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It was quiet and the Great Salt Lake was as still as glass. I may have counted about four cyclists on the whole island, and there weren’t a whole lot of cars. Most people on this weekend were likely taking their annual drive on the Alpine Loop in American Fork Canyon–about an hour and 1/2 away–peeping at the yellowy Aspens near Sundance Resort. Antelope Island doesn’t have the Aspens, but October is when the Salt Bush was in bloom and it’s mustard color painted the entire island for us. Hooray for us few who were on Antelope Island. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
This is Antelope Island State Park in October. The Eared Grebes were still in large numbers, but not as many as I saw reported a couple weeks ago and the Avocets were sporting their winter outfits (I actually thought they were a different species until Steve explained to me they changed color with the changing season. “Kind of like your closet,” he told me).
Fall migration is still going on, but most people think all the “good” activity has come and gone. Even so, if you miss Antelope Island in October you miss all this.
Click on the photos below in the gallery to get a close up look.
Today’s post is by a guest blogger–my husband, Steve (a.k.a. WikiSteve, as I like to call him). He visited Antelope Island a couple of days ago and said the magic words to me: I want to write this week’s blog. (Those are my favorite words behind, “You look so thin!” and “How big did you want that diamond?”) Steve has been birding since age 6 and is the reason why I’m birding today. By trade he’s a petroleum geologist/engineer and uses big words such as halophytic.
Make Blue-green Brine Algae your dietary mainstay – 482 hundred gazillion Brine Flies can’t all be wrong. (Hey, it can’t be any worse than the jucified kale leaves that my wife, the Accidental Birder, makes me drink.)
The Great Salt Lake of Utah has a fascinating halophytic (salt-loving) ecosystem that makes it a renowned birding Mecca. Only a few species can thrive in its hypersaline conditions.
Blue-green brine algae constitutes the basis of the very simple food chain that supports unfathomable numbers of brine flies and brine shrimp, which in turn, support shorebirds and waterfowl by the millions. The Great Salt Lake is a veritable protein-rich food factory.
Starting in Spring and continuing all through Summer and well into the Fall, brine flies emerge from the shallow salty waters in astonishing numbers. The brine flies and the brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) serve as an essential food source for millions of migratory birds.
It is the first week of Summer and therefore the first week of Fall migration. Already thousands of Wilson Phalaropes, American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Willets are converging on the Great Salt Lake as a staging ground where they will double their body weight in preparation for their long migration to South America. Within a few weeks there will be tens of thousands of shorebirds and you can expect millions more on the Great Salt Lake by mid August.
The Wilson’s Phalaropes here are predominantly females that have finished breeding for the year. In a reversal of sexual roles the plainer males are still raising their young on the prairie sloughs of the Great Plains from Alberta and Saskatchewan down to Kansas and Oklahoma. By mid July the male phalaropes will be arriving at the Great Salt Lake in large numbers soon to be followed by this year’s fledgelings. It’s in August where you’ll find over a million Wilson’s Phalaropes (comprising between one third and one half of the world’s total population for the species) feasting on brine flies and brine shrimp of the Great Salt Lake.
So, within a few weeks from now other shorebird species, returning from breeding grounds on the arctic tundra, will soon join the local Avocets, Stilts, and Willets in the tens of thousands along with hundreds of thousands of Eared Grebes, which were just here back in early May as the Accidental Birder reported. Beholding such a sheer abundance of birds is truly spectacular and the Great Salt Lake should be on every birder’s bucket list.
Check out the gallery below for more photos of the convergence on the Great Salt Lake. (Click on any photo to enlarge and it will take you to a spectacular slide show.)
When I stumble upon a bird’s nest I’m always fascinated by how it’s constructed. Today, in fact, when Steve and I were out running errands we saw loads of barn swallows building nests on a building. We stopped and wikiSteve (that’s what I call him because he seems to know everything) explained how they spit out little pellets of mud to make their nest. (And wouldn’t that have been swell if I actually had a picture of one here, but I don’t. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time.)
I’m not a nest collector, even if the nest has been abandoned. I don’t believe in that. I find nests a little sacred because I consider my own home a little sacred. But I love taking photos of nests. And hey, they don’t move around like warblers and other birds that flit about, so I actually find great joy in having a subject that stays still.
Here are my favorite nests and some of the nest builders. (Click on each photo to enlarge. You’ll find great detail when you do that.)
To read the story about who won the battle over the nest hole see my previous post, House wars: Pale-billed Woodpecker vs. White-fronted Parrots.
I need another vacation. I know, I know. Panama was just a little over a month ago, but it seems like an eternity ago.
So, after a couple of tough weeks at the office where I ended up with a massive knot in my shoulder that seems to be radiating pain down to my finger tips, no amount of massage seems to have helped. The only solution left? Why, spend a day at Antelope Island!
The weather: Spectacular! Really no wind to speak of and none of those pesky midges that you accidentally end up swallowing. The temperature didn’t get over 76 degrees F. But the best part was the fantastic view of the new Great Horned owlets at Garr Ranch. They were hanging out in one of the trees over the picnic area, if you can believe that. They drew quite a crowd and I thank them for being in a bit of decent light. The mom was elsewhere snoozing–it is Mother’s Day weekend, natch. Mom deserves a rest.
Oh, and that shoulder of mine? Seems to be much better now.
We were able to see 76 species today. (But there’s only a 50 bird badge. Need a 75 bird badge.) List is below the photos. (Be sure to click on photo to enlarge.)
Here’s our bird list for today. Two of them were lifers for me. The Barn Owl, believe it or not, and the Red Knot. (lifers in bold)
- Eared Grebe
- American White Pelican
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Canada Goose
- Northern Shoveler
- Redhead Shoveler
- Lesser Scaup
- Northern Harrier
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Golden Eagle
- American Kestrel
- California Quail
- Ringed-necked Pheasant
- Great Blue Heron
- White-faced Ibis
- Sandhill Crane
- American Coot
- American Avocet
- Black-necked Stilt
- Black-bellied Plover
- Greater Yellowlegs
- Lesser Yellowlegs
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Long-billed Dowitcher
- Wilson’s Phalarope
- Common Snipe
- Red Knot
- Pectoral Sandpiper
- Baird’s Sandpiper
- Least Sandpiper
- Semipalmated Sandpiper
- Western Sandpiper
- California Gull
- Ring-billed Gull
- Bonapart’s Gull
- Franklin’s Gull
- Mourning Dove
- Rock Dove
- Eurasian Collared Dove
- Great Horned Owl
- Barn Owl
- Common Flicker
- Western Kingbird
- Horned Lark
- Barn Swallow
- Cliff Swallow
- Common Raven
- Black-billed Magpie
- Rock Wren
- Sage Thrasher
- American Robin
- Loggerhead Shrike
- European Starling
- Yellow Warbler
- Orange-crowned Warbler
- House Sparrow
- Western Meadowlark
- Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Bullock’s Oriole
- House Finch
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Savannah Sparrow
- Grasshopper Sparrow
- Lark Sparrow
- Sage Sparrow
- Brewer’s Sparrow
- Song Sparrow
I was all prepared to post about nests. In fact, I was mostly done writing, but as I was transferring photos from the Nikon to the computer this morning–photos Steve took a couple weeks ago during a day-visit to Antelope Island–I took notice of some pretty nice shots he took, in particular this Barn Owl. (Which, guess what, I’ve still not seen one yet. Crazy, I know.) Steve’s work won over mine, in my opinion.
Oh, and there’s this awesome shot he got of this porcupine.
Isn’t my husband so cool?
Last weekend my husband and I, along with my friend Jolie, headed up to Farmington Bay, which is just north of Salt Lake City for the annual Bald Eagle Day. Oh dear, it was a bit of a bust. I saw only a couple of bald eagles and they were flying around in the distance. Nothing my 300 mm lens would even be able to capture. There was one near the water and some folks had a scope set up with a crowd of people around it, but just as we drove by (we had just arrived), it flew away into the distance.
Turns out this lovely mild winter we’ve been having means that the Bald Eagles are not desperate for food and aren’t coming down south for the carp. For some really lovely photos from previous Bald Eagle Days, check out Ron Dudley’s Feathered Photography blog. His photos rock! If I can’t get some decent photos of the Bald Eagles then why not look at someone else’s?
So no Bald Eagles. They just weren’t cooperating with us. Well, we had two options: Call it a day and just go to In-N-Out Burger or head over to nearby Antelope Island to see what we could find there. We opted for Antelope Island.
It was also pretty quiet at Antelope Island. We headed to Garr Ranch in the hopes of seeing the pair of Great Horned owls that have been nesting there for the past several years. We walked around the perimeter of the forested area and Steve, who was a few yards in front of Jolie and I, spotted them immediately and then Jolie and I–each with cameras in hand–began our photo shoot. Crappy lighting (we should have been there a few hour before for better light) and the pesky owls were hiding behind twigs and such. They, too, weren’t exactly cooperating.
At least they stay still. Warblers, I’ve discovered, are the least cooperative in the bird family.
It’s unclear if the pair are going to have a clutch this year. A fella from the Antelope Island State Park was with us and explained that the pair seems to only breed every other year and last year they had a clutch. We’ll just have to see. (Note: Once they have a clutch of eggs, the area around the little forest of trees is at Garr Ranch is roped off to keep the area protected.)
So I find the love of my life who ends up being a birder and I become one too. Sorta. And then I find out there are all sorts of birders around me. This planet is crawling with them.
One of the biggest surprises is finding out people you knew in high school–or even as far back as grade school–are avid birders. I remember finding out that one of my BFFs, Joyce, from grade school (more accurately, a BF, since we haven’t been in touch since high school) reported in the booklet of bios they handed out at our 10-year reunion (which she didn’t attend) that she and her husband love to spend their time “bird watching.” At the time I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me? She admits to that?”
Now 17 years later I think,”Why did she call it bird watching? She probably dumbed it down for the rest of us, since any true birder knows it’s called, “birding.”
When I was dating my husband, my next door neighbor found me using the expressions “birding” and “birder.”
“You said ‘birder!’ ” the neighbor exclaimed. (You would have thought she found her long lost relative.) And then next day when Steve arrived, she popped over and had a list all typed up for Steve. They had never met before, but she had prepared for him a list of all the places in town to go birding.
That was Pomera. At the time she was on the Utah Ornithological Board. Crazy coincidence. We’ve gotten to be great friends with Pomera and her partner, Ann. We share our birding stories, like when she volunteered to help the fledging Peregrine Falcons in downtown Salt Lake City, or when Steve and I went to Costa Rica and to Belize, or about their trip to Trinidad. And whenever there’s a bird “incident” in our back yards (for instance the Cooper’s Hawk ambushing the mourning doves) we share the news with each other as though we witnessed a big crime right in our back yards and we’re ready to untangle it all for the next episode of Law and Order.
And then one day my brother sent me a note on Facebook and told me to look up Rob Fergus who I sorta grew up with. His mom and my mom were great friends. We are around the same age and went to the same church. Come to find out he’s what I call a Super Birder. (See “Twenty Bird Minimum Daily Requirement” and “The Birdchaser.”
Go figure. Like I said, the planet is just crawling with birders.
One of our favorite places to go birding in Utah is Antelope Island, which is smack dab in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. I had lived here 12 years and it wasn’t until I had met Steve that I finally ventured across the causeway to see Antelope Island and all that it has to offer, which is ironic, because Steve is from Canada and he knew a lot more about Antelope Island than I did and I was from Utah. Here’s a journal entry from September 20, 2008 that I recently stumbled upon:
On this day we saw over 10,000 Avocets (shore birds) that were staging, which Steve tells me is stopping for about three weeks to feed and double their body weights before they continued on flying south. We stopped to feed and double our own body weights by having lunch atop Buffalo Point where we picnicked in the car, eating our sandwiches, because it was so windy outside. But an advantage of sitting in the car was that we got to listen to my favorite NPR radio show. “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!”
We saw two Great-Horned Owls snoozing, and I spotted a female American Redstart, which is unusual for Utah. She must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Otherwise, it was a quiet day. We did startle a doe mule deer and her two fawns as we were lurking around the Garr Ranch. They took off running and then kept their eyes on us at a distance. We made a friend on our trip–Bill Fenimore, who is not only a bird expert, but has his own Wild Bird store in nearby Layton, where we dropped by after our trip. Now, I’m excited to see all the new birds that will be visiting our feeders in our backyard. It’s just a matter of time now!
My husband and I both love Antelope Island. It’s truly peaceful and without having to venture very far from the urban sprawl in the Salt Lake Valley, you’re taken away to what feels like a very remote area. One day I asked Steve where he would like his ashes spread (we both decided we want to be cremated when we die) and without hesitation, he said, “Antelope Island.” Let’s just hope I don’t have make that kind of trip to Antelope Island anytime soon.