Utah County Birders Newsletter


         March 2021 

    Monthly Meeting
Upcoming Field Trips
    President's Message
    Bird of the Month 
    Special Articles 
    Field Trip Reports


Wednesday, March 24th 7pm via Zoom. Tracy Aviary together with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources implement the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in Utah every year with help from biologists and birder volunteers across the state. Join us as we learn about the BBS, the routes that are surveyed in Utah, and how you could potentially get involved.

Note from the board: Our sincere apologies for the issues we had with the meeting last month. Thanks to Machelle for working through those issues quickly and getting our meeting back on track, and thank you to all those that stuck around with us for the great presentation that followed! We want to assure everyone that we are taking steps to avoid having that happen in the future.



Do you have the "luck of the Irish?"

Do one or do all for a entry into our drawing.

1- Pick your field of clover
 (aka favorite spot) find 4 species in one bird family.
2- Count as many species as you can in "17" minutes.
3- Find the most "lucky" RARE BIRD.
4- Find a 3 leaf
 of any 3 species with green in their plumage.

Let's have some fun, get out of the house and press our luck!

Submit your findings on our Utah County Birders Facebook page or send a email to nospam@suziholt.com. by the end of the day on March 17th.  We will have a drawing and draw 3 lucky winners. The more categories you enter the more luck you have to win!
Stay posted to find out the lucky winners at our drawing out of a lucky hat on March 18th at 10:00 am. We will post on Facebook and on the email. Feel free to post pictures!!




President's Message - March 2021

            by Machelle Johnson


I don't have any travel stories to regale you with.  No exciting backyard birds.  No crazy-quick trip to chase something rare.  Just my own musings, quite boring really.  I was reading past newsletter articles, which are awesome!, and realized that past presidents of our club had fantastic article titles:
Robin Tuck:  Robin's View
Dennis Shirley:  Dennis' Droppings
Reed Stone:  Reed's Ramblings
Alton Thygerson:  Feather Talk
Merrill Webb:  Merrill's Musings
Ned Hill:  Ned's Notes
Keeli Marvel:  Captain's Log
They wrote about all sorts of things relating to birds and birding.  Lots of birding, lots of traveling, lots of knowledge.  Very enjoyable to read! 
We don't have a formal challenge this year, but I'm trying to get out every weekend for now.  As the days get longer I like to leave early for work and stop at places along my way, like East Bay or Provo Cemetery, or zip down to ULSP on my way home from work.  Soon spring migration will be here and we'll have all sorts of birding to do.  A couple of weekends ago I drove out to Eureka and the west side of the lake looking for a Ferruginous Hawk, and found one on the same pole that I saw one on last year at this time.  A couple weeks before that I saw 3 different owls in their favorite roosts in a cemetery.  I like knowing that there are some special places to go see those harder to find birds, and that I have a good chance of seeing them at any given time.  Most of the time though, you have to be in the right place at the right time!  

Carolina Wren by Kendall Brown

Rock Wren by Jim Bruce

Eastern Phoebe by Paul Higgins

Last month I wrote a bit about GISS, general impression of size and shape.  My favorite reference book is Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion.  In the chapter called 'A Guide to the Guide' he first tells us "Don't keep and open mind" but then throughout the book gives us information on why we could see a bird from the East coast in our backyard in Utah.  'Don't keep an open mind' encourages us to narrow down to what we are likely to see in our area. We want to be able to narrow down to Wren versus Flycatcher for example.  GISS helps us with that.  From there we narrow down to Wrens we are likely to see in our area.  Then the details of field marks, plumage, habitat, and actions come more into play.  He calls this 'Identification Right Think'  Dunne says "Birds are creatures of habit and habitats. For example, you would expect to find a Carolina Wren in a suburban, coastal community in New Jersey.  You would not expect a Rock Wren, a bird common to arid, rocky slopes'.  He gives all birds a VI number.  VI stands for Vagrancy Index which relates to the known vagrancy tendencies of a species or the possibility that it may turn up where it doesn't belong.  The VI number for a Carolina Wren is 1-2:  Some slight tendency to wander, but such occurrences are regional, extending not far beyond the established borders of the species' range.  The Rock Wren's number is 2:  The species shows some modest pattern of vagrancy.  It is possible to encounter it outside it's normal range, but still not likely, and you should consider other, more likely possibilities first. 

I tend to be very 'narrow minded' with birding.  It doesn't occur to me that I might see an Eastern Phoebe in Lehi, Utah, like the one that was seen there last year.  I would have a hard time identifying that bird.  I could narrow it down to flycatcher, but would have a hard time getting to Eastern Phoebe.  Actually, maybe Flycatchers aren't a good example, it's hard to narrow down those pesky birds that all look so similar!  That is why I'm focusing this year on GISS and Identification Right Think.  I have my Pete Dunne book on my Kindle app because I can't haul the actual book around, it's very large.  

My goal this year to do be more open minded about birds, unless of course, I shouldn't be open minded...

        See you out there!




    Sora  (Porzana carolina)

           by Steve Van Winkle

Porzana Carolina


sora or carolina rail

When is Less More?  Last April while birding adjacent to the Utah lake North Shore trail along the shoreline, I had the good fortune of encountering this lone rail. And, deciding not to rush ahead after taking a few photos in search of more daily species entries (this is where less is more), I decided to take-a-sit and spend some time observing this wonderful little marsh resident. I spent about 15 or so minutes observing the rail maneuver through approximately 5+cm. of water amongst the Typha latifolia, cattails, a very scant amount of invasive Phragmites australis (less than 1%) and other aquatic vegetation in search of:  larvae stage of midges, sandflies, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, dragonflies and a few other aquatic and semi-aquatic insects as well as fresh water mollusks (Dr. Gibbs, 1899) and dispersed plant seeds from the ever present and ubiquitous Red-root flat sedge, Cyperus erytrorhizos, (Andrey Zharkikh, 2021).

Both Sora photos
by Steve Van Winkle  ©Steve Van Winkle

This particular rail, quite handsome adult male with its short stout yellow bill, an extensive amount of black on the face, throat and breast, whitish lateral lines on a rich brown background on the back and thicker vertical broken and staggered bands of white and rich brown on the sides and belly, would dart to-and-fro from the cover of the thick stands of catttails into a fairly open area to feed. Apparently, not at all shy about my and Aussie’s presence sitting roughly 20 or so feet from it. This individual did not “utter” any whinny or kerwee calls at any time during our visit, neither did it flush “fluttering feebly along just over the tops of the reeds and cattails, as described by James Audubon, 1840,  in his account of the Sora. And, despite its rather weak flight exhibition Forbush (1914) attests to their remarkable abilities to migrate (perhaps, in a few instances) nearly 2,500 miles during their journey to breeding grounds as far north as the northern Canadian provinces to wintering grounds throughout desirable habitat in Central America and the most northern regions of South America.

On the 24th of February 2021, I spent 30 or so minutes searching for last season’s nest of this and perhaps other pairs along the shoreline and into the cattail stands immediately offshore. And, I like so many other birders were unable to locate a nest, that is a fairly shallow affair made from the thin blades of aquatic plant material woven into a sturdy structure from cattails, reeds or sedges that dominate the site concealed well beneath a canopy of sedge, grass, rush and in this record cattail stems and blades. The clutch, often as many as 13 eggs, are laid one/day and the chicks after being incubated by both male and female hatch after about 19 days. These very precocious black downy young quite often leave the nest within 3 days. It’s not rare but quite uncommon to discover the nest with richly colored, “cinnamon buff” to “ivory yellow” and irregularly spotted with “auburn” and “ecru drab” flecks, eggs due to the density of vegetation and sheltering of the nest with a canopy of blades and stems (Lawrence Walkinshaw, 1940). Definitely, a most rewarding encounter of the Sora (Carolina) rail, and singularly unique experience during my years of birding, despite having seen this species in its preferred habitat in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the Sora Rail is still hunted as game in at least 31 states and estimated survival rate of chick to breeding adult (approximately 30%), as detailed by Lawrence H. Walkinshaw in “Summer of Life of the Sora Rail”, The Auk, Vol. 57 No. 2. the rail is currently listed as Least Concerned by the A.O.U.. Its most obvious threat is development and coastal and inland marsh degradation.

I very much look forward to searching the shoreline again this coming season for this wonderfully secretive and elusive species.

  • Lawrence H. Walkinshaw, Summer Life of the Sora Rail, AUK, vol.5, no. 2, 1940

  • Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds

  • Aquatic and Semiaquatic Vegetation of Utah Lake and its Bays, Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs

  • Sora, Scott M. Melvin and James P. Gibbs, Birds of the World, March 2020

Gratitude to these experienced amateur and professional ornithologists Whose accurate field notes prove invaluable:


Special Articles:    

Wild Turkey
by Kendall Brown
 ©Kendall W. Brown

            New photos in the Photo Gallery...

          120 new browse-worthy photos

                   taken by Kendall Brown

The photo on the right shows the upper waddle lifting up as the Wild Turkey plucks a seed from the ground.  Kendall Brown took this photo in Wisconsin on one of his many trips around the world.
      In Kruger National Park in South Africa, he took a series of close-ups of a Gray Heron fishing and eating. 
     His posting of what looks to be a Northern Shoveler doing a yoga routine illustrating the proper  concentration, deep breathing and balance of good yoga.
     Closer to home Kendall got some photos of a young
Downy Woodpecker, with his speckled forehead and transient red cap, poking his head out into the world possibly for the first time considering the look of awe on his face. 
      He sent in photos from the Netherlands, England, Costa Rica, Alaska, and Hawaii, as well as other places in the US.
      Our Photo Gallery covers the birds of the US and Canada, but sometimes it's easier to get photos of the rare birds at a place where they are more common.   Here's a link to the "Latest additions to the Photo Gallery."  
      Thanks to Kendall for sharing some of the pictures he's collected during his many travels.

Good Birding!




     If you have had any interesting field trips on your own this month,
feel free to write a report for the newsletter!

(Send it to: ucbirders@utahbirds.org)