06 February 2013

BAS Field Trip: Logan's Arctic Tundra (26 Jan 2013)

This Rough-legged Hawk was photographed along our route earlier in January.
On January 26, the Bridgerland Audubon Society field trip focused on "Logan's Arctic Tundra," seeking out the birds that breed in the arctic tundra but winter here in Cache Valley.  These birds as a whole are fabulously adapted to living in cold, barren land - it always boggles my mind that they are perfectly comfortable sitting on a post or on the ground out in the middle of the valley on our coldest days.

The weather was warm, relative to the previous week or so, and temperatures were (just) above freezing.  We started by driving Highway 23, north of Petersboro, and then toward the Benson Marina in search of Horned Lark flocks that sometimes have northern visitors like Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs mixed in.  We saw one WILD TURKEY from the road, and several ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS (whose "rough" legs are feathered to better insulate them from the arctic cold).  In this stretch, we found only four HORNED LARKS and no associated rarities, although this same area had Lapland Longspurs a week earlier.  We also saw a distant PRAIRIE FALCON, and learned about how to identify distant falcons when they are far enough off to look like not much more than a speck to the naked eye.

We did a short walk in the snow at Benson Marina, mostly in search of American Tree Sparrows.  We didn't find the sparrows, but we were rewarded here with a close look at a second PRAIRIE FALCON, this time flying right over our heads!  From this trail, we were able to see five different ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS.

We found a large flock of HORNED LARKS on our way north from here through Cache Junction to the Amalga Barrens, and another good flock in the Barrens, but again with no northern visitors.  An adult BALD EAGLE gave us nice looks as it flew past in the Barrens, and we had three more ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS here.  We passed through Benson on the way back to Logan, and added RED-TAILED HAWK to our day's list, along with a few dozen CANADA GEESE (but none of their tundra-breeding relatives, Cackling Geese, that we were hoping for).  We ended in Logan a little before 1:00 PM.

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