Monday, May 23, 2011

Birding the Inland Sea

Monday, May 23, 2011

There's something sort of magical about getting in an airplane in the flatlands and flying to a place where the mountains are capped with snow. This (above) was the view out my airplane window as we circled in for a landing at the Salt Lake City, Utah airport. I was way out west for the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.

The kind folks at the GSLBF knew that I was interested in doing some photography/digiscoping/videography and so they made arrangements, on the day before the fest started, for me to have a guided birding tour of a place called The Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR). The ISSR is a mitigation project of The Kennecott Utah Copper company, a copper-mining operation nearby. To mitigate the habitat damage being caused by the copper mining, Kennecott funded the creation, enhancement, and maintenance of the Inland Sea site. You can read more about this mitigation site here.

Turning overgrazed range land into shorebird-friendly habitat seems to have worked and it has been a boon to the shorebirds. During our first few minutes inside the gates we saw black-necked stilts, American avocets, teeming herds of killdeer, and lots of semipalmated plovers. More special for this site were the snowy plovers and black-bellied plovers we found, thanks to the scouting skills of my guides, Valerie and Haylie, both of whom work at the ISSR as field research interns.

Haylie and Valerie scoping the Inland Sea

Many of the shorebirds at the ISSR were already getting "nesty." Several males called loudly and flew circles around our truck.

Black-necked stilt and barbed wire (isn't that a Lucinda Williams song?)

Pronghorn antelope.

As the afternoon wore on and we'd covered most of the good birding spots, I started to get some of the more interesting insider info from my guides. For example, they knew where several of the male pronghorn antelope hung out, and the gals had given each male a name: Michaelangelo, Donatelo—actually I 'm not remembering the names correctly, but I do recall suggesting that one be named Fabio. It seemed fitting at the time.

Like often happens when I take someone birding in my local patch, a set of truly objective eyes will find something out of the ordinary. The same was true on this afternoon of birding. We found two notable species for the ISSR: a male lark bunting and a male red-breasted merganser.

Red-breasted merganser was a noteworthy species at the ISSR.

All too soon it was time to split. Their work day was over and I (still being on Eastern Time) was so hungry I was tempted to chase down a pronghorn on foot. As if to show us one more eyeful of wonderment, a golden eagle took off from his hunting perch and flew past the distant mountains. Majestic overload!

Though I knew the eagle would be just a speck in the frame, I simply couldn't resist taking this shot.

Great birding on the Inland Sea! Thanks to Valerie and Haylie for guiding me. What a fine way thing, to get right off the plane and be birding in a spot like this only minutes later.


On May 24, 2011 at 1:39 AM BWJones said...

Bummer. Did not know you were in town. Still here?

On May 24, 2011 at 10:49 AM Anonymous said...

You are very welcome, Bill, and it was great meeting you!
--your friendly interns

On May 25, 2011 at 1:53 PM Chatterbirds said...

Majestic overload indeed!

On May 26, 2011 at 5:26 AM eileeninmd said...

What lovely views of the mountains. Great post!