Utah County Birders Newsletter
September 2001


Wednesday, September 26.

Australia Field Trip Report

Meet at 7:00 PM 
in the Bean Museum Auditorium
on the BYU Campus Provo, Utah


September 29th--1/2 day 7:00 A.M. Provo Temple west parking lot Destination:
   The Tintics Quest: Fall migrants

October 20th--Full day 6:00 A.M. Provo Temple west parking lot Destination: 
   Green River Area Target: More Fall migrants Bring a lunch and whatever you might need weather wise

We've Had Our Wings Clipped
by Dennis Shirley

I'm not sure where you were on Tuesday morning, September 11, but I had gotten up early and left the house at 5:30 a.m.. I had spent the morning hiking in a remote area of eastern Utah County and had no communication with the outside world until mid afternoon. Later, as I turned on my truck's radio to get a local weather report, I was appalled to hear that the U.S. was under some kind of attack. I quickly went home and simultaneously turned on the television and hit the couch to see what was happening. I stayed glued to the t.v. until almost midnight, not believing what had happened. I'm sure each of us dealt with this catastrophe in our own way, but it was a real blow to me. Having served a career in public law enforcement, it was especially disturbing to me personally how anyone could carry out such a callous and hateful act on innocent people.

For over a week since this happened, I don't believe I have put my binoculars to my eyes once to look at birds. It truly took the wind from under my wings and took the fun right out of birding. I didn't look at the e-mail reports, answered no phone calls, and lost interest in those things, such as birding, that normally bring me such pleasure. I would have felt guilty taking any pleasure out of life when so many people were suffering tremendous sorrow. It was a hard week!

Last night I read the e-mail reports and have started to come back to some semblance of normalcy. But, just like the lifestyle of our country, things aren't quite the same, and I'm not sure they ever will be.

Hopefully, we all can get back to taking pleasure out of the simple things of life. Hearing a hermit thrust call first thing in the morning; watching a hen ruffed grouse guarding her half-grown brood; and recording the last-leaving western kingbirds of the summer may bring comfort to a troubled heart.

Robin's View

It's a Lifer!
by Robin Tuck

Our allotted time was gone; in fact we were a little late, so we hurried to our car and joined the others, making a procession as we bumped and jostled down the dirt road. Our low speed and the large potholes made the car lurch and sway, tossing us around until we reached the pavement; but even then we could not speed up. River Lane is narrow and abounds with blind corners and curves, but it wasn't the corners that kept us going slow, it was the birds on the wire, the birds in the irrigated fields, and the hawk on the distant tree.

The hawk on the distant tree became the focus of our attention as others in the procession stopped to make a positive ID. Over the radio it came, "It's a Kestrel." "No," all of us in our car agreed, it's too large for that. Then a more definitive answer came in "We put a scope on it, it's a Merlin!" The whole procession came to an abrupt halt, doors flew open and out poured every birder. This was not the season for Merlins, they shouldn't be here. Additional scopes were set up and people lined up for a quick look.

Then first one birder said it, then another. Before I wandered away from the scope nearby, five exultant birders proclaimed "It's a lifer for me." Awe, joy and wonderment lit their faces. It didn't matter how late we were, the next meeting could wait. It was a LIFER.

Suddenly, the whole trip was worth it, the conference was worth it, and the club was worth it. I was recharged by their enthusiasm, I had received the pay-back that made my small part in the club worth it and I was ready for future assignments.

I like birding most when it is shared. I am excited when others see and identify a new bird. Smiles are catching and happiness infectious. It was a lifer!

A Roadrunner Called Tommy

by Reed Stone

In 1964 I moved my family to the Mojave Desert just outside of Barstow California. We had built a house in a sparsely settled area outside the city limits. As our trees matured, a garden growing and a decorative pond, it really attracted wild life. I had noticed a roadrunner from time to time and decided I would try to attract it to me.
   We had a refrigerator in the garage with easy access from the back yard. I stocked it with some marble sized balls of hamburger. One day when the roadrunner appeared I quickly got some "burger" balls and flipped one toward the roadrunner. It caught his attention and was far enough from me he decided to examine it. Cocking his head curiously he pecked at it and upon finding it "safe", picked it up and ate it. I flipped more "burger " balls and he readily picked them up and ate them.
   As time went on he became a regular visitor. Gradually I reduced the distance that I would cast the meat until, at last, he would eat from my hand. Our relationship grew over time. He acquired a mate and built a nest in one of our trees. I taped a mirror to a long pole and while Tommy (my wife named him) was away from the nest I was able to see five eggs. The coarse twig nest was about 10' above ground. I closely observed the activity around the nest as well as the general life of the adults. They would regularly bring in insects, worms, grasshoppers, beetles, and other small food when the chicks were small. As they grew the size of the food would also increase in size.
   I found that they are omnivorous, preferring flesh in the form of small birds, rodents, snakes and lizards. They would eat pomegranate fruit, insects worms and beetles. All the food was always swallowed head first and eaten whole as they have no means of tearing it apart. If it was a bird they would hold it either by the primary wing feathers or the tail feathers then give it a flick and yank the feathers out. They would start with the longer feathers then the smaller ones. The body feathers did not seem to be a big problem. They would remove some of them and swallow it whole, head first of course. If it was a worm or a rodent it would be firmly held in the beak and then soundly whacked on a rock till it was ready to swallow.
   My relationship with Tommy progressed to a point that he would hop upon the window sill of our enclosed patio and tap on the window with his beak to get our attention. I would usually go out and give him a burger ball. Other times when I was away Tommy would fly into the screen door for attention. I am aware that he was more interested in a burger ball than he was with me, however, he would follow me around the yard like a puppy dog and respond to my talking to him. It even progressed to the point that I could call him much as one would call a dog and he would appear with a hungry look in his eye.
   It was Christmas time and our oldest son was visiting with his family. Their two pre-teen aged daughters had never seen a roadrunner. I told them I might be able to call one in. It was a frosty morning. I looked around in the brushy surroundings and at last I saw what looked like Tommy. I had some meat balls in my hand. The girls were at the window, inside, as Tommy was shy of "strangers". I called out Tommy, "come on Tommy", I got his attention. He was not inclined to come as he was sunning himself. I tossed a burger ball up and caught it a few times while I continued calling. He was about a block away, he turned and came running and sailing across the washes till he arrived on my driveway. I crouched down and now quietly called him in till he took several burger balls from my hand. It positively enchanted every one.
   In the spring when the June bugs arrived they would come to the light over my garage door, during the night, and eventually fall exhausted on the driveway where I would find them in the cool mornings. I would sweep them up and put them into a large jar. When Tommy arrived I would take a live beetle, about 5/8" long and 3/8" inches in diameter, in my hand and toss it to Tommy. After he had eaten a few I noticed he would latch on to the nape of the neck, give it a crunch, and swallow it. Eighteen were his limit in one sitting. As my garden matured and the tomato vines were large enough the tomato worms appeared. Tommy would patrol the garden. When he saw a tomato worm or a grasshopper he would pounce upon it, grab it by the nape of the neck, tenderize it on a convenient rock, and swallow it. This would go on for the full season. With Tommy I had no worries about tomato worms or grasshoppers.
   When the eggs hatched I observed the feeding. When they left the nest they would negotiate the branches by walking and balance by flapping with their wings. They would follow their parents around the yard, peck at things and beg by opening their beak and flap their wings. I could always tell when the eggs had hatched. Before the hatching the parents would immediately swallow the meat balls. When the eggs hatched, instead of eating them, they would hold the balls in their beak and take them to the young. When road runners go to roost for the night, they would never fly up into the tree. They jump with an assisting flap of their wings to a low branch, then they would continue by the same method, branch to branch, till they arrived to a location that suited them, usually 20' to 30' up in the tree. When they left the tree in the morning they would open their wings, give a little hop, and sail down to the ground.
   Road runners are well designed to deal with the elements. Earlier I mentioned Tommy sunning himself. Roadrunners have a solar heating panel on their back. It is a large black patch. When it is cold, and they need to warm up, they turn their back to the sun, lift their feathers open, and let the sun shine in. Their long tail is a good rudder in high speed turns when parsing prey. It is also used as a detractor to the prey while stalking. They wag their tail back and forth keeping the attention of the victim while training their sights on their next meal.
   Another adaptation, or technique, is, they "shift into four wheel drive" when conditions call for lightning starts or tight high speed turns. For example, one day I was leaving for work and saw what I thought was a small dust devil. It seemed somewhat unusual so I stopped to observe what was happening. When the dust began to settle I could see it was Tommy. I could see he had something in his beak and it appeared to be a lizard. Lizards are capable of making swift tight turns. Without the assistance of their wings a roadrunner would be unable to make the tight turns it takes to catch one.
   Now back to the rearing of the young. I would try to feed the young as I would feed the adults, without success. I would toss them a burger ball and they would not touch it. Then the adults would come in and pick the morsel up and offer it to the young which readily accepted and swallow it. What a great protection for the young. When the young had matured enough to make it on their own the adults would fiercely attack them and drive them off. Then one of the adults would leave. Only one would remain in the vicinity of our yard until the next spring. When the love bug strikes. At that time he would sit on top of our evaporator cooler and start cooing, much like a mourning dove. With in a day or two a mate would appear. Roadrunners are solitary except for the times of mating and rearing their offspring. The Roadrunner is indeed my most interesting bird. Reed