Sunday, April 24, 2011

Looking for Loons in All the Wrong Places

It's getting harder and harder to easily see new birds in Utah as my life list keeps growing, but earlier this month I had the best of luck looking for loons on the mountain reservoirs. While most spring birds have not made extended appearances yet, the common loons are most gracious as they pass through the mountain west, and they readily rest on the deep, chilled reservoirs before continuing their flights north.

I have always wanted to see a loon and add these unique and distinctive birds to my life list, and it was far easier than I'd imagined. We'd no sooner driven to the westernmost edge of the Deer Creek Reservoir when I spied a distinctive head and low-riding back in the water, and we quickly turned to park alongside the edge and enjoy views as the bird floated serenely on the choppy waves, occasionally dipping its face into the water to spy fish before diving to hunt.

Further up the canyon and deeper into the reservoir, we saw even more loons, all placidly enjoying a swim. Their checkered plumage, banded necks, and rich, dark heads are unmistakable, and I could have looked at them all day. In total, at least two dozen of the birds were widely spaced on the water, keeping well away from early spring fishers.

The most interesting thing is that no field guide mentions that common loons can be commonly seen in Utah. Granted, the timing has to be perfect - they only pass through this area for a short time on migration, and one has to know where to look to get these privileged views. For several years now, I've tried loon-spotting on the wrong days or in the wrong areas, always to go home disappointed.

Not this year; the loons were beautiful, my life list is one longer, and spring is getting off to a great start.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A First Sign of Spring

Despite it now being mid-April, winter has been protracted this year and spring isn't as advanced as you would expect. The weather is warming and flowers are beginning to bloom, however, but most trees are holding tight to their winter hibernation, at least for the moment.

Still, I saw the first sign of spring in my backyard several days ago with the reappearance of the Cassin's finches - at least two pair, with the brightly colored males and boldly marked females both visiting the feeders and snacking on hulled sunflower seed. Theoretically, Cassin's finches are found in Utah year-round, but that has never been the case in my yard. They will visit for a few weeks to take advantage of the food and shelter I provide, but as the trees begin to embrace the warming season they will disappear to better nesting areas and more natural food sources.

Despite the season's delay, migrants are starting to appear - I've noticed a few yellow-rumped warblers flitting about the trees nearby, and the numbers of birds at my feeders are beginning to rise. Hopefully this pause in the season will be over soon, and I'll have more than the one rosy sign of spring my yard has thus far seen.