Christmas Bird Count December 2022

Christmas Bird Count December 2022: Cassin's Finch, Carpodacus cassinii Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Cassin’s Finch, Carpodacus cassinii
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Male House Finch in Mating Plumage, Haemorhous mexicanus, Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer Male House Finch in Mating Plumage
Haemorhous mexicanus
Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer

Audubon chapters everywhere invite volunteers to join the 123rd Christmas Bird Count, and that means it’s time to hone our bird watching skills for the longest-running community science project. Seasoned birders and beginners alike spend a few minutes or a full day on this annual census of birds. Those just starting to notice birds can be valuable spotters in the mobile sectors, and can quickly learn to observe the subtle differences between similar species seen from the comfort of home, where no bird feeder is required, and valuable contributions can be made with just a few minutes of counting birds.

The Bridgerland Audubon Society launched the Cache Christmas Bird Count watch circle in 1955, contributing to a tradition launched in1900 by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman who out of concern for dwindling bird populations managed to change the culture from annual Christmas bird shooting contests into bird counting contests. Bridgerland Audubon always schedules on the first Saturday on or following December 14th, and typically documents about 100 species of birds.

The Cache Valley watch circle is divided into eleven sectors, including a 4 a.m. owling sector, and includes all homes within a 7.5 mile radius from the center of the circle which is located at Main Street & Hyde Park Lane (Hwy 91 & 3600 N). The same 15-mile diameter watch circle is surveyed each December – that’s about 177 square miles, and we can use all the help we can get, especially from folks watching from home. Don’t worry if you can’t identify all of the birds you see – you will just report the ones you do recognize. You can also get help by posting photos to the Bridgerland Audubon Facebook group, where you’ll also see posts about the Dark-eyed Junco, a small dark bird with a white belly, and subspecies which include the Oregon Junco with a black hood and neck, the Pink-Sided, the Gray-headed, and the Slate Junco.

The Home Sector provides a lot of extra data on about 32 species, the most common of which are available on a one page photo-illustrated checklist on the Bridgerland Audubon website where you will also find links to the free Merlin App which identifies birds by their songs. The Visitors Bureau has a nice selection of Utah Bird field guides which are great for beginners.

Bird identification is all about learning to notice the little differences in size, coloration patterns, shape of the beak, the crown of the head, and the tip of the tail. For example a House Finch and a Cassin’s Finch may look the same at first glance, but the House Finch has streaks on the side of the body, a rounded tail tip, and the red over the eyes is more like a headband than a top hat. The Cassin’s Finch has a notched tail, red cap, and lacks those streaks on the breast and and sides. The Pine Siskin looks like a tiny House Finch but it has a hint of yellow on its wings and the beak is more delicate and pointed. Large flocks of birds can be counted by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock. Don’t forget that zero is a number to report!

Visit Audubon.org to find a Christmas Bird Count near you, and visit bridgerlandaudubon.org to join the local count sector leaders on Saturday, December 17th, 2022. Pre- registration is free but required.

I’m Hilary Shughart with Bridgerland Audubon and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke and Gary Kramer, Photographers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Liberatore, Andrea, Dark-eyed Juncos, Wild About Utah, January 12, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/dark-eyed-juncos/

Greene, Jack, Juncos, Wild About Utah, December 21, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/juncos/

Bridgerland Audubon CBC Toolkit https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count/

National Audubon Data: Annual Summaries of the Christmas Bird Count, 1901-Present https://www.audubon.org/content/american-birds-annual-summary-christmas-bird-count

Tips from eBird on How to count large flocks of birds:
“Big numbers of Moving Birds. Their are two ways to count large flocks of moving birds: either by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock; or by counting birds per unit of time.”
Team eBird, Bird Counting 101, eBird is a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://ebird.org/news/counting-101/

General Tips for Bird Identification:
Mayntz, Melissa, Bird Bill Parts, The Spruce, Updated on 08/01/22, https://www.thespruce.com/bird-bill-parts-387362

Sibley Guides, The annual plumage cycle of a male American Goldfinch, https://www.sibleyguides.com/2012/05/the-annual-plumage-cycle-of-a-male-american-goldfinch/

Lesser Goldfinch-Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lesser_Goldfinch/species-compare/

House Finches, Purple Finches, and Cassin’s Finches, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/finches-with-red-id-quiz/

Junco Coloring Page:
http://www.supercoloring.com/coloring-pages/dark-eyed-junco?version=print

Utah-Centric Books & Field Guides:
Tekiela, Stan, Birds of Utah Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Apr 21, 2003, https:// www.amazon.com/Birds-Utah-Field-Guide-Tekiela/dp/1591930197/

Fenimore, Bill, Backyard Birds of Utah: How to Identify and Attract the Top 25 Birds, Gibbs Smith, March 27, 2008, https://www.amazon.com/Backyard-Birds-Utah-Identify- Attract/dp/1423603532/

Kavanagh, James, Utah Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (Wildlife and Nature Identification) Pamphlet, Waterford Press, September 1, 2017, https:// www.amazon.com/Utah-Birds-Folding-Familiar-Naturalist/dp/1583551328/

Dinosaurs in Our Past

Dinosaurs in our past: Dinosaur Footprint Cast, The Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
Dinosaur Footprint Cast
The Prehistoric Museum,
USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer

Dinosaur Footprint Display, The Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT  Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer Dinosaur Footprint Display
The Prehistoric Museum,
USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer

When I saw my first giant dinosaur footprint a the Natural History Museum of Utah, I said it was terrific.

“Dime a dozen, “ said my father-in-law, who was standing next to me. “The ceiling of the coal mine is littered with them.”

My ears perked right up. “Really,?” I said. “Maybe I could get one?”

As a young mining engineer right out of college, my father in law had been hired to run the Sunnyside coal mine about 25 miles outside of Price. He went on to explain that it was impossible to take a footprint out of the mine ceiling with risking bringing the whole roof down on your head. I had to agree it sounded difficult, but that didn’t stop me from sighing and saying, “I sure would like a dinosaur footprint for Christmas. “

In the end, he compromised by arranging a trip into the mine to see the footprints.

So, on a day no one was working in the mine, we climbed into the low riding miner’s car that carried us deep, deep into the heart of the mountain. When we got to the face we stopped and got out. In the dim light of our headlamps I could see we were in a huge cavernous room with massive pillars of coal, seven feet high and almost as wide, holding up the roof. And then I looked up and saw them – three toed footprints pressed down into the ancient mud that had turned into coal millions of years ago. Whole families of dinosaurs had strolled through this prehistoric swamp, leaving big prints, as long as two feet, and small ones, as small as six inches.

I found out later that the preservation of these footprints was a happy accident of sand filling up the prints soon after they were made. Millions of years later, when the decaying swamp plants were compressed into coal, the sand (itself pressed into sandstone,) held the shape of the foot.

A similar lucky mix of sand, water and pressure was needed to preserve dinosaur bones. Not all bones become fossils. So you can imagine the excitement in the scientific community when a fossil bed containing more than 12,000 dinosaur bones were discovered 30 miles south of Price. There were enough bones to qualify as a crime scene. To this day, my favorite spot in the Natural History Museum of Utah is the corner where 4 paleontologists on 4 TV screens square off with their earnest explanations for this massive bone pile-up.

    One says it was a watering hole that dried up so the dinosaurs died.

    “No,” says the second. There was too much water. The site became so muddy that the dinosaurs got stuck in the mud.

    The third offers up the idea that it could have been poison or a lethal germ that got in the water.

    “Oh, no,” says the fourth. The dinosaurs died somewhere else, and floodwaters floated them here.

It’s a mystery still waiting to be solved, and that’s what makes studying Utah’s past so interesting.

This is Mary Heers, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers,
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Sunnyside Coal Mines, UtahRails.net, Last Updated March 8, 2019, https://utahrails.net/utahcoal/utahcoal-sunnyside.php

Prehistoric Museum, USU Eastern Campus, Price, UT, https://eastern.usu.edu/prehistoric-museum/

Natural History Museum of Utah, Rio Tinto Center, University of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving

Box Elder Bug on Milkweed Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer
Box Elder Bug on Milkweed
Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer

Perigrine Falcon Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer Perigrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer

Northern Shrike Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Northern Shrike
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Robin with Chicks in Nest Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov James C. Leopold, Photographer Robin with Chicks in Nest
Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov
James C. Leopold, Photographer

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving: Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, images.fws.gov Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer
http://images.fws.gov

I’m Giving thanks for a Wild Utah, which is all around us- in our yards, downtown, and even in our homes. I will make my case with the following vignettes.

Box elder bugs are my nemesis, reproducing numbers far beyond what their predators can control. But my grandkids adore them. Calling them “Boxies”, they are enthralled with their “cute” little friends. They will make a home for them in a jar, making sure they’re comfortable and well fed with collected leaves.

While sauntering through Temple Square on a lovely June day, I was startled by the kee-kee-kee call of peregrine falcons. One lit atop Moroni’s head, which adorns the temple, soon to be joined by another. The elder missionary who had begun his missionary pitch to me was aghast as I explained the peregrine coupling on their sacred figure.

My grandkids and I were keeping track of a robins nest which had been built over our front door facing. Checking the eggs, which were near hatching, we discovered a great basin gopher snake had crawled up the vertical house wall for egg soufflé, devouring all four eggs. How in the world did this reptile even know there was a nest with eggs in this unusual location, and make the vertical climb to eat them? A natural wonder!

Our bird feeder is quite popular with predatory birds. We noticed a darling little saw-whet owl sitting in the tree where the feeder hung with a junco in its beak. On another occasion, my wife alerted me to a stellar jay sitting on a limb outside the kitchen window with a fat meadow vole dangling from its mouth.

A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a photo of a mystery bird that had slammed into their window. What is this bird? A northern shrike was the victim- a rarity indeed. Fortunately, it recovered, hopefully without serious injury, to hunt her birds another day.

When our children were young, a Jerusalem cricket was discovered in the basement. These Tonka Toy-like insects are marvels- and very scary. It kept our children occupied for hours. On another occasion, we came home to find baby skunks had invaded us. One of our sons had found them near their road-killed mother and adopted them. These cute little critters soon adapted to our presence, and no one was sprayed, but they did harbor a skunky odor for some time, probably from their deceased mother.

Given the Thanks Giving season, I’ll wrap this up with turkeys. Downtown Logan had four tom turkeys who were causing mayhem with traffic at the Center and Main intersection. Our fearless law officer were called out to remediate the situation. Following an hour of frantic scramble, the officers were defeated, as were the turkeys, who found an open door for refuge in a butcher shop. True story.

Wishing you a Wild Utah Thanksgiving!

This is Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m wild about this Utah!

Credits:
Picture: Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Picture: Northern Shrike, Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Picture: Robin with Chicks, Courtesy US FWS, James C. Leopold, Photographer
Picture: Jerusalem Cricket, Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, PublicDomainImages AND https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-woodland-through-walking-387109/
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer,
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer https://images.fws.gov/
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Greene, Jack, Wild Turkeys, Wild About Utah, November 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys/

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys-recently-moved-to-utah/

Strand, Holly, Boxelder Bug Poetry, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/boxelder-bug-poetry/

Kervin, Linda, Shrikes, Wild About Utah, October 31, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/shrikes/

Hands on Stoneflies and Sculpin

Hands on Stoneflies and Sculpin: Exploring the Logan River Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Exploring the Logan River
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Harvest Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Benthic Macroinvertebrate Harvest
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Merriam-Webster Benthic: of, relating to, or occurring at the bottom of a body of water

Student with a Stonefly Nymph Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Student with a Stonefly Nymph
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Stonefly Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Stonefly
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Sculpin Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Sculpin
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

I remember my father on wintery Saturdays mounting his fly tying vice on the kitchen table, and then, from the cavern under the stairs, he’d emerge with his hooks, pheasant and peacock feathers, and other magical threads. I’d watch him spin intricate flies but never realized as a child that they were imitations of creatures I would meet and teach in the wild. When he took me to lakes and rivers to fish, we just used worms and pink marshmallows.

On an animal adaptation learning journey at Wood Camp along the Logan River this fall, our Edith Bowen Laboratory School first graders turned over river rocks, sweeping up all sorts of aquatic critters with nets and buckets to then probe playfully with tweezers and bare fingers. Trip Armstrong, Assistant Director of the National Aquatic Monitoring Center at Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Sciences, led our young investigators and several adult volunteers in identifying these benthic macroinvertebrates, especially the stonefly nymphs we found in every scoop.

These especially intrigued the children because they resemble something from outer space scurrying about on six legs. Stoneflies, both the nymphs and the adult insects, are large compared to mayfly and other critters you find in a river sample, so they stand out in a crowd. The adults have long wings, thus the Greek name Plecoptera meaning “braided wings,” but they are known to be poor fliers. The larvae have two tails or what biologists call cerci, while mayflies have three. Stoneflies have two hooks on their legs; mayflies have one. Stoneflies like oxygen-rich water flowing through their gills along their thorax and under their legs. We noticed some doing push-ups in the bin of river water, indicating it was time to return them to their habitat. Both mayfly and stonefly nymphs are pollution-sensitive, so finding them in such large numbers indicated that this part of the river was very healthy.

When a student approached from the river’s edge with a larger specimen cupped in her hands, I was stunned and a little spooked. “It’s a sculpin,” Armstrong said. These are bottom-dwelling fish that some say are basically big mouths with tails and have unflattering nicknames like “double uglies,” yet I learned later they are quite common. I’d just never met one. In fact, although biologists have determined that the Utah Lake sculpin has been extinct since the 1930s, the native Bear Lake sculpin and sculpin living in the Logan River are sources of food for the Bonneville Cutthroat and other trout.

I guess the lesson, as a wise first grader reminded me this week during our opinion writing session, is “Don’t yuck somebody’s yum.” Stoneflies and sculpin: flyfishers and bigger fish love them. I’m thankful for opportunities to teach in Utah’s wild places because every time I do, I learn something new.

I am Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading

Beaudreau, Andrea. 2017. Why I Love Sculpins (and Why You Should Too). Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab. https://annebeaudreau.com/2017/09/05/why-i-love-sculpins/

Bouchard, R.W. Jr. 2004. Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates of the Upper Midwest. 2004. https://dep.wv.gov/WWE/getinvolved/sos/Documents/Benthic/UMW/Plecoptera.pdf

Curtis, Jennifer Keats with Stroud Water Research Center. 2020. Arbordale Publishing. https://www.arbordalepublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=CreekCritters

Dickey, Amy. Water Quality and Macroinvertebrates. https://deq.utah.gov/communication/news/water-quality-macroinvertebrates

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2013. Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of Health. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/aquatic-insects-harbingers-of-health/

Leavitt, Shauna. 2017. Bear Lake Sculpin. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-lake-sculpin-cottus-extensus/

National Aquatic Monitoring Center. https://namc-usu.org/

Pennsylvania League of Angling Youth. 2006. PLAY. https://www.fishandboat.com/LearningCenter/PennsylvaniaLeagueofAnglingYouthPLAY/Documents/AquaticMacrosEnaElpaMayflyPondstream_Allpages.pdf

Stroud Water Research Center. Macroinvertebrate Resources. https://stroudcenter.org/macros/

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Five Aquatic Species You May Not Know Live in Utah. Mottled Sculpin. https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/962-r657-29–government-records-access-management-act.html

Utah State University Extension. Bugs Don’t Bug Me. https://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/files-ou/Publications/AllBugs.pdf

Zarbock, William. 1952. Life History of the Utah Sculpin. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8659%281951%2981%5B249%3ALHOTUS%5D2.0.CO%3B2