It's a Great Day to Bird

Utah – Birding

October 19, 2016

Today we left Nevada and entered Utah – the beehive state.  I wanted to visit Antelope Island State Park, which lies within the Great Salt Lake.  In previous years we have come here and found thousands of birds. We hope to see that many again.

We traveled through some beautiful countryside in Utah, including the eastern portion of the Great Basin – wide open country for miles, with some hills/mountains.  Breathtaking beauty.



As for birds, about the only thing we saw was Common Ravens, but that is okay we will take any bird.  And a “Shoe Tree”.


Shoe Tree near Hinckley, Utah


We have no spare shoes to add to the tree


Getting close to the Salt Lake City area – Wasatch Mountains

When we got to the Salt Lake City area (boy are the towns along the Wasatch mountain range spread out, but are contiguous with each other) we saw a lot of new homes.  And these houses are not small, but then maybe Mormans need large homes for their many children.  Okay, I know I am generalizing, but why else would you want something so big?

And speaking of kids, I am going to get on my soap box and say we have too many people in this world, including in the United States.  Soon we will reach carrying capacity and then our ecosystems will collapse.  We are already starting to see there demise.  While there death may be slow at first, it will accelerate as more people demand more resources.  We need to find a balance now before we lose what is most precious – our natural environment, and our birds (because it’s all about the birds).  Okay, I’m done for now.

As for the drive over the causeway to the island, we saw a lot of land that in previous years was underwater, but is now dry (droughts – climate change???).  However, the closer we got to the island we saw rafts of ducks – primarily Northern Shoveler, with a few Ruddy Ducks mixed in for good measure.  There were also small flocks of American Avocets (one of my top 5 shorebirds).



Not much water, and few birds here –mostly gulls


The Great Salt Lake – or what is left of it


American Avocet in non-breeding plumage


Those black dots on the lake are mostly Northern Shoveler

We took most of the day getting to Antelope Island, although it was only an estimated 5.5-hour drive from Great Basin National Park.  We found a good campsite (#26) and right now I am looking at the bison on the nearby horizon.  There are five in my immediate view, with another five nearby.   On Saturday the park is having a Bison Roundup.  Bison Burgers anyone?


This guy was near our campground with about 10 other bison …


… including this fellow

Tomorrow we will go to the Bear Lake Migratory Bird Refuge to check out the birds.  We hope to stay another two nights, but with the Bison Roundup on Saturday the campground might be booked for Friday night.

October 20, 2016

Cold again this morning, but not as bad as the previous two mornings.  We ate breakfast and decided to visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge north of here.  We stopped at the entrance gate to Antelope Island State Park to reserve a campsite for tonight and tomorrow.  Well as expected no campsites available for tomorrow (Friday) night.  So guess we will have to cut this visit short and head back to Nevada tomorrow.  I suspect the campground is full to accommodate either those who are participating in the round-up or those who want to watch.

At the entrance gate I saw a large bird fly up onto a post adjacent to the road.  I got my binos out and on the post was a Barn Owl!  I haven’t seen a Barn Owl in ages.  We parked nearby, but when I got out of the van to photograph the bird, it turned its head, saw me, and flew off.  Dang.  I so wanted a photo for the blog – of the birds head full on.


Barn Owl flying away from us

We got to the refuge and walked around a small wetland area adjacent to the Wildlife Education Center/Visitor Center.  Not a lot of bird life, although I did hear a Virginia Rail close to the boardwalk – too much vegetation for me to see this secretive bird.


We did see this sparrow


Lots of vacant housing at the refuge available for swallows


Great art work at the entrance to the visitor center. This is just one of several metal work art.

After our short walk we jumped back into the van and went in search of some of the 500,000 waterfowl that spend the fall in the refuge.  We took the auto tour route and I imagine we saw about 100 ducks total, if that many.  Not sure if the birds were hiding from the hunters, had not arrived yet, or had left already.  It was a little disappointing.  We did see a fair number of American Coots, and in one area there were shorebirds present.  Most of the shorebirds were Killdeer.  I estimate around 100 or more Killdeer feeding here.  Also saw Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Curlews (in-flight, can’t miss those long bills), Black-bellied Plover, Least Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers.  Not bad for shorebirds.  I just wish they would have been a little closer.



Clark’s Grebe


Pied-billed Grebe


Double-crested Cormorant


Where are the ducks?


Red-winged Blackbird in Reed Grass


American White Pelicans

One thing we did notice is that the Great Salt Lake’s water level is much lower than we’ve seen it in previous years.  There were portions of the refuge that were dry where during our previous visit a couple of years ago there was water.  Climate change???

After the refuge we headed back to our campsite on Antelope Island.   Although we did see an airboat use the marina earlier in the day, not much else can use the marina except for a canoe or kayak or paddleboard or …..  Not enough water for most boats.  I wonder if it is enough water for a jet ski.  I hope not.


Marina on Antelope Island

img_8928 img_8926 img_8787Bison Art

When I first saw this vehicle I said to myself ‘A European’, however the license plates are Montana.  The vehicles we see from Europe are generally heavy duty, almost like they are expecting trouble and want to have armored vehicles to prevent people from entering their vehicles.  This vehicle has what looks like ‘three’ levels.  I would love to see inside of it.


Ready for anything or anybody


My favorite view from the campground – near dusk



Tomorrow we will do a short hike before heading to Ruby Lake NWR in Nevada – a 282-mile drive from our present location.  A long slog.

October 21, 2016

 Before leaving Antelope Island State Park we thought we would take a short hike on a trail that leads from the historic ranch site.  On the way to the ranch we must have seen over 100 bison.  Wow!!!  Also saw Mule Deer, Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, and Coyote.  Not bad for a morning.  But the true highlight was the discovery of a Burrowing Owl.  We so love these owls.  They are so cute.


Burrowing Owl


Road Hazard


Pronghorn Antelope


This guy was right next to the road

At the ranch we noticed a lot of horse trailers, horses, and their owners.  Remember I mentioned a bison roundup.  Well it begins tomorrow so the people doing the rounding up are getting ready.  The docent at the ranch said an estimated 200-300 people pay $50.00 each to participate in the roundup.  They also have professional cowboys because not all who participate know what they are doing – that would be Jack.  Once the bison are rounded up they check their health, find out which ones are pregnant, inoculate those needing vaccinations, and then decide which ones to auction off.  They keep about 500 and auction off the rest.  The docent said there are around 750 bison on the island.


Bison Roundup participants

The docent also showed us evidence of a tornado that touched down on the island on September 22 (the day my mother died).  The tornado tore the roof off a barn (see photos).  Amazing what damage a tornado can do.

img_9008 img_9010

Listed as uncommon permanent resident.  I think the park should change it brochure to “common permanent”.


Eurasian Collared Dove

The dark brown area in the middle of the photo is lakebed.  When we were here last – several years ago – there was water in this part of the lakebed.  A smoggy day, but you can see what little “water” remains.  It would be a shame to lose this important ecosystem that birds are dependent upon.


Near the Bonneville Speedway.  Now in previous trips this area had little or no water.


So now we head back to Nevada for a few days and then on to Oregon.

Antelope Island State Park – Birds Species Observed or Heard

  • Northern Shoveler (tens of thousands)
  • Ruddy Duck
  • American Avocet
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Barn Owl
  • American Kestrel (okay just outside the park)
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Common Raven
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • House Sparrow
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eurasian Starling
  • Eurasian Collared Dove

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge – Birds Species Observed or Heard

  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • American White Pelican
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Canada Goose
  • Mallard
  • Gadwall
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Harrier
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Coot
  • Virginia Rail
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Killdeer
  • American Avocet
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Common Raven
  • Marsh Wren
  • American Pipit
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • American Goldfinch





  1. Nina Faust

    You missed Fish Springs NWR, Ed’s old stomping grounds.

  2. alaskabirder

    Yes, we thought about stopping there again. We were there once before. A neat place.

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