I was able to add a few days of birding to what was essentially a business trip. Of course, it helped that the conference I was attending was held in the scenic ski resort of Snowbird. At 8000 ft, there were plenty of birds (and not the kind I see around here, either) to be seen just walking from building to building. In addition, there were some breaks between sessions that allowed some extra birding time.
With the ABA conference a month earlier in the same general area, there was a wealth of information about birding Utah available. The foremost reference was the three-part series by Ella Sorensen that appeared in the March through May editions of Winging It, the newsletter of the American Birding Association. This proved to be a very good guide for finding a variety of birds, and it was mostly accurate (Update: for Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, from I-15 now use the new exit 366, Forest Street, and head directly west). In addition, I got some information from BIRDCHAT, especially the long report from John and Irma LeVine (Birders2@aol.com), and one chatter, Jim Ingold (JINGOLD@pilot.lsus.edu) was so kind to send me brochures and checklists. Many thanks to all.
In order to get an early start on the weekend, I took a vacation day and left Chicago on the earliest possible flight to arrive in Salt Lake City at 11am. After some waiting around for luggage and rental car and, after leaving the airport, shopping for provisions, I was ready for birds. Since I was stationed all week in the mountains, I decided to concentrate first on the birds of the Great Salt Lake, and I headed for Antelope Island, west of Layton (note that I-15 currently has construction in the Layton area). The first bird seen that doesn't occur in Chicago was BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (common in agricultural areas).
The causeway was easy enough to find, and already before the fee station ($6), I spotted the first of many WHITE-FACED IBIS in a mud puddle along the road, together with some KILLDEER. Much more promising were all the little dots on the water along the shore and the causeway, which turned out to be thousands of AMERICAN AVOCET. Further out, and much harder to see even with a scope were tens of thousands of mostly WILSON'S PHALAROPE, with possibly some RED-NECKED PHALAROPEs sprinkled among them. Of course, there were also lots of gulls, mainly CALIFORNIA GULL and FRANKLIN'S GULL, but also a few RING-BILLED GULLs. Also notable were the many BANK SWALLOWs along with BARN and a few TREE SWALLOWs. Further out along the causeway, the water became slightly deeper, and BLACK-NECKED STILT and EARED GREBEs became more numerous. Many of these birds were close enough to the causeway that I could photograph them from car, parked on the wide shoulder.
About two miles from the mainland, I spotted a duck near the causeway, brown with three white spots on the head: a female HARLEQUIN DUCK! Now that was unusual -- the checklist for Northern Utah only mentions them (rarely) for winter. I mentioned it to park personnel, and I contacted the Utah Bird Records Committee about documentation material for this unusual sighting. This turned out to be the rarest bird seen on the entire trip (with one possible exception, see August 1).
Other shorebirds seen along the causeway were occasional WILLET and a flock of nine SANDERLINGs, not exactly a common bird in Utah, either. HORNED LARK were also evident along the causeway.
The island itself was very hot, but it was a stark and desolate landscape (so unlike suburban Chicago!). First I drove to the Egg Island overlook, where I added a SAGE THRASHER or two to the list. WESTERN MEADOWLARK and HORNED LARK were common, especially the buffalo corral (there is also a free-roaming herd of bison on the island, but I didn't see them), where there were also BREWER'S BLACKBIRDs and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDs. Then I drove to the end of the road at White Rock Bay. There were essentially no birds on the salt-encrusted beach, but a pair of NORTHERN HARRIERs patrolled the grassy area, where a lone Pronghorn Antelope was also grazing. Suddenly a flock of at least 200 AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN appeared, flew a slow-motion circle over the bay, and then disappeared around a corner. The whole scene had an almost surrealistic air to it. Along the barbed wire fence that separates the publicly accessible north end from the wilderness of the remainder of the island, two LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE were catching dragonflies. Hoped for, but missed were Sage Sparrow and Black-throated Sparrow.
On the way back along the causeway, I was able to relocate both the Sanderling flock and the Harlequin Duck, and I took some pictures of the latter. After leaving the State Park, I followed some side roads (described in the Winging It article through an agricultural area west of Layton. A WESTERN KINGBIRD on a wire was the only new bird. Farmington Wildlife Management Area was already closed (it was already after 5pm), and I returned there the following day. After some unsuccessful driving around to find the road up to Bountiful Peak, I called it a day and checked into my hotel in Salt Lake City.
I started early and reached Memory Grove, beneath the State Capitol building at the mouth of City Creek Canyon, at sunrise. For the most part, the grove was still in the shadow while I was there. During a walk up one side of the creek and down the other, I was able to find a family of AMERICAN KESTREL, VIOLET-GREEN and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWs, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEEs, a SOLITARY VIREO of the plumbeous race, a WARBLING VIREO, a YELLOW WARBLER feeding a cowbird chick, a group of COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, several BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKs, an adult and a fledgling LESSER GOLDFINCH, SONG SPARROW, and some common backyard birds. I also had my first encounter with hummingbirds catching insects over the creek, but they were too fast (and in female/immature plumage) to be identified.
Better looks at male BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRDs were had in the upper portion of City Creek Canyon (on odd-numbered days the road is open for bicycles -- limited parking at the gate -- and on even-numbered days for cars with paid picnic area reservations). I hiked up a trail paralleling the road, in order to avoid the many kamikaze bicycles. Warbling Vireo, Black-headed Grosbeak, SPOTTED TOWHEE, LAZULI BUNTING, and CHIPPING SPARROW were common, and I also saw a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, a family flock of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, two WESTERN SCRUB-JAYs, and two NORTHERN FLICKER of the red-shafted variety. A Northern Harrier glided along the mountain side. I also caught a glimpse, but not a good look of a BULLOCK'S ORIOLE flying around.
After a quick breakfast on the run, I returned to the Great Salt Lake, this time at Farmington Wildlife Management Area (described in the Winging It article). Along the access road there were several Western Kingbirds, and on the first dried-out salt pan within the W.M.A. sat a lone CANVASBACK drake (definitely a duck out of water, possibly in not so good shape). Many of the same birds as on the previous day at Antelope Island were of course seen: White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, pelicans, gulls and swallows. Only one road was open (more open after August 1), and it led through a marsh to a dirt heap overlook. In the cattails were MARSH WREN, RED-WINGED and BLACK-HEADED BLACKBIRDS (many immatures), whereas in open pools GREAT BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET, and a few GREATER YELLOWLEGS were found. A FORSTER'S TERN flew over the marsh. Starting from the dirt heap, a dike (no motorized traffic) separated the Salt Lake from a less salty bay fed by fresh water. I walked about a mile out on the dike in the midday heat (but it's a dry heat!) to get a better vantage point at the bay, where there were thousands of RUDDY DUCK, and smaller numbers of Eared, WESTERN, and even a few CLARK'S GREBEs, also a few MALLARD, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, and a couple SPOTTED SANDPIPER (along the water's edge).
This was enough of the heat, and I found relief by driving up Big Cottonwood Canyon, on the other side of Salt Lake City. I wasn't at first successful at finding birds, but the scenery was gorgeous, so I drove as high up as I could to a pass that connects Brighton with the Park City area, on the other side of the Wasatch range. From there, I climbed with great effort, as I wasn't used to the elevation yet (in addition to being generally out-of-shape), a mountain to the south of the pass. Birds (swallows, finches, sparrows, a distant hawk) could be heard and occasionally even seen, but only a CLARK'S NUTCRACKER was close enough to be identified. At least the view was good, although the clouds started moving in, and it was very windy.
After this frustrating experience, I stopped further down the canyon, where it changed from a glacier-shaped U to a river-carved V. Above the transition, the creek flowed through a wide bottom, and I found a trail leading across it in to a campground. Along this trail were MacGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, Lazuli Bunting, probable CASSIN'S FINCH, and an immature THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (separated from Hairy Woodpecker by extensive black-and-white on the flanks) worked in a tree. The wooded area near the campground had MOUNTAIN CHICKADEEs and a HERMIT THRUSH. From the bridge across the creek I spotted an AMERICAN DIPPER diving into the water and bobbing on the rocks.
Ibis were seen several times during the drive south from Salt Lake City along I-15 toward Provo. Around 8am, I arrived at the Provo Canyon entrance and drove up Squaw Peak Trail. Just before I reached the knoll at 1.4 miles described by E. Sorensen, a BLUE GROUSE flushed from the road and disappeared in the shrubbery. As it was overcast, the conditions weren't ideal for swift, and the only ones I could see were two or three distant WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, but no Black Swift. The area was rather unproductive, with only a few Spotted Towhee, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Violet-green Swallows seen or heard.
Thus I continued up Provo Canyon and along the Timpanogos loop past Robert Redford's Sundance resort and Aspen Grove to the Mt. Timpanogos trailhead. I followed the excellent trail for a few hundred yards to a turnoff to the right. In that area, I was able to discern a couple SWAINSON'S THRUSH in a bush, also Warbling Vireos. The side trail up along a mountain side was productive, with Black-chinned (?) Hummingbird, a great look at a GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, a Virginia Warbler, a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, several FOX SPARROWs, a Northern Flicker, and distant chickadees (Mountain?). Further up and around a corner, several WESTERN TANAGERS and Cassin's Finches were flying around, and in the underbrush were quite a few MacGillivray's Warblers. Then I returned to the main trail and followed it further back toward the waterfalls. A GOLDEN EAGLE flew along the mountain side. STELLER'S JAYS were raiding birds' nests (very much upsetting a Warbling Vireo). In the willows in the valley bottom, an Empidonax flycatcher (probably DUSKY FLYCATCHER) was calling.
Another birding spot was at the highest elevation of the road, this time in a beginning drizzle, where I wandered around the aspen groves and found YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS (of course of the Audubon type) feeding young, a HOUSE WREN, many DARK-EYED JUNCOs (of the gray-headed type) and even more Chipping Sparrows.
After that, the rain really picked up, and I decided to show up at the conference site in Snowbird (Little Cottonwood Canyon, ca. 8000 ft). A walk around the resort in the evening, after the rain finally stopped, revealed more Cassin's Finches, Western Tanagers, Steller's Jays, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a calling WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE. Right in front of one of the buildings was a large patch of fireweed (Epilobium sp.) that attracted several RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDs. All these birds were seen more or less daily during the week at Snowbird. I also saw Clark's Nutcracker and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, which were somewhat less common.
A long power outage in the main conference building caused an interruption in the meeting program, which several participants filled with a ride by tram to the top of 11,000 feet-high Hidden Peak. I elected to hike down the mountain and added several more birds to the list: BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, two juvenile RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERs, a DOWNY WOODPECKER, an accipiter that was too quick to be properly identified, a pair of OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERs, PINE SISKINs, another Green-tailed Towhee, Violet-green Swallows, Mountain Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows (In hindsight, I really blew it here: I'm sure that if I had looked at these "Chipping Sparrows" a little bit more carefully, I would have found some Brewer's Sparrows among them!), Juncos, and more MacGillivray's Warblers (the latter five also seen pretty much daily at Snowbird).
This morning, I saw another Northern Flicker and a Black-headed Grosbeak at Snowbird. In the afternoon, I skipped a few talks and drove a couple miles up-valley to the Alta ski resort to walk the flowering meadows (peak season -- gorgeous!!!). CLIFF SWALLOWs were common, and I also added WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW to the list. The Alta basin also had a pair of Olive-sided Flycatchers.
No new birds today, but I spotted some Mountain Goats in the cliffs above the resort. I spent an hour or so chasing birds with my camera and managed to get some half-way decent shots of Cassin's Finch and Steller's Jay (feeder behind the tram station) and juvenile MacGillivray's Warbler. The rest of the day was spent at the conference (which also had poster sessions every evening).
Except for the evening poster session (where I had a presentation), I skipped the talks this day (in honor of the Swiss national holiday, perhaps?) and took a trip into the Uinta Range, mainly in search of finches. On the Shingle Creek trail (off Hwy 150 east of Kamas), I found another Green-tailed Towhee and a HAIRY WOODPECKER among more common species. 22 miles from Kamas (which turned out to be still a few miles from Trial Lake, contrary to Ella Sorensen's write-up), I pulled over again and searched the spruce-fir forest near the river. No finches nor any interesting woodpeckers, but at least there was a singing CORDILLIERAN FLYCATCHER.
The next stop was at the foot of Bald Mountain. First I searched near the parking lot, but only found White-crowned Sparrows and a small flock of RED CROSSBILL. Thus I decided to climb Bald Mountain in search of rosy-finches. About half-way up the steep slope I found a pair of TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRES feeding two fledglings on and near a nest under a rock overhang. Then a GOLDEN EAGLE flew around the mountain, and finally some finch-like birds flew around but never stopped anywhere close. The view from the top of the mountain (at almost 12,000 feet) was phenomenal, but no rosy-finches materialized. Some more searching around Mirror Lake didn't turn up any more finches, only the surprising (to me) sight of California Gulls this high up in the mountains.
On the return drive, I stopped at Jordanelle State Park, located on the upper end of the newly created Jordanelle Reservoir of the Provo River, where a nature center surrounded by boardwalks through the riparine habitat has been constructed. The latter weren't necessary in August, as the water level was rather low. Over the bluffs overlooking the park, a RED-TAILED HAWK was soaring. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds frequented the feeders at the nature center. A pair of BELTED KINGFISHER argued over the river. Other bird seen were Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, many Tree Swallows, two CEDAR WAXWINGs, several YELLOW WARBLERs, Song Sparrows, and American Goldfinches. Then there was the mystery Carpodacus finch... A male peaked through the branches, and with its raspberry red splotches on the breast and the absence of brown streaks, I immediately called it a Purple Finch and moved on. The problem is (and I didn't realize that until after I left the area) that Purple Finch isn't supposed to occur in Utah. So I guess it must have been a Cassin's Finch after all, although at the relatively low elevation that doesn't seem quite right, either. Finally, right by the parking lot, I discovered a perched COMMON NIGHTHAWK halfway up in a tree.
This was the last day of the conference and the one with the most relevant talks for my specialty, thus I didn't do much birding. Only after the program was over was I able to take a drive to the lower reaches of Lower Cottonwood Canyon for a futile search for Bullock's Oriole, a bird that I didn't really see satisfactorily the previous Saturday. However, the very only bird I saw was a Golden Eagle soaring along the cliffs over me. Back at Snowbird, I heard the "pit-peet" call of a Cordillieran Flycatcher. At sundown, after trying to sort through Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds on a flowering ski slope, I noticed a few swifts high in the sky moving up-valley. When they finally passed high over me, I couldn't see any white marks at all. Also, the wing beats seemed to be a bit slow for a swift, with a lot of sailing in between: BLACK SWIFT! Not a first-class view, but enough for identification.
Wildlife viewing inside the refuge is restricted to a 12 mile one-way loop on a gravel road surrounding one of the several large impoundments. In the first stretch, open water was pretty much restricted to channels on both sides of the road, thus keeping the visible water birds at close range (the car made an excellent photo blind!). Western and Clark's Grebes, American White Pelicans, American Coot, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-heron, and White-faced Ibis were frequently seen. Forster's Terns patrolled the channels, while the chatter of Marsh Wrens sounded from the cattails. Barn, Bank, and Cliff Swallows were abundant, with some Tree Swallows mixed in. There were relatively few gulls, mostly Ring-billed and Franklin's, but only few California Gulls. On a dry salt pan, COMMON RAVEN were probing for food, and a Northern Harrier flew over the marsh. Along the far-western stretch of the loop, I found the most interesting birds of the day: two LONG-BILLED CURLEWs feeding on a grassy patch of salt marsh. The second half of the loop led along more open, but shallow, water of the impoundment, where PIED-BILLED GREBE, Double-crested Cormorant, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Mallard became more common. There may have been other distant ducks in eclipse plumage (in fact, I saw some flying with teal-blue speculum, thus either Blue-winged or Cinnamon Teal, the latter a potential life bird), but the only other distinct duck was a female Ruddy Duck. Along the edges were some Spotted Sandpipers and a Willet, and a small flock of CASPIAN TERN flew over, followed a little later by a BLACK TERN.
At the end of the loop, it was time to drive back to Salt Lake City, turn in the rental car, and fly back to Chicago. In terms of birds, this was a very successful trip, with 113 confirmed species (Black Swift and Bullock's Oriole remain on the "BVD" list, however), plus probably Red-necked Phalarope, an unspecified Accipiter (and then the mystery Carpodacus finch), and possible Dusky Flycatcher. There were 23 life birds (including confirmations of three species previously on a tentative list) and one ABA-area first (I had already seen the Hawaiian race of Black-necked Stilt on Oahu the previous winter). The main misses were finches (Black Rosy-finch, Evening Grosbeak, and Pine Grosbeak), jays (Pinyon and Gray), sparrows (Brewer's -- unforgivable! --, Black-throated, and Sage), bluebirds (Western and Mountain), wrens (Rock and Canyon), warblers (Black-throated Gray and Orange-crowned), grouse (all but Blue), owls (I didn't really try), shorebirds (too early for Western Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, and Long-billed Dowitcher?), and ducks (especially Cinnamon Teal which I was counting on seeing), although not all of them would have been life birds. I guess this will give me an excuse to return to that beautiful part of the country in the future!
Life birds are indicated with an asterisk. "BVD" = "better view desired", tentative identification (see text for which ones are more probable than others).
Common Name Scientific Name --------------------------------------------------------------- Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis Clark's Grebe Aechmophorus clarkii * American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias Snowy Egret Egretta thula Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi * Canada Goose Branta canadensis Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Canvasback Aythya valisineria Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus Sharp-shinned/Cooper's Hawk Accipiter sp. Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos American Kestrel Falco sparverius Blue Grouse Dendragapus obscurus * American Coot Fulica americana Killdeer Charadrius vociferus Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus ABA first American Avocet Recurvirostra americana Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus * Sanderling Calidris alba Wilson's Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus * BVD Franklin's Gull Larus pipixcan * Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis California Gull Larus californicus Caspian Tern Sterna caspia Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri Black Tern Chlidonias niger Rock Dove Columbia livia Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor Black Swift Cypseloides niger * BVD White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatilis * Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri * Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus * Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus * Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon Red-naped Sapsucker Sphyrapicus nuchalis * Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus Olive-sided Flycatcher Contopus borealis Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus Dusky Flycatcher Empidonax oberholseri * BVD Cordillieran Flycatcher Empidonax occidentalis * Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis Bank Swallow Riparia riparia Cliff Swallow Hirundo pyrrhonota Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica Clark's Nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Common Raven Corvus corax Black-capped Chickadee Parus atricapillus Mountain Chickadee Parus gambeli Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis House Wren Troglodytes aedon Marsh Wren Cistothorus palustris American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea Townsend's Solitaire Myadestes townsendi * Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus American Robin Turdus migratorius Sage Thrasher Oreoscoptes montanus * Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus * European Starling Sturnus vulgaris Solitary Vireo Vireo solitarius Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Virginia's Warbler Vermivora virginiae * Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata MacGillivray's Warbler Oporornis tolmiei * Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus * Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena * Green-tailed Towhee Pipilo chlorurus * Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus * Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii * BVD Cassin's Finch Carpodacus cassinii * House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria * American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis House Sparrow Passer domesticus
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