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February 1997


New Officers Announced at January Dinner

Robin Tuck, long-time leader and organizer of the Utah County Birders, announced new leadership at the January meeting/banquet, held at the Golden Corral in Orem:

Executive Committee

Matt DeVries
Robin Tuck
Merrill Webb
Beulah Hinckley

Robin also presented awards to birders who recorded sightings of over 200 different kinds of birds locally in 1996.

Clayton White, a faculty member at BYU, then shared some of his birding experiences with those in attendance.


Matt's Message
by Matt DeVries

The arrival of Snow Geese and the increasing number of Pintails indicate that spring is approaching. Soon the skies and trees will be filled with music and color. This annual miracle fuels my passion for birds.

It is the intention of the club's leadership to provide everyone in the club with many opportunities to learn about, experience, and enjoy birds—during the wonder of spring and the throughout the year. To bring this about, several members of the club have committed their time and expertise.

Dennis Shirley will be organizing our programs. He has compiled an impressive list of speakers who will share their passion for and knowledge of birds with us.

Ned Hill will be working with Reed Stone, Junece Markham, and Robert Brown to organize field trips. They have begun planning trips that should enchant us throughout the year.

Barbara and Weldon Whipple will keep track of our membership and put out the Newsletter that keeps us informed of coming activities.

I anticipate this structure resulting in the growth of our tradition of exceptional speakers, regular field trips, and meaningful friendships. I hope that our shared enthusiasm for birds will be fueled by the experiences we share during 1997.


February Meeting
by Dennis Shirley

The February meeting will be held on Thursday, February 20, 1997 at 7:00 p.m. at the BYU Bean Museum. After a short business session, we will have the pleasure of hearing about Mountain Plovers in Utah.

Ann Ellison, a first year graduate student at BYU, under the direction of her Major Professor Dr. Clayton White, will present a report on her Mountain Plover research in the Uintah Basin of Northeastern Utah. Ann’s thesis centers around nest site selection and preferred habitat of this rare Utah species.

Ann received her B.S. degree in biology from Hanover College in Indiana. Her professional interests include wildlife ecology, research and management. This should be a very informative and interesting program. Most of us have never seen a Mountain Plover, especially in Utah, and know very little about this bird. So bring a friend and we’ll see you there.


Robin’s View
by Robin Tuck


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


1997 Field Trips

The field trip committee is soliciting ideas for upcoming field trips. We plan to take at least one half- or full-day trip each month. During the summer we are thinking of a longer trip to a birding hot spot like southeastern Arizona or the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Is anyone interested in a pelagic trip out of Monterey or Bodege Bay, California? We welcome your suggestions. Please call Ned Hill at 375-2417, 375-2419, or send an e-mail to Or you can contact any other member of the field trip committee.


Musings about Elbert Simmons (who died Feb. 6, 1997)
by Merrill Webb

My first introduction to Elbert Simmons occurred back in 1967 when I entered his Bio-Techniques Class at BYU. This was a class for students who were interested in natural history and who were planning on becoming science teachers.

He was a very patient teacher who helped me make a mold of a fish and paint it so that it looked life-like. He helped me prepare a live mount of a California Quail which is still in the display case in my room at Provo High School. His son, Dan, now a Provo doctor, learned taxidermy well from his father, and for a special projects class at our school prepared some live mounts of birds which are still on display in my classroom.

Elbert helped in Christmas Bird Counts for a number of years. He enlisted many to help in the census and also to watch their feeders. In fact, some of the people in the Utah County Birders owe their present interest in birding to his patient tutelage while going out in his group on some of these counts. He initiated the Saturday morning bird walks during the spring around the BYU campus, where he introduced a lot of novice birders to the satisfaction that could be gained from watching birds.

He was a gentle man who influenced a lot of people for good. I appreciate the positive influence he had on my life as a teacher and as a beginning birder.


Future Meetings

Dennis Shirley has been busy lining up monthly programs for this coming year. He has many ideas for programs, but would also like everyone’s input and ideas. Please contact him if you have any suggestions. Here are some of our future programs:

March: Utah Wintering Merlins - Don Harvey

April: Birds of the Virgin River Riparian Habitat - Ken McDonald

September: Birds of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem - Don Paul

Other months:
Hawk Watch International - Western Hawk Migration - Steve Hoffman
Utah’s Neotropical Migrants - Jim Parrish.


Siberian Accentor in Idaho!
by Ned C. Hill

Nothing starts my adrenaline flowing more than news of a Code 5 bird within easy travel distance. In early January word began filtering down from Hailey, Idaho, that a small, sparrow-sized bird from the Siberian plains must have been blown by strong winds across the Bering Sea while it was traveling to wintering grounds in southern China. Somehow, the little fellow found his way to a sheltered area 5 miles north of Hailey, about 12 miles south of Sun Valley. Now Siberian Accentors have been seen in the United States before but never in Idaho. Most records are from Alaska, a couple from British Columbia and one from the state of Washington. The reports kept coming over the Internet so it looked like the Accentor was going to spend the winter in the Potato State. I was glad because my schedule would not let me make the trip until Civil Rights Day.

Matt and Pia (and baby Ben) DeVries had been wanting to make the chase for several days and our old friend Rob Fergus was flying in from Texas—travel is a nice bonus when your wife works for American Airlines. Ivan Call was delighted to go with us and Lois Clark was thrilled at the chance for her first Code 5 bird. In order for us all to travel in the same vehicle, we pitched in to rent a Ford Expedition. Sunday afternoon, January 19th, we headed north for a birding-story-filled 3 hour drive to Twin Falls. What fun to be in the company of such interesting people! Upon our arrival, we called the person who puts the Idaho rare bird alert together. He had been keeping track of the Accentor. Chases, you should know, have no guarantees. There is always a chance the bird could decide to change locations or to be eaten by a Merlin. Matt and I once drove eight hours one way on an unsuccessful chase to see a Gray Silky Flycatcher. We missed it by one day! Fortunately, our Accentor expert told us someone had seen the bird Sunday morning but it was moving around and might take some patient searching.

With electric anticipation we headed out early Monday morning for the drive from Twin Falls to Hailey. The instructions told us the Accentor was not usually seen until 9:30 am but we got there about 8:00 to be sure. We parked by a small group of homes and walked down to the end of Easy Street (really—that is its name). We were only there about 5 minutes when Rob Never-Missed-on-a-Chase Fergus shouted, "There it is!" A small bird flew with some Juncos from one front yard towards the opposite end of the street where some feeders were located. We hurried back to the feeders and started scanning. Soon a small bird with a striking black and yellow head appeared on the ground and then flew up to a feeder for a few seconds. It had a rusty brown back and pale yellow (ochre) breast. The bird stayed by the feeder long enough for all of our group to get fairly good but quick looks. But we wanted to see more of this long-distance traveler. We walked around the neighborhood for almost two hours and finally got some more extended looks. We helped several other birders find the Accentor. One birder was from New Jersey, one from Boise, one from Pocatello, one had driven up from Phoenix, and one woman from Hailey had just heard about the bird from the newspaper and stopped with her infant to get a look. She didn't even have binoculars.

After glorying in our success with the Siberian Accentor, we decided to try for some of the other good birds that were reported in the area. Just north of the Accentor site, we turned off the main road and drove about 5 miles to an old mining dormitory. Someone had put a feeder on the roof (how they filled it we couldn’t guess). Waiting in the warmth of the car, we soon found dozens of Gray-crowned and Black Rosy Finches mobbing the feeder. What a sight to see so many of these beautiful birds at quite close range.

As we drove a few miles north to Ketchum the snow started to become quite heavy. We found a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the middle of the city but couldn’t locate the reported White-Winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks—in fact, we could hardly locate the tops of the trees for all the snow. We decided to try our luck further south, hopefully, out of the snow.

We drove south of Hailey to Gannett. Sure enough, the snow eased up. East of Gannett, we found a birder we had helped earlier to locate the Accentor. He was looking in his scope at a raptor on a distant fence post. We joined him and soon decided the bird was not a Prairie Falcon but a Gyrfalcon. Soon it left its perch and lumbered across the ground at an altitude of 12 inches (very un-Prairie Falcon-like), caught a mouse and lumbered back to the fence post. It was the first Gyrfalcon for several of our group. Later, we did find several Prairie Falcons and noted the vast difference in flight pattern. Other raptors we found were: Rough-legged Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Northern Harrier.

Next we drove over to the Hagerman State Fish Hatchery. On one of the main ponds, we found thousands of wintering ducks, including: Redhead, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Wood Duck, Ruddy Duck, American Widgeon, Gadwall, and Bufflehead. It was quite a task but we finally spotted our real target: a male Tufted Duck. A Tufted Duck looks almost exactly like a Scaup or a Ring-necked Duck. However, the Tufted has very white sides and a solid black back. When the wind was just right, we could see the long tuft of feathers extending down the back of its head. This is Idaho’s first record of a Tufted Duck so we were very glad to be able to sort it out from the others.

After a full day of birding we had seen nearly 50 species including one Code 5 and two Code 3 birds (Tufted Duck and Gyrfalcon are Code 3). It was my 12th Code 5 bird. All have been quite exciting. We had also collected the memory of a wonderful trip with good friends. Our only disappointment was that we didn’t get to take all of you with us.