Saturday, October 31, 2015

Windows of Opportunity

Candle burning, map, water and laptop to plan for the next day
Every moment is an opportunity. If you don't use it, you miss out.

Micheal hiding behind some grasses looking for....whatever!
On these far away treks, a lot of mapping and planning go into the search for new birds. Sometimes there are also rare birds that can be found in the various states that are extremely rare to find in Arizona.  Such was the case of the Lesser Black-backed Gull. 

How do you find that one gull within hundreds?  Walk slow so that you don't make them fly.  Then I begin from left to right counting looking at each individual gull.  In the case of the LBBG, I looked for a larger sized gull against the much smaller surrounding gulls.  
With the little time we had left in Utah, our windows were closing to find two new birds to add to that ever growing life list. Our first mission took us to Utah Lake which is south of Salt Lake City.  It was there we were hoping to find the LBBG.  These gulls are common in Europe, but here in Utah, they are a reliable rare visitor. However, this particular gull was an early winter arrival.  Their numbers seem to be increasing each year in the US. Will they eventually become the next House Sparrow or European Starling?  I love gull ID, but my other half, Micheal does not.  So while I sifted through the large numbers of gulls, Micheal spoke with his brother on the phone.

Lesser Black-backed Gull surrounded by the smaller Ring-billed Gulls
Once I found the gull, I tried to get as close as I could without disturbing the birds.  The gull was much larger than the surrounding Ring-billed Gulls.  The legs had a unique yellow color and there was that trademark red spot on the lower mandible.  They are tricky to ID and it's a delicious challenge. Utah Lake was also a great place to ebird.  It was a beautiful ride to the lake through a farmland full of pumpkins. 

Clark's Grebe-not a great photo but one good for an ID
Then it was onto the Bear Migratory Bird Refuge located north of Salt Lake City. This was an AWESOME place and I think my favorite spot to bird.  Here we needed to find Short-eared Owls and Clark's Grebes.  It was a tad early for the Short-eared Owls but one can hope, right?:)  While we struck out on this owl, we did have a great study session ID'ing yet another tricky species.  The Clark's Grebe.  There were hundreds of these birds still present.  These grebes look very similar to the Western Grebes.  So like any good teacher, I sat in the car and had Micheal do ID's on the birds with me.  He's pretty good! Although after awhile, he started mocking me and used my field mark quotes against me. Point taken:)

Western Grebe
During this time of year, it can be somewhat difficult to distinguish between the Western and Clark's Grebes as they can appear similar in the wrong light in their non-breeding plumage.  Let's take an ID look.  Above is the Western Grebe.  The bill is slightly darker and thinner than the Clark's Grebe. The black shading also goes to and below the eye. 

Clark's Grebe
The Clark's Grebe has a stronger and brighter bill.  The first picture on this blog post clearly shows the white above the eye making the ID a snap. For this photo(above), it wasn't so clear to me right away.  However the bright and stronger bill, overall whiter plumage and slight white spot between the eye and bill point to a non-breeding plumaged Clark's Grebe.  The birds have also been known to hybridize.  Oh oh! Fun, right?:) 

California Quail
We had one last window left in Salt Lake City.  It would be the last place we could find the California Quail.  I researched and mapped everything out the night before.  I had three plans, but I wanted to take the one that had interesting things to do around it.  And so we went to Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.  

What a gem of a city park! 

While we walked around this park, we enjoyed the good breezes and lovely pond area.  

California Quail

And while we had a lot of great birds, we weren't seeing our target, the California Quail. 

So on a hunch, and overall curiosity, we explored the Tracy Aviary next door. This is a lovely area for families to explore and learn about Utah's amazing birds.  There were several birds from other countries, but overall, the aviary does highlight the local waterfowl, raptors and owls.  As for my hunch, it paid off.  Working at the Tucson Botanical Gardens years ago, I remembered that Gambel's Quail loved to hang out in our native gardens.  Tracy's Aviary had that same perfect habitat for these quail. When I heard that typical quail cluck clucking, I knew we were going to hit the jackpot. 

Northern Pintail
We had a whole covey run back and forth between the vegetation.  At one point, during their Raptor Free Flight Program, their Red-tailed Hawk swooped down at one of the quail.  WOW!  

Of course, birds are the main reason why we explore.  But don't think for one minute that we didn't enjoy a glass of wine or visit a place to have dinner or just....explore.  People have told me, including my family, that I exhaust them during a vacation. Again, there's always so much to see in such little time! (I have a very strong wanderlust.:) 

White-faced Ibis
Utah was an experience and one that we'll remember for a long time.  I'm not sure we'll ever return, but it was fun exploring their interesting culture. For people who love rock formations, etc, this is a great state to explore. Rocks can be fascinating, but I love the wildlife that live around these areas more.  And one of my favorite birds, the Ring-necked Pheasant was on almost every count!  LOVE those birds. 

Either way, we both were looking forward to our visits in Colorado and New Mexico.  We both love these two states very much. Colorado is an American favorite.  And New Mexico is America's best kept secret.  Every time we go, we explore a new location and just fall in love with the state even more. 

Monument Valley National Park-pretty but not very birdy and full of tourists. 
We drove through the rocky canyons of Utah and headed towards our next destination, Gunnison, Colorado. Until next time friends.....


  1. Wonderful rocky canyon and views of the city park. Love the Quail an the Pintail ducks. Our's have jut rrived a few week ago. omeday i would love to se the Clarke's Grebe especially displaying.

  2. So much fun to read your adventures as well as the way you look for The Bird.

  3. Congrats on your gull sighting, Chris! I love the cute Quail. Great post and photos. Enjoy your day and the new week ahead!

  4. Wonderful post Chris with some gorgeous photos. Looks a really superb place to visit - I love geology so I think I would be enjoying the rocks nearly as much as the birdlife :)

  5. Holaaa. Very cool place. Muchos pájaros increibles.

  6. So love your travel reports. We think New Mexico is great too.

  7. A nicely illustrated and interesting post, Chris. Those California Quail are really cute - however, if I had a feather bobbing around in front of my face I think it would annoy the hell out of me! I love the colors on the White-faced Ibis!

    Best wishes - - Richard


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