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North Canyon Trail

posted by Stephanie Greenwood at
on Thursday, June 27, 2013 

Wednesday morning, Rachel LeBlanc and I hiked up North Canyon Trail in search of Ruffed or Dusky Grouse, or just a good adventure.  We needed our birding fix! And we were not disappointed, as the trail was incredibly birdy.  The great part about North Canyon Trail is that not many people know about it. We only saw a handful of people, unlike Mueller Park Trail, where you have to constantly be on guard for cyclists whizzing down the hill.

North Canyon Trail starts in Bountiful, and the end of Canyon Creek Drive. It actually makes a 13 mile loop up to a lookout called Rudy's Flat (at 4 mi), down to Elephant Rock (aka Big Rock) and then down to Mueller Park. We didn't do the full loop as we only had three hours for our journey.

At the end of Cave Creek Drive, the pavement ends and a dirt road begins. I suggest parking at the end of the pavement and walking the dirt road, as the dirt road is highly rutted. It runs for about a mile and then the trailhead begins.  The road is very rocky and kind of hard to walk on, but it was worth it. There were birds everywhere. Today we only got about a mile in to the actual trail because every step we took there was another bird to see.

The highlight of the morning was just the sheer volume of Swainson's Thrushes.  They were everywhere. We started laughing because we'd see a bird on the trail--holding our breaths we'd look to see what it was. Every time it was a Swainson's Thrush.  If you'd like to enjoy the ethereal song of this bird and study all of its different calls, this is the place to go.  Our conservative count over the 2 miles was 17 individuals.

FOX SPARROWS were also omnipresent, with almost as many singing as there were thrushes.  We enjoyed the bright colors of a couple pairs of BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS and had fun watching MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS, including those we suspected to be recently fledged, all along the trail.  It gave us both some good photo opportunities.

MacGillivray's Warbler (217)
MacGillivray's Warbler catching some breakfast

There were also several CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS singing their cheerful high-pitched dee--whip!  One posed for us on the way up, and we found him in the exact same place on the way back down.

We ran in to a few RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES up in the higher elevations.

And also had some in-your-face looks at WESTERN TANAGERS.

Western Tanager

Up at the top where we stopped to enjoy the view and turn around, a flock of CASSIN'S FINCHES flew overhead. While we hadn't rustled up any grouse, we stopped and enjoyed the view and made plans to come back up to this beautiful place. It was hard to turn around and leave.

View from the top

On the way back down, Rachel picked up on a PLUMBEOUS VIREO singing away in the trees.  That was a nice surprise for me, as I had never found one around here.

Other than dealing with the rocks on the road, the trail is fairly easy, with a mild ascent and switchbacks.  I'd consider it to be a moderate trail because of the elevation gain.  The trail is shaded most of the way with changes in habitat from scrub oak/maple to conifer forest. If you're interested in going, e-mail me if you need further directions.  I'm also considering leading a field trip up there, so if you're interested in going as a group, let me know! Maybe we can plan a little longer hike, get in to the higher elevations and rustle up some grouse. I have run on to grouse before on this trail, however, it was a few years ago before I was a birder, so I don't know if they were Dusky or Ruffed.  There seems to be a healthy population of both in the general area.

Our full eBird checklist is here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14508277

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Owling the Supermoon Trip 1 Recap

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 

The Super Moon provided a stunning backdrop to a night of birding (Photo by Tim Avery)

Sunday June 23 was a special day for me. It was the day I first got to see a Flammulated Owl. My chance to try to view one came on the first ever Utah Birders Owling Field Trip led by Tim Avery and me. At least one guaranteed target was not a bird, but the Supermoon, so named since it will be the closest the moon will be to Earth in 2013. Our main target for the trip was Flammulated Owls, with some other target birds being Common Poorwill, Common Nighthawk and Ruffed Grouse. 17 Utah birders gathered to form carpools and to discuss the plans of the field trip. Soon the caravan was headed up Parley's Canyon for our first destination, the trail to the east of Mountain Dell Reservoir on Route 65. There were some colorful bird along the trail giving the group good looks. Yellow Warblers were flying from tree to tree and several male American Goldfinches added even more yellow, drawn to the area due to abundant thistle.

 I was glad to see several male American Goldfinches

We were watching a reddish female American Kestrel at eye level in some dead trees when it took off in a beeline to a Red-tailed Hawk which was foolish enough to land there.  The kestrel made many attempts to clear out the hawk by dive bombing it.  

 A kestrel divebombs a Red-tailed Hawk

A female Belted Kingfisher surveyed the scene from a close power line.  A Northern Flicker flashed more color as it flew up to another power pole.  A surprise bird was an American White Pelican that came gliding in to land in Mountain Dell Reservoir.  Four species of swallow each added their unique colors with Cliff, Tree, Violet-green and Barn being seen.  Birdsong was ever present as we heard Warbling Vireo, House Wren, Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrows and Lazuli Buntings singing among other birds as was the high pitched buzzing trill of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

 This female Belted Kingfisher gave nice views

This American White Pelican was a surprise in the mountains

A little further up the road we checked out Mountain Dell Reservoir itself.  The typical Mallards and Canada Geese were on the water along with the now landed pelican and another surprise, 3 late Ring-necked Ducks.  A Double-crested Cormorant relaxed on a buoy on the reservoir.  A Gray Catbird offered up looks before diving out of sight.  Across the roads, our eyes were drawn to two nests.  The first was an osprey nesting platform complete with Ospreys.  In the forest, a Red-tailed Hawk nest has a fuzzy baby in it. 

Our next stop was Big Mountain Pass.  As we got out of the cars, we soon saw a Pine Siskin chittering away and heard a singing Swainson's Thrush.  The building across from the parking area provided its own birds with a House Wren perching out in the open on its fence and a female Mountain Bluebird flew up to a hole in the building to its nest.  We soon found its mate sitting on a wire across the road, with it really standing out due to the red soil behind it.  Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeaks and a Western Tanager also made an appearance. 

Jeremy Ranch Road right off of Route 65 was our next destination.  Right above our heads singing was a Swainson's Thrush.  It ended up perching on some dead branches and once looked at from the right spot, the whole field trip got to watch it sing.

This Swainson's Thrush made it easy to watch it sing

A Western Wood-Pewee actively fed, flying from perch to perch in front of us.  In the creek along the road an American Dipper bobbed around on some rocks right in the open.  A singing bird in the undergrowth caused a moment of tension as Tim called out Gray Catbird and I called out Yellow-breasted Chat.  Luckily we didn't come to blows and I soon led the group up the road leaving our mysterious skulker unidentified (Tim later came up to me and said that a little later and a little farther away he and a few other birds had a Yellow-breasted Chat.  I guess I will take this as a concession, although Tim will surely repeatedly school me on bird id soon enough).  Further up the road my group had a flock of Cedar Waxwings fly into some shrubs right in front of us yielding killer views and frustrating Brenton Reyner who had one teed up for an amazing picture right before it took off. D'oh!

A close encounter with a  gorgeous Cedar Waxwing

We continued our walk up the road and saw an out of place Double-crested Cormorant flying around (we later found a small pond it was hanging out at).  The bird soon all had us laughing at its goofy antics as it tried to perched on a dead tree and kept slipping on the branches until it would fly off again.  It repeated this several times until it realized that maybe it would be easier to perch on a different tree.  Soon after Taylor Abbott picked out a high flying Common Nighthawk, the first of several we would have that night.  Later we even had a nighthawk peenting overheard.  We had 3 woodpecker species with Downy, Hairy and Northern Flicker being represented.  

There were many wildflowers along Jeremy Ranch Rd

The only bad part about birding Jeremy Ranch Road were that you are birding along the road and cars can be a problem.  I had to repeatedly yell to get everyone over on the side of the road before a car would come zooming along a curve.  I haven't had anyone get hit by a car on any of our field trips and I didn't want to start now.  One of the cars was a DNR vehicle whose driver was either excited or shocked (or both) to see so many birders on a random road at dusk.  Another vehicle encounter was also memorable.  As we were walking towards a curve on a hill, I heard another car coming and had everyone move to the side.  As the car came into view, I saw the license plate said "BIRDR" so I figured that I would at least know who hit me if I didn't get out of the way in time.  If you didn't already know, that car belongs to Shyloh Robinson who was birding the area with his dog Rally.  He made us all jealous by telling us about a Common Nighthawk he had perching 20 yards off the side of the road earlier.  

Jeremy Ranch Road at sunset

We headed back to where we parked the cars and had one last nice bird for the area, a female Bullock's Oriole.  Despite plenty of appropriate habitat in the area, Bullock's Oriole are less common in the area then one would expect.  From here we headed back up the canyon to look for owls.

Here in the upper stretch of East Canyon is also the place where I had my only other experience with Flammulated Owls when I got to hear them calling there last May.  The area has many large aspens which is one of the preferred habitats for Flammys, since they use old flicker nest holes to in order to nest themselves.  First though we headed over to the 4 hummingbird feeders hung on a nearby building and watched hummingbird wars between several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds intent to protect their feeders from each other.  There was also a female Black-chinned Hummingbird trying to hang out as well.

 This male Broad-tailed Hummingbird posed for us on a wagon

This male Broad-tailed shows off his rosy gorget

Another hilarious moment involved a small goat who wanted to be the center of attention with both his raucous bleets and his determination to perch on top of both the other goat in the corral as well as the miniature donkey in there too. Hilarity ensued.

 Goats love stumps

 This goat wanted to be a Mountain Goat...

but only had this donkey to climb on (or fall off of)

Soon our attention turned back to our main target bird, the Flammulated Owl.  At this point Shyloh joined back up with us.  It had finally gotten dark enough and we started playing the waiting game, straining our ears to hear distant hoots. Our first spot yielded no owls so we headed down to the road to another aspen grove.  As the supermoon started to rise our luck changed and we heard our first Flammulated Owl of the night.  It wouldn't be our last either as we ended up hearing at least 13 different Flammys.  My heart raced at the prospects of seeing one but it was not to be at this location.  The owls stayed hidden aided by their ventriloquist call which makes close owls seem distant.  We tried for another spot in the woods where we heard some owls calling and some of us ended up with views of an owl flying over our heads (thanks for the light, supermoon).

Upon exiting the woods, we saw the bane of birders everywhere, flashing blue and red lights.  Tim started over to the cop to find out if he thought were we doing drugs or stealing secrets of national security or whatever cops think when they see a group of birders together.  It turns out he just wanted one of the cars moved that was parked a foot from the road.  A little nit-picky but the car's driver was planning on leaving anyways and the cop only hastened his plans.  Crisis adverted for the meantime.

At this point it was getting late and some of the saner birders there wanted to get home and get to sleep so we lost some of our crew.  The rest of crazies though headed back towards Big Mountain Pass (and I'm the head crazy since I had to get up at 5 for work) to another spot to check for owls.   This turned out to be the spot we'd hoped for.  Getting out of the cars we heard an owl calling right next to the edge of the parking lot in a big conifer.  I finally got my lifer views as we edged close to the tree and Tim carefully put the light on the tree but away from the owl.  The bird didn't seem to mind as he continued to call while we watched him.  There were many oohs and aahs from the remaining crowd at the sight of this adorable little owl.  I was very excited as this is one of the few North American owls I haven't seen before (look out Elf and Ferruginous Pygmy, you're next!).

Hello lifer Flammulated Owl! (photo by Tim Avery)

We all got great views of the little flame owl as the supermoon beamed down on us and finally it flew off after its next insect meal (Flammulated refers to it "having flame-shaped/colored markings" as you can see from Tim's excellent picture).  My adrenaline started to wear off as I realized it was 11:30 and I needed to get to sleep.   We all said our goodbyes and headed back down into the valley.  I for one dreamed of owls and other birds that night and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.  I can't wait for the second owling field trip this coming Sunday (and all the future ones as we are planning to make this an annual tradition) and until then I will just have to dream about seeing Flammulated Owls.

The Owl Hunters before it got dark (photo by Tim Avery)

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South Africa: My Top 10 List - part 2 of 2

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, June 20, 2013 

So in my last post I shared 15 of the top 25 species I wanted to see in Africa.  In this post I will wrap things up with the top 10 list. A year ago when I did the same for Peru, I thought I had come up with a more reasonable list of expectations, than I had for Costa Rica.  I didn’t have very much luck in Costa Rica.  I only came up with a top 10 list and missed 7 of the birds I expected.  Some were quite rare, others quite common, but I just missed out.  For Peru I thought I had cleaned things up but still only managed to pick up 10 of the 25 species I had on my list. From only 30% up to 40% wasn’t much of an improvement overall.  So for Africa I am truly hoping for no less than 60%. Obviously I would like to see all 25, but at least 15 would make me feel like I was somewhat successful.  In less than 3 months time I will be back in Salt Lake and will be able to let you know how things turned out! For now here's the list!

#10 -Violet-backed Starling by Don Hoechlin

I would be lying if I didn’t come out and tell you that I actually had this as my #1 bird to see for a couple weeks. I saw a picture on Rockjumper birding tours that was taken by famed African bird photographer Hugh Chittenden that just blew me away.  It was a striking bird, and in the right light it rivals some of my favorite tropical birds from the Americas.  I kept thinking this is the bird I want to see more than any other.  But then I kept coming back to the fact this bird is a starling.  In America we don’t like starlings because they are an invasive nightmare.  But had they not been introduced, we would likely admire them for their beauty and intelligence.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  But don’t get me wrong, I think they are stunning birds, and especially this species.  But given a number of factors most notably timing and range--the odds that I see one are slim, so I decided it wasn’t a species worth putting at #1.  I can still hope though, and figured it deserved a top 10 slot because it was such an intriguing bird.

• • •

#9 - Southern Carmine Bee-Eater by Uncovery

Bee-eaters have long been a favorite family of birds for me.  They are colorful, gregarious, and they eat one of my least favorite insects--bees.  There are several species of Bee-eaters found in Southern Africa, and all are quite interesting and colorful.  But the one that I fancy more than any other is this one.  It’s red and pink tones make it a stand out--can you imagine a flock of 500-1000 of these rosy birds filling your binoculars?  If I see just one I will be ecstatic, but obviously hope for many more.

• • •

#8 - Schalow's and/or Knysna Turaco (the latter pictured above) by Anton Frolich

Turacos have been another favorite family of birds since I first saw a Ross’s Turaco (or some other purple species) at Tracy Aviary while growing up.  In Southern Africa there are three species of “Green” Turaco.  Historically all three were represented as one species known as Livingstone’s Turaco.  But all three are geographically isolated, genetically different, and have obvious different physical traits.  The split left Livingtone’s as a species, and added two others--Knysna and Schalow’s.  I am almost certain that I will get a Knysna Turaco.  The last day of Safari at Kruger Park, we are heading through the mountains to a reserve where this species breeds--and there will be a local guide to hopefully takes us to one.  Schalow’s is the species I would like to see even more, as it has a wicked haircut.  They breed along the Zambezi River, and are supposedly found with some regularity around Victoria Falls if you know where to look.  My goal the next 2 months is to find out where to look.  If I can leave with both species, that would be a grand accomplishment!
• • •

#7 - Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill by Luca Galuzzi

Hornbills are fascinating birds.  They are what I would call the African equivalent to the Toucans in the Americas (at least in my opinion). There are a variety of species found in numerous habitats, and from what I have been told (and seen at the zoo) they are not weary of people.  The African Ground-Hornbills are a favorite of mine, and they easily could take this species place on this list.  But something about the Yellow-billed Hornbills plumage characteristics really made it stick out to me.  This is pretty much a sure thing according to field guides and eBird--and I hope for my sake it actually is!

• • •

#6 - Gorgeous Bushshrike by Nigel Mushet

My love of the American Tropics and birding has greatly been influenced by one family of birds that is more striking and memorable than any other--the tanagers.  The Western Tanager has long been my favorite bird, the one that hooked me in.  On my trips to Costa Rica and Peru, these birds have been a focus and I have now seen just 22 of 240 or so species found in the world.  My love of this species will likely lead to many more trips to the tropics as I attempt to add more and more to my life list.  But in Africa, there are NO TANAGERS.  Insert sad trombone sound here... So with no tanagers I’ve had to focus on other colorful species, and a bird that in my opinion is quite tanager-like is this colorful Bushshrike.  It’s not related to tanagers, and differs in a number of aspects.  But the colorful plumage, and shape are reminiscent of my favorite birds.

• • •

#5 - African Penguin by Paul Mannix

When I went to Peru last year, the #2 target bird I had was the Humboldt Penguin.  It would have been the first from the penguin family for me, and I thought I had a decent shot at it from a location where they had been reported recently and with some regularity.  I was mistaken.  I missed the Penguins and was quite disappointed.  I had found that getting directions to exactly where the birds were would have been beneficial--but no one that I queried who had seen them knew.  These “adventurers” had traveled to Peru, hired a guide to take them to the bird, but couldn’t remember exactly where and how they go there. It was frustrating.  With Africa I won’t have that issue.  The African Penguin, or as I like to call it, the Jackass Penguin is common all around Cape Point--and Boulders Beach has a large colony that is present year round.  I’m excited for penguins, but knowing this will be a drive up, hop out of the car and see the bird type of event, it’s not exciting enough to top out my list--but its still top 5 given that it’s a penguin!

• • •

#4 - Crested Barbet by Axel Buhrmann

In the Americas, barbets are recognized as being closely related to Toucans.  In Africa and Asia, these very similar birds, have recently been recognized as not being closely related to to one another and are their own family--in Africa, they are the African Barbets of which there are 42 species.  They still remind me of their American counterparts, and when I landed on the barbets sections of the field guide, the Crested had me hooked.  It was the baddest of the bad--a rockstar among barbets, and other songbirds in general.  The Crested Barbet may be one of the coolest birds in the world in my opinion.  It’s fairly common in Southern Africa as well making it an almost sure thing while on Safari in Kruger Park.  If it weren’t for it being so common--and this being Africa--it might have topped the list for me.  If I were making an all star team of birds, the Crested Barbet would be the team captain, my go-to bird, and for that it earned its spot on this list.

• • •

#3 - Greater Flamingo by Hans Hillewaert

If you followed my exploits in Peru you might have noticed a trend in this and my previous 2 selections as part of my top 5 for Africa.  In Peru 3 of my top 5 birds were also a penguin, a flamingo, and a barbet.  Is this a coincidence?  Sort of.  Did I plan this?  Absolutely not.  It lends to the fact that I like certain kinds of birds.  Who doesn’t have their favorites?  I have dozens, and these top 25 lists are just representations of those favorites, ordered and explained.  Its just ironic, and funny coincidence that things lined up so similarly between these 2 trips.  I didn’t notice this until I was going through the list sometime later--and I smiled.  There are 2 species of flamingo in southern Africa--the Lesser and the Greater.  Now I would prefer to have the Lesser in this spot, but think the likelihood of seeing one is slim to none.  Greater however is all but a sure thing, and I love flamingos--they’re just an oddity, awkward and beautiful.  And for that they take the 3rd spot on my list.

• • •

#2 - Common Ostrich by Harvey Barrison

Some of you may have been thinking that the Ostrich would be my number one selection for my list.  It would make sense afterall--they are the only living member of the genus Struthio; they are the largest bird in the world, standing between 6’ and 9’ tall, and weighing between 150-300 lbs; they lay the largest eggs of any species--the equivalent of 12-20 chicken eggs; they can reach speeds of up to 43 MPH when running--faster than any other bird on the planet; and let’s be honest, they’re just a cool bird.  But the ostrich was too obvious--who doesn’t want to see one when they go to Africa?  It’s an amazing bird, no doubt about it.  And I do really want to see one, but I couldn’t have such an obvious choice be my number 1, so I let it take the 2nd slot for this list.

• • •

#1 - Pel's Fishing Owl by Lyn Francey

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in the beginning this species wasn’t on my top 25 list at all.  It actually wasn’t in the top 50 I thought about when thumbing through the book.  This is a problem with simply using a book to try and decide what birds you want to see more than any other--you just don’t get the whole picture as is the case with the Pel’s Fishing Owl.

I glanced over the owl pages numerous times in my initial quest for the best birds of southern Africa, but nothing stood out--this species had a cool name, but otherwise looked like a big boring owl.  A boring Owl??? Is there such a thing?  Not really, but it just looked plain, how could it be a prize?

But the more I learned about birding southern Africa and the birds I wanted to see the more I became intrigued with this owl.  Despite being widely distributed across southern Africa, it was extremely limited by habitat.  Only found in forests and on islands along slow moving rivers, lakes, or in swamps, this species requires water for its main prey items--fish and frogs--hence the name.  Even within these habitats it seems that it is far from common.  In Kruger Park it is estimated that only 8 pairs nest along the Levubu River, and in Botswana maybe 100 can be found in all of the Okavango Delta.  I would say that isn’t a very common bird.

Pel's Fishing Owl by Francesco Veronesi

When I first pulled up a picture on the internet I was stunned at how different it was from the drawing in the book.  The drawing didn’t do the species justice.  It was pale tan in coloration, with darker cinnamon barring creating a stark contrast in pattern.  The eyes were big and black, with a deep look, almost as if you could see into the soul of the bird. From some angles they look like a big soft teddy-bird--yet in others a fierce raptor.  When you see their claws it becomes apparent they are unlike any owl or other bird in the world.  Giant hooks, for fishing their prey out of the waters below.  They look like they could shred the arm of any man that they clenched.  Far more interesting than any claws on any bird I had ever seen.

Check out the epic feet and claws! Photo by Africa Imagery

Something about this bird struck me, and I knew it was the bird I wanted to see more than any other when I visit Africa this fall.  It’s a prize that many birders go to great lengths to see, and many birders who have lived in southern Africa their entire lives may have never seen one.  One note I read somewhere said that it might be one of the most sought after birds in the world for listers, because of the difficulty involved in traveling to see one.  I don’t know if I agree with that, but it surely is a prizes bird for many reasons.

I will likely get a few opportunities to look for this species, both in Kruger Park, and along the Zambezi in Zambia, and in Chobe National Park in Botswana.  These huge swaths of area likely won’t be what produces this species for me. In the end what it may come down to was a little bit of luck, and tripadvisor.com.

We had already booked a room at a B&B in Livingstone that was highly rated on the website.  But in the 2 months since we booked the reviews deteriorated and left me wondering if we made a bad choice.  We decided to look into another option for a room at a game lodge off the beaten path along the Zambezi outside of town.  While looking through photos uploaded on the website, I noticed a young Pel’s Fishing Owl in one of the guest shots.  It was ranked as one of the top places to stay in Livingstone and seemed like this was destined to be where we stayed.  So we booked at the Bushbuck River House, where if the deck is stacked in my favor I may just luck out and fall right into a Pel’s Fishing Owl.

And that’s it, my top 25 for Southern Africa.  The list is as varied as the places we’ll be visiting, and the birds are truly stunning.

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South Africa: My Top 25 List - part 1 of 2

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 

It seems like just yesterday I was working on my top 25 birds to see in Peru--that was over a year ago.  Africa wasn’t even on the horizon, it was September when I bought a field guide to start learning the birds and we decided it would be something we could do.  Months ago I started making this list, booking flights, hotels, safaris, day trips, etc.  I kept thinking I will wait to post this till it is closer to the trip, and now its just over 2 months away, so I think its time to start posting more about this trip.

In all we will be in southern Africa for just under 3 weeks.  We are going to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana.  South Africa is where the majority of the trip will take place, primarily in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Kruger National Park.  The end of our trip we will use Zambia as a base for several days and visit both Zimbabwe and Botswana on day trips.  The birds of Africa are simply put--stunning.  Peru had a remarkable bird list, and the species there were truly incredible.  I would argue that southern Africa rivals South America in terms of quality and uniqueness of birds.  What it lacks in overall quantity, it more than makes up for in those other qualities.

Choosing a Top 25 was both easy and difficult.  The first time I thumbed through the field guide I easily picked out 50 species that struck me as amazing.  From there is was difficult to whittle those down to 25--and even harder to decide where they fell.  When I have created these list in the past I have had these same issues, but in the end I work it out and the list just falls into place.  Without further adieu, here are the first 15 of my top 25 birds to see in Southern Africa.

# 25 - Violet-eared Waxbill by Hans Stieglitz

I’ll be honest, there are only 2 reasons this bird made the list.  First is its called a waxbill--a rather unique name.  The 2nd is that it has a reasonably beautiful little bird.  The latter is what caught my eye when I was flipping through the book.  The bright violet color on the head with a  red bill really stand out against the clean brown body.  Throw in the purple-blue undertail and rump and its really a sweet looking little bird.

• • •

#24 - Bateleur by cyrusbulsara

The name alone (as with several other species on this list) earned this bird its initial placement on the list.  The fact that its a bad-ass raptor only solidified its place.  It’s truly unique shape in flight, and overall pattern really make it a stand-out species.

• • •

#23 - Southern Masked Weaver by Chris Eason

Weavers are one of the earliest birds of Africa I have memories of--besides the obvious one--the Ostrich.  I remember watching a special on African wildlife and seeing these birds flock to trees and building hanging basket nests.  They were colorful, loud, and intriguing.  Despite how common this species is, I am excited to see these gems.

• • •

#22 - Cape Sugarbird by Alan Manson

Sugarbirds are the African equivalent to the new world hummingbirds.  Only they are bigger, don’t flap at a high rate of speed, and in general are slower in their movements, making them easy to watch.  This species is endemic to the Fynbos biome of the southern tip of the continent.  Aside from its yellow undertail, its markings are reminiscent of a thrasher, but with a long tail like a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.   It’s a wicked looking bird that should be an easy pick up in Cape Town.

• • •

#21 - Hamerkop by TheLilacBreastedRoller

My comment earlier about names hold true for this species, pronounced hammer-copf.  Also known as the Hammerhead, Hammerhead Stork, and a host of other names its head shape is unique in the bird world.  Its a rather drab bird by all accounts--but the unique head makes it a must see for anyone going to southern Africa--and it should be an easy pick up as well.

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#20 - Pennant-winged Nightjar by Terathopius

When you read the name I hope that was enough along with the picture to understand my reasoning for this species making the cut.  In Peru it was the Lyre-tailed Nightjar--Africa’s epic bird of the night doesn’t have a wicked tail, but instead it has wicked wings.  I don’t know if this is one I’ll actually get to see.  They start arriving in southern Africa when we are there, and being nocturnal always makes for a tough get.  But 3 night time safari drives may give me the luck needed!

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#19 - Pin-tailed Whydah by snowmanradio

For some reason I have a thing for birds with long or unique tails.  They give the bird lots of character and being so unique when most birds have short tails they have some mystique about them that draws me in.  The Pin-tailed Wydah is one of those. Other Wydah birds also have unique tails, but the thin streamers this species projects, along with its stark black-and-white pattern and red bill really give it a unique look.  And yes I know this species can be found in several parks and towns in California and also Florida (all introduced)--seeing the real thing in the wilds of Africa seems like a better experience.

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#18 - Yellow-billed Oxpecker by Steve Garvie

If you’ve ever watched a National Geographic special, or anything related to the wildlife of Sub-Saharan Africa, you’ve likely seen an oxpecker.  This ubiquitous family is the one seen hanging onto and riding larger mammals picking at the bugs they carry.  The more common Red-billed Oxpecker is similarly patterned, but I chose the less common cousin as a must-get.  Another remnant in my memories as a youth watching videos of the wildlife on the savannah.  It’s not an overly stunning creature, but the bills are pretty cool looking, and the fact they hitch a ride on others animals to feed make them a worthwhile chase.

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#17 - African Green Pigeon by Johann du Preez

I showed my wife this bird recently, and her comment was, “it’s just a pigeon...” Okay yes, it is a pigeon--but it’s not just any pigeon, its GREEN!  How many green pigeons have you seen?  When I came to this species in the field guide the first time I just stared at it for a moment and thought to myself, “that’s a cool pigeon.”  Enough said.

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#16 - Long-tailed Widowbird by Attis1979

Remember my comment a few birds back about long-tailed birds having some mystique that drew me to them?  Well this might be the most intriguing.  It’s Red-winged Blackbird meets, horse mane.  Do I really have to make a case for this bird being on the list?  What it would be like to see a few of these dragging their epic tails in flight across a field.  Fingers crossed!

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#15 - Secretarybird by Steve Garvie

This was an easy decision to make the top 25 list..  It’s half  bird of  bird of prey and  half long-legged wader or crane.  Visually speaking at least.  This bird dances around the savannah looking for prey.  It is rare, it is a truly unique species, and although it is grouped  with other diurnal raptors within Accipitriformes, it is also in its own family Sagittariidae.  It’s just a really cool bird all around.

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#14 - Kori Bustard by Stig Nygaard

Often regarded as the world's heaviest flying bird, tipping the scale at up to 44 lbs, this species is the poster child for the family--often seen in Zoos around America--where I first saw one when I was younger.  It’s a classic species associated with semi-arid Africa, and although considered rare in most places, they are still fairly common in national parks and protected reserves.

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#13 - Narina Trogon by Patty McGann

When I was 15 and first laid eyes on an Elegant Trogon in Cave Creek Canyon in southeast Arizona I was hooked on these tropical specialties.  Common throughout the tropics worldwide, this species is mostly associated with Central and South America, and and southeast Asia.  But there are 3 species in Africa, including one in southern Africa which was a surprise to me.  This lone wolf in the southern part of the continent was a must have on my top 25, and my fondness for trogons only added to appeal.  If I get lucky and add this species to my life list, it will be the 3rd continent I’ve had a trogon on.

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#12 - Cut-throat by Dick Daniels

Somehow the first couple times I looked through the book this species evaded me.  But I was looking at some trip lists from folks in Kruger National Park when I saw this species name pop up.  The “Cut-throat”! That’s a name--I envisioned a bird with a red throat but it wasn’t till I googled it and saw that the bird really stood out, like its throat had been sliced with a blade and let bleed.  The name was apt, and I knew this was a bird I wanted to see.  It isn’t common anywhere that I will be, but it does get reported from time to time so I can always hope.

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#11 - Red-billed Quelea by Antero Topp
(see video below)

If you have an interest in birds of the world, and some of the back stories with some of the more widely known species, this is one that you may--or honestly should know about.  And why is that?  Because this is the most abundant bird in the world with more than an estimated 1.5 BILLION (with a b) nesting pairs.  Some estimates put the species at over 10 billion total individuals.  Its so numerous that an eradication campaign that wiped out nearly 200 million individuals did not appear to have any effect on the overall population in the long term (however many other species apparently suffered major population reductions due to the control operations).  My interest in the species is that I want to see the most abundant bird in the world--because one day it may not be so abundant (Passenger Pigeon anyone?).  I was first introduced to this species on the BBC documentary Planet Earth, where it was referred to as a plague. The sky can be blackened as flocks of millions work their way across farm fields and other food sources, eating until there is nothing left.  I felt a picture didn’t do enough justice, so found this video that hopefully gives you an idea of why this species is so spectacular and came in at number 11 on my top 25 list.

These 15 birds are ones that I find remarkable, but there are 10 more that top out my list of the birds I want to see more than any other on my trip to southern Africa this fall.  I'll share those in the near future--some may surprise you, some may not seem all that spectacular, but for me they are all top notch!

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Fear & The Mountains

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, June 14, 2013 

When I first moved to Utah 7 or so years ago, I was excited to head into the mountains and get exploring. However, I was honestly pretty naive when it came to understanding the line between adventurous and just plain stupid. Luckily through good friends like Carl Ingwell, Tim Avery, and Colby Neuman, as well as countless other people, and lots of personal experience, I feel like I've wised up at least a bit. For example, I don't think you'd catch me chasing a Bobcat into a thicket to get a closer look anymore. Yup; I did that in my first year here. Sure, I'd try for a look again, but I now understand a bobcat could quite easily rip my face off if it were so inclined. I seem to attract Moose like sugar-water attracts hummingbirds. I don't get it, but they seem to always find me. It was right around the time I saw my first and it showed no fear of ME that I realized the inhabitants of the mountains of Utah are to be enjoyed, but they are to be respected. These mountains have become one of my favorite things in the world. If I could hike every day, I would. But I have learned that the thing I love about them - their raw wild energy- can sometimes remind you of your own insignificance and mortality. I had one such reminder moment this day.

After getting home from work today, I opted to head up to a spot I haven't hiked since last fall. It's a location I found east of Little Dell Reservoir and below Big Mountain Pass. It is a seemingly seldom used trail that winds up the mountain north of the main road and then heads east towards Big Mountain and back down past some beaver dams. From here, you can bush-whack your way through 100 yards or so of trees and reach a more used trail. The whole route can't be more than a mile - if that - and has in the past produced Dusky Grouse and an assortment of other common mountain species to view - as well as Deer, Moose, and Beavers. Today, as I was hiking along towards a portion that transitions from open mountainside to aspen grove I heard what sounded like a bark. It sounded sort of like a muzzled dog. I kept hiking. The sound came again, and closer. I was initially intrigued. The sound was coming from above me on the mountain though and all I could see up there was thick habitat. I kept telling myself I was sure it was a dog and there was probably someone with it and whatever, no big deal. I figured, whatever, move on and keep hiking. So I wound through the aspens and towards the beaver dams. The sound came again. This time much closer. Now I was annoyed/perhaps a little intimidated. Sounded still like a dog but like one that was muzzled/muffled in some way. Not like a normal bark. I started moving quicker. The sound followed. I jumped over a stream to get to the other side of the beaver dams. Surely whatever it was wouldn't follow me. Well, it did. The sound was now just on the other side of the dams, coming from the trees. I will admit, at this point, I made sure my bear spray, which I had taken out, was in my hand, with the cap off and ready to go. Then, I high-tailed it to the bush-whacking portion and my scraped up legs are evidence to the lack of care I took here. I don't know what the hell was going on, what it was, why it was following me, but it seemed best to get out of Dodge. I think it probably was a dog. My memory tells me I have seen evidence of an old shanty hut up on the mountainside in this area so it could very well be that someone dwells there with a muffled sounding canine. However, I'm not sure this is any more comfort to know than if it was an angry bear. Either way, the mountains kicked my ass tonight and I was reminded that you never know what's around that next corner. But I suppose that's why I keep going back for more.

I was able to get some video of the sounds. You be the judge and let me know what you think. Dog? Chupacabra? Big Foot? It's the first video posted below. 

The 2nd video is one I took a couple of years ago when a moose followed me all the way to my car at Silver Lake and made this moaning sound (towards the end of the video). It was another night when the mountains reminded me that they own me and I am merely tolerated by them. I'm sure we all have our stories where our hearts race a bit more than usual on a hike. Let's hear some good tales. 

6/14/13 - Northeast of Little Dell Reservoir

9/1/11 - Silver Lake


Sub-adult Accipiters?

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, June 13, 2013 

A bunch of people have sent me photos asking about "sub-adult" accipiters. The term "sub-adult" can be a confusing term because it is used in various ways depending on what you read or hear, and can have more than one meaning. So I thought I would discuss the term in regards to accipiters (and certain buteos). Also, some references have conflicting definitions or usages of certain terms, so my posts are my opinions/thoughts (although some things are plain fact). And, my goal is to try and keep things simple and easy to understand.

To state bluntly, there is no such thing as a sub-adult accipiter. Accipiters show either a "juvenile" (1st-year) plumage or "adult" (2nd-year and older) plumage (this is also true for most raptors, i.e. Red-tailed Hawk). The adult plumage is acquired after their first molt, which starts at about one year old and takes several months to complete. Some birds retain a few juvenile feathers after their first molt, but these birds are not "sub-adults". They are adults, since they are in adult plumage. Besides, there are many birds that don't retain any (or any obvious) juvenile feathers in their first adult plumage. A juvenile in summer going through its' first molt that has a mix of adult and juvenile feathers is still not a sub-adult. They are birds in "transition" or "molting juveniles". A true sub-adult raptor shows real and certain plumage differences from juvenile and adult. They may not appear completely different, but have basic differences that are diagnostic. For instance, Swainson's Hawk has a sub-adult plumage that always differs from juvenile and adult (albeit, not greatly).

Be very careful of telling retained juvenile from retained (old and faded) adult feathers, I would be wary of distinguishing these without practice! Knowing molt patterns and sequences helps greatly in confirming ages based on the presence of retained feathers. Eye color can be an indicator of age but not a criteria when used alone for ageing raptors. Eye color usually changes quicker in males than females or between individuals. And eye color tone and rate of change varies between buteo species. For instance, Swainson's, Broad-winged, Red-shouldered, and Rough-legged Hawks tend to turn from pale to dark brown quicker than Red-tailed Hawks...and Ferruginous Hawks take quite a bit longer than all of them.

This "sub-adult" issue has come up more recently due to all the close-up photos on the internet, but seeing this stuff in the field or in flight is much more difficult, and sometimes impossible. Take a look at the birds below, some have a few retained juvenile feathers, some have none, some have 2 generations of adult feathers, some have pale eyes, and others have darker eyes. Would you be able to age these? How about in flight? The particular age of each bird below is less important than the fact that they are all in adult plumage.

And, one question: Why does the term "sub-adult" seems to be used frequently on the internet for accipiters, but no one seems to call a Red-tail with a few retained juvenile feathers a "sub-adult?" I know why...

 Adult Cooper's Hawk

  Adult Cooper's Hawk

  Adult Cooper's Hawk

  Adult Cooper's Hawk

  Adult Cooper's Hawk

  Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk

   Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk

   Adult Red-tailed Hawk

   Adult Red-tailed Hawk

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