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

Dickcissel and Birding Slump

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 

Last week, Tony Jones heard a bird singing from the fields behind his house in Farmington; a bird he didn't recognize. It took him three more days to be able to see the bird, and then he was able to identify it as a Dickcissel. Dickcissels are typically an eastern species, so he knew this was a big deal. He sent word to the Utah birding community via the Utah Birders website, and many avid and excited birders soon arrived in his neighborhood to look for the bird. Today, I was one of those birders. I got this photograph, and some audio recordings (which I will share here later).

Only three previous records of Dickcissel have been accepted by the state Bird Records Committee. With the excellent photographs that have already been taken, it is almost certain that this bird will stand as the fourth accepted state record. What a great bird!

The timing of this bird is a bit of a surprise, as most vagrant records of this species, and the majority of vagrant records in general, come during spring or fall migration. This is the time when more birds are moving, and hence more birds are likely to get lost. But the fact that this bird was found in what is ornithologically-speaking the dead of summer supports the old axiom that anything can turn up anywhere. It is always a good time to go birding.

Birders in Utah have submitted fewer records to eBird for the first week of July than for almost any other week of the year (exceeded only by the second week of December). July is typically the start of a mid-summer birding slump. Spring migration is done, and fall migration hasn't picked up yet, so the motivation to go birding, and to enter those records in eBird, declines. But as the recent Dickcissel shows, rare birds can be found in mid-summer, too. And, the distribution and abundance of breeding birds is arguably the most important data that eBird can collect - especially now that the new data input pages allow you to record breeding indicators such as parents carrying food and the presence of fledglings. So don't let July get you down - go birding, and go eBirding. You never know what you might find.

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Raptor Quiz #3

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, June 27, 2011 

A much easier quiz bird.....taken on June 7 in Utah. Please don't ask where, I don't offer locations of nesting birds (or possible nesters) I run across or hear of...thanks.

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Raptor Quiz #2

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 

This quiz should be a bit easier...thanks for the responses on the first one.

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Red-necked Grebe in Hyrum

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Monday, June 20, 2011 

On Saturday I got a call from Bob Atwood that he had just found a Red-necked Grebe at Hyrum Reservoir, about 20 minutes from my house in Logan. I was out of town at the time, but as soon as I got back the next day, yesterday, I headed down to see if I could find it. I set up my spotting scope on the dam where he had found the bird, and saw a tiny speck on the water about a quarter mile out. There were probably lots of other specks on the water, but luck was on my side and the first one I noticed was the target bird, my first Red-necked Grebe in Utah and my first anywhere in breeding plumage.

I drove around to the closest point on the shore to the bird, and couldn't find it. I was afraid it might have flown while I was driving, but it was also swimming pretty fast and I thought it might have just swam out of my view from that point, where trees were on either side of me and I could only see straight out from the shore. I drove back around near the dam, and saw the bird closer to me than I expected, and getting closer to shore. I climbed down the shore and scanned again for the bird. Just when I thought I lost it again, it resurfaced right in front of me! I got a few good shots then, and several more by running down the shoreline each time the grebe dove, and lying still on the rocks ahead of it before it resurfaced.

Red-necked Grebes have been seen several times in Utah, but they are very rare here. There are about a dozen previous records for the state, and most are of immatures or non-breeding adults in the winter. This bird was unique not only because it is so rare, but especially because it was in full breeding plumage. What a great bird!

(Photos copyright Ryan O'Donnell 2011)

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Raptor Quiz #1

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, June 16, 2011 

I thought I would post 3 or 4 raptor quizzes in the next couple of weeks. They will be silhouettes, so they may be difficult, but fun nonetheless. Above is the first one, just respond in the "comments"...anonymously if you like. No egos or agenda here, just a simple fun activity for all of us to possibly learn something from. For me, it is interesting to hear other's comments, it makes everyone look more closely and consider aspects they may never have thought of. And, I am always willing to share my opinions and thoughts if they are helpful, regardless if I am right or wrong.

I think the image I posted was a bit difficult and unfair, so I added another image of the same species that may help with the ID.

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Live from Costa Rica

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, June 13, 2011 

Hola from Costa Rica! Found a Tacobar in Jaco on the central Pacific coast that has wifi so I figured I would send a little something about the birds while I had a minute. Being that I am on my honeymoon and not a birding trip I am limiting the birding--but even limited birding here is fantastic. Had 5 lifers before leaving the rental car place yesterday and over 40 on the day with just a couple quick stops. Highlights were Scarlet Macaws, Smooth-billed and Groove-billed Ani, Cherrie's Tanager, Amazon Kingfisher, lots of Rufous-napped Wrens, and Magnificent Frigatebird.

That's all for now. Added a few more lifers this morning, but will save that, picture, and more details for a future blog post!



posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Sunday, June 12, 2011 

Just wanted to send a quick congratulations to a great birder, friend, and blogger. This weekend Mr. Tim Avery married his beautiful bride Sam. The ceremony was wonderful, and outdoors :). Congrats, Tim!


Competitive Birding Across State Lines

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 

This year I've taken a part-time job doing bird point counts and other bird surveys for a local consulting company. We're studying the birds that are using the site of a future wind project near Blackfoot, in Bingham County, Idaho. It's been a great job for me because it has given me professional bird experience, it's kept me in the field in a time when my PhD work is all in the office, and it is only every other weekend, so it hasn't interfered too much with my PhD work. The best part, though, is that it has forced me to explore the birds of a rarely birded part of Idaho. (Oh, and I get paid!).

I started off with the goal of seeing 100 species in the county, but then a casual conversation with my friend Craig ended up raising the bar. Craig is going to try to see how many species he can see in Cache County this year (like I did back in 2008). So I made a bet with him that I could see more than half as many birds on my eight or nine work trips to Bingham County as he could in a year in his home county. At stake is a six pack of the winner's favorite beer from the Logan liquor store, plus a little bit of bragging rights.

The record for the most species seen in a year in Cache County is 242. I think if I can see over 120 species in Bingham County, I'll have a very good chance of winning the bet. If I can see over 130, Craig is pretty much sunk. So far, I'm at 108, but there's plenty of easy ones still to find. . . .

These photos are from Bingham County, Idaho. The scenery was photographed at our study site. The Cedar Waxwing was photographed in Blackfoot, and the Cinnamon Teal pair was photographed at American Falls Reservoir, both in Bingham County.

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Book Reviews

posted by Jerry Liguori at

A few quick book recommendations....not detailed reviews.


As I flipped through the newly released ANTARCTIC WILDLIFE: A Visitor’s Guide (Princeton Univ. Press) by James Lowen, I was immediately impressed by the layout, format, and content. But, I wanted to give the book a good look to make sure my first impression was accurate. I’m glad to say the book is spectacular. It covers all wildlife within Antarctica, not just birds. But for the birders reading this, the section on birds is done well…with beautiful composite photos, and comparisons of similar species. I especially like the petrel, albatross, and dolphin plates, and the silhouetted runners along the bottom of the dolphin and whale pages depicting behavior and structure traits! Even though this guide will not be as popular as a guide to North America due to a more restricted audience…I want to make a statement that may seem grand, but is honest: “anyone authoring a field guide in the future should pick up a copy of this book and use it as a model”. It is simply and nicely laid out, easy to digest, and appealing in every way.

The photography is professional, and the photoshop work is well done. The only criticism I have is that some of the photos “pasted” into certain backgrounds have obvious sharp lines, and could have been slightly blurred on the edges to blend in more naturally. But that does not detract from the book, and I admit that I am more critical than most in regards to Photoshop work.

THE BIRDS OF NEW JERSEY: Status and Distribution

Many Utahns will probably never visit New Jersey, having heard of its reputation as the “arm-pit state”, or if their only visual of New Jersey is a TV clip of Newark Airport, or an episode of The Sopranos” or “The Jersey Shore” (which I have never watched). But, I have ties to New Jersey that I reluctantly admit. I lived and birded in New Jersey for a long time.

After looking through THE BIRDS OF NEW JERSEY: Status and Distribution by William J. Boyle, I was reminded of what a great state New Jersey is for birds. Hey, its not all concrete, airports, and smog...there are lots of great forest, grassland, marsh, and coastal habitat that hold an amazing diversity of bird species. Bill Boyle knows the state as well as anybody, and his other book "A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey" has been a popular book in the East for many years. THE BIRDS OF NEW JERSEY covers the status and distribution of the entire list of birds seen in New Jersey (including rarities) with a map for all species and a photo for most. This book is not a field guide, but rather an atlas type guide and the sub-title clearly states that. The book is likely the best of its kind in presenting the birding locales, prevalence, and status of birds for a single state. It is easy to navigate and concise. For any birder living in, near, or visiting New Jersey, this is one book to have!

Most of the photos are by Kevin Karlson, and they are brilliant. The rare bird photos are the actual birds that appeared in New Jersey (many of which I was lucky enough to see), Some of these are not stunning portraits, but I prefer to see the actual rare bird that showed up in New Jersey rather than a portrait from somewhere else…it lets the readers see for themselves the documented sightings. Also, I love that the cover photo is an American Kestrel, sadly though, they are difficult to find breeding there these days. I have many good things to say about this guide….but the only thing I would have liked to see differently is habitat preferences included for all the species (although most are included).

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher... in Utah

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from Wikimedia Commons

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is not a species anyone would really associate with Utah. With fewer than 20 reports over the last 100 years this vagrant is a highly sought after prize for Utah birders. I have been birding since the early 90's and the only report that really stands out was one from 1992 I think at Fish Springs NWR--not exactly an easy chase for anyone--especially during a period without cellular phones and the Internet. I hadn't even started birding at that point so it's a null point. Anyways, since then this has been a species that I have always looked for and hoped to stumble upon as a vagrant from the various places I have lived an worked. And yet somehow through all these years I have never managed to find one--and am yet to make the trip to the south-central part of the country where they are a common sight.

On Monday as I was weaving in and out of traffic and cones heading to Provo for work I got an unexpected phone call from Jeff Bilsky, saying something about a flycatcher. It took a minute but I was fairly certain the word "scissor" was in there. After talking through it I got the information and as luck would have it I was headed right for where the bird had been reported less than 10 minutes earlier. The bird showed up at the Provo Airport Dike on the east side of Utah Lake, just west of the city of Provo. The area is actually perfect for northbound vagrants during the spring--especially with strong winds from the south and west. However, I definitely wouldn't have expected this bird to show up here the first week of June!

As I made my way out the dike I was scanning every bit of movement I saw. Eastern Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Cowbird, Oriole, Tanager, Mourning Dove, Yellowthroat, Cinnamon Teal, Martin, Marsh Wren. So much activity, and the bird could be anywhere. In a shrub, in a tree, on a fence, on the ground, in the grass, in the reeds, in some airplanes rotors--aghh! I was scanning looking for that long streaming tail--the sure sign of this beautiful vagrant. Nothing.

I made my way south till I saw Eric Huish, pointing out over the airstrip. I got out and he mentioned where the bird was and that it was being chased by a Western Kingbird. I found the bird and was shocked in two ways. First, the size of the body wasn't what I had expected. I had always imagined this bird was roughly the size of an Western Kingbird--but it was a slim and sleek bird, obviously smaller than the Western Kingbird giving chase. Secondly, It's tail streamers--not there! When the bird banked you could see the tail fork, maybe 6-8" long, but not at all what I had expected to see. Not the poster child for this species!

The bird was flying erratically and almost as soon as I had gotten it in my binoculars, it disappeared to the south out of sight--not to be reported the rest of the day. It wasn't the kind of look at a lifer that most of us want--nor was it as exciting as I had expected. The fleeting glimpses left me a little unsatisfied. It was however, a lifer, and it felt great to finally see that bird despite the brief encounter.

The following day a number of Utah Birders got much better and longer looks at the bird an even managed some photos.

Despite the number of reports over the years this bird is truly a mega in Utah. It is the kind of sighting that draws birders of every level, every amount of obsession, and age into the field for the chance to add a remarkable bird to their Utah list, and for many--their life list.

Tomorrow is another day and hopefully a few more people will be lucky enough to get even a brief glimpse of this beauty before it hopefully travels somewhere to the south and east where the right climate, food, and companionship will lead it to a long and prosperous life. The travels to the mountain west just a memory for the bird and the birders!

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