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2013 Salt Lake County Big Year

posted by Unknown at
on Wednesday, January 1, 2014 

As the year 2013 began I tried to exercise some restraint in my birding radius. It is possible to spend a lot of travel time and gas money running all over the place looking for birds.  There are also work responsibilities that should not be procrastinated forever in the name of a bird that is far away, or will take to much time to track down.  I live in Sandy and I told myself I would try and just chase the county birds. I failed in that goal a few times. A good birds like a Snowy Owl can show up in Ogden and I can't help but to twitch my way up there to see it.

So as the year progressed I slowly developed the goal to do a County big year. It was a small goal compared to those who do big years for the state and see 300+ birds for the year, but it was a goal I thought was doable.  I never could have done it without the many very talented birders out there who were willing to post there good sighting in ebird  or on the google group Ubird.  A lot of the hard to find rare birds I chased down by following your leads, so thank you to everyone out there who likes to share. My number this year was not possible without the communal nature of Ubird and ebird so I can't express enough my appreciation to everyone out there, thank you for all your help.

In addition to the specific rarities I chased ebird indirectly gave me a lot of good birds. I had a list of hard to find birds for the county and I looked up the historical data on ebird. In this way I learn where to go for what birds and what the chances were of seeing these species. To say that I love ebird is an understatement. I spent years birding here and there with no connection to the other birders out there, so when I found Ubird and ebird it was a huge game changer for me, so forgive me for continually plugging them both. I have in turn tried to give back by posting sighting I think are of value on Ubird and also quickly posting my ebird checklists so others may benefit as I have.

It was difficult to decide which birds to include here as rare birds for the county. Many are obvious but some birds that some might not consider to be rare were hard for me to find and I may have only seen them once or twice, so a number of those I have included.

Here is a google map with the sightings, descriptions, and location of my rare Salt Lake County birds this year. There is also a link, in every bird mentioned, to the photographs and checklists of each species.  https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zLxdN-B6-fSA.k61JejvaHVbE

Thanks to an ebird report by Rachel LeBlanc I was able to chase this bird down the next day. The bird stuck around for a couple of weeks after it was first spotted.

Ross's Goose

I focused heavily this year on the gulls. Between Lee Kay ponds, Lake Park, and Saltair, a lot of rare gulls can show up in the county and I wanted to get as many of them on my year list as possible.

Rare gulls this year were:
  1. Heerman's Gull
  2. Mew Gull
  3. Western Gull
  4. Iceland Gull
  5. Glaucous-winged Gull
  6. Glaucous Gull
A beautiful adult Mew Gull was spotted by Stephanie Greenwood. I went looking the next day and it was enjoyed by many over a few days. This was the second of two Mew Gulls I saw this year in the county but this was the best look I have ever had of one.

Mew Gull

One of two I saw this year.

Glaucous-winged Gull

This Dunlin was found mixed in with some Dowitchers on a spring bird festival field trip. A group of 20+ were the only people that I know of to see this bird in the county this year.  This spot is closed to the public the other 364 days of the year so it was a good opportunity to bird a great area that you just can not get into.


One of the best places to bird in the county is in Farmington Bay. The Salt Lake County side is south west of the four way stop and accessible on foot part of the year. It is open for the hunters but is closed the rest of the time. I had some rare ones after a few long walk both in the early spring and fall including:
  1. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  2. Black Tern
  3. Common Tern
  4. Trumpeter Swan
  5. Eurasian Wigeon
Lee Kay ponds is a great place to bird and where I picked up a huge portion of my county birds.

  1. Long-tailed Duck
  2. Red-throated Loon
  3. White-throated Sparrow
  4. Common Tern
  5. Semipalmated Plover
  6. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  7. Harris's Sparrow
  8. Lapland Longspur
  9. Some of the Gulls previously mentioned
First reported and found by Bryant Olsen. Very rare bird. I saw it the next day and many times after that since it stuck around for a very long time. A lot of birders got to enjoy this bird.

Red-throated Loon

First of two I saw in the county this year. The second one I saw was seen three days later at the Salt Lake International center. This bird is not that rare in the state but it seems to be quite rare in the county.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 Found by Rachel Leblanc, I ran out to see this bird the day it was found. I also went back the next morning to enjoy it some more. It stuck around for a week. This bird is usually only found briefly during fall migration up on some of the big reservoirs with Common Loons. We usually have one or two reported in the state annually so getting this bird at this spot and in the county was a major bonus.

Pacific Loon

Saltair can be hit or miss but if your timing is right you can get some rare birds out there. From the Marina to Lee Creek a bit further East I had a good handful of rare birds including:

  1. Iceland Gull
  2. Western Gull
  3. American-Golden Plover
  4. Sanderling (rare in Salt Lake)
  5. Black Tern
  6. Northern Mockingbird

Millcreek canyon lent a few rare birds last winter. Rare birds were:

  1. Pacific Wren
  2. Varied Thrush
  3. Northern Pygmy-Owl
After an ebird report my son and I went after this bird the next day. After a really long walk in the biter cold we got great satisfying views of this bird ready to start lunch with a recently caught mouse in its talons.

Northern Pygmy Owl

This was a good year to find redpolls and there were consistent sightings further north but sightings in the county were sporadic. I gave this bird more effort than any other this year.  I chased every SLC sighting of a common redpoll but they seemed to be at a feeder with a flock of goldfinches one minute and then gone the next. I searched feeders and potential area high and low. One of my spots was near a feeder only about 50 yards within the county line and it was there that I finally found one, and on my birthday! Great birthday bird!
I chased a pair of these woodpeckers after the Obrien's found and reported them. I spent a lot of time this year looking for these guys in there habitat. I thought I would go the year without seeing them despite my best efforts. I was happy when they were found and the best part is they hung out in this area (Tanner Park) through the end of the year.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Southern side of the valley:

 Pulling into my driveway on a crazy stormy spring day I happened upon a male and female Common Grackel in my driveway. What a shocker yard bird! I thought I was lucky with the weather blowing them in until later on June 23rd I saw a female flying out of my backyard. After that I tracked them and there nest down a few blocks from my house in a neighbors backyard. I invited anyone who was interested to come and see them. They remained in the area and reared there young until the middle of July when they left the area. I really hope they continue to nest hear year after year. These were the only Common Grackles seen in the county this year.

  Common Grackle

Little Cottonwood Canyon Black Swifts- Only spot in the county one can find this species. The best way to find them is at dusk as they fly into there waterfall homes high up in the cliffs. This is the most fascinating bird I have ever heard of and it is very difficult to see. Studying about this bird is fascinating and I highly recommend it.

On the Jordan River across from the ebay building is the best place in the county to find the beautiful and rare Blue Grosbeak. That being said I had no luck until the 8th time I went there looking. They nest somewhere in the area. After finally seeing them I saw them again in the same spot two weeks later and then again surprisingly further south at Jordan Narrows. Then late summer I had another sighting on the ISSR property. Even though I got lucky with a bunch of sightings this is still a rare county bird. I also had my only American Bittern of the year in the Marsh here.

Blue Grosbeak

There had been a few reports of Northern Waterthrushes throughout the state and I knew they were moving through the area. I spent sometime thinking of where in the county I could find the best habitat to look. Draper Wetland Park, to me, seemed the most likely location to start and I was not disappointed. There were a few other ebird reports of this species, one of which was at the Salt Lake International Center in the fall, but this was the only one I saw this year.

I first spotted a Grasshopper Sparrow in the dry grass hills south of Herriman in spring with my son. I went back a few days later and walked through more of there habitat over a couple of miles and I was able to count 7 singing and establishing territories throughout this area. They seem fairly common in this grass fields of the area but none were reported anywhere else in the county on ebird.

Grasshopper Sparrow

I missed a few birds this year but the big miss that, despite my best efforts, I never could find was a Barn Owl. I didn't think it would be a hard one to get and that might have been part of the reason I missed it. I spent a lot of time looking for it as the year was coming to an end with no luck. That will just have to be the one that got away.

There were other birds that may be considered rare that I have left off but narrowing this list down was difficult and if I did it again I might leave some birds off the list and others I might add. For this reason I think an entire list of all the birds I saw in the county this year in the order I saw them would be fun.

2013 Salt Lake County total: 256

1 Sharp-shinned Hawk 64 Belted Kingfisher 127 Sandhill Crane 190 Yellow Warbler
2 Mourning Dove 65 Peregrine Falcon 128 Western Grebe 191 Black-headed Grosbeak
3 Northern Flicker 66 Marsh Wren 129 Bushtit 192 Ruffed Grouse
4 American Kestrel 67 Evening Grosbeak 130 Burrowing Owl 193 Virginia's Warbler
5 Western Scrub-Jay 68 Clark's Nutcracker 131 Tree Swallow 194 Bullock's Oriole
6 Black-capped Chickadee 69 Mountain Chickadee 132 Lincoln's Sparrow 195 Spotted Sandpiper
7 European Starling 70 Red-breasted Nuthatch 133 Greater Yellowlegs 196 Common Tern
8 Cedar Waxwing 71 Long-eared Owl 134 Great-tailed Grackle 197 Black-throated Gray Warbler
9 Dark-eyed Junco 72 Eared Grebe 135 Caspian Tern 198 Brewer's Sparrow
10 House Finch 73 Downy Woodpecker 136 Red-breasted Merganser 199 House Wren
11 Lesser Goldfinch 74 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 137 Savannah Sparrow 200 Flammulated Owl
12 House Sparrow 75 Red-naped Sapsucker 138 Chukar 201 Black-chinned Hummingbird
13 Canada Goose 76 American Crow 139 Canyon Wren 202 Gray Flycatcher
14 Eurasian Collared-Dove 77 California Quail 140 Band-tailed Pigeon 203 Cordilleran Flycatcher
15 American Robin 78 Ring-necked Pheasant 141 Say's Phoebe 204 Plumbeous Vireo
16 American Goldfinch 79 Golden Eagle 142 Turkey Vulture 205 Swainson's Thrush
17 Rock Pigeon 80 American Avocet 143 Black-necked Stilt 206 Green-tailed Towhee
18 Black-billed Magpie 81 Northern Pygmy-Owl 144 Long-billed Dowitcher 207 Dusky Grouse
19 Spotted Towhee 82 Brown Creeper 145 Bonaparte's Gull 208 Willow Flycatcher
20 Song Sparrow 83 Bohemian Waxwing 146 Fox Sparrow 209 Warbling Vireo
21 Merlin 84 American Dipper 147 Cassin's Finch 210 Sage Thrasher
22 Steller's Jay 85 Varied Thrush 148 Franklin's Gull 211 Pinyon Jay
23 Townsend's Solitaire 86 Virginia Rail 149 Great Egret 212 Rock Wren
24 Gadwall 87 White-throated Sparrow 150 Long-tailed Duck 213 Black-bellied Plover
25 Mallard 88 Western Screech-Owl 151 Cliff Swallow 214 Dunlin
26 Northern Shoveler 89 Pine Siskin 152 Common Loon 215 Northern Mockingbird
27 Green-winged Teal 90 White-breasted Nuthatch 153 Osprey 216 Common Yellowthroat
28 Ring-necked Duck 91 Juniper Titmouse 154 Willet 217 Yellow-breasted Chat
29 Greater Scaup 92 Wilson's Phalarope 155 Long-billed Curlew 218 Common Poorwill
30 Lesser Scaup 93 Short-eared Owl 156 Snowy Egret 219 Common Grackle
31 Bufflehead 94 Prairie Falcon 157 Barn Swallow 220 Northern Waterthrush
32 Common Goldeneye 95 Loggerhead Shrike 158 Lesser Yellowlegs 221 MacGillivray's Warbler
33 Barrow's Goldeneye 96 American Tree Sparrow 159 Marbled Godwit 222 Western Wood-Pewee
34 Pied-billed Grebe 97 Western Gull 160 Swainson's Hawk 223 Wilson's Warbler
35 Bald Eagle 98 Pacific Wren 161 Red-necked Phalarope 224 Gray Catbird
36 American Coot 99 Tundra Swan 162 Northern Rough-winged Sw 225 Sora
37 Killdeer 100 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch 163 White-faced Ibis 226 American Bittern
38 Ring-billed Gull 101 Northern Goshawk 164 Blue-winged Teal 227 Olive-sided Flycatcher
39 White-crowned Sparrow 102 Hairy Woodpecker 165 Vesper Sparrow 228 Hammond's Flycatcher
40 Northern Pintail 103 Ferruginous Hawk 166 Clark's Grebe 229 Eastern Kingbird
41 California Gull 104 Golden-crowned Kinglet 167 Forster's Tern 230 Grasshopper Sparrow
42 Herring Gull 105 Wild Turkey 168 Violet-green Swallow 231 Williamson's Sapsucker
43 Thayer's Gull 106 Mountain Bluebird 169 Snowy Plover 232 Common Nighthawk
44 American Wigeon 107 Yellow-headed Blackbird 170 Solitary Sandpiper 233 White-throated Swift
45 Canvasback 108 Mew Gull 171 Least Sandpiper 234 Black Swift
46 Redhead 109 Lesser Black-backed Gull 172 Western Sandpiper 235 Blue Grosbeak
47 Hooded Merganser 110 Black Rosy-Finch 173 Short-billed Dowitcher 236 Rufous Hummingbird
48 Great Blue Heron 111 Cinnamon Teal 174 Bank Swallow 237 Red Crossbill
49 Northern Shrike 112 Western Meadowlark 175 Red-throated Loon 238 Calliope Hummingbird
50 Common Raven 113 Great Horned Owl 176 Wilson's Snipe 239 Nashville Warbler
51 Horned Lark 114 Glaucous Gull 177 Lark Sparrow 240 Ash-throated Flycatcher
52 Red-winged Blackbird 115 Wood Duck 178 Western Tanager 241 Townsend's Warbler
53 Brewer's Blackbird 116 Hermit Thrush 179 Brown-headed Cowbird 242 Cassin's Vireo
54 Northern Harrier 117 Common Redpoll 180 Broad-tailed Hummingbird 243 Sanderling
55 Red-tailed Hawk 118 Ross's Goose 181 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 244 Pectoral Sandpiper
56 Rough-legged Hawk 119 Northern Saw-whet Owl 182 Western Kingbird 245 Black Tern
57 American Pipit 120 American Three-toed W-pkr 183 Lazuli Bunting 246 Semipalmated Sandpiper
58 Ruddy Duck 121 Neotropic Cormorant 184 Chipping Sparrow 247 Clay-colored Sparrow
59 Horned Grebe 122 Double-crested Cormorant 185 Orange-crowned Warbler 248 American Golden-Plover
60 Yellow-rumped Warbler 123 Eurasian Wigeon 186 Pine Grosbeak 249 Lewis's Woodpecker
61 Cackling Goose 124 American White Pelican 187 Dusky Flycatcher 250 Snow Goose
62 Common Merganser 125 Black-crowned Night-Heron 188 Semipalmated Plover 251 Pacific Loon
63 Cooper's Hawk 126 Trumpeter Swan 189 Baird's Sandpiper 252 Heermann's Gull
253 Glaucous-winged Gull
254 Iceland Gull
255 Lapland Longspur
256 Harris's Sparrow

Here is a google map with the sightings, descriptions, and location of my rare Salt Lake County birds this year. There is also a link, in every bird mentioned, to the photographs and checklists of each species. https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zLxdN-B6-fSA.k61JejvaHVbE

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Anonymous Amy Haran said...

Nice work, Matthew! This blog makes me want to get out in Salt Lake County (where I live) more often. Congrats on the big year.

January 2, 2014 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

Great post Matt! Hope 2014 is just as awesome for you.

January 2, 2014 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, I plan on doing a follow up in a month or two on salt lake birding hot spots with maps and descriptions of how I bird them and what can be seen in each spot.

January 2, 2014 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great job Matt! This represents a lot of time and effort and your results show it!

January 2, 2014 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Rachel.

January 2, 2014 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

Congrats on your achievement!

January 2, 2014 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Matt did a great job in the county this year, and set a new county Big Year record by the way, one thats going to stand for a long time and be tough to top. Here are my top 10 birds in the county for 2013
1. Red-throated Loon-First ever in county
2. Bay-breasted Warbler-First ever in count
3. Clay-colored Sparrow-Amazingly I saw 2 this autumn in SL co.
4. Iceland Gull-2 in one day, another a couple weeks earlier
5. Glaucous-winged Gull-Accidently found while looking for the Iceland
6, Lapland Longspurs-Tough bird for SL co.
7. Varied Thrush-Along city creek, hanging out with Dippers when I saw it,weird.
8. White-throated Sparrow-Hung around till April, 2 more in the Autumn.
9. Western Gull. 1 in January, 2 more in December
10. Whimbrel-Another surprise at Lee kay

January 3, 2014 at 2:21 PM  

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