23 February 2008

A Glaucous Gull and More Signs of Spring

Things seem to be changing in the valley. Some of the water that was frozen over a week or two ago is now open. There seem to be many more gulls and Canada Geese around (no Cackling Geese that I could find, and I've been looking). In the past two months I've been seeing mostly Ring-billed Gulls with a few California Gulls mixed in and maybe a Herring Gull if I'm lucky. Today the Ring-billed Gulls and California Gulls were in about even numbers, but I'd estimate I saw about five times as many total gulls today than any other day in the last two months. Herring Gulls also seem to have increased not just in numbers but also in proportion to the rest. I saw at least ten, maybe twenty today. The biggest find of the day was an immature Glaucous Gull in Cutler Marsh, a first for the year and a find almost as rare as the Mew Gull I found a few weeks ago. The Glaucous Gull was seen at the landfill earlier this week by Keith Archibald, according to rumor, but was not reported online; I don't know why. You can see the Glaucous Gull on the right in the photo above, next to a Ring-billed Gull (left) and a Herring Gull (middle) for comparison. Other highlights in the last two days included a Short-eared Owl at Cutler Marsh last night, a Barn Owl at the Logan Airport, and a flock of about five American Tree Sparrows in Benson today. I also saw courtship displays by Common Goldeneyes and Ring-necked Ducks today. Spring must be on the way! Right?

20 February 2008

Lunar Eclipse and Another Lifer

Tonight I went snowshoeing with my friends John, Stephanie, Stacey, and Sarah to watch the lunar eclipse and to play some owl calls. We started up Green Canyon, just outside of Logan, at dusk (6:30) and stopped every half hour or so to play owl calls. I mostly played the calls of Northern Pygmy-Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls because I thought these would be the most likely for the habitat, but we also tried Western Screech-owl, Long-eared Owl, and Great Horned Owl calls. After about five stops to play owl calls, we finally got a response: my lifer Northern Pygmy-Owl calling from off in the distance - a simple hoot about once a second. It was a surreal hike, with the moon going into and out of eclipse as we hiked in the dark underneath it, and a Pygmy-Owl finally calling just as the moon emerged from the Earth's shadow.

15 February 2008

The Walk Home

Trying to see 200 birds in Cache County this year has changed several of my day-to-day habits. I almost always have a pair of binoculars in my pocket. I don't listen to my mp3 player if I'm outside (so I can hear birds). And now, I take a new route walking to and from school. My new route takes me past the Logan Cemetery, which I think will be better habitat for finding birds than the apartments and homes along my old route.

The cemetery has been productive so far - I found my first Brown Creeper there a while ago, and I've been seeing other cool birds there lately, including Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings (the photo today is of one of these Cedar Waxwings), a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a Merlin. Yesterday I found another first for the year on my walk home, although it was after the cemetery in a stand of trees near USU's Romney Stadium. I heard a raspy, weak chickadee call that I thought sounded like a Mountain Chickadee (I've mostly been seeing Black-capped Chickadees lately, especially in the valley). I went to get a closer look and was able to find three Mountain Chickadees, plus my first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the year.

12 February 2008

A Bird in the Hand

To celebrate my 30th birthday, Stephanie Cobbold and I took off from school around noon to go birding. We started with a loop around the Benson Marina area which produced only about a dozen or two Horned Larks with nothing else mixed in. Perhaps partly explaining the shortage was a single Peregrine Falcon which was perched on the ground, feeding on something until we scared it off.

The Bear River as it goes under Highway 30 was finally open (it was frozen over as recently as Sunday), and had attracted a smattering of gulls (all Ring-billed Gulls and California Gulls as far as we could tell) along with some Gadwall. While checking the other side of the road for more birds, I found a Barn Owl in the reeds. We soon realized that it had a broken wing; presumably the bird had been hit by a car. I captured it and we took it to a vet that rehabilitates wildlife.

From there, we went to the Logan Landfill where we could also only find California and Ring-billed Gulls (we have seen a Mew Gull and at least one Herring Gull in the area in the last week). Then we drove up to Spring Hollow Campground above Third Dam in Logan Canyon and took about a 2 mile round-trip hike. The hike wasn't too productive: our total list here included about 15 Cedar Waxwings, one Townsend's Solitaire, one Belted Kingfisher, one Green-winged Teal, one adult Golden Eagle, and about six Common Goldeneye. Although our total list of species for the day probably wouldn't be too impressive (if I were to actually write it out), the day will be memorable not only for adding two new species to my year list, Peregrine Falcon and Barn Owl, but especially because one of the new species was in the hand! After the birds had been entertaining me for the last month and a half, it was nice to be able to do something to help a bird.

11 February 2008

Biggest Find So Far

Last night I was going through some of the photos from the weekend, trying to practice my gull identification skills on birds that were frozen in pixels so that I could be better at identifying the live birds. Most of the birds I had photographed at the Logan Landfill and Logan Fish Hatchery on Saturday with Stephanie were clearly identifiable as California Gulls or, more often, Ring-billed Gulls. I was even able to identify at least one second-winter Herring Gull in the photographs, a bird that Stephanie and I had both noticed was clearly not one of the other two more common species but that we weren't sure about identifying in the field. One other gull in the photos was giving me trouble, though. It had a wing pattern that was clearly not a Ring-billed Gull but seemed too small and otherwise not quite right for a California Gull. It was an immature bird, making identification even harder. Eventually I sent photos to two birding friends of mine, Craig Fosdick and Tim Avery. Tim quickly responded to tell me that I had photographed a Mew Gull! I hadn't even considered this species, since it was so rare in the area, but when I went back through my photos, it was a perfect fit. This was quite a find for the area - I believe this is only the second record ever of the species in Cache County, and the first since 1991!

10 February 2008

Is Spring Coming Already?

Yesterday Stephanie Cobbold and I birded around Cache Valley, mostly by car. We stopped by the Logan Landfill, Benson Marina, 20-20 Ponds, Logan River Golf Course, the Fish Hatchery, and several other areas between Logan and Wellsville. We saw a hundred or so gulls at the landfill that were about 95% Ring-billed Gulls and 5% California Gulls plus a couple that we couldn't confidently identify. (We later identified two additional species from photographs.) I also saw my first Mourning Dove of the year, in Nibley.

Today we took a walk around Logan. We started up the Canal Trail, continued up to First Dam, then up the hill to the golf course and back down to the start of the Canal Trail. Spring was in the air, with relatively warm temperatures (around 40 degrees F) and sunshine inducing "Fee-bee" songs from the Black-capped Chickadees along the canal and courtship displays by the Barrow's Goldeneyes at First Dam. There was one Yellow-rumped Warbler along the Canal Trail, which will be common in the summer but for now are pretty rare here. We watched an ambitous Sharp-shinned Hawk take a shot at a flock of American Robins, but it missed. On the hillside above First Dam, near the canal and the golf course, we saw a flock of about six Chukars, my only first of the year for today.