Utah County Birders Newsletter
August 2009

    August Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    Ned's Notes
    Field Trip Report
    Bird of the Month
    Backyard Bird of the Month
July Hotline Highlights


Wednesday, August 26th.  (Note the change in Date - Not our usual 2nd Thursday)

Annual Summer Social

This Year's Summer Social & Potluck will be held at the Hill residence (2867 Foothill Drive, Provo) - Wednesday, August 26th at 7:00 pm. We would plan to have it the usual potluck dinner and mainly just visit. We might think of some very simple activity as an icebreaker.  Please bring a potluck dish (main dish, salad, fruits and veggies, deserts, etc.) and bring your own plates, utensils and cups.


August 28 - 30 (Fri-Sun) 2009: UOS Conference - Click here for details.

September 2009: In Search of Hungarian Partridge - Box Elder county. Details TBA

October 2009: open

November 2009: open

December 2009: 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.

Ned’s Notes

By Ned Hill – President, Utah County Birders


“Pelagic Adventures”

Sooner or later, every birder begins to notice that there is a large portion of any field guide devoted to birds we don’t see around Utah.  These birds take up more than 20 pages in the National Geographic guide and something like that in Sibley.  They are called “pelagic” birds.  The word comes from the Greek “pelagos” meaning the “open sea” and that’s where these birds spend most of their time.  A few years after I got into more serious birding, I knew I had to see this very different habitat and the birds that managed to thrive there: shearwater, murrelet, auklet, albatross, petrel, skua, storm-petrel, and many others.  

Where to Find Pelagic Birds  Not any ocean experience will help you see pelagic birds.  The ocean is filled with a variety of habitats just like terra firma is.  Parts of the ocean support very few birds just as some areas of land have few birds.  Many pelagic birds tend to concentrate in areas near the continental shelf—the place where the sea floor drops off sharply many thousands of feet around the edge of each continent.  These drop-offs produce ocean upwellings that bring the small organisms to the surface that fish, whales, porpoises and birds depend upon.  Sometimes (like in the eastern U.S.) that shelf may be 50-200 miles off shore—so it takes a boat a long time to get out there.  Fortunately, there is a place just an hour flight from us where the shelf is only about five miles off-shore: Monterey Bay, California.  That’s where I had my first pelagic experience.  I found that there are many challenges presented by pelagic birding that one does not encounter with land birding.

Challenge 1—Finding the Right Pelagic Experience  Not any ocean-going trip will do for pelagic birding.  Fishing boats sometimes go to areas where there are also birds—but fishermen are not birders and many don’t have much experience identifying birds.  And cruise ships rarely go where there are pelagic birds.  Fortunately, there are more and more birder-oriented pelagic trips along both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico where leaders know where to find birds and how to identify them.

Challenge 2—Sea Sickness  You may be one of those fortunate few who does not experience sea-sickness.  I’ve never been “car-sick” or “air-sick” but initially I tried going on an eight hour pelagic trip without any medication.  I was fine for a while.  But then, in 8-10 foot swells, I began to feel very ill.  After a while, I was afraid I might die; then I was afraid I wouldn’t!  I vowed that moment NEVER to go out in a boat again the rest of my life.  The next day I went out into Monterrey Bay again (after applying taking appropriate precautions) and had a great pelagic birding experience.  So, it is usually good to take something to help you avoid sea-sickness.  I find that the best for me are the scopolamine patches.  You put one behind one ear a couple of hours before you go and, for me at least, it keeps me from experiencing motion sickness.  There are also various pills and other remedies.  Find out what works for you.

Challenge 3—Attracting Birds You don’t have the opportunity of “calling” birds with playback like you do on land but there is something almost equivalent in pelagic birding: “chumming.”  On several pelagic trips I have taken, the organizers have arranged for a meat grinder to be put at the stern of the boat.  Once we got out to the continental shelf, we all took turns grinding small fish into the grinder and letting the outflow trail off into the ocean behind the ship.  Most pelagic birds have an incredible sense of smell.  After we started this “chumming” pelagic birds were headed toward us from every point of the compass!

Challenge 4—Seeing the Birds  Suppose birds do start coming around your boat.  It’s more of a challenge than you might think to locate a small, low-flying shearwater when you’re bouncing on boat with waves constantly changing the water’s landscape and your binoculars are getting covered with ocean spray!  Even with an expert standing next to you and pointing to a bird sitting on the water or flying by, it’s difficult to locate the bird because there are usually no landmarks to use as a reference.  The convention is to refer to the front of the boat as “12 o’clock”, the stern (rear) as “6 o’clock, etc., so that gets you in the ball park.  But it’s also difficult to communicate distance—“30 yards away” is always relative.  All of this takes some getting used to. 

Challenge 5—Identifying Birds  I found I had to study the pelagic birds beforehand much more than I did in land-birding.  Pelagic birds are notoriously black and white with very few other colors, if any.  And often you only get one shot at a passing bird. So I began looking more for flight behavior (for example, Storm-Petrels fly like butterflies), tail patterns, wing patterns, etc.  And of course, you don’t get scope looks at anything—in fact, scopes are worthless on a bouncing boat deck.  So, preparation before the trip is essential.

[To be continued.  I'll next tell you of some of my pelagic experiences.  If the group would like, we might want to arrange a pelagic trip to Monterey Bay this fall.  Any takers?]


Field Trip Report
Oquirrh Mountains - July 9, 2009
by Flora Duncan

Some Utah County Birders met at East Bay Sam’s Club early Friday , 10 July 2009 to travel to Magna, where a group of other birders were joined and met with Ann Neville to visit Coon Canyon. This canyon is reached by traveling west from 8400 South on a dirt road--steep in spots. The group stopped several times to scope out the birds--we observed 35+ birds which can be found in any number of canyons in the state. The most exciting was looking in on two nests of Redtail Hawk. One nest had fluffy young, the other had young with feathers. Junece enjoyed seeing the bluebirds; Tuula liked seeing old friends--Lazuli Bunting and Western Tanager; Esther enjoyed hearing the Hermit Thrush. All in our truck were really impressed with the young hawks.

Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we had a fantastic view of two valleys--Salt Lake valley was muted by smog--the Great Salt Lake with Stansbury and Antelope Islands were clear--Tooele valley was clear so it was possible to see Stansbury, Grantsville, Lakepoint and Tooele .

This report is a cooperative affair with comments from Junece Markham, Esther Duncan and Tuula Rose. It is our opinion that the trip was delightful. We traveled from a cool valley to the cool top of the mountain in the middle of the day. The views were fantastic. The Drivers were excellent, capable and courteous. The guide was informed and informative. It was a privilege to be introduced to the property by such a capable guide.

Thanks to Lou Giddings for making the arrangements.



photo by Kendall Brown

Bird of the Month

Black-billed Magpie
Pica hudsonia – order: Passeriformes, family: Corvidae
by Yvonne Carter

You say, What?! That ubiquitous bird that we see everywhere we go in Utah? Yes, we look at it that way but a couple of years ago, I had a reality check as a group of birdwatchers from China were ecstatic as they viewed these black and white birds, since they do not have this bird in China. (Maybe we could start a new export business)
But be that as it may, their excitement over magpies gave me a different perspective. So as you look at a map in your bird guide, you will notice that the range for magpies is basically the west half of the United States (except at the coast), ranging south to approximately Prescott, Arizona and into New Mexico a little. They are also found through the western half of Canada. Yellow-billed Magpies are found in the United States along coastal northern California.

Its length is about 19 inches, wingspan is 25 inches, and weight is approximately 6 ounces; the male being larger than the female. Their wings and tail have an iridescent shine, almost appearing greenish.

Historically, the magpie is associated with early North American Indians. This bird would follow the bison hunts of the Indians and lived on the refuse of the hunts. When Lewis and Clark encountered these birds in 1804 in South Dakota, they noticed that the magpies were bold, even entering tents to take meat and food from the hand.

There are 12 subspecies through northern Europe and Asia and with the Bering Land Bridge as a connection, making the Black-billed Magpie similar to the Yellow-billed Magpies. Cornell Labs state: "Eurasian Black-billed Magpies are well known for their ceremonial gatherings in early spring. Interpreted as territorial probings by dominant young birds, these gatherings have never been observed in either of North American's magpie species, probably owing to fundamental differences in the types of territories they hold."

The Black-billed Magpie nests in deciduous trees or on tall 20 to 30 foot shrubs and you have probably seen plenty of their spherical nests which have a side entrance and inside a cup of mud lining with soft material. It breeds in Utah in lowland riparian and also pinyon-juniper habitats. They lay 2 to 9 eggs that are blue-green with brown speckles. During the breeding season, it is an insectivore, a ground gleaner, omnivore, and a ground scavenger, mainly eating insects, berries, fruit, bird eggs, and nestlings. And during non-breeding seasons , the magpie is not an insectivore, but is an omnivore as a ground scavenger and forager, meaning carrion (roadkill) at roadsides.


Backyard Bird of the Month

July 2009

Milt Moody - Provo
California Quail chicks -- five of them in two batches that are almost as big as the adults now.

Alton Thygerson - Provo
Mourning Dove - a pair come and spend much of the day.

Harold Clayson - Salem
Black-headed Grosbeak

Dennis Shirley - Elk Ridge
A Rufous Hummingbird has finally started to regularly appear at my feeders. It's been a long time coming. I don't ever recall having fewer hummers in the yard than this year.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Ring-necked Pheasant - Hen and four almost grown chicks.

Steve Carr - Holladay
Song Sparrows - A pair raised 4 chicks right off our front porch.

Reed Stone - Provo
Belted Kingfisher fishing in the shallow water of the Provo River in my back yard.

Yvonne Carter - Highland
I still have Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Black-capped Chickadees busy at the feeders.

Bonnie Williams - Mapleton
Eurasian Collared-Dove - I had them earlier in the year and now they are back.

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).



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!