Birthday Birding at the Great Salt Lake

Hello! Today was my 14th birthday. We also, happened to be in Utah (see My Schedule and Why the ABA has the Right Idea post). So, this morning we went to Antelope Island State Park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. We arrived at the state park and began driving across the causeway. The first thing we saw were hundreds of avocets. Now last week, I was at Bombay Hook NWR and there were a lot of avocets there. However, that was nothing compared to this. We started slowly driving across the causeway, stopping often to look at a new bird. Then I saw a strange bird flying across the water of the lake. It landed and I saw a long-billed curlew!

Long-billed curlew on lake shore
This is a bird I have always wanted to see. We watched it walk along the shore for a while and I must say, they walk very regally. Then we moved on. About ten minutes later, we came across a large flock of white birds in the middle of the lake. We got our scope on them, and they turned out to be about 300 red-necked phalaropes! Continuing on, we came across another large flock of birds. Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be eared grebes!

Eared grebe on lake
After that we arrived at the island. We immediately headed towards the visitor center to see if we could figure out where to see birds on the island. On the way, we encountered one of the 600 or more bison that live on the island.

American bison
As we approached the visitor center, we heard a strange sound. We looked up towards the rocks near the visitor center and we saw a small shape atop the rocks. We approached and found a small covey of chukar.


Chukar at the visitor center
We then headed into the visitor center. It was a very well done center with some very interesting information on the lake. We then asked the man at the desk where we cold find certain birds. He told us that there was a group of burrowing owls down the road. He also told us about the yellow-headed blackbirds at the marina, how the California quail like to hang around the visitor center, and how there is a pair of great horned owls at the old ranch down the road. I must say, I have never asked a ranger for help finding birds before and I regret not doing it. It was definitely worth it and we got some very good information concerning where to find some target birds of ours.
We then headed to where the burrowing owls were supposed to be. We looked out the window and sure enough there was a burrowing owl.

Burrowing owl
Also, nearby was a jackrabbit and a pronghorn. We then continued down towards the marina in search of yellowheaded blackbirds. We pulled in and I wandered down towards a marsh like area. As I approached, I began to hear the sounds of many blackbirds. A lot of them sounded like red-winged but a few sounded different. However, the birds were deep in the marsh and hunkered low so we couldn’t see any. We decided to wait and see if any showed themselves. After a long while of waiting, only redwings appeared, however we did see a sage thrasher and this western meadowlark bathing.


Bathing western meadowlark
Anyway, we decided to try again later and moved on. At that point we decided to start driving towards the ranch at the end of the island. On the way we encountered a prairie falcon along with more bison. At the ranch, we arrived to find a large number of white-crowned sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and the rare and endangered birder. We think there must have been an outing through a local bird club because there were quite a lot of birders and they all seemed to know each other. They told us where in the ranch a lot of the birds are and we followed their directions and went towards a copse of trees (some of the only trees on the island). On the way, we ran into one of the volunteers at the park who said he could show us where the greathorned owls were. We said that that would be great and he lead us towards the copse we were heading towards anyway. He then directed us to look up. We did and this is what we saw.

Great horned owl
After enjoying great looks at this majestic bird, we thanked the volunteer and moved on. We continued through the copse until I heard a strange quail like noise. I headed in its direction and came out on the other side of the copse at the edge of a field where two of the birders from the other group where standing. They pointed me towards a large group of about 200 California quail that were in the field.

California quail
I then turned to walk back into the copse. I just happened to look up into a tree and saw something looking back at me: a long-eared owl. I called the other birders over telling them there was a long-eared owl and as they wandered over they said that it’s probably a great horned.
“It’s awfully small for a great horned,” was my reply. And sure enough, it was a long-eared owl.

Long-eared owl
Then however, we had to go on to eat lunch.
On the way back to the main area of the island for lunch, we saw a coyote on the side of the road.

Coyote on side of road
Lunch was good (how can you go wrong with a grilled cheese and a rootbear?) but I was eager to start off again. We made a quick stop at the visitor center where we got directions to where to see sharp-tailed grouse. We then went back to the marina where we tried again to find the yellow-headed blackbirds and failed once again. We then headed to where the grouse had been seen. The pulled off on the side of the road at one of the spots the grouse had been seen in recently. We then got out and started scanning the hills for any sign of grouse. Sadly, no grouse made an appearance, so we headed to our second to last stop of the day, a hike.
This hike was a nice uphill hike heading up one of the mountain/large hills on the island. Very little was seen except this nest (raven?)

Nest on rock ledge
However, it was just a lovely hike and a good day to be out in the hills (which were only alive with the sound of the raven’s croaking music [ha ha very funny I know]).

Me at the top
After that, we decided to head down to the salt lake itself. For those of you who don’t know, the Great Salt Lake is five times as salty as the ocean. What this means is that you float when you lay on it. However, we just decided to wade. It was very cool anyway because if you lifted your foot up it would kind of hang there and not sink back down. Soon however, we had to go.
All in all it was a very lovely trip. The day ended with me getting ten life birds which means I have to only get 19 more to reach my 400 goal. On that note, I leave you till next time.

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