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.


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There's No Place Like Home... For Birding

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Thursday, November 29, 2012 

Panorama view from Giant Mountain

Last month I returned home to Western New York for the first time since I moved out to Utah. While the main reason for going home was to see my family and friends, I was looking forward to seeing some bird friends that I haven't seen in almost a year as well. While it is always nice to find rarities when you are living in an area,  I was looking forward to seeing birds that were among easiest to see: Blue Jays, Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and the such. I had found myself missing the everyday birds the most. I also decided that I should have a goal for the week that I was home and it was to see 100 total species. I wasn't sure if this was doable since it seemed a little ambitious given that it was late for fall migration and a little early for winter species to start showing up.

After I had gotten home and caught up with my family, I went birding in one of my favorite spots: my Grandma's yard. My grandma's house is right on the Erie Canal, with a large track of woods on the property so the birding is amazing. There have been over 100 species of birds seen at her house including over 15 species of warbler, but I managed to add a new yard bird once I started walking around: a Swamp Sparrow in a little patch of cattails.

A poor shot of a Swamp Sparrow at my Grandma's house.

That first day at her house I got to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Tufted Titmouse plus other nice birds like White-breasted Nuthatch and Golden-crowned Kinglet (it was weird not having to venture up in the mountains to see them).

Nice to see White-breasted Nuthatches again.

I was excited to go birding with my Aunt Cindy who got me hooked on birding when I was very young. We headed up to do some birding up near Lake Ontario. There are great marshes up there to bird as well as some mudflats this year due to low lake levels. There were some nice birds in the area including Wood Ducks and Bonaparte's Gulls but the best bird of the day was a late Common Tern on a beach at the lake.

Common Tern at Charlotte Beach on Lake Ontario

My next bird day of birding came when I went to do some birding up near Lake Ontario. There are great marshes up there to bird as well as some mudflats this year due to low lake levels. At one such mudflat I had 7 species of shorebirds: Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Wilson's Snipe. The number of snipe was impressive with almost two dozen present. Up on a spit on the lake, I hit some more target birds: Mute Swan (pretty much the first time in my life I was excited to see them), American Black Duck, "Red" Fox Sparrow, and Northern Cardinal.

Mute Swans are also not fans of Mute Swans

 A common sight back home: A Tufted Titmouse

Another eastern specialty: Red-bellied Woodpecker

Over on a spit on the other side of the bay, I found 2 more target species: Great Black-backed Gull and Winter Wren, along with at least 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a very high count.

2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on either side of the picture

My next big birding adventure would be with my brother Josh in a much different locale: the Adirondack Mountains. Although at their tallest they are only a bit over 5100 feet, nearby areas are almost at sea level which make the mountains almost as prominent as the Wasatch Mountains out here with similar altitude gains when hiking of about 1000 feet of elevation gain per mile. Adirondack birding is known for its many boreal specialties that have their southern most range in the mountains. 

Starting the hike, we flushed a Ruffed Grouse that only I saw, but later on my brother would see one for himself. About halfway up Giant Mountain, I heard a familiar call and soon located the birds making it: White-winged Crossbills! They are an uncommon breeder in the Adirondacks and currently there is an irruption of this species in the east so I'm not sure if these were resident birds or not. After finally making it up to the summit of Giant Mountain and having a snack, I heard another familiar call, but was shocked at the species making it: Snow Buntings. I am used to seeing these along the lake (I would see some the next day there) or in fields that had recently been spread with manure, but never on top of a mountain.

My brother Josh and I on Giant Mountain

We continued on to climb up Rocky Peak Ridge. While descending Giant Mountain, we ran into a flock of an uncommon Adirondacks species I also didn't expect to see: Boreal Chickadees. There were several of these brown chickadees flitting about making it hard to get great views or pictures but they were still a delight to see again. We kept hiking and reached the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge to realize that someone else had beaten us up there:

Snow Bunting on Rocky Peak Ridge

It was fun getting really close view of these birds, especially with such a gorgeous backdrop.

Snow Buntings on Rocky Peak Ridge summit

As we hung out on this summit we also had some flyby Common Ravens, another species my brother had never seen before.
Common Ravens are fairly common in the Adirondacks

The next day back in Western New York, I decided to head up to the lake watch at Hamlin Beach State Park to try and add to my species list. It turned out to be a great day not only for birds, but birders as well as there were many Rochester area birders up at the lake watch as well. The main highlight were the tons of Cave Swallows passing by- over 100 were tallied there that day. In recent years, Cave Swallows have become regular along Lake Ontario in fall with most of them migrating west. I have to admit to scoping a nearby Eastern Bluebird when some of the Cave Swallows were flying by, but I hope the other birders understood since I haven't seen one in quite some time.

3 Cave Swallows fly west past the lake watch

There were many other highlights though from the day. 4 species of geese (Canada, Cackling, Brant and Snow). All 3 scoter species migrating by in large numbers with many Black and Surf Scoters which are usually the least common. Long-tailed Ducks. Red-throated and Common Loons. 4 jaegers (probably Parasitic, they were far out there). One Merlin. Also a large flight of Robins and Goldfinches filled the sky. Personally this was one of my better days of birding in my life.

Flock of over 100 Brant

Snow Geese flying by

The next day, I got to go birding with my aunt on a weekday. A rarity in itself since it was the first time she took off a day of work to go birding. I have been trying to get her to take one off during spring migration but she had held out until now. We were going to head out to Montezuma NWR, but before we could leave, my grandma's yard held some more surprises. After noticing a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers, we caught sight of 4 Northern Mockingbirds all going after each other in a burning bush. While looking at that bush we saw 2 Eastern Bluebirds. The bluebirds flew off and while trying to refind them, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker in the woods. We ended up seeing 5 woodpecker species basically at the same time with Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Northern Flicker rounding out the list. Not a bad way to start some birding.

Montezuma NWR also turned out to be a goose haven. At the visitor center, we picked out 2 Cackling Geese amongst the many Canadas present.

Cackling Geese

Without warning, all the geese took off, leaving me simultaneously ducking for cover from geese poo and looking for what scared them. We soon saw the culprit- a gorgeous adult Bald Eagle.
 Look out below!

We also got to see Greater White-fronted Geese, Snow Geese and Ross's Geese which gave me 6 species of geese in 2 days.

Snow Geese with some Blue morphs mixed in and probably some Ross's.

There were other nice sightings including my 3 group of Snow Buntings that week, American Pipits, 11 Sandhill Cranes, 7 species of shorebird, and 10 species of duck. I found 2 more target species: Rusty Blackbirds and Common Grackles.

Rusty Blackbird

Common Grackle flock

It was a great last day in a week full of birding and I couldn't have had better company than the person who fostered the love of birds in me. I managed to fly out just before Superstorm Sandy hit the area, although I had to change flights and drive to Buffalo since there was no way I was flying out of JFK!

I ended up surpassing my goal, seeing 109 species while I was home- a great number considering it was near the end of October. And I got to go birding in the places most special to me that made me the birder I am today. I am looking forward to the next time I get to go home again and the birds I will get to see then. Spring migration anyone?

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Send Me a Raptor Quiz

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Sunday, November 18, 2012 

Someone suggested I do more raptor quizzes like this last one. Happy to, so send me a pic you think would make a good raptor quiz and I'll post it on the blog with an answer.

Please send it to jerrylig@hotmail.com (its the only e-mail I use)

But don't forget to answer the previous post.....

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Raptor Quiz # whatever, lost track

posted by Jerry Liguori at

My friend Bryce Robinson took this photo and suggested it make a good quiz.....what do you think it is? And, can you say to a specific age?

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St. Paul Island, part 2: Breeding Songbirds

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Friday, November 16, 2012 

In the last installment, I wrote about the variety of birds that breed in the cliffs of St. Paul Island, Alaska, including some very unique species.  Today I'd like to introduce you to the four songbirds that regularly breed on St. Paul. Yup, there's only four!

Among the most common of the breeding songbirds here is the Lapland Longspur.  Lapland Longspurs song sounds a bit like that of the Western Meadowlark, and can be heard from all around during the spring and early summer on the island.

A male Lapland Longspur, one of the most abundant species on the island.  (This and all photos on this post are copyright by the author, Ryan O'Donnell.) 

Another relatively common breeding species on the island is the Snow Bunting.  This species usually nests among rocks, so it is frequently found near the cliffs but also in quarries and other areas where the recent volcanic rocks crop out above the vegetation.  McKay's Buntings have been found in the breeding season on St. Paul Island in the past, but not this year and never in considerable numbers.

A male Snow Bunting guarding his territory at the edge of a boulder field.

A juvenile Snow Bunting, out of the nest for a few days or maybe weeks.

St. Paul Island is also home to an endemic subspecies of Pacific Wren (recently known as Winter Wren).  The Pribilof Pacific Wren is much more common on nearby St. George Island, and has reportedly gone extinct on St. Paul Island and recolonized from St. George (Hanna 1920).  It can be told from most of the mainland birds by its larger size and longer bill.  It is a year-round resident on the island, which is amazing considering that it eats only insects and given the winter conditions there!  Last winter was particularly harsh, and this summer we were only able to find one male on territory on the whole island.

A Pribilof Pacific Wren perched on a lichen-covered rock at the edge of a fur seal colony.

The last of the regularly breeding songbirds is also the most morphologically unique.  The Pribilof subspecies of the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch has a head pattern like the Hepburn's subspecies, but is much larger than the mainland subspecies.  The National Geographic book lists it at 8.25 inches long, only 0.25 inches smaller than a European Starling.  They are sometimes referred to as the "St. Paul House Sparrow" because they nest in the eaves of the buildings in town (as well as natural cavities in rocks, etc., around the island), and there are no real House Sparrows on the island.  

A Pribilof Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch on the makeshift platform seed feeder outside our apartment. 

Another Pribilof subspecies Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.  Both of these photos show adults, but sexes do not differ in plumage.
Up next from St. Paul Island, Alaska? Well, we'll see. . . . Probably either the last of the breeding birds (shorebirds and waterfowl), or some common migrants.

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Support a Wildlife Conservation Stamp

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 

An immature Sage Thrasher at Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, Utah, one of the many National Wildlife Refuges that are supported by the Duck Stamp program, and that could be supported further by a new Wildlife Conservation Stamp program. (Ryan O'Donnell photo)

Most people know about the federal Duck Stamp program, a $15 stamp that is required to be purchased by duck hunters, and is often purchased voluntarily by birders, as a way to support the National Wildlife Refuge system.  A lot of birders buy the stamp, but a lot don't, because these funds are invariably used to show how much consumptive users contribute to wildlife conservation, neglecting the contributions of non-consumptive users.  Accordingly, the vast majority of these funds go to the production of game birds, which birders and others certainly encourage, but which does not encompass the needs of all wildlife.  A petition has been drafted with the help of the American Birding Association Facebook group that would create a Wildlife Conservation Stamp that birders, photographers, hikers, and others could voluntarily purchase to support non-game species in the NWR system.  I encourage you to read the brief description and sign the petition to the White House if you would like to see more conservation of non-game species on federal lands.  If the petition reaches 25,000 signatures in one month, the White House will officially respond to the petition.

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Flight of the Heron

posted by Tim Avery at

Yesterday I took off from work a little early.  I didn't feel great and needed to pick Sam up form work to go get her car from the shop.  Traffic was light and I got to here work about 30 minutes early--so instead of waiting in the parking lot I drove 5 blocks to the Sand Fishing Pond to see what was on the water.  The lighting was great so I figured I would snap some shots of the Mallards and the Coots to make the best of it:

Drake Mallard and an American Coot at the Sand Pond

There was a Great Blue Heron sitting on the island when I arrived with its head tucked.  I didn't pay much attention but figured I would get to a nice angle before I left to get a few shots.  After a few minutes with the waterfowl I headed to a little spit of land that juts out into the pond, and the following shots are what happened...

It started with a little dance:

Which progressed into a pose:

And then into a stretch and fluff (my favorite shot):

This was followed by a take off
(note the creature to scare the birds placed there by DNR):

And flight across the pond:

where the bird promptly landed on a fence:

Sometimes you just end up in the right place at the right time for whatever reason and get to capture something cool on film--er .jpg--whatever you want to call it.  Now if only that damn red post hadn't been there it would have been perfect!

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Bridgerland Audubon Society Field Trip: Antelope Island

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Sunday, November 11, 2012 

Yesterday I led a group of seven birders on a field trip to Antelope Island for the Bridgerland Audubon Society.  This was a good turnout considering the weather: our first big snowstorm of the season had arrived the day before, and there were several inches of fresh snow on the ground and more was predicted for the rest of the morning.  Temperatures were predicted to reach highs just below freezing.  Even while meeting in the parking lot, though, our efforts were already being rewarded: a flock of about 8 EVENING GROSBEAKS flew overhead while we were waiting to depart.

The roads were not too bad, and before not too long we arrived at the Antelope Island Causeway and saw the first effects of the shifting weather on the birds: the storm had pushed hundreds of LEAST SANDPIPERS to the causeway.  By counting a small group and estimating how many groups that size we saw along the causeway, we estimated 500-700 Least Sandpipers.  According to eBird, this is the highest single checklist count of this species in Utah since a 1974 count at Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. Among the Least Sandpipers we were able to pick out one WESTERN SANDPIPER, three GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and several hundred KILLDEER. We learned to identify the common GULLS of the area, and saw four species: RING-BILLED, CALIFORNIA, BONAPARTE'S, and HERRING. One GREAT HORNED OWL perched on the snow near the causeway was a highlight for the group.

A Great Horned Owl perched on the snow along the Antelope Island Causeway.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

One of the big draws of Antelope Island is the chance of spotting rare vagrant ducks, and as usual, the famous second bridge didn't disappoint.  A HARLEQUIN DUCK was first found along the causeway about three weeks ago, and continued for us.  We were also able to find three SURF SCOTERS at the same location.

A Harlequin Duck continued to oblige along the Antelope Island Causeway.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

Three Surf Scoters pose together nicely for a photo, with a Lesser Scaup in the background. Ryan O'Donnell photo.

On the island itself, we started by driving up to the visitor's center for a bathroom break, but before we could make it there we found another rare bird for this time of year, a SAGE SPARROW.  We had brief looks at this bird up on top of a shrub before it dropped back down into the vegetation.

A late Sage Sparrow that should be migrating south soon.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

At the visitor's center, the feeders gave us close looks at a DARK-EYED JUNCO, a CALIFORNIA QUAIL, and several CHUKAR.

A California Quail and a Chukar wait for their turn at the bird feeder at the Antelope Island Visitor's Center.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

As we drove down the island towards historic Garr Ranch, we saw several more raptors, including ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and RED-TAILED HAWKS, and had a brief look at an unidentified SHRIKE.  We also added to our mammal list, with a COYOTE, many BISON, and very close looks at a herd of PRONGHORN.

A Pronghorn, part of a herd that blocked the road for a little while on our way out to Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

At Garr Ranch itself, we worked the trees around the spring and another pond to the south pretty thoroughly.  One of the first good birds here was a NORTHERN GOSHAWK right around the spring.  This species is very rare at Antelope Island - according to eBird this is only the second record for the park.  

An immature Northern Goshawk at Garr Ranch.  Mike Fish photo, used with permission.

Other raptors in the area included a RED-TAILED HAWK, an adult COOPER'S HAWK, a NORTHERN HARRIER, and this GREAT HORNED OWL, our second of the day.

Great Horned Owl at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

The park ranger led us down to another small clump of Russian Olive trees where a very large MULE DEER buck had been hanging out.

A very large Mule Deer buck guards his harem at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

Garr Ranch is famous as a migrant trap, a place where lost birds tend to show up when they get blown or wander off course.  We didn't find any great vagrants when we were there, but we did get some great looks at some common species, including this HERMIT THRUSH, and one out-of-season BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.

One of two Hermit Thrushes at Garr Ranch.  This individual is pretty red, and I wonder if it might be in the eastern/northern subspecies group, rather than one of our local breeders.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

A late Brown-headed Cowbird, or should I say "Brown-headed Horsebird?," 
found a warm place to perch in the snow at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

Finally, before leaving the ranch, we checked the silo for BARN OWLS and came up with one.  Or, the wingtips and tail of one, at least!

"It counts."  These weren't the best looks one could hope for at a Barn Owl, but the wingtips
and tail are distinctive enough to identify the bird.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

We ended the trip at Garr Ranch, but had a few more sightings on the way back to Logan, including three or four COYOTES, a couple of PORCUPINES, and a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.  

Join us for our next trip, on December 8th, and for the Logan Christmas Bird Count on December 15th.  See our website for details on this and all future trips, and contact Bryan Dixon to sign up for the Christmas Bird Count at bdixon@xmission.com.

Here are links to the complete eBird checklists from our trip, including a few bonus photos:


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