Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 19, 2018
Eye to the Sky

Stansbury Park’s Debbie Condie makes studying local birds her daily routine and her life’s joy 

Debbie Condie of Stansbury Park uses her binoculars a lot. But her neighbors needn’t worry. It’s the lake’s audacious grackle she’s snooping on.

Condie, 67, has always loved birds, but she didn’t consider herself a birdwatcher until 1988.

“I always loved their beautiful colors and loved to hear them sing,” she said.

When Condie and her husband, Lyman, moved to Stansbury Park in 1988, her birding instinct blossomed. They bought a home on Stansbury Lake, and the couple found themselves surrounded by waterfowl. 

“I noticed the Forster’s Terns, which would practically fall out of the sky and dive into the water and get a fish,” Condie said. “I was just in ecstasy every time I saw a new bird.”

Pelicans, blue herons, snowy egrets, and terns became her daily companions, particularly since there weren’t many homes in Stansbury in 1988. She soon found her passion for feathered egg-laying vertebrates.

“In the beginning, I had to use the bird book,” Condie said. “Birding is pretty simple. You have to have a good field guide and a pair of binoculars. After that, you’re golden.”

Condie recommends using “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” by David Allen Sibley. Condie claims using a field guide, such as Sibley’s, makes it easy.

“If you look at a bird and it looks like the shape of a duck, it probably is some type of a duck,” Condie said.

To explore her passion, Condie often directs Lyman to drive slower than 75 mph on Interstate 80 so she can look for birds. Lyman complains, even though bird watching is something they enjoy sharing together.

“It’s my favorite hobby,” Condie said. “I just find bird watching very relaxing. You get out and experience the beauty of nature.”

In 2009 the Condies built a new home several blocks away from their first home on Stansbury Lake. They landscaped the yard and home, with bird watching in mind. They made intentional decisions to attract birds to their yard. 

“No matter if I’m in the kitchen area or my bedroom, I can always be bird-watching,” Condie said.

Three large windows face the lake and all of them are equipped with binoculars. They planted a tree outside two of the windows and left one open toward the lake. 

“We have the whole lake that I can bird watch,” Condie said. “It’s very exciting to see a new species of duck show up. Recently, there was a breeding pair of Lesser Scaup. So that was really fun.”

To attract land birds, Condie placed hummingbird feeders, tube feeders for finches and platform feeders in the trees. The trees even attract some warblers. 

“If you want to see them in your backyard everyday, then you’ve got to put out feeders,” she said.

Condie spends about $35 a month on bird feed. She often laughs when a bird eats out of the “wrong” kind of feeder. 

In addition to tracking birds at the feeders, Condie tracks them with bird postings to The Stansbury Resident’s Facebook page.

“Mother Goose” has shown up on this Facebook page more than once. The honky African Goose reverses the “Ugly Duckling” story. She takes over broods of baby ducklings annually.

Condie is uncertain just where the parent ducks have gone.

“I don’t know where she’s hanging out,” Condie said. “But there’s a picture on the residents’ page with all her baby chicks. She’s famous. I just call her ‘Mother Goose.’”

In addition to different varieties of geese, snowy egrets used to line the lake daily, she said. However, lately they are rare.

“Now that there are homes built around the entire lake, we don’t see egrets very often,” Condie said. “They don’t like all the population of people.”

Yellow-headed blackbirds, finches and hummingbirds show up daily, and sometimes a Lazuli Bunting, a Western Tanager or Bullock’s Oriole are seen. Such rare birds are some of Condie’s favorites. 

She enjoys not only observing her favorite birds, but sometimes Mother Nature offers her more than she bargains for in the way of real-time drama.

“In this globe willow out here, we’ve had both a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk that love to prey at bird feeders,” Condie said. “Their primary diet is small birds.”

Condie likes to see all of the birds, even though she realizes that hawks, along with small birds, might signal tragedy. 

“I always hope I don’t see them eating up a baby bird,” Condie said. 

Though her eye is trained toward the birds each day (she often includes watching the Cornell Ornithological Lab website), Condie only claims an intermediate birder status — partly because she cannot yet identify birdcalls.

She said that she doesn’t fit the criteria.

“Expert birders can identify birds by their song and tell exactly how many feet away they are,” Condie said.

She can, however, tell people the best spots for watching particular birds in Tooele County. She claims hawks are everywhere, and she recommends watching long-billed curlews from a golf cart on Overlake Golf Course.

But, she said, “The best time to go is in the spring, when the gnats eat you alive.”  

Her favorite bird watching locale in Tooele County is Timpie Springs during spring.

“Birds are the most beautiful during the breeding season, because their plumage is more colorful,” Condie said. “Timpie Springs is very peaceful and quiet,”

Currently at the springs there are avocets, grebes, phallerope, shovellers, and stilts. The Condies bird watch all over Tooele County, including at McDonalds. 

“We took lettuce and different kinds of vegetables with us to feed gulls at McDonalds,” Condie said. “They wouldn’t even touch the lettuce. They have eaten so many French fries and junk food that they wouldn’t eat the healthy lettuce.”

But even gulls with a fast food addiction can be exotic, Condie said. Gulls are rare in Condie’s native Midwest, and attribute their numbers in Utah to the Great Salt Lake and the migratory flyway that runs through Utah.

Condie continues her bird watching hobby even while traveling outside of the state. The Condies’ vacations always include a birding expedition, said she always contacts local Audubon Societies to find someone available to take them birding. 

“We’ve gone birding from coast to coast,” she said. “Contacting the Audubon Society will save you a lot a time. They know where to see local birds in their area. It can vary from free to really pricey.”

In fact, Condie carries a list of the birds she has sighted on all her vacations. To date, her list contains over 240 birds.

“I do keep track of the different species that we see,” Condie said.

Condie added a Scaley-Breasted Munia to her list while she was in San Diego, CA. The bird, which she said was most likely an escaped pet, survived outdoors because the climate was so amiable.  

Condie said that birdwatching is “kind of like going on a treasure hunt. There’s just an excitement about it, when you find a new bird, it’s just like you’ve found a nugget of gold.”

She finds the pasttime expands her knowledge and awareness of nature.

She noted the rise and fall of bird populations is tied to other natural factors. For example, she said, when all the fish died on Stansbury Lake, birds like pelicans and terns disappeared for several years.

“You realize how interconnected an ecosystem is,” Condie said.

Condie feels gratitude for the way her hobby has enriched her life.

“Bird watching is very inspiring and makes me feel closer to God — to see and marvel at the tremendous beauty of these birds,” she said.

Condie continues to gaze from her car and home at the area’s fascinating, flighty neighbors. But Stansbury Park residents take note. It’s not you she’s looking at. She’s just looking for a piece of heaven as it swoops from the sky.

In the flutter of colorful feathers, and a tilt and glide to the water, Condie sees the beauty of creation. Perhaps grackles even have something divine.

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