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The Sweet 16: Utah's Next First State Records

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Monday, January 19, 2015 

The last few years has been a great time for birders finding bird species never before seen in the state. Just 2014 itself produced several of this state first records- a young Streak-backed Oriole down in St George found by Russell Schreiner (I know it was technically found in late 2013, but most birders saw it in 2014), a Salt Lake City foothills Mississippi Kite flyby found by Jerry Liguori and a dapper Nelson's Sparrow found by Bryant Olsen at Farmington Bay.

State first Streak-backed Oriole

State first Nelson's Sparrow

2015 has already gotten off to a fast start for new birds with a new state first record being found by Matt Pendelton at Lee Kay Ponds, a juvenile Laughing Gull that has been extremely cooperative and given many birders views of their first Utah Laughing Gull and in some cases their lifer Laugher.

2015's first state record, a juvenile Laughing Gull

Lucky for birders, 3 out of the past 4 newest birds to Utah stuck around a while and enabled many birders to go chase them down and add to their lists. It happens though that a few of these species were on a list that I concocted of my own a year or so ago of what I thought could be the next species to be added to the official Utah checklist. I had Mississippi Kite on that list as well as Laughing Gull since their were a number of sightings for both in states surround Utah (more so for Mississippi Kite) and gulls and raptors often complete long migrations which can serve as a catalyst for vagrancy. Streak-backed Oriole and Nelson's were not on my list due to the limited records of them in states around Utah and in case of the Nelson's, its secretive nature. 

With all of these state firsts since my unofficial list, I decided it would be fun to put down my official list here of what I think the next state first birds will be. I narrowed my very long list down to 16 birds that I expect to be found next in the state. I tried to get it down to 10 but I felt I was leaving off too many good candidates and I also wanted to have many different types of birds represented. I will give my reason why I think that these birds will be the next species and even some tips to help birders try to find them for themselves. I know that this list has given me some focus of where to look so I hope that it will help out other birders as well. 

I used ebird to plot distribution maps of the last 10 years for the species I thought would show up next. I also left out 3 species with are confirmed for Utah on Ebird but aren't on the official Utah checklist- a 1st cycle Slaty-backed Gull found by Ryan O'Donnell at the Logan Landfill, Chihuahuan Raven in San Juan county by Tim Avery and others and an Eastern Meadowlark also found by Tim Avery in Blanding. All 3 have photos on Ebird that look fine for each of those species to me and the Utah moderator seems to agree.

So without further ado....

The Next 16 Utah State Firsts (I think)

1) Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck pair (picture by Prank F)

Tufted Duck distribution over the last 10 years 

While in the last 10 years, the only Tufted Duck records away from the Pacific Coast have been in Colorado, there are also records of these species from Arizona and Idaho (with even some Utah birders seeing the Idaho bird). Ducks are typically long distance migrants often breeding up in the tundra or taiga and wintering down in areas like Utah. It seems like only a matter of time before a Tufted Duck gets found on one of the mountain reservoirs or even at a place like Farmington Bay in the winter. In addition to looking like a scaup or Ring-necked Duck, they often tend to hang out with them when one is found in the US. However look for an all black back and white sides on males (in addition to its namesake tuft) and females look for a dark maroon breast contrasting with paler gray-brown sides. 
I chose Tufted Duck over Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, even though Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks will show up in unexpected locations, because as of now there are no records of it north of Arizona. However they also seem like a species that will show up sooner rather than later, especially with their expanding Arizona population.


2) Blue-footed Booby

 Blue-footed Booby Adult and Juvenile (photo by Ferdi de Gier)

Blue-footed Booby distribution over the last 10 years 

Free the boobies! There are no records of boobies in Utah yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be one in the future. Blue-footed Boobies breed in the Gulf of California and each year their tend to be a few overshoots north, some years like 2014 there are many overshoots with dozens being reported in the Salton Sea. One even made it up to Lake Havasu, where I got to see it on a trip down to Arizona. There are even a few records of birds in eastern New Mexico which made me choose the Blue-footed as the most likely booby to show up in Utah although eventually a Brown Booby will be found. The best time to look for Utah's first Blue-footed Booby seems like August or September after a storm hits southern Utah from the south and in one of the reservoirs in Washington County and/ or Lake Powell.


3) Harris's Hawk

 One angry Harris's Hawk

 Harris's Hawk distribution over the last 10 years 

Harris's Hawk seems like a natural to be on the Utah checklist. There are a number of records in nearby Nevada so it seems like one could just follow the Mojave Desert into Utah. Some records in Montana and Colorado though suggest that one could show up just about anywhere else in the state. However any Harris's Hawks found outside of Washington County should be scrutinized as falconry birds since they are one of the more common falconry birds due to their social nature as Harris's Hawks hunt cooperatively in groups. Keep your eye out the next time you are in southeastern Utah for this gorgeous raptor that sports rufous shoulders and a white tail band and rump.


4) Ridgway's Rail

 Goodbye Clapper Rail, Hello Ridgway's Rail (photo by Gregory Lis)

 Ridgway's Rail distribution over the last 10 years 

The ABA's newest species, the Ridgway Rail, was recently split from Clapper Rail which is found on the Atlantic coast. Ridgway's Rails breed as close as the Salton Sea and an individual could easily get blown north into Utah. There are records from nearby Overton WMA and even a record west of Utah in Nevada. It seems like most records are either from January or April/ May so keep an ear open for them if you visit any marshes in Washington County in those times of year. 

I chose Ridgway's Rail over both Black Rail and Yellow Rail since even though neither of those species have been reported in Utah, both tend to be more secretive than Ridgway's Rail and will be harder to find. Black Rail also breed near Lake Havasu and along the lower Colorado River so could follow a similar pathway as Ridgway's into Utah. Listen for them as well in Washington County marshes. Yellow Rail has a spotty distribution in the west owing to its very secretive nature but prefer wet grassy meadows making a spot in northeastern Utah like Bear River Meadows a likely locale. Listen for its call that sounds like two pebbles being hit together. 


5) Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backeds dwarf all other gulls

Great Black-backed Gull distribution over the last 10 years 

Great Black-backed Gulls are the largest gull in the world and should be easy to identify when one finally shows up in Utah. There are many records nearby in Colorado and it is only a matter of time before one shows up at one of the regular winter gull hotspots. In addition to its massive size, dwarfing all other gull species, the blackness of its back will stand out as it is even darker than Lesser Black-backed Gulls. 1st cycle birds are also easy to identify with their massive black bills and black-and-white checkered upperparts.

I chose Great Black-backed Gull over the other gulls that haven't been seen in the state since there seems to be a pattern of them showing up in Colorado which could lead to one in Utah. Ross's, Black-headed and Ivory Gulls have all shown up in the west in states around Utah, but their vagrancy patterns are more random than the Great Black-backed. Those species would also be more likely at a spot like the Antelope Island Causeway rather than the typical wintering gull spots.


 6) Arctic Tern

When will one of the world's longest migrants show up in Utah?

 Arctic Tern distribution over the last 10 years 

 From what I can tell, Arctic Tern has to be one of the most overdue state firsts on this list. It has been records in every state in the west... except for Utah. With a gray belly, it can look like a Common Tern, but has gray and white wings with small dark tips, a smaller head and bill and a longer tail. The best time to look for them in Utah should be the last 2 weeks of May and the first week of June as well as the entire month of September. So if you see a Common Tern during those times, make sure to double check it to make sure you aren't really looking at one of the longest distance migrants in the world! One could show up anywhere in the state but Antelope Island or Farmington Bay seem to be as good of a place to look as any.

I chose Arctic Tern over Elegant and Royal Tern as the next state first tern due to the sheer number of sightings across all parts of the west. Elegant and Royal Terns do seem likely to show up in Utah in the near future as well (Elegant especially) but would seem to be most likely to be seen in Washington County if one were to show up since they tend to be found more to the south west.


7) Blue-throated Hummingbird

 Large and in charge- the Blue-throated Hummingbird

 Blue-throated Hummingbird distribution over the last 10 years 

The second largest hummingbird in the US (only smaller than the Magnificent), the Blue-throated Hummingbird is another species that seems like it is only a matter of time before it shows up in Utah. There have been several records in Colorado including one just across the border in Grand Junction. If its large size isn't enough of a clue that you have a special hummingbird at your feeders, also note the slow wingbeats (slowest of any US hummer), the white stripes on its face and its giant tail with white corners. You can even listen for it to make its frequent high pitched seek call. Look and listen for one at a hummingbird feeder in southern Utah, most likely in the summer.


8) Crested Caracara

 Coming to a field near you- a Crested Caracara

 Crested Caracara distribution over the last 10 years 

The Crested Caracara, the national bird of Mexico, is a goofy looking ground-loving falcon. It seems a likely candidate to show up in Utah soon due to records in just about every state around Utah and even Montana and because of a population boom happening in Arizona. Just like other falcons, they like hanging out in open areas but rather than perching up high, they like to hang out low and are adept at walking on the ground with their long legs. The Washington and Hurricane fields east of St George are a likely location for Utah's first caracara to show up.


9) Pacific-slope Flycatcher

 Is this a Pacific-slop Flycatcher? Or a Cordilleran? (photo by Linda Tanner)

 Pacific-slope Flycatcher distribution over the last 10 years 

 The first of two flycatchers on the list, the scientific name of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher says it all- difficilis. Virtually identical to the widespread-in-the-state Cordilleran flycatcher, the Pacific-slope is only a little drabber. The calls of the birds are different even though they do sound similar. In the song of the Pacific-slope, listen for the ptik note to have the first syllable lower than the first (in the Cordilleran, the first syllable will be higher than the second). However this only helps if the birds are singing so the best chance of finding the first Pacific-slope Flycatcher will come in the spring. The last two weeks of May and first week of June look like the best time to find one as well as August and October and make sure to record the song if you can. Pictures can't tell the two apart. Pacific-slopes migrate very near to extreme southeastern Utah with a record a few miles from Lytle Ranch even which seems like the best place to find the state's first. Additionally any 'Western Flycatcher' found in Utah winter will be a Pacific-slope. There are numerous winter records of Pacific-slope Flycatcher in Arizona where they winter in low numbers, but Cordillerans do not winter in the US, so take note of any 'Western Flycatcher' found in Utah in winter.


10) Dusky-capped Flycatcher

 The somewhat poorly named Dusky-capped Flycatcher (photo by Ron Wolf)

Dusky-capped Flycatcher distribution over the last 10 years

The Dusky-capped Flycatcher seems like another possibility for Utah in the future. There are nearby records in Nevada and it seems to be extending its range northward. It is also a regular vagrant into Southern California so it would only take one to go the wrong way and head into Utah. As usual, Washington County would be the most likely place for the first encounter of this small Myiarchus flycatcher. It is smaller than the two other likely species in southeastern Utah, Ash-throated and Brown-crested, with more contrasting plumage.

Greater Pewee and Eastern Wood-Pewee are also honorable mention flycatchers for state firsts as Greater Pewee comes close to southern Utah and Eastern Wood-Pewees have been found in most states in the west. Double check and weird Olive-sided Flycatchers or Western Wood-pewees you find.

11) Sprague's Pipit

 A normally hard to see Sprague's Pipit (photo by Terry Sohl)

 Sprague's Pipit distribution over the last 10 years 

Sprague's Pipit looks like another good candidate for state first because of the logic of how birds get from point A to point B. They breed to the north of Utah in central Montana but some also winter to the south of Utah in Arizona and southern California. The easiest route for migration looks to be directly over Utah for such birds so it seems like one will be seen eventually. Sprague's Pipits can look like juvenile Horned Larks so make sure to look for the lack of primary projection on Sprague's, as well as pale legs and a thinner bill. The blank faced look as well as stockiness and shorter tail make it look different from other pipits. Look for one it its preferred habit- short grassy fields in September and October and listen for its nasal high pitched call, squeet.


12) Blackburnian Warbler

The unmistakeable male Blackburnian Warbler

 Blackburnian Warbler distribution over the last 10 years 

 Now we enter the "I can't believe this warbler species hasn't been seen in Utah" phase of the list. As you can see from the map, Blackburnians have been found all around Utah and even within a few miles of Utah at Dinosaur National Monument. As with a lot of the species on this list, the best time for finding one is the last two weeks of May and the first week of June as well as the month of September. They are unmistakeable by both sight and sound with a call that continually rises until it hits pitches that I assume only dogs can hear. Look for them in all of the usual migrant traps in Utah whether they are around the Great Salt Lake or desert oases.


13) Black-throated Green Warbler

  A very blurry Black-throated Green Warbler

 Black-throated Green Warbler distribution over the last 10 years 

Another warbler I am surprised hasn't been seen in Utah, the Black-throated Green Warbler is the eastern counterpart to two fall only Utah warblers, the uncommon Townsend's Warbler and the only found in Washington County, Hermit Warbler. Like the Blackburnian, it nest to the north of Utah yet migrates around the Rockies... for the most part. There are records in every state around Utah for this species as well. It looks like a Townsend's Warbler, but has greenish upperparts. Like the Blackburnian, they are most likely to be found in spring during the two weeks of May and the first week of June, but in the fall they are more likely to be found in October. In spring listen for its musical call zee zee zee zee zee zo zeet and look for it in the usual migrant traps across the state.

The 3rd eastern warbler that hasn't been seen in Utah yet but has records all over the west is the Mourning Warbler. All the same caveats of the other two apply to this species like timing and location, but it will be harder to find since it is more of a skulker than the other two, much like its western counterpart, the MacGillivray's Warbler. However look for its lack of eye arcs to differentiate it.


14) Red-faced Warbler

Yet another warbler that hasn't been seen in Utah... yet (photo by Tom Benson)

 Red-faced Warbler distribution over the last 10 years 

 The next two are birds with large ranges in Utah that come oh-so-close to Utah. The first is the Red-faced Warbler, a very colorful bird of montane forests in canyon areas. You can see that it has come near the border of Utah north of the Grand Canyon. The best bet to see one would be in an area of Ponderosa Pine forest like that along Kolob Terrace Road where one might be found singing up in the pines. Look for them in the summer.


15) Hepatic Tanager

 The subtlety beautiful Hepatic Tanager

 Hepatic Tanager distribution over the last 10 years 

Like the Red-faced Warbler, the Hepatic Tanager is also an Arizona native that has been reported close to Utah. However it seems more likely to get to Utah first. There are many more reports of it from the Grand Canyon region and it does tend to stray northward into Colorado on a regular basis. They resemble Summer Tanagers but are drabber overall, especially on the upperparts for males as well as females. However they would utilize different habitats in Utah. Summer Tanagers are found primarily in riparian areas especially where cottonwoods are found. Hepatic Tanagers, like Red-faced Warblers, like montane forest in canyons so some of the areas in Zion and Kolob Terrace Rd would be likely spots where the first state record bird would be found.


16) Bell's Sparrow

A Sage Sparrow no more, meet the Bell's Sparrow (photo by Tom Benson)

 Bell's Sparrow distribution over the last 10 years 

The final bird on my list of the next state first records has been living near Utah, but just in secret. Recently split from its very close relative the Sagebrush Sparrow, the Bell's Sparrow is primarily found in California as well as western Nevada and Arizona, probably. More study is needed into the distribution of these two species as well, especially the interior subspecies, canescens, of the Bell's Sparrow which looks remarkably like a Sagebrush Sparrow. Look for a darker malar and a lack of streaks on the back as well as less streaking overall on the Bell's Sparrow. Look for for them in similar habitats to the Sagebrush Sparrow ie sagebrush most likely in winter when Bell's Sparrows tend to migrate to the east. Basically scrutinize any Sagebrush Sparrows found in Washington County in the winter as it could be a state first bird.

So there is my list of the next species I expect to be Utah firsts. I hope this list helps Utah birders know what to look for, when to look for and where to look for the species that no one has seen yet in the state. I'm sure most of these birds have been in the state before but now someone has to just go and find them. And I am hoping that person is me! 

Additional honorable mentions: King Eider, Black Vulture, Piping Plover, Red-necked Stint, Groove-billed Ani, Northern Hawk-Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, Couch's Kingbird, Hutton's Vireo, Cave Swallow, Sedge Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Cerulean Warbler and Eastern Towhee.

Red-headed Woodpecker in Utah a.k.a. Lightning Strikes Twice

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, January 16, 2015 

On December 27, 2004 I was one of the lucky few who were able to see a Red-headed Woodpecker at Wilson's Peach and Pecan Orchard in Hurricane, Utah.  The bird was found by Merrill Webb and although I was on my way back to Salt Lake and almost to Cedar City, I returned to Hurricane for this once in a birders lifetime rarity in Utah--or so I thought.


I saw the bird and a number of others did over the following weeks.  Fast forward almost 10 years and jump 5 miles to the east at another Pecan orchard and lo and behold what shows up but another Red-headed Woodpecker, this time found by Rick Fridell.  I didn't think I would make it down to see this bird, but no biggie since I'd seen the one 10 years ago.  But last week I was able to make it down and saw the bird--my 2nd Utah Red-headed Woodpecker.


As you can see, I only captured the finest images possible of RHWO here in Utah... Okay that might be a little bit of an exaggeration... Or just a lie. These photos sucked, but I wasn't after award winning shots--just documentation!

So what are the odds that this species would show up again, in such close proximity to where one showed up 10 years ago?  The birds were definitely different--the 1st one was an adult, and this years bird was a juvenile.  Let's think of southern Utah as a haystack.  There are likely dozens of pecan orchards around the Southwest part of the state, and plenty of other fruit trees as well.  The southwest is plentiful in both these respects, so if we were to include Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California the number of orchards would explode and the haystack would be enormous.

Google Map of the current Orchards in Hurricane and La Verkin. There are actually way more nut trees in what used to be orchards but are now neighborhoods. The green dots represent the 2 locations of the RHWO sightings in the area.

As per eBird including the 2 Utah sightings, there are 8 previous reports of Red-headed Woodpecker int he desert southwest.  The number of actual historical sightings is likely higher, but for brevity lets use eBird for our sample.

All records are from the winter, and they are:

1) 12/22/1988 to 01/02/1989
Winchester Canyon Rd. at Cathedral Oaks Rd. field, Santa Barbara, California

2) 10/20/1990 to 10/28/1990
Portal, Cochise, Arizona

3) 11/04/1991
Pahranagat NWR, Lincoln, Nevada

4) 11/29/1991 to 05/02/1992
Continental Maintenance Yard, Pima, Arizona

5) 08/03/1996
Flagstaff - Highway 89 near Silver Saddle Road, Coconino, Arizona

6) 11/02/1997 to 05/05/1998
Marana Pecan Grove, Pima, Arizona

7) 12/27/2004 to 01/29/2005
Wilson's Peach and Pecan Orchard, Washington, Utah

8) 12/14/2014 to Today
Hurricane, Washington, Utah

There are also 5 outlying records from western Colorado and New Mexico:

08/14/1982
South Fork, Rio Grande, Colorado

04/23/2006
Durango, La Plata, Colorado

11/09/2007
Kirtland, San Juan, New Mexico

06/14/2011
Escalante Forks, Mesa, Colorado

06/27/2012
South Fork, Rio Grande, Colorado

East of these area the species has more outlying records, but becomes more common along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and on the front range in Colorado.

The yellow shows the extant of "typical range, with the white border represeneting the limit. on the west in Colorado and New Mexico.

All together told there are just 13 reports in 30 years in the southwest.  The proverbial haystack.

Of the 13 records there are 2 from the same location in Colorado 30 years apart.  I'm not sure if this is the "exact" same location or a general area, so where the birds were seen could actually be a wider berth than the hot spot on eBird.  But none-the-less its still pretty impressive.  The only other location with 2 reports form the "Same" location is the 2 birds from Hurricane, Utah.  In Utah the exact distance was 5.9 miles from one orchard to the other, across rather barren desert.

There are 2 ways of looking at this. 1 is that its sheer coincidence that both birds were found at pecan orchards 5 miles apart. The other is to say its not a coincidence but the habitat is very specific and for a vagrant to show up at such a location is such proximity to another is a pattern.  No matter how you look at it, its still a needle in a haystack.  And with only 2 variables for a sample size there is no way we can realistically look at it as a pattern.  We can assert that Pecan Groves provide an ideal wintering ground for this species, based off the Utah reports and the one from Arizona.  I would wonder if some of these other locations also had pecan trees or were nearby pecan or nut orchards.

Red-headed Woodpeckers mostly eat nuts such as acorns, beech nuts, and pecans during the winter months, caching food for later use. So the attraction to nut orchards has some legitimacy.We also know that this species is migratory and winters across the southern United States. So it is most likely to show up in the winter months at a nut orchard in the southwest.  As per the previous reports 8 of the 13 are from winter months, and 7 of these were from the extreme south and west of the reports.  4 summer reports from western Colorado could be remnants of historical breeding sites, or even extralimital "non-breeding breeding" individuals.

The overall lack of sightings in the desert southwest shows that this species is essentially a vagrant to the area.  With its penchant for nuts, if it does show up an orchard is the ideal location to find one.  But the odds of it being the same location or a nearby location have to be astronomical.

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2015 Utah Birders Challenge!

posted by Utah Birders at
on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 

It's that time of year again--we announce this years Utah Birders Challenge.  This year we decided to step away from challenges involving photos and instead focus our efforts this year on... EBIRD!  This year's challenge is a multi-faceted challenge with several different "challenges within challenges", or as we like to call it, eBird Inception. The actual challenge is quite simple and straightforward, but we've added in a few "bonus" challenges for extra points.  Unline in years past where there is 1 clear winner, this year anyone who completes all the tasks associated with the challenge is a winner--the question is, will anyone complete all the tasks to be a winner?


So right off the bat we can tell you there are 1000 possible points up for grabs if you complete all the challenges.  What do you get if you manage to reach that goal?  We're working on a prize package and reaching out to several local companies for donations for the winners.  Besides a small prize package you will also ge the limited edition 2015 Utah Birders Challenge Sticker--we will only print one for each person who reaches the goal so it will truly be limited.  You'll also get bragging rights.  This year anyone who competes can basically brag that they beat Jeff Bilsky since he might only manage a few points from his distant new home.  Let's jump right into the challenge!


This year we want you to submit 1 complete eBird checklist for a birding location in Utah every day of the year.  It can be any location; your home, your office, your drive, a lunch break birding sessions--whatever you can manage. It must be a traveling count or a stationary count and can be as short as 1 minute.  For every day you submit a checklist you will earn 1 point, for a total possible 365 points this year, just by submitting a checklist.


Now things get interesting.  We want you to try and submit 1 complete eBird checklist this year for every county in Utah during the calnedar year.  This means there might need to be a little planning to make this possible, given Utah's large size.  For each county you submit a complete checklist, you will recieve 3.45 points, for a possible 100 points if you were to submit a checklist for every county.


But hold on you can really tack on those points if you submit additional complete eBird checklists from every county this year.  After your initial checklist, you can submit up to 10 more checklists, from different locations, for an additional 10 bonus points per county.  So if you were to submit 11 checklists each form a different location in a county you would earn 13.45 points for that county--the inital 3.45 points for the 1st list, and an additional 10 points for each different location.  If you managed to get 10 for each county you would earn an additional 290 points for the year.


Now if you've done your math you know that 365 + 100 + 290 = 755.  This means there are an additional 245 points available to each participant.  The way to earn these is simple: 5 bonus points for each eBird birding hotspot write up submitted for the Utah Birding Spots page on Utahbirders.com (http://utahbirdingspots.blogspot.com/) for up to 49 locations.  We want to see if we can get a hot spot write up for every location by the end of the year, so we can have a complete guide to Utah Birding locations, with maps, photos, links to eBird lists, and the ability for users to comments and add information going forward. We have a small portion of these hot spots done, but have a listen of almost 1300 we need information for--and no one knows those places like the birders who go there.

If you want to work on the bonus points for locations, please contact us at utah.birders@gmail.com so we can set you up to do so, and make sure folks aren't double creating locations.

AND THAT'S IT!

If you'd like to compete in this years challenge click below to sign up:


BUT WAIT... THERE's MORE!!!

For anyone interested in a side challenge just for the fun of it we are challenign you all to do a NON HOME-COUNTY BIG YEAR.  The idea is simple. Do a county big year--in a county where you don't live!  SO if you live in Salt Lake County, choose another county and do a Big Year!

There are no points, no awards, just your own personal satisfaction, and a little good humored ribbing between other birders as you try to find as many birds as possible in a county you don't live in this year--if you happen to have homes in 2 counties--choose one of the other 27 available... :)

GOOD LUCK! and GOOD BIRDING IN 2015!

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Saying Bye to Bilsky

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, December 29, 2014 

It was December 2007 when I first met Jeff Bilsky.  He had gotten into birding over the past year and was joining me on his first CBC.  We were doing the Bountiful Quad of the Salt Lake CBC--along with another young birder I hadn’t met, Carl Ingwell.  I don’t know if any of us knew the friendships that would come out of that day, but 7 years later I can say I’m glad I went birding with Jeff and Carl that day.



The weather that year was atrocious.  Howling winds, freezing temperatures and snow! But it was a great day of birding. Perhaps the most notable sighting of that day was an Anna’s Hummingbird hanging out at the Bountiful Cemetery. This seemed so odd to me, but Jeff came up with the idea that the bird was hanging around the cemetery due to the rather nice supply of fresh flowers (albeit not in the ground) that were scattered throughout the area. This eye for detail would be something that Jeff brought on every birding trip.



That day we saw the largest flock of Bohemian Waxwing I’ve ever seen in Utah--we estimated around 1,200 birds in the flock over the Bountiful bench.  And we ended the day looking for Gulls in the midst of a blizzard.  I think Jeff and Carl spent most of the time in the car--I figured it would be the last time I ever birded with them and that I likely ruined their spirit--I was wrong.



For someone just picking up birding mid life Jeff was a natural.  By the time I met Jeff I was at an exhausted point in my Utah Birding adventures, and a new friend dred new breath into it for me.  Where I might have called it a morning, Jeff was always up to check on more bush or patch of trees.  We’ve long joked he always wanted to pish another bush before we go.  I can’t count the number of road trips, camping trips, bird chases, hikes, strolls, stakeouts, owling nights, and ridiculous birding misadventures I’ve had with Bilsky.  From continually outdoing ourselves on the Marathon Birding trip each year at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, to a failed Big Day attempt a few years ago,  to the creation of Gullstravaganza, and the Park City CBC Jeff has had a huge impact on birding in Utah.



It was a few years after we initially met, that Carl, Jeff, and I came up with the idea for the Utah Birders Blog.  At first it was just a place to share our thoughts on birding in Utah, but in a few short months it grew into a website, and a new birding llisterv and organization in Utah, the Utah Birders. I think at a base level we all wanted to see something different in the Utah Birding community, and it wasn’t going to happen the way things were--so we took it upon ourselves to make something the way we thought it should be--and man, it took off like we hoped and has been an amazing ride.



Outside of birding I’ve always thought of Jeff as a good friend--someone I can shoot the shit with about all things--not just birds. When I got married he was one of my groomsmen--of my friends that have come and gone over the years, Jeff has been one of the most reliable people I know.  I’ve got lots of great Bilsky stories, but I won’t share them here today--instead I’ll say this--thanks for being a good friend, and everything you’ve done for the Utah Birding Community.



This week Jeff is on his way to a new job in a new state and Utah will no longer be his home.  While it sucks as one of his friends, I wish him the best, and hope he can have a similar effect on others in his new backyard.  And of course I look forward to any ridiculousness that occurs when you’re back here for business and some birding. Good Birding Jah-Bilsky!

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