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BIRDERS BLOG

a blog by and for Utah Birders

My Biggest Utah Birding Day Yet

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Sunday, May 27, 2012 

Just about 2 weeks ago, I joined Tim Avery and Jeff Bilsky in one of the most memorable day of birding in my life when we attempted to break the Big Day record for Utah which currently sits at 202 set by Mark Stackhouse, David Wheeler and Colby Newman. Having only lived in Utah for about 6 months and currently witnessing my first Utah migration I was definitely the weak link in the group but I did my best to increase my birding skills. I studied my bird books to learn more about the birds I would be seeing for the first or almost first time and studied the songs and calls by listening to playlists at work (luckily I was wearing headphones to avoid funny looks from coworkers).

We headed out from Salt Lake City the morning before we were to attempt the big day to do some scouting. The scouting proved productive as we got an idea if birds were present at a given area or if we needed to scrap that area due to lack of target birds. We could have used some more time scouting but we had to work with the time we had and hopefully next year we can have at least 2 days for scouting. Big thanks need to go to Tim who had already done extensive planning on what our route should be and had multiple options for each species. This gave our route some flexibility and helped in the long run.

By the end of the day we found ourselves down near the entrance of Zion National Park hanging out in a gazebo. Despite it being dark already we got to watch bats skimming a pond, listen to a Yellow-breasted Chat calling nonstop and I also finally heard my lifer Western Screech-Owl. We had a few hours to sleep before midnight and the start of the big day, but unfortunately none of us could fall asleep. We were too excited for the big day and after having birded all day, we couldn't turn off our brains as birds were still calling especially that noisy chat! So it ended up that none of us got any sleep that night.

                                                (Zion National Park around sunset)

At 11:45pm we headed to the Zion Visitor Center to start our Big Day off with a Western Bluebird we had seen there earlier in the day. It would be a good bird we would have trouble getting later in the day, so as the clock struck 12:00am we tried for the bird.... and nothing. It wasn't there a few hours later. Not a good omen for day. Downtrodden we went for our next species, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and this bird cooperated. Almost too well as it came inches from flying into Jeff. We were on the board! Next we got that annoying chat who wouldn't let sleep (wouldn't it have been ironic if he had stopped calling at midnight!) and we headed out of town towards St. George.

There we picked up some more night birds- rails, moorhen, Burrowing Owl, a Lesser Nighthawk going after insects around a light pole along with the ongoing Snow and Ross's Goose. It was very interesting to be birding in the middle of the night, trying to pick out distant calls as the rest of the world was sleeping. But we started noticing some things that ended up causing trouble for us later in the night. First was that the wind was picking up. The forecast had shown that the wind was supposed to die down during the night, but if anything it was picking up and was going to make hearing birds much more difficult. Second was that the moon wasn't up yet which seemed to limit the number of birds calling at night. 2 factors we couldn't control but that would factor in the day. We would continue looking for birds in the night but we weren't finding the species we were expecting and some of us (ok, me) we having trouble staying awake in the car despite help from my friend coffee.

Next stop was Beaver Dam Slope and Lytle Ranch where the sun would finally come up and let our eyes start doing some of the work. This was my first time at Lytle Ranch during migration and I was impressed, even if Tim and Jeff said it wasn't even a great day for birds here. We picked up a ton a birds here, but we still missed on many empids and sparrows. It was amazing for me to see many Western Tanagers here and many other birds visiting one particular mulberry tree. I wish we had all morning to bird the place, but we were on a schedule and had to push on despite missing some species we could have gotten if we had more time there.

                    (Black-chinned Hummingbird on nest in Tonaquint Nature Center)

As we headed to our next big stop at Oak Grove Campground, we knew we were down about a dozen species from our pace and would have to get most of the expected species from there on out to have a shot at the record. The scouting at Oak Grove the day before proved useful and we got all the species there we had the day before including such notables as White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Grace's Warbler. After this stop it was time for the long trip north. You would think that this would the time to relax, but we still had to look for birds like falcons and hawks as we headed north so we had so fight through our exhaustion to try and focus on finding birds.

After a few hours on the road we hit up Chicken Creek Reservoir which proved to be great in terms of waterfowl with 13 species of duck (including  Blue-winged Teal and a Bufflehead we didn't have the day before), 4 species of grebe and 6 species of shorebird. This got our hopes up that we still might have a chance but we realized that we needed to get just about every species at a given site to break the record. We got back on the road towards Farmington Bay and Antelope Island Causeway and thanks to Tim's route we managed to avoid rush hour traffic that would have taken away precious minutes in our day.

Farmington Bay held some species we needed and a few surprises. One was Wood Ducks that we hadn't had anywhere in our scouting the day before and thought we would miss. Another surprise was a Prairie Falcon hunting some shorebirds. We had paid attention the entire ride up north and had not seen a single Prairie Falcon, but here was one finally.

Still feeling confident, we headed up to Antelope Island Causeway which would end up making or breaking our big day. We had read reports of Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrel and Sanderlings there which would be a big bonus for us. We ended up with 16 species of shorebird but we missed some species we had hoped to find there- Semipalmated Plover, Snowy Plover, Red Knot, and yellowlegs.

At this point we came to the conclusion that we had been facing most of the day since we left the south- that we wouldn't be able to break the record. We had just missed too many needed species and we were running out of time. We decided that we would keep on getting some species and not kill ourselves for the rest of the night. At this time we all had been up 36 hours and were exhausted and I had to be at work at 6 am the next morning so I didn't mind taking things a little easier even though it would be for disappointing reasons.

We headed up to Williard Bay and picked up California Quail and Osprey then turned our eyes to the mountains. Initially we were going to head to Logan Canyon but we decided to scrap it for Big Mountain and East Canyon Rd which would be closer to our homes in Salt Lake City and give us a chance to be in bed by 11pm. Ultimately we found ourselves up in the mountains listening to Flammulated Owls around us and looking for Ruffed Grouse drumming nearby. For the first time all day we had some free time and it was nice to get to be able to bird at our own pace and actually enjoy the birds we were seeing and hearing and relax. It was my first time ever hearing Flammulated Owls and I loved the experience.

                                                      (Big Mountain Pass at twilight)

In the end, we ended up with 179 species which ties us for the 7th best Utah big day. We managed to stay up 40 straight hours. Tim did an amazing job planning the route and driving the whole time. I know Jeff and Tim were a bit disappointed that we didn't do better, but there was no way that I could be disappointed in the day I just had. I had managed to pick up 11 lifers (Common Black-Hawk, Western Screech-Owl, Flammulated Owl, Common Poorwill, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hooded Oriole and Black-chinned Sparrow)! I also had an amazing 54 species that were new to Utah for me.

I don't think any other Utah birding experience will be able to top those 2 days given all of the new species I had and just the completely new experience of trying a Big Day. It is completely different from any other birding I have done. It's unfortunate that you can't give the birds the time they deserve and it is a challenge pushing through the physical and mental exhaustion but I enjoyed pushing myself to the limit and still birding and having fun with my two other co-big dayers. Also each new species you find gets special meaning, especially as your time is running out. I was more excited about the American Crow we found in a gas station parking lot near Antelope Island later in the day than just about any crow I have seen before.

Everyone should try a big day for the experience, even if it isn't a full Utah big day. You could do a big day for a county or even a Big Sit like was recently done at the Great Salt Lake Birdfest. Just see how many birds you can get in a given place in a given day. It's fun working as team to find species and making even common species special. I know I will be trying another one next year. Will you?

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The Big Day is On...

posted by Utah Birders at
on Monday, May 14, 2012 

Check out utahbigday.com for live updates via twitter.

The live blog is having issues so all updates will be via twitter.

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Big Day Preview

posted by Utah Birders at
on Sunday, May 13, 2012 

Today Kenny Frisch, Jeff Bilsky, and Tim Avery set out for southern Utah to do some last minute scouting and prep for tomorrow's Utah Big Day.

We saw over 100 species along the drive and found a couple if great birds that we will need if we hope to hit at least 200.

We're about to sit down and relax for a few hours before we get started. Check back to see what's happening throughout the day!

Good Birding
Kenny, Jeff, and Tim


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Raptor silhouettes

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, May 12, 2012 









Here are 3 silhouettes of raptors...just though I would post them for fun and any guesses (well, not guesses...ID's).

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Black Phoebe: Range Expansion, or Taking Advantage of a Situation

posted by CarlIngwell at
on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 

Black Phoebe taken in 2007 in San Juan County

For the past four years I have been working in, and goofing around in Natural Bridges National Monument. It's one of the most beautiful places in Utah, and I believe that it's a very underrated location in our national parks system. In the four years of working in Natural Bridges, I've documented Black Phoebes in two seperate years. In 2009, I had one individual. In the years 2010 and 2011 I saw/heard no Black Phoebes. This year, I had 10 seperate individuals (possibly more. I couldn't tell if some singing birds were the same birds I flushed, or different birds)! Some of those birds even seemed to be setting up territory, and two were carrying nesting material. I was blown away by the number of Black Phoebes I counted in the park this year, and I started to wonder why the numbers went from one, to zero, to zero, to ten. I've heard of Black Phoebes expanding their range in the Western United States, and I've heard of them moving northward along the Colorado River, but that much of an increase just doesn't make sense to me. While working, I noticed that the water in Natural Bridges seemed unusually high, and I had to skirt around pools that normally weren't there. As I was doing so, I wondered if this could be the reason that Black Phoebe numbers were unusually high in Natural Bridges this year. Is this a natural expansion of their range, or are they taking advantage of the better than normal habitat situation? It would be interesting to follow over the years. If I had a way of measuring water levels, and comparing them with Black Phoebe numbers in Natural Bridges, maybe I'd have myself a hypothesis. For now, I only know that this year there were 10 times more Black Phoebes in Natural Bridges than I've ever counted.

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Utah Birders 2012 Big Day

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, May 7, 2012 

Utah Big Day, 2012 Birding Big Day
The image above shows just a portion of 
the 200+ species we hope to see/hear.

A week from today on Monday May 14th, Utah Birders Jeff Bilsky, Kenny Frisch, and I are going to attempt to break the current Utah Big Day Record of 202 species set by Colby Neuman, Mark Stackhouse, and David Wheeler on May 13, 2001. A Big Day Count is a single-team effort in which the primary objectives are (1) to identify as many bird species as possible during a single calendar day and (2) to strive to have all team members identify all species recorded. (ABA: Big Day Count Rules).

This appears to be the first official Utah Big Day in more than a decade although it's hard to keep track of these things. This years migration, weather, and timing look to be pretty good for a big day although it's hard to tell what they day will be like until it's actually happening. We will start the day at midnight in Washington County and spend the first 10 hours of the day visiting numerous locations around the county. We will be scouring various spots in the dark trying to pick up nightjars, owls, marsh birds, and a number of songbirds typically active during the early hours of the day. Lytle Ranch is a must as well as several other spots that will provide our early morning birding before we start the nearly 400 mile trek that will take them from St. George, up I-15 to the very northern tip of the state. The afternoon and evening will be spent trying to add those species which aren't present in Washington County this time of year or at all.

By the end of the day we will have traveled more than 600 miles and from 2700' at Lytle Ranch to over 9,000' in elevation in the Wasatch Mountains. Being our first Utah Big Day we have high hopes that our route will provide us with the maximum exposure to habitat and birds--but anticipate it will be far from easy and probably push us to the extremes in what is the most hectic and draining birding there is. It's a competition but for me it is also a chance to be able to travel our great state from one end to another in one day and see/hear as much as possible. The ultimate gluttony for birding.

You will be able to follow us as we make constant updates from the field via twitter at:

http://www.twitter.com/utahbirders 

We will also try to have a live blog going with more in depth updates as the day progresses at:

http://www.utahbigday.com/

We hope it's a very big--big day.

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Soundtrack to a Moose

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Sunday, May 6, 2012 

Yesterday, while hiking around Washington Park and Terrace near Mountain Dell in Salt Lake County, I stumbled on a moose. I was able to get some great video that captured not just the moose, but an amazing cacophony of bird sounds as well. Just thought I'd post for any who want to pick through and try to identify everything that is singing and calling in the background. It was an amazing spring day to be in the mountains. Hope you're all enjoying yourselves out there.

 

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Nocturnal Migration May 2, 2012

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 

Not a lot happening the last week at night.  There have been a number of storms pushing through and migrants have been hit or miss.   I did find a few great images worth taking a look at.  The first is from last night:


This was taken just before midnight last night--the yellow box shows a storm that had just moved across the lake and Wasatch Mountains.  What followed was a great night of spring migration in Utah.  You can see the green patch just to the right of center as with past nights this has been the route of the heaviest concentration of migrants.  Taking a look at the velocity image that corresponds you can see the opposing movements of the birds and the storm:


The storm was moving east north-east, while the birds were heading north.   If there were only birds or only moisture, usually the velocity shows everything moving one direction.

Finally a couple nights ago (April 29th at 11:58pm) there was a big push of migrants out of the southwest.  I took a screenshot of the region covering the southwest to show something:


The patch marked migrants is from the radar in Las Vegas.  The patch to the north of that and to the right of the arrow pointing out Lytle Ranch is from the Cedar City radar.  The reason I am showing this is to point out why the west desert and southern Utah migrant traps are so phenomenal for migrants and often vagrants.  Birds leaving out of  southern California and Arizona--making their way north out of Mexico that make their way up the west half of Utah don't have a ton of options for places to go during the day.  When first light hits these birds are going to start looking for places to refuel.  

The heavy concentrations of birds to the south of Lytle are going to end up dumping lots of birds into that area, and other  areas in the West Desert.

Keep in mind this isn't every night.  I noticed this as I was checking the previous nights when I was camping on the Beaver Dam Slope to see what was moving--and the radar barely showed anything.

The next couple days are going to bring a mix of clear nights and stormy nights.  It will be interesting to watch the radar and see how and when birds start and stop moving based off the storm fronts as they pass.  I will have a few more updates on nocturnal migration through the middle of the month then I'll give it a rest at least till the fall (probably).

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