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UTAH COUNTY BIRDERS
Newsletter
May 1998


Contents


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

I travel constantly. My work takes me to the east coast, the west coast and plenty of places in between. It sounds like a birders dream world, criss-crossing the country on somebody else’s dime. But it feels more like the curse of Tantalus. I am condemned to be surrounded by birding opportunities, but to never be able to partake of them.

Despite the frustration of being so close and yet so far, I have been reminded of one birding truth: there are birds everywhere. I was forcefully reminded of this while traveling from Palo Alto to Oakland during rush hour. My boss was driving and our trip took us over the San Mateo Bridge. The 30 mile trip took us two hours. Fortunately, the frustration of congested traffic was alleviated by several spectacular birds.

Highlights of our commute included a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk, large flocks of scoters, nesting cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Great and Snowy Egrets, a Virginia Rail, several terns, Great-blue herons, and of course starlings, blackbirds, and House Sparrows. I think I was the only one on the bridge pleased by the pace of the traffic.

My recent visit to Baltimore, while less spectacular, provided some memorable sights. The most entertaining, was a Black Vulture stretching and preening for me while I was once again stuck in rush hour traffic. Just walking around the hotel on breaks I was able to observe several common, but beautiful eastern birds. These included Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal.

I would certainly rather be birding than working while on my various trips. Yet, despite limited time and mostly urban settings, my fascination with birds has consistently provided a break to the monotony of endless meetings and snails-pace traffic. Thank heaven for birds!!!

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May Meeting
"Birds of Ohio, Texas and Kentucky"

On Thursday, May 21st , 7:00 pm at the Bean Museum Auditorium, three (of our many) wandering birders will report on the birds of three distant parts of the country.

Lois Clark, aka "Sanpete Sally", the legendary bird gardener, kite maker and birder of extensive knowledge and experience (and extremely modest about it), will report on the birds she observed in Ohio.

Junece Markham , aka "The Spanish Dancer" (I’ve seen family movies from Junece’s youth in Spanish Fork), will report on the birds AND wild flowers of Texas.

And Dennis Shirley, aka "The one and only, Dennis Shirley", from the Division of Wildlife Resources of some state or country somewhere between Japan and Kentucky, will tell us about birding in Kentucky.

AND we’ll find out whether the 22 plus members of the Moab expedition found the Spotted Owl, the Acorn Woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker or the Scaled Quail. All this and more, Thursday at seven.

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

 

Using a code

Many of you know I have extensive computer experience, mostly as a programmer/analyst. Probably because of this, I have a strong aversion to entering information more than once. Handling data more than once introduces errors and is not needed in correctly designed systems. Reality, however sometimes dictates less than optimal solutions, especially when appropriate tools are not available.

For some time, I have been trying to use a Palm-Pilot, a pocket-sized computer to record my bird sightings. So far, I have spent more time entering the sighting and transferring to paper than I would by using paper forms directly. One of the big time wasters has been entering the bird name into the Pilot; it reads my handwriting but just one letter at a time. That means slow and tedious, and error prone. Others have noticed me spending more time trying to log my sighting than looking at the birds, certainly not my goal.

I remembered hearing Merrill and Matt discussing using a code for bird names when they did bird surveys for the Forest Service, so I searched around and obtained a list of 1000 bird names and codes from Frank Howe, of the Division of Wildlife Resources. In studying the bird codes I have learned a lot and have begun reducing the time I spend entering sighting data.

Using the bird codes has not been without challenges; now I need to know the correct bird name and the rules for forming the code. For example, instead of remembering "Magpie," I need to remember "Black-billed Magpie." Then I need to know the rule that generates "bbma" from the name. The rules for forming bird codes from the common bird names are:

Unfortunately, code collisions are fairly common. "Yellow Warbler" and "Yellow Wagtail" both resolve to "yewa." In many cases, as shown above, the conflicting bird is not resident locally, so I could simply use the ‘rule generated’ code, "yewa" instead of the approved code "ywar," but I have decided I would use the standard codes in all cases.

I wrote a mall program for my Pilot that reads my sighting records and looks up the real bird name using the code, so I am receiving the benefit of easier data entry. The whole process isn’t as easy as it should be, but I have proceeded part way down the path. I’ll let you know as I work on this problem how it works out.

I will post the bird code list and a list of all the code collisions on our Internet site for all interested.

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Joint Field Trip with Salt Lake Birders

On May 30, we will be going with the Salt Lake Birders. Meet at 6:30 am at the Bluffdale exit (west side) just north of the Point of the Mountain.

Dana Green will lead us on a field trip to the Jordan Narrows, Salt Lake Canyons and some of the nearby marshes. Plan on returning after 12 noon or later if you choose

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Do You Have E-mail?

If you have a computer and a modem you can have e-mail... FREE.

The Utah County Birdnet will soon be up and running. If you would like to get information about birds and birding activities by e-mail, just send an e-mail with your name written in it, to [email protected] OR sign up on the Utah County Birders wed site at www.whipple.org/birders and we`ll put you on the list.

If you have any questions on how to get set up, call Milton at 373-2795.

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Nome and Gambell--The Adventure Continues
Attu Adventures, Part 8: 1996
by Ned C. Hill ([email protected])

This is the eighth of a series of articles giving the account of North America’s ultimate birding adventure: a trip to Attu Island, Alaska. In Part 7 the Attu chapter of our trip drew to a close and we sadly left most of our group who spent another week on that unusual island. Closing the main chapter, we opened another: our extension trip to Gambell—another legendary birding hotspot of the frozen north.

In Alaska, we learned to expect the unexpected. On June 3rd our Lear jet lifted off the runway at Attu and headed for Gambell, a whaling village on St. Lawrence Island about 40 miles from the Siberian coast of Russia. All we could see below us were heavy clouds. After a few hours of flying, the pilot came on the intercom and announced that the overcast was too dense to land at Gambell; we were being diverted to Nome, a small city just south of the Arctic Circle. We landed at around 10 pm but it was still very light. The first thing I did was find a phone and call my family. So good to hear their voices after nearly three weeks of being incommunicado. Everything was OK at home. I learned that Matt and Pia DeVries had had a baby boy—wonderful news! It felt strange being in an actual city with restaurants, motels, flush toilets and telephones.

But Nome is not your typical city. Everything is built a foot or two above the ground because of the permafrost. There is no grass anywhere and the roads are virtually all dirt. Everyone seems to own a rusted out truck of some sort. We stayed at the Nugget Hotel—almost everything has some kind of tie to the old gold rush days. Across from our hotel is a large log gateway indicating the ending point of the Iditarod dog sled race. We found it was hard to get to sleep at midnight with the sky so bright.

The next morning we ate at Fat Freddies and watched CNN. We learned that the Jazz lost the seventh and deciding game of the Western Conference title to Seattle. The stock market was at around 5600. Amazing that the world actually got along without us for these past three weeks!

We checked with the airline and found that the weather in Gambell was still poor. So we spent the morning birding. Ivan and I walked out to the point looking for a White Wagtail that was supposed to be there—no success. But we did find Arctic and Aleutian Terns, Glaucous and Mew Gulls, and Red-throated Loon. We had a van take our luggage to the airport—but still no clearing in the weather. More birding, this time around a nearby cemetery. There were actually some trees there and we found several singing Gray-cheeked Thrushes (a lifer for Ivan), Common Redpoll, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Long-tailed Jaeger, American Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow. Then we found a very light colored Redpoll—a Hoary Redpoll (a lifer for several of us). Back at the airport—still no clearing at Gambell. An employee took pity on us and drove us in a van back into the city for lunch and then to the point for more birding. We added to our Nome list Oldsquaw, Rock Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and Lapland Longspur. Tom shouted, "White Wagtail!" as a bird streaked by the huge rocks that make up the point. We didn’t get a good look and we couldn’t relocate it. Darn! By 6 pm, Smyth Air reported that the weather had cleared enough to try a landing at Gambell. So we boarded the plane and flew in a 2 propeller, 8 seater for about an hour to the island.

The weather had cleared and the sun was shining beautifully when we arrived. Mike Toochin, our Attour guide, met us at the plane. Joining him in the welcoming party were dozens of four-wheeled ATVs driven by Eskimos—all wanting to cart our luggage to our rooms for a price. There is a large lake right next to the gravel runway and Mike said, "I have good news and bad news. For the good news, take a look at that gull on the shore of the lake." Only a few dozen yards from us sat a Black-tailed Gull, a Code 5 bird rarely seen in North America and never in Alaska. What a way to start the trip! The bad news? "The front that cleared the fog for you guys to land also cleared out the Common Cuckoo, the Temminck’s Stint and perhaps some of the other good birds." He also told us that the ice pack had receded much earlier than usual this year sending the Ivory Gulls away several weeks ago. He thinks that some of the good birds we want to see are still here, however.

Gambell is an Eskimo whaling village consisting of a few hundred individuals living on a one mile by two mile gravel bar, a low lying peninsula at the northern end of St. Lawrence Island. It is the most difficult material to walk on you could imagine. For every step forward, you slide at least half a step back in the loose gravel. The inhabitants have given up walking on this stuff and gone to the ATV mode of transportation. As we carried our gear in from the airport, I saw what looked like a palm tree—palm tree?! On closer inspection, it turned out to be the 12 foot long jaw bone of a gigantic whale with some baleen hanging from the top like palm fronds. Mike told us the villagers had killed three whales just last month. All the meat had been divided up for the families and the bones were left near the coast to rot. The smell of rotting whale blubber hung over the village in spite of the stiff breeze. Each family had a drying rack for whale, seal and walrus meat so the aroma was quite interesting.

Much to our disappointment, we saw no igloos—everyone lives in standard square, one story houses built by the government. Our living quarters were in one of these houses—one that probably used to be blue but is now a very faded and peeled gray. It was warm but there was no running water. In the bathroom was a toilet seat on a bucket—affectionately called a "honey pot." The building was owned by the tribal council and the honey pot was emptied every day by Miller, a man who worked for the council. The village water supply came from a spring at the base of the big bluff which overlooks the village. We filtered our drinking water because the Eskimos traditionally bury their dead above ground on the slopes of the bluff. You can scan the steep bluff and see several caskets resting on the rocks. Must be great for the water supply.

We had a cook named Kat, an Attour employee for the summer. After a brief dinner, Mike led us on a march out to the famous Point. We passed the dump, a fenced in gravel area filled with blowing trash. Here we found a juvenile Slaty-backed Gull. From the Point, one could see thousands and thousands of seabirds flying past in long lines and short ones. We could pick out Horned and Tufted Puffins, Thick-billed and Common Murres, Common and Steller’s Eiders, Harlequin Duck, Black-legged Kittiwake, Least, Parakeet and Crested Auklets, Northern Fulmar, Glaucous and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Pacific Loon. Someone shouted, "Ross’s Gull!" I looked and caught a glimpse of a slightly pinkish gull flying away from us. Not a very good look. Back home at 11 pm. I slept on the floor upstairs. Hard floor. I found some extra blankets to soften it somewhat. There were 13 of us there: our six who had been on Attu plus 7 others who had signed up only for the Gambell part of the tour. One couple I had met earlier on a trip to the Dry Tortugas, Kathy and Jens Munthe, are moving from the east to Escalante, Utah, of all places.

On June 5th, we went out to the Point before breakfast. The fog made it difficult to see very far but we did see the nearby birds very well. A Pomarine Jaeger flew over very close to us but other than that we saw the same seabirds we had seen yesterday. After a hearty breakfast, Mike took us to the "boneyards." Years ago, the Eskimos buried their walrus and seal carcasses in pits around the village. When ivory became popular, later generations began digging up those carcasses to find the ivory to supply the tourist trade. The result of this digging is a landscape of large pits about 6 to 8 feet deep in several areas of the village. These pits provide birds shelter from the constant Gambell wind so the boneyards prove to be a fruitful if unusual place to bird. After searching around, a small sandpiper flew to the top of a clump of dirt next to a pit. The bird had an unusual, upcurved bill: a Terek Sandpiper. A few minutes later, we found a Common Sandpiper, Western and Baird’s Sandpiper, Rock Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler (we heard its call to distinguish it from Wandering Tattler), Yellow Wagtail, Snow Bunting, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Lapland Longspur and Common Redpoll. A Greater White-fronted Goose flew over. We walked to the base of the steep bluffs and found a colorful little Red-necked Stint displaying on the hillside.

About half a mile away from the village there are the beginnings of huge seabird colonies. There must be millions of seabirds living on these ocean facing bluffs that go on for miles and miles along the St. Lawrence coast. From our vantage point, we saw hundreds of Least, Crested and Parakeet Auklets. As we were watching these birds in the slopes above us, two Eskimo boys rode up in an ATV and began shooting the very birds we were watching! Nothing we could do. The Eskimos have "subsistence rights" meaning they can hunt at will as long as they use the animals they collect for food. We thought they were just shooting for fun but Mike said we could endanger the rights of birders to come here if we made a complaint.

At the Point later in the day, someone called "Arctic Loon," but Ivan and I could not get on it before it disappeared into the fog. It was bitter cold and the wind picked up. Just as we decided to walk back to the house, someone in our group saw another Arctic Loon. We saw the bird but not the identifying characteristics. Mike told us the best birding was early morning and late evening. So I decided to wait and scan. Another loon flew over. I got a good look at the characteristic line demarcating the rump from the underside—Arctic Loon! Mike confirmed it. A few seconds later, someone shouted, "Ross’s Gull!" Right in front of us a beautiful pink gull was struggling against the stiff wind. We got to see the striking back pattern, too. I’m glad we got to see it again since the view yesterday was none too satisfying. My big find of the day was a cot from one of the neighboring houses. From then on I didn’t have to sleep on the floor.

June 6th was cold, rainy and foggy. Nevertheless, we trudged around the village looking for White Wagtails which Mike said he heard and briefly saw fly through. We also tried to find the always reliable Red-throated Pipits. Gambell is THE place to find these birds in North America! Sure. We did find more Tattlers, the Common Sandpiper, and a few Pectoral Sandpipers. Back at the Point we got a great look at a Sabine’s Gull. We ran into a group of Japanese birders at the point. None of them spoke English and none of us spoke Japanese so all we could do was smile at each other. The fog has grounded all planes into and out of Gambell. And we are scheduled to leave tomorrow.

Eskimos frequently visit us in our quarters and try to sell us ivory carvings. I refuse to buy them out of principle. They are quite expensive, too. An ivory doll with dried walrus intestines for a dress stands 6" high and costs $150. Mike Toochin entertained us with his vivid account of birding for three months all over Australia. He does expensive remodeling jobs and can take off between jobs for fly fishing and long birding trips.

June 7th was to be our flight to Nome. But there are about 50 people waiting to get off the island—all of them ahead of us. WINGS has a large group here. We spent the morning looking for a reported Curlew Sandpiper and White Wagtail. No success. In the afternoon, a radio call came in from WINGS: White Wagtail in the grass near the runway. Ivan and I sprinted (I guess in gravel sprinting is not quite the word) over to search. We finally located it and got good looks. Along the shore nearby we found another Ross’s Gull and Sabine’s Gull. Ivan really wanted an Arctic Loon since this is the place to see them. So we carefully studied all the loons flying by. Finally, Ivan’s 600th North American life bird came in for a close look, an Arctic Loon.

The head Eskimo, Winney, visited us that afternoon. He was very articulate and educated. He told us a sad story of being carted off with 78 other Eskimos so the Army could do "cold weather" experiments on them in the 1950s. Turns out they were actually experimenting with radioactivity and most of the group has died of cancer already. He has joined with the survivors in a lawsuit against the government.

After lunch we were all napping when Jon Dunn’s WINGS group reported a Common Ringed Plover at the airport pond. We came to life, grabbed our gear and ran to the pond. Our hearts sank when we found Eskimo children playing in the pond and driving an ATV through it. I was sure the bird must have flown. But a group was huddled around a scope. They had the plover on the far shore of the tiny pond. Jon Dunn told us he had heard two passerines flying over a few minutes before. We swept the area but no birds turned up. We did see THREE Ross’s Gulls sitting on the water just offshore. How many people have ever been fortunate enough to see three of these gulls at once? Through the low hanging clouds, we could clearly make out the mountains for Siberia in the distance. We walked out to the far boneyards and found a nesting Red-necked Phalarope (the first nesting record for Gambell). We were saddened to see some boys shooting the bird as it sat on the nest. Our blood boiled but we could do nothing. Then the radio call came in: Olive-backed Pipit back near the airport pond. We scurried back and soon located this rare migrant. We got great looks at it before it flew off. Planes were taking off but we had to wait until the next day to proceed to our final stop: Nome. While we had seen many of the birds we had hoped to see, we also got a few surprises and a few mild disappointments. That’s birding!

To be continued.

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Hotline Summary

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

Names of Birds

Age/Sex

Date

Reported by:

Location

Chukar, Canyon Wren Adult 7 Apr Cheryl Peterson Rock Canyon
Osprey, Caspian Tern, Brewers Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe 14 Apr Cheryl Peterson Provo Airport Dike
Semipalmated Plover, Marbled Godwit Adult 20 Apr Darlene Amott Lincoln Beach
Lincoln’s Sparrow Adult 26 Apr Milton Moody Backyard feeder area
American Dipper (building nest) Adult 26 Apr Alan & Salina Keller 800 N.. 800 W. Provo
Casin’s Finch, Lazuli Bunting Both 29 Apr Junece Markhan Backyard feeder
Wilson’s Phalarope, Dowitchers 1 May Tuula Rose 4400 W. 5200 S., Lakeshore
Swainson’s Hawks (nesting pair) Both 1 May Tuula Rose North of Goshen
Ruffed Grouse, Yellow-breasted Chat 7 May Ned Hill Hobble Creek
Warbling Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, Virginia Warbler " " "
Semipalmated Plover 8 May Ned Hill Lincoln Beach
Violet-green Swallow, White-throated Swift 8 May Ned Hill Mouth of Rock Canyon
Long-eared Owl 8 May Judy Jordan West Mountain
Western Tanager, Western Wood-pewee, Hermit Thrush Adult 9 May Milton Moody Utah Lake, east shore walkway
Wilson’s Phalarope, Bonaparte’s Gull 10 May Alan & Salina Keller Springville-Provo Fields
Purple Martin 11 May Dennis Shirley South end of Provo Airp. Dike
Great Egret, Red-necked Phalarope, Say’s Phoebe 11 May Cheryl Peterson Chimney Rock (Cedar Fort)
Northern Mockingbird, Shrike, Rock Wren, Pinyon Jay " " "

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