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

Not a pitfall, but interesting

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, October 31, 2011 

Do you know what is interesting about this bird?

Take a look at the enlarged version ("click" to enlarge). Is it something about the plumage? Something else entirely, what could it be? This bird was photographed today (10-31-11) along the Wasatch foothills in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Any responses are welcome.

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Really Bad Photos of Really Good Birds

posted by Tim Avery at

Whenever a really great bird is reported and accompanied by great photos I am envious. From time to time I am able to get great photos of rare birds, but more often than not, my best shots are of birds that are more common. It is undoubtedly easier to get great photos of common birds--more abundant, more accustomed to people, and easier access provide better opportunities for such photos. I have on occasion revisited a sighting of a rarity on multiple occasions in hopes of better photos. Most of the time however, it is a spur of the moment sighting and the photos I take are the only ones I get. There have been brief encounters, lasting mere seconds, and fleeting glimpses of birds moving through the tree tops. Usually I don’t even start shooting until I am sure of the ID, or unless the ID is so questionable and I need photos to take a second look. So in turn the vast majority of the photos I have of “rare” or “out of range” birds are, well--bad. Here are some really bad photos of some really good birds.

King Eider 
Miller Beach, Indiana - November 2006 

 I sweat to you that is an Eider! This is probably the worst of the worst of the bunch. The flyby was spotted by myself and a handful of other Indiana Birders coursing the south shore of Lake Michigan on a cold November day. The large sea duck was as unexpected as any bird might have been, but was the 5th or 6th report from the area over the years. Bad light and 300 yards of water between us and the bird made for this incredibly horrible record shot!

Red-throated Loon 
East Canyon Reservoir, Utah - November 8, 2007 

Not the worst of the worst--actually fairly identifiable from the picture. The bird was several hundred yards away, but the distinct pattern really stands out. The quality of the photo leaves something to the imagination but for rare migrant loons on Utah mountain reservoirs its enough for validation.

Reddish Egret 
Fish Springs NWR, Utah - August 2007 

What do you get when you take a picture through a 60X eye-piece with a 6 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, at a bird way too far away to photograph on a windy summer afternoon? This record shot of a Reddish Egret. I took a number of shots, but nothing came out nearly as awesome ad this shot. Other were graced with views at less than 50 yards away--I was not so lucky!

Ruddy Turnstone 
Bear River MBR, Utah - August 2007 

This might actually be the best of the bunch. Easily identifiable, and very colorful. But it was taken in crappy light, at well over 100 yards away. It was my first and only Ruddy Turnstone in Utah--a state nemesis bird that I haven’t seen in state since this. The bad photo remains the only I have of any Ruddy Turnstone--and a welcome addition to my gallery.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Pectoral on the left) 
Antelope Island Causeway, Utah - October 2007 

When a 1st state record is at hand any picture is better than none. After the initial shock of seeing the rufousy washed bird in the company of a number of Pectoral Sandpipers, I snapped off a handful of distant shots of the bird. Poor light and distance were the culprit here--but none-the-less, just enough detail for a 1st! Several others were able to relocate the bird the following day although no other photos were captured.

Red-headed Woodpecker 
Hurricane, Utah - December 2004 

No question as to the identity here. Even a terrible record shot of this bird is unmistakable. Flying through the trees at an orchard in southern Utah, this was one of the best looks I had at the only modern report of Red-headed Woodpecker from Utah. Others managed some great shots, but at the time I was happy with what I captured using a 300MM $50 lens and my 1st generation DSLR. I also got a perched shot that is equally as bad--in fact worse in terms of focus, but the red head is blazingly obvious!

Gilded Flicker 
Beaver Dam Slope, Utah - April 23, 2010 

Possibly one of the worst record shots. The details in the photo are murky and were a last ditch effort to get some type of documentation for the woodpecker that has been sparsely reported in southwestern Utah, with very few photos for vindication. The birds (yes 2) flushed from a water tank in the desert and flew directly away from my wife and I. I took to foot chasing them through the Cholla and Joshua Trees, snapping this shot before they disappeared. Sometimes even the worst shot is just that--the worst shot!

Kirtland’s Warbler 
Chicago, Illinois - May 2008 

What do you do when you are in Chicago in May birding Lincoln Park as migrants duck and dodge through the trees and you spot the rarest native wood warbler found in North America? After the initial freak out you try to get a picture of course... But umm... What if you don’t have you camera because it was a business trip and the birding was just supposed to be a casual after work stroll? Luck for me I had my point-and-shoot. I wasn’t dumb enough to go without at least some type of camera. But handholding binoculars, and trying to digi-binoc in the waning evening hours doesn’t make for an easy task. When all was said and done I managed two shots that were barely identifiable for this record shot--one of only 3 reports ( believe) from the lake front in Illinois.

Some times we capture the worst shots of some of the greatest birds. It’s part of remaining a birder and keeping photography as a secondary when in the field. It’s always best to spend as much time identifying the birds and studying them to make sure what you see is what you think it is, only going to the camera when you feel confident or need that reassurance. Using photos to identify birds later leads to all kinds of pitfalls, and can be one of the most frustrating experiences to go through--been there and done that!

This is only a small sampling of some of my bad photos of good birds... Maybe down the road I will post some more.

What are some of the worst photos you’ve taken of good birds?

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Raptor Pitfalls #1

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, October 29, 2011 

There are pitfalls in all aspects of bird identification, and raptors are certainly no exception. I want to share some pitfalls from time to time (or as often as I can) that I overhear birders falling into. This discussion is in regards to juvenile Goshawks being known as the only accipiter in N.A. to have markings on the undertail coverts. Yes, Goshawks almost always show this, but some juvenile Sharpies and Cooper's Hawks can show streaking on the undertail coverts (see CH photos above, "click" to enlarge).

 In Cooper's Hawks, this occurs on birds in the West much more often than on birds in the East. Out West, Cooper's tend to be more heavily marked underneath as well. Also, there are juvenile Goshawks that are lightly marked on the underbody and lack markings to the undertail coverts. Just a note to be made aware of, and something my buddy Pete Gustas and I have talked about recently.

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Sea Ducks

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, October 27, 2011 

It's now been about a month since an overly cooperative Harlequin Duck showed up at the Antelope Island Causeway.  The bird in question is the first chase-able long staying Harlequin Duck in Utah in more than a decade.  Even more surprising was than in mid October the individual was joined by ANOTHER Harlequin Duck.  The 2 birds have now become something of a sure thing at the first bridge allowing for fantastic looks, and great photo opportunities.  One of the birds has began to transition into alternate plumage--and if it sticks around would be the first male with such plumage seen in Utah.

Harlequin Duck at Antelope Island Causeway, September 2011

The birds have provided most birders from across northern Utah the opportunity to add a species to their state list, and to enjoy a bird not normally seen in Utah--and never for such a long period of time.  Utah is no stranger to "sea ducks" though; scoters and Long-tailed Ducks are an annual part of early winter birding in Utah.  With November right around the corner we are approaching the height of sea duck season in the state, and that means the best time to find and see these uncommon visitors is here.

10 of 18 Long-tailed Ducks seen at
Antelope Island Causway in November 2007

Long-tailed Ducks are one of my favorite members of the waterfowl family.  This species can be quite varied in plumage, including blackish, brownish, reddish, and whitish individuals.  Most have some combination of those colors--but the prized sight for most birders is the adult male in alternate plumage from which the species received its name (the old name, "Oldsquaw" is perhaps one of the most  interesting names for a bird, and one that many were sad to see go).  Long-tailed Ducks are the most common of the sea faring species you will encounter in Utah.  More often than not it isn't just one or two birds gracing the causeway in November--but often time 5,6, 10, or a dozen birds.  On November 11, 2007 I saw an astonishing 18 along the causeway which seems to be the highest single day total for Utah (that November saw numbers in the teens all month).

Surf Scoter coming into land at Antelope Island Causeway

Surf Scoters come in as the second most common sea duck found in Utah.  Usually single birds or pairs are encountered, but flocks of up to 4 are reported from time to time.  By far the most common Scoter you may encounter in Utah.  All three scoters are fairly uncommon, but most years there are multiple reports from around the state.  These species can show up on any open body of water, but the causeway does seem to get the most reports--it in turn also gets the most coverage by birders.  Adult males  in alternate plumage of any of the 3 are extremely rare--meaning most are browns, grays and white of females and juveniles.

White-winged Scoter in flight at Antelope Island Causeway

White-winged Scoter are next in line.  Long bodies, white wing patches, and a striking bird in flight.  Easy to identify because of the patches they usually show up one at a time--although pairs are not out of the question.   Occasionally, mixed groups of scoters can be found allowing for direct comparison to the other species.

Black Scoter at Antelope Island Causeway

Black Scoter is the rarest of the scoters in Utah.  Almost always found by themselves, there are reports of multiple birds on the same day, but usually not together.  Usually very dark looking,with a unique shape, this species is easy to separate from the other members of the family.  Adult males in alternate plumage are stunning jet black with orange bills, and very rare in state.

White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, and Long Tailed Duck
at Antelope Island Causeway 

Over the next month as you visit lakes, reservoirs, and the Great Salt Lake be on the lookout for these wandering ducks.  If you aren't up for the causeway, there are a number of reservoir loops you can take in northern and southern Utah on a given day to maximize your chances for finding these birds, along with loons, grebes, and other waterbirds.  Often times 5 or 6 lakes in a day might turn up a few treats.  I created  a weekend reservoir map for Utah last year that has two pages.  The first is northern and Central Utah, while the second page is southern--you can take a look here if you need some ideas:

Utah Weekend Reservoir Map

This doesn't show all the lakes in Utah, but gives you a few ideas if you wanted to give it a try.

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The Imperial Woodpecker

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 

This is a fascinating glimpse at the now presumed extinct Imperial Woodpecker. Make sure you check out the video footage.

Link to Article

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Antelope Island Field Trip 10/29/11

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 

Saturday, October 29th, 8am
Leader: Carl Ingwell

One of the premier birding locations in Utah, there is never a bad time to visit Antelope Island. Join Carl Ingwell as he leads us across its varied habitats in search of the many, diverse inhabitants. We'll check the causeway flats for shorebirds, followed by a pleasant, meandering drive across the rolling fields, hills, and tree patches to the storied 'hotspot' of Garr Ranch. We'll be looking for late fall migrants as well as early winter residents throughout our travels. There will no doubt be many surprises along the way. Won't you join us for what is bound to be a memorable trip? Meet in the south-east corner of the Shopko Parking Lot in Sugarhouse by 8am. Bring snacks, water and lunch. Call Carl (801-688-5017) for more information.

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Himalayan Snowcock Expedition with BAS

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Monday, October 24, 2011 

This weekend, I led a Bridgerland Audubon Society field trip to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada in search of Himalayan Snowcocks. The Himalayan Snowcock is a large grouse, about the size of a Greater Sage-Grouse, that is adapted for living in the high rocky peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. In the 1960s and 1970s it was introduced to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada for hunting. The introduction was successful, and now this isolated mountain range is the only place outside of the Himalayas where this species can be seen. This species is sought after by the top birders of North America, and a visit to their habitat was depicted in the recent movie, The Big Year.

On Saturday morning, I met the other birders on this BAS trip in the hotel in Elko at 4:30 AM, and we were on the trail at the end of Lamoille Canyon a little after 5:30 AM. We arrived at the bench above Island Lake just as the sun was starting to hit the tops of the mountain peaks around us. At least four Himalayan Snowcocks were calling from various points around the cirque of cliffs. (The calls were all heard within about a half hour after sunrise, then the birds stopped vocalizing). Collectively, we saw two individuals, and the whole group had leisurely scope views at one individual as it foraged around a ledge in the cliffs. We also watched several flocks of Black Rosy-Finches flitting around the scree below the cliffs. We had found our target bird before 7:30 AM, so we spent a little while looking for more of them, and watching the mammals of the area, which included Mule Deer, Pika, and Mountain Goats. We then headed back down to the trailhead to start another hike.

The next hike we took was a loop to Lamoille Lake. Some parts of the trail were a bit icy, and the early parts of the trail were very birdy, so the hiking was slow. Clark's Nutcrackers were actively gathering and caching pine seeds in a large open stand of pines. We were impressed by the numbers here, and estimated about 300 individual birds in this 3.5 mile loop, most of which were in the first mile. It was fun to watch the nutcrackers extract the nuts from the cones with ease and fill their crops to the point it looked like they might pop, before flying off to a suitable place to hide them for the winter. Other species seen along this loop included Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, a White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creepers, and three Dusky Grouse, among others. GCKI and BRCR are apparently pretty rare in northern Nevada: eBird has only five and four (respectively) previous records for these species in Elko County.  We ended back at the parking lot at about 3:00, tired from our early start and many miles on the trail at high elevation, but thrilled with finding many great birds including our target bird, the Himalayan Snowcock.

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The Big Year—My Take

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 

I consider myself a movie buff.  I have been known to go to midnight openings for highly anticipated movies.  I generally like most movies as well.  I am not a tough critic, and for the most part enjoy movies for the art, the acting (good or bad), and the subtle things that others may not care about (music, set design, things going on in the background).  Truth be told I didn’t have the highest hopes for this movie, from the first previews, to the teasers, and the blog post reviews after opening night.  I had read the book some years ago and found it enjoyable.  I figured with the movie Hollywood would take some liberties, and try to make it interesting to the mainstream.  So this was what I went into the theatre in my head—but with an open mind to what it may actually end up being.

Now having seen the movie I can say two things. First, I see why birders have for the most part raved about it, and enjoyed it—I for one enjoyed it as well.  Secondly, the producers, writers, and directors missed a chance to make something big, and make something memorable.  Let’s talk about the second part first.

A movie about birders competing to see the most birds in a year in North America.  To your average Joe this has no appeal—I mean come on think about how absurd that sounds to someone who doesn’t watch birds.  SO Hollywood tries.  They take a book, change a bunch of facts, come up with a story that works based off the original facts, and make a movie.  They get three huge stars to play the main roles, and a supporting cast that has some pretty big names as well.  Regardless of the story, this thing should be gold.  Then opening weekend comes and the movie comes in #9 at the box office with just over $3,000,000 gross.  IT will be a miracle if it stays in the big theatres more than a week.

So what would have worked?  Does anyone remember Best in Show?  The parody of the Westminster Kennel Club’s top dog competition?  What about Dodgeball? The movie that made the “sport” more than just a playground game.  These movies were vividly different, but both immensely hilarious in their own ways.  They made fun of their subjects, but at the same time took the serious nature of the characters as a juxtaposition that made for comedy gold.  They were funny, entertaining, and successful.  They were everything the Big Year could have and should have been.

Imagine a docu-comedy about birders, where the characters are the extremes, and so serious about what they do, that you can’t help but laugh.  It’s okay to be made fun of—especially if it spreads awareness and gains popularity because of that.  Or a comedy that is just laugh after laugh after laugh at our expense.  Those types of movies would have been more geared at your average watcher, and may have been more successful.

Now some will say I am being too tough on the flick.  But thus far the sugar coated blog reviews are not an honest look at the movie.  They are reviews from the eyes of birders and that makes them lopsided.  And don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie—I found it entertaining, and I enjoyed the fun it poked.  Having done my own big year I felt some of the joy, the frustration, the pain, and excitement of the characters as they went about their journeys.  I laughed when I saw a bit of myself in each of them.  My wife by my side smirking at me from time to time as we both thought, “Man they nailed that portrayal”.  And yes in some instances they were over the top in their portrayals, but for the most part, it was pretty spot on and as hard as it may be for some of us to admit, we know some of those characters in real life.  We see those actions when we interact with other birders, and we have been through the same experiences as those in the movie. 

Perhaps the thing I found most enjoyable was the computer animated birds—some of them were stunning.  A certain woodpecker and hummingbird come to mind.  Some were equally bad, and others just ridiculous (High Island comes to mind).   Some of the actions of the birders were equally ridiculous, while others were just slight exaggerations.  At one point I saw Owen Wilson assuming the Jeff Bilsky birding stance—all rights reserved (I joke).  All in all like I have said, before, I enjoyed the movie.

The soundtrack wasn’t bad either, and the song by the Eels is a classic!  You can check it out here.

My wife, god bless her sat through it with me.  She saw the movie from the other side.  The wives of the characters, the people who deal with that craziness that ensues when birding is in full swing and the experiences we have had together and could relate to what was happening on screen.  She even told me afterwards that I had qualities of all the characters, and she had seen me do some of the ridiculous things they do. 

With that being said, if you are a birder (and I imagine if you are reading this you are), GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  Go see it before it is out of theatres and all you can do is pick it up at Redbox or on Netflix.  You should enjoy it, and you will probably have some of the same thoughts that I had.  You may even want to do a big year yourself!

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Name Those Feathers... or Bird...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, October 17, 2011 

Yesterday afternoon as I watched the 49ers squeeze by the Lions I heard a thud on one of the living room windows in our house. This has become sadly common place with 10 large windows on the front of our home. Usually the thud is that of a House Sparrow or Finch fleeing something that scared them from the feeders--but this thud was a little heftier. I got up and went to the front door, opening it in time to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk dragging the victim of the horrific crash off and out of sight. All that remained of the attack were a few feathers, 2 of which I photographed and have put below. Take a look.

With that my challenge to you is to name those feathers--or more specific the bird that once owned them. I was a little surprised when I first saw the feathers, trying to tie them to the bird, but then I realized what feathers they were and it made sense. Good Luck!

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Binocular specifications

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Sunday, October 16, 2011 

Some birders get confused on what the numbers on their binoculars stand for. For example 7x45 (pictured above, best binoculars in the world)...the 7 stands for the magnification (power), and is built into the ocular lenses (the lens you put your eyes up to). The 45 stands for the diameter in millimeters of the objective lens (wider lenses at the end of the binoculars). The wider the objective lens, the more light they are supposed to gather, although glass quality and type of coating on the lenses plays a part in this.

The field of view is not determined from the size of the objective lens...the field of view is determined by the width of the ocular lenses. So a 7x50 binocular does not necessarily have a wider field of view than a 7x42...and may not be brighter in some cases. The field of view is measured in feet per 1000 yards. So a FOV of 350 ft. at 1000 yds. will be smaller than a FOV of 405 ft. at 1000 yds. When comparing full-sized high quality binoculars, most 10x binoculars have a smaller FOV compared to 7x binoculars. Don't be convinced by someone who claims to own a 10x binocular with a wide FOV.


Hawk Migration

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, October 10, 2011 

The hawk Migration is in full swing at the moment. Lots of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Harriers, Kestrels, and Red-tailed Hawks moving south along the Wasatch. If you get a free moment to hike along the foothills....look up. Lots of Flickers migrating as well -- they typically coincide with the Cooper's Hawks. Yellow-rumped Warblers are in good numbers too. Also saw a hummingbird today.

Goshawks, Swainson's Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, and the other falcons can be seen on any given day.

Took this photo of a Sharp-shinned Hawk about half way up to Grandeur Peak yesterday ("click" to enlarge).

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The Sabine's Gull

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Saturday, October 8, 2011 

Sabine's Gull at Antelope Island State Park: 10/8/11

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Sabine’s Gull is "An unusual and distinctive arctic gull that breeds at high latitudes but winters near the tropics."

Today at Antelope Island State Park, Tim Avery and I located one. One of the first thoughts I had when I saw this amazing bird was it must’ve gone on one hell of a journey to get here. Just take a look at where they breed.

This bird likely came from somewhere off the northern coast of Alaska or Canada. The Gull showed the characteristic look of a juvenile bird, meaning it hatched just a few months ago. What an incredible journey to make. A flight of presumably 3,000 or so miles just to get to Utah with likely at least that left to go in order to reach it’s wintering grounds in the tropics. Stunning. Remarkable. I am in awe of the Sabine’s Gull. More of Tim's photos of the bird can be seen here.

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Neat Sightings...I guess

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 

Thought I'd share some sightings. Every October I see a fair number of Common Loons (above left) migrating along the Wasatch and the Goshute Mountains, so keep an eye out for them. Some people are puzzled by this, but if you spend time along the ridge during fall and spring migration, you will see some neat sightings or views of birds that you don't see in the valleys.

The photo in the middle (above) is part of the Rosy Finch flock of about 500 birds that spent a month or so below Grandeur Peak along the shoreline trail last winter. They were difficult to find unless something happened to scare them up, even though they were right above the trail only about 50 ft.

The photo above right is of a dragonfly in flight. I didn't think much of it, but a friend filled me in that there aren't too many dragonfly photos of them in flight. So, I thought I would share it. I have a few more interesting photos to share down the road.

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Kestrel vs. Merlin

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, October 3, 2011 

When birders talk about difficult ID issues, they never mention telling female Kestrels from "brown" (juvenile and adult female) Prairie Merlins. Yes, when seen in close-up photos, the two are easy to tell apart, but when seen at a distance in the field they can look very similar to each other. Trust me, I've seen some of the best birders and hawk watchers in the country make this mistake.

The flight style of Kestrels and Merlins differs, and the shape differences between the two are sometimes obvious, but the plumages can appear quite similar (Merlin on top, Kestrel on bottom). Next time you see a distant "Kestrel" that seems a tad stocky or is flying like a Merlin, take a second look. Hope this helps.

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Baird's Sparrow in Salt Lake Tribune

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, October 1, 2011 

This weeks bird sighting in the Salt Lake Tribune is of the Baird's Sparrow I found a couple weeks ago at Swede Lane in Utah County. So yes this is shameless self promotion (but informational shameless self promotion).

Baird's Sparrow at Swede Lane, Utah

This species is rarely reported in Utah, but likely passes through in very small numbers each year during spring and fall migration. The southeast corner of the state would be in the general migration route, and given how little coverage the area receives, this is only one of a number of birds that probably occur more than reported passing through this vast remote region.

There have been about 7 reports of the species in Utah, although there is only one "officially accepted record"--but you know my thoughts on that. This secretive sparrow can be very hard to detect as it is--secretive. On the occasions I have come across this bird they have always been seen briefly as they moved through low brushes and grass. This individual gave me about 10 seconds perched up on the wire, after hopping from the edge of a dirt road--and before disappearing into a field with lots of low shrubs and grasses.

It's been a great year thus far with some really good birds showing up around the state. Here is a link to the article in the tribune:

Bird Sighting: Baird's Sparrow | Salt Lake Tribune

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