2015: My “Big Year” of Birding in the Utah Desert

So, we meet again, this time with me being a completely different person, so it’s actually as if we’re meeting for the very first time. A different person because I’m now a Western person, a cowboy, if you will. Last March, I packed my bags and binoculars and bird guides and moved to Boulder, Utah, to try to make it big on the Western Birding Circuit. I came out here as sort of a modern day pioneer, if you will, ready to “strike gold” and ensure my legacy in the Top 100 eBirders of Garfield County. This move was quite a controversial one, as I had previously been poised to easily overtake the number one spot in Allegheny County, my former home back in the ‘Burgh area. The other ‘Burgher birders begged me to stay, for without me they had much less of a chance to find any birds themselves. You probably read some of their pleas for my reconsideration in the classifieds section of that month’s issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. (LOL, I’m only joking, I know nobody reads that magazine!) But nay, I had to give that all away in hopes of even greater glory: my very own Manifest Destiny, if you will: to become the greatest eBirder OF ALL TIME in Garfield County, Utah!!!

And lo, I did it! Oh, you knew I’d do it!!! Yes, you may recall my earlier travails Out West, when I sought the throne of Number One Garfield County eBirder for all of 2014, only to fall just short behind my very own girlfriend. Sure, that was still a stunning feat which would likely be enough to suit your average birdwatcher like Richard Crossley, but I’m no birdwatcher, I’m a birder. So this only left me with a yearning for an EVEN BIGGER achievement, as I noticed the title of Best All Time was within reach! So I gave up my cushy ‘Burgh life and set my goals for that prestigious title. Over the course of the year, I honed my crafts of bird-finding and bird-photographing and bird-appreciating. I didn’t let the fiery glare of the relentless desert sun get in my eyes and distract me from seeing a single bird! Within mere days of living Out West, I illustriously ascended to the absolute top of the ranks for the year, never to relinquish that grasp. (It’ll take more than just a weekend trip to Bryce Canyon to best me, Gerard de Jong!)  Soon enough, sure enough, there I was: right at the very top of the Top 100 eBirders in Garfield County, not only for that year, but for every year, OF ALL TIME!!!!! Don’t believe me? Well then what do you have to say about this indisputable evidence, sucker: http://ebird.org/ebird/top100?locInfo.regionCode=US-UT-017&year=AAAA

Yes, I realize what you’re thinking: “But Ryan, you accomplished this all in little under one calendar year?! But how is that even possible for one man???!” Well, pull up a seat, and let me show and tell you all about My “Big Year” of Birding in the Utah Desert!

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Just a boy, his binoculars, and the desert!

 

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Here’s a photograph of me next to some type of desert shrubs, or “scrubs” as they’re known Out West.

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Look how hot it is out here in the desert! Good thing selfies like this are the perfect opportunity to provide my body with some much needed shade!

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Yep, that’s me, just a good old Western boy out in his natural habitat: a canyon.

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Here I am underneath a real life Desert Arch! Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see? I just love the artistry of this selfie: the way the Sun is shining right into the lens, demonstrating how it endlessly bakes the land below. FYI: the Sun is the definitive source of heat in the desert!!!

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Contrary to popular belief, there actually sometimes is water in the desert, so you usually don’t even need to bring any yourself if you don’t want to. Just look how excited I am to safely quench my thirst in this stream I found! (If you look carefully at the bottom of the frame, you’ll notice my empty water bottle, which I’ve brought with me to fill up on just such an occasion! That’s the motto of the desert: “Be prepared, like the Boy Scouts always say.”)

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Here’s a selfie of me in some sort of field or something, I don’t really remember this one. (Forgive me, it’s been such a long incredible journey of a year, chock full of all kinds of amazing birding adventures like this!)

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The little cuuuuutie in this nonselfie is my “main squeeze” Heather. She really likes this blog a whole lot and thinks it’s cool and interesting that I do this and she is always eager to be a part of it in any way possible, sometimes even helping me line up my selfie shots. Ah yes, and one last little tidbit about her: she also just so happens to be the NUMBER TWO ALL-TIME BIRDER IN GARFIELD COUNTY, behind yours truly!!! Sorry fellas, she’s taken, by me!

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You best be believin’ I brought my “main man” Huck out here too! With that rugged bandanna, doesn’t he look like he truly belongs here in The Wild Wild West, like a real cowboy? Yeah, he’s a regular Kenny Chesney all right!

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Speaking of cowboys, here’s a shot I took while I was just out wrangling up some cattle in my Dodge Neon. Could The Wild Wild West possibly be any wilder wilder???!

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Here I am in my cool authentic Western Hat, doing the ultimate impression of the ultimate cowboy: Clint Eastwood. “Well, ya feelin’ kinda lucky, ya punk?” LOL!

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There’s even a mountain here in the desert, covered in pine trees. As you can see, I think pine trees are pretty neat, since we don’t have them back in the East. This one was wider than my head!

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A selfie of me in front of some white trees. You’re probably thinking: “Trees? In the desert?!” If so, please go back and read the caption for the previous photograph, proving that there are in fact trees out here.

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This is just one of the many examples of the fabulous types of ethnic Western meals I’ve been eating out here.

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Here’s me just straight cruisin’.

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Cruisin’ again. Just how I roll.

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This is a selfie of me in my Western shower. Who knew I’d still be able to get this wet out here in the dry desert?

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Look at this serene image from over the summer: you can see how I’m just savoring the lovely scent of this gorgeous desert flower. Sometimes when I’m out on a hardcore birding mission, I need to just stop and relax for a moment, to try to take in the beauty of nature in the midst of all the crazy work involved in checking more birds off my list.

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And to think: this is what I sacrificed in order to pursue my dreams Out West! This selfie was from way back when I was merely the ‘Burgher Birder Blogger in the ‘Burgh, living the sweet life of a parking lot attendant. How far I’ve come, especially in my skills as a selfie photographer!

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And here I am today! Undisputed Champ of Garfield County… in the SNOW… what the… ?!?! Yes, you aren’t mistaken: it actually sometimes even snows out here in the desert!!! Unbelievable, right? My dog actually needs to wear a sweater… in the DESERT???!!! Now I’ve seen everything!

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And last but not least, but really the very best part about Boulder, Utah: it’s only five and a half hours away from Vegas, baby! #RoadTrip! Worth the drive if only to go to this fancy Guy Fieri restaurant, which served me the finest meal I’ve eaten in my entire life!!! (Or as Guy would say: “That was awesome!”)

Okay, what better way to wrap up my birding adventures of 2015 than with a Guy Fieri quote?! Wasn’t that whole thing interesting?! If that’s not a “Big Year,” then I don’t know what is! Now bring on 2016, where after the desert heats back up and all this snow melts and the birds come back, I’m sure to maintain my stronghold as The Best (e)Birder in Garfield County… EVER!!!!!

 

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Posted in ADVENTURES, BIRDING, BIRDS, PHOTOGRAPHY, UTAH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Q&A: Ask a Birder

I’ve asked all my fans to ask me any questions they have about birds or birding, so that I could answer them here to educate everybody! The results are below:

While no one specifically asked what a birder looks like, here is a staged selfie to demonstrate how we all appear, in case that was also something anyone was wondering. (Note: birding is typically done outdoors, but as I said this is only a staged demonstration.)

While no one specifically asked what a birder looks like, here is a staged selfie to demonstrate how we all appear, in case that was also something anyone was wondering. (Note: birding is typically done outdoors, but as I said this is only a staged reenactment.)

How do birds fly?

With their wings, dummy! Ah ha ha, I’m only teasing!!! They flap their wings until it lifts them up. Hence, this process is known as “lift.” Science is so interesting like that!

Why are all birds’ beaks yellow?

I’m afraid you’re mixing up real life with cartoons, which I often do, too. While most birds have yellow beaks, some of them actually don’t! As for why: since I just explained that the basis of your question was ill-informed, it doesn’t make much sense to still answer it, now does it?

Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker really extinct?

Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

Is your favorite band The Eagles, Flock of Seagulls, or The Byrds? (LOL)

No way, my favorite band is John Mayer!

What do you think is the general public’s biggest misconception about birds?

I’ll tell you what, that game “Angry Birds” makes me such an “Angry Birder!” It’s nothing but lies! How that game ever became so popular is beyond me, because birds are never angry! They are the sweetest, gentlest, most magical animals on the planet! The makers of that game are a bunch of liars who don’t have a clue about ornithology!

Which bird song do you think sounds the prettiest?

As nice as the springtime dawn chorus in the eastern woodlands can be, I must say I’m absolutely transfixed every time I hear the amazing song of this electronic motion-sensing parrot I bought: 

Is it true that all birds are beautiful?

You bet!

Do you know the scientific name of the Ash-throated Flycatcher?

I’m a birder, so of course I do! The ash-throated flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) is a passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family. It

What is your favorite food? (Oh, was this supposed to be a bird-related question?)

Well funny you should ask, because I like to step into birds’ shoes now and then (how adorable would that be if birds really wore shoes?!) so I usually eat a lot of sunflower seeds. But my favorite food is probably chicken fingers, yum!

Is there a funnier name for a bird than the “Titmouse?”

While it definitely is pretty funny that a bird was accidentally called a mouse, I’ve always thought “Great Blue Heron” was the funniest name, because they’re not really all that great.

Whatcha lookin’ at? [Asked in the field.]

Oh, there are just some nuthatches up there.

Where is your favorite birding “hot-spot” around the ‘Burgh?

Wherever the most birds are! So usually the trees!

How do migrating birds even know which way is North or South? Maps?

I’ve often wondered that myself! I’ll bet they just remember.

What’s the best bird you’ve ever seen?

Well that’s easy! That’d be the very first bird I ever saw, the one that brought me into this world to teach all of yinz about birds: the Stork! 😉

Think you can think of another thing for me to think about? Ask me below!

Posted in BIRDING, INFORMATION, SCIENCE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Drawing Study: Beaks of the Finches

Okay, okay, so I’ve been receiving a TON of requests to finally fulfill my promise to feature original artwork on this blog (although my photographs are artworks, technically). After all, while photography and nature writing may be my true calling, my favorite artistic medium for portraying birds is either drawing or painting them, in the spirit of the world’s first bird artist: Roger Tory Peterson. Many of you may not even realize that I was actually named after this birding icon, as my full name is Ryan Tory Peterson McDermott. RTP the First, as I often call him, educated hundreds of people through his helpful “field guides” which depicted birds artistically, and showed readers specifically what to look for when trying to literally make heads or tails of them! So that’s exactly what I’m going to do here: artistically teach yinz the only surefire way to separate Purple Finches from House Finches (which are also purple): look at their beaks!

 (Drawing copyrighted 2015 by Ryan McDermott, all rights reserved.) This artwork represents a zoomed-in detail of the beak of a House Finch (above) compared to a Purple Finch (below), with their eyes and a bit of the forehead included to give you an idea of which way they are facing and to make it look more realistic. I apologize for using a green marker, as neither finch is actually green, but it was all I had at the time.

(Drawing copyrighted 2015 by Ryan McDermott, all rights reserved.) This artwork represents a zoomed-in detail of the beak of a House Finch (above) compared to the beak of a Purple Finch (below), with their eyes and a bit of the forehead included to give you an idea of which way they are facing and to make it look more realistic. I apologize for using a green marker, as neither finch is actually green, but it was all I had at the time.

Take a good long look those beaks (indicated by the arrows). Pay careful attention to how each one looks. Once you’ve got that memorized, you’ll be able to tell these finches apart! Actually now that I look at the drawings it seems like the PUFI (Purple Finch) appears a little smaller than the HOFI (House Finch), but they’re about the same size in real life, so don’t let that confuse you! To avoid further confusion, I’ve just included the only two true finch species native to our area (East Coast). I was going to include the beak of a crossbill here too, but if you really need to refer to a comparative study of crossbill beaks versus other finch beaks, you’d better hang up your binoculars for good, because only a fool would believe the crossbill isn’t just some made-up mythological bird like the Archaeopteryx!

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Birding Tips: Tricky Birds to Identify

By now you’ve all surely read my 6 previous blog posts, and therefore you now qualify as experienced birders. But if you want to achieve black belt birding status like I have (as in karate, a birder’s experience level is indicated by the color of their binocular strap, which birders call a “belt”; as you can see from my selfies, my binocular belt is black) then you need to really study your birds closely! You may think you can tell every bird apart, but then it turns out what you thought was a type of pigeon was actually a type of dove, or maybe what you thought was a real owl may just be a plastic owl used to decorate rooftops. A lot of birds can be tricky like this, so if you want the respect of other birders and birds alike, then you’ve got to know how to identify even the most trickiest! So I’ve devised this handy set of tips for how to tell ‘em all apart:

Shorebirds: I consider shorebirds to be one of the most difficult groups of birds to identify, so I’ll get them out of the way first. If it’s a fairly nondescript grayish-brown little thing with a long, thin, & sometimes curved bill: it’s a sandpiper. If it doesn’t really fit that description, like for instance if it has any dark feathers on it: then it’s a plover. If it’s a Killdeer: that, too, is a plover!

Hawks: Throughout the ‘Burgh and the rest of the world in general, the most common type of hawk is the Redtail Hawk. In fact, 99 times out of 100, you’ll look up at a hawk only to see that it’s just another stupid Redtail. Therefore, I typically rely on this ratio, and only bother to look at about 1% of the hawks I ever see. (Look, I’ll admit I’m a little unfairly prejudiced against hawks, but I just don’t like them, okay? Some of them eat other birds, so I just can’t get over that.)

I’ve never been interested enough to take a picture of a hawk, so here is a photograph of the type of habitat in which you might look up and see yet another Redtail.

I’ve never been interested enough to take a picture of a hawk, so here is a photograph of the type of habitat in which you might look up and see yet another Redtail.

Sparrows: Is it singing? Always remember that there’s a bird called the Song Sparrow, and then you’ll be able to effortlessly identify the sparrows you hear singing. White-throated Sparrows (or White-crowned Sparrows, as the ones without white throats are called) often hide deep within the bushes, so if you see a little brown bird in thick vegetation, it’s probably a White-throated Sparrow, so you don’t really need to try and look at it. House Sparrows are only found around houses (as are House Finches, but those are finches, so they do not belong in a discussion about sparrows). Henslow’s Sparrows are awful little pests.

Seagulls: Seagull identification is tough! Some of them have black heads, some of them don’t. At this point in my training, I can pretty easily tell if a seagull has a black head or not, and even sometimes if it used to have a black head before “molting” it away, because they often still have a little black up there. However, even then I’m rarely able to narrow them down to species, so in that case I think it’s best to just play it safe and simply check the box for “Black-headed Gull” on eBird reports. As for seagulls with white heads, we only have one kind here in Pittsburgh, but they only ever hang out around the Highland Park Bridge, and one time I swerved my car into the side of the bridge while trying to identify them, so I cannot recommend going for those birds. The golden rule of birding is that sometimes you just have to leave birds unidentified. (Unless you’re basically pretty sure you know what you saw.)

Seagulls accumulate in numbers up to the millions, and even then it’s nearly impossible to tell any of them apart, they all just look like a bunch of seagulls. I mean, I can’t tell the difference between any of these ones, can you?

Seagulls accumulate in numbers up to the millions, and even then it’s nearly impossible to tell any of them apart, they all just look like a bunch of seagulls. I mean, I can’t tell the difference between any of these ones, can you?

Flycatchers/gnatcatchers: This type of identification requires you to look not at the bird itself, but rather what the bird is eating. A trick here is: gnats are usually too small to be seen even through binoculars, so if you see a bird go after something but can’t see what it is, then that bird is probably a gnatcatcher.

Blackbirds: Crows are the most common blackbird on earth. Why, you might see them in any type of habitat, even the Arctic Tundra! So that means most blackbirds you see are going to be crows, which is boring. If it’s a blackbird with red wings, it’s a Red-winged Blackbird, ya dope! (You may think cardinals fit this description, but you have to admit that little black patch on their face is hardly enough to call them blackbirds, don’t you?) Grackles may have tails that look like a boat (Boat-tailed Grackle), pretty great tails (Great-tailed Grackle), or tails that just look like other common birds’ tails (Common-tailed Grackle). For some reason Sibley misidentifies orioles as being in the blackbird family, but any amateur can even see that they’re orange!

Here’s a picture of some American Crows flying over the ‘Burgh in early February. You can tell these are crows and not grackles because grackles aren’t really around here this time of year, although sometimes they are. (In which case: use caution!!!)

Here’s a picture of some American Crows flying over the ‘Burgh in early February. You can tell these are crows and not grackles because grackles aren’t really around here this time of year, although sometimes they are. (In which case: use caution!!!)

Turkeys: Male Wild Turkeys have a gross dangly thing on their face, while females do not. Don’t let this fool you though: they are the same species.

Warblers: You’re on your own with this one, too many of ‘em!!! Just kiddin’, I’ll help ya out! A lot of warblers just look like how they are named: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler. Others don’t really look like their names at all: Ovenbird, Kentucky Warbler, Yellow Warbler (should be called Yellow-with-a-little-red Warbler to distinguish from the many other yellow warblers), Cedar Waxwing. ALL warblers usually stay up too high in the treetops to really be seen, so I advise only counting them, then putting that number next to “warbler sp.” (which stands for “warbler spotted”) on eBird lists.

Kinglets: One of them has a ruby crown (Ruby-crowned Kinglet). The other: a golden crown (Golden-crowned Kinglet). It’s really that simple!

Kinglets are too small and fidgety for me to take a photograph of, because I like to put a lot of time and effort into setting up my shots just right, with the lighting and backdrop and such. But luckily I already have a framed picture of one with a golden crown (a Golden-crowned Kinglet) on my wall, which is a decent photograph taken by some other birder whose name I unfortunately can’t remember right now.

Kinglets are too small and fidgety for me to photograph, because I like to put a lot of time and effort into setting up my shots just right, with the lighting and backdrop and such. But luckily I already have a framed picture of one with a golden crown (a Golden-crowned Kinglet) on my wall, which is a pretty decent photograph taken by some other birder whose name I unfortunately can’t remember right now.

Okay, that’s all there is to know! Now I think you’re ready to hit the woods and identify all these tricky birds on your own! Good luck!!!

Posted in BIRDING, BIRDS, PHOTOGRAPHY, TIPS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Photography Quiz #1: Mystery Bird on the Water

So this is a nifty little game I’ve seen played on all the big-time birding websites: a pop quiz on naming birds in a photograph! As if recreating a real-life scenario of questioning a bird’s identity based on a poor glimpse in the field, the quiz is meant to challenge the seasoned birder in trying to verify an ID through the odd angles birds often pose in for photography. Besides the disadvantage of having only one image to study, the quiz-taker is further handicapped by being denied other clues that can usually be relied upon if one were really out in the field, such as if the bird were to make any noise, like, perhaps, quack (that’s an early hint for the following quiz).

So what do you say? Care to test your metals, show you’ve got what it takes to be a serious birder and know exactly what kind of bird you’re looking at every time? Then why don’t you try to tell me what kind of bird you’d be looking at if you were looking at the bird in the photograph below???

I took this photograph sometime in the early spring, on some type of body of water somewhere in the general area of the ‘Burgh. I’d be more specific, but then cheaters could use that information to search the eBird database.

I took this photograph sometime in the early spring, on some type of body of water somewhere in the general area of the ‘Burgh. I’d be more specific, but then cheaters could use that information to search the eBird database.

So, what kind of bird do YOU think this is? Hint: If this bird wanted to get around recreationally, I think he’d (that’s another hint: it’s a male!) probably use a surfboard or maybe a scooter. With that in mind, I’ll let you have another look at the bird:

The same Mystery Bird photograph as before

The same Mystery Bird photograph as before.

QUIZ ANSWER (NO PEEKING UNTIL YOU’VE GUESSED!): Give up? Okay, so, first thing to consider when trying to identify birds by their photograph: habitat. Where does the bird live? This bird is in the water, so that means it’s a duck. (Careful though: not all ducks have the word “duck” in their names. I’ll bet this tripped up a few of you!) Next up: color. What color is the bird? It’s black, which tells you it’s a black duck, so you’ll likely say it’s an American Black Duck. But remember what I said about not all ducks being called “ducks?” Forgot already, didn’t you? Well, this is actually a type of duck called a “scoter,” because of the way it scotes in the water. But not so fast! It’s black, and it’s a scoter, so obviously it’s a Black Scoter, right? DEAD WRONG, ROOKIE! No, the secret lies in the beak. Look at that big weird beak: there’s some white on it, isn’t there? Black Scoters only have yellow and black on their big weird beaks. Therefore, this is a SURF SCOTER! If you guessed correctly: congratulations!

As I had known all along: this is a Surf Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

As I had known all along: this is a Surf Scoter (Melanitta deglandi).

So, what kind of bird did YOU think it was? Leave your answers in the comments section below, and let’s see if you were right!

Posted in BIRD QUIZ, BIRDING, BIRDS, PHOTOGRAPHY | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nov. 24th – Dec. 10th, 2014: The ‘Burgher Birder Blogger’s Better Birding in Boulder

Howdy, y’all! Oops, sorry, even though I’ve been back East for some time now, I can’t stop myself from talking like everybody does out in the Wild Wild West! But while I’m on the subject, I’m even sorrier still to keep yinz (how everybody talks here in the ‘Burgh) waiting so long for another blog post! I know you all (how everybody else talks) have been eagerly anticipating a full account of my amazing journey, because who doesn’t love to read long, self-indulgent descriptions of others’ personal experiences accompanied by lots of selfies and reminders of how much more fun they were probably having than you!

I didn’t want my face to distract from the awe-inspiring Western landscape in the background of this selfie, so I made sure there was only enough of it showing to verify that it was really me and that I was actually there, and left the rest of the shot open, for you to take in its magnificent beauty. (Though you can do that with my face, too, if you want! ;) )

I didn’t want my face to distract from the awe-inspiring Western landscape in the background of this selfie, so I made sure there was only enough of it showing to verify that it was really me and that I was actually there, and left the rest of the shot open, for you to take in its magnificent beauty. (Though you can do that with my face, too, if you want! 😉 )

In case you missed my last blog post: go back and read it, it was really interesting. In case you don’t want to do that: I spent my Thanksgiving vacation (Nov. 24 – Dec. 10) out in the beauty-filled state of Utah, which is in the Western United States of (North) America. While I had several motives for making this journey, I’ll admit that I mainly went out there for the same reason all birders travel: to find a remote county that doesn’t have very many competing eBirders, thus making it easier to rank highly in that county’s top 100 eBirders of the year (i.e. being one of the best birders there is)! With this worthy goal in mind, I sent my girlfriend Heather (since you’re probably wondering: yes, my initial attraction to her was based on the fact that her name rhymes with “feather”) to Utah in the early spring of 2014, so that she could thoroughly scout the area throughout the year and then be able to tell me where to find all the birds during my Thanksgiving visit! A little planning can go a long way in making yourself a better birder!

My girlfriend likes to dress up and look nice for me, which is why she always puts a bird feather in her hair. This feather was from a “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker. I don’t want to have to explain to you why they are known as “Red-shafted,” because this is a family blog.

My girlfriend likes to dress up and look nice for me, which is why she always puts a bird feather in her hair. This feather was from a “Red-shafted” Northern Flicker. I don’t want to have to explain to you why they are known as “Red-shafted,” because this is a family blog.

Heather had her own place to live out there, so I was able to stay with her for free. This was a blessing for me, as I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare, since I always blow my paychecks on birding equipment, bird guides, and bribes for other birders to tell me where all the good birds are at. She lived in a town called Boulder, locally famous for having a boulder. Boulder is located in Garfield County, which was named after my second favorite cartoon cat, who was named after my third favorite U.S. president (I rank Heathcliff, Polk, & Eisenhower slightly higher, respectively). Eagerly looking at the paltry output of other birders in the county, I knew it would take no time at all before I shot to the top of the eBird ranks, destined for glory! However, being a recent convert to Rastafarianism, I figured it would be prudent and symbolic to first make a pilgrimage to Zion (National Park).

In Zion, I captured this action shot of an American Dipper dipping under the water to catch some salmon or something. A lot of people mistakenly believe these birds were named after the way they “dip” under the water, but they were actually named after the ornithologist who discovered them: John Horatio Dipper.

In Zion, I captured this action shot of an American Dipper dipping under the water to catch some salmon or something. A lot of people mistakenly believe these birds were named after the way they “dip” under the water, but they were actually named after the ornithologist who discovered them: John Horatio Dipper.

Zion was nice and pretty and full of pleasant, appreciative tourists. To understand how pretty it is, you should perform a simple Bing image search for “Zion National Park,” because I took no photographs of the park itself, since there were always too many tourists in the way. After the pilgrimage, we made our way back to Boulder, where we stayed for the next two weeks, racking up all those sweet, sweet birding points! Besides all the red rocks and desert dust, what I saw the most of in Utah were two things which basically rhyme: Mormons and Corvids. Everyone already knows and respects what Mormons are, but for those of you not “down” with bird “slang,” Corvids are a group of birds that are either black or blue, such as crows or bluebirds. In Boulder, I saw a literal ton of ravens, magpies, and various jays, although I actually didn’t come across any bluebirds. (The Eastern Bluebirds which I am most familiar with, I mean, because of course I saw Western Bluebirds, and even some Mountain Bluebirds. So yeah I guess I did see bluebirds out there, too! See what I mean? Corvids everywhere!) I even saw some Clark’s Nutcrackers, just in time for Christmas! 😉

Here is a Pinyon Jay peckin’ on a pinyon cone. We ornithologists refer to birds in the proper American way instead of any vulgar Hispanic terminology, which is why these guys are called Pinyon Jays rather than Piñon Jays (pronounced “pinyon hays” in Spanish).

Here is a Pinyon Jay peckin’ on a pinyon cone. We ornithologists refer to birds in the proper American way, instead of any vulgar Hispanic terminology, which is why these guys are called Pinyon Jays rather than Piñon Jays (pronounced “pinyon hays” in Spanish).

Just like an Old West gunslinger, I had to be “quick on the trigger” (camera button) to capture this photograph of a Black-billed Magpie in flight. (Identified as Black-billed instead of Yellow-billed after I carefully analyzed this photograph and couldn’t see any hint of yellow.) Magpies are striking birds (as evidenced above) featuring both black and white feathers, appearing as if they were an interesting hybrid of raven and some other white bird, say, an American White Pelican, perhaps.

Just like an Old West gunslinger, I had to be “quick on the trigger” (camera button) to capture this photograph of a Black-billed Magpie in flight. (Identified as Black-billed instead of Yellow-billed after I carefully analyzed this photograph and couldn’t see any hint of yellow.) Magpies are striking birds (as evidenced above) featuring both black and white feathers, appearing as if they were an interesting hybrid of raven and some other white bird, say, an American White Pelican, perhaps.

Common Ravens were very common out there, hence the name. There were so many, in fact, that I was afraid they were going to murder me. (That’s an inside joke for birders.) Unfortunately I never remembered to photograph any of them, so instead I have provided an image taken back in the ‘Burgh of some American Crows, which are the Eastern subspecies of Common Raven.

Common Ravens were very common out there, hence the name. There were so many, in fact, that I was afraid they were going to murder me. (That’s an inside joke for birders.) Unfortunately I never remembered to photograph any of them, so instead I have provided an image taken back in the ‘Burgh of some American Crows, which are the Eastern subspecies of Common Raven.

Unfortunately, it took me very little time to realize that maybe late November/early December isn’t the best time of year for seeing a bunch of birds in the desert. I looked long and hard for most of the species Heather had seen over the summer, but somehow they were nowhere to be found, even for an expert birder like me! I did turn up Gray-headed, Pink-sided, and Oregon Juncos, but as it turns out, those are all just variants of one species, Dark-eyed Junco, and couldn’t be individually added to my county list! They’re really no different than the stupid old Slate-colored Juncos we have in PA, so I wasn’t even technically adding to my life list either, so it’s like, what’s even the point, you know?! However, one nice surprise did occur while I was scanning a dead tree from the bottom to the top for any signs of smaller birds, and once my binoculars reached the top, I was shocked to find a big bird there: a Golden Eagle! (These birds were named after the way they used to lead prospectors to gold strikes. In nature, this is known as a “symbiotic relationship,” as the eagles would help those grizzled frontiersmen strike it rich, and in return, the birds would be rewarded with a heaping handful of birdseed. Everyone’s a winner!)

The majestic Golden Eagle.

The majestic Golden Eagle.

Since there were hardly any birds to look at, I was forced to pay attention to the land itself in order to have something to appreciate. And I’ll admit, some of the rock formations out there were simply unbelievable! How anyone can look at this photograph and not believe in God is beyond me…

Since there were hardly any birds to look at, I was forced to pay attention to the land itself in order to have something to appreciate. And I’ll admit, some of the rock formations out there were simply unbelievable! How anyone can look at this photograph and not believe in God is beyond me…

Feeling dejected about the lack of birds and available wi-fi connections in the desert, I decided to take a contemplative hike up into the mountains, where I pondered whether it even mattered to be the number one eBirder in Garfield County, as long as I was somewhere in the top five. This hike helped me realize that other non-bird parts of nature are kind of cool, too, and that the West really wasn’t so boring, after all. (Though I really wish there’d been more birds besides a bunch of stinking ravens.)

When I first came upon the carcass of this moose, I was shocked to find it covered in ravens and magpies. I knew those birds were smart, but I had no idea they were capable of bringing down an animal this big!

When I first came upon the carcass of this moose, I was shocked to find it covered in ravens and magpies. I knew those birds were smart, but I had no idea they were capable of bringing down an animal this big!

I couldn’t believe it when I found these wolf tracks on the trail! I didn’t even think there were any wolves in Utah, but I don’t know what else would’ve made tracks like these! Incredible! (I placed that stick there to help you have a sense of scale. Then I ran out of there, in fear that the pack might be hot on my scent!)

I couldn’t believe it when I found these wolf tracks on the trail! I didn’t even think there were any wolves in Utah, but I don’t know what else would’ve made tracks like these! Incredible! (I placed that stick there to help you have a sense of scale. Then I ran out of there, in fear that the pack might be hot on my scent!)

As the trip was winding down, I resignedly filled out my eBird reports, and once the results were in, I received the shock of a lifetime! I’d made it all the way up to number two, the second best birder in the county!!!!! Better still, the only person who was (slightly) higher than me was my very own girlfriend, Heather! It was the proudest moment of my entire life! The two of us as reigning birding champs, isn’t that just the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?! Just look at how cute this is: http://ebird.org/ebird/top100?locInfo.regionType=subnational2&locInfo.regionCode=US-UT-017&year=2014! So, after all that, the trip ended up being kind of worth it!!! (Note: You may think I’d be ashamed that my own girlfriend, a woman who hardly even knew the difference between Bicknell’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes before I ever met her, bested me in the all-important contest of who can see more birds within an imaginary boundary designated by politicians a long time ago. But I am a humble man, and I have no problem admitting that it only makes sense that she would see more, since she was out there for 8 months, while I had only visited briefly. Otherwise I would’ve blown her out of the water!!!)

I really left my mark on the county’s eBird list! I also literally left my mark by carving my self-appointed nickname into this tree. (I believe this was a White-barked Tree, Pinus albinus. Also, I slew a bear out there, but I didn’t think that was as interesting to write about compared to my bird sightings.)

I really left my mark on the county’s eBird list! I also literally left my mark by carving my self-appointed nickname into this tree. (I believe this was a White-barked Tree, Pinus albinus. Also, I slew a bear out there, but I didn’t think that was as interesting to write about compared to my eBird conquest.)

The birding highlight of the trip had to be finding this flock of ostriches! According to eBird, this species has never even been reported in the entire state of Utah, so beyond my recognition as a top birder in Garfield County, my name will forever be memorialized in adding to the state’s documented species list, as soon as my report gets reviewed and accepted.

The birding highlight of the trip had to be finding this flock of ostriches! According to eBird, this species has never even been reported in the entire state of Utah, so beyond my recognition as a top birder in Garfield County, my name will forever be memorialized in adding to the state’s documented species list, as soon as my report gets reviewed and accepted!

Her bird-finding duties now complete, Heather decided to return East with me when I left. On the way back, we stopped to visit our friends in Boulder, Colorado, which allowed me the opportunity to make plenty of hilarious jokes on the ride there, such as “We’re going to Boulder? But we just left there!!!” You probably assume that since we were in Colorado, we decided to indulge in a certain something that has recently been legalized in that state, but let me just put that notion to rest: since we are a heterosexual couple, we had no desire to take advantage of a legal same-sex marriage. From Boulder (CO, not UT), we headed eastward, and continued to have a lot of interesting bird sightings along the way (see, for instance: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S21224110). After 21 hours of nonstop driving, we were happy to arrive back in the ‘Burgh, where we could finally see some other people again. Our dog Huck was even happier that we were home, as he was finally able to be let outside to pee.

Posted in ADVENTURES, BIRDING, BIRDS, TRAVEL, UTAH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy “Turkey Day” from the BBB… Out West!

Hey everybody! If you’re wondering where in the world I’ve been, here’s your answer: The West! The Wild West, to be exact! The state of Utah, to be even more exact! I come here this time every year to celebrate a traditional Mormon Thanksgiving! It’s kinda nice here, but I just wish they’d build more stores and other places to go, because there’s really nothing out here besides canyons and red rocks and stuff. There aren’t even that many trees since it’s all dry and deserty, which is a bummer for me, since trees are where birds are found!

Landscapes like this are sorta nice and all, but they really make me homesick for that beautiful gray Pittsburgh shale. Plus, the bright desert sun makes it impossible to take a respectable squint-free selfie.

Landscapes like this are sorta pretty and all, but they really make me homesick for that beautiful gray Pittsburgh shale, and all my favorite stores like Circuit City. Plus, the bright desert sun makes it impossible to take a respectable squint-free selfie.

Anyway, allow me to “give” a big “thanks” to all you BBB fans out there! (Get it? It’s Thanksgiving!) Like all birders, I refuse to ever eat birds, except for this one time of year when it’s socially acceptable to eat a turkey. However, I take this more seriously than most, as I will only eat a turkey that I’ve caught and killed myself, and even then, it must be done naturally and organically, so I must only kill it with my bare hands. With that in mind, I woke up at the crack of dawn this morn, set a DVR to record the always enthralling Macy’s parade so I could see all the bird-related balloons like Woodstock from Peanuts, and then went out in search of my Thanksgiving feast!

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As you probably know, turkeys are closely related to roadrunners, and so their natural habitat is roads and highways. And like roadrunners, turkeys too are one of the fastest land birds on earth.

That little bugger in the photograph above really gave me a “run” for my money, as I chased him straight down the road for half a mile before I became too out of breath for further pursuit, and he saved his own life by getting away! If only I’d had some ACME rocket shoes! Ha ha, just kidding, ACME isn’t a real company! Anyway, all the turkeys I found just ran right away from me like this, and all the other birds I found just flew up into the sky where I couldn’t get them, so I came away empty-handed. Well, I guess it’s only yams and pumpkin pie for me this year! Good thing I’ve got such sweet teeth! 😉

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I figured I could at least kill and eat this big ugly vulture, but then I saw the tag on the wing and realized this is probably somebody’s pet. It made me consider how sad I’d feel if somebody ate my dog Huck for Thanksgiving, so I decided I should probably leave it alone.

So, that’s about it for my Thanksgiving adventures, sorry. I’ll be out West for the next week or two, so maybe by then I’ll have seen some interesting birds out in this lifeless boring desert, and I can write a proper ‘Burgher Birder Blog all about ‘em next time. For now, however, I just wanted to express my thankfulness for all 13 of my blog followers! (As for the rest of you, did you happen to notice that “Follow” button to the right? Or the one that says “Follow blog by email? Why don’t you click on them, see what happens?) Mostly, I guess I just wanted to write a little about the true meaning of Thanksgiving: food!

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This makes it two years in a row in which I’ve been unsuccessful in my annual T-giving turkey hunt. At least last year I was able to catch this great horned owl, which tasted just about the same as turkey. (When eating owls, be careful not to choke on their pellets!)

What am I most thankful for, you ask? Well that’s an easy one: birds, of course!

Posted in BIRDING, BIRDS, THANKSGIVING | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments