Saturday, September 21, 2013

Birding the Great Salt Lake

I've just returned from an epic two-week work/vacation road trip to the Rocky Mountain West.  Salt Lake City, UT to Jackson, WY to Bozeman to Arco, ID back to Salt Lake City then to Park City before on to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in the south.  I'm jealous of myself just typing that.

Eared Grebes, mostly, from the Antelope Island Causeway
Though birding wasn't my primary activity, like any birder worth his salt I saw loads of great birds; birds an East Coaster like me rarely gets to spend time with.  Black-billed Magpies and Brewer's Blackbirds everywhere!  Pygmy Nuthatches!  Rock and Canyon Wrens!  Dippers!  Townsend's Solitaire!  Grace's Warbler!  Though I dipped on a bunch of possible lifers (mostly grouse), I did manage three: Trumpeter Swan outside Jackson, WY; Chukar on Antelope Island, UT; and, a FERRRUGGGGGGG!! Hawk outside of Arco, ID. 

I want to use this space to talk about the most impressive birding sites I saw on the trip: those along the Great Salt Lake.  Holy cow, you guys.  I was able to spend some time at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the north end of the lake, as well as at Antelope Island State Park.  Being by far the largest body of water in the West, the Great Salt Lake is a gathering point (for breeding and wintering) for millions of birds.  And I mean millions.  I don't think I've ever seen concentrations of birds like I saw out there.  What follows is going to be a lot of pictures of cool stuff.  Click to enlarge.

Look for Bear River MBR along the northeastern side of the Lake, and Antelope Island SP on the southeast, where that bison is.  

So, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is just what it sounds like.  A big huge bird refuge with a ton of ponds along the delta-ish part of the north lake.  I don't need to spend a lot of time describing it, I just want to get to pictures, OK?  OK.

Before this trip I had seen Franklin's Gulls just once in my life, in Mississippi.  But there are thousands on the Great Salt Lake (and Avocets, in the background, but we'll get to them later).  These gulls cruise the shorelines along with Fosters and Black Terns. 

There are also opportunities for close up viewing of lots of water birds, like this Western Grebe.  Also Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal (tough to distinguish in their nonbreeding plumage for me unless they were close and I could see the red eye of the Cinnamon), tons of Coots, Shovelers and others.

There were also thousands of birds out of the reach of my puny binoculars.  I couldn't identify the majority of birds on that island out there - though I assume they are a mostly sunning dabblers (and a few Canada Geese).  

At one point an unseen raptor (I assume) spooked up a bunch of birds and I was able to see a huge mixed flock whirl about.  In this photo are White-faced Ibis, Mallards, Teal, Gulls (Ring-billed and Franklin's and California were around), Marbled Godwit, Shovelers and other things that I encourage you to scrounge up.  I remember there also being Dowitchers, peeps, Stilts and Avocet in here, though I don't see them in the picture.

Next it was onto Antelope Island State Park, connected to the mainland by a long causeway.  This place is unreal.  Bison and Pronghorn and Mule Deer (and apparently Bighorn, though I didn't see them) roam free, Chukar crowd the Visitor's Center, migrants fall out at Carr Ranch, and the rest of the island is coated in Western Meadowlarks, Ravens and other cool scrub birds.
Pronghorn on the beach
Ma! Git the flintlock offa da mantle!
If only all lifers were so obliging
Ugh fall empids.  Hammond's?
The real bird show is off the causeway.  Bugs crowd the shores and the mud flats are extensive (and are lush with the smell of dead carp) - all beacons for shorebirds.  There were MILLIONS (it seemed) of Eared Grebe.  As far as I could see for miles.  There were more Avocets than I thought existed.  There were thousands of Red-necked and Wilson's Phalarope.  There were Long-billed Curlew.  It was fantastic.  Look at the photos, then go visit.

Avocets as far as the eye could see
Mirrored Avocets
Red-necked Phalaropes wheelin' and dealin'
A Ring-billed Gull plows a wake through insects
Long-billed Curlew along the shore


zac said...

Yes Hammond's. Long primary extension, short narrow bill, and Two toned apparence with gray head and yellow-body with a whitish throat and bulgy eye ring.

NickL said...

Thanks, Zac. I have little experience with Western empids and didn't want to jump the gun.

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

Love your visit photos! By the way, no carp or any other fish live in the Great Salt Lake. The only aquatic life in the lake is brine shrimp, aka sea monkey.

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