Utah County Birders Newsletter
December 2018

    Monthly Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    Captain's Log
    Bird of the Month 
    Special Repprt 
    Field Trip Reports


Printable Version


December 13th, 2018, 7:00 PM at the Bean Museum on BYU Campus Map to Museum

Presentation and assignments for the Provo Christmas Bird Count by Bryan Shirley
     (see CBC schedule for details)


15 Dec 2018 - Provo Christmas Bird Count - (details)

26 Dec 2018 - Payson Christmas Bird count -  (details)


Utah County Birders Captain’s LogDecember 2018
by Keeli Marvel


Another year, another challenge drawing to a close. I hit gold status this last month with the addition of the Surf Scoter up at Rockport Reservoir. How's the challenge going for all of you? I hope everyone had fun! We'll have another challenge in 2020, so if anyone has any suggestions on what they would like to do for the next one - pass them my way!

We're about to launch into one of the busiest months of the year, and do you know what that means?! It's CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT TIME! Many of you are old hats at the Christmas Bird Count, but since we've had quite a few new folks joining our ranks, I'd like to give you a little history about the origins of the Christmas Bird Count and a description of what it has grown to become today.

In the late 1800s it was a tradition in some parts of the US to have a "side" hunt at Christmas where people chose sides, went out, and shot as many animals and birds as they could. The side who brought back the most animals won. Right around the turn of the century people were becoming more aware of the impact they were having on wildlife populations (the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was another result of this growing awareness), and so an early Audubon Society officer by the name of Frank Chapman proposed a census or count instead of the usual hunt as a way to reduce their impact on wildlife populations. And so, in the year 1900 the Christmas Bird Count was born!

The Christmas Bird Count is one of the oldest running citizen science programs in the world,and the data on bird populations that have been collected annually is used by the Audubon society and other organizations to assess the health of bird populations and inform conservation actions by helping track patterns and trends in the change of bird populations over the past 100 years.

Every year Christmas Bird Counts are held between December 14 and January 5 with count circles all over the US and the world. There are now over 2500 count circles around the world in the US, Canada, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, the Carribbean, and Central and South America. You can see a map of all the count circles here: https://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=fadfb421e95f4949bde20c29a38228bd

In any given year, there are up to 29 count circles held in Utah. The Utah County Birders currently hosts two counts, the Provo, and the Payson counts. According to the Audubon website, the Provo count was first conducted by 11 birders in 1974. That means we've officially been conducting the Provo count for over 40 years!

As far as logistics go - a count circle is 15 miles in diameter, and all birds counted within the count circle can be tallied between midnight and midnight the selected day of the count (which can be any day within the aforementioned window). Generally count circles are divided up into smaller chunks and assigned out to individuals or teams of birders who then count all the birds in their assigned area. At the end of the day the totals are turned into the leader of the count circle for tally. At the end of our Provo count we'll have a potluck and tally up the totals, and it's always a lot of fun to find out what species were seen and how many total species are reported and whether we beat previous years' totals. New and seasoned birders alike are welcomed to join on any of the counts. For information on the Provo and Payson bird counts, contact Bryan Shirley at bt_shirley@hotmail.com or join us at our monthly meeting on Dec 13th at 7pm at the Bean Museum in Provo for a pre-count orientation.

A list of all the bird counts in Utah that you can participate in can be found here: http://www.utahbirds.org/cbc/cbc.html, and counts are updated as we get the information on them.

For a more complete read on the history of the Christmas Bird Count, go here: https://www.audubon.org/conservation/history-christmas-bird-count

Happy birding, happy holidays, and hope to see you at a Christmas Bird Count!

Keeli Marvel




Sapsuckers    (sphyrapicus)

by Dennis Shirley

 Rather than pick one bird-of-the-month to spotlight, I decided to discuss a group of closely related species.  So close, in fact, that three of the four species which make up the group were one “ superspecies”  until 1985 when they were split into three.
Woodpeckers as a group are unique and popular among naturalists and birders.  Their structure and behavior set them apart from other birds.  Their zygodactal feet (meaning two toes forward and two backward), along with their stiff tail feathers, are both used when climbing the vertical sides of trees.  Their wood-pecking, chiseling  bill, and unique tongue for probing into drilled holes for insects and other things are specialized structures unique to woodpeckers.  Their bright coloration, drumming habits, and even a tougher-than-normal skin to protect against stinging insects often encountered in trees are interesting aspects that woodpeckers have.  
 One of the specialize woodpecker groups is the sapsuckers.  We are fortunate here in Utah to have all four of the world’s sapsuckers occurring in our state, although two are very rare.  Sapsuckers are the most migratory group of the woodpeckers.  Most woodpeckers have small home ranges and live their entire life and die in a small home range. 

There are four species of sapsuckers in the world of the genus Sphyrapicus: Yellow-bellied, Red-naped, Red-breasted, and Williamson’s.  The word Sphyrapicus is derived from Greek and means “hammer woodpecker.” Sapsuckers are a specialized woodpecker which like its name indicates, feeds primarily on sap which oozes from rows of drilled holes.  All four have similar habits, and are sexually dimorphic (meaning the males and females have somewhat different colorations).   Since the juveniles are also different than the adults, identification of the 12 appearances of these four birds can be tricky. 

Juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
by Cliff Miles   
©Cliff Miles
By far, our most common Utah sapsucker is the Red-napped.  Its name points out the red patch on the back of the head (nape) and is typically the most diagnostic characteristic for the adult male and female.  But be aware that sometimes this red patch is not very prominent and is even occasionally lacking.  Red-naped Sapsuckers and the Yellow-bellied Sucker are the closest look- alikes of the four.  Along  with the red nape ,another key character that separates these two is a more extensive red throat in the Red-naped which partly covers the black “frame” surrounding the throat.  The Yellow-bellied Sapscucker normally has an entire black frame separating the throat from the rest of the face. The back of the Red-naped has less white banding which is generally arranged in two areas separated by a black mid-line.
Red-naped Sapsucker -  (juveniles)
by John Crawley   
©John Crawley
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a rare fall and winter migrant and visitor to our state.  It, along with the Red-breasted and Red-naped, were prior to 1985 considered one species.  Many of the early Yellow-bellied Sapsucker records for our state were probably Red-naped.  To date, there have been approximately 20 vetted records for Utah.  Most of these have come from Washington County during the winter months.  There are currently three records being reviewed for this fall, all of which are juvenile.  The juvenile plumage is retained later in the fall and winter than the other sapsuckers which helps separate species.  The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the widest ranging of the four, occurring across Canada and the eastern United States.  It is also the most migratory of the four species, wintering in to Central America. 
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - (juveniles)
by Eric Peterson  
©Eric Peterson
The Red-breasted Sapsucker is also a rare winter visitor to our state.  It’s normal breeding range is From British Colombia to the Pacific States. There have been 14 vetted records, most occurring  in the last 15 years, which interestingly coincides with the increase in the number of birders in the state.  One problem that exists with this sapsucker and the other two mentioned above is the fact that their ranges often overlap and they are known to hybridize fairly commonly which complicates identification.  Many of the reported sightings since as early as 1931 have been recognized as hybrids.  Again, the records committee is currently reviewing three Red-breasted Sapsucker records from Washington County from November 2018.  The Utah records committee normally reviews two or three records per year for this species
Red-breasted Sapsucker
by Kendall Brown 
©Kendall Brown
The fourth Utah sapsucker is the Williamson’s Sapsucker.  It is noticeably different in coloration and distribution in the state.  The male is strikingly more black but still has the prominent white wing patch which all the sapsuckers have.  It is a fairly common summer breeder in the higher mountains of the state and is uncommonly found in the winter.  In Utah County, they are often found in American Fork Canyon, Sundance and Aspen Grove in Provo Canyon, along the Strawberry and Manti ridges, and the Nebo Loop. 


Like we do at our monthly meetings with the bird-of-the-month twenty questions, I thought in closing that I would throw in a few questions for you to ponder about sapsuckers.


Williamson's Sapsucker - (juvenile)
by John Crawley   
©John Crawley
Test Questions   [Not necessarily in the text above]

  1. Which sapsuckers have been recorded in Utah County?
  2. Which sapsucker(s) is the only one you would normally see in Costa Rica, Alaska, Utah?
  3. Which of the 8 sapsuckers (four male, four female) lacks a prominent wing patch?
  4. Which sapsucker was found in the Payson cemetery July 1, 2018?
  5. Which of the four species (male) has a red throat?
  6. You find a juvenile sapsucker on the Provo Christmas Bird Count.  Which species will it most likely be?
  7. Which sapsucker is the least migratory?
  8. Which sapsucker migrates the farthest?
  9. Which Utah sapsucker is found at the highest mountain elevations?
10. Which two continents do not have woodpeckers?



Special Report

Records Committee Report: A New Species for Utah


On September 19th Nikki Emanuel discovered a Blue-footed Booby at Warm Creek Bay, an out-of-the-way corner of Lake Powell in Kane County.  She got some great photos of this bird and sent them into the Records Committee along with a sighting report which was  unanimously accepted, making the Blue-footed Booby the 464th species.on Utah's bird checklist.

A second possible first-state record for a Hutton's Vireo is presently under consideration.  This record has been sent to a second round after a blind vote in the first round of four to accept, four not to accept and one with a concern that it isn't a naturally occurring bird. 
     Concerns as to whether it is properly identified and also that this species is not know to migrate much -- and this bird is far from the nearest known sighting for this species, are now being considered in the second round.  A vote of 6 of 9 is decisive in for the second round.  (The first round must be unanimous and the final third round must only be a majority).  We'll soon see how it comes out!


Field Trip Reports


Washington County Fall Field Trip

2nd and 3rd of November.2018

by Suzi Holt

On Friday morning November 2, 2018 thirteen birders set out at 6:30 am. It was still dark as we rode out towards Lytle Ranch Rd. Our first stop was at Welcome Springs it was dusk and so we headed up the wash. We saw two Long Eared Owls! What a way to start the day! We also saw Dark-eyed Junco, a Pinyon Jay, and a Red-naped Sapsucker. From there we made our way to Lytle Ranch. On the way we saw Cactus Wren, Rock Wren, Mountain Bluebird, House Finch and some White-crowned Sparrows. At the Ranch we were greeted by Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Robins, House Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and Pine Siskin.

Cactus Wren

Up with the sun to see some southern-Utah birds.

We then headed straight for the Orchard to find some woodpeckers. I learned a valuable lesson from Dennis and Merrill that morning to just stop and listen! As we listened...in a couple minutes I could hear drumming and we located a Sapsucker. Everyone got a great look and then it flew into the Mulberry Tree and was working it's way up into the thick branches near the top. Dennis and Merrill gave reasons to why it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsuker vs Red-naped Sapsucker.
              [Link to the Sight Record submitted to the Records Committee]

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


Black Phoebe

 What a great find! We went on to find Phainopepla, a cooperative Black Phoebe, Spotted Towhee, White-crowned Sparrows, more Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Western Bluebirds, Ring-necked Pheasant, Bewick's Wren, Ravens, Golden Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Gambel's Quail, Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Wren, European Starling, Dark-eyed Junco, American Kestral and while eating our lunch and changing Kaylene's flat tire we saw Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Dennis Shirley taking advantage of a Mistletoe in the tree to smooch with a a random birder...
Oh, hold it!  It's his wife!  I think we're okay on that (...a hint of a scandal to heighten the drama)

Dennis, after his brief encounter with a potential legal problem -- cameras are everywhere these days!

We stopped at a wash on the way out to look for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and didn't have any luck, so we followed Dennis to another spot on the Beaver Dam Slope. Here we immediately found it as it jumped from bush to bush. We also saw a couple more Cactus Wrens, Rock Wrens, White-crowned Sparrows, House Finch, and a Loggerhead Shrike! What a great morning!!!

Black-tailed Gnatchatcher

Ivin's Reservoir


On the way back we stopped at Ivin's Reservoir and saw Belted Kingfisher, American Coots, Canada Geese, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Mallards, Say's Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Pied -billed Grebe, Eared Grebe and a Great Blue Heron.


Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We then stopped by a feeder in Kayenta. We saw Anna's Hummingbird, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Abert's Towhee, Gambel's Quail, Lesser Goldfinch, Mourning Dove and Northern Flicker.

Anna's Hummingbird

Snow Canyon...birders looking at the Crissal Thrasher

We went to Snow Canyon in search of Crissal Thrasher and found one in the campground, we also saw Anna's Hummingbird, Woodhouse's Scrub Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gambel's Quail, Bewick's Wren, Rock Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Crissal Thrasher
 (this photo was taken in the afternoon)

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

Gambel's Quail

A few of us decided to go by Tonaquint Nature Park. We found the Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Herons, Wood Duck, American Coot, Mallards, Anna's Hummingbird, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Abert's Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, and a Marsh Wren. A few continued and went to Boot's Cox Park for the Vermillion Flycatcher. What a great first day!!!

Green Heron

Black-crowned Hight-Heron

Wood Duck

(Day Two)
On Saturday morning November 3, 2018 we met at Walmart at 8:30 am. From there we went to Hurricane to look for the Inca and White-winged Doves. We found 27 White-winged doves but it was really windy so I think the little Incas were still hiding out. We saw Wild Turkey's, Eurasian Collared Doves, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Norther Flicker. We also met one of the neighbors who is a falconer. He brought our a beautiful juvenile Harris's Hawk for us. And we had a good visit with him, noting he had just had a Spotted Owl in his yard a week ago. Wow!

White-winged Dove

juvenile Harris's Hawk

We then headed to Dalton Wash to track down a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. It took a lot of patience but Dennis finally located two! We also saw Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, Ravens, White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos there. We made a stop again for the Inca doves, still windy and no luck.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Rock Wren

 Then went in search of a Roadrunner. First stop was Confluence Park, still windy and we only saw White-crowned Sparrow, Robin, Ravens and our highlight a Verdin!


With the wind we decided to break up and a few of us went through Hurricane Fields we saw Brewer's Blackbirds and a couple Red-tailed Hawks. We stopped by Sand Hollow and saw a Golden Eagle, more Red-tailed Hawks, a million American Coots, some Ruddy ducks and Eared grebes, Bufflehead and a lone Tundra Swan.

Tundra Swan

We thought we were finished but stopped at the Hurricane Water Treatment pond not much but a few DC Cormorants. Then dropped off our last two birders back in St George. Mom, Amanda and I stopped to see the Vermillion Flycatchers at Boots/Cox Park and then stopped again at the Hurricane Water Treatment plant after a tip from Dennis to see a lone Snow Goose with the Canada Geese, lots of Northern Shovelers, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, Red-tailed Hawk and DC Cormorants.

male Vermillion Flycatcher

female Vermillion Flycatcher

On the way home from dinner we finished out the day with a Great Horned Owl by the Hurricane Water Treatment Plant. Thanks to everyone who joined us it was a great trip!!! Our final total species was 72!!! Not to bad for a Fall trip!