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UTAH COUNTY BIRDERS
Newsletter
September 1997


Contents


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

Fall birding can be a nightmare for me. I know the birds are migrating south, but since I frequently either can’t find them, or I can’t identify them, I get frustrated. The fall challenge is twofold. First, where are the birds? I can’t hear them and I can’t see them, so are they there?

Then, when I finally do get my binoculars on a bird, I often get the feeling that I have discovered a new species. Nothing looks familiar. Is it an adult or a juvenile? Male or female? When I encounter a bird in worn, nearly unidentifiable plumage, I generally go through three phases. The first is the excitement of discovering an exotic new species, like the Unspotted Sandpiper.

The second phase is the frustration of not knowing what I am looking at. An odd bird may be a truly unusual species, or just an unusual individual of a common species. Or it may even be an unusual individual of an unusual species. And, often, it is close to impossible to tell what it is.

The third is the satisfaction of solving a complex puzzle. With the help of observation, field guides, and other birders I am often able to figure out what I have seen. And, once in a while it is an unusual bird.

Each season presents a different challenge and reward to birders. Fall can be a frustrating time to bird, but it can also be a very rewarding time. It is a chance to get acquainted with some familiar birds that don’t look so familiar. That is what fall birding is for me: a challenge to learn more about the birds that seemed so familiar in the spring.

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September Meeting
by Dennis Shirley

The September meeting of the Utah County Birders will feature Jim Parrish, of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Jim is the coordinator of Partners in Flight at the UDWR. The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 18. It will be held at BYU’s Bean Museum


"Birds of Utah County"
New Revision Available at September meeting

Robin Tuck’s latest revision of "Birds of Utah County" will be available at the September meeting. It has been expanded to include all the sportsman accesses to Utah Lake and several more of the hot birding spots. All place descriptions now include longitude and latitude, so that those with GPS's can find their way to Robin’s exact spot. The booklet’s spiral binding will let it fold flat, making it easier to use. Be sure to get yours!


Future Programs

October 16: Jay Banta, Manager of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge
November 20: Don Paul, UDWR, "Birds of the Great Salt Lake"
December: Merrill Webb, Christmas Bird Count

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

 

This month's article, "I Like Birds," is found in the Robin's View section of this web site.

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Monterey Bay Pelagic Trip, October 1-5
by Ned C. Hill ([email protected])

One of the best places to bird on the west coast is the northern California area. We will take a 4 day trip there starting October 1. Many have already made reservations on the Delta flight leaving at 6:30 pm (Salt Lake to San Jose).

October 2nd we will join Mark Bromley, a very experienced birder from Salt Lake who has chartered a boat out into Monterey Bay for his Waterford School students. He has plenty of room.

During our 8-hour cruise, we hope to see Pigeon Guillemot, Northern Fulmar, Pelagic and Brandt's Cormorants, Elegant Tern, Western, Heereman's and possibly Sabine's Gulls, Common Murre, Marbled Murrelet, Sooty, Pink-footed, Short-tailed and Manx Shearwaters, Rhinoserous and Cassin's Auklet, Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Ashy and Black Storm-Petrels, Surf, White-winged and Black Scoter. Who know what else?

A few years ago in October, Ivan Call and I saw a Wedge-tailed Shearwater. We may also see Flesh-footed Shearwater, a Black-footed Albatross, Xantus' Murrelet or a rare Storm-petrel.

When we return we will bird around Monterey Bay and spend the night in Monterey. Then we will move north, stopping at several spots on the way like Ano Nuevo. We will visit Pt. Reyes for a day and stay in Petaluma. On the way back to San Jose, we will check out the Palo Alto Baylands where many shorebirds, ducks and waders will be coming in for the winter.

We will return on October 5th on the 4:40 Delta flight from San Jose to Salt Lake. We hope you can join us. Call Ned Hill for details: 375-2417 (H), 378-2407 (O).

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Close But Not Close Enough
An Attu Adventure, Part 1: 1995
by Ned C. Hill ([email protected])

This is the first of a series of articles giving the account of North America’s ultimate birding adventure: a trip to Attu Island, Alaska. Most of us will probably never get to this distant outpost, especially since the Coast Guard station is being closed and, hence, the airport by which birders arrive on the island will disappear. Nevertheless, I invite you to share in this wonderful adventure vicariously.

I probably first heard about Attu ten years ago when reading Chuck Bernstein’s book, The Joy of Birding. His brief account intrigued me with the unusual birds he reported there. A few years later I also read Steve Perry’s entertaining story recorded in Loonatic Journals. During his "big year," he had an unusually rewarding trip to Attu. Then, while birding at High Island, Texas, I ran into a retired couple who had actually visited Attu. They couldn’t say enough about the great experience they had and told me it would only be open for a few more years before the base was closed. "It was the greatest adventure of our lives," they said. That was probably in 1992 or so. I resolved in my mind that some day, I would visit Attu. I dreamed about it, talked to all my birding friends about it, made lists of the birds I could find there, and mentally traveled there on many occasions while daydreaming. But with a busy family and demanding university job, I didn’t think it would ever be a reality.

Fortunately, I have the world’s most understanding wife and family. Claralyn sensed my near-Zionistic yearning and that my birding life would not be complete without a trip to Attu. My children encouraged me, "Go for it, Dad!" So after promises of heroic paybacks (such as "I’ll clean the garage from now until doomsday!"), we all agreed I could go. My dear friend and frequent birding companion, Ivan Call (also a professor in Business Management at BYU), shared my Attuvian dreams and he decided to go also. This would be some challenge for him since he had a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery in the summer of 1994. In the fall of 1994 we reserved spots on the Spring, 1995, trip. We were almost too late. They have room for only about 80 people, and spaces are claimed sometimes years in advance. Most Attu birders have planned for an Attu trip over the course of many years.

About the only way to get to Attu is to go with Attour, Inc., a Chicago-based organization run by Larry Balch, a math teacher and former president of the American Birding Association. He started going there about 15 years ago when commercial airplanes made regular stops. On the first trip, he and his friends found an unusually high number of rare birds and thought other birders would like to share the experience. Gradually Larry became the only tour leader taking people to Attu. Over the years, he and his staff have turned some mighty shabby World War II barracks into warm, livable quarters for visiting birders. But, we’ll return to that later.

After training for several months on bicycles to strengthen our heart and leg muscles, Ivan and I assembled the suggested list of supplies, studied all we could about Alaskan birds, bade our families farewell and flew off to Anchorage. We arrived in mid-May for a one-day, pre-Attu birding tour of the Anchorage area. Unfortunately, our checked luggage stayed in Seattle and promises were made for its speedy arrival on the next flight.

Neither of us had been to Alaska before, so we were anxious to see what we could find. On the mudflats we soon found Hudsonian Godwits, Red-necked Grebes, Greater Scaup and many shorebirds. South of the city in Potter’s Marsh we found nesting Arctic Terns (just four feet away), many nesting Mew Gulls, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Pacific Loons and Rusty Blackbirds. We next hiked up a valley in Chugach State Park, where there was still snow on the ground. Nesting Golden Crowned Sparrows sang from the willows. We soon found our main target bird—a Willow Ptarmigan changing into summer plumage, perched on a distant bush. This was the first ptarmigan I had ever seen. At another park, our leaders had us spread into a line to hike through a spruce forest. Moss and emerging ferns covered the moist forest floor. I suddenly saw people ahead motioning me to stop walking. I looked up and soon found why: I had almost run into a Spruce Grouse perching on a low limb right in front of me. This is a very secretive bird that is often heard but seldom seen. We also saw Three-toed Woodpecker, Common Redpoll, Boreal Chickadee and several colorful Townsend’s Warblers—not to mention a very large moose nibbling someone’s front yard shrubs. Our leaders had arranged for us to visit two nesting boxes hidden in the forest. Researchers had only a few years past located Boreal Owls in the Anchorage area. They did this by putting up nesting boxes about 25 feet up in conifers. They discovered Boreal Owls began using them. These little owls are extremely difficult to find otherwise. A quiet scratch on the tree caused a Boreal Owl to stick its head out to investigate. What a thrill to see this rarest of all North American owls. A few miles away, another nest box housed a Northern Saw-Whet Owl who also responded to rubbing the tree. Driving on to the Elmendorf AF,B we found nesting Bohemian Waxwings and saw Common Snipe proclaiming their territories from the tops of trees.

On that first day, we learned one very nice feature of Attour: they employ excellent leaders. People like Buzz Sherr, David Sonneborn (a cardiologist), and Steve Heinl made sure everyone got good looks at all birds discovered. They seemed to have infinite patience and extensive knowledge of Alaskan birds. When we returned to the motel, we found our errant luggage had finally arrived. Much relieved, we enjoyed a dinner with all of the people going to Attu in the morning. Larry showed us slides of previous trips and again fired our imaginations. As we tried to sleep that night, our minds raced with the thoughts of what we might see tomorrow in Attu!

Up at 4:00 am, we finalized packing, sorting out items to take to Attu and others to be saved for the follow-on trip to Gambell and Nome where it is much colder. At 5:00 we all had breakfast together and were shuttled over to the airport a few blocks away. Reeve Aleutian Airways is the main airline of the Aleutians. We boarded an 80-seat, 4-engine Electra from the 1960’s. This old reliable workhorse has been taking people all over the islands in all kinds of weather for nearly four decades. With great anticipation we flew for four hours to Adak Island, a military base, for refueling. Then on to Shemeya Island where the plane was required by law to make a close approach to demonstrate a second landing possibility. The ceiling was low but we could see the landing strip. Then on to Attu! As our anticipation mounted, the cloud cover did, too. We seemed to be flying in endless clouds. The pilot told us we were over Attu but he couldn’t raise the radio operator at the Coast Guard Station. Since there are 4,000 ft. mountains all over the island and a 1200 ft. Loran antenna, the pilot was not about to get very low without visual sighting of landmarks. We circled and circled and finally heard the dismal news: we’re going back to Adak. There they informed us the weather had worsened and Attu would not be a possibility for today. Larry scurried about on phones trying to find a place to put up 80 people on short notice. He finally arranged to fly us all to Cold Bay, at the end of the peninsula and the start of the Aleutian chain. Disheartened, a solemn group of birders endured a three-hour flight in silence as we put our dreams on hold. Surely, we’ll try again tomorrow!

Cold Bay (population about 30) has the longest landing strip in Alaska. It is an emergency landing site for the space shuttle. The "motel" at Cold Bay was more like a barracks with four to a room in bunk beds. The only restaurant in town serves hamburgers for $10—they’re called monopoly burgers. Our leaders took us on a walk down to the pier. On the way, we got to know the two most common birds in the Aleutians: the Lapland Longspur, whose tinkling flight song would become the hallmark of our memories, and the Rock Sandpiper, which we always tried to make into some very rare shorebird. At the pier, we found dozens of Pigeon Guillemots. By patiently waiting and watching passing birds, we soon found Tufted Puffins and then someone cried, "Horned Puffins!" Sure enough, three puffins with white bellies flew by. We also found Common Eider in a small raft on the water. Standing on the pier required some persistence since the temperature was about 35 degrees with a stiff breeze. Luckily we had brought many layers of clothes so we could stand it.

A trip to the "point" also provided excellent birding. It is in the Isembek National Wildlife Refuge, the single largest breeding ground for Brant in the world. As we watched thousands of Brant flying by in long strings, we heard someone shout, "Emperor Goose!" At the end of the line was a very different colored goose that was certainly an Emperor. At the point we also found Aleutian Tern, more Common Eiders, a very distant female King Eider and several kinds of Scoters.

The next morning we packed and carried our luggage over to the airport, but were sorely disappointed to see Larry’s glum face as he reported the weather on Attu had turned into near hurricane force winds. We would have to stay in Cold Bay at least another day.

After many trips to the pier and the point, we gradually exhausted birding possibilities in this treeless area and we were ready to move on. Another weather delay. Then another. Our dreams were gradually melting away. On the fourth day of delay, Ivan and I along with four others, bought tickets to leave for Dutch Harbor in the morning. We called over to a charter boat service and arranged for a boat to take us out to the Baby Islands. We also arranged a charter plane back to Cold Bay. Why the Baby Islands? This is where one of the rarest of all nesting birds in North America can be found—with luck. It is the Whiskered Auklet. Unalaska Island is the most inhabited island in the Aleutians (about 5,000). It boasts one of the best fishing industries in the world. We had lunch at an elegant new hotel—very uncharacteristic for the Aleutians. On a gas station sign we saw a perched Bald Eagle! There were many around the town. In the bay next to the hotel we found a female Stellar’s Eider, numerous Harlequin Ducks, Greater Scaup, and Glaucous Gulls. On the boat ride out to the Baby Islands we found numerous Marbled Murrelets. In one area we encountered thousands of Tufted Puffins gorging themselves so they could not fly. A few Cassin’s Auklets and Common Murres flew by. Approaching our destination, the sea became so rough that even the captain turned a little green. We finally saw what few birders ever see—about 20 Whiskered Auklets. The captain maneuvered the boat as best he could so we could get good looks at the fleeing and diving Auklets. We saw some just off the side of the boat. What a thrill to see these unusual little seabirds! We only wished the rough ride back were not so long. The fog had come in and we wondered if we could get back to Cold Bay. Wouldn’t that be ironic—us stranded in Dutch Harbor by the fog and the group leaving for Attu without us! But the pilot took off with no problems and we had an unusually beautiful evening flight back to Cold Bay. Our feelings of victory were soon crushed when we saw the glum faces on those who had remained in Cold Bay. Our room mate told us the bad news, Attu was off for this year. Oh, no! All those dreams. How can it be off? The airline could no longer provide us with a plane. The collapse of another Aleutian airline that month had required Reeve to take up the slack. It could not longer hold out for better weather that might not come. We went to bed that night very disappointed indeed, wondering what to do next. Fortunately, when given lemons, the best thing to do is to make lemonade.

To be continued.

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Membership in the Utah County Birders is open to any interested person. Dues are $12 per year, although no one will be excluded if unable or unwilling to participate. Send dues to Beula Hinckley, 2067 N. 420 E., Provo, UT 84604

Executive Committee

President Matt DeVries ([email protected]) 226-0958
Past-President Robin Tuck ([email protected]) 377-8084
President-Elect Merrill Webb 224-6113
Secretary-Treasurer Beula Hinckley ([email protected]) 377-3443
Programs Dennis Shirley 423-1108
Field Trips Ned Hill ([email protected]) 375-2417
Membership Barbara Whipple ([email protected]) 226-3931
Newsletter Weldon Whipple ([email protected]) 226-3931

Telephone Hotline: 375-2487, 377-8084
E-mail: [email protected]
Submit news items to [email protected]

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