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BIRDERS BLOG

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My 2011 Birding Year in Review

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, December 30, 2011 

So 2011 is over in less than an hour.  Looking back I decided to talk about some of the highlights for the Utah Birders and for me this year.

January


The Utah Birders hosted the first official “Gullstravaganza”.  24 Utah Birders turned out and saw 6 species of gull.  we’d hoped for 8 or 9, but couldn’t complete with one of the 6 being an ICELAND GULL.  A life bird for many on the trip--David Wheeler ticked it off for his state leading 392nd species in Utah, and the world traveled Barbara Watkins added it to her impressive 6,000+ species life list.

February


February was a huge month for the Utah Birders. We officially launched our own listserv--UBIRD.  The listserv is open to the general public and allowed for and open forum to discuss everything bird related.  Birding is about sharing and UBIRD allows for a friendly place for Utah Birders to share information, knowledge, and sightings with other like-minded individuals. In just 10 and ½ months almost 2600 messages came through UBIRD to the birding community.  I think those numbers speak a lot for what a great resource the Utah Birding community is to one another.


March


In March, Utah Birder Jerry Liguori saw his second field guide published with the acclaimed Hawks at a Distance.  The book received positive reviews around the blogosphere and was a welcome edition to many birders libraries.

April

In April John James Audubon turned 226 years old--Google celebrates him with his very own Google Doodle.


I used April to try an add a few species to my yard list with some “extreme backyard birding”.  From my deck I scanned the mountains about 2 miles away for migrating raptors.  In turn I picked up a few closer Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts that I wouldn’t have seen had I not been looking skyward.  Finding new ways to see new birds for they places you spend the most time can be very rewarding.

May


Let just say the great fallout of Memorial Day 2011 will be a hard one to top.  As a storm thrashed across most of Utah 1,000’s of migrants were forced from the sky into any kind of habitat available.  Notable find included Blackpoll Warbler and Scarlet Tanager.  But the show stoppers were close to 1,000 Western Tanager foraging in the Phragmites on the Provo Airport Dike.  The birds were literally dripping from everywhere they could cling to.  Dozens of Olive-sided Flycatchers were also present and allowed for the kind of viewing and study not normally found in Utah.  Just 48 hours later I recorded less than 50 total birds in a 20 minute drive up and down the road.

June


For me nothing topped getting married in 2011.  Sorry birds but you take a backseat to a much bigger picture in my life.  And god bless my lovely wife Sam for putting up with teh amoutn of birds and birding in my life--she’s truly a trooper and I am very lucky.


What came along with getting married was 10 days in Costa Rica where I fit in a little birding every day.  I saw about 240 species and recorded just over 200 lifers, including my 750th life bird--the Golden-browed Chlorophonia.

July


It was hot.   It was down right muggy at some points as well.  But high up in the mountains it was cool, and many high elevation lakes still had ice on them in July.  Not a typical summer in Utah by any means.  The Utah Birders threw together and impromptu end of season owling trip where we got to put faces to the names of several Utah Birders who we hadn’t met yet.  The night capped off with perfect looks at a singing Flammulated Owl for the entire group.

August

If July was an atypical summer month in Utah, then August was the wierdest on record.  Wilson’s Warblers were almost non-existent from the migrant traps they normally frequent.  Rare shorebirds didn’t show up as expected--darn winged creatures, and it was still really hot!  August began to shape the picture for what would be a slow and prolonged fall migration.  Things never really took off like expected and lots of birds stayed later or showed up and left later than we are used to.

September

If there is one place I have to go birding in mid-September it’s the Salt Lake International Center.  On September 17th Jeff Bilsky and I had an epic day of birding and coined a new term with “smallout”--it’s not quite a fallout, but definitely a smallout.  The epic birds included a CAPE MAY WARBLER, a lovely CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, and a TENNESSEE WARBLER to make for one of the best days of birding during fall migration.


I also celebrated September by finding and photographing a Baird's Sparrow on Swede Lane in Utah County.  The first of its kind photographed in Utah!

October


In October there were Harlequin Ducks.  The last week of September one Harlequin Duck showed up at the Antelope Island Causeway.  Mid-October and it was joined by a second bird.  In November shockingly a 3rd bird joined the troop.  Then just after Thanksgiving all 3 disappeared--and were presumed shot based off information from several hunters and birders.  But October was high time for these birds and provided most Utah Birders with ample opportunities to enjoy, study, and ogle these beautiful ducks.  We were truly lucky to have them and likely won’t encounter them in Utah in such a way ever again.

October also saw the launch of the comedy “The Big Year”--birdings first foray onto the big screen.  You can check out one birds review of the movie here.

November


Harlan’s Hawks!  No words sound sweeter than those two together when talking about dark buteos--at least in my opinion.  In November I had the chance to watch 4 or 5 different Harlan’s that were using the fields near my office in Lehi to feed.  Photographing them proved to be a difficult task and it took several weeks to finally get some beautiful shots of the beautiful birds.  In the end I saw 10 species of raptor at this location, and had some great hawk watching during my lunch hour for most of the month.

December

The Utah Birders Blog turned one year old and announced the new guest blogging feature.  It was an amazing first year and we hope it can only get better going forward.

We also had our first ever Park City Christmas Bird Count which 14 people turned out for and helped find just over 50 species on what was an awesome day of birding places that most of us never go in December.

2011 was a great year for sure.  Hopefully it is a precursor to 2012 and for the Utah Birders and the birding community some more great things are on the way.  I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to see what happens next!

Good Birding
Tim

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Song Quiz

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Thursday, December 29, 2011 

While visiting Chicago for the holidays, I came across this bird singing at a local forest preserve. Can you guess what it is? Here's a hint: they are currently being seen in Utah as well. Good Luck!

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Another stupid "mystery" post

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, December 26, 2011 

I didn't feel like finishing a post I started on accipiters, so I thought I'd post these photos since it takes no effort. The bird on the left is a Harrier, but can you say what age it is? It was photographed in November in Utah (horrible photo but...).

The bird on the right was photographed in Utah the other day...any guesses? I saw 3 out at Farmington Bay that day.

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Merry Christmas

posted by Utah Birders at
on Saturday, December 24, 2011 


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On the Benefits of Birding by Sketching

posted by Utah Birders Guest Blogger at
on Thursday, December 22, 2011 

I have often related bird ID to facial recognition, especially in birds of prey. The multiple factors that contribute to making a bird recognizable are similar, but unique. Much like the face, these variables all contribute to creating a wide variety of distinct but similar patterns. The challenge in identifying birds comes from this diversity, and so the birder is charged with the daunting task of in depth study and practice to learn each bird not only by sight, but sound as well.

There are many helpful hints and techniques to enhance the birder's skills, some better than others. I would like to touch on one technique, neither new nor unusual, but often overlooked, The practice of field sketching has become extinct in most regards, due mainly to the advances in photography. The camera is an invaluable tool, and has done incredible things for the birder and bird world alike, but it fails to serve in educating the birder as well as the pen, brush, and paints. By slowing the process of birding and truly digesting what flits and flutters around you, learning to recognize birds by impression will become effortless and natural.

Due of the role of color in bird identification, I would encourage anyone interested in bettering their birding to add watercolors to their sketching kit. I simply put some paints in a tin container with a small vile of water, and threw them in a nap-sack along with my pen. You do not need to use watercolor paper for you journal, but remember to use less water and paint to get your desired effect when recording your sightings.

Field Kit

Because I am currently working as a field technician on winter raptor surveys, I spend a great deal of time in the high desert. My sketching lately deals with the birds I have seen in this landscape. These birds are not the most difficult to identify, however the practice of sketching can still prove valuable even for the most common bird. Take the time to sit and watch. You will need to stay in one place long enough to see enough of a bird to sketch it properly.

Pay attention to what stands out, and record your first impressions. Do not worry about the quality of the sketch. As an artist I struggle with this, as it is hard to fight the urge not to make the sketch as perfect as possible. Whether your artwork will win an award or not matters nothing for what is being accomplished. It is the process that matters, so don't get hung up on what your sketches look like. Also, be sure to make notes about what you notice that makes the bird unique. I have included a few examples that show how I sketch.

Loggerhead Shrike

Because I took the time to really look at the Loggerhead Shrike, I was able to pick up on the differences that led me to recognize a Northern Shrike soon after. Another bird I have recently become much more familiar with is the Sage Thrasher. When I found the bird appropriately sitting on a sage branch, I took the opportunity to record the bird and learn what makes the Sage Thrasher recognizable and unique. Notice on my sketch that the colors are not quite accurate, and the most helpful hint, the light yellow eye, is not enhanced in the illustration. I made sure to make a note that this was a helpful hint, not necessarily for future reference, but to go through the motions to help me retain the information and solidify the birds image in my mind.

 Sage Thrasher and Horned Lark

As I mentioned before, the purpose for my time in the field lately has been wintering raptors. Raptors are an incredible group and can present some of birding's biggest challenges. The trick to raptors, and in reality most birds, is birding by impression. The easiest way to speed up the learning process in my opinion and experience is sketching. Raptors have so many exceptions to the rule of ID with color morphs, subspecies, and hybridization. Begin sketching the birds you see and you will soon begin to recognize what makes each bird unique, and when the chance arises that you happen upon a strange or abnormal bird, you will be armed with the knowledge and skill to pick apart what might lead to a positive ID with little help and council from more experienced birders.

Winter Raptors

I absolutely love reviewing my illustrations and annotations. I find so much satisfaction in the process of creating my own images, no matter the quality. I also admit that I am enthralled with the work of others. I would love to be exposed to a wide variety of creativity in respect to the bird world. In the future, I hope to see many sketches accompanying long lists of birds on UBird. Till that day, happy birding.

Bryce Robinson


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1st Ever Park City CBC Recap

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, December 21, 2011 

It was a great day to be a Utah Birder!  We kicked off our first ever Park City CBC event with 14 participants on what started as a freakishly cold morning and turned into a beautiful day.  Let me start by just saying thank you to everyone who took part in our inaugural CBC for Park City.  The people are what makes an event like this so much fun.  It's a strange place to go without a CBC for so long, especially given the population and proximity to Salt Lake.  When we chose Park City these were just a couple of the reasons that helped guide our decision.  Perhaps more interesting was the fact that Park City rarely generates any reports of birds during the winter months.  The occasional feeder report, a tourist mentioning something from the slopes, or a a random report form Summit Park usually make up the annual mix.  But surely there must be more to his area in the winter months, and the CBC was a perfect way to start finding out more.

Park City CBC Count Circle

The count circle was centered near US-40 and I-80.  This allowed us to go west to Summit Park, east to Rockport Reservoir and Peoa, and south to the north half of Jordanelle Reservoir.  To the north we didn't do a whole lot of research, or really any birding, so that will be for future CBCs.  In any event this gave us a great variety of habitats and for future events will be very easy to break into smaller quadrants.  This year we opted to try a different approach as the majority of the group had never birded in the Park City area.  We decided to load up in a few vehicles field trip style and use this year to scout the entire count circle, and allow everyone to get a better feel for the most common birds in the area.  Kim Roush and her husband who are quite familiar with the area set off on their own to check out some private areas, as well as search for some local specialties  I think most of the group would agree that this worked out fairly well as everyone got to see the vast majority of the birds we encountered.

To the birds!

I hit the mountains early--about 5:30am and I was in Summit Park whistling for Saw-whet and Pygmy Owls like a mad man.  I was shocked having two cars pass me on Matterhorn Drive in the pitch black.  Surely they thought I was a mad man--why in the hell is this guy standing on the edge of the road in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere?  Well the mad man in the middle of nowhere thing panned out in the form of one NORTHERN PYMGY-OWL who gave into my whistling and responded with a few short toots, and a rapid chatter before going silent.  What a great 1st bird for the CBC.  It would be the only owl that I was bale to find.  I drove the lower section of Jeremy Ranch Road hoping for a Great Horned Owl, then around Snyderville Basin through the marshes and grasslands thinking maybe a Barn or Short-eared may appear.  The temperature gauge in my car read 7 degrees at 7:00am.  In the first light of the day I managed to turn up my only 3 other species in a small flock of Mallards, a couple American Robins, and 2 fly-by RING-NECKED DUCKS.

At 7:30 I met with the rest of the group and we organized into our respective vehicles then headed out. We drove through the neighborhoods are Park City looking for feeders, and songbirds. Lots of House Finches, and Black-capped Chickadees followed, and slowly we picked up Siskin, Juncos, Scrub-Jays, and doves.  There seemed to be chickadees everywhere in the morning.  One flock led us to our only Sharp-shinned Hawk perched low in a bush on a hillside.  More chickadees led to Mountain Chickadees and goldfinches.  The species diversity was slim, but the abundance was quite impressive.  We spent some time looking for open water on a number of ponds around the city.  Time after time we struck out on the water.  All was frozen, and any that might have been open we weren't able to get looks at.  Mid morning we headed west out of the city towards Summit Park to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cars, and into the action with the mid-elevation conifer species.

Summit Park provided our fill of the birds we expected--but also quite a few more cars than normal.  On the way up we ran into the Beyer's who were in search of the Pygmy-Owl without luck.  We added several TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, HAIRY WOODPECKER, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and STELLER'S JAY.  There were lots of siskin and juncos as well--Carl and Eric Peterson found a GRAY-HEADED JUNCO; I can't remember another winter report form northern Utah so that was an awesome find. On the drive back towards Park City we added our only Red-tailed Hawk of the day just off I-80 near the tubing hill at Jeremy Ranch.  After a brief lunch we packed back in the cars and headed out around Swaner Nature Center.  The fields were empty, and the birds were few and far between.  Then we found a pond with some open water and things got a little better.  Aside from the Mallards on the water, we added Canada Goose, American Wigeon, more Ring-necked Ducks, Redhead, Green-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, and American Coot.  While we watched the waterfowl we had both GOLDEN and BALD EAGLES fly over in a matter of minutes.  This stop added the most species for the day and was a welcome kickoff to the afternoon.

Tundra Swan in Peoa was a great find for the day

We continued to the east and then south to Jordanelle which was completely free of ice.  This surprise didn't add a lot of species--but did make for a nice break to scan the open water.  11 BUFFLEHEADS were a highlight, as well as 1 CALIFORNIA GULL (the only of the day).  A huge raft of Coots, several Canada Geese, and Common Goldeneye rounded out the birds that we picked out. We kept going east to Peoa, where we added our first Kingfisher of the day along the Weber River.  A couple hundred yards further along the road, Carl spotted a lone Swan in a small creek.  WE flipped around to take a look.  At first glance the bill looked massive and like it may be a Trumpeter.  But once in binocular and then after some closer looks it was just a TUNDRA SWAN--still a great bird for an odd location, and our only of the day!  We ended the day at Rockport State Park and then on the Weber River below.  At the entrance station near the inlet we had a beautiful NORTHERN SHRIKE and another Kingfisher. We tried up and down the east side of the lake for titmouse without any luck.  Another Solitaire and Bald Eagle did give us some great looks.  Rockport was a different story from Jordanelle in that it was 98% frozen.  There were several small patches of water which didn't have much on it.  In the middle of the lake on the ice was a small flock of Canada Geese accompanied by a few GADWALL and American Wigeon.  As we drove, Carl again spotted what he thought was a grebe.  After pulling over we confirmed it was a WESTERN GREBE on a small piece of open water.  Morse surprising, and sad however, was a single COMMON LOON stuck on the ice in the middle of the lake.  We watched as it tried to flap several times along the ice to get to water.  Unfortunately, I don't think there is much hope for this late loon.

The last new bird of the day was a female HOODED MERGANSER in the same location, but on a big chunk of open water.  It was our 48th species of the day and a great way to end this first CBC.  The Roush’s added ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, and AMERICAN DIPPER to top 50 species for the day.  As with most CBCs the surprise were great, and the misses were kind of shocking.

White-crowned Sparrow, Cassin's Finch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Meadowlark, Great Blue Heron, Loggerhead Shrike, Cooper's Hawk, and Barrow's Goldeneye among others.

A complete list from the day  follows:

Canada Goose        
Tundra Swan        
Gadwall        
American Wigeon        
Mallard        
Green-winged Teal        
Redhead        
Ring-necked Duck        
Bufflehead        
Common Goldeneye        
Hooded Merganser        
Common Loon        
Western Grebe        
Bald Eagle        
Sharp-shinned Hawk        
Red-tailed Hawk  
Rough-legged Hawk    
Golden Eagle        
American Kestrel        
American Coot        
Killdeer        
California Gull        
Rock Pigeon        
Eurasian Collared-Dove        
Mourning Dove        
Northern Pygmy-Owl        
Belted Kingfisher        
Downy Woodpecker        
Hairy Woodpecker        
Northern Flicker        
Northern Shrike        
Steller's Jay        
Western Scrub-Jay        
Black-billed Magpie        
Common Raven        
Black-capped Chickadee        
Mountain Chickadee        
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Dipper      
Townsend's Solitaire        
American Robin        
European Starling        
Cedar Waxwing        
Song Sparrow        
Dark-eyed Junco        
Red-winged Blackbird        
House Finch        
Pine Siskin        
American Goldfinch        
House Sparrow      

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Another Rant

posted by Jerry Liguori at
 


I love when some birders use certain criteria for bird ID that has nothing to do with te ID of the bird. If anyone ever says to you "it is 100% a so-and-so" or "it is a such-and-such because I've seen thousands", or "it is a blah-blah-blah because so-and-so said so"....ignore that person. None of those are statements about the bird's ID. They are only statements made in the hopes that you will believe them in the hopes they have convinced you that their expertise or someone else's expertise should not be questioned.

Do you know how many times experts have been wrong? Many!!! I just witnessed it twice yesterday regarding the discussion of a bird on-line. When someone asks me what a raptor is and they want to know why, I tell them the traits that make it that species, I don't say "because I said so". I learned early on if someone says one of those ridiculous statements above, they really aren't sure what they are talking about...TRUST ME! God, I love this blog, more rants to come.....

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Logan CBC Highlights

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Sunday, December 18, 2011 

Yesterday was Logan's Christmas Bird Count, the fifty-somethingth one day a year when 60 or so volunteers gather with the goal of a complete census of the birds in a 7.5 mile radius circle around Logan. As usual, we started before dawn, trying to find owls in the neighborhoods and canyons within our circle.  Guillaume and I went up Green Canyon.  It was cold!  We started at 5:00 AM, giving us over two hours before sunrise, but we had no luck with the owls here.  Our first bird was an American Robin calling as the sky turned from black to blue.

Guillaume Peron broadcasts owl calls in the cold pre-dawn of Green Canyon.

By the end of the day, the count collectively had tallied over 16,000 individuals of 92 species.  That is at the low end of our averages, but given that fog hung over the valley for most of the morning, we felt pretty happy with that total.  A more thorough analysis of the numbers of each species will be published in the next edition of the Bridgerland Audubon Society's newsletter, the Stilt, but here are some of the rarest species reported:

CACKLING GOOSE - Five individuals seen in a flock of 300+ Canada Geese at the Logan River Golf Course by me and Guillaume.  This species was only split from Canada Goose in 2004, so most previous CBC'ers didn't try to count them.  First documented in our count in 2008, seen again in 2009, and missed last year.

A Richardson's subspecies of Cackling Goose among Canada Geese at the Logan River Golf Course.


DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT - One bird with an injured wing has been hanging out at the Logan Fisheries Experiment Station ponds for several weeks.  This species has only been seen on our count on three occasions in the last 20 years.



WHITE-FACED IBIS - Three individuals were seen by several counters.  Only one observation on our CBC in the last 20 years.

HOODED MERGANSER - Two females or immatures continuing at First Dam, seen by several observers.  Seen about every other year on count day.

HERMIT THRUSH - One individual seen by me and Guillaume, but no photos.  Found on our CBC about one out of every two years.

BEWICK'S WREN - One possible observation of this species was reported by Reinhard Jockel and Caitlin Laughlin.  Craig Fosdick and I were not able to relocate this bird today.  This species has never before been reported on our CBC since the count started in 1956, and will probably require additional documentation to be included in the final totals.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW - Two of this species were observed, which is quite remarkable since it has never been seen on our count before.  One was a continuing bird found last week by Andy Kleinhesselink and relocated by Bryan Dixon and Jean Lown.  The second was found and photographed by Kurt Kotter.

Lincoln's Sparrow photographed Dec 9 by Andy Kleinhesselink, linked from his Flickr account.  This bird was relocated on the Logan CBC.


WHITE-THROATED SPARROW - Another great find, continuing from Andy Kleinhesselink's discovery last week.  Always a good one to look for on our CBC, found on 7 of the last 20 counts.

I photographed this White-throated Sparrow on Dec 10, but it was relocated on count day.

(RED) FOX SPARROW - Found by Guillaume Peron and me.  Fox Sparrows have been reported on only four Logan CBCs since the count started in 1956, and once in the last 20 years.  The CBC doesn't typically record subspecies, so I don't know whether those previous observations were of the subspecies that breeds here, the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow, or vagrants of another subspecies.  The Red Fox Sparrow breeds in northern Canada and the eastern states.  According to eBird, the Red subspecies has only been documented in Utah once before.  (There are a few other reports that I know of that are not in eBird).  There is some indication that this group might get split in the future, elevating the Red Fox Sparrow to full species status, and some authors already consider them to be a separate species.  Dennis Welker reported that he also thought he had a Fox Sparrow at Spring Hollow, but it wasn't clear to me whether he considered that observation confident enough to count, and he didn't know which subspecies it was.

Guillaume and I found this Red Fox Sparrow for the first time on count day, and I was able to relocate it with Craig Fosdick today and get some photos.  Note the reddish auriculars (ear patch) that contrasts with the gray around it, the white below the auriculars, the bright rufous wings and tail, and the reddish streaks on the gray back.




Finally, I found two very interesting ducks at the Logan Sewage Lagoons, neither of which really "count" as species for the Christmas Bird Count, but they are noteworthy nonetheless.  First was a "Brewer's Duck," a hybrid between a Mallard and a Gadwall.  (More on Brewer's Duck here.)  The second was another hybrid, this time between a Northern Pintail and a Mallard.  What a beautiful duck!

"Brewer's Duck," a hybrid between a Mallard and a Gadwall.

One of the prettiest ducks I've seen, a hybrid between a Mallard and a Northern Pintail.  I love that long pintail that curls up like a Mallard's tail feathers!

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Mystery song for the X-mas bird count

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, December 15, 2011 


Well, if I don't hear or see one of these on the X-mas bird count saturday, I can at least count it since its thursday today.

If anyone wants to take a stab at the answer, feel free

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RAC Meetings

posted by CarlIngwell at
 

As many of you know, last night I attended the Utah wildlife Regional Advisory Council (RAC) meeting to discuss the future of shooting from the Antelope Island Causeway. The RAC discusses and sets hunting rules in the state of Utah, and has the authority to write such hunting rules concerning the causeway.

Yesterday I was a nervous wreck, as I had never presented something like this before, and I was a little bit intimidated (okay, I was REALLY intimidated) by the comments on various news stories covering the issue. Yesterday I was envisioning walking into a hornet's nest, a room full of angry hunters, angry because we were trying to take away one of their hunting areas.

I approached the subject from 3 angles. 1) Antelope Island is visited by 280,000+ tourists a year, all of which use the causeway to get to the island. There are runners, bikers, birders, etc. that use the causeway outside of the comforts of a vehicle, and we feel that they are the most at risk. Hunting right along the causeway poses a serious safety threat to all those using the causeway. 2) Antelope Island is a popular tourist destination for those wanting to experience the world famous Great Salt Lake; the park gets visitors from all over the world. We feel that shooting along the causeway (which is the first thing visitors see upon entry) isn't representative of what our state parks are all about, and first impressions do matter. 3) The causeway provides a unique bird habitat because at times, this is some of the only open water on the lake. The two bridges also create a connection between the north and south side, and nutrients cycle between the two sides; this redistribution of nutrients provides valuable feeding opportunities for wintering birds. We feel that the causeway provides absolutely critical wintering bird habitat, and because of that, shooting should not take place along the causeway.

I also stated that this is not a hunting issue. We are all for hunting, and we want to work with hunters to come to a resolution that works well for all sides. I want hunters to have plenty of opportunities to enjoy their passion along the Great Salt Lake, but I just don't feel the causeway is the best spot to do so. Hunters are very passionate, and work very hard towards conservation (their goals are the same as ours!); I understand that and truly appreciate their dedication and hard work. Many of the refuges that we all enjoy exist due to generous contributions from the hunting community. I am in no way trying to limit hunting, I just feel that shooting along the causeway doesn't make sense.

I was so nervous when giving my presentation because I had no idea how it would be received. When the audio transcript of the RAC meeting becomes available on the RAC website, you are all more than welcome to listen to the scared shitless voice of the proposal to end shooting on the Antelope Island Causeway.

During the process, one member of the board was under the impression that Utah state law prohibited shooting near a roadway. At that time, another member looked up state law on his smart phone and the board figured out that there was absolutely nothing illegal about shooting from the roadside on the causeway. It took most of the members by surprise.

A retired long-term DWR employee, avian biologist, and expert on the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, also spoke on behalf of this issue. He was largely in favor of shooting restrictions along the causeway. He felt that this isn't, and shouldn't be a popular hunting area, and he also feels that this is a one of a kind birding location that shouldn't be disturbed by shooting. This gentleman was widely respected by the board, and everyone payed great attention to what he was saying. His testimony really helped our cause, and I am truly grateful for it.

They asked a few questions, and then voted on whether or not to make this an ACTION item in upcoming meetings. If this proposal were an action item, they would actually vote on whether or not to limit shooting on/around the causeway. The board voted nearly unanimously to make this an ACTION item (1 member abstained), and voted to have the Wildlife Board further investigate the matter.

After presenting to the board, they thanked me for coming and voicing my opinion, and they were all very polite. Every member on the board seemed grateful of the public commentary.

This will now go to the next wildlife board meeting taking place in January, and then it will be an action item in the July/August RAC meetings when they discuss the new Utah waterfowl hunting guidebook. I'll be doing everything I can to be present at those meetings so we can make sure our concerns are heard, and we can make sure that this issue gets some air time.

Following the meeting I spoke with many of the board members, members of the DWR, and other various individuals present. Many folks seemed to be in favor of this proposal, and they all gave me some great advice on how to move forward with http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthis issue.

Presenting to the RAC was definitely a learning experience for me, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to do so. I learned so much, and had so much fun doing this, and look forward to working more on this issue.

I want to thank the RAC for hearing me out last night. I'd like to thank the various members of the local birding community that helped out with this, and to Cory and Jessica for riding up and supporting. A huge special thanks goes to Jeff Gordon (President of the ABA) who helped me from start to finish; Jeff really helped me polish our message, and without his help, I don't think it would have been as well received last night. Thank you all very much, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

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Native Forest Birds of Hawaii

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 

Koa-Ohia forest at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best places for seeing native forest birds on the island of Hawaii.

I have recently posted on the many introduced species on the island of Hawaii, including both the game birds and the songbirds.  While it is tempting to add a series of additional posts on native shorebirds, endemic subspecies, fish, mammals, reptiles, etc., this is a busy time of year for me and I'm realizing I might not get to those.  So, I want to jump straight to my favorite organisms on the Big Island, and the group that is probably of the most interest to the readers of this blog: the native forest birds.

Because Hawaii is separated from the nearest continents by thousands of miles, many species have evolved only on the Hawaiian Islands, and some of those are found only on individual islands.  Most of these species have evolved in the unique forests of the Hawaiian Islands.  One of the more iconic endemic forest birds is the Hawaiian Hawk, also known as the I'o.  The I'o is a species in the genus Buteo, and its closest relatives are the Galapagos Hawk, the Short-tailed Hawk, and Swainson's Hawk.  It comes in two color morphs, dark and light.
A light morph Hawaiian Hawk soars over the highway south of Kona.  (Digital composite)
Dark morph Hawaiian Hawk perched in the rain in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaii also has an endemic lineage of flycatchers in the old-world family Muscicapidae.  Species in this group that might be familiar to North American birders include the Northern Wheatear and the Bluethroat.  Hawaii's flycatchers radiated into several species, each limited to one or a few islands.  On the Big Island, there is only one species, and it is only found there: the Hawaii Elepaio.  The Hawaii Elepaio is unique because it has further differentiated into three distinct subspecies on the island.  I was able to see two of the three subspecies, but only one is shown here.

Hawaii Elepaio, Hilo subspecies, along the Pu'u O'o Trail.

Hawaii Elepaio, Hilo subspecies, at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.

Several species of thrush evolved on the Hawaiian Islands, but only one of them is still common today, and several are extinct.  The Omao is the most common of these endemic thrushes, but its range is limited to the island of Hawaii.

Omao, a species of thrush that is endemic to the island of Hawaii, along the Pu'u O'o Trail.

As cool as those three species are, the species that get people really excited about birding Hawaii are the native honeycreepers.  Hawaiian honeycreepers have been considered their own family, Drepanidae, but most ornithologists now consider them to be a subfamily, Drepanidinae, within the finches, Fringilidae.  Whatever you call it, this group of species is one of the best known examples of an adaptive radiation.  About 4 million years ago, a species of rosefinch somehow managed to colonize the islands from Asia.  Finding many open niches on the islands, it rapidly evolved into more than fifty unique species.  Sadly, these species started disappearing with the arrival of the Polynesians around 400 A.D., and their extinctions accelerated after Captain Cook's arrival in the late 1800s.  Now, only about 17 of these species remain, and 15 of those are considered endangered or vulnerable.

If you want to see native Hawaiian honeycreepers, and you can only visit one island, Hawaii is a good choice.  It has a higher diversity of native birds than any of the other islands, and is still home to seven honeycreepers, four of which are found only on that island and nowhere else in the world.  I was fortunate to be able to find six of of the seven species, missing only the Akepa.  Here are the six I did see, in order of approximate increasing rarity.

The most common Hawaiian honeycreeper on the Big Island is probably the Hawaii Amakihi, also known as the Common Amakihi.  This species is found on only the Big Island and nearby Maui, although the two are considered separate subspecies.  There is some evidence that this species has been able to evolve resistance to the avian malaria that has killed so many native birds, giving hope for the future of this species and others.

Female or immature Hawaii Amakihi on Ohia lehua flower 
Male Hawaii Amakihi on mamane flower

The second most common honeycreeper was, in my experience, the most camera shy.  The Apapane is a red bird that, together with the Hawaii Amakihi, is one of only two species of Hawaiian honeycreepers that are considered of "Least Concern." This is also the only species that is still found on all the main Hawaiian islands.

Apapane on Ohia lehua.

The Iiwi is probably the most emblematic of the Hawaiian honeycreepers.  To me, and probably to many others, this species screams "Hawaiian honeycreeper!"  They are also still fairly common on the island of Hawaii, although not doing so well elsewhere.  Recent reports have detailed dramatic declines on Kauai, and the species is nearly gone from Oahu.  This species also has a remarkable voice, sounding something like a robot to me, to accompany its remarkable appearance.

Iiwi in the rain near Hakalau Forest NWR.

Alright, now we're getting to the real goodies. . . . All three of the remaining species are found only on the island of Hawaii, and have been known from only there in historical times.  The next bird, the Akiapolaau, is probably the most remarkable remaining honeycreeper in terms of its unique bill adaptation.  It fills the niche of a woodpecker, using its straight lower bill to peck holes in wood, and its long, curved top bill to then extract insects from those holes.  There are only a few thousand of this species remaining.

Akiapolaau, adult male, along the Pu'u O'o Trail.

Although it is not the rarest species, the Hawaii Creeper was the hardest for me to find.  For one, they look very much like the common Hawaii Amakihi.  (They can be told by their straighter bill, paler throat, more extensive dark mask, and distinctive call note.)  Second, the best place to find them is in the Hakalau Forest NWR, which requires reservations and a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach.  Third, they're just not very common.  There are still a few thousand of them left, but they are one of the least commonly observed species on the island because they are hard to get to and hard to identify.  Only after searching for several hours in the rain was I able to finally get some decent shots of this species, and only after getting the shots was I really convinced I had seen what I was looking for!

Hawaii Creeper, probably an adult male, at Hakalau Forest NWR.

A young Hawaii Creeper in the rain, somewhat more distinctive with its pale throat and fairly obvious pale supercilium.

Last is the Palila, the only finch-like honeycreeper still living in the main Hawaiian islands.  This species, unlike the others, is adapted specifically to the dry forests.  It uses its thick bill to crack open seeds of a dry forest tree, the mamane, which is shown here.  These seeds are toxic to other species, but the Palila loves them!  This was recently thought to be one of the most secure endemic species, but despite a court order in the 1980s for their habitat to be protected from the feral sheep that eat the young mamane plants, their habitat has yet to be protected.  This species has declined in numbers by about 80%, following eight straight years of population declines, and is now down to about 1,300 individuals.

Adult male Palila preparing to zip open a mamane seed pod.

Adult male Palila in mamane tree.

Seeing these rare species was an experience I'll never forget.  It was exciting to see them, but I was also left feeling very sad that these species are not getting the protection they need.  Because of the isolated nature of Hawaii and the relatively few people living there, these birds do not have the political power they need to garner the protection they require.  Hawaii has 45% of the endangered species in the U.S., but receives less than 5% funding allocated to protect endangered species.  If you'd like to help save these amazing species, consider making a donation here or here.

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Another raptor quiz

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, December 12, 2011 

Here is a bird from the other day in Utah. A typical field view of a typical plumage, no tricks here, just a bird a bit too far fine detail. Anyone want to venture a guess, or more than a guess. I have faith that this will be answered quickly.

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AIC Buffer Zone Update

posted by Utah Birders at
 

Forster's Tern flying across the Antelope Island Causeway

We want to start out by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has chimed in with an opinion/information on the matter of the Antelope Island Causeway proposed “buffer zone”. It is clear that there is a wellspring of interest in the uses of the Causeway and a lot of passion for figuring out what should be the “right” answer on this discussion.

There seems to have been some lack of clarity about our proposed buffer zone as well as our stance on hunters and hunting. We’d like to take this opportunity to try to clear some of this up.
Unequivocally, we support hunters and hunting. There is much overlap in our goals and ideals and we 100% respect the rights of hunters and their right to the enjoyment of hunting. We can’t be clear enough that we mean no disrespect to hunters and consider your contributions to conservation an integral part of the big picture when it comes to keeping our state filled with wilderness. Thank you for all that you do!


Sunset from the Antelope Island Causeway

It has definitely been clear that there is a great deal of confusion about what exactly the existing regulation is in terms of what can and can’t be done from a hunting standpoint along the causeway. We have verified that the causeway is NOT considered part of the Antelope Island State Park and therefore is not subject to the rules that apply to state parks. While many seemed to have assumed it was, there is no rule stating as such (that we’ve been able to identify) and therefore hunting has occurred and can continue from a close distance to the causeway road with no violation. This is what prompted our initial concern for a number of reasons which are summarized below.

We can all agree that the Antelope Island causeway is a heavily used area. Being one of the more heavily trafficked state parks in Northern Utah there are constantly cars and people moving up and down its 6 miles of pavement. This can raise some safety concerns when it comes to the close proximity of hunting activity. We have no doubt that hunters are very very careful but why take chances in such a heavily populated area?

Secondly, a large number of the people that visit Antelope Island State Park are from out of state - both domestic and international tourists - many who come just for bird watching. The close proximity of hunting activity along the causeway could serve as a potential deterrent to the birds and subsequently tourism. I think we’d all like to see a continued influx of people visiting our state and state parks because of what it does for the local economies.

Finally, this area right along the causeway really is a critical bird habitat and has in the past been used by so many birds passing through our state. If you ask any birder where the best place to view wintering ducks in the past several years you’d almost unanimously hear “Antelope Island Causeway”. Due to the way currents move under the bridges, these specific areas are packed with nutrients and stay predominantly unfrozen during the cold winter months. This lends itself to being a haven for the birds. As hunting activities have increased in this area, it has become less and less available for the birds for any length of time.

Red-necked Phalarope feeding along the Causeway

When looking at all of the above stated reasons, we conclude that it would be a wise move to extend the protections that exist for Antelope Island State Park to the 6 mile causeway as well. We feel this is a win/win solution and one that hunters and birders can come together on and agree is the right thing to do.

We are actively working on reaching all the right people/agencies to address the topic so that we can have an informed and reasonable discussion. We are well on our way and will definitely keep everyone updated on our progress.

Thank you for considering what we have to say. Feel free to leave any comments or questions and we will get back to you. In addition to the comment section below, you can contact us direct at utah.birders@gmail.com

Sincerely,
The Utah Birders
Jeff Bilsky, Tim Avery, Carl Ingwell

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