Sunday, June 26, 2016

Life Elevated

Utah has the motto, "Life Elevated."  They have always thought that they are above Nevada.  The first thing I came to when leaving Nevada was this foot wash.  I never pass up a foot wash.  It was like I was supposed to wash off all the bad the Nevada is and accept the "good" that is Utah....hum?

Was this something to do with Wendover?  The split city with Utah State -Wendover and churches on one side and casinos, strip clubs, and all sorts of sin in West Wendover?  A place that found out you can't have showgirls and strippers in a casino because you have to be 21 to be in a casino and most of the strippers (from Utah State-Wendover, probably) were under 21...hum.  We only bought beer there because well we could.

Ah perfect Utah in all of its splendor.....wait a minute.  The Wasatch National Forest (Little Cottonwood Canyon) bans dogs, and horses, Alta ski resort.....snowboarders....?   A month ago I read about the US Federal Appeals court upholding Alta's ban of snowboarders.  It is a landmark decision about lessors being able to ban things on public land.  Alta hates snowboarders....those evil lots...and of course dogs and horses.....

This is expected to be sent to the US Supreme court, and I guess we'll see.  But dogs....well sort of.  They issue 42 permits for those living over 6 months in the valley, so they are hypocrites.  These are some of the most desired pooch permits in the country.  They say that dogs could ruin the quality of the water which is used for the people below.  Then why not ALL dogs?  Is there a study that dog pooh from just 42 is safe but 43 is too many?  Dog pooh is worse than raccoon pooh, deer scat, goat dropping, rabbit do....?  really?  How about human pooh?  Where do all of those campers and hikers go?   I think they are just mean spirited and bad people!  Who cannot love dogs?   Life elevated...snobs...maybe....the noses elevated nothing more.

okay...okay...rant later, bird first....I need to ask you my well versed and very educated readers better bird related

Are snowcock chicks...half-cocked?  I've always said snow is my favorite kind of cock, I guess, but maybe that is not questions I want to ask either...I would have had a field day with this trip and the puns in my 2013 year, and I could have easily gotten this bird au naturel...but I digress.

where did I start this trip?

Okay...I started in Milbank South Dakota coming back from chasing a rare Baird's sparrow sighting in Minnesota.  Some of you have doubts....let me restart birding there...last week and let us discuss this bird.....

Many of you say that is not a Baird's, it is a funny looking savanah...

These two photos were sent to the ebird reviewer and on my checklist...mine

Tony Lau's
Many of you complained about a central dot....

It really doesn't exist.

Dr. Bruce Fall  Univ of MN faculty, ebird reviewer, MN OU hierarchy etc responded back to me, after confirming my checklist
.  Lincoln's...

I would say the most likely bird this could be if not a Baird's IS a Lincoln, but face wrong and NO central dot, etc.... so I think we all need to go back to Sparrow school.  Baird's can very in looking differently but sound the same.....

I very likely will photograph another, I will end up birding in central North Dakota next week....a birder I know told me to go out and get "proof" of I think a snowcock...not sure.  You know some of you will never believe me, and I can't photograph all the birds and I don't do sound recordings.  So I do my best.  I don't really think that is why I'm in this hobby.  What do you do with the recordings, at least I make huge blow ups of my best photos.  Thank you researchers that have, though...I'm not a researcher, I won't ever do any of it.  But here is a bird, that likely with my pictures, MN OU will confirm it, much like my first flame colored tanager, AND even so many will doubt.  You know....shrug...I won't say it.  I'm keeping it on my list.

June 23  

No sleep on the 22nd, after a nice night at home with the family, I took off at midnight for Minneapolis, flying out at five for Dallas then Tucson.  By 11am I was parked below Beatty's Guest Ranch and was paying my 5 bucks to get in.  The place was empty but not empty of birds I needed.  It took an hour but I finally got pictures of my quarry.

#740  White-eared hummingbird

A lifer bird besides, probably my favorite Arizona hummer.  I have to give you another look...

I was escorted out of the end of the road by the police.  I'm not sure what was up but they didn't pass me despite me stopping to look at birds...maybe the Beatty's had called them...IDK, I was well behaved...really!

It was still early so I drove hard back to Tucson, and booked a flight to Salt Lake city that left by four pm, I drank my lifer beer with John Puschock, birding guide and all around nice guy.  He had a client and was flying home.  It is good to run into people you know, I bought him a beer, sure I owned it to him for intel over the years.

Watsatch National Forest, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, June 23 (PM), 24 (AM) 25 (PM)

Okay, these people hate dogs, and are all around bad people, I guess.  The valley is gorgeous. I drove up the valley after my plane landed.  It was busy with hikers, bikers, fishermen, and everyone not on a snowboard or with a dog....skijoring I guess is banned too?

I looked around and stuck out on my calliope hummingbird search....This is the oddest place.  Everything looks abandoned, sanctioned for private ordeals, or beyond my means.  somewhere near a place called Hell's gate, I ran out of gas, me, I was dead.  No more going anywhere.  I thought about crashing in the car as there appeared to be no place to stay but the whole thing of a multi-million dollar resort complex just baffled me.  I ended up a the Cliff Lodge.  The woman looked bemused by my plea for somewhere to stay.  "We have rooms..."  She said.

"Nowhere in the entire valley does it say we have rooms available.  Nowhere are there any place to eat, and nowhere can I take my dog anywhere."

"you have a dog with?" she said.

"Well no, just saying." I gulped.

"All of the hotels are open and have space."  She looked at me like I was stupid.  Then quoted me 165 a night.  I was still angry over the only rooms in Boston being over a thousand a night and was still mad about the dog policy and then started in about the lack of restaurants and beer.
"Sir we have a restaurant and we serve beer here."  I laughed.  Utah with alcohol, yea...I got a room, they offered me free valet parking, which I don't know what that means.  I have never ever used valet parking.  First the parkers you read destroy your cars, so why would you give it to them.  Secondly, "free?" you have to give them a tip, how much?  Tipping is unAmerican and not a Swedish thing.. What if it isn't enough, do they destroy your car?  These valet people at that moment seemed more evil than the dog haters of Alta/Snowbird.  I sneered at one opening the door for me.  I made him close it and then opened it myself.  I parked a half mile away and happily walked back from a ski parking area.  The guy offered to get a bellman for me and my luggage.  "Do I look helpless to you?"  I sneered.  I found myself in room 858, and asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I woke up a little embarrassed.  I don't usually stay at higher end hotels, they don't let the likes of me in.  I don't think we can afford it.  This hotel is probably the highest priced one I've stayed at in years.  It is true that my wife and I have never used a valet park, or a bellman.  I don't understand thousand dollar a night hotels, what do you have to be worth to stay at places like this?  20 million, 50 million....?  Is there that many people who can come up here and afford to stay and ski?  I don't get it so I went birding.

There were some odd things to see like this hummer feeder made of three ski polls on top of a mound.

this broad -tailed hummer 'owns' this feeder at the village offices, but what is the deal with that weasel in the window?  They had a hummer ID guide behind the feeder too, like who could read that?

I did probably see a calliope hummer displaying near the creek but I wasn't 100% sure so I could not count it.  It looked like one and then it got chased by a broad billed and was gone.  IDK.  Thank GOD my wife texted me that they had landed at the airport and I needed to go get them.  I hoped that I would not have to come back here to these people, dog haters...they say calliope is easy where we were going.....

Ruby Mountains, Elko Nevada.

We had a problem after I picked up my family at the airport.  Lauren E, didn't bring with any shoes. I didn't know what to say?  You got to have shoes.  She gave me that teenage girl look.  We stopped in Elko 4 hours later and went to a CAL Ranch store.  I spent $60 on a new Stetson hat, I needed a new hat, I don't feel like the man in black anymore, so I like my new hat.  I needed shorts and Lena, she grudgingly bought a pair of hiking shoes....great store, this one.  LE hates buying shoes.  Here is my new hat! 

She refused to let me photo here new shoes.

The Ruby!  Cool place.  This is one of the best kept secrets I have never heard of before, and only heard of it because of one bird, and by the looks of quite a few visitors...the secret is getting out.  Generally national parks suck with too many people so people have been looking for alternatives, this is a good one.  

You cannot believe how many people have asked me whether I am taking a helicopter to go get the snowcock.  Does anyone ever do this?  Did anyone ever do this?  How wealthy do you think I am?  I will use a helicopter and not use valet parking...I got two feet and we enjoy backpacking.  Did that really look like that much fun in the movie?   We backpacked on our honeymoon.  It is a great thing, backpacking, and this time, I got my daughter with too and properly shoed, so up we went...

some views of the area

We stayed overnight at roughly 9000 feet and then in the morning in darkness ascended still further.  I wasn't sure where exactly to go so I picked a rock on a ridge top.  There is a trick to getting snowcock, and to be honest, I don't know what it is.  I relied on my old skill, dumb luck.  In retrospect, they acted like they could see us and didn't come down.  Light and then sun was up and no snowcock.  Eventually eagle-eyed me spotted 2 adults and what ended up being 2 chicks a long ways away on a cliff I wasn't initially watching.  I got the scope on them and showed my intrepid ladies the snowcocks...

741.  Himalayan Snowcock 

There is defiantly a snowcock on those rocks.  One takes what one is given.  We should have been up the hill earlier, maybe even walking up at 3am, and it was really fun watching them.  I assumed they would act like chukars and be more quail like but they acted more like grouse, even putting their tail up and walking like grouse.  I didn't expect that and watched through my scope for over an hour and then was even more fascinated as two chicks popped out for a look. Cool!!

They say the bird is noisy when they feed.  It sounds like a loon mated with a chicken, but these birds...silent.  It is a sound I have not heard in person.  We came and we saw and then we counted to steal a line from Komito.  Later, I celebrated with a beer I hiked up the mountain...IT WAS GREAT!

The ladies celebrated by riding the snow in a homemade toboggan  .

We celebrate each in our own won't catch me doing that but it was a good spectator sport.

We went down and then headed out of the beautiful canyon.  I noticed two things.  First there were dogs being walked up the trail...wonderful dogs.  I looked for hummingbirds but found none.  Nevada was my kind of place, and they even liked dogs.  What is it with calliope hummers though?  There were other birds....

Clark's nutcrackers

Lena flushed a dusky grouse but I didn't see it.  I found a red-naped sapsucker, she didn't see.  We both got a dusky flycatcher and Brewer's sparrows.

We drove back to Wendover where I had a photo op with Wendover Will

I had nothing to do with the crime scene tape, honest.

This bit of Americana has stood like a beacon on the west side of the Great Salt Basin luring in travelers (gamblers) for a half century, a large beacon of light stood for thirty years before that.  It is the world's largest mechanical cowboy.  Wendover is also part of the only place that has succeeded, almost....well the US Congress voted to allow it to move to Nevada....the two state solution for these 2500 people is not working well but the Senate has blacked it.  Maybe the Utah border will move...some day.  I must ask, maybe Utah is not nirvana? what was I washing off my feet ten miles down the road?  Maybe I was just numbing them for my return to Utah?

I made a third attempt up in the Little Cottonwood Canyon for the calliope.  The women set up a vigil at the village hall and I went looking around.  I crashed a decidedly non-LDS wedding.  The groomsmen were drinking beer in the parking lot.  No hummers....I found another wedding.  Then the women went to look for food...nope the Alta Rustler  

I went up past Alta from Albion trails and then I got buzzed.  A tiny calliope just about went between my legs from a patch of flowers near where they parked the snow machines.  

742.  Calliope Hummingbird.  I chased it but lost it.  Then I saw the only red thing around.  Two feeders at Albion grill a hundred yards away AND they were open.  We ordered hamburgers at closing time, 6pm. Finally a bit of luck, the cook began to fry.

I waited on the deck on a vigil, watching the two feeders, one broad-tailed, then another.....finally nachos eaten, things were looking grim and LE said, behind the feeder.  I turned and there it was, I grabbed for my camera as the calliope dove down off the deck.  Photographing that bird is like trying to photograph Sasquatch....the ladies were tired so we went back to the the motel.  I would not photograph this bird.  I was ready to leave Utah anyhow , and I wasn't sure I wanted to return.  FWIW the numbers

Big Year Total:  742
Coded Birds:  76
provisionals: 1 + 2

number to go to old record:  8
Miles driven.  33,204
Flight Miles 106, 100
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 112   Different Airports: 43
Hours at sea: 178
Miles walked 241
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12
states/ prov. birded: 35
Lifers seen this year:  59
nights slept in car:  12
Airplane:  4

flights, $720
Hotel in Snowbird:  $180
not sure what wife paid for place in SLC, I guess that was on her
rental cars, $240
Beatty's $5
gas.  $55
hat and pants, $100
food, $110
lifer beers $30
total $1440
the memories:  priceless

Nevada was a fine place though.  The Ruby's were the surprise of the year.  It was an enjoyable hike.
Utah...the life elevated.....well I guess it was.  No dogs..really?  What really is wrong with snowboarders?  I guess I won't be coming here for a ski vacation.  You can't have it all.  I'm keeping plugging along, three more birds.  742. is my number.  Better still.. Lena is at 499!  Got to get one more that is for sure.

I tip my new hat to her and



  1. Thanks for the additional photos of the sparrow. Baird's is easily eliminated by structure alone.

    1. So Alex. You are saying all the Minnesota birders are full of it then? I have stumped the professors. Well not I but the guy doing breeding bird survey that found it


    3. I wouldn't go so far as to say Baird's is easily eliminated in this lighting. However, characteristics of Savannah Sparrow including a streaky back, gray eyebrow, thin bill, extensive ventral streaking, and unbroken eye line are evident in these photographs.

    4. I would agree with Erik. I just spent a bunch of time parsing these species and Grasshopper Sparrow this past weekend in eastern Montana. In addition to Erik's marks, the strongly contrasting dark cap and the small-headed, long-tailed appearance of this bird is very wrong for Baird's or any other Ammodrammus. Scrutiny of bird ID is part and parcel of this sort of very public pursuit of a record, no one is "hating". I enjoy the blog, best of luck.

      Andy Boyce

  2. Understand that you were tired and feeling cranky, but even so...
    It is rare that even fancy places pay more than the minimum wage, so understandably they trawl for tips. Just a 'No thank you' suffices.

    Always be nice to people is what grandmother taught. She didn't exclude bellhops and parking lot valets.

    1. Understand was why embarrassed in morning. But what do you even tip these guys? Since I have no clue would rather walk. Like everyone is supposed to know. I guess I didn't get memo. Idk.

  3. Great adventure! Onward, and get that ani.

  4. I was just in the Rubies at the Island Lake a couple weeks ago; I struck out on the Snowcocks, but it is a surprisingly beautiful location!

  5. Great that you got the snowcock, and, of course, the Calliope; probably not too many of these little guys much East of there.
    Totally agree with your feelings about the Rubys- Yosemite without the people. I guess we shouldn't say too much publicaly about this little piece of paradise, but, then, it is only birders who read these kind of blogs!!!
    Also terrific that Lauren is so close to 500; a real milestone for such a young, ( but proficient ) birder.

  6. Sasquatch really isnt that hard to photograph, just need some Slim should have tried it on the Calliope. The fact that you HAVE to put a disclaimer in that police tape doesnt involve you says a lot. Keep pluggin!!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Tropicbird is teasing you on eBird... Scratch it off already 😆

    2. It's one of your only big misses

    3. Also, sparrow photos look fine to me, what gives?

  8. Olaf-
    The manner in which others have called out the sparrows without providing specific critiques is a bit unfair. However, based on the words of Sibley and Pyle I have to agree it doesn't strike me as a Baird's sparrow.

    From Pyle: :From Savannah Sparrow....supercilium uniformly buffy ochre...eye line usually broken behind the eye; dark patches at the posterior corners of the auricular isolated of distinctly larger than the eye line and subauricular stripe." Goes on to list bander specific measurements...

    Images in Sibley and online show only full eye-ring and typically broken line behind the eye. As for the central dot, I would say most skeptics will simply believe you have the photos of two different birds up there.

    I don't know what you saw or heard. We can only respond to the photos. It's your list. And if you do go to North Dakota, who cares. But I think the skepticism is justified. It could be a SAVS or a SAVS juvenile having already undergone its first molt out of the nest. Perhaps Alex and others can respond and say what else they disagree with the ID.

    1. This is just a classic example of birding being an "art" as much of a science. For us we heard a Baird's AND we saw this bird, never saw and heard at same time and what really does that mean? I've thought of the Juve idea the problem with that juve idea is the timing, if this had been mid July, I think (IMH and worthless? opinion) would have opened a whole can of worms, but being mid-June, in northern tier, the timing doesn't work well. We had a late spring not sure can clutch and fledge fast enough to get to this molt up here. Many birds I can give the nuances of but this isn't one of them..crap, I missidentified my lifer from 32 years ago.....if a North Dakota MT birder was making the comments...I would listen more. I don;t know what the full body of the MN rare bird committee is going to say, just got the one comment, which I find interesting in the definative. Savannah's are a backyard bird, from initial look to now, and added to my SD buddies, that doesn't look like a Savannah we've seen, no eye ring for a Vesper, just wrong on two things for a Lincoln's, but a diagnosis of exclusion is not a good one. It is my list, BUT...For what I'm doing even the remotest bit of uncertainty is not good. I'm sure a couple of you think I haven't even left home this whole year, and I know I really need 742 perfect pictures plus sound and witnesses so in one sense why do I even bother. No this is not a knock, on anyone, just the cold harsh truth. Who really is this guy named Olaf? I just thought I could best Neil Hayward and thought I had a really sound plan. 59 lifers in a year has turned out to be the ride so to speak of my life. Luckily on this bird, I live four hours from Baird's central. Barring something rare, I'll go up next week

    2. could always be a second bird, they were 30 yards apart....or could be 200 miles and 2 years apart, ....after seeing a guy trying to sell a fork-tailed flycatcher photo in Florida this spring taken on a powerline taken it turns out 3 years earlier and stolen from someone's flickr account, even pictures become suspect. A KWQD report with picture in Feb was dismissed out of hand by most. Just the way it is and it has become. I got better things to do than make this bird up but ......

  9. For those interested, here's a bird that could be the twin of Olaf's from the wintering grounds:

    1. Those photos do appear similar to the first photos Olaf provided, but the new photos are very different. I wonder if the lighting was messing with the first ones. With the second photos provided, I would call it a pretty clear cut Savannah Sparrow.

      And just a tip for Olaf: Everyone makes mistakes. Although the eBird reviewer clearly has expertise in the region, it is possible that he could have identified the bird wrong. It is also quite a rare bird in Minnesota, so it would be understandable if the reviewer had less experience with the species.

  10. Impressive, as always. You are in great position. Rooting for you to remain focused and looking forward to seeing what the potentially significantly higher BIG Year record number might be!

  11. I've just downloaded iStripper, and now I enjoy having the hottest virtual strippers on my desktop.


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