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Monday, May 02, 2016

Powell Lake April 30th

Bonaparte's Gull Powell Lake Lehi, Utah
I don't usually do this...but I took the opportunity to chase a rare bird on Saturday. There was a report of two Horned Grebe out at Powell Lake in Lehi. (Not Lake Powell...different. places altogether.) Since the drive wasn't far...I set out to find it...and I did!

Since I haven't been a birder very long...I wasn't sure if I'd be able to distinguish the difference between a rare-for-our-area Horned Grebe and common-for-our-area Eared Grebe. After much studying...I think I could easily distinguish either one quite readily. Here's what I learned:
The picture above features our common Eared Grebe. There are three distinguishing features that you can notice right away... the feathers on the front of the head on the Eared Grebe will stand up, the yellow feathers by the red eye are wispy, the lower portion of the beak curves up slightly as it comes to the point.
This one is also an Eared Grebe. The feathers on the top of the head are not standing up right now, but you can still see the wispy eye feathers, and the turned up beak.

Now this picture above is of a Horned Grebe. Very similar in color, but notice the yellow eye feathers, they are more dense and create more of a stripe from the eye, rather than a wispy fan. Look at the beak, it has a white tip and a different shape. It's a little shorter, and does not have the upturn in the lower portion like the Eared Grebe. Now take a look at the eye, and follow it to the beak...notice the red line that connects the eye and the beak. Also, the feathers on top of the head do not stand up, but rather the feathers on the cheeks puff out.

You can see the "puffing out" of the cheek feathers better in this picture of a Horned Grebe above.

Here's a picture of a Horned Grebe and an Eared Grebe...with the clues mentioned, can you tell the difference?
I also saw four American White Pelicans on my outing...here's one flying over. Do you see the hump on his beak? That's only present during mating season. The American White Pelican is the only Pelican species that grows a hump. They shed it after laying their eggs. I suppose the growth on their beak helps them attract a mate...Nature is a funny thing.
 Here's three more American White Pelicans. Note that one is sans hump...
 There were a few Pie-Billed Grebe on the lake.
 I also spotted my first Spotted Sandpiper!
The Swainson's Hawks are coming back in full force now. Later in the day I saw one carrying a snake. Bless his heart! I love hawks...I hate snakes.
Of course you can't forget about the shy birds that hang around the lake too. There were several Yellow-Headed Blackbirds hanging out in the reeds. They were very good about staying in the thick of it all...made for some interesting pictures I must say.
It was a good birding day. I saw a total of 28 species. You can see the checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29320879

I was ecstatic Monday morning to see that my report made it onto the rare bird alert from Cornell. That's a first!

If you haven't tried birding...grab your camera, and go out into your local area and see what hangs around in your neighborhood...you'll be surprised. There are more than just blackbirds and pigeons to be found.

Birding makes every day a treasure hunt!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge (a side trip)

Yesterday, I posted about our geode-hunting-rock-hounding adventure...
While at the Dugway Geode beds, I mentioned that Jonathan and I took a little side trip to Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. That was my husband's great idea. He noticed that it was close to where we were already going. 

The refuge is literally in the middle of nowhere, so for it to suddenly be very convenient to a place we were already going, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to check it out. 

We've wanted to see it for some time now, but since it isn't near anything, we've never found ourselves in the neighborhood. You have to take long dirt roads to get there...about 3 1/2 hours away from our home in Lehi. It's not exactly convenient. The migratory birds think it's great though. ;)

Birding is a fun hobby...it gets you out to places you might not normally see. I've gotten hooked on  birding in the last year. It's a great pastime to get me away from the computer. My typing and mouse hands surely appreciate breaks like these. I highly recommend it. Birding is like making every day into a treasure hunt. Here's a great book to get you started.
Fortunately, the scenery along the drive is beautiful. 
The ride didn't seem as long because of that. 
From the Dugway Geode beds it is another half hour drive to get there. 
There is a small visitors center at the refuge. The ranger wasn't in, but it would have been interesting to talk to him about what recent bird activity they've been having.

As we started our visit, it became very clear that this refuge isn't visited often. That is one thing that makes it so unique! At the visitors center, instead of a ranger, we were greeted by his two happy Labradors who were excited that we accidentally let them out of the office. We had to round them up and get them back inside. That was fun! (seriously...it was fun.)

We signed in at the kiosk, and picked up a map and some brochures. Fish Springs is a natural spring that supports many migrating birds. It's literally an oasis in the middle of the Utah high mountain desert. It has an 11 mile auto-tour route that leads you along the ponds and streams within the refuge. There are also a few places that you can get to by hike only.

We weren't sure what to expect in the way of birds. I think we were a little bit early for the influx of Spring migrants, but it was still worth the trip.

We were greeted by this regal BALD EAGLE in the tree at the picnic area...which is just before the auto tour route. Incidentally, we saw him on our way out (in this very same spot) as well. I'm pretty sure he's put claim on this tree. He was very cooperative in front of the camera. He always had to have an eye on me...but he didn't fly off.

There was also another one soaring in the sky! I hadn't checked a Bald Eagle off my list this year, so I was pretty excited!
There were plenty of AMERICAN-COOTS in every pond and waterway. Here are just a few. I loved the way these photographed with the scenery. I adore this season for all the tall yellow grasses...make for such pretty pictures.
It wouldn't be a marsh without RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS. This guy was hanging out on a fence post. Canadian Geese were in the grass beside him. (not in the picture.)
I saw a few fun ducks mixed in with the coots. This RING-NECKED DUCK was happily swimming along. I was grateful that he didn't see me behind the tall grass.

We also saw a pair of CINNAMON TEAL in this waterway, and a few more in another pond.

I was so excited to see a few BUFFLEHEADS. This was a life bird for me. (birder talk for the first time you've ever seen a certain bird.) I haven't been birding long...so there are lots of lifers yet for me to check off my list. They were so far away (hence the dreadful photo,) but still identifiable (they are the two birds up front, a drake and his lady friend to the right.)

There was a family of TUNDRA SWAN hanging out on a grass strip in this pond. Beautiful! There were two adults and two juveniles.

In this same pond, we saw a group of 3 Juvenile WHITE-FACED IBIS. I think they were hanging around the nest. Apparently, Mama hadn't kicked them out yet. ;)

I was a little overly excited about this find because I thought they might be glossy ibis who had lost their way and accidentally ended up in Utah...but then was able to figure out that the juvenile white-faced ibis looks an awful lot like the glossy ibis from the east coast.

We saw many more birds...Ravens, Harriers, Canadian Geese, Gulls, and more! For a complete bird list from this trip, you can view it on ebird.org
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S28051512

Unfortunately, our side-trip to the refuge had to be quick as we left friends digging at the Geode Beds (which by the way is an excellent adventure in itself!) We wanted to caravan with them back to Lehi. You never know what may happen in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road without cell reception. I would have loved to have stayed longer...but they were kind enough to dig a little longer to allow us the time to go to the refuge.

I'd definitely recommend this trip to any birder wanting to go on a day-trip adventure. You might want to mix it in with a trip to the Geode beds too. Just be prepared for the long beautiful drive.
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