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December 1997


Matt's Message
by Matt DeVries (

Next Saturday is the Provo Christmas Bird Count. It will be the first of the three counts I plan to do this year and it will be my favorite. Despite five years and around 15 counts, I have only recently realized how closely the CBC is tied to conservation.

This event, which combines all the key elements of birding—field identification, listing, competition, camaraderie—began as and remains a tool for conservation. According to a document I received from the Audubon Society, "The first CBC took place on Christmas Day 1900 with 27 people counting birds in 25 locations across the continent. The event originated as a protest to traditional holiday slaughter in which teams competed to see who could kill the most birds and animals in one day."

Things have changed since 1900. During the next 3 weeks, over 45,000 people will participate in around 1,700 counts. These counts will take place in Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands, as well as in all 50 states.

Birders from Nome to Costa Rica will count the birds of their areas. Some will be lucky to see six species, others may see over 100. We will wear parkas and shorts, watch feeders and climb mountains, learn and teach. And, in the process we will draw a picture of the birds we love.

The birds we see and count on the Provo CBC will be added to a database that helps us understand where birds winter and whether a particular population is growing or shrinking. This wonderful gathering of birders will produce meaningful data that will serve the birds we so avidly pursue.

On December 20, I will participate in my fifth Provo Christmas Bird Count. This Christmas tradition will be the highlight of my birding year. On Thursday, Merrill will challenge our identification skills. Then on Saturday the birds and weather will challenge us. Finally, at the end of the day we will compile data, share stories, create memories, and, we will have helped the birds.


December Meeting

The December meeting of the Utah County Birders will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 18. It will be held at BYU’s Bean Museum. Merrill Webb will help us prepare for the annual Christmas Bird Count, which will be held two days later—on Saturday, December 20. After he has organized us into groups, we will spend time looking at the bird skins in BYU’s collection. Remember to bring your field guides to the meeting!


1998 Quality Birder Contest

Included with this Newsletter is an official entry form for the 1998 Quality Birder (98QB) Contest. The 98QB contest is sponsored by the Utah County Birders to:

General contest rules

The contest will run from 12:01 am January 1, 1998 to midnight December 31, 1998, with all efforts occurring in Utah State. All bird sightings and other activities must be recorded as they occur.

The contest will be on a quarterly basis, with the quarters being Winter (January, February and March), Spring (April, May and June), Summer (July, August and September) and Fall (October, November and December). Late entrants into the contest will still have to meet the average requirements.

A properly filled out official contest form (or copy) must be received by the contest judge (Robin Tuck) by Jan 10, 1999. The decision of the contest judge is final.


The Quality Birder will have seen and identified correctly an average of 98 species in each quarter of 1998. To average the species per quarter, the number of species seen in each quarter will be totaled then divided by 4, which must be equal to or greater than 98. Slacking off or missing one quarter must be offset by increased effort in the other quarters.

Field Trips

The Quality Birder will have participated in at least one official Utah County Birders field trip in each quarter. If a quarter is missed, it may be made up by 2 additional field trips in a subsequent quarter (this means 1 field trip to satisfy the quarter’s minimum and 2 more field trips to make up the missing quarter).

Utah County Birders

The Quality Birder will have brought at least one additional adult to a regularly scheduled Utah County Birders meeting sometime during the year. Two people may not count bringing each other.


The Quality Birder will have assisted other groups, such as Cub and Boy Scouts, BYU students, beginning birders and other birders encountered while birding during the year. This will not be measured.


The Quality Birder will participate in 2 volunteer birding activities. These may include Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Bird Counts or organized school activities..


Robin’s View
by Robin Tuck (


This month's article, "Experience,"  is found in the Robin's View section of this web site.


UCB Bookstore


The Utah County Birders’ web site now has its own bookstore (made possible because the Whipple Web Site, which hosts the Utah County Birders, is an Associate of, the World's Biggest Bookstore). If you buy a book listed on the bookstore page by clicking on its link, will return a portion of the price to the Utah County Birders.

Help "stock" your bookstore. E-mail your favorite titles (preferably with a brief review) to


Birding near Anchorage
Attu Adventures, Part 3: 1995
by Ned C. Hill (

This is the third of a series of articles giving the account of North America’s ultimate birding adventure: a trip to Attu Island, Alaska. In Part 1 I told of the disappointing cancellation of the 1995 Attu trip because of weather problems. Nevertheless, we saw some wonderful birds in other parts of the Aleutians. Part 2 told of our week-long consolation trip to St. Paul in the Pribilof islands. This part tells of our last week in Alaska when we traveled to Seward and then to Denali National Park.

After returning to Anchorage from an exciting trip to the Pribilofs, Ivan Call and I were filled with ideas from other birders on target birds we might find in the Anchorage area. Some of our group planned to fly to Juneau and then rent a helicopter to the Taku Inlet where a Stellar’s Sea-Eagle had returned for several years. While a Code 5 bird was a temptation, we decided there were plenty of the more common birds—but to us "lifers"—available without such expense.

We (Ivan, our new friend Don Burlett and I) left Anchorage the morning of May 26th for a three hour drive south toward Seward. We passed through breathtaking vistas of mountains, glaciers, forests and lakes. Buds were just beginning to leaf out on the willows and alders. In the port city of Seward we saw several huge ocean liners that had just unloaded hundreds of tourists brought up from Vancouver though the Inland Passage. We found we were just in time to board a boat for a tour of Resurrection Bay. The weather was overcast and a light rain fell, but that did not dampen our thrill of seeing mountain goats, Bald Eagles, and sea lions along the coast. Further out to sea we heard the cry, "Whales!" and caught glimpses of several large Hump-backeds spouting and breaching the waves. A playful, acrobatic Sea Otter followed the boat and floated around on his back munching shellfish. The wind and rain increased causing the captain to curtail the full trip but on the way back to port we were able to find some possible Kittlitz’s Murrelets mixed in with Marbled Murrelets. They are hard to distinguish from the deck of a bouncing boat. Only when we got off the boat and drove around to the west part of the bay did we get more satisfying views of the Kittlitz’s from shore.

On our drive back to Anchorage, we stopped several times to bird. At one stream by the road we found a number of Wilson’s and Townsend’s Warblers in the thickets. At a campground, we saw a bird perched at the top of a tall pine tree. Thankfully, the bird stayed put long enough for us to get the appropriate angle to see the white wing patches of a White-winged Crossbill.

We spent the night in Anchorage and prepared for our longer road trip to the spruce forests northeast of Anchorage. Early the next morning we drove to Palmer then east on the GlennAllen highway. David Sonneborn, an Alaskan birding expert and cardiologist, had told us Northern Hawk Owls could be seen from this road as they perched in the tops of black spruce trees. So as we drove, we checked the tops of approximately one million trees—each one looking like it could have an owl perched on it! But whenever we stopped to check we found only pine cones or an occasional Common Raven. On a mountain lake we found a pair of smartly colored Pacific Loons. We noticed that in many places, the asphalt highway had severe dips and swells in it. This is because of the permafrost layer under the highway. The freezing and thawing creates buckling and leads to interesting driving. Towards late afternoon, we saw a dark, medium-sized bird fly down from the top of a spruce tree. We stopped and backed up, thinking at first we had just another raven. But a closer look proved it to be a Northern Hawk Owl. The tail was surprisingly long and active. When the owl landed in another tree, the tail was flicked around to provide balance. It just did not behave like any other owl we had seen. A few miles west of GlennAllen we saw another Hawk Owl perched on the top of a spruce tree. Two in just a few minutes! We learned later that other birders had driven this same road for weeks without seeing one Hawk Owl. We were very fortunate.

From GlennAllen we drove north, stopping at a state park where we saw part of the Alaskan Pipeline that connects Prudhoe Bay on the north with the warm water port of Valdez east of Anchorage. Here we got good looks at the Alaskan subspecies of Fox Sparrow, a rufous red form. At Paxson we joined the Denali Highway—a 135-mile dirt road leading west to Cantwell and Denali National Park. A few miles down the highway, we saw Long-tailed Jaegers flying across the tundra. Some searching led us to several jaegers sitting on nests right on the ground. This seemed so unusual. When we had seen jaegers before, they were at sea chasing gulls. We had not pictured them sitting peacefully nests in the tundra.

We soon found a rustic lodge where we had made reservations for the night. After a delicious dinner, we still had a few hours of light left. The lodge owner, an avid birder, told us what we wanted to hear: Smith’s Longspurs were just a few miles back down the highway we had been over. We drove to the appropriate mile marker and soon heard a calling male longspur. We finally located this beautiful orange-colored bird with the black and white head. It was even more striking than the field guides portrayed it. Back at the lodge, we saw several Gray-cheeked Thrushes and Tree Sparrows. They had run out of small cabins so the three of us slept in a huge cabin suitable for 20 or so. My bed was so soft, my back was pulled into strange new curvature patterns until I put my mattress on the floor.

Next morning, we were in high hopes of finding the birds our lodge keeper had told us might be in the area. We took a long hike over steep tundra and tallus covered slopes until a pair of Rock Ptarmigan exploded from a willow clump in front of us. We worked up such a sweat we were dripping wet on the inside while the temperature on the outside was just above freezing. A few miles later we hiked around a frozen pond and found two American Golden Plover in striking breeding plumage. We failed to find the Gyrfalcon that was reported in the area. Nor did we find any additional Hawk Owls that were said to be more expected here than where we saw them. We continued on until we reached Denali National Park, where we spent the night after an excellent crab dinner.

We were quite disappointed with the birding in Denali National Park. We hardly saw any birds. We were, of course, a bit too early for most of the passerines that would eventually populate the woods in Denali (such as Northern Wheatear and Alder Flycatcher). Since cars are not permitted in Denali, we took a bus through the park. Because of the snow pack, the bus could only go part way into the park. Our bus driver was in her seventies. She had been driving park buses for years. We were most grateful for that fact when our bus passed over the narrow roads with sheer cliffs plunging hundreds—nay, thousands—of feet down on both sides of the bus. On some turns, it seemed part of the bus extended out into space with nothing under the wheels. Real white knuckle travel. We prayed for the good health of our driver. Along the way we saw several Willow Ptarmigan (Alaska’s state bird) and even some Grizzly Bears. On the bus with us were some very sinewy looking men from Switzerland who had just come down off Denali (Mt. McKinley), the tallest peak in North America. They had failed to reach the top because of bad weather. Can you imagine bad weather interfering with something in Alaska? They wanted to eventually do the "Big Seven," meaning their goal was to climb the tallest peak on every continent. I guess they have a "life list" of mountains they conquer. While Denali is usually veiled in clouds, we were fortunate on this day to see it quite clearly part of the time. It was, however, so far away it was difficult to get an appreciation for how huge this mountain really is.

We headed back to Anchorage having found most of our target birds. Our only disappointment was the Gyrfalcon—oh, and the Rock Ptarmigan which Ivan had missed when he was out of sight when the birds flew up. Our minds were filled with memorable sights of ocean, glacier, mountain, wood and stream. Our friendship with each other was now a solid bond. The next day we were sad to leave this unusual state of Alaska with its great assortment of landscapes and wildlife. We had enjoyed a wonderful experience— disappointing for the cancellation of the Attu trip—but rewarding in the many other areas we were able to bird with such enjoyment. Having been gone for about three weeks, it was exciting to get back home with our patient wives and children. Do you think they will let us try again in 1996?

To be continued.


Membership in the Utah County Birders is open to any interested person. Dues are $12 per year, although no one will be excluded if unable or unwilling to participate. Send dues to Beula Hinckley, 2067 N. 420 E., Provo, UT 84604

Executive Committee

President Matt DeVries ( 226-0958
Past-President Robin Tuck ( 377-8084
President-Elect Merrill Webb 224-6113
Secretary-Treasurer Beula Hinckley ( 377-3443
Programs Dennis Shirley 423-1108
Field Trips Ned Hill ( 375-2417
Membership Barbara Whipple ( 226-3931
Newsletter Weldon Whipple ( 226-3931

Telephone Hotline: 375-2487, 377-8084
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