I didn’t go up into the Wasatch Mountains yesterday thinking I would find a rare bird but that is precisely what happened after I spotted a beautiful male Baltimore Oriole fly into a serviceberry bush in Morgan County.
I had driven around looking for birds but earlier in the morning the wind had been blowing in the canyon and many of the smaller birds seemed like they were hunkered down, I wasn’t seeing or hearing the birds I normally do so as I headed up the canyon I decided it might just be an early day. I’d gotten some nice Great Blue Heron photos early on and I was happy with them.
First view of rare male Baltimore Oriole in Utah
When I am driving and looking for birds I take my time, drive slowly, keep my eyes out for birds, large and small, and I listen for calls.
I stopped a few times to look for birds in areas where I had seen a lot of activity in the past and when I didn’t see or hear anything I moved on. Not long before I would have gotten onto the hard top road to head home I saw lots of little birds flying back and forth across the road into the shrubbery that lined both sides of the dirt road.
I pulled over across from a Utah Serviceberry and Chokecherry that had grown together and waited. I knew it might take some time for the birds to come back and they did. First a Black-capped Chickadee then a hungry Orange-crowned Warbler came in. A male Downy Woodpecker made an appearance not far from a handsome male Lazuli Bunting. Sparrows who moved so quickly I didn’t get clear enough views to ID them, a Green-tailed Towhee showed up and poked at a ripe berry before flying away. A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher call clued me in to its presence high in a tree on the hillside, a young American Robin perched in the chokecherry and a Dusky Flycatcher flew in and entertained me by catching a moth and a caterpillar so close to me that I had trouble fitting it into my view finder.
When the bird activity slowed down I thought about packing it in and heading home. I was on the verge of doing just that when I saw a robin-sized bird fly into the serviceberry, it was flame orange, black and I saw flashes of white. I knew it wasn’t an American Robin just from the shape and coloration, I also knew it wasn’t a Bullock’s Oriole because it was the wrong color.
So I looked through my lens and tried to find the bird in the foliage of the serviceberry and when I saw a bright orange spot in the leaves I tried focusing on it. The photo above is what I could see. It was enough for me to make a tentative ID of Baltimore Oriole which I knew wasn’t common here in Utah.
Male Baltimore Oriole hidden in a serviceberry
So I tried to get more images of it for documentation and identification. For some people my first view of the bird would have been enough but I wanted more so I watched and was able to get this headshot of the Oriole nearly hidden in the leaves.
Male Baltimore Oriole eating a ripe Serviceberry berry
Then I was able to take photos of the male Baltimore Oriole eating the ripe serviceberry berries. Not great photos but between these three images a positive ID could be made to send my sighting of this rare oriole to the records committee.
Adult male Baltimore Oriole in a serviceberry
But I wanted a full view of the rare Baltimore Oriole so I waited and waited all the while watching for flashes of orange as it moved through the foliage.
My patience and persistence paid off when the Baltimore Oriole came out into the open. Jackpot! The tip of the oriole’s tail was obstructed by an out of focus leaf but I was delighted to be able to see the entire bird in decent light, photograph him and to admire his beauty.
Male Baltimore Oriole in the Wasatch Mountains
I took quite a few more photos of the oriole as he looked around as he perched in the serviceberry. He didn’t seem at all concerned by my presence for a brief period of time…
Male Baltimore Oriole in Northern Utah
And I took advantage of every second I had with him.
A vehicle came up the road and the oriole moved back into the foliage and stayed there so I decided to head home. I didn’t know that Weston Smith, a local Utah birder, was in the minivan that went by or I would have stopped him then and pointed out the rare oriole tucked into the shrub. But after I asked about how rare Baltimore Orioles are on my Facebook timeline word got out and Weston went back to where I had seen the oriole and he found it too.
I submitted my Baltimore Oriole sighting to the records committee yesterday afternoon and if it is accepted it will be the 7th confirmed sighting of this species in the state of Utah.
I’m glad I waited just that few seconds longer before heading home yesterday or I would have missed finding this Baltimore Oriole.
Life is good.
I used my Nikon D500, 500mm VR lens with a 1.4x TC attached to take these photos, my aperture was at f7.1, ISO at 800 and my shutter speed varied between 1/400 and 1/500. It was really smoky even in the mountains yesterday and that diffused the sunlight significantly.