Day 366 +12 - June & July 2016 Recap

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...

Why did the Western Tiger Salamander cross the road?

Sometimes you have to get up close and personal for a photo...

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.

The North Shore with runoff in full swing

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!

Showing the little guy the mountains

And letting him explore on his own...

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...

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Mountain Dell Canyon

My Secret Owling Hotspot... Shhhhh.

Sunset in the Uintas

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:

Wilson's Snipe at Bear River Meadows 

 Spotted Sandpiper at Brighton

 Mountian Bluebird at Strawberry Reservoir

 Bobolink near Heber

 Gray Flycatcher in the Lake Mountains

 Cordilleran Flycatcher on the Mirror Lake Highway

 Northern Goshawk at Brighton

 Swainson's Thrush in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Purple Martin at Monte Cristo

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.

Clark's Nutcracker grabbing a bite to eat

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.

The view from the Bald Mountain Pass Overlook

Enjoying the magnificent scenery with a couple clients

As we left the car and were walking into the sparse forest I heard a distinct call that was getting closer.  The bird gave a distinct "chew chew chew chew" call as it flew from east to west along the south face of the mountain out of sight. The call was that of a White-winged Crossbill.  This was the only crossbill we encountered the entire day.  And just as quickly as it happened, the birds was gone.  I managed to capture a quick recording as I just happened to have my phone out and was able to quickly open the recorder app.

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.

Williamson's Sapsucker at a sap site

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.

The hot end of my extremes for 2016--the low was -12F in December...

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 marshes along the Virgin River

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.

Blue Grosbeak on the Virgin River

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.

Zone-tailed Hawk soaring over Lytle Ranch

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.

Both of the Zone-tailed Hawks together

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.

A hissing punctured tire in the background really set the 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:

Headlights on a field with several Common Poorwills singing nearby

And of course highlighting our specialty Flammulated Owl:

A cooperative young Flammulated Owl--this one was actually photographed in late July.

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.

The solo American Three-toed Woodpecker I saw in 2016

I certainly spent plenty of time in the right habitat, they just weren't very cooperative.

Client and friend Pete Ferrera photographing some bird at 10,500'

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.

Birding behind a landfill is alwasy pleasant!

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.

Sunset while we waited to start owling

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.

Sphinx Moth visiting flowers at dusk

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.

Pete's great shot of a Long-eared Owl along the road

We also had a mighty cooperative Common Nighthawk that landed on the road as you can see from the photo below.

Common Nighthawk resting in the road at 9,500'

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.

A September Tennessee Warbler for brevity

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...

Strike 3 on the Ptarmigan... And I strike out for the year!

At least the view was ridiculously amazing

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.

The record digiscoped Glossy Ibis. It was not a good year for this species in Utah

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.

Record shot of the juvenile Little Blue Heron

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...

 Rolling meadows in the Uinta Mountains

Twin Lakes above Brighton 

A secret meadow in the high Uintas 

Juniper Woodlands in the Lake Mountains

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!

Even with all the guiding, we managed to get away fishing as a family

2016 Year List: 358


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Day 366 +11 - May 2016 Recap

When April came to an end, it was just the beginning of the biggest month of birding in Utah history.  I say this for two reasons.  The first is that it legitimately was a huge month for birds in Utah.  Lots of species and lots of rarities.  The second is that in May I set a new Utah Big Month record with a whopping 257 species.  I passed the previous record by 7 species which had been held by Mark Stackhouse for 15 years.  I bested my own previous Utah Big Month of 235 by 22 species.  It was a huge month.  And a huge month means long post with lots of pictures and stories.  If you don't want to hang on for the ride, I suggest closing your browser window now!

It didn't take long to add a couple year birds, with the first morning of May producing Warbling Vireo and Broad-tailed Hummingbird in my backyard.  I had very few year birds that were first seen in my yard, so I was happy with a couple in May.  May 2nd was when things started to get crazy.  I had already been checking northern Utah County hotspot Powell Lake most days on my lunch break.  I made it a ritual to swing by a couple spots, scope the birds, and head back to the office to finish the day.  This Monday was no different as I pulled my truck over on the road that split the lake in two halves.  I put my binoculars on the gull flock and started scanning when I saw a dainty, compact gull on the water.  I stared for a second thinking the shape was wrong for Bonaparte's Gull which were also present.  Then the bird took flight and the glaring black "M" pattern on the wing and back was impossible to miss--it was a Little Gull!

The Little Gull, on a little lake in Utah

Stunned I hurriedly took some pictures then crafted an email to the listserv.  This was a mega in May--or anytime in Utah with just 3 previous records.  With number 4 in the books I was proud to have been the finder of 50% of Utah's Little Gulls now.  It ended up being the only year bird for the day as I spent the rest of my lunch hour taking pictures and waiting for others to show up. A few people arrived and I left knowing that others were on the bird.  By the time the bird disappeared more than 30 birders had entered checklists in eBird with the gull.  On the 3rd, I went back to see if I could get better photos--which I did, and while I was watching the bird with a small group or birders an email came across the listserv--Long-tailed Jaeger at Sand hollow Reservoir--280 miles from home.

Birders chasing their lifer Little Gull at Powell Lake

If you followed my blog in 2016 you know this was the first hard decision I had to make.  Chase a bird I had already seen in Utah, and have people wondering why did he chase a bird he already has in Utah (mainly my friends).  Don't chase and risk missing a huge year bird.  Chase and don't tell anyone--get the bird, and no one is the wiser.  I wrestled with this the night of the 3rd--then promptly woke up in the middle of the night, packed my truck and hit the road.  I made the 280-mile journey in the dark and arrived to an empty state park.  Empty except for me, and a Long-tailed Jaeger.

Me and my pal the Long-tailed Jaeger #jaegerSelfie

For 30 minutes it was just me and jaeger.  I took photos, I looked at the stunning adult bird in detail.  It didn't look like it was doing well and I wondered if it would make it to the weekend.  And then as quickly as I had come in under the cover of darkness and anonymity, I left the park, no one the wiser.

As fierce as this looks, it was just a Long-tailed Jaeger yawn

I had plenty of time to kill.  I had basically set the day aside and had come all this way.  There were other birds to be seen so I set off to look.  The first target was a hopefully lingering Lark Bunting in the Washington Fields.  I headed that way and quickly found Lark Sparrows.  As I was almost through the loop of the area where the bunting had been seen it popped up and landed on a Cholla Cactus.  Tick!  Almost too easy.  I decided since I had come all the way down here I should go check out Lytle Ranch.  It was the middle of the week, who would be there?  I could get out there, add another 15-20 species of migrants and arrivals for the year then be on my way.  Like my previous trip, I should have gone to Zion and looked for Painted Redstart--instead, I blew my cover...

Lark Bunting posing on a Cholla

I made the trek to the ranch and had about 90 minutes to bird.  When I pulled into the parking lot I was shocked there was a vehicle.  I wasn't worried as what were the odds they knew me.   I got out of the truck and then heard my name, "Tim, Tim Avery?".  You've got to be kidding me... I turned around and didn't recognize the face, but headed over to talk.  It was the husband of another birder and they'd been on one of my trips before.  Busted.  I talked for a second and then hurried on my way.  One birder, okay, that's not terrible.  There was a lot of activity and I quickly started adding year birds.  Then I heard voices and looked through the trees a small group of 5-6 birders were headed my way.  What the hell is going on?  It's a Wednesday in May!

While I was seen by others, I was busy seeing Summer Tanagers

I decided this was too much and headed back to my truck a different route.  I left in a hurry and basically cursed myself the entire drive back to St. George (the nearest city).  I knew there had been an Orchard Oriole reported over the weekend and thought about trying for it but knew that there were probably a handful of birders around now.  I also knew a Painted Redstart had been reported at a nearby park.  I chose the park and missed.  I had to head home and while on the drive back I got word that the oriole had been seen.  I mad ea series of mistakes and couldn't believe it.  Luckily I got the jaeger and bunting to dampen the blow.

By the following Monday it would be my biggest week of the year.  I had clients for 2 full days, a 2-day  trip back to St. George with my friend Jeff Bilsky, the Marathon Birding trip I would lead at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival, and my first owling client of the season.  All this in 7 days.  And it would be a big week.  The two days of guiding didn't turn up anything major but I added Stilt Sandpiper, Northern Waterthrush, and Grasshopper Sparrow for the year.

This was the best look I got at a Grasshopper Sparrow this year...

I also made my only visit to the local Greater Sage-Grouse lek for the year, luckily avoiding the crowds that have become a hassle here on weekends.

Greater Sage-Grouse drinking from a roadside puddle

On the only day I spent in the office this week, I took my lunch hour and started what would be my new ritual for the next 30 days, conducting a daily survey on private property owned by the state of Utah on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake.  I dubbed the site, "North Shore" for short and it would quickly become my go to for rarities.

"North Shore" in a down pour

This was my 3rd time here this year, but the first with permission to bird on the property giving me access to acres of trees closed to the public.  On my very first survey it rained--birds.  The first new sight of the year were White-throated Swift zipping overhead.  These migrants were almost never seen in the valleys but storms had likely put them here on the shore in search of food.  As I scanned the birds zipping left and right I caught one small dark bird--a cigar with wings--it was a Vaux's Swift.  Bam! That was a nice find and would end up being my only sighting of this species in 2016.

Crappy record shot of the Vaux's Swift at North Shore

Somehow I made it to May without seeing Lewis's Woodpecker.  I didn't expect my year bird to come at a migrant trap, but here I was looking at one.  I would end up seeing dozens as the year went on, but this was still the first.   The following afternoon I picked up Jeff Bilsky and we were on our way to southern Utah for 48 fast hours of birding in the desert, followed up by the trip we co-lead.  The target for tonight was a Spotted Owl in Zion National Park.  We made the 4-hour drive, hopped on the canyon bus, and made our way to the trailhead.  We reached our destination with a little daylight left and waited for it to get dark.  But I had made a miscalculation.  Normally I do this hike in April when the sun sets earlier.  Tonight the last bus down canyon left just 30 minutes after sunset.  We would have to almost run the entire trail back to make the bus.  We waited till the last possible moment with no owls making an appearance before we hit the trail.  As we jogged into the parking lot the last bus down canyon for the night arrived.  Had we waited 5 minutes longer we'd have been walking back the 4 miles to our car.

The view of Zion Canyon from a high side canyon after sunset

Not wanting to go empty handed we decided to head out on a road we could drive and try listening in a few other spots.  So that's what we did.  Just when we were about to give up I heard the faint staccato barking of a Spotted Owl in a side canyon where I've had them a couple times.  Although there would be no visual or photo tonight, I was just happy to get this bird before it was too late.  We made it to our campsite sometime after midnight where Lesser Nighthawk could be hear trilling in the warm desert night.

At first light, we were at Lytle Ranch seeing what migrants were around.  There wasn't much.  In fact, it was a rather sad affair.  Lytle had been my go to for great birding for years.  Migration at it's finest.  But in 2016 the ranch was hit or miss, with miss being the more common theme.  I only added a couple migrants this morning, with the highlight being a beautiful Indigo Bunting.

A lovely Indigo Bunting on territory at Lytle Ranch

The rest of the day was spent visiting our favorite hot spots around the desert and in the mountains of this corner of the state.  I only added 11 year birds on the day with Acorn Woodpecker and Hooded Oriole rounding out my list.  It was less than expected.  On a side note I was relieved to have chased and gotten the jaeger--had I waited I would have missed the bird.  We checked Sand Hollow and there was no sign of the bird.  As we were leaving the state park Jeff joked that he had seen a dead jaeger on the side of the road.  WE turned around and went back, and the joke became reality.

Jeff with the dead Long-tailed Jaeger #jaegerSelfie... The bird made it's way to Dixie State University to join their collections.

The emaciated bird had bit the dust, likely dropping from the sky exhausted, sick, and far from its usual habitat.  This, unfortunately, is a regular occurrence for wayward jaegers over the continental United States and was coincidentally the 2nd dead jaeger I've found in Utah.

The following morning brought much of the same--but many fewer year birds.  In fact, only 2 year birds came to fruition.  The first was a Brown-crested Flycatcher followed up a short time later with Cassin's Kingbird.  The kingbird was a big deal since this species has been harder to find reliably in recent years.

Cassin's Kingbird being super territorial

We headed back to Salt Lake with 17 new year birds in my pocket, bringing my year tally to 264 species.  The biggest miss was the lack of migrants making it a possibility that I would miss Pacific-slope Flycatcher for the year.  I wouldn't be back till late in June, and then again till September.  Luckily, I had gotten almost every other species I needed for the year in the 5 trips I'd made so far to this corner of "Narnia".

The following day would be the single biggest day of birding I had for the year.  Our Marathon birding trip would see around 160 species for the day as we bounced all over northern Utah chasing the mostly common stuff while trying to pick up the unusual stuff along the way.  12 new year birds came mostly in the form of migrants, with flycatchers making up the brunt of those birds. Willow, Hammond's Gray, and Cordilleran Flycatcher were all new for 2016, with an Olive-sided Flycatcher to boot.  All 5 of these species were at the tiny migrant trap Garr Ranch on Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.

Marathon Birders looking at warblers or empids at Garr Ranch

Along the Antelope Island Causeway, I snagged Red Knot and American Golden-Plover for the year.  But missed Ruddy Turnstone for about the 4th or 5th time for the year.  In the afternoon I picked up a surprise Broad-winged Hawk in Little Cottonwood Canyon--the 2nd year in a row we've found one on this trip.  We ended the day owling in a misting rain in the mountains outside Salt Lake.  In the dark we heard Flammulated Owl and Ruffed Grouse to end the day. This first Flammulated Owl would be one of more than 175 I would hear or see in 2016.

The following day I was back at work, but took my usual lunch time break--this time back to Powell Lake where luck would have it, a Least Tern was circling.  This never sure-thing was nice to find, and jsut kept the string of good birds going.

Least Tern making a pass over Powell Lake

The day continued with my first owling client of the year.  Before dark we did some birding in the mountains outside Salt Lake and the combination of new year birds was an odd one.  A singing Gray Catbird, followed by a Calliope Hummingbird at a feeding station in a nearby canyon, and a Northern Goshawk calling from the forest nearby.  All new year birds and good birds to be seen on the same day.  And of course, the owling was on par with most Mountain West Birding Company owling tours...

A client reviews their lifer photo of a Flammulated Owl with me

At this point things couldn't get better right? Wrong, the rarity train continued the next day.  I headed back to the North Shore for a survey and not even 10 minutes in and I was looking at a female Scarlet Tanager.  I didn't expect to get that in 2016 so it was a good find. Thsi was followed less than 30 minutes later by a singing Black-and-white Warbler.  A bird I expected this year, but not as an audible!  The tanager being a review species was submitted to the UBRC and passed unanimously 9-0 with the accompanying record shots.

Record shot of a female Scarlet Tanager at North Shore

Over the following 2 days, I added two more year birds in Eastern Kingbird and migrating Purple Martin.  But all was not well on the big year front.  It was May 19th and I was missing a breeding species that I would have a lot of trouble finding at any point after this.  I had plans over the weekend and couldn't go then, so I had to make a decision.  Write the bird off for the year, or try to do a day trip the next day.  Again, I slipped away without anyone really knowing what was going on, and made the 4-hour drive int eh dark to Monticello, Utah.  I ended up at first light sitting on a Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek listening to and getting a glimpse at a very distant GUSG for 2016.  I lucked out on what could have been a huge miss.

Very cropped, very distant Gunnison Sage-Grouse at Hickman Flats

The morning also brought my both Pygmy Nuthatch and White-breasted Nuthatch for the year, and as a surprise, the only Bushtit I would have in 2016 were a small flock this day.  Back in Salt Lake and a couple days later I was chasing Semipalamted Plover before work.  I had missed this species thus far and was worried I might miss it altogether.  I drove to Antelope Island before work and ticked the bird before checking out a report of a Tennessess Warbler at Bountiful Pond on the way back south to work.  No warbler, but a singing White-throated Sparrow was a nice consolation.  On top of these birds I managed a lunch break which produced a "che-bekking" Least Flycatcher at the North Shore.  I was running on empty but the good birds just kept coming.

Sunrise over the Great Salt Lake on a quiet weekday morning

I took it easy the next day but decided to try for a bird I hadn't been able to chase yet--a Northern Parula at River Lane in Utah County.  I headed to the spot the bird was reported and it was still feeding in the same tree.  How random along a river where the bird could be anywhere.

Best "Utah-look" I've gotten at a Northern Parula

As the week came to a close I went out one morning to look for Black Swift near my house in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  There had been no reports yet, but I imagined they were back.  At the usual spot, there was one circling out over the canyon in the dim morning light.

Black Swift high above Little Cottonwood Canyon

I headed to the office for the day but took my usual late morning lunch break to do a survey at North Shore.  As I turned onto a side trail there in front of me was a large-billed kingbird perched low over a field.  I started taking pictures.  I was almost positive it was a Tropical Kingbird.  I sent the photos around to a few people who might be able to rule out the rare Couch's, and everyone seemed to concur with my initial ID--a Tropical Kingbird!!!  This one passed the UBRC 81- with the lone dissenter not confident it could be safely separated from Couch's.

This Tropical Kingbird was perhaps one of my best finds in 2016

The holiday weekend tied up a number of loose ends for my year list.  I snagged Common Grackle in a day trip to eastern Utah with my family--but missed a Red Phalarope we chased as part of the trip.  And on Memorial Day, above Memory Grove, in City Creek Canyon I added 2 more year birds with Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pacific Wren.

Super territorial Pacific Wren in City Creek Canyon

The wren put me at an incredible 299 species for the year and capped what had been an incredible month.  I mostly figured this was it for May, even with the following day to bird.

My lovely wife and our budding birder on Memorial Day

I wanted to get to 300 for the month but was okay where I was.  I decided to do a survey at North Shore during lunch, and didn't expect anything out of the ordinary--and didn't find anything out of the ordinary either.  I figured I could do some birding in the evening to try and track down 300 for fun, but I didn't have to.  As I walked the trail I looked up and there above the trees were 2 Common Nighthawks.  #300.  I just smiled. It was ironically 1 of the 3 I figured on seeing in the evening if I stuck around. Instead, here it was mid-day and the bird came to me. #300... I looked around and I was all by myself. Birds were singing in the trees above me, a light breeze cooled the warm air and I had a peaceful sensation envelop me. For a couple minutes, I just stood there admiring everything about this scene. It was so simple.

In the complication that has become a spider web of keeping stories straight and making sure I keep my secret, a moment of sheer simplicity brought me so much joy. You would have thought I had found a first state record by the grin I had as I kept walking, enjoying the moment. There was no pressure for May anymore. I had hit a good number and could get back to my strategy game. Chase when you need. Get the species when they are expected. And of course, spend some time hoping you find something rare.

Back at my desk I did a little eBirding, and realized I had a sure thing if I was willing to make a little drive this evening.  I opted to go for it and drove to Wyoming after dinner.  I made my way along the border past Woodruff and Randolph, Utah to Bear River Meadows along Crawford Mountain Road.  Here in the last few minutes of daylight, I snagged American Bittern for species 301.

The successfully tracked down American Bittern to close out May

 I watched the sunset over the marshes and listened to the chorus of frogs, birds, and of course the bitterns.  I wanted to share the moment but decided to keep my secret by not telling a soul I was here.  I headed home in the dark, with the most successful month of birding in Utah I've ever had.

Sunset over the Bear River Meadows on May 31, 2016

To make it such a great month took a lot of effort--like 4,597 miles on the road.  Yeah, that's a legit total for the 31 days in May.  And all that time on the road posted 85 new year birds for the month.  There were also the 59 miles on foot while I spent 181 hours birding.  I had my biggest day, miy biggest week, and my biggest month of 2016.  In the process I was more than a dozen species ahead of my pace from 2007.  I had seen some remarkable birds, and I knew that it would get harder after this.  May was the hurricane.  After it passed, there was a longgggggg calm... Almost 3 months of calm before things got back on track.

Family portrait on a cool May afternoon in the mountains outside SLC

2016 Year List: 358


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