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St. George Winter Bird Festival Part 1

posted by Stephanie Greenwood at
on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 

Last Wednesday I packed up my car and skipped town ahead of the ice storm and wheeled it to St. George.  I was headed to the St. George Winter Bird Festival!  I had some business to attend to down there so I thought I'd...well...not kill two birds with one stone, but you know what I mean.

I hadn't planned on arriving until Thursday night, but with the storm I left early.  I wasn't signed up for any field trips Thursday, so it was primarily a business day.  Later in the evening I did stop off at the pond at St. George Golf Club and met up with some very friendly AMERICAN COOTS. 

I thought it was a bit odd--usually when you come to these kinds of ponds it's the domesticated Mallards and geese that will mob you for food.  A few days later the mystery became clear as I witnessed a lady who came with a big bin of food for all the birds.  Even the American Wigeon came in for the action. Also present on the pond regularly (as I visited it several times over the weekend) was a GREAT BLUE HERON, one CANVASBACK, a couple RING-NECKED DUCKS, and a handful of nice little RUDDY DUCKS.  

Friday morning I had signed up for the "Find the Vermilion Flycatcher" field trip.  I could hardly sleep the night before I was so excited, and arrived early, rearing to go.  People were gathering in the parking lot at Tonaquint Nature Park.  I checked in and overheard that the setup was running behind, so, I snuck off to bird the park. I was too hyped up to stand around and wait!

Around Tonaquint I ran in to a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, a few RING-NECKED DUCKS, GAMBEL'S QUAIL, a BUFFLEHEAD and calling ABERT'S TOWHEES among the usual suspects (Song Sparrows, YR Warblers, Mallards, Coots, etc.)

I made my way back to the parking lot and it looked like we were finally departing.  I followed the group, not realizing that there was more than one field trip leaving from the same spot, and soon found out my group had already left!  I scrambled for some phone numbers, thanks to event organizers and finally caught up to my group, who were at the Sunbrook Golf Club. We drove around the neighborhoods and checked out the ponds on the green. There were three MUTE SWANS, one GREAT EGRET, one GREAT BLUE HERON, a BELTED KINGFISHER, more RUDDY DUCKS, a few HOODED MERGANSERS, BUFFLEHEAD, one CANVASBACK, a couple NORTHERN SHOVELERS, a NORTHERN FLICKER. But no Vermilion Flycatcher.  9:30 rolled around quickly and the field trip was officially over.  I was not content.  I mean, the Vermilion Flycatcher was one of the main reasons I was here, and was the mascot for the whole festival!

While we gathered to depart our separate ways in our caravan of cars, I overheard a tip from one of the field trip leaders that the Vermilion Flycatcher could be out in Santa Clara.  I remembered seeing a sighting in e-bird for it out there so I wanted to try for it.  Out of the entire group, only one other person wanted to try for it, so Lucy and I headed for Santa Clara.  (If anyone wants to chase it, let me know and I'll direct you where to go.) 

Along the river we walked, seeing three RED-TAILED HAWKS, one VERDIN, WC SPARROWS, SONG SPARROWS, a mixed flock of RW BLACKBIRDS, BREWERS BLACKBIRDS, and STARLINGS.  We enjoyed a few GREEN-WINGED TEAL in the river with some MALLARDS. A little ways upstream I caught a GREAT BLUE HERON standing in the middle of the river. Then, above the heron a bright red speck flitting around. "There it is!"  I exclaimed to Lucy!  I had found the VERMILION FLYCATCHER.

We walked up the road parallel to the river, hoping for a better view but the brush was too thick to get close.  Upstream we were able to find a break in the foliage and walked down in to the banks of the stream.

Making our way around a bend, we spotted him again, enough to get a heavily-cropped diagnostic photo or two.  

In the stream we also ran on to a BLACK PHOEBE, a number of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET.

After high-fiveing and getting some soul-satisfying views of the cheery red flycatcher, we headed back to our cars, exchanged e-mails and went our ways.  But I wasn't done birding.  

I hit up the Jacob Hamblin home, adding NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD to my list for the day. 

And back at Tonaquint I got my FOY AMERICAN PIPIT when a flock of about 50 flew overhead and my first-of-year SAY'S PHOEBE.

I then hit up SPRINGS PARK POND. Around the pond the ABERT'S TOWHEEs were lurking and calling.  I caught up to two CRISSAL THRASHERS.  I was struck with how such an awkward-looking bird has such a pretty song.

On the pond there were quite a few RUDDY DUCKS, more COOTS, MALLARDS, a couple NORTHERN SHOVELERS

I also ran on to a lovely litte VERDIN, and a lone SNOW GOOSE.

A couple of NORTHERN HARRIERS flew over, and it became 2:00--time to get back to work.  

Stay tuned for Part 2: Zion's National Park, Snow Canyon and more. 

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Blogger Tim Avery said...

Sounds like you had a good time! St. George has some of the best birding in the state, and despite being just a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake, most of us don't take advantage of it as much as we could. Looking forward to part 2!

January 31, 2013 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

Great post. It makes me wish I was down there instead of rainy Phoenix. Nice shot of the Crissal Thrasher!

January 31, 2013 at 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Stephanie - Great post - I love St. George. I go to Tonaquint every time I go through. In 2011 I saw the Vermillion Flycatcher family at Boots-Cox Park. What beautiful little birds they are. I am interested in SPRINGS PARK POND where you saw the Crissal Thrashers - I am still looking for this bird! Can you tell me where it is so the next time I'm in Utah (May), I can try for the Crissal Thrashers?
Thanks so much...Peggy

January 31, 2013 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Kenny and Tim: Thanks Guys!

@Peggy--sure thing! Off of River road turn North on to 1450 south. You'll drive north to Springs Drive (no light, just a residential street) which you'll see on your left. Turn and drive a short distance down Springs Drive. The road will end right there at the park. You'll see a playground area and a pond. Around the back of the pond is where I usually find the thrashers, in the brush. Good luck! Here's a google map: https://www.google.com/maps?ll=37.083872,-113.535976&spn=0.031257,0.024805&t=h&z=15&iwloc=lyrftr:h,749752570603750102,37.087672,-113.536792

January 31, 2013 at 10:22 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Peggy and @Stephanie:

You'll also hear this pond referred to as "Springs Estate Pond", "Springs Estate Park", and "Seegmiller Marsh Complex & Springs Park Pond".

Crissal Thrasher can be pretty hard to get by May as they become less active and rarely sing by then, but if you are there early in the morning you might get lucky. We did have one singing there int eh middle of the night last May. This is also a great spot for Lesser Nighthawk then.

February 1, 2013 at 6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Stephanie & Tim. I can't wait to give this spot a try!


February 1, 2013 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

I got a Crissal Thrasher there on June 3rd last year, 8:30 am. It was just a brief view, however.

February 1, 2013 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Dickson said...

Awww, I'm jealous Tim that is my Golden bird which so far I have not been able to find. Wish I could have come along, it's sounds like you had a grand time!! :-)

February 1, 2013 at 9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you were able to find the Vermilion at Santa Clara after we struck out at Bloomington. But that's part of birding - no guarantees but fun trying. Nice articles on the bird festival.

February 5, 2013 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger stgeorgecitygolf said...

To golf St. George Utah means to enjoy breathtaking scenery... year-round sunshine... within hours of a couple major U.S. cities... and within driving distance of some of the country's most spectacular national parks. St. George is an oasis in the southern Utah desert.

st george golf

February 17, 2013 at 7:19 PM  

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