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My New Year's Resolution

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 

This year instead of choosing a cliched New Year's resolution like "I'm going to exercise more", "I'm going to learn something new" or "I'm going to write more blog posts", I decided to make one with definable goals that are objective rather than subjective.  One that I could track my progress as the year goes on and that would have objectives to try to go for.

I decided to put together a list of 10 Utah birds that I wanted to see this year as my New Year's Resolution.  That was the easy part. The hard part was actually picking the birds to see.  I put together an initial list of around 25 birds and slowly pared it down into a top 10.  Most of these birds would be United States life species for me, but all of them would be Utah lifers with me having missed them in the past year. Some of them are rarer than others, but all would be possible to get in Utah.  They represent a wide variety of birds that will require me to travel to different habitats and parts of Utah.

Here they are, my top 10 Utah birds to see this year, in taxonomic order:

1) California Condor- Who doesn't want to see the bird with the largest wingspan in North America that sometimes gets mistaken for a small airplane?  The California Condor is a relict from the Pleistocene era where it had plenty of food to eat given all the large mammals found in North America at the time.  As a kid, I would look in my bird book to find all the biggest birds in the book and this was among the biggest in there.  That childhood love of this mighty condor continues to this day and I want to see one in person to finally understand how large it really is. My best bet for this bird seems to be going to Zion National Park.

The California Condor was also on my childhood top-10 birds to see list
Photo Credit Tim Avery

2) White-tailed Ptarmigan- Ptarmigan are a mythic tundra dweller that require a trip to Alaska and luck to see... or you can just climb to the top of some of the tallest peaks in Utah. I believe these birds were reintroduced into Utah but I'm not complaining since seeing one in the wild still has to be an awesome experience. There are several places in Utah where I would have a chance to see White-tailed Ptarmigan and most require hiking to get to them.  Sounds like a good bonus to me.

A trip for White-tailed Ptarmigan is worth it for the bird and the scenery
Photo Copyright Peter Plage / USFWS

 3) Gunnison Sage-Grouse- Unlike the California Condor, this was not a species I dreamed about seeing as a child because it only became a full species in 2000.  The Gunnison Sage-Grouse and the Greater Sage-Grouse are geographically isolated and differ in size, tail color and diplays.  Seeing any bird on lek is special but getting to see a species as rare as Gunnison Sage-Grouse would only make it better.  Gunnison Sage-Grouse are found in small numbers in Utah but I might be able to find one in the southeastern part of the state.

A Gunnison Sage-Grouse displaying on lek would be an amazing sight

4) Band-tailed Pigeon- This is one species that wouldn't be a United States lifer since I have heard them calling in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.  However I never got to actually see one so it would still be a lifer in that way.  I don't mind Rock Pigeons but getting to see the United States other forest pigeon would be a treat and let me think it would have been like to see Passenger Pigeons back before they went extinct.  I should be able to get Band-tailed Pigeons about 15 mintues away from my house, although I did try for them twice last year and failed.

 Will this be the year I actually get to see a Band-tailed Pigeon
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

5) Spotted Owl- This is another rare breeder in the state that takes some work to find. Like the ptarmigan you need to hike to the places where you can find this bird.  I love all owls and think part of that love owes to the fact that you don't get to see them everyday.  Just about any experience with an owl for me seems to be a memorable and seeing the Spotted Owl wouldn't be an exception.  The Mexican subspecies of the Spotted Owl can be found in southern Utah and Zion National Park seems like a good spot to try for this species.

Make sure you look up when in appropriate areas for Spotted Owls
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

6) Black Swift- This is also a species I had in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, but I was actually lucky enough to actually see them.  They are on this list because my encounters with them lasted barely a second and because of the challenge in getting to see them.  You need to be in the right place (waterfalls) at the right time (dawn or dusk) and even then you might not see them.  It seems like you need to get lucky to find Black Swifts but you can create some of your own luck by putting yourself in a good situation to see them.  This is species I am least sure I will get, but I will try to put myself in the right places at the right times and see what happens. 

Right place and right time do not always equal Black Swifts
Photo Copyright Glen Tepke

7) Williamson's Sapsucker- I am a little mad about this one.  I hiked in the mountains a lot this past summer in places where Williamson's Sapsuckers are seen, but somehow missed them completely.  They are my second biggest Utah nemesis bird behind Long-tailed Duck (a good blog post for another time) and I am angry I have never seen one.  Even for a woodpecker they are uniquely plumaged and the male and female differ so much in appearance that they were once thought to be different species.  There seems to be some nests in the Brighton Twin Lakes area so hopefully I can find one this year and stop being angry.

Willamson's Sapsuckers need to stop making me angry
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

8) Vermilion Flycatcher- This one doesn't need much of an explanation.  Not a lifer thanks to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico but still one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen and I would love to see one in my home state of Utah.

Who would ever get tired of seeing Vermilion Flycatchers?
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

9) Pinyon Jay- A jay that can appear in flocks of up to 1000 birds is another colorful species I want to see.  I would even take a flock of 20 but seeing a truly large flock of Pinyon Jays would be incredible.  I have seen a decent sized flock near Las Vegas but I am slightly miffed that I haven't seen any Pinyon Jays in Utah yet despite having spent some time in the appropriate habitat.  It looks like I need to get in the right habitat for them and then also get lucky.  I also want to harvest some pinyon nuts this year so hopefully that will also help me in getting to see them.

Pinion Jays share my love of Pinion nuts
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

10) Scott's Oriole- This would be a lifer for me and one that I would not only like to see, but also one I would like to hear.  The Scott's Oriole is said to have a beautiful song and I agree given the recordings I have heard.  However nothing beats listening to the bird sing in person when you get to take in the full experience of the song in conjunction with the place where the bird is singing.  It's like listening to a song on your computer versus seeing a band play the song live.  It adds much to the total experience and getting to hear a Scott's Oriole sing as well as seeing one would give me the fulll Scott's Oriole experience.  My best bet for getting to see (and hear) a Scott's Oriole is getting down to southern Utah.

The song of the Scott's Oriole only adds to this viewing experience
Photo Copyright Tim Avery

So there are the top 10 species I want to see in Utah this year.  I will go out of my way to see all of them and will keep you up to date on how my search is going.  We will see if I will actually get to keep my New Year's Resolution this year.
Do you have any species you want to see this year, whether you want to see them in Utah, the United States or even a nearby hotspot? Let me know.

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Blogger Scooter said...

Another potential place to see Condors - there is a good dirt road that connects Highways 89A and Highway 89 called House Rock Valley Road. There are some cliffs there they like to nest in. Unfortunately, I don't remember what season they said was the best to see them. (We happened by in April, they were not around.) Fortunately, Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon are in the same area, so amazing hiking is right there.

January 10, 2013 at 12:12 AM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

Thanks for the tip Scooter!

January 10, 2013 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Man, great photos ;) Haha. That's a good hit list. My top 5 for Utah are all vagrants that I have just managed to miss. In no particular order:

1. Brown Thrasher
2. Chestnut-sided Warbler
3. Common Ground-Dove
4. Yellow-throated Vireo
5. Bronzed Cowbird

And every year I want to find a new bird for Utah, but that's harder and harder every year, and really it is just dumb luck!

January 10, 2013 at 7:34 PM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

Nice post and good luck on the resolution. Let me know if you're out in Tooele Co. looking for Pinyon Jays.

January 10, 2013 at 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Discount New York Hotels said...

Lovely pics..! I have never seen this kind of variety in birds. All these birds are naturally beautiful.

January 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

I have now seen 4 of my target birds this year: Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Williamson's Sapsucker, Pinion Jays and Vermillion Flycatcher.

6 more to go!

April 14, 2013 at 10:26 PM  

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