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UTAH COUNTY BIRDERS
Newsletter
March 1998


Contents


Matt's Message
by Matt DeVries (birder1@hotmail.com)

I didn’t see it again. Three states, three years, and dozens of hours later my # 1 most wanted bird continues to elude me. Sure this bird is known to be shy, sneaky, and difficult. But, this is too much. I’ve paid my dues, put in the hours, beseeched the birding gods, and lost lots of beauty sleep. Still, all I have is its picture in my field guide and a bunch travel expenses from all over the southwest desert.

In a last desperate attempt to break the curse, I have decided not to mention my curse birds name until such time as it reveals itself to me. I was leaning towards a more drastic approach—a hunger strike, a protest rally, or perhaps not showering, but these approaches did not capture the essence of my frustration (and Pia opposed them, particularly the latter .)

This isn’t the first time I have reached the breaking point. American Bittern nearly finished me off. I looked for bittern in six states and countless reserves, marshes, and parks, before finally finding one at Fish Springs. Like the fantastical snipe of boy scout lore, I had begun to doubt its existence.

But my new nemesis is different. I know it has been out there mocking me from beneath a shrub or bush. I have certainly been spotted by the bird. If only the corollary were true. But, it isn’t and so, I will maintain my silent vigil until than glorious day, when perched on creosote, backlit by the rising son, my nemesis bird becomes another beautiful memory. A memory made sweeter by time, travel, and frustration.

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New Members

Those interested in joining the Utah County Birders should contact Beula Hinckley at 377-3443 or at 2067 North 420 East, Provo, UT 84604. Please consider being part of the "Hot Line Calling Tree," which alerts those interested, about rare bird sightings or special activities.

Meeting and activities are open to EVERYONE, so join us and bring a friend.

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March Meeting
!! In different room !!

March 19th (Thursday) 7:00pm, Bean Museum Room 310 (instead of the Auditorium). Shelley Goodell, a graduate student in Zoology at BYU working under Dr. Clayton White, will present the results of her research on Great Horned Owls. The study compares the diet of Great Horned Owls in undisturbed areas with those in areas disturbed by man.

Originally from Alabama, Shelley now lives in Palmyra with her husband, John. She has a B.S. from BYU and hopes to continue with bird research after she receives her degree in August. Shelley is a practicing falconer. Reliable sources confirm that she will bring her Merlin to the meeting. (I don’t think Robin will allow this sighting for the contest, sorry!).

Future Meetings

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Robin’s View
by Robin Tuck (robin@itsnet.com)

 

This month's article, "Where to Go, Oh, Where to Go"  is found in the Robin's View section of this web site.

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UCB on the Web

Bulletin Board Installed on UCB Web Site

During the past month the Utah County Birders web site has added a bulletin board facility. It has already been used to report an error in the Birders Hot Line phone number, as well as some bird sightings.

If you have Internet access, check out the bulletin board on the Utah County Birders web site. You might find it useful for asking questions, discussing future activities, or reporting sightings (as a supplement to the Hot Line).

To access the bulletin board, visit the UCB web site at http://www.whipple.org/birders , then click on the bulletin board link. If you encounter problems with the bulletin board, please contact weldon@whipple.org .

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The Core of Attu
Attu Adventures, Part 6: 1996
by Ned C. Hill (ned_hill@byu.edu)

This is the sixth of a series of articles giving the account of North America’s ultimate birding adventure: a trip to Attu Island, Alaska. In Part 5 I told of the thrill of our first big Attu "chase" to find the Great Spotted Woodpecker. This was only the start of some very exciting finds in the days that followed.

After about 30 miles biking yesterday, Ivan and I decided to give our legs a needed rest on May 22nd. We were happy to learn that anyone in our group who missed the Great Spotted Woodpecker yesterday was able to find it today. There were reports of a Rufous Turtle Dove flyby but nothing concrete. Larry Balch said he saw a Hawfinch fly through the base camp while we were all out birding yesterday. Ivan and I decided to build a crude bird feeder to hold some seeds that may attract a Hawfinch or Turtle Dove. We don’t think any bird actually visited it during our stay. After breakfast, we joined a walking group that went around Casco Cove and Big Lake. A few Rock Ptarmigan were flushed as we walked along. At South Beach we set up our scopes and were able to spot a number of Ancient Murrelets and Kittletz’s Murrelets on the bay. Of course, we always saw the ever abundant Harlequin Duck and Common Eider in the kelp beds and Red-faced Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Tufted Puffin and Glaucous-winged Gull on the piers and off-shore rocks. From a nearby hill we heard a strange "tu, tu, tu, tu, tu" call. We let our imaginations run to Common Cuckoo, Hoopoe or some other exotic visitor. But Paul Sykes, an expert on Attu animals, came along and told us we were listening to an Arctic Fox! Darn. On returning to base camp for the afternoon, I spotted a Thick-billed Murre swimming just off-shore. It turned out to be the only one we saw on Attu. That afternoon, the wind started to change. It had been blowing out of the east but now it moved around and was coming from the west. Westerly winds often blow in vagrants that are on their way up the Asian coast. What will tomorrow bring in?

The 23rd started chilly and windy—still from the west. I went with Paul Sykes, a leader who would love to see a Rufous Turtle Dove. He is a tenacious birder. We scoured Navy Town—the once busy hub of Attu. Rotting boards, decaying foundations, rusting machinery all gave evidence of dozens and dozens of buildings that once stood in this area. Now the tundra is reclaiming the buildings. They have crumbled away leaving lots of nooks and crannies for birds to find shelter from the constant Attu wind. Nails and other sharp metal hazards lie covered with tundra, waiting for an uncareful birder to miss a step. The radio crackled—a black-phase Ruff was reported back at the Peaceful River mouth. Most people have seen a Ruff—but I haven’t. I jumped on my trusty bike and pedaled like mad the few miles along a muddy trail to Steve Heinl’s group who told me the bird just flew towards Casco Cove two minutes ago! I hopped back on my bike and headed towards James Huntington’s group. On the way I saw a birder who yelled and pointed at an eagle flying overhead. I raised my binoculars to get a good look at a large eagle with tawny brown shoulders and a few white tail feathers. Probably a juvenile White-tailed Eagle! I reached for my radio and broadcast the message. The bird flew over Casco Cove so people back at base—including Ivan (who missed the eagle in Temnac Valley) were able to see it. Our impressions were confirmed by others—it was really a young White-tailed Eagle. Does this mean that a new generation of these rare birds may be seeking out Attu as a possible nesting site?

Meanwhile, the Ruff had been reported back at Peaceful River. I rode back there. It had flown. What luck! I decided to sit down with some friends and eat lunch and scan the bay. A new radio message came in: the Ruff was back at Navy Town—where I had started my trek. I finished lunch and pedaled out to Navy Town. I was encouraged when I saw Tim and Jim Stevens in the distance looking intently at some birds along the shore. When I arrived, they point to a beautiful black Ruff that was feeding with Bar-tailed Godwits along the shore. The Ruff was black from the chest up but was mottled below—sort of a strange looking shorebird. By this time, my legs were rubbery from my Ruff chase and I decided to pedal the four miles back to base.

As I arrived at base, Tim Stevens, who preceded me by a few minutes, came running out of the building heading for his bike. I knew something must be up. "Paul Sykes found the Turtle Dove at NavyTown Beach!" Oh, no, I thought. I had just came from there and didn’t bother to listen to my radio as I returned. That will teach me to get lazy. I forced my aching legs to hop back on my bike and pedal like mad the four miles to Navy Town. Previous sightings of the dove had only been flyovers. Would it stay long enough for me to get to it? I saw other birders coming from other areas and heading my direction. They look tired, too. As I neared the beach, I can see a large group of birders huddled around scopes. This is a good sign. When I arrived, other birders grabbed my bike from me and led me to a scope—"lifer’s first." They didn’t want anyone to miss the bird. At first I could not see the bird even though they told me the bird was in the middle of the scope. All I saw was kelp, rocks and sand. I finally got on a scope where the bird jumped out at me—it was there all along perfectly camouflaged. Rufous (Oriental) Turtle Dove was like a large ground dove but had dark reddish-brown wings and a gray head—perfect for blending into kelp. It stayed down in those rocks for over an hour enabling everyone to get a good look. This was our second Code 5 bird of the week.

After a number of satisfying looks at the dove, I rode leisurely back to base and stopped to check out the Ruff again. After my frantic searches this morning, I had now seen this bird four or five times today. I tried out the shower—it was wonderful—and joined Ivan for a tasty dinner of chicken enchiladas. He was able to get out to see both the Ruff and the Turtle Dove on the ATV. Everyone was in a good mood at dinner. Some very experienced birders like Paul Sykes and Sandy Komito have a very difficult time getting new birds—they have seen just about everything and have been to Attu many years. Yet they have both seen two new birds on this trip. So, already Attu has been a good year, and more is likely to come.

May 24th was cold, windy and a bit rainy. I decided to go with Jerry to Henderson Marsh. The wind may have blown in something unusual. We trudged through large parts of the marsh but found nothing but Lapland Longspurs, Song Sparrows, Snow Bunting and Rock Sandpipers. A few Red-throated Loons gave their un-loon-like call overhead: "Kut-kut-kut-kut." Steve Heinl reported on the radio that a Brambling flew by them as they went out to Alexai Point. But it was probably useless to chase such a flyby. They later reported a Spectacled Eider out on the Point but we are advised not to chase it—it is probably the same individual that has been here for the past three years and will be around for weeks—we hoped they were right. A Long-toed Stint was also reported at Alexai but it had flown. Paul Sykes reported a thrush-like bird flying across the road near Navy Town. This could be promising: Eye-browed Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin? We aren’t far away so we all went help Paul walk through the area. No thrush. Ivan and I were called back to do our pot duty. We spent a few hours scrubbing all the pots and pans and sanitizing them.

The 25th was one of the most exciting of the trip—but it started slowly. Since the Eider and Stint were reported yesterday at Alexai Point, a fairly large group of us headed out to cover the 24-mile round trip ride. I was behind James Huntington—boy can he pedal that bike. We were all sweating by the time we arrived. With the cold wind, it made for some uncomfortable times. We scoured the point but found neither Eider nor Stint. A radio report came in that reported the Spectacled Eider was on a rock clear back at the mouth of the Peaceful River. So we all started back. Halfway home, I encountered someone heading back towards Alexai. "They just found a Brambling back there." Just after I left Alexai, the Brambling showed up! A few minutes later, Ted Robinson told me that an unknown flycatcher had been seen just behind us out towards Alexai. So we both headed back several miles and found a group looking through a scope up into the cliffs above the trail. One of the birders had earlier flushed a small flycatcher and it flew up into the vegetation. They had just relocated it and I got a good look at a small, drab brown bird with reddish sides and a dark tail. It was a female or juvenile Red-flanked Bluetail—another Code 5 bird. This one has only been seen in North America a few times but, on Attu, more than one is seen in some years. I was delighted to see this little bird but only wished we could see the more brightly colored male.

By the time I arrived at the mouth of Peaceful River, the eider had not been seen for several minutes. So, disappointed, I rode further to Steve Heinl’s group. They were looking in a scope at a beautiful, male Spectacled Eider. It had gone around a small island to a location the previous group couldn’t see. This was an unusual looking duck with goggles on its head. It is able to withstand the extreme cold of the Arctic winter and actually winters in the ice pack. The body temperature of thousands of individual eiders can keep a portion of the ice open year round so the ducks can feed on open ocean. Now I have seen all four eiders of the world.

I started to head back to base but Steve Heinl asked, "Does anyone need Brambling?" Several of us had never seen one so he took us over to a pond near the landing strip. We soon saw 4 Bramblings bound in giving brief looks. By walking around the pond we finally got very good looks at a male and female in the open. Beautiful little birds. We would later discover that they built a nest and became the first nesting record for Brambling in North America. What started as a very disappointing day turned into a great day for finding rarities—even though I was soaked by the time the day ended.

The 26th was cold with a biting wind from the north. Ivan and I took time to read and rest a bit. Our bodies needed that after our strenuous chases. A radio call came in that Yellow Wagtails were seen out near the runway. So we pedaled over to join the search. We finally found three or four walking in the grass not too far away. We also got to see Brambling again. As we were getting ready to go back to base, Al Stokie said, "I have a small shorebird—may be just a Rock Sandpiper." He finally got us all on a small peep pecking around in some grass on the edge of a pond. It stood more erect than most peeps, had a reddish head and fine lines down the back of its neck. Paul Baicich studied it for a few seconds and then declared, "It’s a Long-toed Stint!" We kept the bird in view so that others, summoned by the radio, could see it when they arrived from other areas.

The radio crackled with reports of Rustic Bunting out on the trail to Alexai Point but it could not be relocated. Grace Steurer called in a possible Black-backed Wagtail but it could not be relocated either. Steve Heinl found a second Red-flanked Bluetail in Henderson Marsh up Barrel Canyon. We decided not to chase any of these new findings and went back to base.

We were wet from the light rains and sweating conditions from all our riding. When our clothes got wet—which they often did because of the unpredictable rains here—we put them in the big white plastic drying tent. There was a large "salamander" heater in the tent to warm the air and dry out the clothes. It was so wet in there that water dripped constantly from the ceiling. But eventually, things did dry out. We also had a washer and dryer and people assigned to manage things through the cleaning process. We dropped off clothes in the morning and they were washed, dried and neatly folded for you in the afternoon. Great service. The water was cold and delicious on Attu. The outhouses were clean but smelly—as all outhouses are, I guess.

I noticed that some birders sit around the day room most of the time and let other birders go into the field and find birds for them. If a new bird shows up, they would make an effort to see it. Otherwise, they read, played cards or just talked. I began to realize that I was not—and could never be—a super "lister" like some of these people. It seems their main goal in life is to assemble a large life list of birds. Some of them are also excellent birders. But a few with large lists don’t know that much about the birds themselves. Once they have ticked a bird off their life list, the bird is not worth looking at it again. For me, the list is an excuse to go out into interesting places and have the adventure of finding birds. The "hunt" for birds is more fun than the listing itself.

Tonight the wind is changing again. We all wonder if tomorrow will be another Code 5 day.

To be continued.

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Membership in the Utah County Birders is open to any interested person. Dues are $12 per year. Send dues to Beula Hinckley, 2067 N. 420 E., Provo, UT 84604

Executive Committee

President Matt DeVries (birder1@hotmail.com) 226-0958
President-Elect Merrill Webb 224-6113
Secretary-Treasurer Beula Hinckley (ech@itsnet.com) 377-3443
Programs Dennis Shirley 423-1108
Activities Robin Tuck (robin@itsnet.com) 377-8084
Field Trips Ned Hill (ned_hill@byu.edu) 375-2417
Webmaster Weldon Whipple (weldon@whipple.org) 226-3931
Newsletter Milton Moody (mgmoody@itsnet.com) 373-2795
Hotline Phone 375-2487, 377-8084
WWW http://www.whipple.org/birders
E-mail weldon@whipple.org

Submit items for future Newsletters to Milton Moody, 2795 Indian Hills Drive, Provo, UT 84604.
E-mail mgmoody@itsnet.com

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Rare Bird Alert

What you might see and Where

 In General: An abundance of migrating birds may be found in natural funnel areas like the point of the mountain and the canyons and passes in the south end of the valley. The streams and rivers form natural pathways leading to the shores of lakes and ponds which become vagrant traps for birds passing through. And the marshy shores of Utah Lake and the areas of dense trees like Camalot Woods are attractive rest stops for our rare visitors. Mud flats and playas, like the shallow lakes between Genola and Goshen as well as the flooded fields north of Salem Pond, may yield some surprising shorebirds.

Specifically: Watching for Eurasian Wigeons among the American Wigeons works as we have seen already. There may be Tufted Ducks among the Scaups and Ring-necked Ducks. (All of the states around us have reported Tufted Ducks– it may be our turn). It is possible that a Mountain Plover could be lirking in the cultivated field and pastures like those north of Elberta along the "Borrowing Owl" road. Check for Stilt Sandpipers and other rare sandpipers on the mud flats and playas. If you see Godwits or Curlews, there just could be a Hudsonian Godwit around too.

If you see something interesting, please call the Hotline–(and you’ll quickly see even more odd ducks!)


Hotline Summary

Name of Bird

Age & Sex

Date

Reported by

Indigo Bunting & Golden-crowned Sparrow 1st Yr Male Feb 27 Lois Clark
Location: Lois Clark’s incredible backyard and bird theme park, Provo, Utah
Orange-crowned Warbler Adult Feb 28 Reed Stone
Location: Reed Stone’s backyard, by the Provo River
Barrow’s Goldeneye & Tundra Swans Adt M F Mar 1 Dennis Shirley
Location: Deer Creek Reservoir ; Other end of Reservoir toward Midway, Heber Valley
Golden-crowned Kinglet & Merlin Adult Mar 2 Eric Huish
Location: Pleasant Grove Kiwanis Park, at the end of Battlecreek Road., mouth of the canyon
Wild Turkey & Kingfisher & Stellar’s Jay Adult Mar 3 Salina & Alan Keller
Location: South Fork of Provo Canyon, about mile past South Fork Park
Snow Bunting Pair Mar 6 Dennis Shirley
Location: South End of the Provo Airport Dike
Hooded & Red-breasted Mergansers Males Mar 8 Ned Hill
Location: South End of Provo Airport Dike
Eurasian Wigeon Male 10 Mar Eric Huish
Sandhill Crane & Sage Thrasher Adult 11 Mar Tuula Rose
Location: North end of new trail by Boat Provo Harbor