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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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St. George Winter Bird Festival Part 1

posted by Stephanie Greenwood at
on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 


Last Wednesday I packed up my car and skipped town ahead of the ice storm and wheeled it to St. George.  I was headed to the St. George Winter Bird Festival!  I had some business to attend to down there so I thought I'd...well...not kill two birds with one stone, but you know what I mean.

I hadn't planned on arriving until Thursday night, but with the storm I left early.  I wasn't signed up for any field trips Thursday, so it was primarily a business day.  Later in the evening I did stop off at the pond at St. George Golf Club and met up with some very friendly AMERICAN COOTS. 

video


I thought it was a bit odd--usually when you come to these kinds of ponds it's the domesticated Mallards and geese that will mob you for food.  A few days later the mystery became clear as I witnessed a lady who came with a big bin of food for all the birds.  Even the American Wigeon came in for the action. Also present on the pond regularly (as I visited it several times over the weekend) was a GREAT BLUE HERON, one CANVASBACK, a couple RING-NECKED DUCKS, and a handful of nice little RUDDY DUCKS.  

Friday morning I had signed up for the "Find the Vermilion Flycatcher" field trip.  I could hardly sleep the night before I was so excited, and arrived early, rearing to go.  People were gathering in the parking lot at Tonaquint Nature Park.  I checked in and overheard that the setup was running behind, so, I snuck off to bird the park. I was too hyped up to stand around and wait!

Around Tonaquint I ran in to a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, a few RING-NECKED DUCKS, GAMBEL'S QUAIL, a BUFFLEHEAD and calling ABERT'S TOWHEES among the usual suspects (Song Sparrows, YR Warblers, Mallards, Coots, etc.)


I made my way back to the parking lot and it looked like we were finally departing.  I followed the group, not realizing that there was more than one field trip leaving from the same spot, and soon found out my group had already left!  I scrambled for some phone numbers, thanks to event organizers and finally caught up to my group, who were at the Sunbrook Golf Club. We drove around the neighborhoods and checked out the ponds on the green. There were three MUTE SWANS, one GREAT EGRET, one GREAT BLUE HERON, a BELTED KINGFISHER, more RUDDY DUCKS, a few HOODED MERGANSERS, BUFFLEHEAD, one CANVASBACK, a couple NORTHERN SHOVELERS, a NORTHERN FLICKER. But no Vermilion Flycatcher.  9:30 rolled around quickly and the field trip was officially over.  I was not content.  I mean, the Vermilion Flycatcher was one of the main reasons I was here, and was the mascot for the whole festival!

While we gathered to depart our separate ways in our caravan of cars, I overheard a tip from one of the field trip leaders that the Vermilion Flycatcher could be out in Santa Clara.  I remembered seeing a sighting in e-bird for it out there so I wanted to try for it.  Out of the entire group, only one other person wanted to try for it, so Lucy and I headed for Santa Clara.  (If anyone wants to chase it, let me know and I'll direct you where to go.) 

Along the river we walked, seeing three RED-TAILED HAWKS, one VERDIN, WC SPARROWS, SONG SPARROWS, a mixed flock of RW BLACKBIRDS, BREWERS BLACKBIRDS, and STARLINGS.  We enjoyed a few GREEN-WINGED TEAL in the river with some MALLARDS. A little ways upstream I caught a GREAT BLUE HERON standing in the middle of the river. Then, above the heron a bright red speck flitting around. "There it is!"  I exclaimed to Lucy!  I had found the VERMILION FLYCATCHER.

We walked up the road parallel to the river, hoping for a better view but the brush was too thick to get close.  Upstream we were able to find a break in the foliage and walked down in to the banks of the stream.


Making our way around a bend, we spotted him again, enough to get a heavily-cropped diagnostic photo or two.  


In the stream we also ran on to a BLACK PHOEBE, a number of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET.


After high-fiveing and getting some soul-satisfying views of the cheery red flycatcher, we headed back to our cars, exchanged e-mails and went our ways.  But I wasn't done birding.  

I hit up the Jacob Hamblin home, adding NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD to my list for the day. 


And back at Tonaquint I got my FOY AMERICAN PIPIT when a flock of about 50 flew overhead and my first-of-year SAY'S PHOEBE.


I then hit up SPRINGS PARK POND. Around the pond the ABERT'S TOWHEEs were lurking and calling.  I caught up to two CRISSAL THRASHERS.  I was struck with how such an awkward-looking bird has such a pretty song.


On the pond there were quite a few RUDDY DUCKS, more COOTS, MALLARDS, a couple NORTHERN SHOVELERS


I also ran on to a lovely litte VERDIN, and a lone SNOW GOOSE.




A couple of NORTHERN HARRIERS flew over, and it became 2:00--time to get back to work.  

Stay tuned for Part 2: Zion's National Park, Snow Canyon and more. 

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When Science Meddles with Listing

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 

A recent molecular study of Rosy-Finches in North America and Eurasia produced an opinion that may startle some birders.  In the final sentence of the abstract based off the study, the researchers stated, “Our data are consistent with a single species in North America, not three.”

Can you imagine that this gorgeous Black Rosy-Finch, may just be a subspecies of a much more broad species?

That’s a pretty big statement--given these 3 species breed in specific ranges, separate from one another.  Given the obvious visual differences, this is a pretty wild statement as a birder to take in.  I often am floundered at the splitting and lumping of species based off these studies.  The tiniest similarities or differences at the molecular level leading to change, while the visual, geographic, aural, display rituals, and other various identification models used for centuries are put to the wayside.

Possibly, the future Hepburn's race, or the Gray-crowned subspecies of the American Rosy-Finch?

For science, this makes sense.  As science evolves, so does our understanding of the creatures impacted.  For scientific purposes I get the point.  But maybe there is something to be said about the non-scientific community.  Those of us who enjoy watching and photographing birds.  And for listers, who enjoy keeping those pesky checklists and minutiae details about their day to day birding. Maybe there needs to be two sides to birds--science and birding.

It’s not hard to argue that birding is not scientific.  You could make arguments to the contrary but most birders are not scientists, and citizen science in relation to birds is run through eBird, CBC, GBBC, and various other highly unscientific counting methods.  The data provided from these events, and even through eBird is highly riddled with bad data.  I love eBird and what it is doing, so don’t get me wrong--but citizen bird science is limited to what we know, based off these old school models-- visual, geographic, aural, and display rituals.  Those same things that science is now leaving behind in favor of genetics.

This Prairie Falcon is more closely related to the Monk Parakeet below, than any hawk...


Like I said, I am all for this--I like the idea of knowing more about the birds on this level, and getting a more clear and concise picture of birds, and how they are related to one another.  Have any of you noticed lately when you go into eBird and want to enter falcons, they are no longer situated following hawks and eagles in the checklist? That’s because studies done over the past few years showed that genetically falcons were more closely related to parrots, than hawks.  So now they show up side by side in eBird checklists--and possibly the same in field guides soon.

On a side note, the same study on falcons showed that grebes are not remotely related to loons, but are more closely aligned with--anyone have a guess?  How about flamingos?  That’s right, flamingos.  These studies are truly interesting, but for FIELD IDENTIFICATION, or birding purposes, these studies present serious issues.

For starters let’s look at falcons.  These birds more closely resemble hawks than parrots--so for ID purposes it makes sense to have them with hawks in a field guide--what good does it do for quick reference having them listed with parrots--which they share no plumage characteristics with?  Same with grebes.  It does little good to show grebes next to a long legged wader like a flamingo, when they look more like loons, and share the same habit of diving to feed.

I totally get why this Western Grebe is more closely related to Flamingos than Loons.  Don't you see the resemblance? (sarcasm)

These areas are more broad and not species split/lump specific, but they have the same identification ramifications.  If we look specifically at Rosy-Finches, anyone who has all three North American species would see their life lists drop by 2 species.  You would also see field guides now showing the species like it does with Dark-eyed Junco--and a plethora of subspecies (I also think they should split Dark-eyed Junco into at least species--argument for another day).  Gulls could end up being a nightmare if they go through and eventually do some mass lumping there--which again, I won’t get into.

This composite shows 6 (or 5.5 that Kumlieni up front is questionable) species of white-headed gulls.  What if one day they were all lumped into one genetically correct species?

The point of this post was to talk about listing and birding as something different from the scientific aspect of things.  It’s as if there needs to be a field guide for birding and listing--and a scientific guide for bird taxonomy.  Visuals are the first thing we notice when we look at birds--the characteristics that are used to describe a bird are what easily categorizes and group them with one another, and makes them comparable to each other.  For beginning birders this is the way they learn--compare and contrast.

(from left to right) Great Basin Canada Goose, with Lesser Canada Goose, with an apparently bulky Cackling Goose, and smaller typical Cackling Goose.

From the listing side of things, who doesn’t hate to see their life list shrink when the AOU lumps one species.  Of course we all love it when the split species (Canada and Cackling Goose anyone).  As an experiment I might have to go through and create a list of the birds of North America separated down to the most obvious visual subspecies.  Then go in and see what my life list would be done this way.  I know, I know, this is a purely selfish listing mentality.  But in a sense it is also the most dumbed down way to identify birds, and potentially a better system for birding.

This has gone all over the place, I guess it’s about time to wrap it up.  These are just my personal musings, and ramblings--but an interesting way of viewing things. Anyone care to talk about the importance of field identification, versus listing, versus science?

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Hawks and Coots

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, January 28, 2013 



I noticed something interesting this winter at Farmington Bay refuge. There were lots of coots and grebes at the start of the winter, but as it got cold and snow-covered for a significant period, the raptors (speaking mostly of the Harriers and Red-tails) have had a harder time finding their normal food (mice and voles) and started preying on the coots and grebes, not to mention the smaller ducks. I have not seen coots preyed upon at this rate before….they seem to be dwindling out at Farmington as they are picked off one by one.

The photo above (click to enlarge) by Mia McPherson is a great example….not to mention the fact that it is neat to get this close to a Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk!

Also of interest, have you noticed how some vehicles drive the diked road at high speed…what's that all about?

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Birding and Johnny Law

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, January 24, 2013 

The first time I had a run in with the law while birdwatching was when I was 20. I was home from college for Christmas break and Colby Neuman and I had gone to the Bountiful Landfill to look through the gulls. Afterwards as I “sped” back towards Salt Lake, I was pulled over on a desolate street in west Bountiful for going 14 mph over the 25mph speed limit. I didn’t know the speed limit was 25mph, as the street was a large, wide, main throroughfare. The street was in a front of a grade school--but it was a Saturday, and the school was out for the holidays to boot. I had made a mistake in not paying attention to the street signs in my pursuit of birds. The officer asked if we were, “looking for the eagles?”. I was a tad snide when I replied, “no, we were looking at gulls at the dump.” I wish I had been more witty at the time, and replied with something like, “yes, and I sped up to avoid hitting one of them--so no ticket right?” In any event, I took the ticket, paid the $65 fine, and went about my way.

Looking for Thayer's Gulls at the Bountiful Landfill
led to my first speeding ticket.

I made it a couple more years before the long arm of the law was in my rear view again. It was January of 2005 and my last semester in college in Wisconsin. It was the invasion winter in the upper Midwest, and the Sax-Zim Bog was crawling with Great Gray Owls, Northern Hawk-Owls, Woodpeckers, Redpolls, and hoards of birders and photographers. I couldn’t resist the temptation to go, so when I had a free weekend and decent weather, I booked a hotel, gassed up my Jeep, and hit the road for the 350 mile drive. I planned to stay for two days, but the first day provided so many opportunities to witness one of the greatest irruptions in recent history that I decided to head home a day early. As evening was setting on the the upper Wisconsin Prairie I was making good time going my usual 14 over on the 65mph highway. The state troopers didn’t even give me a chance hiding just on the other side of a ridge--I was caught red-handed. the officer actually tried to arrest me since my license and vehicle were from out of state. Apparently in Wisconsin if you are from out of state, you must post the “bail” or fine immediately or get locked up until you can. It took some convincing and paperwork I happened to have to show my Wisconsin address to the overzealous mustache model--but in the end I was again on my way--this time about $208 poorer than before (but well worth it).

One of dozens of Great Gray Owls I photographed before
getting a $200 speeding ticket!

In 2007 while I was taking a shot at a Big Year in Utah, it seemed like I was getting pulled over every other month for one thing or another. In February I was a passenger in a friend of Colby Neuman’s car and we were pulled over in St. George at 1:15am for having a tail light out. No ticket and the payoff for the weekend were beautiful photographs of a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker I photographed the morning
following our run in with the law.

In April Colby and I had headed into the far northern Wasatch in the middle of the night in search of Boreal Owls. We heard numerous Saw-whets and had an eerie encounter with what we could only figure was a Boreal Owl based off the behavior of the bird (that’s a whole other story). I didn’t put the Boreal on my list as the encounter was so strange and unconfirmable, but it was a cool night to be wandering in the mountains. The last place we tried for the owls was at the Rich/Cache County line--from there we dropped into Bear Lake Valley to head south to I-80 and back to Salt Lake. It was just after midnight when we rolled out of Laketown and not even 2 miles out of the city I saw the flashing lights of a cruiser racing up on my tail. The officer was looking for drunk drivers, and decided to pull us over for going 44 in a 40 zone. He was surprised to see two guys in their 20’s with binoculars, cameras, tape players, and bird books--instead of a couple of drunk fisherman. He “let me off” with a warning while I was furious for why I had been pulled over. It was one of those “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments.

Northern Saw-whet Owls were everywhere the night
we got pulled over in Cache County.

I made it through May, June, and July without any run ins with the police. I was driving a State of Utah vehicle for much of that period--which probably helped my cause. It wasn’t until the end of August when again, Colby Neuman and I (are you starting to see a pattern) were in southern Utah chasing warblers and hawks that it happened again. We made a Friday drive down to the Kolob region picking up a Hermit Warbler in a mixed flock that afternoon. We stayed on the Kolob Terrace till after dark to listen for night migrants, then drove the road down, stopping briefly for a Northern Pygmy-Owl to come into us whistling along the road. Finally we made our way to the desert and drove through Hurricane towards I-15. Just past Quail Creek Reservoir a police SUV was on my tail, following me onto the freeway and all the way to Washington before pulling me over. His excuse wasn’t speeding or dead tail-lights. It wasn’t suspected drunk driving either. This time it was a clear license plate cover. I joke with him that maybe instead of pulling us over they should go to the stores that sell them and take them off the shelves. What a stupid thing to be able to buy if they are illegal. No ticket, and only a few minutes wasted, we drove into St. George, where I unscrewed the cover and chucked it in the trash. The following day we picked up 2 Red-shouldered Hawks for the year--a successful trip.

Red-shouldered Hawks at Lytle Ranch.

In May of 2008 I had volunteered to lead a class for the Basin and Range weekend near Scipio. 9 days earlier I purchased my first new car, an orange Dodge Nitro and was excited to take it on my first out of town drive. I didn’t even make it to 106th south in Salt Lake City when I was the middle car in a 5 car pile up on I-15. My new vehicle had to be towed while everyone else was able to drive away. To boot I did receive a ticket (along with 3 of the 4 other vehicles involved). Not only did I not make it to Scipio, birding had yet again brought me into contact with the police.

Just a few months later, during the Salt Lake CBC, Colby, Carl, Jeff, and I had our next run in with the fuzz. As we were making our way to the north end of one of the canals that off shoots the Jordan River just to the west of the Salt Lake International Airport, an Airport Police vehicle approached and turned on its lights. Despite taking the precautions we were told to and calling the airport in advance we were escorted to the main road where we spent 40 minutes being questioned, having our our drivers licensed checked, and vehicle searched. After all the 4 guys birding from Utah fit the terrorist profile so well. Apparently the person at the airport who we called to avoid this, hadn’t bothered to put the note in their books! This was perhaps the most angry because there was seemingly no reason they should have even been able to pull us over since the road was outside the airport.

We weren't really trespassing. But the cops didn't buy it!

After that I took a hiatus from dealing with the police. No getting pulled over, no tickets, no driving in areas where suspicion might be aroused. It was a few years later when I think Jeff and I were stopped by another airport cop, this time north of the airport on 3200 west. I don’t remember exactly how this went down, but in the end, we again left, with no tickets.

The most recent encounter happened just last week in Eagle Mountain. I was parked in the median photographing Horned Larks, when a car drove through the flock and honked--or so I thought. Bothered at the continued rude nature by the locals I didn’t hesitate to raise my middle finger to the white SUV as it passed. Then I saw the flashing lights and realized I just flipped off a cop. Oops! After a short talk with him I apologized for myself being a jerk and he was on his way. A reminder to just go about my birding and ignore the locals if they are being rude.

You can see a few Rosy-Finches in this flock of Larks...
The same flock that led to flipping off a cop.

It’s ironic that almost every time I have been pulled over, or had a traffic incident, it has involved birding. Those damn birds! What about you? What run-ins have you had with the law, or security, or land owners while birding? Share your stories in the comments below!

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Ferruginous is eagle-like?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 


Ya know, I always hated the description of Ferruginous Hawk from the olden days as -- "white eagle." I never found that to be accurate or apt, it is very misleading. Do any of these pics look like an eagle? In the field, Ferruginous Hawks look extremely buteo-like!!!!! The way they soar, move, flap, their shape….everything about them is buteo-like! In fact, people tend to call Red-tailed Hawks eagles more often than they do Ferruginous Hawks. Yes, Ferruginous have feathered legs and a big gape, but that's about all that is eagle-like.

Another description I do not like is "big dark falcon" to describe Gyrfalcon…for many reasons. "Click" image to enlarge.

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Photo Compilations Part 1 of 2

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 

One of my favorite things about bird photography is photographing birds in flight. For me it's the awe of  these creatures so effortlessly moving about while we are weighted to the Earth.  It's a fluid thing to watch as a hawk soars and circles above constantly moving.  When I snap a photograph and freeze a bird for a fraction of a fraction of a second, it's a moment frozen in time for ever.  It takes that fluid moment and turns it into something static, and forever I can have that memory to look back at.

Cooper's Hawk in Salt Lake City.

Personally when I photograph birds in flight, I turn into a bit of a machine gunner.  Finger down on the release, click click click click click click click.  Often times shooting 20 or 30 shots of a bird as it makes a pass.  The end result is a stream of images, that are almost identical.  Only the slightest change from frame to frame as the bird moves.  Usually the hope for me is that one image has the right angle, lighting, EVERYTHING, so that I got what I wanted out of the stream.  An afterthought is hurriedly going through the frames and creating almost a storybook movie as the angles slightly shift form frame to frame--bringing the pictures to life.

Sometimes if I find the pictures compelling, I will go back through and choose a series to create a compilation shot.  This is as simple as it sounds, a compilation of multiple images into one.  The end result shows the path of the bird, over a series of frames--the halfway between an actual animation and single static image.

My latest composite of a Bald Eagle at Eagle Mountain this week.

As someone who photographs birds, this is where I think I create some of my most compelling photographs.  Bringing that action of the multiple frames into one shot.  Being able to share multiple moments in one image with others who weren't there.  In part one of this 2 part series I am going to share with you some of my favorite composites and the story behind them.  In the 2nd part, I will share a brief tutorial on how to easily do this using Photoshop.

One of the first composites I put together was of this Long-tailed Duck.  None of the 3 images alone were all that great, but together they were somewhat more interesting.

Rough-legged Hawks are gorgeous birds.  This one was photographed in Salt Lake County, and the head movement of the bird is why I put the three images together.

When a falcon zips by most of the time if you were to blink you would miss it.  So when I caught this Prairie Falcon passing, I knew it would make a great composite.

At first glance Zone-tailed Hawk are often mistaken for Turkey Vultures.  In this series you can see the subtle details from each angle that can help ID'ing this bird.  The banded tail and checked underwings are much easier to see with the bird frozen in place.

With Red-tailed Hawks being so common and in many cases less weary of humans it's no surprise I have a few composites of this species.  This bird was in Lehi in the winter of 2011-2012 and appeared to be a Halran's or Harlans integrade. Although the underside of Harlan's Hawks are very impressive, this top side view shows the parts of the bird we usually don't see!

This is perhaps one of my favorite composites, and was taken on Bountiful Peak in 2007.  Jerry Liguori told me to be on the lookout for this Red-tailed Hawk.  When I did eventually see it I took as many pictures as I could.  Mostly leucistic with a completely red-tail and some dark flight feathers--this is an epic hawk.

This adult Harlan's Hawk was one of numerous that wintered around Lehi in 2011-2012 and was one of the most stunning individuals.  In this composite the bird is actually eating a meal in mid flight.

There isn't anything too special about this shot.  But this Northern Harrier flew parallel to me and I caught it in glide, flap, glide which looked real nice together.

When this Long-tailed Jaeger was reported at Quail Creek in 2007 I rushed down the following day.  Despite distant initial views the bird eventually took flight, and circled its way towards shore making a pass directly overhead.  It's not often you can get a shot of a jaeger like this in Utah, so the composite was a great way to show it in motion to those who didn't get to chase it.

Pale winged gulls are some of my favorite and last winter this "great white ghost" made a perfect pass for photos.  Glaucous Gulls in any light really stand out, especially when they are almost solid white!

I found this Little Gull at Antelope Island a few years ago but couldn't get any decent shots when I first saw it.  A couple days later I snuck away from the office and spent a few hours sitting in the rocks.  The bird would fly in and land near shore, before floating a couple hundred yards out into the lake.  It would then take flight and come almost back to where it started repeating the whole process.  That made the setup for catching the landing and this composite of my favorite gull.

This was my lifer Little Gull.  I was sitting in the parking lot at Miller Beach on the south shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana when I saw this bird flopping through the air.  It was several hundred yards off shore as it passed, so I just kept snapping shots till it was out of sight. I love this photo because it showed the contrast  between the pale top side and black underwings.

Check back in the next week for part 2 with a  quick how to on making these composites out of your own series of pictures.  In the mean time get out and photograph some birds in flight to give it a try!

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Waterfowl Photo Quiz

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Monday, January 14, 2013 

I took this picture December 28th at Lee Kay Ponds. As you can see the birds are extremely backlit, but this gives a good view of most of their silhouettes. It may be impossible to ID all of the ducks here based on this photo but give it your best shot.

Good luck!


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