Once April and May passed, I knew I was over the rush. The rest of the year would be a slog. Slow moving, filled with chases, and a lot of questions about will I be able to do enough to reach 356. 356 being the number I would have to get to for a new record. Despite the fact I knew it would be slow, nothing could have prepared me for how devastating slow the first 3 weeks of June were. In those 3 weeks I didn't tally a single new bird--and not for lack of trying... Although I might have put some effort into other creatures as well...
During those first 3 weeks, I did 4 surveys at North Shore. It got hot quickly and by the 2nd week, I knew I was basically done until fall migration. Migrants were scant or gone, and the number of breeding birds was pretty static. My lists for each trip fell between 35-38 species respectively--those were the breeders on the property and weren't helping my list. The reason I kept going back was hoping for the latest spring migrants that often pop up in northern Utah in early June. There was the chance for Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a species I thought I had a legitimate chance at finding in what seemed like awesome habitat.
But it was also a good time for some of the warblers that randomly show up this time of year like: Chestnut-sided, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-throated, and Blackpoll. But I didn't find any rare warblers, and that was it for spring migration. June is when my guiding business hits its busiest. More than 1/2 the night of the month I am taking clients from all over the states (and recently Europe) to look for Flammulated Owls in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. Now that I have a kid, I also try to take him out scouting with me as much as possible. Showing him what a beautiful place we live in will hopefully give him the same appreciation I have for Utah!
And that is exactly what this June was like. Most nights I was in the field showing clients owls. And it was a good summer. Instead of talking about all these tours, here are some pictures to paint the scene, and give you an idea of what birding with me in Utah is like...
The plus side is that during this time I was taking lots of pictures, and filling in the gaps on things I had missed for photos earlier in the year. Things like:
Finally, at the start of the 4th week, I picked up a few new year bird high in Cair Paravel--that would be the Mirror Lake Highway for those that didn't follow my blog--and elsewhere in northern Utah. It all started with Clark's Nutcracker feeding in a campground around 10,000' anove sea level. I didn't get a great photo, but a few days later while guiding I snapped this shot of one near Brighton, Utah just outside Salt Lake.
The best bird of the month came about an hour later, after showing my clients the gorgeous panorama view from a lookout near Bald Mountian Pass.
White-winged Crossbill flight call
We spent the rest of the day birding around northern Utah where I added one more species for the year--a Williamson's Sapsucker at Monte Cristo in the main spine of the Wasatch range. In what is a strange de ja vu moment, I saw many of these same birds exactly 9 years earlier on the same date, at the same places. White-winged Crossbill was a bird I had during my previous big year, on June 22, 2007 at the same parking area. The same goes for my year Williamson's Sapsucker. I still can't shake the eerie feeling that I felt that day as my two big years collided. Of course, we go to many of the same places for the same birds year in and out--but that still doesn't make it any less strange.
When the weekend hit, I joined my buddy Nate Brown in southern Utah to do a little searching for a couple specialty birds I was missing for the year--and to make an attempt for Least Bittern and Elf Owl. Late June in southern Utah, and the temps were less than pleasant.
This was around 6:00pm on Friday the 24th. Shortly after this, we hit the marshes along the Virgin River to try and find our target bittern.
The birding was slow, and we didn't find any bitterns. But we saw lots of dragonflies, and quite a few Blue Grosbeaks to liven the birding.
After dark, we headed out towards Lytle Ranch and attempted to track down Elf Owl. It wasn't meant to be and in the still sweltering desert, we only managed to hear Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Common Poorwill. The following morning we birded a mostly dead Lytle Ranch--mid-summer is never amazing here. But as we neared the orchard on the way back out a surprise pair of Zone-tailed Hawks appeared over the tree line.
We watched as the two birds flew around for maybe 5-10 minutes. I had all but lost hope I wasn't going to get this bird for the year, and surely didn't think I was going to get them out in the Beaver Dam Wash.
So after our morning birding, I decided to head back to Salt Lake instead of sticking around for another night. I probably should have. I could have tried for Painted Redstart. I could have tried for the bittern and the owl again. I could have done a lot of things, but I decided to go home. Along the way, I remembered how easy it was to get Dusky Grouse in the mountains outside Fillmore, Utah. I thought how I hadn't been there in over a decade and should check it out--I had the time, so why not. I took the road into the mountains which was in very bad shape. I made my way across the divide to this gorgeous scene.
And when I stepped out to take this picture, I could hear the air escaping from one of my tires--I had a flat. Luckily a family working in the hills pulled up, and helped me quickly change the flat. They had a pickup full of tires, and a floor jack. Turns out they get flats so often that they always carry a full set of spares while out on these roads. That wasn't comforting. I had to descend another 10 miles on road that was even worse. It was a slow trek down the mountain, all the while watching the air pressure in my spare drop 1 PSI at a time. I was too focused to worry about getting out to hike around for grouse or really even think about anything other than making it to the nearest town to get my tire repaired. I made it into Scipio, Utah with 10 PSI in my spare while my other tires sat at 34 PSI. I was extremely lucky. Except, the only tire shop in town was closed. I guess I had some of that May luck because the owner happened to be there and agreed to mount a full-size spare I had on the rim of the flat. In the end, I was $35 poorer, and back in Salt Lake in my bed for the night. My tires at the time were at about 63,000 miles and I knew they needed to be replaced. It was a miracle I didn't have a bigger issue, so the following Monday I took the truck in and got set up with a brand new set so I wouldn't have to worry about tire issues the rest of the year.
The rest of June passed without any more new birds, but a few more great nights showing birders around northern Utah:
And of course highlighting our specialty Flammulated Owl:
July started pretty similar to June with a long drought on new birds. July 14th, and I found myself back at Bald Mountain Pass adding year birds. This time it was an American Three-toed Woodpecker that I missed on earlier trips into the hills. It was also the only time I saw one during 2016 which was odd.
I certainly spent plenty of time in the right habitat, they just weren't very cooperative.
I also added my first Rufous Hummingbird of the year--a species that from mid-July through September is one of the most common species found at feeders all over the state. The next day I added what had been a sort of insane miss for 6-months. I had my first Greater Yellowlegs of the year on a pond near the Salt Lake County landfill.
I was birding with a client for a 4 day stretch here, and we had in the first 2 days slaughtered his target list. There was literally nothing left to get, so we decided to turn his trip into a photo expedition to get better pics of a few species he wanted better shots of--and do a little exploratory birding. This took us high into the Uinta Mountains in the dark to look for a variety of nocturnal birds.
Although not a bird, one of the best photos I took this day was a Sphinx Moth while we waited for it to get dark.
After dark, the owling began. I picked this specific location because for years I felt the habitat was good for Boreal Owl. So we tried--and we got a response! Each time I played a volley of BOOW calls a bird screeched back from the forest--the typical Boreal Owl call. It was on a steep old growth site that I will try visiting again in the future
Boreal Owl single note screech call
On the way out of the forest we heard quite a few Long-eared Owls, and even had one land on the road. I wasn't able to get a photo without scaring the bird, so my client took a bunch of shots and got this beautiful capture. This was one of the species I failed to photograph in 2016 myself.
We also had a mighty cooperative Common Nighthawk that landed on the road as you can see from the photo below.
On my final day guiding the gentleman from New York we were watching hummingbirds visit a feeder in Alta, Utah. While this happened a tiny yellow warbler darted into a bush nearby. When I raised my binoculars I saw the distinctive white undertail coverts that went along with the dagger bill and electric yellow plumage of a young Tennessee Warbler. This was a strange find for July, but not unprecedented in the west. The bird flew before I could get a photo--but that didn't matter too much as I found another a couple months later and managed a shot before that one disappeared.
On my 3rd trip to the High Uinta's to look for Ptarmigan, I struck out. No ptarmigan, but I did add Gray Jay for the year--a bird that had eluded me on the previous trips as well. I didn't get any photos of the bird because I thought I would have better photo ops later in the fall. Oops. I did enjoy the gorgeous scenery, though--from the top of a spire in Cair Paravel...
In the last few days of July, I added a long overdue Glossy Ibis on one of my lunchtime outings in the Lehi Fields by my office.
This was followed by what appeared to be a juvenile Little Blue Heron at Powell Lake. I won't argue the ID of the bird, only to say that the coloration, and structure along with the way the bird was hunting was textbook LBHE. The heron was bird 315 for the year and the last new year bird for July. A couple days later I was on a plane headed to Europe for 2-weeks, putting my big year on hold.
June and July weren't quite as productive as I had hoped. I worked hard to get a couple of really good birds. But I missed some things I sort of expected to find. That's a big year, though. Over the 2-month span, I put 4,141 miles on my truck in search of birds. Most of this was guiding so it fit into my plans. I also came in just shy of 60 miles on my feet, most of which was spent trekking around the higher elevations in search of those specialty birds. I also spent 210 hours in the field--again mostly with clients--looking at hideous scenery like this...
My summer was over with a planned trip out of the country. What would I miss while I was gone? And how would it effect my big year in the end? I'll tell you next time!
2016 Year List: 358