Utah County Birders Newsletter
December 2009

    December Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    Ned's Notes
    Field Trip Report
- Antelope Island Causeway
    Bird of the Month
    Backyard Bird of the Month


Thursday, December 10th.

Christmas Bird Count preparation by Ned Hill

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


December 19 (Sat) 2009: Provo Christmas Bird Count - Please mark you calendars. This year's Provo Christmas Bird Count will take place on Saturday, December 19th. We will gather to report our findings that evening at 6:00 pm. We'll let you know where as the time approaches. Contact Ned Hill if you are interested in participating.

January Thursday 1/28 - Sunday 1/31, 2010:  St. George Winter Bird Festival. Make your own travel and lodging arrangements. See http://redcliffsaudubon.org/ for more information as it becomes available.

Feb 2010: Delta Snow Goose Festival - Tentatively February 19 - 20, 2010, details TBA: see http://www.deltagoosefestival.info/

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

“The Christmas Bird Count—Birding at Its Best”
December 2009

In my experience, there are few more exciting birding adventures than the annual Audubon Society “Christmas Bird Count.” All the good things I love about birding are tightly squeezed into this one little 24-hour period: the thrill of possible surprises, good-natured competition, association with dear friends and family, challenging identification problems, and hopefully, even providing some useful data that may help protect our feathered friends.

As every birder probably knows, this year’s 110th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a continuation of the original pattern set in 1900 when Frank Chapman, a famous ornithologist and officer in the newly formed Audubon Society, organized his birding friends to go out and count the birds on Christmas Day. They were attempting to counter a sport developed by hunters in the northeast who tried to see how many birds they could shoot during the Christmas season. That first year, 27 hearty birders took part in 25 counts around the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Over the years, the annual tradition has grown. Last year there were 2,124 count circles all over the northern hemisphere (and even some down into Ecuador and Peru) in which nearly 80,000 participants identified and counted some 66 million birds. (Think of the investment in binoculars alone!) The resulting data base maintained by the National Audubon Society provides a rich resource for naturalists who examine the ebbs and flows of bird populations over the years. Each count circle is carefully defined as a 15-mile diameter circle usually positioned to enclose the most favorable habitats for wintering birds. Within the circle, the count coordinator (for many years—he says “about 100”—that has been our beloved Merrill Webb) defines multiple areas and assigns them to groups of volunteers. Often experienced birders form teams with novices to birding so a lot of learning can take place. In the Provo count circle, we usually have some 50-60 people participate in the CBC on a designated Saturday before Christmas. The whole 24-hour period of December 19th (the date chosen for this year) is fair game for seeing and counting birds. There are other count circles in Utah, such as, Zions National Park, St. George, Cedar City, Bluffdale, Salt Lake, Ogden, Logan, etc.

A few of us meet together at 3:30 to begin the count by searching for owls. I have had the pleasure of doing that for the past 23 years now. We take an audio player and head for locations in the count circle where we have found owls in years past. What a thrill to be out so early even on frosty days—the cold isn’t even too bad if one dresses for it. Usually by the first or second stop (the Provo Cemetery or wooded areas near Utah Lake/Provo River), we will have found at least one or two Western Screech Owls responding to our calls. We more often hear than see them—sometimes both. We call the smaller owl first and then try for a Great Horned Owl. Sometimes a Great Horned will swoop right over our heads. We have found as many as seven Westerns and 3-4 Great Horned Owls. On rare occasions, we strike out! But occasionally we will be surprised by a responsive Northern Pygmy or Northern Saw-whet Owl.

After warming up a bit over a hot breakfast, we head out again when it starts to get light—each person, along with a friend and family member or two (or sometimes just alone—but that’s not as fun) heads out to the assigned area.  During as many daylight hours as possible, the team attempts to see and count as many birds as possible.  There are always surprises—birds that should be there that aren’t and birds that shouldn’t be there that are!  At the end of the day, around 6:00 pm, the entire group gets together to enjoy a light pitch-in dinner and make their reports on the results of the day.  Tension mounts as we approach the 100-species mark.  A “good year” means that we are over the century level; and a “bad year” might be 90 or below.  Weather has a lot to do with it—both on the day of the count and leading up to the count.  If Utah Lake is frozen over, we may not find many waterfowl species.  If there is wind, it is difficult to find owls; etc.  We know for sure we’ll see more species than they see in the Prudhoe Bay, Alaska count—they only ever report one species—Common Raven!  And we’ll never see as many as the Mindo count circle in Ecuador where they report over 350 species! 

If someone finds a rarity (a bird not often reported in this count circle), then the observer is required to write up a brief report detailing the sighting and explaining why it was the bird indicated and not one that is more common and looks similar.  At the end of the day, all of us (especially those who started at 3:00 am) return home a bit tired but with many pleasant memories, a resolve to be a better observer next time and an enhanced gratitude for the opportunity of being with friends and family in such a wholesome, meaningful activity outdoors in this marvelous creation called the world!

Some of my favorite CBC memories:

·         Finding a Black-and-White Warbler on the Red Hills Golf Course in the St. George CBC. My son Jonathan actually saw this little rarity first but I was looking at a nearby Bewick’s Wren.  We had an amusing disagreement on the ID of the bird until we realized we were describing two different species.

·         Discovering a whole tree full of Evening Grosbeaks in a tree in Springdale during the Zions Park CBC.  I have never seen such a concentration of them.

·         Finding 11 American Dippers on the Provo River—I haven’t seen that many along the river before or since.

·         On one Provo CBC, we found a surprisingly late migrating Say’s Phoebe up Provo Canyon—he did seem to be shivering as much as we were!

·         And speaking of late migrants, during one of my first Provo CBC’s Mark Bromley found and photographed a Vermilion Flycatcher!  It evidently got its compass headings reversed. Mark held the announcement of this find until the end of the reporting meeting!

·         One Provo CBC was almost completely snowed out.  The Tucks and I spent most of the day trying to see through thickly falling flakes of snow.  In spite of the difficulties, we managed to see a wet-looking Prairie Falcon sitting on a fencepost wondering how to find anything to eat in such a storm.

·         I’ll never forget the morning we walked along the dry canal on the south side of the BYU campus near the greenhouses.  As we sorted through a flock of sparrows, juncos and towhees, we found one bird with a very white throat—a rare White-throated Sparrow.  Others came the next day and re-discovered it in the same place.

·         Early one CBC morning several of us went into Camelot Woods near Utah Lake to try to call out a Great Horned Owl.  As we played the tape, we heard some young Boy Scouts stirring in a nearby tent, enjoying (if that be possible) a winter camping experience.  One boy said to the other in a frightened voice, “Do you hear that sound?  W-wha-a-at is it?!”  You could tell they never experienced an owl in the wild before.  We moved away and finally got the owl to respond.

·         And then there was my very first CBC with Merrill Webb and several others.  We drove out to Utah Lake and had just called in my “lifer” Western Screech-Owl that flew into a nearby tree.  Just then we saw headlights heading swiftly towards us.  A police officer with a search light trained on us jumped out of his patrol car demanding to know what we were doing at 4:00 am.  We told him we had just found an owl; would he like to see it?  “No,” he scowled, “I’ll be darned if that isn’t the same excuse some guys gave me a few minutes ago up Provo Canyon!”  That’s where the other owling group had started that morning. 

My list of wonderful memories could go on.  I only stop for lack of space (and time).  My family and friends know that one Saturday about a week or so before Christmas is almost sacred to me.  It is a time when I can spend a concentrated day with my good friends and often family members doing something I love to do—appreciating those hardy birds that spend the winter in and around our fair city.  It’s a great tradition for our family and I hope it has been or will become one for you.  And non-birders will be amazed when you tell them that our little band generally finds about 90-100 or more bird species here in the dead of winter.

To participate in any part or all of the Provo Christmas Bird Count, email this year’s Count Coordinator, Ned Hill, at ned_hill@byu.edu or call him at 801-375-2417.  We’d love to have you!

Field Trip Report

Antelope Island Causeway - November 14, 2009
by Lu Giddings

Five Utah County Birders made the drive early this morning to the causeway, and we picked up a sixth birder at the park entrance. Although the north-bound trip was mostly through the snow, we were graced with roughly 90 minutes of sunshine and unexpectedly blue skies once we reached the causeway. A cold breeze blew while we birded. It felt very much like winter. About 500 Bonaparte's Gulls remained near the second bridge, but if the rare gulls were there, it was not our good fortune to see them. While we looked through the gulls we watched the front move in from the north. It hit us with strong winds and driving snow and dispersed the gulls near the second bridge. Scattered pockets of ducks, geese, and California and Ring-billed Gulls remained along the causeway as we headed home. Thanks to the following for braving the weather:

Yvonne Carter
Kim Grace
Mark Mossing
Oliver Nichelson
Deloy Pack



photo by Cheryl Peterson

Bird of the Month

Black-capped Chickadee
(Poecile atricapillus)
by Leena Rogers

The gregarious behavior of the Black-capped Chickadee certainly places it at the top of the list as my favorite yard bird. Who hasn’t chuckled at their delightful antics as they flit from one end of the yard to the other on a mad-cap journey of discovery?  Once in a while their more elusive cousin, the Mountain Chickadee, with its distinctive white eyebrows and raspy call, has paid a visit to my yard, but those occasions are rare indeed! 

Black-capped Chickadees are part of the avian family, Paridae, to which the Titmice also belong. Unlike the Europeans, we North Americans rarely call this bird by its scientific Latin name of Poecile atricapilla, but it’s just known as the Chickadee. These little birds are among the most popular birds in North America, due in large part to their readiness to use bird feeders, to nest in urban gardens, and even to be trained to take food from people's hands.

Chickadees are a familiar sight with their distinctive black cap and black bib. Their cheeks are mostly white. Their greater wing coverts and secondaries are broadly edged in white; the tertiaries also are edged in white but have a dark center. The flanks are pale olive during most of the year, but in the springtime during mating season you will often see a yellowish cast to the flanks.

Chickadees frequently visit back yard feeders and often stay permanently in one area throughout the year. Their typical call, chick-a-dee-dee-dee, is familiar to most bird watchers. Chickadees love to chatter and often sound as if they are “talking.” But they also have a whistled, clear, mournful sounding two-note song, fee-bee or fee-bee-e, which somewhat resembles the call of the phoebe.  They are great communicators and alert each other with a variety of sounds, trills and pure, clear notes.

The charming behavior of this tiny little bird hides intelligence and a distinct social order. Here are a few interesting facts about behavior and social order of Black-capped Chickadees.

Black-capped Chickadee Range and Habitat

·                       The usual habitat for the Black-capped Chickadee are the common woodlands, clearings, and suburbs. It usually forages in thickets and low branches of trees.

·                       The Black-capped Chickadee’s broad northern range is from Alaska and Canada to Arizona and to the North Atlantic states.

·                       Its territory overlaps that of its Southern cousin, the Carolina Chickadee; they can interbreed.

·                       Black-capped Chickadees don’t normally migrate outside their normal range, but young birds may move south together in fall.

·                       The birds often reuse the same routes as they travel through their territory.  

Black-capped Chickadee Flocks

·                       Black-capped Chickadees form flocks of 4 to 12 birds outside of the breeding season. Mated pairs remain with the flock permanently, but young unmated birds move away and join another flock. A flock occupies a territory covering 24 acres or more.

·                       Each flock has a hierarchy: the most aggressive bird dominates the rest and all the others fall into a decreasing pecking order. Dominant birds have an advantage in feeding, roosting, nesting and other activities.

·                       Chickadees communicate with each other with a range of calls that convey information about dangers, territories, food supply etc.

Roosting Habits of Black-capped Chickadees:

·                       Flocks roost together in dense evergreen trees, often returning to the same tree each night. Birds may also roost individually in cavities in trees or roosting boxes. A roosting box is unlikely to be occupied by a chickadee if the flock has an established roosting place.

·                       Roosting chickadees fluff out their feathers to conserve heat, and their body temperature drops significantly to save energy.

·                       Even when pairs have broken away for nesting, the flock may still roost together, especially on cold nights.

Feeding Habits of Black-capped Chickadees:

·                       A surprise to those who are familiar with the birds visiting feeders for sunflower and other seeds, chickadees eat mostly insects, and are valuable for controlling insect pests. They turn to eating seeds in winter when the supply of insects is greatly decreased.

·                       Chickadees rarely sit still for very long, unless they are feeding. They quickly flutter to the feeder, pick a favorite seed among the many, and then fly to a nearby tree limb to enjoy their treat in peace.

·                       Black-capped Chickadees love to hide food in various places such as under tree bark. They can remember the locations of multiple hiding places and return later when food is scarce. These food stashes are probably vitally important in winter during times of heavy snowfall.

Breeding and Nesting Habits of Black-capped Chickadees:

·                       Black-capped Chickadees move together in winter, but break up into territorial pairs to breed. Thus, though you may have a flock visiting your feeder all winter, you are likely to have fewer birds from late March to late May.

·                       Nesting begins at the end of March usually located in nesting cavities in a tree or a stump. If they can find a ready-made hole, such as an abandoned woodpecker nest, they are delighted to use it. But they also have the ability to chip one out for themselves. I’m sure it must be hard work for such a tiny bird!

·                       Chickadees have large broods. Anywhere from 5 to 10 eggs are laid by late April. Eggs hatch after about two weeks and the young fledge 16 to 17 days later.

·                       The male bird feeds the female during courting and while she is sitting on the eggs.

·                       Pairs excavate cavities in soft and rotting wood, usually between 3 to10ft  from the ground.

·                       After the young fledge, the parent birds molt. Thus, if you are seeing the entire family in your yard or at your feeders, the young birds are the ones with neat and tidy feathers. Fledglings also have shorter tails.

Black-capped Chickadees have many predators including snakes, squirrels and chipmunks, mice, weasels, and birds of prey. Nests and sitting females are particularly vulnerable.

National Geographic Field Guide to North American Birds
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America

The Children’s Book of Birds
by Olive Thorne Miller, 1901.
Suite 101
Read more:

Backyard Bird of the Month

November 2009

Bonnie Williams – Mapleton
3 Spotted Towhee at the same time.

Bruce Dolen – Provo

Alton Thygerson - Provo
Dark-eyed Juncos

Leila Ogden - Orem
Western Screech-Owl. At my box some sunny afternoons. Hope she likes it enough to nest here.

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
Western Screech-Owl - I woke up in the night and walked to the kitchen where I heard a screech-owl outside.

Steve Carr - Holladay
Spotted Towhee - Furtive, but comes to the feeders often during the day.

Bruce Robinson – West Jordan
Red-Tailed Hawk - Every winter 2 return to roost each evening

KC Childs – Orem
A Great Horned Owl was a first and very exciting!!!

Milt Moody - Provo
Hermit Thrush on my wood pile.

Cheryl Peterson – Provo
Finally a variety of birds that included a couple of Eurasian Collared-Doves (new yard bird), Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Western Screech-Owl (heard only).

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!