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Great Salt Lake Audubon Field Trip w/ Salt Lake Birders

Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve and Lee Kay Ponds

 

 

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Photo Copyright Marvis Collett 2004

 

A very large group of birders showed up at 6:30am August 21 for the annual Kennecott Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve tour led by Deedee O’Brien. Deedee, along with Bob Huntington, has conducted breeding bird surveys in the area for years, so she knows the area well and was eminently qualified to lead the group.

The weather was perfect, and the views at sunrise, looking toward Antelope Island with reflections off the ponds, were noteworthy. Unfortunately, I do not function well at 6am and had left my camera sitting on the kitchen table.

Our first stop was the Porta-Potty. Deedee has learned from past excursions the importance of this initial stop to avoid mutiny in the ranks. We used this locale to further consolidate our lengthy automotive entourage by squeezing more people into fewer vehicles. Even with very cozy carpooling, we created an impressive caravan of vehicles, around 9 as I recall.

To add to the fun, a number of young (early twenties) hawk watchers, mostly from back east, had joined us earlier at the Shopko lot. These hawk watchers are an interesting and adventuresome lot, typically camping out for 2 months on some remote peak in early fall to document and tally the migration of raptors. All appeared to be highly educated, friendly, motivated, and knowledgeable birders, but many seemed unfamiliar with our common local species. (Speaking of hawk watching, I, along with wife Judy, will be leading an expedition to the Hawkwatch International site in the Goshute Mountains for the GSL Audubon in early October. Watch for it!)

Riding with Judy and me were Steve Carr and Mark, a very bright young man from North Carolina. Mark was on his way to watch hawks at Commissary Ridge in Wyoming, near Kemmerer, and was hoping to pick up a few lifers on his stopover in Salt Lake. One look at Mark’s heavily worn and taped together Sibleys (the fat one) was enough to convince me that he knew his way around birds.

Although an expert birder with a master’s degree in biology, Mark had never birded this far west. It was great sport to help him locate lifers such as the elusive California Gull, the secretive and scarce White-faced Ibis, the rare Yellow-headed Blackbird, and the even rarer Lazuli Bunting. Mark spotted the bunting from the car, but couldn’t immediately identify it, mentioning the blue head and white wing bars. We locals quickly surmised what he was seeing. After enthusiastically thumbing through his well-worn Sibleys, Mark concurred that was the bird and ticked off another lifer.

Seriously, we thoroughly enjoyed watching Mark find these common western birds. It reminded Judy and me of our first birding adventure back east and how much fun the local eastern birders had pointing out common life birds to us and watching us get all wigged out over Blue Jays and Cardinals. Other target birds for Mark, which he had not yet seen, included the Northern Flicker (red-shafted) and the Western Tanager. With a little luck, he should easily pick these up.

A highlight for the group was finding and flushing a family of Barn Owls living below a bridge.  They were great for us all to see, and the owls seemed very happy to see us leave! I suppose they can tolerate having 30+ birders standing on top of their home for 10 minutes once a year.

Alas, we were unable to locate a Short-eared Owl, though Deedee has seen them in the area.

Other good birds for the day included Baird’s Sandpipers, Snowy Plovers, Solitary Sandpipers, a lone Sora, Black Terns, and Sage Thrashers. Oh yes, least I forget, Steve Sommerfield netted and showed us all a Blue Pygmy. No, this is not a rare migrant bird, but a very tiny, colorful butterfly, about the size of Steve’s thumbnail.

All in all, we ended up with over 50 species. Thanks for another great trip, Deedee!

Jim Bailey

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Photo Copyright Marvis Collett 2004

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