Utah County Birders Newsletter
March 2001


Wednesday the 21st at 7:00 PM in the Bean Museum Auditorium on the BYU Campus.

Marcus Mika will present:

Flammulated Owl Studies In Utah.

Marcus is a BYU graduate student seeking a Master of Science Degree in Zoology. He is working under the direction of Dr Clayton White and hopes to graduate in August, 2001. For two years Marcus has been researching the feeding habit differences of Flammulated Owls in northern Utah. He has been studying 16 nesting pairs, two in natural cavities and 14 in artificial nest boxes. Marcus is formerly from Sweden but now resides with his wife in Provo. He hopes to continue his research with a future PhD program.


Thursday, March 22 Half Day

We will be looking for birds in 
South Fork Canyon and the Provo Canyon area

We will meet at 7:00 A.M. at the Provo Temple. 
(In the parking area Southwest and across the street from the Temple.)


A Bird of Another Feather
by Dennis Shirley

The other day I had to investigate a possible illegal trapping activity in upper Spanish Fork Canyon. I hiked into an isolated canyon, found the trapping activity evidence, but was unable to determine much more. The traps had been removed. True to form, I carried my binoculars around my neck and took the opportunity to check out the birds of the area. But the relatively sterile winter pinyon/juniper mountainside didn't produce much. I did see a few Townsend's Solitaires, mountain and black-capped chickadees, and a single golden eagle soaring overhead. I had carried a lunch, so I built a small campfire for companionship and sat down to enjoy the moment. It was then I more fully noticed the surrounding terrain. It was an area of exposed light gray layered shale outcrops - not unlike many central and eastern Utah mountainsides. The hillsides had an abundance of thin shale sheets scattered here and there. I knew the layered shales of Spanish Fork Canyon were known for their abundance of preserved fossils, but I also knew from past experience the right spot to find them was not easy to find.
    What had always intrigued me most about this area was its reputation for well preserved bird track fossils. So with guarded optimism I began searching the shale plates for fossils. I easily cracked open the thin layers of shale and soon had a pile of discarded sheets. I was about to give up once more when I broke open another piece, which didn't appear to be any different than any other, and there in my hands I was holding a beautifully preserved set of two bird tracks. The tracks were easy to see, with the imprints embedded into the lower piece of shale and protruding from the upper piece. The tracks had the typical pattern of three toes directed forward and one backward. They were about 1 3/4" long which would make them come from a bird about the size of a medium sized passerine or shorebird. The distance between the tracks was 3 1/2". As I sat there for a moment looking at my prize, questions began to come up. What kind of bird was it? Shorebird? Thrush? What did it look like? Long- legged? Short and Plump? Hooked bill? What was it doing? Feeding? Running from a predator? Just walking along? 
   When I got home that night I got out the old geology books and poured through the pertinent chapters. I found out the geologic period for these rock layers was known as the Eocene Epoch of the early Teriary Period and that the actual shale layers were part of the Green River Formation. I even found a picture of fossilized bird tracks collected from Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah. The age of the Green River Formation is estimated to be around 40 million years old [ give or take a few million years]. That's a long, long, long, time ago! Think how long that really is! Think how many generations of birds have lived and died! Think how long we and our preceding ancestors have been around! It makes me feel just a touch insignificant! To think there were birds making tracks in Utah County 40 million years ago is nothing less than astounding. Forty million years ago there weren't any birders in Utah County but there were birds!!

Robin's View

Waxing Poetic
by Robin Tuck

It's easy to wax poetic about Cedar Waxwings. Forbush wrote, "who can describe the marvelous beauty and elegance of this bird? ...what other [bird] is dressed in a robe of such delicate and silky texture? Those shades of blending beauty, velvety black, brightening into fawn, melting browns, shifting saffron, quaker drabs, pale blue, and slate with trimmings of white and golden yellow, and the little red appendages on the wing...". Others, though not as flowery still are almost poetic: "Smaller than a Robin, the Cedar Waxwing is a sleek, crested, brown bird with black mask, yellow tips on tail feathers, and red tips on secondary wing feathers. The belly is pale yellow, the undertail coverts are white. The plumage appears as though made of soft velvet" and "It possesses an elegant, well groomed, never a feather out of place appearance". The red appendages at the end of the secondaries having the appearance of "sealing wax," give the Cedar Waxwing (and the Bohemian waxwing) its most widespread common name. The "drops of wax" are actually flattened extensions of the feather shafts, the color derived from astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment. Research from the 1980s maintains that the red sealing wax tips on the secondaries provide visual cues to potential mates about each other's age resulting in "associative mating" based on age where younger birds (displaying less red) and older individuals (with more red) tending to mate with individuals of their own age.

Since Cedar Waxwings nest only in the northern counties of Utah, they are only winter residents in Utah County. We see them in flocks ranging from 15 to 130 birds. Flocks of waxwings will descend on a Mountain Ash or Crab Apple, stripping the berries in hours. If the berries have fermented, the birds can actually get drunk and will flop around until they sober. But their digestive systems are amazing; the seeds of berries are eliminated within 45 minutes following ingestion. Waxwings are known to overeat so much that they cannot fly. This may explain why they are an important "prey species" for Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks. Waxwings are omnivorous, eating fruit, berries and insects, often ‘flycatching' when a large insect flies by. They will feed their young insects exclusively for the first few days then will switch them over to berries. Most people think of feeding birds seeds and suet. But some birds such as the Cedar Waxwing and others never eat seeds or suet, therefore, they never come to the feeders. If you want to provide food for waxwings, you have to do it naturally with berry producing trees and shrubs.

From Our Web Site:

The "Utah Birds" web site keeps track of numerous birding records.
Here are some "life lists" that may be of interest:

The "Top 10" (from selected birding lists for the state of Utah)

Utah County Life List
279 Dennis Shirley
277 Merrill Webb
252 Milton Moody
250 Cheryl Peterson
249 Beula Hinkely
246 Tuula Rose
240 Mark Stackhouse
240 Eric Huish
219 Ned Hill

Utah Life List
361 Craig Kneedy
361 Terry Sadler
360 Dana Green
359 Merrill Webb
356 Ella Sorensen
355 Mark Stackhouse
349 David Wheeler
338 Joel Beyer
338 Kathy Beyer
335 Lawrence Ryel
335 Dennis Shirley

ABA Area Life List
740 Lawrence Ryel
735 Alan Schmierer
711 Parker Gay
701 Ned Hill
682 Ron Ryel
679 Ivan Call
596 Joel Beyer
595 Kathy Beyer
593 Dennis Shirley
591 Robert Bond

Worldwide Life List
2,300 Dana Green
1,328 Ned Hill
1,145 Larene Wyss
1,046 Letitia Lussier
985 Susan & Jeffery Saffle
956 Dennis Shirley
893 Ivan Call
813 Robert Parsons
745 Colby Neuman
701 Beula Hinkley

If you keep birding lists and would like to submit or update your numbers,
just call Milton at (801) 373-2795 or e-mail records@utahbirds.org or
fill out the update form on the web site (www.utahbirds.org).