Utah County Birders Newsletter
May 2009

    May Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    Ned's Notes
    Field Trip Report
- Fish Springs
    Bird of the Month
    Backyard Bird of the Month
April Hotline Highlights


Thursday, May 14th.

“Birding by Ear: How Recognizing Bird Sounds Can Enrich Your Birding Experience”

Ned Hill will demonstrate how to improve your birding by learning to listen to bird sounds. Through many resources available on CD’s, tapes, and the Internet, one can learn to recognize birds by their calls and songs. Some birds (such as flycatchers) can only reliably be identified by sound.

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


May 14-18 2009: Great Salt Lake Bird Festival - make your own arrangements.  Registration begins March 4th. Register early to get the field trips you want!!!!! See website also: www.greatsaltlakebirdfest.com

June 2009:  TBA

July 2009: Pineview Reservoir, Snowbasin, and Powder Mountain. 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

“Expect the Unexpected”

One thing that intrigues us all about birds is that they can show up anywhere and everywhere—even in locations where we least expect them. If we watch for them and are prepared, these surprises can spice up any humdrum day. Just this morning, for example, I was driving on I-15 towards Salt Lake. At the Point of the Mountain the traffic slowed to a near standstill because of a multiple-car fender bender. “Oh no”, I thought, “I’m going to be late for an appointment.” Just then my eyes caught something flying south towards me just above the median of the freeway. As the flyer approached, the bright morning sunlight suddenly caught the outrageously colored plumage of a male Ring-necked Pheasant as it hurtled by like a bullet—red, blue, chestnut, golden. Who knows where he was headed with heavy traffic on both sides of him. But that traffic jam became a much more pleasant experience.

A few years ago, I was addressing a group of city managers in a large hotel in downtown Cincinnati. It was a warm summer evening and someone had opened a pair of large windows to create a breeze through the room. As I started to speak, I heard above the traffic outside, a distant nasal “Bzzzt…bzzzt…bzzzt.” An unseen Common Nighthawk was searching for insects above the city. I asked if anyone of 200 or so members of the audience could hear the bird. Initially no one could, but as they strained, they could finally pick it up. This totally unexpected encounter with a Nighthawk became the focal point of my remarks to the group.

After teaching a seminar in San Antonio, Texas, I decided to spend a day birding around the area. A call to the area “hotline” contained a very surprising report: a Blue-footed Booby was seen flying around Lake LBJ. I found where that was on the map and drove there. The directions were sketchy so, by the time I found the location indicated, it was after the sun had set and I would not likely be able to locate the bird. Nevertheless, I saw quite a few cars parked in front of a home located near the lake. As I walked up the driveway, someone said, “Are you here to see the Booby?” “Yes,” I said, “is it still here.” “Oh yes,” the man said. “Sign in here on the register and I’ll take you around back.” There was a large notebook with hundreds of names in it. I signed in and followed the man, evidently the owner of the home, around back where several dozen people were looking out on a diving board that jutted out over the lake.  On the end of the diving board with a light shining on it was in immature Blue-footed Booby! It just sat there and looked around at all of us. They reported that it hunts all around the lake during the day and then comes to the diving board to roost in the evening! I don’t think I’ve ever had such an easy time finding a Code 5 bird—if you don’t count the trouble I had finding the house in the first place.

I have made frequent professional trips to New York City. When I have the chance, I like to walk around in Central Park where there are always lots of birders—especially during migration. The park is such a migrant trap. One day, between meetings, I walked through the park and located a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a large tree. It took off and flew up onto a ledge on one of the tall apartment buildings surrounding the park. I noticed a group of people huddled around a scope that was trained on that ledge. They let me take a look and I got to see the nest of the hawk and also see its partner. The people there were some of the very friendly regulars in Central Park and had been studying this pair for several years. Up to that time, it was the first known instance of Red-tails building a nest on a man-made structure. One of the group members even wrote a book about the experience (Red Tails in Love). However, a few months later I was in Dallas, Texas. My host there, knowing my interest in birds, drove me excitedly over to his office. Right next to his desk is a window and on the ledge only a few feet from where he sits was the nest of—you guessed it—a Red-tailed Hawk! That is now the second known time Red-tails have nested on a building.

Yes, birds are as fascinating as they are unpredictable. They turn up in surprising places. If we are always on the lookout, we will frequently be surprised and delighted by our feathered friends.


Field Trip Report
Fish Springs
- 25 April 2009

By Lu Giddings


Let’s be honest: today was one of the coldest and wettest trips to Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge I’ve ever made. I will simply say that the weather left something to be desired. But, the worst day at Fish Springs is better by far than a day at work, and especially in April. Even with limited visibility, numerous species were seen in our four hours on the refuge. We then drove back through Delta and checked irrigated fields and Gunnison Bend Reservoir for birds. Highlights include, in no particular order:

- a stilt sandpiper feeding with long-billed dowitchers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, and many other smaller peeps in an irrigated field about five miles north of Delta
- a greater sage-grouse was seen near the road as we drove through the Thomas Range, about 15 miles east of Fish Springs.
- a horned grebe in Mallard Pool at Fish Springs.
- several greater scaup, also in Mallard Pool at Fish Springs.
- while much of the Tour Loop was already closed for breeding season, Avocet Pool was mostly mud flats and provided great, close looks at numerous peeps.
- personal first of season (FOS) birds included cattle egret (Delta), greater and lesser yellowlegs (Delta), western sandpiper (Fish Springs & Delta), least sandpiper (Fish Springs & Delta), long-billed dowitcher (Fish Springs & Delta), Wilson’s and red-necked phalarope (Fish Springs & Delta), Forster’s tern (Fish Springs), northern rough-winged swallow (Delta), cliff swallow (Fish Springs), and barn swallow (Delta).

My thanks to Ned Bixler and Pat Jividen for braving a long drive and unpleasant weather for a great day!

A partial list of species seen: 68
Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Greater Sage-Grouse, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White-faced Ibis,  Northern Harrier,  Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, American Coot, Sandhill Crane, Snowy Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Californian Gull, Forster's Tern, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Western Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Robin, European Starling, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird and House Sparrow .




photo by Cheryl Peterson

Bird of the Month

Greater Roadrunner
Geococcyx californicaus
By Reed Stone

The Roadrunner is a resident of the arid desert, open chaparral to grasslands. It is 23 inches long with a wingspread of 22 inches. Behind its eye there is skin patch of blue followed by a patch of red. It has a scruffy crest, a large beak and a long tail. It prefers running to flying. Its foot print shows two toes pointing forward and two rearward. Its food consists of lizards, snakes, small birds, bugs beetles and some berries.

The following commentary will illustrate my personal experience with the GREATER ROADRUNNER in the high desert of Southern California.

A Roadrunner Called Tommy

In 1964 I moved my family to the Mojave Desert just outside of Barstow California. We had built a house in a sparsely settled area outside the city limits. As our trees matured, a garden growing and a decorative pond, it really attracted wild life.

I had noticed a roadrunner from time to time and decided I would try to attract it tome. We had a refrigerator in the garage with easy access from the back yard. I stocked it with some marble sized balls of hamburger. One day when the roadrunner appeared I quickly got some “burger” balls and flipped one toward the roadrunner. It caught his attention and was far enough from me he decided to examine it. Cocking his head curiously he pecked at it and upon finding it “safe”, picked it up and ate it. I flipped more “burger “ balls and he readily picked them up and ate them.

As time went on he became a regular visitor. Gradually I reduced the distance that I would cast the meat balls until, at last, he would eat from my hand. Our relationship grew over time. He acquired a mate and built a nest in one of our trees. I taped a mirror to a long pole and while Tommy (my wife named him) was away from the nest I was able to see five white eggs. The coarse twig nest was about 10' above ground.

I closely observed the activity around the nest as well as the general life of the adults. They would regularly bring in insects, worms, grasshoppers, beetles, and other small food when the chicks were small. As they grew the size of the food would also increase in size.

I found that they are omnivorous, preferring flesh in the form of small birds, rodents, snakes and lizards. They would eat pomegranate fruit, insects worms and beetles.

All the food was always swallowed head first and eaten whole as they have no means of tearing it apart. If it was a bird they would hold it either by the primary wing feathers or the tail feathers then give it a flick and yank the feathers out. They would start with the longer feathers then the smaller ones. The body feathers did not seem to be a big problem. They would remove some of them and swallow it whole, head first of course. If it was a worm or a rodent it would be firmly held in the beak and then soundly whacked on a rock till it was ready to swallow.

My relationship with Tommy progressed to a point that he would hop upon the window sill of our enclosed patio and tap on the window with his beak to get our attention. I would usually go out and give him a burger ball. Other times when I was away, my wife informed me, Tommy would fly into the screen door for attention. I am aware that he was more interested in a burger ball than he was with me, however, he would follow me around the yard like a puppy dog and respond to my talking to him. It even progressed to the point that I could call him much as one would call a dog and he would appear with a hungry look in his eye.

It was Christmas time and our oldest son was visiting with his family. Their two pre-teen aged daughters had never seen a roadrunner. I told them I might be able to call one in. It was a frosty morning. I looked around in the brushy surroundings and at last I saw what looked like Tommy. I had some meat balls in my hand. The girls were at the window, inside, as Tommy was shy of “strangers”. I called out Tommy, “come on Tommy”, I got his attention. He was not inclined to come as he was sunning himself. I tossed a burger ball up and caught it a few times while I continued calling. He was about a block away, he turned and came running and sailing across the washes till he arrived on my driveway. I crouched down and now quietly called him in till he took several burger balls from my hand. It positively enchanted every one.

In the spring when the June bugs arrived they would come to the light over my garage door, during the night, and eventually fall exhausted on the driveway where I would find them in the cool mornings. I would sweep them up and put them into a large jar. When Tommy arrived I would take a live beetle, about 5/8" long and 3/8" inches in diameter, in my hand and toss it to Tommy. After he had eaten a few I noticed he would latch on to the nape of the neck, give it a crunch, and swallow it. Eighteen were his limit in one sitting.

As my garden matured and the tomato vines were large enough the tomato worms appeared. Tommy would patrol the garden. When he saw a tomato worm or a grasshopper he would pounce upon it, grab it by the nape of the neck, tenderize it on a convenient rock, and swallow it. This would go on for the full season. With Tommy I had no worries about tomato worms or grasshoppers.

When the eggs hatched I observed the feeding. When they left the nest they would negotiate the branches by walking and balance by flapping with their wings. They would follow their parents around the yard, peck at things and beg by opening their beak and flap their wings. I could always tell when the eggs had hatched. Before the hatching the parents would immediately swallow the meat balls. When the eggs hatched, instead of eating them, they would hold the balls in their beak and take them to the young.

When road0.0.runners go to roost for the night, they would never fly up into the tree. They jump with an assisting flap of their wings to a low branch, then they would continue by the same method, branch to branch, till they arrived to a location that suited them, usually 20' to 30' up in the tree. When they left the tree in the morning they would open their wings, give a little hop, and sail down to the ground.

Road runners are well designed to deal with the elements. Earlier I mentioned Tommy sunning himself. Roadrunners have a solar heating panel on their back. It is a large black patch. When it is cold, and they need to warm up, they turn their back to the sun, lift their feathers open, and let the sun shine in. Their long tail is a good rudder in high speed turns when pursuing prey. It is also used as a detractor to the prey while stalking. They wag their tail back and forth keeping the attention of the victim while training their sights on their next meal. Another adaptation, or technique, is, they “shift into four wheel drive” when conditions call for lightning starts or tight high speed turns. For example, one day I was leaving for work and saw what I thought was a small dust devil. It seemed somewhat unusual so I stopped to observe what was happening. When the dust began to settle I could see it was Tommy. I could see he had something in his beak and it appeared to be a lizard. Lizards are capable of making swift tight turns. Without the assistance of their wings a roadrunner would be unable to make the tight turns it takes to catch one.

Now back to the rearing of the young. I would try to feed the young as I would feed the adults, without success. I would toss them a burger ball and they would not touch it. Then the adults would come in and pick the morsel up and offer it to the young which readily accepted and swallow it. What a great protection for the young.

When the young had matured enough to make it on their own the adults would fiercely attack them and drive them off. Then one of the adults would leave. Only one would remain in the vicinity of our yard until the next spring. When the love bug strikes. At that time he would sit on top of our evaporator cooler and start cooing, much like a mourning dove. With in a day or two a mate would appear. Roadrunners are solitary except for the times of mating and rearing their offspring.

The Roadrunner is indeed my most interesting bird.


Backyard Bird of the Month

April 2009

Alan and Selena Keller – Orem
We saw a White-Winged Dove in our yard a few times for a couple of weeks. Each visit was brief and it was with some Eurasian-Collared Doves (6).

Milt Moody – Provo
Red Crossbills - had them coming for a couple of weeks

Steve Carr - Holladay
Red Crossbills - First time in almost 40 years in my yard.

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
California Quail - 3rd year in a row they've been here!!

Merrill Webb – Orem
Saturday, April 25 I had a female Red Crossbill at one of my feeders (a first for me). Two hours later the same day had three male Lazuli Buntings stop by at my feeders.

Kay Stone – Lehi
I had a White-Winged Dove under my feeders April 27.

Eric Huish – Pleasant Grove
Red Crossbill and Tree Swallows – Yard lifers #93 and 94.

Lynn Garner – Provo
Can't decide between the Red Crossbills feasting on my platform feeder and the young Sharp-Shinned Hawk also looking for a meal!

Bonnie Williams – Mapleton
A Rooster Pheasant, 2 Eurasian Collared-Dove and California Quail all having lunch together.

Reed Stone – Provo
Hermit Thrush

Yvonne Carter – Highland
5 Lazuli Buntings and 2 White-crowned Sparrows still hanging around.

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).



The North American Bird Phenology Program

In March, Bernie Sloan passed along the following bit of information. 

“Thought some of you might be interested in this Wired article...  The North American Bird Phenology Program is asking for volunteers to help transcribe over 90 years worth of paper records of bird migration patterns. The goal is to have a broadly accessible database that can support research activities.  As the article notes:  "The only complete dataset of bird migration patterns in North America is trapped in a basement — and it's going to take the power of crowdsourcing to free it. "  More details at: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/03/birddata.html

I followed his link and read the article.  I signed up to do transcribing and have enjoyed doing it.  I try to do a few cards every day.  After you get used to doing them, you can do 5 or 10 cards very quickly.  In case some of you missed the email or were too busy at the the time to look into it, here is the link that tells you more about the program and where you can sign up to help.    http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bpp/

                                                                                           --Cheryl Peterson

We are accepting 2009 dues for membership in Utah County Birders throughout the 2009 season.  If you would like to be an official member of our group and receive a handheld copy of the newsletter, do the following:

Make a check out to Utah County Birders for $15.00.  Put it in an envelope addressed to:
Carol Nelson
2831 Marrcrest West
Provo, Utah 84604

Then, drop it in the mail.  And as always, thanks for your support and a special thanks to those we never see, but who still show their support by their dues donations!