Day 366 +9 - February & March 2016 Recap

Monday, January 09, 2017 0 Comments A+ a-

I knew that once January was over, I would be in for a slow couple of months.  February and March in Utah are not prime birding months.  You can absolutely track down a number of birds as they arrive, or as they linger from the winter, but with a really good January, you are generally left with slim pickings.  And that was the case for me in 2016.  The big month record for January is 176, held by Kenny Frisch. That's a huge January, a record I'm not sure can be broken without someone putting in a focused effort.  In 2007 during my Big Year I head a relatively light January with 122 species.  So in 2016 when I tallied 145, I was somewhere in the middle.  Truthfully 145 is a great count for January given the limited radius I kept to for birding.  With the exception of the one big trip south, I stayed mostly within 50 miles of my home.

So when February arrived I had no big plans for the month ahead.  In fact, of the 29 days that month, I only birded 7--in Utah.  I also spent 6 days in Southern California and 2 days in Phoenix for work.  Something I haven't really touched on is that I was employed full-time the entire year, and also spent a lot of my free time guiding out of state birders around Utah.  The guiding played into the big year nicely, but a full-time job limits the extent of what you can do,  Lucky for me, I have a pretty good work-life balance which really helped last year.  So, I started off February by birding every day the first 4 days--and I saw exactly 0 year birds. What a start.

After doing absolutely no birding for a week, my wife, son, and I hopped on a jet and made our way to Long Beach, California.  We spent the better part of the week in San Diego where it was summer time temps.  The birding was fantastic as usual, and with a quick Whale Watching trip I added Brown Booby to my ABA list.  I'm not a big ABA lister, but I do know what I have and don't.  I'd seen BRBO in 3 other countries before finally seeing it in the one I live in...

After San Diego we went to Disneyland--not gonna lie, I didn't used to be a big Disneyland fan.  I like birds and prefer to spend time birding.  But since having a kid it's become sort of a ritual.  This was his first trip to Disneyland and with a kid it was a lot of fun. And I make every trip into a birding outing.  Fun fact--at the time of this writing I am the Top eBirder for Disneyland with a whopping 35 species in 7 checklists.  I hope to add to this total in a little over a month when I'll be back in SoCal for a few days yet again!

After landing back in northern Utah I quickly set out for some new year birds.  I led a field trip for our Great Salt Lake Audubon that has become a regular event and was in its 5th year in 2016--the Utah Birders Gullstravaganza.

More than 30 birders showed up to look at Gulls this year.

The gulls weren't super cooperative but I did add Tundra Swan, White-faced Ibis, and Sandhill Crane, ending a 21-day drought without any year birds.

Utah has no shortage of Tundra Swans, as 10's of 1,000's use the Great Salt Lake area in the winter.

I would go another week without any new birds only to pull down to big birds to end the month.  I added Glaucous-winged Gull and Trumpeter Swan to end February at 150 species--only 5 new for the month, but the final two were big gets.

Poorly digiscoped record shot of a Trumpeter Swan

Also of note was the most interesting European Starling I saw during the year... This luecisitc bird was a startling sight in flight, and an odd ball that stood out from the crowd...

The coolest European Starling I've seen

During the first week of March, my friend Jeff Bilsky came to town, and of course, that meant birding was in order.  Along with Stephanie Greenwood, we headed to Golden Spike NHS in the dark one morning and listened to Sharp-tailed Grouse displaying the tall grass, while Short-eared Owls hunted over the surrounding fields.  WE followed this up by chasing down an enormous flock of migrant Ross's and Snow Geese in the fields north of the Great Salt Lake...

The best bird of his visit wasn't all too rare, but was a pleasant find for a Saturday morning in early March.  We picked up a migrant Sagebrush Sparrow at the marina at Antelope Island State Park.  The cooperative bugger posed quite nicely.

A surprise Sagebrush Sparrow on Antelope Island

A few days later I found myself scouring blackbird flocks in the Lehi Fields near my office.  I had started regularly checking these flocks several years earlier and had pulled a number of Rusty Blackbirds out of them.  This morning would prove to be no different as I quickly found one that was accompanied by both Yellow-headed Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird--also new year birds.

Another record shot--this one of a Rusty Blackbird in Lehi

On March 19th, Kenny Frisch and I headed to the mountains in extreme northern Utah--in the dark to try our hand at Boreal Owl.  This species can be tough to get and this time of year is supposedly one of the best to look.  We ended up at Beaver Mountain Ski Resort and had a very strange call respond to our Boreal Owl tape.  It didn't sound like anything a Saw-whet Owl would make and we both thought it was strange.  Unfortunately, it stopped responding once I broke out the recorder, and the rest of the night all we heard were the territorial hoots of Northern Saw-whet Owls.

As March came to an end I added one more species with a newly arrived Turkey Vulture on March 27th.  I used this species real name while blogging and one reader commented that due to the date, they could eliminate all but 13 states.  I could have told that reader they were correct, but I didn't reply.  I also could have said something to the extent of, "Maybe, but I also could live in a part of one of those states where they aren't prevalent.". Now obviously, we know now that wasn't the case but with a secret big year, there is plenty of room for guessing, and being selective with how information is shared...

A beautiful March morning in Northern Utah

At the end of March I sat at 160 species.  60 days had passed and I only added 15 species to the 145 from the first 31 days.  I also cut way back on my birding during this period.  Over the month span I only drove 797 miles for birds, while putting on 13 miles on foot.  Time wise, I only spent 33 hours birding.  It was the long lull in the year that I was glad to put behind me.  With April ahead, I knew my year was about to hit the expressway--I would go birding each of the following 90 days, and add a whole lot of birds to my year list.

And my little birding buddy seeing if we can find any gulls before winter ends

2016 Year List: 358


Next Post
Previous Post

I'm on a mission to see as many birds as I can in 2016... within the borders of my home state. The only catch is I'm not telling anyone that I'm doing a Big Year...