Utah and Nevada, United States - 17th - 22nd November 2011

Published by Noah Gaines (skater_ako1 AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Noah Gaines, Danielle Cvitanovich


This November, Danielle Cvitanovich and I took a few days off to explore Zion and Bryce National Parks. Along the way, we enjoyed spectacular scenery, birds, mammals, and rock art. See www.summitbirding.com for the photos that accompany this trip report!


6:20 pm left Santa Barbara CA for the Fiesta Casino in Henderson NV. Arrived at 12 am and paid 25 dollars for a room.


This was the first real day of our vacation and we awoke to a beautiful, clear, brisk desert morning. The Henderson Bird Preserve is an amazing water reclamation project with old dirt settling ponds fringed with 20+ year-old vegetation. The trails are all exquisitely maintained with lots of nice viewing opportunities. Tons of great open water, reedy, shoreline, and brushy habitat. I had foolishly promised her that I would not take her to a Sewage Treatment Plant. It took a little convincing to get Danielle to agree to this site. However, once she stepped out of the car, she was blown away as well. It has a great building and helpful, vibrant, and passionate staff. A CASSIN’S KINGBIRD greeted us at the first pond. A pair of WOOD DUCK was the first highlight. They were quickly followed by an AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN that circled the ponds several times, one time heading south a few hundred feet towards Lake Mead but eventually turning back to the ponds. We admired the bright chartreuse head of a VERDIN and even had a CRISSAL THRASHER singing atop an unobstructed bush 30 feet away! Other great encounters were a very close LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE from the viewing tower as it caught and destroyed several insects. Other birds included many jogging GREATER ROADRUNNERs, a swimming GREATER YELLOWLEGS, a close HORNED GREBE (with EARED for comparison), a frightened WILSON’S SNIPE, a PEREGRINE flyby, a whinnying SORA, and a grunting VIRGINIA RAIL. Back at the headquarters we learned that we missed a few birds. A great guide offered to take us back out on the birdmobile. We went on a desert safari adding a diving LONG-TAILED DUCK at the boardwalk, an immature male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, 2 BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERs, and 2 female HOODED MERGANSERS. However the best bird of the site was a territorial male COSTA’s HUMMINGBIRD at the feeder as he flashed his gorget at us then displayed his electric amethyst-colored handlebar moustache to a female.

We then drove to UT with a quick stop at the St George Dinosaur tracks site. Which was amazing but felt a bit confined indoors and behind DO NOT TOUCH signs.

Near Hurricane, we stopped at Quail Creek Reservoir on a tip from the Utah listserve. Here I quickly relocated the drake BARROW’S GOLDENEYE amongst the COMMON GOLDENEYE and a male HOODED MERGANSER.

We next drove through the park and were completely blown away by the sheer cliffs of ZION. I drove leaning forward on my seat looking up through the windshield mesmerized as the gorge became revealed. Although the views, hiking, and driving in Zion were first rate, the birds were surprisingly sparse throughout; despite ample riparian habitat with perhaps the largest collection of Cottonwoods (all changing to oranges and yellows) that I have ever seen.

Mule Deer and WILD TURKEYS frequently crossed the road, oblivious to the many gawking humans. As dusk fell, we crept down the road. Near the Zion Lodge, Danielle called out a mammal in the adjacent Emerald Pools Parking lot. It’s a GRAY FOX! No, 2…3…4….5 GRAY FOXES. They were shadowy and slinky as they sampled dead bugs and scraps of food. They seemed uninterested about the car and we parked in the middle of them as they continued to appear and disappear out of the darkness just feet from us.

Driving through the East side of the park seemed to take forever in the dark as I navigated deer, switchbacks, and 2 awesome tunnels.

Finally, we topped out on the plateau and saw the giant bronze warrior marking the ZION MOUNTAIN RANCH. The awesome check in and out, maid service, privacy, and scenery were a great deal for $100 a night for our own freestanding cabin with gas fireplace, very hot shower, huge bathtub, king sized bed, 2 sinks, refrigerator, hot plate, microwave, coffee pot, and toaster.


Refreshed, we both woke up to a small herd of 25+ AMERICAN BISON grazing on fresh hay near the wooden fence. They would be here everyday all day and this morning we went down and spent some time listening to their deep sighs and watching the steam rise from their noses. This marked my 100th mammal seen in the world!

Before we could get into the park, 2 adult GOLDEN EAGLES circled high above the road. The first spot we hit in the park is the secret Pictograph Canyon. Which displayed some great bighorn sheep, dancing humans, and designs. We explored this short box canyon and climbed up on the slick rock and played with a loud echoing wall.

After driving through the park we checked out the Riverside Trail at the end and although it was inviting, we were both glad that we did not attempt The Narrows. It was just too cold! ROCK SQUIRREL kept us entertained for long sections of the hike.

Although we looked at the South Campground, we could not pull out a pygmy-owl. A calling TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE did get me running though. LINCOLN’S SPARROW and RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER were poor substitutes for the owl.

But we did hit up the GRAY FOXES again at dusk. They did not disappoint and they were great to watch bounding through the tall grass. This time 3 showed and I got some great photos.


A coworker who is a ZION devotee recommended Angel’s Landing to me and this morning, we conquered this hike. Although the distance was short (4 miles), this is probably the scariest hike I have been on. Thus, it was the most exhilarating. Seriously, this hike has extreme exposure with 2000 foot drop offs on either side of the trail, which is at times only 2 feet wide. It starts with a series of well-engineered switchbacks on a wide paved trail lulling you into a sense of security. However after Scout’s Lookout, the last .25 miles is gnarly. It ends atop a 12 foot by 50-foot landing spot, high above the canyon floor. This was my overall highlight of the entire trip and I recommend it to anyone who can physically and mentally complete this trail. Of course a life mammal in the form of a CLIFF CHIPMUNK trying to eat my food at the top made it even that much sweeter. CANYON WREN’s are seemingly the most common bird in ZION in November and on this trail we enjoyed the birds fearless antics as they climbed along vertical rock over the abyss, looking like wallcreepers.

With some extra time in the day, we found the Springdale pond and turned up a nice mixed flock with the only BLACK-HEADED CHICKADEE and AMERICAN GOLDFINCH of the trip. Next, we adventured along Kolob Terrace Rd through dirt roads and some snow to the very cold Lava Point, which did indeed give panoramic views of the park from above. At the viewpoint, a large group of MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES foraged with a single GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET. Along the road we encountered a male NORTHERN HARRIER (the gray Ghost). At the reservoir near Lava Point a distant LEWIS’S WOODPECKER sat high in a Cottonwood and further scanning turned up both a first year and an adult BALD EAGLE in distant Ponderosas. Kolob Reservoir seemed devoid of birds at first but driving the edge turned up a REDHEAD amongst a handful of ducks.


Another early wake up found us on the road to BRYCE with light rain and snow. As we pulled into the parking lot, we briefly considered this a bad idea. Luckily we forged ahead, pulled on our technical base layers, down jackets, rain jackets and headed into the canyon. The snow quickly ceased and we were rewarded with snow-frosted hoodoos in all manner of otherworldly contortions. We started at Sunset Point and followed a figure eight through The Queen’s Connector, to The Peek A Boo trail ascending via The Navajo Trail up to Sunrise Point where we followed The Rim Trail back to our car. The total round trip was around 8 mi. In the middle of the eight formed by our path, Danielle spotted the only UINTA CHIPMUNK of the trip! New birds were CLARK’S NUTCRACKER, PYGMY NUTHATCH, and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH. By walking amongst the rocks we were able to experience them at an intimate level while enjoying ever changing views of the amphitheatre. Danielle reports that BRYCE was her personal highlight of the trip.

Driving back, we encountered a GOLDEN EAGLE close to the road and thankfully, clear and snow free roads with BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE.


This morning, we woke to steady rain/snow and decided to sleep in and scrap our plans for visiting the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Instead, we slept in and relaxed.

When the rain stopped, Danielle called my attention to a large DARK-EYED JUNCO flock that held a GRAY-HEADED in with the OREGONs. However, in the nearby horse pasture a bit of low flying, azure brilliance caught my eye. The male MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD was very cooperative as we quietly walked closer for better looks and photos. He even flew down to bathe in a puddle at our feet! This was the bird highlight of Utah for us!

In the afternoon, we stretched our legs at Huber Wash and enjoyed looking for Petrified Wood. I added heard only GAMBEL’S QUAIL (finally!) and BEWICK’S WREN. It was nice to have a truly relaxed “vacation from my vacation” day and we finished it with a 7.5/10 dinner at the Spotted Dog in town.

On the way back to the cabin we frustratingly missed seeing a medium sized nocturnal mammal that was scavenging on a roadkill Mule Deer but ran into the bushes. Just a few hundred feet farther, we could not ID or re-find an owl that zipped above the road.


The AMERICAN BISON woke up early with us and from the doorway, we relished feeling the earth rumble and hearing their heavy snorting as they thundered past in a tight line. As we left the cabin, we turned to watch the sun rise over the juniper studded and snow dusted mesas.

Leaving at 7am, our only stop was at ZZYZX, an abandoned military installation, mineral bath, mine, and now research station. At high noon, the weather was perfect and I was finally able to check out this unique hidden semiprecious stone of the Mojave Desert. We read about the history of the site and poked around the ponds and buildings. Not surprisingly, it was here that I found the most unusual sighting of the trip: a LEWIS’S WOODPECKER flying to and from washingtonia PALM TREES! A male RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was present as well but somehow seemed a bit more at home here. As we pulled into the ever present traffic south of Santa Barbara, the sun set amidst a vibrant pink and orange wash of clouds; a fitting end to the trip.

Species Lists

1 Horned Grebe NV
2 Eared Grebe NV, UT, CA
3 Pied-billed Grebe NV
4 Western Grebe NV, UT
5 American White Pelican NV
6 Great Blue Heron UT
7 Great Egret NV
8 Snowy Egret NV
9 Black-crowned Night-Heron NV
10 Green Heron NV
11 Wood Duck NV
12 Mallard NV, UT
13 Gadwall NV
14 Northern Pintail NV
15 American Wigeon NV, UT
16 Northern Shoveler NV
17 Cinnamon Teal NV
18 Green-winged Teal NV
19 Redhead UT
20 Ring-necked Duck NV, UT
21 Lesser Scaup NV, UT
22 Long-tailed Duck NV
23 Common Goldeneye UT
24 Barrow's Goldeneye UT
25 Bufflehead NV, UT
26 Hooded Merganser NV, UT
27 Ruddy Duck NV, UT
28 Northern Harrier NV, UT
29 Sharp-shinned Hawk UT
30 Cooper's Hawk UT
31 Red-tailed Hawk NV, UT
32 Golden Eagle UT
33 Bald Eagle UT
34 American Kestrel NV, UT
35 Prairie Falcon UT
36 Peregrine Falcon NV
37 Gambel's Quail NV, UT
38 Wild Turkey UT
39 Common Gallinule NV
40 American Coot NV, UT
41 Virginia Rail NV
42 Sora NV
43 Killdeer NV
44 Greater Yellowlegs NV
45 Least Sandpiper NV
46 Wilson's Snipe NV
47 Ring-billed Gull NV, UT
48 California Gull NV, UT
49 Mourning Dove NV
50 Eurasian Collared-Dove NV, UT
51 Rock Pigeon NV, UT
52 Greater Roadrunner UT, CA
53 Anna's Hummingbird NV
54 Costa's Hummingbird NV
55 Lewis's Woodpecker NV, UT
56 Red-naped Sapsucker NV, UT
57 Hairy Woodpecker UT
58 Northern Flicker NV, UT, CA
59 Black Phoebe NV
60 Say's Phoebe NV
61 Vermilion Flycatcher NV
62 Cassin's Kingbird NV
63 Loggerhead Shrike NV
64 Steller's Jay UT
65 Clark's Nutcracker UT
66 Black-billed Magpie UT
67 Common Raven NV, UT
68 Horned Lark NV, UT
69 Black-capped Chickadee UT
70 Mountain Chickadee UT
71 Verdin NV
72 White-breasted Nuthatch UT
73 Pygmy Nuthatch UT
74 Bewick's Wren NV, UT
75 Marsh Wren UT, CA
76 Canyon Wren UT
77 Golden-crowned Kinglet UT
78 Ruby-crowned Kinglet UT, NV, CA
79 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher UT
80 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher CA
81 Townsend's Solitaire UT
82 Mountain Bluebird UT
83 Western Bluebird UT
84 American Robin UT
85 Crissal Thrasher NV
86 European Starling NV, UT
87 American Pipit NV
88 Phainopepla CA
89 Orange-crowned Warbler NV
90 Yellow-rumped Warbler NV, UT
91 Yellow Warbler NV
92 White-crowned Sparrow UT, NV
93 Dark-eyed Junco UT
94 Lincoln's Sparrow UT
95 Song Sparrow UT
96 Western Meadowlark NV
97 Great-tailed Grackle NV
98 House Finch NV, UT
99 Lesser Goldfinch UT
100 American Goldfinch UT

Mammal List:

Cliff Chipmunk UT
Uinta Chipmunk UT
Rock Squirrel UT
Gray Fox UT
Mule Deer UT
American Bison UT