Sunday, August 08, 2010

Utah Trip (4)

If there's one wildlife site in Utah that never disappoints me, it's Antelope Island. So that's where I was off to dark and early on Monday.

When I reached the causeway that leads to the island, the latter looked magnificent in the morning light.

The lake on both sides of the road was packed with hundreds or perhaps thousands of Black-necked Stilts, Franklin's Gulls and California Gulls.

Franklin's Gull

California Gull

There were surprisingly few other shorebirds except for a few American Avocets, a Willet and a Long-billed Curlew.


Long-billed Curlew

A little further out in the water to the west I could see hundreds of Eared Grebes with their distinctive silhouettes.

On the eastern side there were even larger numbers of Red-necked Phalaropes.

The edges of the road itself had a couple of small flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, one of the species that I had most wanted to see. However, they were very skittish and absolutely refused to be photographed.

I stopped and got out at the first parking area on the island but
quickly jumped back into the car when I found the area was absolutely covered in brine flies. And I mean covered: There were so many flies swarming around a few inches above the ground that it was hard to see the tarmac below them. Brine flies don't bite but they tend to get in your eyes and nose and mouth.

Of course, the presenc
e of the flies is one reason that the area attracts so many birds. They attract other predators, too, like the hundreds of spiders that had built webs along the causeway.

Driving on, I was pleased to see that a herd of bison was grazing next to the road. When you see them up close, they are truly majestic animals. (They are even more impressive in the winter, when their fur hangs with icicles and every breath forms clouds in the air.)

This herd contained several calves.

I got out of the car to take photos - but I got back in again when one of the males moved protectively in front of the calves and started snorting at me.

It was only then that I noticed that several of the adults were providing perches to small groups of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

A few hundred yards further along, I spotted a couple of the antelope that give the island its name.

While I was watching the antelope
, a Ring-necked Pheasant walked across the road ahead. Although I was too slow to get a photo of the Pheasant, I was luckier with a Chukar that was warming itself in the morning sunlight.

Then a pair of Common Ra
vens posed on a road sign before flying off noisily complaining about my presence.

A little further down the road I came across a coyote that was out looking for breakfast. As coyotes are among my favorite animals, I was thrilled when this one seemed totally unconcerned by my presence and let me watch it as it prowled through the grass by the roadside.

I wasn't so lucky a few minutes later when I reached the
entrance to Garr Ranch, the best birding spot on the island and the place where I was hoping to see Burrowing Owls. Unfortunately, the ranch was closed until 9:00 a.m., the time when I needed to be heading back to town. I thought about parking the car and sneaking onto the ranch on foot - but the sign warned that the opening hours were "rigorously enforced" and so I decided I'd better not trespass.

I spent the next 45 minutes driving back slowly towards the causeway, stopping to check out roadside birds on what had already become a typical Utah blue-sky day.

Western Meadowlarks were now up roadside rocks and singing to greet the day, although they were very reluctant to be photographed. While numerous American Pipits were equally evasive, some Sage Thrashers were more cooperative.

I was delighted see a Lark Sparrow land nearby and managed to grab a quick picture through the car windshield before it flew off again. I love Lark Sparrows!

As my birding time was now up, I headed back across the causeway. I stopped for a moment to check out a skein of Canada Geese passing overhead - and a small flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds stopped by the car just long enough for me to take a couple of photos.

It was a good ending to two hours of very good wildlife viewing.


Pam said...

Gosh, such a huge amount of sightings in a short space of time! The Bison and Antelopes are just stunning, they must be pretty impressive to watch

Jeff said...

Antelope Island is great because it's pretty open and so you can see a long way. The bison are HUGE!