30 May 2008


I finally made it to 200 birds today! After taking care of some errands this morning, I took a trip out to Steel Canyon in NW Cache County, almost to Idaho. Several good birds have been seen in this area lately; several that I needed. I picked up the first must-have, a Grasshopper Sparrow, singing along the gravel road to the canyon - number 199. But then the road got too muddy to drive and I had to turn around before I reached the canyon. I was afraid I might be stuck just shy of 200 for yet another day. But on the drive out, I spotted a flycatcher near a creek I had passed on the way in. I had hoped that some flashy rare bird would fill the 200 spot, but instead it was a plain bird I had seen many times before: this flycatcher was my first Western Wood-Pewee of the year. (Photo above.) On the drive home I managed to pick up yet another new bird just for good measure: number 201, an Eastern Kingbird, shown below.

What next? Well, I'm not stopping here. I've met my goal but now I've set a new one. The record number of bird species seen in a year by any one person in Cache County is 235, held by both Keith Archibald and Ron Ryel. I'm now going to go for that record, and I think I'm off to a good start. From what I've heard from my more experienced Cache County birding friends, only one person has ever reached 200 earlier in the year than I did: Ron Ryel reached 200 by "about" May 24th a few years ago.

29 May 2008

Inching Closer to 200

Yesterday Sarah Mohlman and I did a volunteer point count for the Little Bear Conservation Alliance. The LBCA is a group of landowners in the south end of Cache County who want to manage their lands to help wildlife. These landowners need to know which species are using their lands in order to protect those species, so Bryan Dixon has organized a group of volunteers, including myself, to conduct standardized surveys for birds on their lands.

Sarah and I found a total of 43 species on our 4.75 mile transect southwest of Avon, including five new species for the year for me. The highlight was a single adult male Lark Bunting, a very rare species in the valley. We also saw at least five different Yellow-breasted Chats. One Ruffed Grouse was heard drumming. Additional firsts of the year for me included Lark Sparrow (number 197) and Olive-sided Flycatcher (198). I'll be doing this transect twice more before the end of June, so hopefully we'll be able to turn up some more rarities there. Just two more species to 200!

21 May 2008

Catching Up

Today I was trying to catch up on being out of town for the last two weeks for my research. My two biggest finds for the day were two Stilt Sandpipers (one is shown above, with a dowitcher) and three Whimbrel. These are both lifers for me, and both are very rare species for the area. My friend Keith, who has been birding in Cache Co. for over 20 years, says that he's only heard of two or three Stilt Sandpipers in that time, and Whimbrel also only about once every five years. Another highlight was a male Townsend's Warbler at Rendezvous Park. This species is generally a fall migrant in Utah and is pretty much unheard of in spring in Utah from what I have been able to find out.

I was also able to find a Bobolink that had been reported online, but I think I missed my shot at the Lewis's Woodpecker and Dunlin, at least this time around. Who knows, maybe more will show up, but it is quite possible that I won't get another chance at those two species this year. There are still several species that are around which I'm missing (see the growing "Coming Up Next" list to the right). I think if I work at it, there is a chance I'll be able to hit 200 by the end of the weekend. If nothing else, I'd really like to get to 200 before I leave for more fieldwork.

06 May 2008

An Unbelievable Evening

Last night I did some birding around the valley to try to catch up on the recent migrants I had missed while I was in Arizona. In addition to finding a bunch of new migrants, like Common Grackle, Warbling Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, and Western Tanager, I found a very rare bird, a Northern Waterthrush. This is a species of warbler that forages along the edge of stagnant water. It is also one I had never seen before. According to one experienced local birder this species is only seen in the county about once every three to five years. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me, so I went back home to get the camera and picked up Craig Fosdick along the way. When we got back to the park where I had found the waterthrush, we couldn't find the bird. But, we found something much better. A Mississippi Kite flew over us twice! This is a really big deal - although there are some breeding areas in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and a few sporadic records in Wyoming and Nevada, this species has never before been recorded in the state of Utah! I really wish I had gotten a photo of this bird, but Craig and I both saw it well enough to be sure of what we saw: a light gray bird about the size of a Peregrine Falcon and flying kind of like it, with strong wingbeats and fast direct flight; a long, black, square-tipped tail, and distinct white flashes in the dorsal side of the wings. To see a Northern Waterthrush in the county is hard enough to believe - they are only seen here once every 5 years or so. But to see a Northern Waterthrush in Cache County AND a new state record in a matter of hours is bordering on unbelievable. My next task will be to convince the Utah Bird Records Committee that we saw what we saw for the record to be accepted. A big help will be to get a photo of the bird; I plan to try to find this bird again tonight, and to get that photo, but it may have already migrated on.

Birding Vacation

Last weekend I took a break from birding in Cache County to do a little birding in Cochise County, Arizona. I was there to help my friends Sarah and Glenda with their field work on rodents, but managed to sneak in some great birding during the breaks. I saw many Arizona specialties and had a total of about nine lifers. Black-throated sparrows and Chihuahan Ravens were common in the valley. I also saw Canyon Towhees and my first Crissal Thrasher there, among others. The most exciting birds for me were up Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. Mexican Jays were common (photo above). My first lifer up the canyon was a Yellow-eyed Junco, a species I'd been hoping to see for a while. We also saw several Painted Redstarts and Bridled Titmice at our first stop, along with several species that also occur in Utah like Wilson's Warblers, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

At the Southwest Research Station I saw my first Zone-tailed Hawk (photo below), a beauty that tricked Sarah into thinking it was just a Turkey Vulture, which were much more common there. Supposedly this species mimics Turkey Vultures to surprise its prey. While standing in the same spot I saw my lifer Cassin's Kingbird. At the hummingbird feeders here were at least four species. I saw my lifer Hepatic Tanager at the research station, which was exciting enough, but I topped that by finding my second Hepatic Tanager in the same dead tree as my lifer Lewis's Woodpecker within an hour! Lewis's Woodpecker had been a nemesis bird for me - it seems ironic to find it in Arizona at the extreme edge of its winter range when I've spent so much time in core breeding habitat without finding it.

The next day we were able to return up the valley again and I picked up a couple more lifers, including a Grace's Warbler and a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. There were Elegant Trogons around, but we weren't able to find any. After finding so many great birds, I don't mind leaving something to search for next time. . . .