Utah County Birders Newsletter
November 2011

    November Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    President's Message
    Bird of the Month
Field Trip Report - The Big Sit!
    Website Report
Backyard Bird of the Month
    October Hotline Highlights


Thursday, November 10th.

We are going to have a custom tour of the private Hutching's Natural History Museum in Lehi.

Meet at the Bean Museum at 6:50pm sharp if you want to car pool, or at the Hutching's Museum, 51 North Center in Lehi, if you live in the north end of the county at 7:30pm. The tour will be lead by Jim Thorn, an avid birder himself, and will include a detailed look at the bird collections. The museum normally closes at 5:00pm, so they are making a special effort to accommodate our evening tour, so let's all make an effort to come out and support our club. Cost is $4.00/adult, $3.00 for seniors. It will be a very informative, educational, and interesting evening.


Beginning birders are welcome.

November 12 (Sat): 7am-late afternoon. AIC Causeway and mountain reservoirs "Loon Loop". - Led by Keeli Marvel. We will meet at southwest end of the Orem WinCo parking lot (895 North 980 West in Orem - just east of the 800 North Orem freeway exit) - at 7:00am. We'll hit the causeway first to see if any scoters, long-tailed ducks, or harlequin ducks are around, and then head up Ogden canyon from there. Stops may include East Canyon, Echo, Rockport, Jordanelle, and Deer Creek Reservoirs depending on time/weather.

December 17 (Sat): Provo Christmas Bird Count - Assignments are given out at the Utah County Birders meeting on December 8th. If you can’t attend the meeting, call Dennis Shirley at 801-491-4084 or send an email to bt_shirley@hotmail.com .

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 Keeli Marvel at - keeli.marvel@gmail.com


President's Message

by Bryan Shirley, UCB President

Surviving Winter

A couple of days ago we got a nice snowstorm. At my house in Payson we had about 3 inches of snow. The snow and cold temperature led to a discussion with my wife about how the quail in my parents’ yard were going to survive the winter. I started to explain some ways that birds stay warm, most of which I had learned in an article in the Utah County Birders Newsletter a few years ago by Merrill Webb. This is such a great article that I decided to reprint it this month. In a couple of months when you are sitting in your car on the causeway because it is too cold to get out and set up a scope this article will help you appreciate how the birds survive.

Merrill's Musings
By Merrill Webb
Adaptations to the Cold

During this last week I decided to drive down to where the Provo River flows into Utah Lake to see what (if any) birds were on the water. There were coots on the water and gulls on the ice. It was very cold and there wasn't much open water, in fact the harbor was frozen solid. Ring-billed Gulls on the ice--and on the ground. Only Ring-billed, no Herring, no California--just gulls on the ice and on the frozen ground. Some standing on one leg, others just sitting on that cold ground and cold ice. And they seemed perfectly contented. If they had been cows they would have been chewing their cud. No frost bite. No frozen extremities.

'Wait a minute,' I thought. 'How can they do that and not suffer any visible ill effects?'

Two days later at school my principal asked me (like others ask you, since they know you are interested in birds and are therefore the "authority", at least where you work). "What do birds do to survive this terribly cold weather? How can they possibly survive?"

I was ready (since a couple of days previously I had researched the problem--at least as it pertained to gulls); but when I was finished providing an answer he had kind of a glazed look in his eyes. 'Overkill' I realized. He only wanted to tell me about the birds in his back yard, "finches," he called them, and what they were eating to survive. He didn't really want to hear me pontificate, it was just an opportunity to share what he had observed about the birds that were important to him.

So, at the risk at having your eyes glaze over, too, I am going to share some of the interesting adaptations to cold that I have learned about birds, both from observation and reading. After all, it is going to be my philosophy that this column can, and should be, educational as well as conversational.

Birds have the ability to maintain a high and constant body temperature that enables them to exploit a remarkable range of habitats. If the ambient temperature falls, birds raise their metabolic rate to prevent their internal temperature from falling.

Crossbills are highly cold resistant, as you might expect. When roosting in the boughs of evergreens during severe cold, the dominant birds secure places deepest in the thicket. That leaves the least dominant birds closer to the wind. More exposed and with less fat reserves, they are the first to die on the coldest nights. The fat that helps to insulate this species can now be used to generate warmth through a process called catabolism, the destructive part of metabolism in which the breakdown of fatty substances, triggered by hormones and muscular activity, releases energy in the form of heat.

So, the birds start to shiver in their sleep. A muscle used in raising a wing and an opposing muscle used in lowering it begin to contract in rapid rhythm against each other; thus each is exercised while the wing remains unmoved. So also do opposing sets of muscles tug at each other from head to tail, causing all of the body to quiver. This is catabolism at work, and body heat is boosted at once.

Nonmigratory birds like the cardinal stores fat in sequence, building up deposits in different parts of its body over a period of time. First, fat is laid down in the neck pouch between the breast muscles. When this is full, a thin layer of fat overlays the abdomen. Next come deposits under the wings. By this time fat encircles many of the internal organs as well. In this manner the cardinal seems to buy time through the early weeks of the winter season, keeping as trim as possible so it can speed away from predators.

The cardinal carries about three days of reserve fat, enough to see it through the time that an average ice storm or blizzard would hinder its food hunting. If the cardinal cannot eat by the fourth day it will begin to starve. It cannot maintain metabolic functions. Body temperature begins to fall. Death follows swiftly.

Chickadees, accustomed to bitter cold, respond with another life-saving adjustment. They shorten their foraging days. Or in particularly harsh weather, they stay in their roosts. They also conserve precious energy at night when their body temperatures may drop from 104 degrees F to 84 degrees F. They take in less food in a shorter hunting day, but they use their fat reserves at a lower rate and so have a better chance of outlasting the freeze.

Birds that overwinter in cold regions have evolved specialized insulation and respiratory systems, which serve two vital purposes: to keep the cold out and to enable the organs to function as a hot core. The legs of the Willow Ptarmigan are covered with feathers to reduce heat loss. Many birds, such as the redpolls of Alaska, have more feathers in winter than in summer; their feathers weigh 31% more in November than in July.

Ptarmigan and other grouse acquire a fringe of scales along each toe, which enlarges the surface area of the foot. The ptarmigan have gone further to increase the surface area of their feet: in winter plumage, they develop highly modified dense feathering covering both surfaces of their feet, and their claws become significantly longer (avian snowshoes). Experiments using feathered and plucked ptarmigan feet on soft snow clearly demonstrate that foot feathering eases walking in these birds much the way snowshoes aid people. The feathers increase the bearing surface of the foot by about 400 percent and reduce the distance the foot sinks in snow by roughly 50 percent.

In order to escape the cold, birds as large as ptarmigans and as small as Snow Buntings may burrow into loose snow to sleep. Two feet down in the snow the temperature can be 25 degrees F when the air above the snow is colder than -50 degrees F.

One of the most important adaptations enabling redpolls and crossbills to cope with the energy demands imposed by severe arctic and subarctic winters is a structure that is somewhat analogous to the substantial crop of gallinaceous birds. The structure is a partially bilobed pocket situated about midway down the neck, technically an "esophageal diverticulum." The pocket is used to store seeds, especially toward nightfall and during particularly severe weather.
The "extra" food helps carry the bird through low nighttime temperatures, and permits energy to be saved during bad weather by reducing foraging time and allowing the bird to "feed" while resting in a sheltered spot.
In addition, redpolls and crossbills seek the wind-protected shelter provided by dense coniferous foliage, remain stationary, and adopt a "fluffed-ball" posture that further enhances their insulation and thus reduces heat loss.

When it is cold, the lack of insulation on the legs makes them a site of potential heat loss. To minimize such loss, special blood vessels, the arteries and veins in the legs of many birds (gulls and waterfowl, for example), lie in contact with each other and function as a countercurrent heat exchange system to retain heat. Arterial blood leaves the bird's core (trunk) at body temperature, while venous blood in the bird's foot is quite cool. As the cool blood returns toward the core, heat moves by conductance from the warm arteries into the cool veins. Thus, arterial blood reaching the feet is already cool and venous blood reaching the core has already been warmed. In addition, by constricting the blood vessels in its feet a bird may further decrease heat loss by reducing the amount of blood flow to its feet at low temperatures. Thus while the core temperature of a duck or gull standing on ice may be 104 degrees F, its feet may be only slightly above freezing.

By standing on one leg and tucking the other among its breast feathers, a duck or gull on ice reduces by half the amount of unfeathered limb surface area exposed; by sitting down and thus covering both legs, heat loss from the limbs is minimized. In cold weather, juncos, sparrows and other finches foraging on the ground frequently drop down and cover their legs and feet with their breast feathers while pausing in their search for food.

Last November I was walking along the Virgin River Trail south of St. George. The weather was unseasonably cool. I observed a roadrunner with its back to the sun and its feathers all "puffed up" showing a very dark interior. I found out the following: Dark pigmentation aids temperature regulation by absorbing the energy-rich short wave lengths of the solar spectrum. When rewarming from mild overnight hypothermia, the Greater Roadrunner erects its scapular feathers and orients its body so that the morning sun shines on strips of black-pigmented skin on its dorsal apteria.

Probably all of us have observed Red-winged Blackbirds flying into the cattails along the Utah Lake shoreline to roost. Birds that roost communally crowd together at night during the winter to keep warm. Some studies have reported that the older blackbirds are concentrated in the centers of their roosts while the younger birds are situated around the periphery, more exposed to predators. However, there is a drawback to communal nesting. There is some evidence that birds in the lower positions in colonial roosts lose heat because the rain of droppings from higher birds reduces the insulating properties of
their plumage.

It has been observed that small groups of nuthatches or creepers spend the night together in tree cavities to significantly reduce their heat loss.

And finally, I found this interesting tidbit about Saw-whet Owls. Their diet is mainly small rodents; but they also take insects. They sometimes cache their dead prey items in the snow. Later, they will assume an incubating posture to thaw frozen prey.

So, my suggestion is that during this winter when there seems to be a paucity of birds to watch, take time to observe the temperature- regulating actions, especially those of shorebirds and gulls. They are the most readily observed and interpreted of bird behaviors.

The Birder's Handbook 1988, by Paul Ehrlich, David Dobkin and Darryl Wheye;
The Wonder of Birds, 1983 National Geographic Society;
Ornithology, 1989, by Frank Gill


Bird of the Month

No Bird of the Month this Month.

If you would like to write an article for the Bird of the Month, please contact Oliver Hansen -- 801-378-4771 - byucactus@gmail.com .

Click here for past 'Birds of the Month'.


Field Trip Report
The Big Sit! - Provo Airport Dike - October 9, 2011

Start of our big day.  Dawn at our Big Sit Circle- looking East

End of our big day.  Lyle watching the Sunset. 

by Eric Huish

The Big Sit - Provo Airport Dike -
9 October 2011

The Provo Airport Big Sit was covered nearly continuously from 6:10 am to 8:00 pm. 12 hours total time where at least one person was there. This was our 10th year participating in the big sit. We sat at the Southeast Corner of the dike loop, where the moat does a 90° turn to the west. We spent the day sitting within a 17 foot circle. We were able to see or hear 56 species from our circle this year. Our record is 58 species in one day (2007) and our 10 year (10 day) Big Sit Life List is now at 113 species. We added 6 Big Sit Lifers this year - Horned Grebe, Great Egret, Common Nighthawk, Vaux's Swift, Western Wood-Pewee and Warbling Vireo.

The Vaux's Swift was the rarest bird. Around 10:30 am we started seeing flocks of Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows flying past/over us heading south. While scanning the swallows, hoping for a third swallow species, we were excited to see a Vaux's Swift fly past. It flew by pretty close and we got a good look at it but It didn't stick around.

The Horned Grebe hung out in the moat near our sit circle all day.

The Western Wood-Pewee was hanging out around the telephone wires North of our sit circle and would occasionally give a faint call.

I saw a Common Nighthawk flying close to the sit circle very early in the morning while it was still pretty dark out.

A flock of Mountain Bluebirds spent the morning hunting over the old runway in the southeast corner of the airport.

We spotted 2 Great Egret and 14 Snowy Egrets flying way out over the marsh to the east us in the evening. They were far away but we had great lighting with the sun low at our backs, we could the the yellows of their feet.

Our last bird of the day was a Barn Owl that flew over after we briefly played a call.

Water levels were high this year so we didn't have a mud flat. We only saw 1 shorebird all day, a single killdeer flew over.

Time At Location: 12 Hours --- 6:10 AM - 12:05 PM, 1:00 PM - 3:45 PM and 4:40 PM - 8:00 PM. Sit participants were Eric Huish, Milt Moody, Lyle Bingham, Keeli Marvel, Alona Huffaker and two of her granddaughters, and Ned Bixler took a lone afternoon shift from 1:00 to 3:45. Thanks Ned!

Here is our species list -

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White-faced Ibis
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Virginia Rail
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Caspian Tern
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Common Nighthawk
Vaux's Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee
Warbling Vireo
Black-billed Magpie
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Marsh Wren
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch


Utah Birds Website Report
by Milt Moody

There have been a few changes to our website. We've added bird and place photos to a lot of the pages -- most of them clickable. Because the "Photo Gallery" is one of the most popular "spots" on the website (and one of the most valuable), there's a new prominent link through an extra wide graphic (photos of a Western Tanager, a Burrowing Owl and some American Avocets) which takes you to a spruced-up index with clickable thumbnails as examples of the different bird groups. There are presently over 19,000 photos of about 450 bird species -- males, females, juveniles, flying, close-ups, action shots, etc. We've got a lot of views and plumages you can't find in the field guides -- a good place to study the birds. Thanks to the photographers and other who are helping with information and content we're building up on the website.

Thank you to those who have gone through our "Amazon" link to buy things. This year we are in line to receive enough Amazon funds to pay for the yearly web-hosting expenses -- we've usually received about half that in years past. I noticed that Consumer Reports rated Amazon as one of the best "places" to buy computers, so it's a good place to check, but if you can get things cheaper elsewhere, that's the best thing to do. Anyway, your help is much appreciated.
Thanks to Leena Rogers for her "Hotline Highlights" reporting and to Eric Huish for the Utah County Birders pages (including posting the newsletter), the State Calendar, and for many other miscellaneous things he does for the website.  The website is getting better and better all the time.

Backyard Bird of the Month
October 2011

Bruce Robinson - West Jordan
Dark Eyed Junco - First of the season in the yard

Milt Moody - Provo
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting in my wild rose bush

Eric Huish - Pleasant Grove
On Oct 9th, in just 30 minutes of watching the sky over the backyard, I saw 30 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 Turkey Vultures, 4 Sharpies, 2 unidentified Accipiters and an Osprey.

Steve Carr - Holladay
Downy Woodpecker - A pair of them come and go to the peanuts and peanut butter feeders several times a day all winter long.

Cheryl Peterson - Provo
I am always happy to see a Downy Woodpecker in the tree outside my window. The Dark-eyed Juncos are daily visitors again.

Send your backyard bird of the month to Cheryl Peterson (375-1914 or cherylpeterson@gmail.com) by the end of each month.


Thanks to all who have supported us in the past. If you are interested in officially joining
us this year, make out a check to Utah County Birders for $15.00 and mail it to:

Carol Nelson
2831 Marrcrest West
Provo, Utah 84604

You will be helping to support the web page and we will send you a copy of the newsletter.