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UTAH COUNTY BIRDERS
Newsletter
April 1998


Contents


Matt's Message
by Matt DeVries ([email protected])

One of the perks of my never ending travels is the opportunity to bird in new places. One of the frustrations is not having the time. Recently, due to a benevolent scheduling error, I found myself in Florida with nothing to do. Well, not exactly nothing, being a birder I always have something to do.

So, marveling at my good fortune, I grabbed Ned’s Lane Guide to Florida and hit the road. Orlando wasn’t at all what I expected. Just a few miles out of town the landscape turns rural. Fields, lakes, marshes, and forests abound. Finland meets Costa Rica in this tropical environment.

It is sometimes said that the journey is as rewarding as the destination. On the way to destination one, I encountered egrets, herons, and cormorants. Black and Turkey vultures soared overhead. Red-bellied woodpeckers drummed on power poles. Eastern Bluebirds and Loggerhead Shrikes adorned the wires. White and Glossy Ibis fed in flooded fields. No reason to hurry to the wildlife reserve on a route like this.

Fortunately, the destination wasn’t bad either. Brown-headed Nuthatches were thick. And, the true purpose of my journey, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, was present and showy.

My first Northern Parula sang to me and showed off. The alligator that snuck up on me didn’t eat me. Everything was going perfectly.

Destination two produced two english birders, two Crested Caracaras, a bunch of Wild Turkey’s, Red-shouldered Hawk and the highlight of the day: two Whooping Cranes. These majestic birds, certainly from a release program, fed and preened ten feet from my car. Only a few hundred are alive in the world, and two of them were right there, delighting me in Florida.

Sitting there, watching the cranes, I reflected on birding, life, and work. I was aware that lately, I had been reduced to birding like I work: frantically. But, thanks to a quirk of providence, I had no schedule, no deadline. Just a day and a wonderland of birds.

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April Meeting
"The Endemic and Exotic Plants and Birds of the Hawaiian Islands"
7:00 pm, Thursday April 16th, Bean Museum Auditorium.

The main speaker will be Jack Brotherson, Professor of Botany and Range Science. He is a specialist in Plant and Field Ecology and will speak on "The Endemic and Exotic Plants of the Hawaiian Islands." Dennis Shirley will show slides of Hawaiian birds and talk about the birds of Hawaii.

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Field Trip to Southern Utah
May 15-17, 1998

We plan to leave for Moab early Friday morning and will return late Sunday evening. Our targets will be the Mattheson Wildlife Preserve and other spots near Monticello and Blanding. We hope to find the Scaled Quail now residing in Blanding and perhaps additional species such as: Acorn Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Mexican Spotted Owl. Details are forthcoming in the next Newsletter. Plan to join us for an exciting trip!


Robin’s View
by Robin Tuck ([email protected])

 

Breaker one nine, this is ‘Rubber Duck’ calling...

We all have a need to communicate. In fact, whenever we have a birding field trip, communication among the participant vehicles is a must. We all want to know what the lead car is seeing, or where the next turn is or some other such thing.

However, in my experience, it doesn't work.. At least, it doesn't work reliably.

Over the last several years, I have tried most forms of communications, from CB radios and small cheap walkie-talkies to expensive Ham radios. None worked well.

The cheap walkie-talkies were easy to use, but didn't go far enough; a quarter mile stretched it. The CB radios seem to have too many problems; the power cord would disconnect or the squelch would be too high, or the antenna wouldn't work. The Ham radios require an FCC license and cost an arm and a leg. And all of them require a significant level of technical understanding.

What we need is a radio that works all the time every time without a lot of fuss and bother, that covers a useful distance, 5 miles would be great. We need a radio that everyone can afford so everyone can have one.

Do we have an answer?

Well, I thought so.

The FCC has recently authorized a new FM radio service called the "Family Radio Service" (FRS) with exceptional sound quality potential. The transmit power is limited by the FCC to 1/2 watt but most radios in this class are 1/3 watt, which should go almost 2 miles from vehicle to vehicle in the open country, much less in the city. The FRS has 14 channels (frequencies) with 38 "groups" per channel yielding 532 different combinations.

FRS Radios are available at prices from $110 to $140 each, quite pricey' for my tastes. The units I have examined are easy to set up, simple to operate, and use normal AA batteries for power. Once the radios are set up, they can be locked so the settings cannot be accidently bumped and changed; a good thing if they will be carried around in a purse.

I was beginning to be impressed with FRS radios until a friend bought 3 to use while skiing with his children. He found the watt power to be weak, limiting the usable distance to 1.5 miles, and the line-of-sight nature of the radio waves used leaves holes in the coverage.

I was unimpressed with the commonly available Motorola FRS radio and more pleased with the Kenwood FreeTalk radio, but I now believe we should wait a bit longer for prices to fall and new well-featured models that transmit at the full 1/2 watt legal limit.

If you want to buy some, shop the Internet or find a mail order house. My friend bought his Kenwoods through a boating catalog.

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Attu Draws to a Close
Attu Adventures, Part 7: 1996
by Ned C. Hill ([email protected])

This is the seventh of a series of articles giving the account of North America's ultimate birding adventure: a trip to Attu Island, Alaska. In Part 6 I told of our discovery of two more Code 5 birds: a Rufous Turtle Dove and a Red-flanked Bluetail along with other Attu specialties.

As the days swiftly moved by, the Attu part of our adventure was coming to a close but two more stops held exciting potential for more rarities: Nome and Gambell.

The 27th was cloudy but calm and Casco Cove was a perfect mirror. The lack of wind made the temperature feel much warmer. We had a big decision to make. Yesterday a Rustic Bunting had been spotted on the path to Alexai Point and a Black-backed Wagtail was possibly seen in Navytown. Although my legs rebelled at the thought of another 24 mile bike ride, I decided to go with the odds and follow Dave Sonneborn to Alexai. No wagtail in Navytown but I did manage to see the Rufous Turtle Dove under the pier there. The path to Alexai was muddier than usual and I began to break a sweat. Fortunately I didn’t need my raincoat so sweating was more comfortable. When we were half way down the coast, Steve Heinl from Murder Point (the opposite side of Attu from Alexai, of course) excitedly radioed in a Yellow-breasted Bunting—the fourth Code 5 bird of the trip! Although Dave urged us to go on to Alexai ("the Bunting will likely hang around"), several of us wanted to take no chances. We turned our bikes around and pedaled like mad the 7 or 8 miles back towards Murder Point. By the time we reached the runway, a strong head wind turned what should have been an enjoyable mile-long coast into a struggle against the wind. My legs were very sore when I reached base camp to drop off my pack. Murder Point was still a mile or so away. People were already coming from there having seen this rare Asian visitor and were heading to Henderson Marsh where more Rustic Buntings were being seen. I continued on to Murder Point, arriving exhausted—Ivan said it was the most exhausted he’s seen me. The ever patient Steve Heinl was still there helping us stragglers find the bird. He took me alongside and we swept through the area. The bunting was flighty and all I got to see at first was its back as it darted away. Paul Sykes, directing us from atop the Middens (ancient Aleut ruins on a hillside) called out "Rustic Bunting!" pointing to some willows below him on the shore of Big Lake. We scrambled to the top of the hill and got glimpses of the colorful little bunting flitting between willows and then darting across the lake. Suddenly from the same willows, the Yellow-breasted Bunting emerged. It headed back down to the road we had just searched. I finally got a reasonable look at this brightly colored bunting as it perched in a low shrub. People said that when Steve first saw the bird zoom by him earlier in the day, he instantly called out, "Yellow-breasted Bunting." Not bad considering the bird has only been seen a few times in North America and Steve had never seen one before. I slowly, painfully pedaled back to base, totally worn out but totally happy at having seen one of North America’s rarest birds. We had a wonderful stroganoff dinner and I had the luxury of a 5-minute shower before falling into a very restful sleep.

The 28th brought strong S-SW winds and light rain. Ivan and I decided, after our exertions yesterday, to take it easy. But when Jerry called in a possible Olive-backed Pipit near the runway, we lost little time in donning our Gortex rain gear and heading out. My knee was very stiff but it loosened up as we rode the two miles around the cove. We scoured the area but no one could locate the Pipit. We rode back to base but saw people in a hurry come streaming out towards us. "Gail Yovanovich has a Common Greenshank down at Navytown Beach." Darn—but horray! Stiff knee or not, we turned around and followed them out to the beach about four miles away. The wind was kind to us this time. As we approached, we saw that wonderful sight of a group of birders huddled around scopes. They had the Greenshank in view just off shore on Loaf Island. Jerry arrived and we got great looks through his Questar. What a scope. We walked out on a peninsula to try for a closer look when someone shouted, "Rubythroat!" A dull little greenish bird was hopping around on some rusted metal junk just a few feet below me. As I looked at the Siberian Rubythroat through a hole in the metal, it turned towards me and flashed its dazzling ruby throat patch. It flitted about in the debris for several minutes giving everyone a good look.

On the way back to base, we found a Wandering Tattler and studied it for a few minutes hoping to turn it into a Gray-tailed Tattler. It flew off calling like a Wandering. Jerry had the Spectacled Eider in his "Q" so we got to study this rare duck up close. Ivan and I had a good talk with Bill Rydell on the way back to base. He just wrote a book about his big year. He is a physician and an avid lister. In spite ot his gruff exterior, he is a very nice fellow we have come to like.

The 29th brought strong winds and constant rain. No one ventured out for long. Ivan and I read, exchanged birding stories, visited in the day room and got to know some of the very interesting people here. Floyd Carley, a friendly man in his late seventies told us about selling his large plastics company to American Can for a great price one week before the October 1987 market crash.

May 30th we awakened to a clear day on Attu—a rare treat. The southern winds had died down and left a promise that good birds had blown in from Asia during the night. Our strategy was to remain in a central location in order to respond to potentially exciting radio reports. We didn’t have to wait long. As we were watching the Rufous Turtle Dove near Brambling Bluff (the bird has been around for over a week now), David Narins called in with the report of a Wood Sandpiper in one of the ponds near the runway. We pedaled down the runway and found the bird pecking around in shallow water near the edge of the pond. Next came the report of two Gray-tailed Tattlers back on Navytown Beach. On the way there I was behind James Huntington when he scared up a Black-backed Wagtail. Unfortunately, none of the rest of us got to see more than a streaking bird. The Tattlers were close to shore and easily studied. The leaders pointed out all the field marks that distinguish the Gray-tailed from the Wandering. These were definitely Gray-tailed. We hiked around the small ponds near the runway and again saw several Brambling. We heard the report of a possible Olive-backed Pipit and pedaled over to help search for it. No success except for seeing a couple of small birds fly up over my head going "seep, seep." Probably pipits but not identifiable. A cold front moved in with rain and wind so we headed back to base only to hear a report from Dave Sonneborn that a Mongolian Plover was at the tip of Alexai—a mere 10 miles away over muddy trails in wind and rain. Considering my sore knee and the bad weather, we decided not to chase it. Our leaders advised against it, too, saying that these birds often hang around for several days. Only Ted Robinson bundled up and headed out into the storm. Five hours later he came back soaked, exhausted but with a big smile—he had found the Mongolian.

May 31st a large group headed out to Alexai to search for the Mongolian Plover, but Ivan and I stayed closer to base and our gamble paid off. That group did not find the Plover after all their toil and they missed some of the birds we got to see. So much depends on where you are when a bird is found. Instead of the grueling ride to the point, we opted to go with Paul Sykes to the Peaceful River mouth where we located a Slaty-backed Gull that has been seen on and off all week. Not far away from us, another group called in a Common Sandpiper—a close relative of our more familiar Spotted Sandpiper but without the spots. It was feeding in the rocks along the Peaceful River up by the runway bridge. People on the other side of the river could see the Sandpiper but we couldn’t. The bird flew up river then back down and we finally got a good look at it as it fed, bobbing its tail up and down. As we were headed back to base camp, Jerry called in a Red-necked Stint at Pratincole Cove. It was only a short hike over to him. He had the bird in his "Q" so we got excellent looks at a brightly colored shorebird perfectly camouflaged in the kelp and rocks. How did he find it? He kept it in his scope for several hours until everyone on the island got to see it. Amazingly patient man to stand there in the drizzle! Over at the runway, another group reported a Hawfinch. We rode over to join in a sweep of the area but only a few got fleeting glimpses of its bounding flight. Ivan and I both were at the wrong end of the sweep line to see it. Only three more days on Attu. We can’t wait to get in touch with our families. This isolation is for the birds!

The 1st was a mixture of frustration and elation. Determined to see a Hawfinch, Ivan and I joined a group that headed to the runway. The bird had most often been seen there. The group ahead of us looking for the Common Sandpiper flushed a Hawfinch and it disappeared up the river just as we were arriving. All I saw was a small bird bounding away with two white wing patches—not the kind of look I am comfortable with for a life bird. About 65 of us swept the area on both sides of the river. No success. We disbanded and moved off in smaller groups. Paul Sykes, walking alone up by the "Fish Hut" saw a Eurasian Bullfinch fly by. He quickly reassembled the large group and we swept through the area again looking for this possible Code 5 bird. No luck. But as our long chain of people reached the crest of a hill, I was near Dave Sonneborn and Bob Lewis near the foundation of an old building when Bob called out, "Thrush!" A bird flew past me into the foundation. Bob yelled, "Eye-browed Thrush." We approached the decaying cement cautiously. Suddenly, a robin-looking bird with a white eyebrow darted past me within ten feet. It paused in a willow so four or five us could get our binoculars on it before it flew across the river and vanished. We searched and searched but only a very lucky few of us ever saw it. They said that is unusual for Eye-browed Thrush to spook so quickly and disappear. We continued for hours in the attempt to locate the thrush or the bullfinch. No success. In the middle of the line, someone called, "Brambling." It turned out to be the Hawfinch. But Ivan and I were out on the end of the line and didn’t see anything more than a speck flying away. We broke up into smaller groups and continued our Hawfinch quest. The wind picked up and we were getting chilled. At around 4:00 pm we decided to head back to base. Another group stayed around and eventually saw the Hawfinch perched on a post along the runway. Others saw one on a pole in the area of base camp but it was just before we arrived! It seemed to be mocking us.

At dinner tonight, Ivan and I talked with Al and Nancy Boggess. They are cheerful, happy people—very unassuming. On prying, we found out that both are retired astronomers. Al headed the Hubble Telescope project for NASA and Nancy coordinated all of NASA’s high altitude observatory work. Amazing group of people we have here.

On June 2nd the predicted storm came through with strong winds and rain. We went out anyway since this is our last full birding day. We tried again to find the elusive Hawfinch and Bullfinch but had no success. Oh well, I have seen 19 lifers including four Code 5 vagrants that seldom come to U.S. soil. I didn’t count two birds that I did not see clearly. We have been able to study many other birds well in this unusual setting and we got to know some wonderful people. I determined I am an avid birder but not an avid lister. The isolation from my family was a bit more than I want to try again. But it has been quite the adventure!

The 3rd dawned with rain and some wind and heavy fog. We could only see halfway up the Loran tower (ceiling of about 300 feet). We packed up and said our farewells to our many friends. At 10:00 am we rode for the last time around Casco Cove and then up the runway—looking wistfully for Hawfinch—to the Attu International Airport terminal, a small plywood room next to the runway. Aleutian Terns called from overhead and then did their mating dance on the runway—a male brought a beakful of fish to a female. The plan was to have a small jet pick up eight of us and take us to Gambell. The rest of the 84 people will stay augmented by a group that is coming from Gambell in the Lear jet. By 11:30 we received radio word that the jet was on Shemya, 40 miles away, awaiting a break in the weather on Attu. The weather looked bad for the next several hours so Larry Balch sent us back to base camp. I guess that wasn’t the last time around Casco Cove. Looked like we might stay on Attu another day.

At 2:00 Larry called to say the plane was on its way. "Get over here quick!" The eight (plus two more who are going on to Anchorage) scampered over to the terminal again. As we arrived, we saw the appointed Coast Guardsmen donning aluminum fire suits in preparation for the landing. They had all the fire equipment out and ready to douse any problems that might arise. Government regulation, you know. Finally, around 4 o’clock, we could see the landing lights of the plane low under the clouds. What a welcome sight! The new arrivals told us of the great birds they had just seen on Gambell: Common Cuckoo, Temminck’s Stint, Common Ringed Plover, Terek Sandpiper, and Black-tailed Gull. Around Nome they had found Bristle-thighed Curlew and Gyrfalcon. Please stay put, we prayed. By 5 pm we finally got clearance to take off into the overcast. Packed tightly into the sleek plane, we roared down the runway and quickly accelerated into a steep climb taking us away from North America’s greatest birding adventure and towards yet another chapter in our exploration of this northern world.

To be continued.

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Hotline Summary

Junece Markham (373-2487)
Julia Tuck  (377-8084)

Name of Bird

Age/Sex

Date

Reported by:

Location

Canvasback, Common Loons Adult 21 Mar Dennis Shirley Mona Reservoir
Greater Scaup Adult 21 Mar Dennis Shirley Salem Pond
Snow Geese, American Avocets Adult 24 Mar Darlene Amott LaBaron Point, Genola
Common Merganser, Horned Grebe Adult 24 Mar Darlene Amott South Airport Dike, Provo
White Swifts, Cooper’s Hawks, Canyon Wren, Chukars Adult 26 Mar Junece Markham, Eric Huish Rock Canyon, Provo
American Dippers, Townsend’s Solitaire Adult 26 Mar Alan & Salina Keller In front of Deer Creek Dam
Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Short-eared Owl, Mountain Bluebird Adult 31 Mar Dennis Shirley Between Genola and Goshen
Blue-winged Teal Adult 31 Mar Dennis Shirley Benjamin Slough
Borrowing Owls Adult 1 Apr Cheryl Peterson No. of Elberta, Milepost 1
Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow Adult 1 Apr Cheryl Peterson South Airport Dike, Provo
Common Loons Adult 2 Apr Alan & Salina Keller Deer Creek Reservoir
Northern Goshawk Adult 4 Apr Julia & Robin Tuck South of Evergreen Cemetary, Springville/Mapleton
Lewis’ Woodpecker Adult 4 Apr Julia Tuck East of Salem (same place as last year)
Herring Gull, Sage Sparrow Adult 5 Apr Julia & Robin Tuck South Airport Dike, Provo
Great-tailed Grackle Adult 7 Apr Julia Tuck Sam’s Club parking lot, Provo

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Utah County Birders on the Net
http://www.whipple.org/birders

Featuring:

Bulletin Board - Communicate your questions and comments with other birders.
Newsletter - Articles from this month’s newsletter
Bookstore - (www.whipple.org/birders/bookstore.html) E-mail your favorite titles (preferably with a brief review) to [email protected].
Field Trip Information - Announcements, updates and changes
Meeting Schedule - Information on the next meeting
Links to other Bird Sites - A good place to start when browsing the net for bird information