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a blog by and for Utah Birders

Birding for a Shared Solution

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Sunday, October 6, 2013 

On Saturday, October 5th, almost 40 birders gathered together to participate in a field trip and to receive a different kind of outdoor education.  Yes, birds were discussed along with their identifications and life histories but this trip was about something that bigger that would harm all of the birds and habitats that they need to live in:  The West Davis Corridor.

For people who don't know what the West Davis Corridor is, it is a unnecessary highway that is trying to get built in some of the most critical habitat that Utah has to offer.  It would be a highway that would raised from 14 to 30 feet in places and would be built through or right next to Utah birding hotspots around Farmington Bay and areas north.  The project would cost taxpayers $600 million and force many people to leave their homes which would be torn down to build the highway.  The Army Corps of Engineers has also recently blasted the project saying that "We believe the Locally Preferred Alternative does not represent the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative".  They have also said that Great Salt Lake wetlands "have been extensively altered during the past century to the degree that very few undisturbed habitats remain." and that the Corps "believe this underscores the importance" for UDOT to avoid and minimize "further impacts to the portions of the GSL ecosystem that remain rather than using these facts to justify focusing on avoiding impacts to the built environment."

The proposed West Davis Corridor

The field trip also brought to light the Shared Solution. It would create ways to maximize and enhance existing roads and mass transit, and move the same amount of traffic as the West Davis Corridor and possibly even more.  The field trip was led by Utah Birders in conjunction with many other groups: Utahns for Better Transportation, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, Farmington Ranches Homeowners Association, Breathe Utah, the National Audubon Society, Utah Audubon Council, Great Salt Lake Audubon, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Great Salt Lake Yacht Club, Utah Waterfowl Association, Wasatch Clean Air Coalition, Utah Rivers Council, Western Wildlife Conservancy, Utah Airboat Association, Bike Utah, Utah Mud Motor Association, and CleanAirNow! It also brought to light the Shared Solution- which would call for no highway to be built

The field trip focused on 3 areas that would be affected by the West Davis Corridor: Farmington Bay, Kay's Creek Nature Conservancy, and Jensen Nature Park.  Participants got to not only see some awesome birds, but the unique habitats they need to survive and the damage that would be done to them if the corridor got built.

The first stop of the day was Farmington Bay where we met at the Great Salt Lake Nature Center.  Despite temperatures around 30 degrees and frost on the plants, almost 40 people showed up.  Carl Ingwell gave a short talk to the group before the birding commenced, telling of the damages that would occur around this area if the highway was built. The highway would pass about 1/2 a mile east of the Nature Center and even closer than that to the north- it would only be around 400 feet from the north end of Glover Pond!  Both the physical pollution and noise and light pollution would be harmful to the birds of which hundreds of species use the area for breeding, migrating and wintering.

The birding started out strong with many birds being seen in the ponds just north of the nature center.  American Avocets were feeding along with Lesser Yellowlegs.  A flock of Wilson's Snipe flew in and only gave views to a few before hiding in the marsh grasses not to be seen again.  Several species of ducks including Green-winged Teal were using the ponds foreboding addition species that will soon be joining them.   The cold morning as well as the early morning sun made for great views of birds both in binoculars and in spotting scopes.  We next hiked one of the trails to a blind and got nice views of a Snowy Egret and a Red-tailed Hawk.  The area had many goldfinches visiting sunflowers as well as White-crowned and Lincoln's Sparrows and juncos using the brushy areas. The ebird checklist can be seen here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15329586.

Some of the birding group at Kay's Creek

Our next stop was the Kay's Creek Nature Conservancy on Schick Lane near where there were breeding Bobolinks this year.  There we met Maunsel Pearce of the Nature Conservancy who told us of the direct impacts that West Davis Corridor would have on their land where they have counted over 100 species of birds. The West Davis Corridor would be built right across the road from the conservancy and much of their land is in the projected affected zone.  The land offers pristine wetlands, fields and ponds and Kay's Creek flows right through it offering a riparian zone for migrating birds.  Even as we got out of the cars you could tell the good health of the site by all the raptors hunting in the area- Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawk Northern Harriers and American Kestrels. 

 One of the many raptors at Kay's Creek- a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Maunsel led us back to a pond on the property.  The walk took us parallel to Kay's Creek and its double row of trees where migrants like Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets could be heard and Hermit Thrushes seen.  The pond itself held some Pied-billed Grebes and Marsh Wrens.  While at the pond I walked to the far side to look for other birds when I saw an odd bird I couldn't place fly at me.  My initial thought was an odd Belted Kingfisher but Carl soon called out what the bird actually was: a gorgeous Lewis's Woodpecker, my first in Davis County.

And unexpected migrant Lewis's Woodpecker

The woodpecker took off into the distance towards an area that would be torn down if the Cooridor were to be built.  In the air there was a flock of Barn and Tree Swallows, a flyover American Pipit and some Turkey Vultures.  As we headed back to the cars a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk started soaring across the street as if to mark where the highway would go.  The check list for Kay's Creek can be found here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15329731

Now just imagine a 30 foot highway in the background

Our final stop of the day was Jensen Nature Park which was originally going to have the West Davis Corridor right through the middle of it.  There we met Paul Merola who lives in the neighborhood and his "crazydoodle" dog Ann who is also his birding buddy on his morning walks in the area.  He told us how now the highway is proposed to pass just west of the Nature Park.  At the park itself we heard two flyover American Pipits and couldn't help but see (and hear) the two Caspian Terns foraging the pond and the Pied-billed Grebe feeding in the pond.

 Jensen Nature Park

One of the two noisy Caspian Terns

A very cooperative Pied-billed Grebe

Paul led us back to view the field where the highway would pass through. A Northern Harrier patrolled the fields and a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants flew into the field to take some cover.

Remove the harrier, add a highway

The trees behind the ponds held many migrants.  Of course there were many Yellow-rumped Warblers but they were joined by Ruby-crowned Kinglets, American Robins, and a solitary Orange-crowned Warbler.

An Orange-crowned Warbler hung out with the more numerous Yellow-rumped

We also had the bird of the day in this same area, Stephanie Greenwood and I were making a running count of flickers with at least 7 Red-shafted Flickers being seen in the trees when I saw a brown faced bird flying at me with two dark stripes on its face.  I was confused by it until it turned and I saw a flash of yellow and started yelling out to the group "Yellow-shafted Flicker".  And this was a full 'Yellow-shafted' Northern Flicker and not just a hybrid since it had full yellow underwings, a brown face with a black mustache and red on the back of the head. What a stunning bird! The checklist for Jensen Nature Park can be seen here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15329761

A bad picture of a beautiful Yellow-shafted Flicker

We ended the day with 50 species seen total and with two awesome woodpecker sightings.  It was great to have such a group come out and experience first hand what damage the West Davis Corridor could do to the birding spots and Utah as a whole.  Why damage wetlands and encourage more car use when Utah has so few wetlands left and the air pollution is already terrible?  We even had a man in the group whose life would be even more directly affected- his house and barn would be torn down and his 4 acres taken away to be part of a highway.  This highway is not what Utah residents or birds need and it needs to be stopped.

For more information on the Shared Solution, you can visit: http://www.sharedsolution.org/

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Blogger CarlIngwell said...

Great post, Kenny. Awesome pictures. Thanks to everyone that came out yesterday and made the trip a success. Appreciate the help, man.

October 6, 2013 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Bunker said...

I had to work until 3:00 and was so sorry to have missed this. It looks like a great turnout and such a GREAT cause! Thanks for the awesome recap and photos.

October 6, 2013 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Ron Dudley said...

Well done, Kenny. This highway would be an abomination and you're absolutely correct - it "needs to be stopped".

October 6, 2013 at 7:58 PM  

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