20 February 2013

BAS Field Trip: Owling Green Canyon

Andy Kleinhesselink listens for owls in Green Canyon for the 2012 Christmas Bird Count.
Tonight we had a great field trip up Green Canyon with the USU chapter of the Wildlife Society.  A total of 18 of us worked our way up the canyon after dark in the light snow, stopping periodically to broadcast owl songs and calls.  It took a little over an hour to get our first response, a calling NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL.  The owl started calling in the distance, but moved at least twice, coming closer and closer to us, calling all the while.  It was great to have the owl so close and loud - often owling involves straining your ears to make out distant sounds.  A little further up the road, we had our second owl of the night, a singing NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL.  This bird started with a fast song that had us a little confused about whether it might have been another Saw-whet Owl for a moment, but soon settled in to a very typical single-note Pygmy-Owl song.   At our next stop, we heard one owl give a single hoot, but we couldn't coax it into saying anything else and had to leave that one unidentified.  On the way back down, two observers were pretty sure that they heard a WESTERN SCREECH-OWL sing once, but no one else heard it and we couldn't get it to respond to additional broadcasts.  We ended a little after 9:30 PM, but not before helping someone else get their truck unstuck from the snow - they picked a lucky night to get stuck in Green Canyon!

06 February 2013

BAS Field Trip: Logan's Arctic Tundra (26 Jan 2013)

This Rough-legged Hawk was photographed along our route earlier in January.
On January 26, the Bridgerland Audubon Society field trip focused on "Logan's Arctic Tundra," seeking out the birds that breed in the arctic tundra but winter here in Cache Valley.  These birds as a whole are fabulously adapted to living in cold, barren land - it always boggles my mind that they are perfectly comfortable sitting on a post or on the ground out in the middle of the valley on our coldest days.

The weather was warm, relative to the previous week or so, and temperatures were (just) above freezing.  We started by driving Highway 23, north of Petersboro, and then toward the Benson Marina in search of Horned Lark flocks that sometimes have northern visitors like Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs mixed in.  We saw one WILD TURKEY from the road, and several ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS (whose "rough" legs are feathered to better insulate them from the arctic cold).  In this stretch, we found only four HORNED LARKS and no associated rarities, although this same area had Lapland Longspurs a week earlier.  We also saw a distant PRAIRIE FALCON, and learned about how to identify distant falcons when they are far enough off to look like not much more than a speck to the naked eye.

We did a short walk in the snow at Benson Marina, mostly in search of American Tree Sparrows.  We didn't find the sparrows, but we were rewarded here with a close look at a second PRAIRIE FALCON, this time flying right over our heads!  From this trail, we were able to see five different ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS.

We found a large flock of HORNED LARKS on our way north from here through Cache Junction to the Amalga Barrens, and another good flock in the Barrens, but again with no northern visitors.  An adult BALD EAGLE gave us nice looks as it flew past in the Barrens, and we had three more ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS here.  We passed through Benson on the way back to Logan, and added RED-TAILED HAWK to our day's list, along with a few dozen CANADA GEESE (but none of their tundra-breeding relatives, Cackling Geese, that we were hoping for).  We ended in Logan a little before 1:00 PM.