Monday, January 14, 2019

13 January 2019 - Another rare bird road trip

Had another rare bird show up in Utah. Road trip!  Max, Bryant and I piled in my car and hit the road at 6:30 am for a trip to Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the northeast corner of Utah, where Wyoming sits in the cut out. Took us three hours to get there.  Round trip was 391 miles. Our route took us through Wyoming. In Evanston we hit -14 degrees.  Brr. We drove through many heavy fog patches—so heavy that frost was forming on the hood of the car and on the inside of the windows.  The coldest we got was -18. It wasn't easy to use the camera when fingers are really cold. The high for the day was 16 but it didn’t last very long.  

This was one of those miracles where you pull up to the reservoir and as you are getting out of the car you say “There it is!”  We stayed about 20 minutes trying to get a decent photo.  Hard to do through the fog and snow. 

Our target bird was a Great Black-backed Gull. It is the largest gull in the world. 30 inches in length with a 54 inch wingspan it is only slightly smaller than a small eagle.  Amazing.  They also like to eat ducks.  They are usually found along the Atlantic Ocean. Don't know how it got here. 

With nothing for scale, it is hard to realize just how big these birds are. Those white specks against the black back is the fog condensing and falling like light snow.  Everything was covered with hoar frost. Even cattle in the field were covered. 

Here you can see how it dwarfs a Herring Gull, which is the biggest gull we have in Utah.  

Since we were there and found it so quickly, we spent several more hours birding around the area. We drove up Sheep Creek Canyon, which was gorgeous. And true to its name, we saw sheep. A small herd of Bighorn sheep. Fun!! You can see the  hoar frost in this photo.

One of the sheep was wearing a collar with a transmitter.  Poor thing. The tag is pulling his ear down.  The DWR is trying to keep tabs on where many of our endangered species are.  

We had a herd of Bighorns on Antelope Island, but in the last month almost all of them have died from some unknown respiratory infection.  The few that are still alive will be killed to keep it from spreading. This herd was doing so well that it was  used to repopulate other areas in Utah.  I think the plan is to import some fresh non-infected Bighorns from California to renew the herd, but it will take years to get a population going again. 

We also found a pair of Pygmy Owls. At 5.5” high, they are smaller than my hand and are the second smallest owl. Biggest gull, almost smallest owl. Yes, it was a really fun day, 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

1 January 2019 - New Year's Day - Christmas Bird Count

Thank goodness I'm not a drinker. I did not have to get up nursing a hangover this morning. However, I did have to get up to participate in the Annual Jordan River Christmas Bird Count which is part of the Audubon Society's annual bird count which is now in its 119th year.  

In our storied past, the big thing to do on  Christmas was to go out kill things. Instead of counting birds, people went out to see who could kill the most animals and birds. Back in 1900, the curator at the American Museum of Natural History started getting people involved in counting birds instead of killing them. This count has evolved into a huge database of information that lets scientists and naturalists follow how species are doing, or not doing as the case may be. 

I was part of the Galena team, a four mile stretch along the Jordan River that took us six hours to complete. It was bitterly cold. The breeze added to the cold factor, trying to freeze any uncovered skin. I think near the end of the count we finally hit a high of 26 but it was around 16 degrees when we started. 

The Jordan River is kind of in the middle of the valley. To the east are the Wasatch Mountains.

And to the west you can see the enormous tailings piles from the Kennecott (now Rio Tinto) copper mine.

There were ten of us on the Galena survey armed with binos, cameras and Little Hotties to stuff in our gloves and boots. We were all trying to spot as many birds as possible, and Bryant, our fearless leader, was writing down every species and how many.  

The most unexpected bird was a Virginia Rail in plain sight, letting everyone have a good look. These little birds hide in the reeds around water and while you can often hear them, they aren't that easy to find. This little guy practically posed for us. 

We were all ready to head home for hot showers to warm up. Viv and I decided we needed to indulge ourselves after the long cold walk and stopped at Gardner Village. The Chocolate Covered Wagon candy store has the best hot chocolate I've ever had. And we needed that hot drink!  Yummy and warming. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

14 October 2018 - Chasing a Booby

Oh boy! What do you do when you hear that a really rare bird--so rare it is the first ever sighting of this bird in Utah--has shown up?  You go chase it!

Someone discovered a Blue-footed Booby on Lake Powell. This is a subtropical bird and over half of the entire population breeds on the Galapagos Islands. What this juvenile bird was doing here is a mystery.  

Four of us decided we must see this bird. We made plans to go down. The first day we drove down to Kanab. That is about a five hour twenty minute drive. It took us a lot longer. Shortly after we hit the road a sinkhole opened up on I-15 causing massive delays as six lanes of freeway were funneled down to a single lane. Of course, this was during rush hour. It took almost two hours to get through this mess. 

It rained on us off and on all the way to Kanab, but it resulted in some fabulous rainbows and a gorgeous sunset. We had a double rainbow that was a complete arch from end to end. All were too large to fit in one camera view. 

We spent the night in Kanab, then drove to Antelope Point Marina outside of Page, Arizona where we rented a boat. The booby had been hanging out in the middle of the lake on a floating dump station dock.  We got rained on the entire four mile boat trip up to the dock.  But that didn't matter a bit when we found the booby preening on the dock. 

We tried easing our way as close as we could without spooking him, while taking as many photos as possible. 

Just as we were reaching a great photo range a speed boat with shrieking people and loud music pulled up to the dock and scared him off. As they piled out of the boat onto the dock they noticed the bird as it was flying away. One of the guys said to us, "Did you see that weird looking bird?" 

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time, saw a most unexpected bird. And the scenery is stunning.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

17 September 2018 - Utah - The big vistas

Currently the Utah legislature is trying to gather support for a new state song. Our song is 'Utah, I Love Thee.'  When I was going to school everyone in fourth grade had to learn it. Even now I still remember some of it. It is old fashioned and corny, so a new one couldn't hurt. But it is funny how many time that phrase comes to mind when I am looking at some incredible vista.  Yep. Utah, I do love thee. 

Here is a brief tour for you from some of the places I've been in the last month or two. 


Sunday, September 2, 2018

August 2018 - Catching up: Birds

Wow, can't believe how long it has been since I have added a post.  This is my life now: I go birding and when I can, I get out in the shop and print something. 

August is always fun because the world is full of baby birds. Fall migration begins in August, so there is always so much to see. Here is a baby Black-headed Grosbeak baby (on top) getting fed by Dad (below). 

I'm also fond of Black-necked Stilt babies.  Their legs are so long in proportion to their bodies. And you have to love those bright pink legs. 

Here are the adults: very black and white with the lovely pink stockings. 

In my bird outings, I often find myself playing the Where's Waldo game. You will be looking at a huge swath of gulls for example, but will be looking for the one bird that's different.  In this photo there are Common Terns, Caspian Terns, Forster's Terns. There were many Black Terns as well, but just out of this photo. In addition there are Franklin's Gulls and Avocets. 

I am always amazed by what a bird can eat. This little grebe swallowed a fish that was bigger than its head. 

While this Loggerhead Shrike took a while to get an uncooperative baby snake down his gullet. 

Two baby osprey

One of my favorite things about August is that the purple thistle starts going to seed which attracts bright yellow goldfinches.  It's a lovely combination. 

August is not only filled with baby hummingbirds, but the tiny, feisty Rufous Hummingbirds start showing up as they migrate back south. 

Below is a Broad-tailed Hummer

More babies: two Great-horned owls. 

It is always fun to see a bird living up to its name. In this case a Cattle Egret is hanging out with the cows. They love to pick ticks off the faces and backs of cattle. 

Great-tailed grackles continue to be one of my favorites. They are fairly recent residents, only showing up in the last ten years or so.  

Iridescent feathers are wonderfully complex. This white-faced ibis is a rainbow of color when he is in the right light. 

Lazuli buntings show up along fence rows, busy with the grassy seed heads. 

As babies fledge, you often see family groups hanging together for a little while. These are Lark Sparrows. 

So, there is a quick bird walk through August. Lots of fun to be had wherever you look.