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a blog by and for Utah Birders

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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Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the mention Tim!

June 8, 2011 at 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Congrats on a lifer Tim.

If it will just head north past my house...

June 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM  

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