Category: Hikes/Walks (Page 1 of 2)

Canada Jay at 10,000 feet

Canada Jay Thousand Lake Mountain Utah

Canada Jay, Thousand Lake Mountain, Utah

A lifer Canada Jay on Thousand Lake Mountain

Before we came out to Utah, I came up with a list of five birds that were possible lifers on the trip, Each was a long-shot. In order of how likely it was I thought I could see them, they were:

  1. Dusky Grouse
  2. Northern Goshawk
  3. Calliope Hummingbird
  4. Canada Jay
  5. American Three-toed Woodpecker

The boys and I had a flyover Northern Goshawk early in our trip. I saw another Goshawk just a couple of days ago, in the same area. While wandering Boulder Mountain upstream from Singletree Campground, a historic site for a Goshawk nest, I noticed a big bird flying towards me about 75 yards away, at eye level. As crazy as it sounds, the first thought that came into my head was Canada Goose. Must’ve been based on wingspan and white belly. But it quickly became clear that this was no goose. It was a Goshawk coming right for me. It dodged a couple of trees, and did a Maverick-like Top Gun fly-by just 5 feet over my head. We looked each other in the eyes. It then vanished into a stand of trees that I couldn’t believe it flew through without clipping its wings.   

A few days later, wandering around Mill Meadow Reservoir northeast of Loa, I got a short but clear view of a Calliope Hummingbird along a creek. On another day, I took a hike up to Coleman reservoir, south of Teasdale, the sight of a forest fire in 2012. Turns out, it was started by an arsonist who gained the thanks and praise of some locals for starting the fire. I went there because American Three-toed Woodpeckers like recently burned areas. I didn’t think a fire that burned 8 years ago was recent enough, but I thought it was worth a try. There were burned trees all over, but no target woodpecker.

Flatiron Lake Teasdale Utah

A small lake in the burn area

Two places near Torrey offered a chance of both Canada Jay and Dusky Grouse. The first is Boulder Mountain, where someone reported both species at Chokecherry Point just a few days ago. It’s a 3.3 mile hike each way from the highway. The hike starts at 8,600 feet, and ends at 10,700. This spot is in Garfield County. 

The other option is Thousand Lake Mountain. Dusky Grouse has been reported there twice, each a July sighting. Canada Jay has been reported there three times, including near Elkhorn Campground in May. There is a 8 mile dirt road to Elkhorn Campground (elevation 9,800 feet). But I didn’t know if it was a Prius-accessible road. Elkhorn Campground is in Wayne County. (I mention the counties because birders can be weird about county lists. And Torrey is in Wayne County. And for reasons that only make sense to some birders, I preferred (if I could) to add birds to my Wayne County list over my Garfield County list.)

Canada Jay Thousand Lake Mountain Utah

I am a sucker for this color scheme

I decided to attempt the drive up to Elkhorn Campground first. On the maps, the dirt road to the campground is a dark-red dotted line, and all the other dark-red dotted line dirt roads I’ve driven in the area were well-maintained, frequently-graded dirt roads that any sedan could handle. I was relieved to find that the case for this road, too. It was a steady climb, and a couple of sections had some bumpy rocks, but overall it was easy going. Indeed, the road was so good that I drove right past Elkhorn Campground to see how close I could get to a couple of lakes near the top of the mountain.

I pulled over at a spot called Clay Dugway Spring. As I stepped out of the car at 9:30am, a bunch of birds flitted about the spring: Western Tanagers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, American Robins, Mountain Chickadees. I headed off toward Deep Creek Lake. As I walked the road, I came upon a picnic area. Moving about were three Canada Jays. Two were adults, with mostly white heads. The third was a sooty gray juvenile. They moved deliberately from tree to tree. Their flight was mesmerizing – big, slow wingbeats, and a swooping glide onto a perch. They didn’t stay around for long, but the views were great.

Deep Creek Lake Thousand Lake Mountain

Deep Creek Lake

Canada Jays were called Canada Jays until 1957, and then Gray Jays until the name changed back in 2018. They are also known as Whiskey Jacks and Camp Robbers. Apparently, they approach humans willingly, and will take food out of your hand. They also use sticky saliva to glue food to trees that they come back to during winter.  The Torrey area is about as far south as Canada Jays get in Utah.

I struck out on Dusky Grouse on Thousand Lake Mountain. Even though I thought it was the most likely addition to my life list, I’ve yet to see one. Looks like I’ll need to hike to Chokecherry Point before we leave. 

Northern Goshawk in Utah

Northern Goshawk, Singletree Campground, Utah

A Northern Goshawk on a perfectly timed flyover

A lifer Northern Goshawk

I mentioned in my previous post that my target bird for this trip to Utah was a Northern Goshawk. They are resident on Boulder Mountain, but uncommon. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time to see one. A chance, fleeting encounter with one this morning shows how a series of little moments and decisions can put you there.

My wife had to drive in to town this morning to get some provisions, so it was just me and the boys. If we don’t have a planned hike for a day, I’m usually up and out by 8 to get some birding in before a mid-morning family adventure. But I stuck around this morning, waiting for my youngest to wake up. If I had gone out birding, the boys and I wouldn’t have gone on a hike until after lunch (important decision). He finally roused at 9:30am (little moment). After some cajoling to get dressed, eat, and brush teeth, we left the house at 10:20. We were headed either for a half-mile hike to a waterfall that’s a 15-minute drive from the house, or to explore a slickrock formation just off the highway. The boys chose to do the waterfall hike first, then the rock on the way back (important decision).

Boulder Mountain Utah

Boulder Mountain

The waterfall trail takes off from Singletree Campground on Boulder Mountain. According to eBird entries, there’s been a Northern Goshawk nest in the area for over 20 years (so said the most recent sighting at this rarely eBirded spot, from 2013). When we pulled into the campground, the 2-car parking spot at the trailhead was full. We drove around the loop, waited behind a camper-trailer traffic jam, and parked farther away (little moments).  About halfway down the trail, you cross the creek. It’s a picturesque spot that can be good for birds, but there was a family there. So instead of lingering, we moved right along (little moment).

Northern Goshawk Boulder Mountain Utah

Northern Goshawk flying with indifference away from us

As we went down a section of steep switchbacks with loose rock (a time to keep your eyes on the ground), a big bird shadow moved past me. As is my habit, I immediately looked up, expecting to see a raven. Instead, I saw a hawk-shaped bird. I got it in my binoculars, and saw a gray back, a dark-tipped tail, and a whitish belly. It couldn’t be anything else but a lifer Northern Goshawk. I quickly fired off a few photos as the bird soared away from us and out of sight. I couldn’t believe our luck. All the decisions and delays had us at a particular spot when a Northern Goshawk flew over us in just the right place in the sky to cast a shadow within my field of view as I stared at the ground. 

Singleetree Waterfall Utah

The 25-foot falls on Singletree Creek

The trip has been good for birds of prey so far. The day before, I took a detour through some agricultural land on the way to the grocery store three “towns” over. At various spots along the way I saw two Golden Eagles soaring, a Prairie Falcon hunting the fields and eating some prey, and flushed a Swainson’s Hawk from a roadside utility pole. As usual, we’re having good times in Wonderland.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk Loa, UT

Prairie Falcon Loa, UT

Prairie Falcon on a distant utility pole

 

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