Mountain West Birding Company Birds, Big Years, & Boredom

Over the years I’ve blogged in various places. I’ve come to the decision that I am creating one place to blog, that will filter out to all these other places. For this, I introduce, Birds, Big Years, and Boredom!

Flammulated Owl “Flammulated Owling”, 2018
Cassia Crossbill “Most Wanted”, 2018

The Mountain West Most Wanted Tour posted by Tim Avery @ Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Okay, so about a year ago I was talking with my buddy Kenny Frisch about the most requested tours I get each summer.  Besides the obvious Flammulated Owl trips which are the majority of my tours, I also get a fair number of requests to see Black Rosy-Finch and Chukar.  These 3 species easily account for like 99% of my trips nowadays.  But I also get a few requests each year to see Black Swift and Himalayan Snowcock.  These 5 birds come up in more emails and requests than anything else.  I had the idea for a tour that brought these 5 birds together, as well as more than 140 other species.  It would be a quick tour--5 days and 4 nights out of Salt Lake City.

Kenny quipped something to the effect of, "The Most Wanted Tour". Boom! Mountain West Most Wanted.  It flows so nicely.  So after thinking about it for the better part of the last year and working on an itinerary, I've finally got this tour ready to go.  The 1st ever Mountain West Most Wanted Tour kicks off July 20, 2017!  Here is the teaser from our website:

Himalayan Snowcock, Black Rosy-Finch, Black Swift, Chukar, Flammulated Owl and More! This is the mother of all mountain west birding trips. This intensive 5-day tour will focus on the most highly sought after birds of the mountain west, the BIG 5 as we call them. Fast-paced bird-filled days should have you in and out in a weekend with a list full of life birds!

And the itinerary:

Day 1 (THU): Arrive in Salt Lake City by 5:00 pm and transfer to hotel. At 6:00 pm we'll have a brief overview of the coming days trip, complete with a catered dinner. By 7:00 pm we'll be on our way to a nearby canyon and waterfall where we'll scan the skies above for the elusive and amazing BLACK SWIFT. We'll also see the more common White-throated Swift, along with Violet-green Swallow and possibly Golden Eagle soaring overhead. As darkness descends on the mountain west we'll visit a nearby forest to look for our second target of the trip--the tiny, moth-eating, black-eyed, flame-streaked wonder of the mountain west--the FLAMMULATED OWL. We should be able to track these beauties down while also finding Common Poorwill and Ruffed Grouse. Night in Salt Lake City, Utah

Day 2 (FRI): If we missed out swift the night before we'll try again this morning before making our way into the mountains to look for our third target of the trip. Arriving in the Uinta National Forest, we'll climb to 11,000'. Here we might encounter American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, and Pine Grosbeak. After a short hike to the barren tundra above, we'll seek out a North American endemic in the BLACK ROSY-FINCH. In recent years White-tailed Ptarmigan have expanded to the area from further east and are always a possibility. Mountain Bluebird often flycatch over the open grass and rocks above the tree line. The views from up here are incredible and will create memories to last a lifetime. We'll play the rest of the morning and afternoon by ear as we need to leave Salt Lake City by 3:00 pm for our 4-hour drive into Nevada. We should arrive before dark and will have a hearty dinner before turning in early for the night. Night in Elko, Nevada

Day 3 (SAT): Leaving the warmth of our beds in the dark we'll head into the nearby mountains to be at a trailhead 90 minutes before sunrise. In the dark, we'll make our way up the trail towards Island Lake and the easiest spot for HIMALAYAN SNOWCOCK viewing in the United States. This highly sought after introduced species spends the summers high on the ridges of the Ruby Mountains, and most mornings can be heard calling, and often seen as it forages among the rocks. We'll spend the first few hours of daylight here before retreating to the desert below. Despite being in the middle of summer we'll try to turn up Sagebrush Sparrow and Sage Thrasher nearby. The afternoon will be relaxed with another early evening. Night in Elko, Nevada

Day 4 (SUN): Today is a backup day for the snowcock. If we didn't have great views on Saturday or had weather issues, we'll head back into the mountains for a second round, before packing up in the afternoon and heading back to Salt Lake City. If we had good fortune on Saturday, this morning we'll bird the surrounding desert before heading back to Utah. We'll plan birding accordingly to fit in with either scenario. We'll enjoy a great dinner tonight at one of Utah's best Mexican restaurants before watching the sunset on the Great Salt Lake. If for some reason the weather was inclement on our first night, we’ll use tonight for swifts and owls again. Night in Salt Lake City, Utah

Day 5 (MON): On your last day in the mountain west, we'll kick things off at the world famous Great Salt Lake. We'll take a tour of a local island where our 5th and final target of the trip resides--another introduced game bird, the CHUKAR. Other birds we often encounter while on this day include Burrowing Owl, Barn Owl, Rock Wren, Long-billed Curlew, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Say's Phoebe. On the shores of the lake, it's the time of year for the very first southbound shorebird migrants to show up with Wilson's and Red-necked Phalarope both possible. We'll finish off the trip with one last visit to the mountains where Western Tanager, Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and MacGillivray's Warbler are possible. In the afternoon we'll drop you off to continue the rest of your visit or for your outbound flights (after 5:00 pm).

We can expect to see around 150 species of birds during this tour, as well as more than 10 species of mammals. We'll be hiking at elevations between 4,200' and 12,000' with hikes up to 2 miles each way possible. Please be sure you are in the right physical condition to take part in this adventure!

Sound like something you want to do? Click here or on any of the images in this post to get more information or to sign up!

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It's a Cackler, look at the bill, vol. 2, the video posted by Tim Avery @ Friday, January 20, 2017

Just a video I shot of that Cackling Goose last week.  Look at the bill...

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Death From Above: Peregrines Killing Vagrants posted by Tim Avery @ Thursday, January 19, 2017

This Peregrine tried unsuccessfully to take out a Cattle Egret in the desert

If you're tuned into the national rare bird scene, you might be aware of something that happened in San Francisco this past week.  Here, I can't tell it better than those who saw it happen:

The Ross's Gull was just taken by a pair of Peregrine's, 2:10 PM today, Saturday, from the same muddy field reported earlier. The actual hunt lasted no more than 30 s. The Peregrine's got it in the air, and then the gull didn't stand a chance.  
We were all stunned.  
Lynn Miller/Patrick Temple

Yeah! That's right, a vagrant Ross's Gull in San Francisco was taken out by a Peregrine Falcon in front of birders who were watching the stunning bird.  What a way to go!  So I'm not going to lie, when I read this I thought to myself, "this is freaking awesome!".  You might be thinking that's kind of a dick thing to think, but come one, think about it.  This bird that is 1,000's of miles from where it normally is found had been around a day and a half in California and boom! Finished.  What are the odds? Really, think about that, out of the 1,000's of gulls present along the coast, the Peregrine managed to get the rarest of them all.  How? Why?  Is there a reason?

I've found it interesting that over the years I've heard several stories and seen for myself, Peregrine Falcon's going after birds that are seemingly out of place.  This begs two questions:

Is this normal? Do predators regularly go after birds that are out of place?


Is it just that people tend to be paying closer attention to vagrants, so when one is picked off by a predator, we tend to notice?

And maybe it's a little bit of both.  Here's a look at some of my favorite vagrant meet Peregrine stories.

Peregrine v.s Parasitic

Peregrine Falcon chasing Parasitic Jaeger

So this is from my personal file.  In the fall of 2005 an emaciated Parasitic Jaeger showed up in northern Utah.  My friend Colby Neuman and I were the first people to chase the bird the morning following the report.  As we watched the bird and I was taking photographs, a dark streak flashed through my lens, and then the jaeger was gone.  Colby was freaking out and let me know a Peregrine had just attacked! I got out of the car and watched the falcon chasing the jaeger out over the Great Salt Lake until both bird disappeared out of sight.  I thought for sure the jaeger was a goner, but about 10 minutes later it drifted back on to the beach and landed right where it had been before.  The falcon lost this battle, but the jaeger died a couple days later on its own.

Peregrine v.s. Purple

Check out the orange feet of a Purple Sandpiper

So this story is strictly anecdotal.  I don't know the facts but was told this by a birder while I lived in Indiana in 2006.  Every winter Purple Sandpiper show up on Lake Michigan.  Usually in relatively small numbers if at all.  If you know PUSA, you know they like rocks, and the best places to look tend to be break walls and jetties.  In Michigan City, there is a great break wall where these birds have been reported sporadically in the past.  As the story goes a birded ventured out around Thanksgiving one year following the report of a sandpiper.  They arrived at the break wall and were scoping it when they found a Peregrine Falcon sitting on the wall.  Upon closer inspection they noticed two bright orange feet sticking out from underneath the falcon.  The sandpiper wasn't reported again and the assumption is that is was breakfast.  Whether or not there is any truth to this story, it remains one of my favorites.

Peregrine v.s Egret

One lucky Cattle Egret avoids the Peregrine Falcon Attack

This is another one from the personal archives and involves a pair of Cattle Egrets in Washington, Utah.  Wath remains of this farming community rests on the edge of the Mojave Desert and isn't a great place for birds like Cattle Egrets.  They do pass through during migration, but this was only the 2nd time I had seen them in the county.  In a flooded field were a handful of shorebirds, ibis, ducks, and the pair of egrets going about their business as usual.  As my friend Kenny Frisch and I watched the birds a Peregrine Falcon slammed into one and attempted to take off--but the egret fought back.  For several minutes the Peregrine tried to stoop on the egret as it worked on hiding in some tall grass, finally managing to do so and leaving the falcon empty handed.  The ibis eventually flew right past us, looking a bit unkempt, but alive.

For those keeping score, it's tied 2-2 Peregrine v.s. "Vagrants".  So here's the tie-breaker, and perhaps the best story--mainly because there is video...

Peregrine v.s. Ibis

On April 26, 2011, a White-faced ibis that had been seen for most of the previous week at Plum Island, Massachusetts was being watched by a class from Green Mountain College.  While the class was watching, and video was being taken explaining that this was a rare bird for Massachusetts, a Peregrine Falcon enters scene right.  I'll let the video take it from here:

Make that Peregrine 3 - "Vagrants" 2...  The clear winner the Peregrine Falcon.  The ibis video while amazing, and sensational because of the college kids and their reactions, is just another example of a Peregrine taking out a bird that is seemingly out of place.

But, that still doesn't answer the why?  In each case above there are other far more common birds the falcon could have taken instead. In each case, the rarity is what was attacked.  Predatorial birds and animals are well known to go after the weakest, often injured and sick individuals because it poses the least challenge with the greatest chance of reward.  In many cases are these out of place birds obviously the weakest link to the predators?  Whatever it is, it's an interesting topic, and one that I think about a lot when I see falcons.  Now whenever I see a rare bird I'm always keeping one eye to the sky so I can see the next attack coming!

Have you witnessed a Peregrine attacking an out of place bird?  If so share below!

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Ruddy Turnstone Limited Edition Print posted by Tim Avery @ Wednesday, January 18, 2017

So the 2017 ABA Bird of the Year is one of my favorites--it's a shorebird and a species that was my Utah nemesis bird.  It wasn't for lack of trying, I just seemingly missed the Ruddy Turnstone at every "turn".  So... Anyways, my first Utah Ruddy Turnstone came in 2007--not on the coast or at a beach, but right here in northern Utah.  Imagine having spent a morning hiking around a 12,000' peak looking for White-tailed Ptarmigan.  The hike is a success and as you return to a normal elevation and cell phone coverage, you have a phone full of voicemails.  Birders aware of your current big year attempt want to let you know there's a turnstone at Bear River MBR on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake.  The only problem--you're 5 hours away...

Well, needless to say, I didn't let that stop me, and after a long long drive, I finally nabbed that turnstone--on a mudflat, in a drying out unit of a bird refuge in the desert.  It was a beauty, and the most colorful turnstone I've ever seen.  Check it out here.

Now since then, I of course as with all nemesis birds, have seen more than I ever could've imagined in Utah--and beyond.  I've seen them in Oregon and California, and in Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

The nemesis no more is now a bird I come across several times every year.

With the ABA announcing this clown-faced, flipper of rocks, dweller of beaches, and all around handsome as a devil Ruddy Turnstone as their bird of the year, I decided to design a  print showing my admiration of the bird.

This is going to be limited to 100 prints at each of the following sizes:

8x10 - $15

16x20 - $25

+ $5 S&H anywhere in the lower 48

Either will be a matte finish and come shipped to your door in a protective tube or envelope. If you like turnstones or know a shorebird aficionado, this print is the perfect way to show your admiration for the clown of the beach. You can get yours today through the link below!

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It's a Cackler, look at the bill posted by Tim Avery @ Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One of my all time favorite quotes from one of the biggest personalities in birding here in Utah, "It's a Cackler, look at the bill!".  You have to know the voice to understand the effect of this sentence.  A few birders reading this might know who I'm referring to and can really appreciate what a great quote it is.  And speaking of Cacklers, and "those bills", here is a Cackling Goose I came across on the way home from work this week, just a couple miles from home in the heart of Sandy, Utah.

"Look at bill!!!"

And here it is next to a lovely little "Lesser" or Parvipes Canada Goose, showing how much smaller it is and how that bill shape is so different.

Lesser Canada Goose (L) with Cackling Goose (R)

Much to my chagrin, this goose has kept around the area much of the week and was still here over the weekend.  I'm a little obsessed with undersized white-chinned geese, and any chance I get to look at Cackling Geese I overindulge.  I've got twice as many Cackling Goose photos on my website as Canada Goose--despite the obvious disparity in the number of Canada Geese over Cackling Geese I see annually.  So when I drove through "downtown" Sandy and saw the flock of geese was feeding in the median on Centennial Parkway, I couldn't help but pull up and take a few more pictures...

Cackling Goose (L) and Lesser Canada Goose (R)

 Lesser Canada Goose (L) with Cackling Goose (R)

Grainy picture in terrible light--but I had to take it... Just "look at the bill"

So the point of this post--there is no point, I just really like Cackling Geese.  But if there must be a takeaway, it's this--next time you see a Cackling Goose, point at it and say the following in a voice that makes you smile, "It's a Cackler, look at the bill".  It will make your birding experience all the more enjoyable!



Waxwing Poetic posted by Tim Avery @ Monday, January 09, 2017

So, sometimes I get annoyed with other birders... I can't help it.  We already are a strange group--we spend our free time looking at birds.  I mean it could be worse, we could spend all that time fixated on a TV watching garbage like Duck Dynasty or 16 and Pregnant.  We could be glued video games, wasting our lives away.  We could be into collecting things, like stamps, or crystal figurines.  We could focus our energy solely on fantasy football--which let's be honest is dungeons and dragons for jocks (or sports nerds like myself).  But we choose to watch birds.  Some think it's strange, I think its awesome.  BUT... Not so awesome that I break out into poem or soliloquy about birds.  They're cool and all, but we need to relax on waxing poetic.

Don't get me wrong, birds bring out an array of emotions in people.  I've seen grown adults brought to tears when a 50 person charter bus rumbled over a family of Dusky Grouse crossing a road during a tour.  I watched Big Year Birder Greg Miller, illuminated solely by headlamp, do a happy dance in the dark in the middle of a state road after finally seeing a Flammulated Owl.  I myself have been known to high five, fist bump, and get giddy when I find something awesome, or have a successful 300-mile chase to southern Utah.  But, you'll never find me waxing poetic about it.

I won't turn to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, my blog, or anywhere and turn birding into some romanticized fairy tale. It's not, it's just looking at birds.  I won't write in descriptive overtones to set a scene. I won't over describe a bird--this might just be my biggest pet peeve with birders.  We know what a flipping Prothonotary Warbler looks like.  Describing the color yellow, or the offset blue-gray as anything more than what I just did is overkill (okay, you can say golden-yellow in the face and I won't complain).  I've noticed a trend with birders to talk about birding as if it were a transformative experience.  It's just birds.  Like it. Love it. Make it your way of life.  But quit it with the haikus. Stop it with the poems laid over the pictures of birds.

"Tim, you're being an a$$hole".  My inner monolog quipped.  Okay, so #endRant.  The point is here is a picture of a pretty epic Bohemian Waxwing I took yesterday at the University of Utah.  It;s a pretty awesome bird.  I think the photo speaks volumes.

But I'm not going to sit here and start waxwing poetic about it... See what I did there?  Sometimes we just need to share a picture, and not make it out to be anything other than what it is--in this case a bird.  so next time you want to write about your latest "birdquest", take a step back and remember your audience--although I guess knowing so many birders, some of you should probably just wax on...

Here are a few more waxwing shots since you made it this far...

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Just a Sharpie posted by Tim Avery @ Friday, January 06, 2017

Look at this death dealer spying me from above... I know there's a lot wrong with this photo--the overexposure has been as corrected as can be--the fuzziness of the head is what it is--but it's all with good reason.  This year Santa brought me a brand spanking new Canon 80D and this was one of my first test shots--a flight shot to boot.  When this tiny Sharp-shinned Hawk glided over the first time, it was so small I actually thought it was a Merlin.  But when it landed those white undertail coverts were a glaring statement to the contrary.  Raptor guru and photographer extraordinaire Jerry Ligouri would have shamed me for not looking at the shape and realizing it was obviously a Sharpie.  Duh Tim!

That's all this post is about--just a Sharpie.  But one damn good looking beast if I do say so myself!

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Sapsucker Art posted by Tim Avery @ Thursday, January 05, 2017

Check out this gorgeous piece of sapsucker art from Salt Lake City.  The non-birders who found it sent me a picture of the bird for help identifying it--the grainy cell phone shot looked like it might be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which is a pretty damn good bird for northern Utah--it would be a county lifer for me.  I've asked the homeowners to let me know if it comes back so I can maybe have a looksie.

But who cares about lifers, or county birds when this bad ass, steel-billed, destroyer of trees can create such an amazing piece of artwork. Organizational chaos.  It's like OCD mixed with ADD.  I love it.  Something about sapsucker drill sites always leave me in awe.

And, if you have a woodpecker wreaking havoc on your trees and want to stop the carnage, don't do what my cousins from the hills would do and resort to a revolver.  That's illegal, and there are more effective, and environmentally friendly ways to deter future destruction:

Woodpecker Control Methods BTYB the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Mic Check, 1, 2, 3... posted by Tim Avery @ Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Okay, so no one is probably going to read this first post on my new blog.  I've decided instead of investing my energy in making anti-trump memes for the next 4 years to use it for something more constructive and useful.  I have failed miserably at bird blogging the past few years.  What used to be a regular outlet and place of sharing has become a rare escape.  So in 2017 I'm changing that with this new blog.  Birds, Big Years, and Boredom.  I think that will cover the subject matter here pretty well.  I will write mostly about birds, because well, that's the point of a birding blog.  I will talk about big years, with my recent 2016 big year record in Utah, taking out my 2007 big year record I figured big years are something I can talk about--and well, I like to talk about.  And lastly, boredom--this is the catchall for anything else I decide to pull in here and let loose with.  That may be politics, that may be the environment, it could be a delicious cheeseburger in Green River, Utah, or where to find the best food in Disneyland (yes I am keen on this).  I am replacing my blogs at all my other sites with this one--that will feed into them.

So I'm testing the mic, and setting up stage for what will hopefully be entertaining, informational, and at least maybe a few people will check it out on a regular enough basis that I spend some time using it.  If you're here, it's probably because you know me at this point, or for some reason you clicked on a link on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever and were just like phuckit, I want to see what this is about.  Well regardless, here is a little back info on me.  My name is Tim Avery, I live in the beautiful Little Cottonwood Creek Valley, in Sandy, Utah, right at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  It's scenic, beautiful, inspiring, and the gateway to some of the best birding in the Mountain West.  Speaking of the Mountain West, I own Mountain West Birding Company, a guiding outfit that specializes in Flammulated Owl Tours, as well as any bird finding needs you might have while in Utah and hopefully expanding into the surrounding states in 2017 and 2018.

What else, I like birds obviously.  I started birding when I was a wee lad (I was never that wee, and currently stand 6'4" towering over most common men and women) mostly in the style of Audubon.  Yes, I took my BB gun into the field and "collected" the occasional specimen.  One day, I realized I was being a total dick and stopped.  I met another kid who liked birds, he showed me his field guide.  One thing led to another and that gateway drug had me hooked.  Here 20+ years later I haven't looked back besides to remember these "facts" and share them here.   I've been happily married to my lovely wife Sam for almost 6 years.  We met over a decade ago working at an outdoors store here in Utah.  Since then we've traveled the world, and spawned a minion named Cameron, who is the delight of our lives.

Occasionally, I piss people off.  I don't necessarily speak before I think--but I often just speak my mind.  I put thought into what I am going to say, and that sometimes comes across in not the most tactful of ways.  What I've found interesting over the years is that if I do it, I get chastised, while I watch others do it with glee and never catch shit for it.  So with this blog, I gleefully say, if you have an issue, go phuck yourself. Phew, got that out of the way, now I can just let the good times roll.  Okay? Is this thing working? Mic Check? 1... 1, 2, 3?  Alrighty then, see you next time!

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More Blog Posts

What an amazing experience! We brought two of our kids out on a Flammulated Owl tour with Tim and it was amazing.
Niki J. “Flammulated Owling”, 2017
Himalayan Snowcock and Cassia Crossbill! Another trip with Tim, another success! These were the "big two" for this trip and Tim delivered in spades.
Paul K. “Most Wanted”, 2018
It is great to see a guide who gets excited about seeing the birds and at the same time cares about their welfare!
David D. “Multi-day Tour”, 2018
Tim is a fantastic guide so friendly and kind. He's funny too. I felt very comfortable on his tour which was sold out.
Melissa H. “Flammulated Owling”, 2018
This was my first experience with a guided bird trip and it could not have been better.
Robin C. “1/2 Day Tour”, 2017

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