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St. George Winter Bird Festival Part 2

posted by Stephanie Greenwood at
on Thursday, January 31, 2013 

SATURDAY

There were a number of great field trips that the festival was running through the weekend. Two to Lytle Ranch and one to Zion's National Park. All of these trips required pre-registration, and they were filled before I got the chance to sign up.  I had never been to Zion's before so I decided that would be my trip for Saturday.  After all, California Condor, Bushtits, and Northern Pygmy Owls had all been reported recently at the Angel's Landing trail.  This, I had to check out.  I had come to St. George to do some employee training, so I took my employee since she knew the area, and we headed over to Zion.

We got on the road late morning, and the rain was pouring down.  Not very great weather for birding, but I still had hopes that it would clear somehow.  As we headed in to Zion, we stopped off at a couple stores that carry my company's products. In Springdale at the Sol Foods there were a few DARK-EYED JUNCOS enjoying the sagebrush and a SAY'S PHOEBE actively flycatching.

The sky was gray, the puddles and mud growing, but we moved along, ever optimistic.  In the park we stopped at the area called The Grotto.  Here was the trailhead for the Angel's Landing. We weren't planning on taking the 4 hour steep trek, but I still wanted to check it out.  The beginning of the trail was quiet.  A few sopping wet Mule Deer were hiding in the grass, and a couple MALLARDS and one COMMON MERGANSER were hanging out on the river.  But fortunately the rain let up to a light sprinkle, enough to let us hike a bit.

Along the trail I heard a few JUNCOS and one YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER flycatching down near the stream.  Otherwise, it was very quiet.  We were at a bend in the trail and stopped under a tree to take shelter from a little burst of rain that came through.  It cleared and suddenly I heard activity in the hill above us.  We had to move forward.

We hiked the trail up a couple switchbacks, following the sounds.  It sounded like multiple species.  Hearing them closer, I left the trail and followed the sounds.  Right in front of me a female WESTERN BLUEBIRD landed. I started snapping away with my camera when a brightly-colored male flew right in to my frame and landed next to the female.  Nice!


Having been only my second lifetime encounter with a Western Bluebird, I was pretty stoked.  Then, I turned around and right there was a BROWN CREEPER creeping up a gnarled juniper.  He hid on the other side of the tree, then disappeared before I could get a shot of him.  

From above, looking down at the river we could see a small flock of birds flying, which turned out to be GREEN-WINGED TEAL. The rain started again so we headed back to the cars.  Heading back down the canyon we saw a GREAT BLUE HERON in the river.  

Saturday night I had signed up for the festival banquet.  I arrived a few minutes late (due to getting lost and a wardrobe malfunction--I forgot my sweater to go with my special owl dress!) and everyone had already been seated and were getting their salads.  I met some nice people that let me sit with them, all of whom were from Kayenta, a community out by Ivins.  From what I could tell, the majority of the festival attendees were locals. We talked about what we had seen over the festival. The five species of sparrows they saw on the Lytle trip including Harris's, Savannah & Lincoln's. One of the members of the table had seen his lifer Long-eared Owl and was excited about his find.  


The all-important owl dress. 

After dinner there were giveaways of small prizes (books, water bottles, local art), the winners of the photo contests were announced (the 9-year-old winner of the junior division was adorable and quite a budding talent), a silent auction, and we heard from guest speaker Chris Balmer.

Chris Balmer lives in southeast Idaho, about 100 miles from Yellowstone.  He's a professional wildlife photographer who has a particular passion for photographing owls.  We got to see some of his amazing work, learned some field techniques for getting close to owls (wear camo, walk sideways, and don't make eye contact!) and got a number of digital photography tips.  It was interesting to hear from someone who was coming to birding with a completely different perspective, whose goal is not to list or be an ID expert or chasing rarities, but to really spend time with a bird and capture its essence through impeccable photography that's wall-worthy without the use of Photoshop.  I certainly don't have the patience for the details necessary to be an award-winning photographer, but it was interesting to hear a different perspective, and picked up some tips to improve what exists of my photographic skills.  

SUNDAY
Sunday, although the official festival was over, I still, of course, wanted to bird.  So, we (me, my employee and her husband) loaded up the car and went all over the place!  First we headed to Gunlock Reservoir.  Out on the reservoir there were a number of RUDDY DUCKS, and not much else.  Up the road more we found a MUTE SWAN in the river right before it flows in to the reservoir.  And just a little further up there's a magic little spot that I love to visit that's always birdy, especially in the Spring. It was filled with WC SPARROWS and the most YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS I'd ever seen.  In the cacophony  could hear a harsh nasal call, and sure enough, there was the BEWICK'S WREN I was expecting.  I see them every time I go to this spot.  


Our next stop was Baker Reservoir.  It was completely quiet, save a NORTHERN HARRIER.  The reservoir was lightly iced over and barren of birds.  Always hoping to get one of my nemesis birds, a Pinyon Jay, we got out of the car to hike around but it soon started to hail on us, so we packed up and headed towards our next destination: Snow Canyon. 

In Snow Canyon the clouds cleared and we got some nice blue sky. We stopped in the main campground inside the park and decided to walk around.  I could hear birds in the bushes, in the canyon, behind me, in front of me.  But these were sounds I wasn't familiar with. This was promising.  Not really being birders and having the patience to hunt something down, I let my employee and her husband walk ahead so I could check things out.  I could hear a rustling in the underbrush of the trees, which were probably Abert's Towhees, but I never got an audible or visual cue to confirm.  Up on the canyon walls I heard two buzzy calls, one answering another.  I finally caught a visual: CANYON WREN.  They were far away and flitting around way too much to get a picture. Although I did get a nice audio recording of their awesome descending-tone song.


This was a lifer for me, so I couldn't help but do a celebration dance.

Turning around I could hear hummingbirds scolding me and one another, but I could not catch a visual on anything! So, I followed the sound until I discovered what all the fuss was: two hummingbird feeders hanging behind a storage shed. Carefully creeping up, I saw two birds fighting and moving too fast to ID. They flew off, but there was one bird hiding out in the trees near the feeder. After about 5 minutes he finally came in to the light, a brilliant male ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD.  Two lifers in 10 minutes!  Sweet!


I joined my group again and told them of my finds.  We also saw a light-morph RED-TAILED HAWK soar over us, a SAY'S PHOEBE, one WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, COMMON RAVENS, and a healthy population of WC SPARROWS, of course.  

We headed back in to town and grabbed some lunch, and then decided to head north.  I had gotten a tip the night before at the banquet on the location of some Greater Scaup up in Hurricane. We followed the directions (Exit in Hurricane, turn left at the bowling alley and head down a gravel road) to what's informally known as Grandpa's Fishin' Hole, and more formally known as Stratton Pond.  Out on the water were a number of RUDDY DUCKS (are you sensing a trend here?) quite a few CANVASBACKS, MALLARDS, both wild and domestic, and my target bird in the furthest reaches of the pond GREATER SCAUP.  I was able to capture this print-it-out-and-hang-it-on-your-wall-quality photo.

As I was standing there looking at the pond, I had a little visitor.  He left the pond and waddled all the way up the hill to see if I had any food for him.  For his efforts, I fed him some of my favorite Thai coconut curry popcorn, right from my hand.  He was the sweetest guy ever, a DOMESTIC MUSCOVY DUCK.


The clouds were starting to roll in again, but we wanted to check out the road to Oak Grove Campground.  My employee and her husband used to run ATV tours in the area and they had some sights they wanted to show me. So, we headed up the freeway to Leeds, through town, across the freeway, in to Silver Reef, and then up the hill towards Oak Grove. A mile or two up the road we stopped at a historic marker for the Leeds Creek Kiln.  A small path leads down to the creek and over a bridge, down to the historic kiln, built in 1885. There were no birds noticeably present, but we enjoyed the unique structure. This will be an excellent spot to revisit in the spring.  (Last year I got some great species up Oak Grove including Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, and all kinds of warblers that I couldn't ID by song.)



Momentarily it started to hail, followed by heavy rain. Rushing back to the car, water was already pooling, creating a slippery mud road.  Four-wheel drive, first gear, and A-Track let us get back to the pavement with no problems, and we headed back to town. Two lifers, getting to feed a special duck, and lots of spectacular scenery made for a great weekend.

For full details about the St. George Winter Bird Festival, visit their website: http://www.sgcity.org/birdfestival/

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6 Comments:
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

Glad you got to enjoy the birds of the southern part of Utah. I have loved going to the SGBF in the past. Thanks for the great recap. I hope to make it back to the festival one of these years.

February 1, 2013 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Love this post! It makes me a bit antsy to escape to St. George.

February 1, 2013 at 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about all your adventures in spite of the weather, but what I'm REALLY interested in is that Owl Dress!!! Where on earth!?! Did you make it? I want one...Ha Ha!

Peggy

February 1, 2013 at 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Stephanie. Really enjoyed it. Congrats on two new lifers!

Rachel

February 1, 2013 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

It would have been funny if your owl dress had featured Long-eared Owls. Great shot on the Anna's. Despite trying, I have never been able to get a picture of the gorget/head fully lit up.

Your awesome blog post really makes me want to get down to St George. Hopefully in the next month! Make sure to write again.

February 1, 2013 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Oliver & Lauren Thanks! One of my favorite moments aside from the birding was when I could take pictures of my car's thermometer reading 61 degrees and send them to my friends. Hehe.

@Peggy-e-mail me and I'll get you the details! It's a petites-only dress, but if you're not a petite, the shop has a bunch of other owl designs! Still trying to figure out the species on it, haha.

@Rachel--Thanks! It's been a blast. Let's plan an adventure together soon! :)

@Kenny--I know, that would have been the icing on the cake! Haha. Thanks--that gorget/head is really breathtaking on those Anna's. I really hope I can get back down here in the spring and get some good migrants. :)

February 2, 2013 at 12:35 AM  

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