29 April 2008

Secret Birding

My birding is sounding more and more like spy work. Last post, I talked about a stakeout for a feeder bird. Today, I went on a secret birding trip. My friend Craig had found a Long-eared Owl, a species for which I'd been searching for years. The catch was that it was sitting on a nest in a relatively accessible place. He was afraid that if word got out about this hard-to-find species, the attention drawn to the nest could disturb the parents enough that the nest would fail, and I think he's justified in that fear so I do not plan to post where the nest is. But luckily for me and Stephanie, Craig trusted us enough to take us to see the bird today. We slowly approached the area and stopped as soon as we spotted the nest, still quite a distance away. But there it was, probably incubating eggs, my lifer Long-eared Owl! Below is the best photo I could get from so far away. While we were looking for and then watching the owl, we also saw a Wild Turkey and several songbird species, but not the Fox Sparrows Craig had seen here before, a species I'm still missing but which should be pretty easy to find soon.

25 April 2008

Feeder Stakeout

The feeder stakeout is probably familiar to all serious listers. (No, I'm not a serious lister.) Most of the birds birdwatchers see are probably at birdfeeders, so occassionally a rare bird will show up at a feeder and word spreads quickly. It is then the job of the lister to pretend they're a private investigator. He or she contacts the homeowner, then waits by the feeder for minutes, hours, or even days hoping that the target bird will eventually show up.

I did my first feeder stakeout yesterday, at the home of Alice Lindahl. She reported a Harris's Sparrow coming to her feeder, a bird that normally sticks to the central part of the country and is very rare in Utah. (An interesting aside: this is the only species in the world whose entire breeding range is in Canada.) So, yesterday after handing in my research proposal and giving a presentation to the dean of the college, I celebrated by sitting in Alice's living room window and watching her feeders. Thank god I caught her just as she was leaving and she was gracious enough to let me in. The weather outside was horrendous, with sleet, snow, freezing rain, and hard winds.

After about 20 or 30 minutes of practicing my Junco subspecies identification, the scruffy-looking star of the show finally arrived! (Photo above, bird at center.) Not bad for my first feeder stakeout, and a very tough-to-get bird in Cache County.

20 April 2008

Peeps Arrive

I stopped by Sue's Ponds (just west of the Logan Landfill) this afternoon to see if the nasty weather might knock down some migrants, and I wasn't disappointed. The highlights were the peeps, which have finally arrived just a bit behind schedule. Today I added four species to my year list: six Western Sandpipers, one Least Sandpiper, one Semipalmated Sandpiper (a lifer!), and one Sanderling. All four of these were new for the year. By the time Craig showed up about an hour after I got there, the Sanderling was gone, but the others hung around the whole time we were there. Other good birds included no less than twenty-two Bonaparte's Gulls, one Caspian Tern, and three Wilson's Phalaropes. There were also at least three and maybe five species of swallows flying around, but the only ones I got really good looks at were the species I've already seen - Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows. I'm pretty sure there were also Cliff and Bank Swallows there, and a Northern Rough-winged swallow was there a few days ago, but I was too focussed on the peeps to pay much attention to the swallows, which will all be common very soon.

14 April 2008

Yesterday I went snowshoeing at Beaver Mountain. Some friends had thought they saw a flock of Pine Grosbeaks up there a couple of weeks ago, so we were hoping to relocate them. Unfortunately, we didn't see anything too remarkable. Perhaps all the snowmobilers had chased off the good birds. The biggest surprise was a flock of California Gulls flying over, far from any open water or trash, and probably headed to Bear Lake. We did see three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco (mostly Pink-sided with at least one Slate-colored and one Oregon), including one partial leucistic bird with white patches throughout its plumage. There were also one Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing its crest and many Red-breasted Nuthatches (photo above) singing to each other.

05 April 2008

Logan Sewage Lagoons

Today I celebrated the end of my written comprehensive exams and took a break from studying for my oral comprehensive exam by joining the Bridgerland Audubon Society on a trip to the Logan Sewage Lagoons and a few other nearby hotspots. We saw a total of 58 species as a group, including several firsts of the year for me such as Willet, Caspian Tern, Marsh Wren, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Tree Swallow. Ron Ryel alerted us to a Great-tailed Grackle nearby, a very rare bird this far north and one I had been waiting for to remove an annoying sp. from my list. Ron outdid himself by calling us again only a few minutes later to tell us about a male Eurasian Wigeon a bit further down the road, an even rarer bird here (photo above, at bottom left).
After the field trip dissolved around noon, Craig Fosdick, Keith Archibald, and I continued on to the Benson Marina, where we added Osprey and Common Loon to the list for the day. We also found a breeding-plumage Horned Grebe. This is normally a rare bird here, but this was our third of the week! Coincidentally, the same was true of a Hooded Merganser seen at the sewage lagoons - three individuals of a rare species in a very short time. On the way back from Benson, we saw our first Swainson's Hawk of the year fly over, and later a second Osprey.