Saturday, January 4, 2014

Errand Birding: More Productive Than Simply Birding?

By "Errand Birding" I mean watching for birds while running errands. Sometimes, and I say this with a smile, it becomes unclear which one has priority.

So I knew this morning it was going to be a day for personal errands and helping others. I passed on doing a local Audubon Christmas Bird Count because I had other responsibilities. I was prepared to not have my usual Saturday morning bird experiences, but I did load my camera into my truck before beginning my errands. On my way to the local Costco in Lehi, Utah I drove a few blocks out of the way to see if one of the Harlan's Hawks I had previously located was still present. It was present and flew over head.

Dark-morph Harlan's Hawk Lehi, UT
Dark-morph Harlan's Hawk Lehi, UT
Just as I arrived at Costco I heard the call of an American Crow. Seconds later I saw the bird flying and then landing. American Crows are not very common in Utah County. Most of the time a "large black bird" in Utah County turns out to be a Raven. Crows are more common in Salt Lake and other Counties north of Utah County. Some of us bird nuts in Utah County are curious about why we don't see more crows and where they may actually nest in the county. I spoke to a lady who lives where I saw the crows today and she said, "they are always here." I'll have to keep an eye out to see if they nest in the spring.

American Crow in Lehi, UT
American Crow in Lehi, UT
I had to take my truck in for some routine maintenance and it took longer than I expected. When I called to update my wife she informed me she wouldn't be home for a while either. Once my truck was finished I decided to make a quick look for a Harris's Sparrow that had been reported recently by a good birding friend of mine. I didn't expect much since no one had reported seeing it recently, but I tried. It turned out to be almost the first bird I saw when I arrived at the reported location.

Harris's Sparrow Provo, UT
So far each of the four or so Harris's Sparrows I've located or observed was hanging out with White-crowned Sparrows that show up en masse in our valleys during the winter months. The juvenile White-crowned Sparrow below was among the group that included the Harris's Sparrow this afternoon. This one was on the ground next to my truck.

White-crowned Sparrow in Provo, UT
A curious Spotted Towhee made a short appearance in the same tree as the Harris's Sparrow. Those blood red eyes and black hood seem menacing. The rufous sides with white belly are striking. What a combination of colors for this secretive bird.

Spotted Towhee in Provo, UT
I also noticed something I had never seen before, but it made sense when I saw it. Ring-necked pheasants were climbing into trees and eating the fruit of Russian Olive and other trees in the area. I couldn't get a good view of the colorful male pheasant, but I did manage a distant shot of a plain looking hen pheasant. I'm used to seeing these birds moving low to the ground, not climbing into trees.

Ring-necked Pheasant Eating Berries in a Tree in Provo, UT
I decided to head home to get dinner ready and was making a call to a friend when a slender looking hawk atop a power pole caught my attention. I asked my friend to hold for a moment and then let him know I'd call him back. I'm sure he understood because he too is an "errand birder". The hawk turned out to be a Cooper's Hawk as I got closer. I managed a couple of shots before it flew down toward a gardening center. The hawk landed on the top of a net-covered chicken coop. It was back lit at that point. I'm surprised at how different the same bird can look depending on it's posture, lighting, etc. The angle of the first image gives it a stocky look and the final images present a very slender look.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk in Vineyard, UT
The hawk was back lit for the final images. I was able to increase the exposure compensation on the spot to keep most of the detail from being shadowed by the back lighting.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk Above a Chicken Coop in Vineyard, UT
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk Above a Chicken Coop in Vineyard, UT
The hawk suddenly noticed something below and dropped down and out of sight. I wonder if it found it's afternoon meal?

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk  Preparing to Give Chase to its Prey From Above a Chicken Coop in Vineyard, UT


  1. I love the idea of 'errand birding'. I guess this is what I mainly do.

    1. This is one of the great things about birding. You can do it pretty much anywhere and anytime. I hope the next errand you run is productive!