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

Raptor quiz #4

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 

Instead of doing a straight species ID quiz, I want to do a series of quizzes regarding age and sex of certain birds.

Here is the first Golden Eagle (I'll post a few more eagles after this). I photographed this bird in late fall, how old would that make it...in years or in age class terminology, either one. Its not difficult, so don't over-think it.

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2 Days in St. George

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Sunday, January 29, 2012 

I spent Friday and Saturday in St. George to relax and get some birding in. The St. George Winter Bird Festival was going on Thursday-Saturday and is an event I try to attend every year. It's cool to see so many birders all over town. At every major birding hotspot there'd always be cars coming and going and birders on the move asking what you're seeing and telling stories of what they witnessed. I woke up at 4am Friday morning to drive down and join Rick Fridell and his trip intended for the city of Hurricane. However, true to its name, the wind was absolutely unbearable in this area and the birding was difficult. However, one highlight on this segment was a stop at Stratton Pond where side by side comparisons of Greater and Lesser Scaup showed differences I didn't even know about - in terms of bill shape and size. Rick was a great teacher.

The wind was whipping at Sandhollow SP

After a phone call and a check on the conditions just a few miles away, we headed out to the Washington Fields where it was supposedly less windy. There has been a White-tailed Kite in this area for the last several weeks and after some looking at the "usual" spots, we were able to track it down and get incredible looks.

White-tailed Kite

Other highlights on this day included a whole host of wintering Savannah and Vesper Sparrows; a big surprise in terms of numbers this year. We weren't able to find the Lark Buntings that have been around. We did see a couple of Prairie Falcons, a Merlin, and several Kestrels to make a nice falcon sp day. A first year male Vermilion Flycatcher was a great find. A couple of Roadrunners and Mountain Bluebirds gave great looks as well.

Saturday I woke up early and headed out to Lytle Ranch, my favorite place to visit. The views alone make it worth it. The birding is usually incredible as well.

The road to Lytle Ranch

Along the road to the ranch, I found a handful of Cactus Wrens and a surprising Sage Thrasher. At the ranch itself, I walked all over and found several specialty birds for the area including the following: Western Bluebirds, Phainopeplas, Verdin, Crissal Thrasher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Black Phoebe, Bewick's Wrens, Savannah Sparrows, Gambel's Quail etc. Less usual, were a pair of Long-eared Owls roosting and a male Anna's Hummingbird. Also, all the way at the end of the main walk, in the river, was a mixed group of ducks that included several Green-winged Teal and a lone American Wigeon and Hooded Merganser. Other nice birds included one Lincoln's Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush. It really paid off to be patient, quiet, and slow as I wandered the ranch. There's always one more bird and one more spot to check.

Heading back from Lytle Ranch

I decided to spend my afternoon close to Zion National Park - just about an hour or so away from where I was. My first stop was to look for Rufous-crowned Sparrows in Springdale. I was successful and added another life bird. I have tried several times; it was nice to finally see one of these.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Finally, I drove up the Kolob Reservoir Road - well as far as I could get before the snows stopped me. Not a lot of bird life to be found, but a nice flock of Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches was fun to see.

Kolob Reservoir Road

As usual, this trip to St. George was memorable and fun. Can't wait to get back down there.

Good Birding.


Crappy Photos #1

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, January 28, 2012 

Gee Mike, you didn't do me any favors with these pics, but that was the point of the post. If I identify them correctly, will you delete them from your files so nobody can see them again and prove me wrong? Just kidding of course.

The top photo is a juvenile Peregrine Falcon. The overall shape (heavy bodied, and long and narrow wings without any bulge is typical of a Peregrine from this angle), and the feet (large with long toes, most long-toed raptors have skinny toes and appear smaller-footed) are good clues. Although it looks grayish on top, it is the type of grayish that juveniles appear to be in poor light. Also, it does look streaked on the breast and uniformly colored underneath instead of darker on the belly like adults.

The bottom bird is a juvenile Red-tail. Blocky wings in a glide with the wing tips projecting only slightly are perfect for Red-tail. It looks white-headed but that is typical of gliding birds when the sun blasts the head only. The squarish shape of the pale primary "panels" fit perfect for juvenile Red-tail. Other juvenile buteos show slightly differently shaped "panels" or "windows." Also, the bird is buffy-white underneath, lacking the faint (or strong) rufous tone to the underside most adults show.

Hope this helps, and if I get more of these type of photos....I will fail to be of any help sooner rather than later.

Thanks Mike

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Crappy photos

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, January 26, 2012 

I have taken photos of birds that are so bad, out of focus, poorly exposed, wings cut off, etc. We all have, but why would anyone keep them? I delete them, especially when I can't identify them...hah. But I have to say, there are photos I should have deleted long ago that still sit in my collection. The Cooper's Hawk photo above is one of them....its small in the frame (I cropped this one) and not in great light, and I will delete it for good right after this post.

Anyway, I get a lot of e-mails of raptor pics for ID, and some of the pics are difficult mostly because its tough to see anything in the photo. I just thought, if anyone is interested in trying to get an ID on a raptor photo they are holding onto, feel free to e-mail it to me. Lets keep it to raptors, there are just too many other bird photos I will have no prayer of identifying. I'll pick a tough one sent to me, try to identify it, and blog about it.

Send pics to this e-mail (jerrylig@hotmail.com), I only have a gmail account because it is necessary for this blog, I never check it. And, feel free to send good raptor pics if you are wondering about the ID.

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Utah Birding Rocks!

posted by Utah Birders Guest Blogger at
on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 

My family moved to Bountiful from Boise just a day or two before the year 2011 began. Moving to a new location brings with it a lot of excitement for a birder like myself.  It generally means new life birds, new every-day species and new rare birds. It also means new regular birding patches for me to explore as well as new birders to meet and interact with. Utah birding has not disappointed.

In Utah, in 2011, I added seventeen life birds, and some of them were doozies! Check this out: Pygmy Owl, Glossy Ibis, Palm Warbler, Band-tailed Pigeon, Virginia's Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black Swift, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Common Poorwill, Dickcissel, Purple Martin, Williamson's Sapsucker, Pine Grosbeak, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, and White-winged Scoter. Each sighting was very memorable. I especially appreciate those spectacular chases like the Palm Warbler and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that I got to enjoy along side several fellow Utah bird enthusiasts.


My own Bountiful yard has been very exciting for me as an avid backyard birder too. Utah birders should not take for granted the comical antics of Western Scrub-jays and the abundance of Black-capped Chickadees. Oh, and having both American and Lesser Goldfinch at your nyger feeder at the same time...how cool is that?! My yard list is still at a humble 55 species, so I've got a lot of watching to do in order to catch up with the112 yards birds in my previous Boise foothills yard. My Utah backyard has certainly been much more conducive to photographing the birds.

 Western Scrub-Jay

  Dark-eyed Junco

Western Tanager

The Utah birding community has been most welcoming to me, for which I am grateful. I've met in person and online some fantastic and talented people. Utah birding has also opened up opportunities to expand my birding hobby. I met Bill Thompson III at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival last year which led to invitation to be an official blogger at the Midwest Birding Symposium. There I got to meet in person several birding legends, many of whom I now interact with on a regular basis. Though I end up birding solo most of the time, I really do enjoy birding with others. By the way, let's throw off the shackles of shyness and introduce ourselves with first and last names when we see each other in the field.

It's been fun and interesting to observe the dynamics of birders through the lens of the listservs. We have the contagious enthusiastics and the curmudgeons; the protagonists and the antagonists; the experts and the inepts; those that find the birds and those that parasite off those sightings (including me!) all thrown together with the common passion and interest in birds. Sometimes watching birders is as entertaining as watching the birds.

My eBird records show that I have reported bird sightings from 60 different locations in Utah, but I feel like I've only just started to scratch the surface. I now know well Farmington Bay, Antelope Island, and the Jordan River. I look forward to a new year of exploration and discovery at Utah birding hotspots and meeting more of you out on the birding trail.

Happy Birding!

Robert Mortensen


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Video: A Few Raptors

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 

So I shot about 30 minutes worth of Red-tailed Hawks skimming along a ridge yesterday during a snow storm. I planned on putting together a montage of the clips at 1/2 speed to just make a short video. But today I inadvertently deleted everything on the memory card before saving the videos to my computer... Nice job. So instead I threw together a few clips of a Kestrel, a couple Red-tailed Hawks, a Rough-legged Hawk, and a Golden Eagle and made this short video:

All of this was shot this month in northern Utah (hence the caption)--some of the video has obvious dust as I hadn't cleaned the sensor in a while.  Over the next couple months hopefully I will get a little better with the video and get some cool stuff.

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Gullstravaganza 2012 Recap

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, January 21, 2012 

Today was the 2nd annual Utah Birders Gullstravaganza and what a day it was.  The weather was terrible--I mean horrible--sleet, rain, and wind made it for a freezing 4 hours of birding.  6 species of gull put this on par with last years event, even though the viewing conditions were far form optimal--had the weather been better 2 more species probably would have been doable.  11 people braved the inclement weather--although initially 25 people signed up for the trip.  We started the morning at the ShopKo Parking lot in Sugarhouse with a flyover AMERICAN CROW.  From there we went to Decker Lake where the conditions were abysmal and there were few gulls.  We did of course get the token California and Ring-billed that are expected.  2 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER remained (the 3rd possibly some raptors dinner) as well as plenty of waterfowl.  Geese were also noticeably absent here, as well as everywhere else we went today.

After getting out of the freezing rain we headed towards Lake Park after stopping so a few people could stock up on coffee to warm up.  There were a couple small flocks of Canada Geese here, the highlight being a flock along the road that had 10 CACKLING GEESE mixed in. There were 8 Richardson's and 2 Taverner's--everyone got excellent and extended look without even having to leave the vehicles.  At the pond on the west edge of the facility there was a Common Goldeneye and 3 Common Merganser.

 5 Cackling Geese (on left) at Lake Park

We booked it over to Lee Kay Ponds where finally the gulls had arrived out on the ice with the back half of the main pond open.  There were maybe 800-1000 gulls present, including a handful of Herring Gulls.  On the first couple passes nothing else stood out and with the freezing rain still pelting us we were about to take off when several hundred more gulls came in from the dump and landed.  Scanning through the flock again we were rewarded with an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL in the midst of the flock.  After a little more looking a large pale brown and white gull popped up.  It took a while for the large beast to make its way out in the open where we could get good looks at the 1st winter GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL.  A PEREGRINE FALCON and a flock of CANVASBACK were also nice additions for the day.

1st Winter Glaucous-winged Gull at Lee Kay Ponds

We drove the frontage road out to Saltair and didn't really see anything.  After hopping on I-80 and heading back east we took the 7200 West exit to take the Frontage Road to the International Center.  Just as we turned onto the frontage road a NORTHERN SHRIKE popped up and flew across the road perching for everyone to look at.

 Northern Shrike near the International Center

The International Center didn't add anything for the day--no gulls on the south pond either.  We moved on to Farmington Bay WMA where a GREAT EGRET was just pass the entrance kiosk on the east side of the road.  Along west dike the birds were scarce--but when we got to the 4 way at the end of the road we could see plenty of gulls out in the southeast unit.

Great Egret at Farmington Bay

It looked promising but after spending almost 45 minutes scanning back and forth through the birds we only managed to pick out 2 THAYER'S GULLS. There were lots of gulls too far out to ID, so who knows what else was out there.  Of interest were the incredible concentration of the Herring Gulls here--I counted 146 (or 7) all on one small stretch of open water.  I figured with all the big gulls we would have picked up some other stuff here--but such is it with gulling.  We saw plenty of Bald Eagles on the ice, but had a major miss for the day in no Rough-legged Hawks.  And as usual saw plenty of Kestrels, including this cooperative guy inside the gate at Farmington...

American Kestrel at Farmington Bay

Just before 1 we called it a day.  Everyone was soaked and cold and the weather wasn't getting any better so it seemed like a good time to call it quits.  We saw California, Ring-billed, Herring, Thayer's, Lesser Black-backed, and Glaucous-winged Gulls on the day. I want to thank Norm and Gail Jenson, Oliver Hansen, Duane Smith, Amy Haran, Jim Brown, Stephanie Greenwood, Jeff Bilsky, Carl Ingwell, and Kenny Frisch for taking part in the day even though the weather sucked.  We will probably have another gull trip in the next month on short notice when we get some better weather.  For those who didn't make it today, you missed some great birding--and we hope to see you next time!

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Merlin tail bands

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, January 20, 2012 

Just a short note. Yes, it is true that Black Merlins typically have less distinct tail bands than the other races (Taiga and Prairie). However, many Black Merlins can have quite distinct whitish tail bands, and Taiga Merlins can have limited or no tail bands at all. Like I always say (and have in print) "almost no field mark is 100% reliable."

Check out the Taiga Merlins above, the bird on the left (adult female) has a distinctly whitish-banded tail, the bird in the middle (juvenile) has limited tail bands, and the bird on the right (juvenile) lacks tail bands altogether. Note that most Merlins of all races do have a darker tip.

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Cackling vs. Canada

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 

It seems that there has been some confusion between Lesser Canada, Canada and Cackling geese lately (myself included!). This morning I remembered a great article on telling the two apart, and I thought I'd share. It's rather lengthy, but there are some pictures with descriptions for those that don't like as many words. Hopefully this will help some people out, as I know it's helped me.

Canada Vs. Cackling

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A kind of continuation of my last post.

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 

I love the places that birding takes me:

Cemetery. Grafton, Utah (2012)

B/W Rabbitbrush. Just outside of Virgin, Utah (2012)

Blooming Yucca in Canyonlands National Park (2010)

A goofy self-portrait on a transect just north of Craig, CO (2011).

One of my transect points in Canyonlands National Park (2010)

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2nd Annual Gullstravaganza

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, January 16, 2012 

Official Release in the Pelican from Great Salt Lake Audubon:

2nd Annual Utah Birders "Gullstravaganza"
Saturday, Jan. 21st, 9am-3pm
Leader: Tim Avery

Every winter as California Gulls congregate on the edges of the Great Salt Lake to search for food at nearby land- fills, parks, wildlife management areas, and anywhere that may have open fresh water--other gulls that stray from their normal winter ranges end up mixed in.

This creates one of most unique inland gulling hot spots in the nation. Along with the thousands of California Gulls are smaller numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, and decent num- bers of Herring Gulls. Mixed in with those you are likely to find a few Thayer’s Gulls with enough searching. Aside from those 4 species a handful of others show up every year including: Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, Lesser Black-backed, Western, Iceland and even a possible Slaty- backed Gull once.

This January, join Great Salt Lake Audubon and the Utah Birders as we visit Decker Lake, the Lake Park Facility, Lee Kay Ponds, and Farmington Bay WMA in search of wintering gulls on the south shore. Along with the gulls we can expect to see a number of other wintering species at these locations.

We will meet in the S.E. corner Shopko parking lot at 1300 East and I-80 at 8:45am and promptly leave at 9am.

Please bring $5 per person as a donation as part of the Utah Birders continued fundraising activities. The money will be donated to Great Salt Lake Audubon as part of our continued effort to support this great organization.

We will probably be out till around 2 or 3pm, so bring snacks. It will likely be cold so bundle up and if you have scopes bring them as it will be an asset for scanning the large flocks of gulls.You can sign up by filling out a form at the url below:

Or call Tim (801-440-3035) for more information.

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An interesting note on wintering raptors...

posted by Jerry Liguori at

Some raptors eat on the wing from time to time or quite frequently; Peregrines will eat while on migration as they cross large bodies of water. Kestrels and Merlins eat butterflies and dragonflies while in flight, and kites will eat insects on the wing daily. But, you don't see buteos eating on the wing very often at all....except when they are wintering in an area with a large concentration of raptors. The competition between birds is fierce at times, stealing prey is easier than finding food on their own. Normally buteos catch a mouse or vole, and eat it on the ground, or take it to a perch.

But, at places like Lehi or Snowville, where there are numerous buteos in one spot at certain times, if a bird catches prey and stays on the ground, it is surely to be harassed and forced to give its prey up.

So, many birds eat on the wing to avoid being swooped upon, like the adult Harlan's Red-tail pictured above.


Another Bird Quiz

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Sunday, January 15, 2012 

I recorded the video below today. Just a couple quick seconds of bird call. I'd classify this as an uncommon northern Utah resident during the winter. Let's see your guesses. Good luck!


Identifying White-crowned Sparrow Subspecies in Utah

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at

One of the things that I love about birding is that the challenges never stop coming; there's always more to learn.  Once a birder has a pretty good handle on the species found in his or her area, they often move on to trying to tell subspecies apart.  This might sound quite intimidating at first, but for some subspecies, it can be pretty easy.

There are two subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow that regularly occur in Utah.  Mountain White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha; also called "Interior West White-crowned Sparrows") breed here, as you might expect, mostly in the mountains.  Gambel's White-crowned Sparrows (Z. l. gambelii) winter here, having migrated down from their breeding range in the western taiga of northern Canada.  Around the same time Gambel's are arriving from the north, the Mountains are heading south, leaving the state to winter in southern Arizona and northern Mexico.  There are a few eBird records of Mountain subspecies wintering in Utah, but I've never actually seen one documented here in Utah: I suspect it is very rare if it occurs at all in Utah in winter, but please comment below if you've documented Z. l. oriantha in Utah in winter.

Telling these two subspecies apart is relatively easy.  Gambel's have a yellowish bill and pale lores; Mountains have a pinkish bill and dark lores.  (The lores are the area between the eye and the bill.  Look to see whether the dark line that both subspecies have behind the eye continues in front of the eye to connect with the stripe on the side of the crown.)  Bill color is a little less reliable in young birds, but even the young ones usually have the appropriate color lores.

It is always possible that one of the other three subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows could show up in Utah, but this would be very unlikely.  Start by practicing telling these two subspecies apart, and you'll be more prepared for a vagrant of another subspecies.  For more on distinguishing subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows apart, see this and this post from David Sibley; for the VERY interested, see this extensive treatment, also by Sibley.

Adult Mountain White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. oriantha,  Logan, Cache County, Utah.  11 May 2011.

Adult Mountain White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. oriantha, Antelope Island, Davis County, Utah.  7 May 2011.

Adult Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. gambelii, Washington County, Utah.  19 Mar 2011.

Immature Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. gambelii, Cache County, Utah.  20 Feb 2011.
Immature Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. gambelii.  Gunlock Reservoir, Washington County, Utah.  16 Mar 2007.

Probably an adult Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow, Z. l. gambelii, Beaver Dam Wash, Washington County, Utah.  28 Nov 2009.  This individual appears to have an unusually dark bill relative to most Gambel's.  Are those brownish sides?  Are the white stripes dingier than expected for Gambel's?  This might be worth looking at again when I get more experience: is this possibly a vagrant of a Pacific Northwest subspecies?

(All photos copyright Ryan O'Donnell)

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Domestic Mallard Hybrid or What?

posted by Tim Avery at
on Saturday, January 14, 2012 

Update:  The birds in the Pictures are "Call" Ducks.

I'll admit it, I'm stumped.  It's not very often that I would admit it, but in this case I really am still scratching my head.  This morning (01/14) Jeff Bilsky and I found a pair of ducks at Decker Lake in Salt Lake County that really caught my attention.  For lack of a better name right now let's call them "mini domestic Mallards".  The birds exhibited a number of characteristics typical of Mallards, including the green head, some gray in the back, and tail curls.  The birds also had the charactersitcs of any number of typical domestic Mallards like a white breast, white streaking in the head, and browns, whites, blacks, and grays in places that normal Mallar'ds wouldn't have those colors.  Take a look at the two birds here:

So now lets talk about what is really odd about these birds.  For starters they have very compact bodies, not the lanky heavy bodies found in most domestics.  The heads were very "cute" and rounded, more like many smaller species--say teal, Bufflehead, or even a Wood Duck.  And what about those bills--again small and compact--short and almost dainty looking.  The real kicker however is the size of the birds--noticeably smaller than nearby wild Mallards coming in about the size of a Wood Duck or Shoveler.  Take  a look:

What a dill pickle...  So I came up with a few ideas--none of which I really like for an answer, but I will put them out here and see what you think.

1. These are domestic Mallards.  Perhaps an extremely late brood--I guess we would be talking November and these guys are still growing.  I find this highly unlikely, but given our late fall it seems possible.  In another month these guys will be the size of the rest of the domestics and the mystery will be solved.

2. Domestic Mallard x Wood Duck Hybrid.  I can't find this combo anywhere on line but again it seems possible.  Given the fact that a female Wood Duck has been hanging with the domestics and Mallards at this location it would again seem possible for this to be the case.  It would explain the size and the overall plumage characteristics.  The mostly Mallard-ish features including the domestic stuff (white breast, etc) coming through on a small duck with a compact but elongated head.  The bills bother me though because they are not Wood Duck bills.

Update:  The birds in the Pictures are "Call" Ducks.

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A Competition for Utah Birders

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Friday, January 13, 2012 

The birders of Cache County and the Bridgerland Audubon Society hereby challenge the rest of the state to a competition: We bet that we can find more bird species in Cache County than you can in your county in 2012.  Here are the terms of the challenge:

1. eBird is the scorekeeper.  Only observations entered into eBird count towards the challenge.  (This facilitates scorekeeping and encourages birders to use eBird to log their birding.)

2. All eBird observations for the county are included, regardless of who the observer was.  (If you want to win, it will help to encourage other people in your home county to use eBird!)

3. In order to ensure fair standards for counting rare species, at least one observation of any species on the state review list must be either accepted by the state Bird Records Committee or thoroughly and unambiguously documented (photographs, audio recordings, detailed written description) in an eBird checklist.

4. Some counties have more birds or more birders than others.  In order to make the competition as fair as possible, the winning county will be the one that has the highest percentage of its lifetime eBird list (1900-2011) detected in 2012.  For example, if at the end of the year Utah County has documented 260 species, and Washington County has documented 262, Utah County would be the winner because that is a higher percentage of their 309 species so far (84%) than it is for Washington County (76% of their 345 species).  Under-birded counties have a distinct advantage here: for example, I think it would be easy for Piute County to top their 158 species so far in eBird! Also note that there is no handicap for the number of eBird users: the more people in your home county who use eBird this year, the more likely your county is to win!  

5. The prize:  In addition to bragging rights, registered birders in the winning county get a free guided day of birding by the registered birders in each of the losing counties.  Date will be at the losers' discretion, but must be offered sometime between the first of January and the end of March, 2013.  (Note that if you register, you are committing to help lead a trip if your county loses!  You don't have to be an excellent birder to help lead the trip - just help the other birders registered in your county show the winners around some of your favorite local birding spots.)  As a bonus, the Cache County Birders may be assembling some kind of trophy for the winning county . . . stay tuned for details.

6. In order to be eligible for the prize, individual birders must register for the contest before the end of January, 2012.  If you don't register, you can still help your home county win by submitting your observations to eBird, but you won't be eligible to go on the trips if your county wins.  Only counties with at least one registered birder are eligible to win.  (Email me, Tsirtalis_at_hotmail.com, with your name and home county to register.)

This challenge is designed with these goals in mind: 1) to be fun!,  2) to encourage more birders to enter data into eBird, especially by residents of Utah's under-birded counties (it'll be easier for you to win!), 3) to encourage birders to document their rare sightings with the Utah Bird Records Committee for archival record keeping of the rarest observations, and 4) to create a fun social event next year where birders from around the state can show off the hotspots of their home county to the birders of the winning county.  Will you take the challenge?!

Some of the Birders of Cache County and the Bridgerland Audubon Society:
Ryan O'Donnell
Craig Fosdick
Connie McManus
Robert Schmidt
Mike Taylor
Leah Waldner

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2012 Birding Goals... Use eBird More

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 

I’m a little late at getting this up, but what can I say it’s been a busy first week and a half of 2012.  Every year I usually have a handful of birding goals or “resolutions” for the coming 12 months.  Some years I have had as many as 10 or 12, other years just 1 or 2.  This year will fall into the latter category.  Every year one of my goals is to see a few new species of birds in Utah--typically I try to get to a benchmark, a 0 or a 5.  I started 2011 with 389 species on my Utah Life List and had hoped to reach 395 species by years end.  I added 4 species falling a few short of my goal.  But what can you do?  So this year I set the lofty goal of reaching 400 species on my Utah Life List--needing to add 7 new species of bird for me.  Okay, make that 6--on January 2nd I finally twitched to southern Utah and added WHITE-TAILED KITE to my list.  My North American nemesis bird and an admirable Utah foe was finally seen--and enjoyed.

My North American and Utah Lifer White-tailed Kite

My second goal, is to enter an average of at least 2 eBird checklists every day.  That would be 724 checklists this year. I’m already off to a good start with 27 checklists in 11 days and think that 2 a day shouldn’t be all that difficult.  It really is just a matter of taking the time to do it.  I think this is a goal that almost everyone can take a stab at.  The easy way for me to do this would be one yard list and one list form my office each day of the week.  Trying to put together 4 lists every weekend shouldn’t be bad either.  The data that is gathered through these checklists is not only invaluable for the data pool, but it is interesting to be able to look and say, thus far in 2012 I have entered 6 HARLAN’S HAWKS (like the one below) into eBird in Utah:

A stunning Harlan's Hawk in Lehi, Utah

Those really are my only two goals for this year.  I would love to go birding out of country somewhere again, and hopefully I will end up doing that.  And of course I always want to take better and better photos.  But the real goals are the two I set above.

I’d like to challenge every one to make the use of eBird one of their personal goals for 2012.  Entering at least 1 checklist a day would be something that is not only reasonable for everyone but not all that difficult.  If you haven’t started yet, you only have to make up a few days worth of checklists--if you are already doing so then right on--and good luck!

Besides that, what are some of your personal birding goals for this year--I’d love to hear what others have planned?

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Sometimes the best birding happens when you don't see any birds.

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Friday, January 6, 2012 

Yesterday I got my binoculars ready, I strapped on my sturdiest pair of hiking boots, filled the water bottle, and was ready to go on a hiking/birding adventure. I chose Yellow Fork Canyon because I was looking to find Golden-Crowned Kinglets, Juniper Titmouse (titmice?), Bushtits, a few grouse, Wild Turkey, and hopefully a Pacific Wren or Goshawk. It was going to be a great day of birding.

The minute I got out of the car at the trailhead parking lot, I noticed that things seemed pretty quiet. Usually there is some pretty decent bird activity in the shrub just off the parking lot; today there was nothing. A bit of pishing didn't even bring up a Song Sparrow.

When I started walking, a Rough-Legged Hawk flew overhead. Alright! finally a sign of life. I thought that things would start picking up as I got deeper in.

When I got about 1/2 a mile in, the only bird I had seen was the one Rough-Legged Hawk. I decided that nothing was happening, so I took a spur trail off to the left. I'd only been on this trail once before, but the last time I was on it, I saw a flock of 10 Golden-Crowned Kinglets. Obviously if you see a species of bird in a particular location you'll see that same species the next time you visit that spot, right?

Things picked up a bit when I took the side trail. I had a few Juniper Titmouse (Titmice?) along the side of the trail, a couple mute Solitaire were posing atop Gambel Oak, and Western Scrub-Jays were shrieking back and forth.

I kept walking and walking. I just thought that if I kept walking, the birding would get better. It stayed about the same. After an hour or so, I started to realize that I had walked rather far. The vegetation was starting to change, I was getting into some pretty deep shadows, and it was starting to get colder. I looked ahead of myself, and there was a somewhat significant peak about a mile in the distance.

I had never been this far on the trail, and I wanted to know where it ended up. By this time, the bird life had dropped into non-existence, so I figured I'd go for a hike.

I was disappointed when the trail curved just left of the large, rocky peak, but I still pressed on. I really wanted to know where the trail ended up. Finally, I made it to the top of another rocky, sparsely populated by Juniper, wind-whipped peak. The view was beautiful; from the top you could see most of the Wasatch Range on the other side of the valley (and unfortunately you could see the thick belt of smog that is covering the valley), and you could see all the other canyons that run parallel and perpendicular to Yellow Fork.

Since it was a rather nice day up there, I sat down on a rock, enjoyed some water and pulled out a novel that I had been reading. I enjoyed the sun, the book, and the view for over an hour. I had completely forgotten about birding. I was glad to be alive, and I was glad to be up there. I could've spent the night had I brought some dinner.

On the way back to the car I didn't see any birds, or mammals (except for one human runner). I got down just before dark and it was starting to get cold.

On the hike down, I really thought about all the times that I've gone out with birding in mind, and enjoyed something completely different. Sometimes my best experiences "birding" are when I forget birding altogether, and fully immerse myself into some other activity.

Life is good.


"Darker" Red-tails

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 

Western Red-tailed Hawks show a continuum of plumages from whitish and lightly marked on the underbody to completely dark. I can't possibly show all the variation from light to dark in a blog post or even in a full-length article, so I just wanted to discuss "darker" adults. Many Western light-morphs (top left) are rufous-toned underneath with typically marked patagials and bellies, but some are rufous-toned with minimal bellybands (top center). A few are strongly rufous-toned with typical bellybands (4th bird on top by Vic Berardi).

Note the rest of the birds shown have varying bellybands and apparent patagials until you see the 2 birds on the bottom right, which are typical dark-morphs. One being rufous-chested, the other solid dark. The term rufous-morph, or "intermediate-morph", is used to describe birds that are dark underneath with slightly paler rufous chests, but these birds are often difficult to tell from solid dark birds in the field. However, would you qualify some of the other birds in this collage as rufous-morphs? I wouldn't argue.

Where do you draw the line? I tend to call birds that are nearly completely dark underneath with solid bellybands and masked patagials "dark-morphs", and birds with streaked bellies "rufousy light-morphs", or "rufous-toned light-morphs"...if you take the term "rufous-morph" out of the equation. Confused? Regardless, there are just a bunch of birds out there that can't truly be categorized to morph.....or race in certain cases (that is for the next blog entry, and more interesting to me). Anyway, I don't get too caught up in trying to pin a label on every Red-tail, it can drive you crazy...or crazier in my case.

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Birding From the Road: Chicago Snowy Owl (12/26)

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 

I had the pleasure of going to the Windy City for Christmas this year. My family is there so I usually head out to see them for the holiday. Illinois is often one of the spots Snowy Owls show up during "invasion winters" and having unsuccessfully looked for them there over Thanksgiving and the previous couple of years, I was pretty confident I was going to track one down this time. Before I tell you about my experience looking, here's a video that puts this in perspective and certainly helps remind me what these birds go through to get to where I can even have a chance to see them.

On the 26th, I headed down to Montrose Point, an area literally nicknamed "The Magic Hedge" for the abundance of birds that have been seen there. Located along the southern edge of Lake Michigan it is the true definition of a birding hotspot during migration with over 300 species recorded. It so happened that 1 or 2 Snowy Owls had been seen there pretty regularly for most of the month.

The area is sort of a point that juts out into the lake, separating a harbor side and a more open, lake side. I combed the beach area on the lake side for an hour or so with my mom and my older sister, Sarah. The only evidence of Snowy Owls I found were some pellets behind a building, which I dissected, locating a rat skull. I'm not sure they were quite as enthused as I was...

We had resigned ourselves to moving on to an area south of where we were to see if we could find another possible reported Snowy. We had parked along the harbor side and I said I wanted to just take one last scan of this area before we left. I felt like I hadn't really looked too thoroughly here. Sure enough a Snowy Owl sitting on a white box in the middle of the harbor along one of the walkways. Fishermen and birders all over and a Snowy Owl hiding in plain sight, right in the middle of it all. I couldn't have asked for better looks and couldn't be happier that the owl was in a place where no one could get to it and bother it by trying to get too close. It was fun to share the sighting with many of the other birders there who had been searching as I was.

I'm certain there has to be at least one in Utah....hiding in plain sight.

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Fish Springs CBC

posted by Anonymous eBirder at
on Monday, January 2, 2012 

Fish Springs at sunrise

Fish Springs is a beautiful, yet harsh environment; it's a series of springs nestled in between the Dugway and Deep Creek mountain ranges. It's a 4 hour, desolate drive out there. There is no cell service, and weird things happen along the Pony Express road. The drive out can often be bland, but if you look hard enough, it's possible to see wild horses, antelope and a Prairie Falcon or two.

Jeff, Brittany Badger(Ingwell) and I went out to Fish Springs for the New Year's weekend to take place in their annual CBC. Brian Allen, the NWR manager was nice enough to let us spend two nights in the bunkhouse before and after the count. This year we had very few participants, I'm guessing most didn't want to make the long drive on a holiday weekend.

 Me, Brittany, Jeff Bilsky

The night before the count, the three of us went out on the refuge for a little owling. There is a picnic area with a few majestic cottonwoods, and that's where we decided to call for owls. It was a crisp night, and the leafless cottonwood skeletons towered over us, the only barrier between us and the luminous stars (sometimes it's good to get out of the city lights). After five minutes of inactivity, we decided to pack it up and move on. As we were leaving, we heard two very loud calls, saying "who's awake? Me toooooooooo." We bailed out of the car for the second time, and two silhouettes stood atop the cottonwoods. A pair of Great Horned Owls serenaded each other for five minutes or so, then flew away together.

The count started at 9 AM the next morning. Immediately upon leaving the bunkhouse we spotted a mixed flock of Dark-Eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. A moment after that, Jeff refound a Townsend's Solitaire that we had spotted the day before. Our morning was off to a good start.

We walked over to the NWR office for some logistics before the count. Brian Allen, the refuge manager gave us our assignments, and we were off. Just outside the office, we spotted another mixed flock; this one contained more Tree Sparrows, Juncos, a Spotted Towhee, and a Robin.

Before birding the refuge, Jeff, Brittany and I birded just beyond the refuge gates in a spot where I have often found Sage Sparrows. We were lucky enough to find the only four Sage Sparrows of the count, and one of them gave us great looks. The Sage Sparrow is a beautiful bird with a very memorable song, so I am always excited to see them.

The birding on the refuge was a little slow (from what I remember in years past), but we did pick up some good birds. A Great Egret flew around our car for five minutes or so, we ran into an Eared Grebe, and saw a good sized flock of Tundra Swans. I was quite disappointed because the Fish Springs count is one of the few spots I see American Bittern; this year I saw none.

 I think I was scoping a group of ducks

After lunch, we met up with the other team (Valerie Frokjer and Nathan Darnell), and we headed down to some of the southern springs. We got out to chat at one of the springs, and as Valerie was walking towards the phragmites, a couple hundred birds flushed out. A group of ducks headed to the left, and 32 Black-Crowned Night-Herons headed to the right. I didn't ID the ducks because I was too busy looking at the Night-Herons; it was one of the bigger groupings of that species that I have ever seen. Night-Herons are a little beautiful and a little awkward in flight; Jeff made a good observation when he said that they fly a little bit like owls.

After that, the day ended with the great duck flush of Fish Springs (I'm not going to explain this one; you have to be there to experience it); the teams picked up a few duck species that we didn't get previously on the count.

It was a pretty good day. The count had 49 species, and our team had 34 species for the day.

We had a great time. The scenery is majestic, the birds are great, and it's always good to see our old friend, Jay Banta. The Fish Springs count is an annual tradition for me, and I always look forward to it. I suggest that every Utah birder does this count at least once in their life.


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