Utah Birds, Utah Birding, and Utah Birders. Promoting the sharing of information, and the conservation of habitat for birds in Utah and elsewhere. We are a group of people who want to share what we know, and create a positive birding experience in Utah.


a blog by and for Utah Birders

eBird v.s. Record Committees: A New Controversy

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, April 29, 2011 

This topic previously got a lot of responses and generated some good conversation. I am bringing it back up due to a rumor I recently heard where in eBird supposedly is telling regional reviewers that records in eBird for rare and out of range birds should not be accepted in eBird unless they are accepted by a state records committee!


Let me start by saying that I don't know how true the rumor is, and that my sources will remain unnamed. What I can say is I find this to be ridiculous! If you have read my previous posts you are aware of my perception of the records committee. It has been at least 3 or 4 years since I submitted a record, and I have no plans of doing it going forward. For those in support of the committees, more power to you, I think it's great that you use them as an archive of sightings. What I don't like the idea of is eBird basically not including valid sightings because the person submitting the list doesn't see the need, doesn't know about, or doesn't care to submit a record to a state bird records committee. This seems to defeat the purpose of having the eBird reviewer even do their job. At that point why not appoint the records keeping to the state committee?

Bollocks I say! eBird this is for you from me. If you do this, there is a good chance I will stop using the program to submit my records. I will go back to using a spreadsheet and Microsoft Excel. It is absurd to think that valid data wouldn't be included based off this ridiculous idea.

Why isn't eBird being proactive in coming up with their own committee? When I create a checklist, I am giving you the ID of the birds I observed, a time, a place, and notes if I see fit. I can even include a link to a photo. If eBird is worried about how valid some records are, and having something relate to an archive, why not, create a form for more information when a rare bird is flagged in the system?

I see where eBird is trying to go with this, in that a data point submitted by me has no other information regarding the sighting. But is it better to completely dismiss that even when correct that to include it and at least have the data that is provided? It seems to me that some information is better than none--and none is surely doing a disservice to the countless 1,000's who submit data, use the database to derive information, and to future generations who are trying to learn more about birds from what is the biggest database of information regarding bird sightings int he world.

eBird, I surely hope this isn't true. If it is, I am shaking my head in disappointment. I outlined a basic solution to the problem. It will require adding some features--but those features would not only improve the quality of the data, but give the database more of an archive feel with the records that are noteworthy. So eBird, what's going on? Would anyone care to comment on the situation?

Labels: , , ,

Win a copy of Kingbird Highway

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 

Can you identify the bird singing in the video below?

The Utah Birders have a copy of Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway that we are going to give away. It's your chance to get your hands on one of the greatest birding tales around.

We will also give you a few clues. First, the bird singing is NOT a Kingbird of any kind. Second, the video was shot last week east of the Mississippi River. Finally, we are not talking about the bird that can be heard singing in the background at the beginning and the end of the video. The bird in questions repeats itself 4 or 5 times and it the focal sound of the video

Entering to win is easy!

Simply watch and listen to the video above and if you think you know the identity click on the link below to enter the contest by providing your name, your email, the answer to the quiz bird above, and if you would like, a brief explanation of why. If you submit the correct answer you will be entered into a drawing for the book.


The only kicker is that this contest is only going to last 48 hours! Your answer must be received no later than 9:00pm Mountain Time on Friday,April 29, 2010. We will announce the winner and an explanation of the quiz bird the following morning and the winner will have their copy as fast as we can get it to them!

Comments have been disabled for this post.

Labels: , , ,

Happy 226th Birthday Mr Audubon

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 

Today Google celebrated John James Audubon's 226th birthday with a Google Doodle. Chekc it out below:

You can read more about it here.

Labels: , ,

Wing tips cut-off

posted by Jerry Liguori at

Does it bug you when you see photos or take a photo of a bird with its wing tips cut out of the frame? I used to delete photos like this, but I have saved a few in recent years. I think photos like this are still nice, but I do wish the whole bird was in the frame.

Labels: ,

Roots in Birding

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, April 21, 2011 

Even before I was a birder I had my roots dug in deep. I have an outdoor loving family to thank for that. My dad an avid outdoorsmen was always hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, photographing, etc. He made sure to include my older brother and I from the very get go. Although the birder in me didin't emerge till I was about 12, my dad sent me an email this morning with a picture he found while scanning old 35mm negatives--that shows even as a little kid I had birds on my mind:

I'm the goofy one on the left with the Donald Duck Shirt.

Disney shirt with a feathered creature aside, the puzzle in the background is a serious piece of work. 500 pieces of various colored warblers, sparrows, buntings, robins, wrens, woodpeckers, cardinals, blackbirds, nuthatches, flycatchers, etc, etc etc.

It's a humbling experience to look back and see where I came from to where I've gone. What are some of your pre-birding birding memories, and/or stories?

Ironically I still have that puzzle in a box in storage somewhere!

Labels: ,

Extreme Backyard Birding

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, April 16, 2011 

Welcome to the newest craze in backyard birding--extreme backyard birding. That's right, its the new way to add species to that yard list when you think you've just about seen everything you can see! It's not for everyone, and it's not the kind of birding where you get great looks at the birds. It's extreme!

Okay, in all seriousness I decided to see if I could pick up a few yard birds today by setting my scope up on my deck and pointing it at the mountains just over a mile from our house near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County. Here is a diagram of the situation:

I thought I might be able to see a few large raptors at the distance. The closest point of the mountains is at the entrance to Bell Canyon about 1 1/3 miles away. The ridge lines average closer to 2 miles away, and as they go south end up being 3 to 3 1/2 miles away. To the naked eye it looks like this:

So with scope set up, Jerry Liguori's Hawks at a Distance in hand, cup of Coke, and my binoculars I started looking. It didn't take long to realize I could pick out birds with my binoculars. They were specks at a distance, but through the scope I could ID most of them without much trouble. Here is what it looked like at 20x on ridge 2 miles out:

Not bad eh? Well along with scanning the ridges I started scanning the skies above the house--what a payday that was. Over the mountains I saw a handful of raptors, including Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, and Peregrine Falcon. Closer to the house I picked up a flock of White-throated Swifts, then a flock of Violet-green Swallows. Before the afternoon was over I had added 5 new yards birds to our list.

It was great to find out that I could do this kind of birding from the house, and knowing that there were quite a few birds I could add this way that I haven't seen at the house yet. Next step, explaining to the neighbors that I am not a peeping Tom (or Tim), and that yes, I am looking at birds up there in the air,where no one else is looking!

Labels: , , ,

Nocturnal Migration Part 2

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, April 15, 2011 

Earlier this week I posted a very basic intro to nocturnal migration. Very basic. I have some more in depth information to post (part 3 and on) but before I get into that I want to take a minute to show a few images and talk about the last couple nights. Migration is in full swing in Utah. The reports coming in from the day time can attest to that--with the arrival of a handful of different shorebirds, swallows, swifts, hawks, waterfowl, terns, gulls, and grebes. It's not even close to the height of the season yet, but things are getting exciting.

First, lets take a look at what migration has looked like the past 4 nights (04/12-04/15):

Monday, A storm approaches migrants. Tuesday, migration!

Wednesday, A storm covers the north. Thursday, silent night.

On Monday and Tuesday migrants were moving across the north. A storm system passed through Monday night, and stalled migration by about 4am (I have an animation below to show). On Tuesday it was clear skies and great conditions as birds moved north. Wednesday was stormy all night and nothing really happened with migrants. Thursday night was clear, but the storms from the previous 24 hours seemed to keep everything grounded as the skies were clear all night. can you see the difference between those nights based off my comments along with the radar images?

That is how migration goes. Some nights are amazing and others are lackluster. The weather plays a role and sometimes none of it seems to make sense. Hopefully I will be able to use a few storms in the coming weeks to highlight effects on migration and how to use the radar information to influence birding. That being said take a look at the image below. It's an animated image of the night of the 11th into the 12th starting at sunset at 8pm and going until 4am. The start point is the slide with the line that spikes on the left side shooting off the edge of the radar. That is the sun reflecting off the radar at sunset:

migration on radar

After the first slide you can see a bunch of migrants appear on the center of the map over the Wasatch. As the slides progress the migrants become more dense, and the storm over the West Desert movers towards the Great Salt Lake. By the last slide the storm is over the lake and the migrants are all but gone from the radar (except for those east of the storm over the mountains). That is at about 4am.

Speaking of storms, over on the National Weather Service Site tonight there is a great image of what severe thunderstorms look like approaching the eastern seaboard:

All those reds, yellows, and greens are very reflective and this is a common sight as storms pass across the continent. To the south you can see the light and medium blues radiating from the doppler stations as migration is happening where the storm hasn't hit yet.

Okay, so I have shown you a bunch of radars and explained what is happening on them--what next? I think for this post we are about tapped out. In the next post I will explain what the reflectivity colors mean, as well as talk about velocity radar screens, which look like the image below:

That's right, not only can we tell how dense migration is, but we know how fast the storms are moving, and how fast the birds are moving too. From there I will talk about how the radar works, and a little more of the science behind what we are seeing. But that's next. So get out and enjoy migration, and if you really want to geek out, check out the radar to see what's happening at night!

Labels: ,

Any guesses?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, April 14, 2011 

I normally don't do quizzes, but why not? I photographed these fledglings in Utah, any guesses? Actually, I'm only 95% sure of the bird on the right, so a positive ID would be great. "Click" on photo to enlarge.

Labels: , ,

Topside views rule!

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, April 11, 2011 

Hawks are typically viewed from below, soaring or gliding overhead, and are typically depicted in books and magazines this way. Sure, a Red-tailed Hawk is cool from below, but to see one from above with its red tail fanned out...there's just something more exciting about that. Maybe a topside view is more rewarding because you don’t often get above a bird -- you know, they're able to fly and we’re not. Maybe its because this rare viewpoint elicits a similar response as a rare bird does? I also think the most captivating photos are topside portraits. A topside view can present an ID challenge; familiarity with upperside field marks is helpful towards identification. "Click" on photo to enlarge.

Labels: , ,

Nocturnal Migration Part 1

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, April 8, 2011 

Thank goodness Jerry Liguori has been busy posting and sharing some great information the past couple weeks. I have gotten behind on blogging and let a couple ideas for posts slip by. Trying to get back into the swing of things just as spring migration set in on Utah let talk about migration—nocturnal migration that is!

So a quick crash course in songbird, shorebird, waterfowl, owl, and so on and so forth migration—basically anything but diurnal raptors. All of the above mentioned migrate primarily at night. There is definite day time migration, but the vast majority of long distance migration happens why most of us are sleeping. Yes that’s right most birds migrate at night. Seems weird, is weird, but it’s the way of the wild.

Second point regarding nocturnal migration. Did you know that you can “watch” migration pan out on weather radar? Say what?!?!? Yes, you can see the density of reflective objects on NEXRAD radar and make out the differences between wet weather, birds, insects, dust, bats, and other objects that are picked up on the radar. Below is the radar from tonight.

Unfortunately, this is showing weather and not birds. Much of the last week has been similar and on clear nights there hasn’t been much showing up on the radar.

Weather shows up as splotches usually with some type of direction (typically heading east), but often stretched out as storm bands move through the radar area. Typically these storms show up as very dense on the radar mostly green with dark blue edges. Yellow and red are usually at the center of the most intense storms showing the most reflectivity. Birds don’t show up on radar like this. Usually when migration is in full swing you can see a donut shaped ring around the center of the radar image (often without a hole in the middle). The donut is typical a light blue with some dark blue and green where birds become more dense. But instead of showing up as globs of color the birds actually show up as dots giving a speckled appearance to the radar. In comparison to the image above over Utah tonight, take a look at the gulf coast right now at the same time.

See the difference? Quite different in appearance, and helpful in reading radar images at night to try and read migration. Right now millions of migrants are moving onto and and up the gulf coast as spring arrivals come from Central and South America.

That is where I am going to leave off tonight. Below are links to two sites I use to try and look at nocturnal migration. Over the next couple weeks hop on anytime between 10pm and 6am and you should be able to start reading the radar images. Part two of this series will be on the way in the next couple days as I delve more into reading the radar, and talk about how and why this information is important to birding.

NCAR NEXRAD Radar (click MTX to see northern Utah)

NWS Radar Mosaic (shows the entire U.S. on one screen)

Labels: , ,

Distant birds vs. close birds

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 

I was recently out in the field with a group of birder/biologists from PacifiCorp who were about to start an intense field job that included identifying all the hawks they saw on a daily basis. One thing I stressed to them was "look at a shape, flight style, and the manner in which a bird holds its wings when watching distant birds", and "rely on plumage only to confirm identifications, or when plumage is clear and obvious". Check out the 2 photos above. It is difficult to see plumage on the distant images (left), but easy to see shape. On the close-up versions of the same images (right), plumage becomes obvious. This is exactly why it important to know shape, flight style, and the manner in which a bird holds its wings when trying to ID birds in the field.…because most birds you see are not from point-blank range. People have asked me "why dedicate a book (Hawks at a Distance) about distant birds only?" My answer is "because it is more important to learn the traits mentioned above, and overall plumage tones before minute plumage details when identifying most raptors in the field.

Labels: ,

ABA Principles of Birding Ethics

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Sunday, April 3, 2011 

With nesting season underway and as somewhat of a follow up to what Carl posted below, it seemed like a good time to review the ABA Code of Ethics. What does everyone think about this? Do you use this as a guide when you're birding? Do you use a personal code of ethics instead? Does it vary depending on situations or birds? Do you ever stop yourself from "getting" a bird or a photo because you feel it would cross a line to do so? I think we could have a good discussion here on this topic, but remember this is all just opinion. Unless of course we're talking about a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in which case it's simply law and opinion isn't as relevant. Let's hear your thoughts!

Labels: ,

Song Playback and Pishing.

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Friday, April 1, 2011 

This is old news to the people that subscribe to UBIRD, but I posted it for those of you who didn't get our conversation yesterday.

We were having a great discussion on UBIRD about the ethical considerations of song playback and pishing. I uploaded a bunch of links to articles, discussions, blog posts, etc. which I have also posted here on the blog. I hope you all enjoy the material & please weigh in with your opinions and thoughts.

Here is an article about song playback.

Here's a good article about the ethics of owling.

& here was a good blog post I found.

Here's a good online discussion.

Here's an article on pishing.

Labels: , ,

My new Budget Bird Songs CD

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at

I'm proud to announce today the release of a project I've been working on for quite some time: my budget bird songs CD. If you want to learn to recognize bird songs AND save money, this is the product for you! Take a minute to listen to this short promotional clip, including audio samples, for Ryan's Budget Bird Songs CD.

Click Here to Play the Sample

Labels: ,