Have you had any great winter birding experiences this year?
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Me looking at some Rosy Finches
The last week of December I found a small flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-finches a few miles up South Willow Canyon. A great find for me. Last winter birding in Utah County I saw a few flocks of several thousand rosy-finches on the West benches of Timpanogos, but they were too far away for me to identify to species so I didn’t count them for my personal list. This was my first up-close and personal encounter with this species – a new County bird, State bird, and Life bird! Another bonus was that this species has only 2 other records in ebird for Tooele County – and one of those was from 1975!
Gray crowned Rosy-finches
As the New Year rolled around I returned over and over again to the same location to try and locate the flock with no luck. I really want to get this species for my 2013 list. No luck so far. The road is paved about 3 miles up the canyon and is regularly plowed to a winter forest service gate. On a few Saturdays and occasionally after work I’ve actually hiked past the gate a few miles. Snowshoers and Cross-country skiers had left a good packed snow trail on the road past the gate which made for semi-easy hiking. There are miles and miles of exposed cliffs and steep rocky/muddy hills were rosy-finches love to hang out in winter. Unfortunately, there are dozens of other canyons close by that might only take a flock 2 minutes to get to, but for me would take hours. Maybe I’ll get lucky one of these trips.
Miles and miles of solitude
One trip did reward me with a small flock of mountain chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. Another trip I saw a downy woodpecker excavating a hole in a willow tree and several Townsend's solitaire. The birds are very few and far between. I’ve been amazed at the feeling of solitude while hiking for hours up a snow-filled canyon and not seeing or hearing a single other animal for miles.
Creek in South Willow Canyon
Another bird I’ve had difficulty finding this year is American Dipper. Living in Provo, I could drive 4 miles from my house to the mouth of Provo Canyon and pick one of 4 or 5 parking lots, walk 20 feet to a bridge, and almost be guaranteed a dipper. Tooele County is a little different. There are almost no paved and plowed roads that go up any of the nearby canyons. South Willow is paved for about 3 miles, but the creek is pretty far from the road near the mouth of the canyon and is mostly underground or frozen.
Snowshoes makes winter birding much more enjoyable
After acquiring some fancy new snowshoes yesterday, I had to take them on a test drive. I hiked about a mile past the gate in South Willow Canyon to what is normally a nice picnic area in the summer to find several feet of snowpack. I was able to get a lot closer to the creek with my snowshoes (I was still sinking in a good foot because of how much powder there was!). The moment I got to the creek I could hear the familiar song of an American Dipper and spotted him singing away on a rock in the creek. So much more rewarding to find a dipper after a nice hike than peaking over a bridge at a parking lot. Unfortunately, I only had my little point and shoot camera so no great pics.