around noon we drove to Kaysville Ponds to enjoy the hooded mergansers and other waterfowl. A Sharp-shinned Hawk prowling the area disturbed the Great-tailed Grackles on the west side of the pond.

Trip participants were Bart Carter, Yvonne Carter, Brittany Gale, Lu Giddings, Eric Huish, Amy Johnson, Kathy Knaus, Matt Mills, Milt Moody, Stephanie Nolasco, Leena Rogers, Tuula Rose and Bonnie Williams.

A partial trip list: 38 species.
Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, American Coot, Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Rock Pigeon, Northern Flicker, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, House Sparrow


photo by Cheryl Peterson

Bird of the Month

Northern Mockingbird
Mimus polyglottos
by Cheryl Peterson

I'm not sure why, but I get excited when I find at least one or two Northern Mockingbirds in Utah County each year. For the past three years there has been a pair of mockingbirds on Swede Lane that have stayed there
for the summer and into the fall. It is so enjoyable to watch their behavior, listen to their calls and try to get a good photo.

Mockingbirds nest in low shrubs and trees, between 3 and 10 feet from the ground. The nest is an open cup and
made of twigs and lined with grasses, rootlets and dead leaves.

The mockingbird's diet consists of fruits, crayfish, sowbugs, snails and small vertebrates. It forages on the ground and from perches. Nestlings feed mostly on insects and some fruit.

The Northern Mockingbird is famous (or infamous) for its song; thus its nickname is the “American Nightingale.” It imitates many other birds and sounds. I smiled when I read Ned's account of the mockingbird mimicking the Black Rail. Once when I was birding at Lytle Ranch, I became too tired to drive back into St. George to get a motel room. I pulled off the road and slept in my car that night.  I was awakened the next morning to what I thought was a Cactus Wren. I jumped out of my car and discovered the “wren” was actually a mockingbird. I was only slightly disappointed.

The mockingbird continues to learn new sounds throughout its life. The male sings from February to early November. He sings through-out the day and into the night, especially during a full moon. I was surprised to learn that the male has two distinct repertoires of songs; one for spring and one for fall. The female doesn't sing as loudly as the male and she sings mostly in the fall and rarely during the summer.


Backyard Bird of the Month

February 2009

Bonnie Williams – Mapleton
Eurasian Collared-Dove on the last day of the month.

Milt Moody - Provo
Two Cedar Waxwings observing the Pine Siskin feeding frenzy.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Bushtit - A flock of 21. Yard lifer #92.

Reed Stone -Provo
Cassin's Finch at feeder.

Lynn Garner - Provo
A juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk taking his pick from the flock of Pine Siskins at my feeders.

Cheryl Peterson – Provo
Pine Siskins (25+) were going to be my backyard bird of the month choice until a Townsend's Solitaire showed up.

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 Cheryl Peterson at 375-1914 (home) or 787-6492 (cell).