~ 84 miles today
These days Antelope Island is a bit of a misnomer. Water levels in the lake are about as low as they have ever been according to die hard Utah birder Tim Avery. In fact, it took five miles on the causeway before I reached any water. Until that point it was basically salt flats on either side of the road for as far as I could see. This could have major repercussions during fall shorebird migration. The southbound birds need flooded flats to feed and refuel, and right now these are essentially nonexistent.
Tim Avery and me. I actually stayed at Tim's
house the last two nights.
The view of Antelope Island to the south
of the causeway. You can see the lightly colored,
dry salt flats where often there is water instead.
View looking north from the causeway. This is not
snow, it is precipitated, crystalized salt. The "water"
you see is more like a salt slurry than anything else.
As soon as I did reach the water, I was treated to two 'free' year birds (free meaning I did not have to ride out of my way at all to find them). The first of these was Red-necked phalarope. This is a species I have seen many times before, but nothing has ever approached the numbers I saw today. Tim, who joined me for a few hours this afternoon, estimated that there were upwards of 20,000 of these little guys along the causeway. They were all very busy chomping down brine shimp and flies. It was really cool to see thousands of these birds turning every which way as they stalked prey. The second free bird I found today was Long-billed curlew, the largest shorebird in North America. I probably saw 6-8 of these scattered along the causeway on my way to and from Antelope. I was able to obtain distant photos of both of these birds, and I have included some additional photos to give you a better idea of what each of these species actually looks like.
Red-necked phalaropes from today for #506
Breeding female Red-necked phalarope from my collection.
Interestingly, female phalaropes are more brightly
colored than their male counterparts!
Taken at Plum Island, Massachusetts
Winter plumage Red-necked phalarope from my collection.
Taken in Monterey, California
Long-billed curlew from today for #507.
The black dots on the water behind him are flies.
Long-billed curlew from my collection, also from California.
The feathers on their backs are so pretty.
After these two freebies, I could turn my attention squarely towards the Chukar. There is a healthy population of these birds that lives in the rocky environs that surround the Antelope Island Visitor's Center. It took a bit of searching, but after about 1.5 hours I saw a bird standing on a rock in the distance. In approaching this bird, I found 2-3 other adult birds that were shepparding around what seemed like 12-15 chicks! This meant I actually saw between 15 and 20 Chukars today. This is a species I have seen only once before (in Oregon, and poorly at that), so this was a real treat. The light was terrible, but I squeezed out a few shots for your viewing enjoyment!
Chukar for #508!
F#$%^&ing midday light.
This would have been cash-money if was taken at 7pm!
Outside of the above mentioned birds, the birding around Antelope was fairly entertaining. There were thousands of Eared grebes, hundreds of Franklin's gulls, and lots of Willets, Killdeer, California gulls, and American white pelicans. There were also a handful of Loggerhead shrikes and a few Burrowing owls. Salt Lake reminds me a lot of the Salton Sea, a place I have birded many times before and will do so again in November of this year. Both landscapes are beautifully desolate, and they both hold an incredible number of birds at the right time of year. I would love to make it back to Salt Lake during migration to see the avian biomass than is here concentrated.
OK, I am beat. I am going to bed. Tomorrow I will ride the ~55 miles to Logan, UT. I'll leave you with two shots I took of a particularly cooperative American avocet today.