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Golf and Birds

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 

It’s a chilly July morning in one of the canyons along the Wasatch front. Not even 6:00am but the sky is light enough to see everything—although the trees appear a deep dark green as they rustle in a slight breeze. I should have brought coffee to cut the chill, but it’s July! I have a gallon of half frozen water to keep me hydrated on what will surely turn into a warm day—warm drinks weren’t exactly a thought. I can already hear the robins and chickadees singing away in the oaks. A Virginia’s Warbler is trilling just down the hill from where I have parked. I slide out of my flip flops and into my shoes. I need some good traction on days like this, and the flip flops don’t cut it. I check my bag to make sure I have everything I need for the day. I am ready to go. Just then my buddy pulls up in the golf cart and hollers, “are you ready for this?” I respond, “Can’t think of a better way to start the day than 18 holes!”

Now wait a minute—golf? Surely he jests, this post sure started off sounding a lot like a morning bird outing. It’s amazing how the two things can go together so well. Let’s talk about golfing and birding.

Me Golfing in Lander, Wyoming

Most birders aren’t golfers, and vice versa, most golfers aren’t birders. Of course there are quite a few that dabble in both but they are different hobbies and pique different interests. I have been golfing since before I started birding. However, I am a much better birder than golfer. I wouldn’t say I’m bad, but I won’t make the cut anytime soon—well ever. But golfing has always provided me with a chance to take advantage of some great birding territory that may otherwise be inaccessible and therefore making it a great way to go birding.

For most Utah birders we are familiar with birding along the edges of golf courses. There are a number of course that have great habitat and good birds in tow. I remember talking to my friend Dave Slager about this once and he thought it was just strange! Back east (Dave was form Michigan) he never would have thought to go birding at a golf course. Why after all? The birds were found ion hundreds of other locations with the same habitats. I of course would argue the point that we are in Utah—a desert, and by god, those golf courses were a source of great birding. They were mini oases. It made sense in Utah, and other locations around the Great Basin and Mountain West.

Mountain Dell Golf Course. Courtesy of slcgov.com

Think about it for a minute. Most golf courses have some sort of water feature, or features. Many are centered around large bodies of water, ponds, or rivers. The grass is keep bright green by constant watering, and along the edges of the course there is usually brush, buses, shrubs ,trees etc. Some courses have a rather impressive set of habitats to go along with the beautifully laid out courses. Some of my favorite courses in Utah have turned up a few good birds over the years, and have always provided me with 3-6 hours of good birding while golfing. This past year I saw Neotropic Cormorant at River Oaks; in 2009 an Osprey at Nibley Park; in 2008 I had a Winter Wren at McRiley; and in 2007 the best bird I have had while golfing was a Least Tern at Rose Park.

Least Tern being chased by Forster's Tern at Rose Park Golf Course

If you are lucky enough to go birding while golfing in St. George, that opens up a whole new world of what you might be able to see! If you have never combined the two it may be something worth giving a swing at this spring. Golf season is right around the corner, and spring migration will follow suit.

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Blogger CarlIngwell said...

The first picture made it all worth it.

January 25, 2011 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Don't hate. That's called driving the green right there!

January 25, 2011 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Bernie Sloan said...

I got a lifer Cattle Egret on a golf course in southern Indiana. Also a Whooping Crane flyover

January 25, 2011 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Nice balanced finish Tim...belt to the target and everything.


January 25, 2011 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Haha, thanks Jerry--we need to hit Wingpointe this spring so you can show me some Bobolinks in the county--it's a major hole on my list.

Bernie, when I lived in Indiana a couple of times I got funny looks as I walked along the edge of golf courses looking into the tangles. This also happened at a couple of business parks and strip malls where the habitat was just too good to ignore. The funny thing is I could be in downtown Indianapolis walking around the capitol building with binoculars and no one would even do a double take at me.

January 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had always thought Rough-legged Hawks were the only Buteo to perch on wires until seeing a Swainson's sitting mid way between 2 power poles behind the #12 green, a testy par 3 over water, of the Haymaker course in Steamboat Springs, CO.

January 25, 2011 at 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Happy to go to Wingpointe in spring Tim

I've seen so many cool birds golfing...intergrade N. flicker and Myrtle Warbler at Glendale, kites in Myrtle Beach, albino Horned Owl at Park Meadows, Pygmy Owl at Mt Dell...my friends always say "haven't you seen enough birds?"

January 25, 2011 at 8:00 PM  
Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

I totally relate...even if I don't golf that much. Back a few years ago when the economy was booming and people took me golfing all the time, I took my binoculars along "to help find the golf balls after their amazing drives" is what I told my buddies, but I was really checking out the birds! I've added a couple life birds on the golf course. During an AZ aquatic bird count, I got permission and free carts to count birds on ponds at several golf courses.

January 25, 2011 at 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Mike Shaw said...

You never see enough birds or birdies on the golf course!
A couple of years ago a Red tailed Hawk came out of a tree and landed on the edge of the fairway right next to where I hit my drive. Walking off the tee box, I could see it hopping back and forth. Getting fairly close, I thought for sure it was going to fly off with my ball, like the famous gull on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, when it lifted off with a nice fat gopher snake.
Then there's the wintering Ferrug that perches between the fairways on Green Springs in St. George, making out on rabbits...but that's another story.

January 25, 2011 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

Golf is not a game I particularly enjoy; somehow I can't/don't want to give up the baseball swing. However, my career choice has me playing in a couple best ball golf tournaments a year at client events. There are two things that make it tolerable: booze and birding. I always make sure I pay attention to the birds, point them out to my golf partners, and wait for the birdie jokes, while reaching for another beer....

January 25, 2011 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 25, 2011 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

I guess if it weren't for golf courses, I would have never seen Tim in those silly shoes, so they're good for something.

January 25, 2011 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

I've never really gotten into golfing, but I don't think I could bring myself to (not in the intermountain west, anyways). I read in National Geographic that in the western US, golf courses consume an average of 2000 gallons of water per golfer, per 18 holes. I'd rather see that water in the rivers and streams, providing habitat for birds and fish.

January 26, 2011 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Golfing isn't everything, but it certainly can be fun if you are into it. The birding side only makes it even more fun. This goes for almost anything though--skiing, fishing, hunting, cycling, sitting on the porch drinking coffee, etc.

As for that stat from National Geographic statistic--they are going to water the courses regardless of whether or not I golf, and that is a part of the society we are in. I am going to take advantage of it and "kill 2 birds with 1 stone".

January 26, 2011 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

I think what Ryan meant to say was that we are "driving" our species towards ecological disaster, taking all the "birdies" and "eagles" with us, and he doesn't want anything to do with it. But seriously, folks... I must say that I find it odd that so many birders rally behind golfing, when golfing seems to spit in the face of conservation and habitat.

January 26, 2011 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

Same thing with skiing. A lot of birders are avid skiiers & they seem to ignore the fact that thousands of Doug Firs were pulverized to make one run. How many Three-Toed Woodpeckers could nest in one ski run if it were replanted?

January 26, 2011 at 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

None of us lives by a perfect code of environmental ethics.....if you eat meat, or support a meat company in any way, drive a car, use electricity, etc, than you are "destroying" the earth as well. Anyone can be made to be a hypocrite. If we do our part to educate, and do our part as biologists or volunteers, that's all you can ask. This discussion could go on and on, and off in many tangents, so that is all I will say about it. I'm not going to finger-point, I own a hybrid car and am environmentally aware in many ways but faulty in several ways regarding this topic.

January 27, 2011 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Spot on Jerry, Spot on!

January 27, 2011 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

I think each of us can make choices as individuals to live in certain ways which can and do make a difference. We all have the choice to pick our battles and where we'll try to make the world a better place from our perspective. I think what can be frustrating is when "society" at large makes decisions that are in direct violation of your personal ethics. An example for me would be the way certain factory farms are allowed to run in the United States or when the Utah state government steps in and says they want to kill all the wolves because they are a menace. Or when they build 5 MORE golf courses in a water depleted region or 5 MORE ski resorts in an already diminishing montane habitat. What is the financial value of a three-toed woodpecker and when will that ever trump the financial value of a ski resort? Interesting discussion.

January 27, 2011 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

Okay. Just to clarify one thing. There are things you have to do to live in our society. For example, you have to have coal-fired power in your home because it is city code, etc. There are things that it would be very inconvenient for you not to do. For example, If your job is 35 miles away from your home, it's probably not too easy to take the bus, or maybe your city doesn't offer public transportation to your job, etc. There are also things that are environmentally unfriendly that you choose to do for recreation or fun. That's where golfing, skiing, ATV riding, shooting lead bullets, using lead fishing gear, jetskiing, clear cutting forests to build recreational condos, etc., come in. No one calls someone else a hypocrite (well, maybe teabaggers do) if they use plastics, or have to drive a car, and no one calls someone else a hypocrite because they have natrual gas heating their home. As I said, golfing falls into the latter category...

Also, why not continue this conversation? I'm not perfect & I do environmentally unfriendly things too, but talking about it and trying to come up with solutions will make me a better person & make the world a better place. If we keep going around living in our shitty way & we don't worry about discussion and solutions, it's just business as usual.

January 27, 2011 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

I am all for continuing the conversation. A couple of point about what you said above though. Where you live, who you work for, how far you are from work--these are all choices and there are alternative choices to those that horribly pollute the environment. What I am saying is it is an unfortunate part of our society, and despite me caring, you caring, and anyone else caring this is not something that will be solve overnight, in 5, 10 or 20 year, in our lifetimes--or ever. The damage cause and that we will continue to cause will ultimately lead to the destruction of our planet. There is nothing I or you can do to stop or change that.

We can definitely help slow it down, but on the scale of one or two or a hundred people it won't make a dent. Thing like golfing, ATVing, hunting, fishing, skiing, etc are things that we as humans enjoy and that is part of life, enjoying it. I am not on this planet to merely be here--I am here and am going to enjoy the short time I am on the planet.

We can argue semantics, and will never come to a a point of agreements, we will simply just disagree. I don't see my enjoying to--and going golfing as spitting in the face of conservation--that statement simply isn't true.

It would be like me saying anyone who works for the government or some private company driving hundreds and thousands of miles during the summer to conduct surveys, spits in the face of the conservation they are working on (which I did for 4 summers). We don't have to have these surveys or jobs to continue our lives on the planet but they are there, and as part of 21st century living in the United States in particular it is life.

I will just agree to disagree on this one my friend.

January 27, 2011 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

With due respect, I completely disagree with this statement: "The damage cause [sic] and that we will continue to cause will ultimately lead to the destruction of our planet. There is nothing I or you can do to stop or change that."
I don't think you or anyone can know what the future holds or ultimately what humans are capable of doing or not doing. I also believe it is against what the lessons of our own history have shown us to believe that a single person is incapable of making a difference.

January 27, 2011 at 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

I don't disagree with anyone, its just a matter of choices to pick and choose. Driving to go bird watching is a choice also, it uses gas and pollutes the air. But, am I going to never drive to a birding location again....no. There are some practices I just find disgusting though, and those I choose to boycott.

January 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

Jerry, you don't need to when you have a birding hotspot right out your back door.

January 27, 2011 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@bilsky that's what I am getting at--we all have differing views an opinions about the details and "what we think". And it is pretty much all opinion. You and I can completely disagree which is what this post shows. This is all part of human nature, and having the ability to formulate opinions and beliefs and have differing views from others. And the great thing about this blog we can say whatever we want and have those opinions.

@Jerry Liguori: I disagree with you just to disagree with you so you can have someone to disagree with. Haha just messing around!

January 27, 2011 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

@Tim haha, yes they are all opinions. You could make an argument that every single thing in the universe is based on subjective interpretation including your belief of what makes up "human nature". Not sure you're in a place to speak for all humans. But that's my opinion. :)

January 27, 2011 at 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...


I'm afraid to disagree with you....but we will definitely go golfing this spring and hopefully see Bobolinks. Rose Park has nesting Swainson's and RT, but Wingpointe and Mt Dell are awesome for migrants.

January 27, 2011 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

I just read somewhere recently that golf courses are a major part of the restoration of Burrowing Owl habitat. I recently worked for a land development company that preserved, conserved, and restored native habitat and migration cooridors in a foothills locations in Idaho. We can all do a lot better by the environment if we'd just work together and not make enemies of each other.

January 28, 2011 at 4:52 AM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

I wonder if golfers would respect the space of burrowing owls nesting on their course? I could see it going down like this. Haha. I agree that making enemies of each other is never the way to fix problems, but sometimes there will be fundamental disagreements on what is in the best interests of society. I think trying to find common ground is a good approach in cases where it exists.

January 28, 2011 at 8:50 AM  
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