Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trip from Bountiful

Thursday, June 23, 2011

While speaking and guiding at The Great Salt Lake Bird Festival in May, the kind folks at the festival put me up in Bountiful, Utah. The hotel was lovely, but being between two busy highways it was not so birdy.

When I found myself with a free morning, I was determined to find some birds to enjoy and to photograph, so I enlisted my new friend Valerie a festival volunteer and local Utah birder, to help me find a good, birdy spot. Also joining us was a longtime friend, birder, and Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival raconteur Marci Fuller. Marci was seeking a Virginia's warbler. I was seeking some bird photo opps. Valerie was kind enough to take us to a real gem of a spot called Willard Bay State Park, north of Salt Lake City and Bountiful. It turned out to be a bountiful trip!

As soon as we got out of the car our ears were assaulted by bird song. Yellow warblers were singing from every direction. Lazuli buntings and black-headed grosbeaks vocalized from the cottonwoods, and a host of other noisemakers chimed in. And then I heard one of those calls that you KNOW you know, but you can't quite place it. Know what I mean? This happens to me every spring.

Cavorting along the branches of a tree with lots of apparently tasty buds was the calling bird and, when I saw what it was, I jumped up and down, squealing, like a six-year old girl who's just been given a pony!

"Hey! EVENING GROSBEAK! Yes! Holy #@$%&*#$%! I KNEW I knew that call! How OSSUM is THAT BIRD!"

Then (I hope not because of my antics) the flock flew far away and I had to wait for a couple of hours before we relocated a photograph-able bird (below). I love evening grosbeaks, in case you were wondering. The first year of publishing Bird Watcher's Digest in our home in Marietta, Ohio, we had a huge finch invasion with loads of evening grosbeaks at the feeders, so they've always occupied a special place in my heart.

Male evening grosbeak.

Valerie lead us along the park's paths, many of which were flooded, necessitating some detours. We picked carefully through flocks of still-migrating warblers hoping to find a Virginia's, but we dipped out. Lots of orange-crowneds and clouds of yellow warblers, though.

Another song caught my ear—familiar, but not as familiar as the grosbeak's. It was a dark-plumaged fox sparrow singing a slightly weird song. We listened to his amazing melodic phrases. Fox sparrows pass through my home turf in spring and fall, only occasionally stopping long enough to be heard singing. In my opinion they are an underrated singer.

Fox sparrow.

Valerie and Marci scanning the woodland edge.

Farther along the path, winding in and out of the campground, we came to the edge of the lake and scooped up a nice variety of species new for the day's list. A male California quail and his covey of purty ladies skedaddled along the shoreline and into deep cover—though not before I got a few photos.

California quail.

Several American white pelicans were soaking up the warm morning sunshine in a small embayment. They hardly paid any attention to us.

American white pelican.

Out on the lake a Clark's grebe drifted in toward shore and I digiscoped it. This species seemed to be present here in Utah in equal numbers to its near-lookalike, the western grebe. Little did I know then, but I'd be straining my eyes to find a Clark's on a Big Day adventure in North Dakota just three weeks later. In ND, it seems to be 50 westerns for every single Clark's grebe. [Yes, we finally got a Clark's in ND!].

Clark's grebe.

A very cooperative male black-headed grosbeak sang for us in the sun. Seeing this stunning bird so well through my scope reminded me that we can get blasé about our familiar local birds. I recall wondering about a European friend's overwhelming joy at seeing a northern cardinal on my farm in Ohio. There are no all-red birds in Europe, so seeing one for the first time made his eyes pop out. I felt that way about this black-headed grosbeak—so handsome, especially to my eastern eyes.
Male black-headed grosbeak.

It's funny how easily we may overlook common birds. A pair of American robins was building a nest in the interpretive signage near our parking lot. They seemed wary, as if not wanting to tip us off to the nest's location. Since I began dabbling in various forms of bird photography, I think I've paid a bit more attention to common birds, especially if they are being cooperative enough to photograph.
American robin, adult male.

Valerie (left) and Marci laughing at my evening grosbeak happy dance.

It was a fine morning of birding at Willard Bay State Park, thanks to Valerie. Too bad we missed the Virginia's warbler. That one'll have to wait until next time!

For my readers who are interested in experiencing some excellent birding in the western United States, I highly recommend the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival as a fantastic starting point. The festival organizers really go all out to make everyone feel welcome, the birds are great, the birding hotspots convenient, and there's a lot offered for young birders, too. Check it out!


On March 5, 2012 at 5:52 AM Bryon said...

Thanks so much for this article, pretty useful material.
this site