11 November 2012

BAS Field Trip: Antelope Island

Yesterday I led a group of seven birders on a field trip to Antelope Island for the Bridgerland Audubon Society.  This was a good turnout considering the weather: our first big snowstorm of the season had arrived the day before, and there were several inches of fresh snow on the ground and more was predicted for the rest of the morning.  Temperatures were predicted to reach highs just below freezing.  Even while meeting in the parking lot, though, our efforts were already being rewarded: a flock of about 8 EVENING GROSBEAKS flew overhead while we were waiting to depart.

The roads were not too bad, and before not too long we arrived at the Antelope Island Causeway and saw the first effects of the shifting weather on the birds: the storm had pushed hundreds of LEAST SANDPIPERS to the causeway.  By counting a small group and estimating how many groups that size we saw along the causeway, we estimated 500-700 Least Sandpipers.  According to eBird, this is the highest single checklist count of this species in Utah since a 1974 count at Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. Among the Least Sandpipers we were able to pick out one WESTERN SANDPIPER, three GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and several hundred KILLDEER. We learned to identify the common GULLS of the area, and saw four species: RING-BILLED, CALIFORNIA, BONAPARTE'S, and HERRING. One GREAT HORNED OWL perched on the snow near the causeway was a highlight for the group.

A Great Horned Owl perched on the snow along the Antelope Island Causeway.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
One of the big draws of Antelope Island is the chance of spotting rare vagrant ducks, and as usual, the famous second bridge didn't disappoint.  A HARLEQUIN DUCK was first found along the causeway about three weeks ago, and continued for us.  We were also able to find three SURF SCOTERS at the same location.

A Harlequin Duck continued to oblige along the Antelope Island Causeway.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

Three Surf Scoters pose together nicely for a photo, with a Lesser Scaup in the background.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
On the island itself, we started by driving up to the visitor's center for a bathroom break, but before we could make it there we found another rare bird for this time of year, a SAGE SPARROW.  We had brief looks at this bird up on top of a shrub before it dropped back down into the vegetation.

A late Sage Sparrow that should be migrating south soon.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
At the visitor's center, the feeders gave us close looks at a DARK-EYED JUNCO, a CALIFORNIA QUAIL, and several CHUKAR.

A California Quail and a Chukar wait for their turn at the bird feeder at the Antelope Island Visitor's Center.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

As we drove down the island towards historic Garr Ranch, we saw several more raptors, including ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and RED-TAILED HAWKS, and had a brief look at an unidentified SHRIKE.  We also added to our mammal list, with a COYOTE, many BISON, and very close looks at a herd of PRONGHORN.

A Pronghorn, part of a herd that blocked the road for a little while on our way out to Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
At Garr Ranch itself, we worked the trees around the spring and another pond to the south pretty thoroughly.  One of the first good birds here was a NORTHERN GOSHAWK right around the spring.  This species is very rare at Antelope Island - according to eBird this is only the second record for the park.  

An immature Northern Goshawk at Garr Ranch.  Mike Fish photo, used with permission.
Other raptors in the area included a RED-TAILED HAWK, an adult COOPER'S HAWK, a NORTHERN HARRIER, and this GREAT HORNED OWL, our second of the day.

Great Horned Owl at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

The park ranger led us down to another small clump of Russian Olive trees where a very large MULE DEER buck had been hanging out.

A very large Mule Deer buck guards his harem at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
Garr Ranch is famous as a migrant trap, a place where lost birds tend to show up when they get blown or wander off course.  We didn't find any great vagrants when we were there, but we did get some great looks at some common species, including this HERMIT THRUSH, and one out-of-season BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.

One of two Hermit Thrushes at Garr Ranch.  This individual is pretty red, and I wonder if it might be in the eastern/northern subspecies group, rather than one of our local breeders.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.

A late Brown-headed Cowbird, or should I say "Brown-headed Horsebird?," found a warm place to perch in the snow at Garr Ranch.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
Finally, before leaving the ranch, we checked the silo for BARN OWLS and came up with one.  Or, the wingtips and tail of one, at least!

"It counts."  These weren't the best looks one could hope for at a Barn Owl, but the wingtips and tail are distinctive enough to identify the bird.  Ryan O'Donnell photo.
We ended the trip at Garr Ranch, but had a few more sightings on the way back to Logan, including three or four COYOTES, a couple of PORCUPINES, and a LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE.  

Join us for our next trip, on December 8th, and for the Logan Christmas Bird Count on December 15th.  See our website for details on this and all future trips, and contact Bryan Dixon to sign up for the Christmas Bird Count at bdixon@xmission.com.

Here are links to the complete eBird checklists from our trip, including a few bonus photos:


Jeff Cooper said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip to the island. Thanks for sharing the photos.

Andrew Durso said...

Nice photos, sounds like it was a great trip! I wish I had made it for the Sage Sparrow and Barn Owl for sure.