Two weeks ago, my birding schedule was finally freed up. Ultimate Frisbee season was over with a 5th place finish in Northwest Regionals up in Burlington, Washington and I was ready to get back to my first love, birding (I did end up getting two year birds, Glaucous-winged Gull and Northwestern Crow).
With a whole free weekend I decided to head out to the western portion of Utah, a part I have never explored since I moved out to Utah two years ago. The farthest I had ever made it was to Stansbury Island and I had lately been wanting to see the Bonneville Salt Flats since I have heard so much about them and they seemed completely unique. And more importantly there were oasis migrant traps out west that I have been itching to bird and see what awesome species I could find.
September 28th I finally made the trip out to the other half of Utah, starting out in dark to try to hit Wendover around sunrise to see what birds I could find hanging out in the limited green space in city. I hate driving in Utah in the dark because I know I am missing out on great views on every side of my car. Once the sun started rising, my assumptions proved correct and this side of Utah was no different from any parts and I was looking at beautiful scenery. I stopped at the rest stop just outside of Wendover and had my first bird of the day in one of the two trees at the stop- a Yellow-rumped Warblers. As expected they were the most common bird of the day, but it was a good sign to have one in the first tree I saw of the day.
I also took the opportunity to walk out onto the Bonneville Salt Flats, which had a weird texture, and experience sunrise with a white ground that wasn't snow. The sky was lit up as the sun was finally rising.
Sunrise over the Bonneville Salt Flats
Hills to the north of the rest stop
The Bonneville Salt Flats
Welcome and wash stations
Welcome to the Salt Flats
Wendover proved birdy right from the start. As I got out of my car in the first patch of green I came to, chip notes filled the air from a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and in the distance I heard the upward chips of a Western Tanager. I soon came to a patch of shrubs with many White-crowned Sparrows hanging out and a few birds that made me do double takes on their identifications. The first was a bright vireo that I thought may be a Blue-headed Vireo, but ended up just being a bright Cassin's Vireo.
This bright Cassin's Vireo fed a bunch on the ground
The second was a well marked Spizella sparrow which had me hoping for a Clay-colored Sparrow, but this bird turned out to just be a bright Brewer's Sparrow.
This Brewer's Sparrow had me hoping for a Clay-colored
I explored more of Wendover which was easy by the relatively small size of it and lack of appropriate habitat for birds. I would look for green and head to it to see if there were any birds in it. Some other nice birds I had in the area included a few Northern Flickers, a Western Wood-Pewee, a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets and an obliging MacGillivray's Warbler. I also had an unusual sighting for me of a raven hanging out in a tree. This may have been the first raven I have seen in a tree and it looked too big to be hanging out in the middle of it.
A Common Raven in a tree is an uncommon sight
I continued on my way towards Lucin by heading further west into Nevada before finally turning north and east back to Utah. This area was largely desolate with only one small town, Montello. There were many raptors on this stretch ranging from the usual Red-tailed Hawks to regal Golden Eagles and sagebrush hunting Northern Harriers, including a gorgeous gray male flying close to my car. The gravel road to Lucin from the highway featured a close encounter with a Prairie Falcon which would have been better if I wasn't viewing it through my windshield. The bird must have not liked me looking at it through my windshield and it took off leaving me with only one clear shot, unfortunately it was of it flying away from me.
Excuse the picture through the windshield
The offended Prairie Falcon set to take off
At least I got one clear shot of the falcon
As I neared the oasis of Lucin, I passed a decent herd of Pronghorn and was treated to my first views of the oasis in the middle of the desert with a pocket green amidst the browns of the rest of the landscape.
A typical Great Basin desert sight- pronghorn in sagebrush
My first views of Lucin in the distance
Lucin is a literal oasis for migrating birds- an area of deciduous vegetation encircling a pond (or two depending on the season) in the middle of the desert. When nocturnal migrants over the desert finally get sunlight in the morning they need to refuel to continue their migration and a patch of green says food, shelter and water. The first bird I saw was one that I am not used to seeing in deciduous trees, a Townsend's Warbler. At least it was still foraging high in the tree in typical Townsend's fashion.
Lucin, an oasis in the desert
The only pond with water at Lucin
Massive cottonwood tree
An odd Townsend's Warbler not in a conifer
Walking into the trees, I heard a woodpecker drumming and tried to find its location. I was surprised when I found it and it was a Hairy Woodpecker- a bird I am used to seeing up in the mountains, not in the desert.
An unexpected Hairy Woodpecker in the desert
The area was loaded with Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging at all different levels of the oasis. Some where down low feeding along the shore of the pond whiles others were up in the canopy of the cottonwoods. They were joined by several other warbler species including Nashville, MacGillivray's and two very photogenic Wilson's Warblers that foraged near the ground and approached very close to me. I got to study these adorable warblers from close range as they foraged near me.
An adorable Wilson's Warbler
Showing off its black beret
Foraging near the pond
Looking for potential food
There were many sparrows around as well in the surrounding brush, mostly White-crowned but with some Lincoln's and Songs mixed in for good measure.
A juvenile White-crowned Sparrow showing off its lack of a white crown
I also had a bird that stumped me from a distance but when I got up close I finally realized what it was an was a little shocked that I had trouble with it from farther away. Anyone want to take a guess on this bird?
Lucin "mystery" bird- what do you think it is?
Although I didn't have anything really rare I still enjoyed the birds I did see and they often gave great looks given the lack of areas they could take shelter in.
Next I decided to head up to Rabbit and Owl Springs, but the road to those springs soon gave me highs and lows, both related to recent rains in the area. The highs resulted in a large puddle in the middle of the road which attracted many sparrows, up to a dozen at a time. Most of the sparrows were White-crowned but there were a few Songs mixed in too.
A liquid oasis for migrant sparrows
White-crowned and Song Sparrows enjoy the puddle
The low resulted in a washed out portion of the road. Unfortunately my car is low clearance and I though that I may have to turn around from the two foot ruts. However I am stubborn and soon set out to moving rocks and dirt and fashioning a ramp through the ruts that would hopefully get my car past it. It worked for the most part and I only needed to stop once to put more gravel under a wheel that was spinning in some mud. Soon I was back on my way to Rabbit Spring. Thanks car!
A temporary roadblock
Rabbit Springs was at this time of year was a small stream running through a bunch of grasses with scattered trees around it. I assume it is a pond in certain times of year. Right in the area was a large gathering of ravens, over 40 total in the area, the largest flock I have ever seen. There weren't too many birds in the area, but I did have an Orange-crowned Warbler and Lesser Goldfinch sitting right next to each other on a branch allowing for some interesting comparing and contrasting.
A raven headed to the rest of his flock
Showing off the classic raven shape
Huge flock of ravens
There is a stream in the somewhere
Unlikely buddies- Orange-crowned Warbler and Lesser Goldfinch
Deserts mean lizards
Just up the road, Owl Springs was had more vegetation than Rabbit Springs and I had some nice birds including another Nashville Warbler and a Western Wood-Pewee and also got a history lesson:
History from 172 years ago
Owl Springs was a lush place despite no above ground water
I then started my way back and took in the scenery of the mountains all around me and I also had great looks at a cooperative Golden Eagle on my way back through Nevada.
The way back to Wendover from Lucin
Such an open landscape
Mountains to the south
A Golden Eagle in Nevada
Notice the multiple generations of primaries on this adult Golden Eagle
Once through Wendover, I stopped at the south portion of the rest stop I had visited at sunrise. I got to see kids play in the salt flats and again only had one bird, but this time it was a Brewer's Blackbird.
Kids on the Bonneville Salt Flats
Mirages in the distance
A young shiny Brewer's Blackbird
Showing off its iridescence
I snapped one more shot of the highway surrounded by the salt flats and headed home, but with a quick stop at the Salt Lake International Center. Here I had my second Cassin's Vireo of the day along with some goofy gulls trying to land in a Russian Olive to feed on its olives. They looked very out of place in tree and had trouble standing on its branches.
Surround by salt
My second Cassin's Vireo of the day
Giving the signature vireo head tilt
Gulls trying to get some olives
My first trip out to Western Utah was a memorable one for both the uniqueness of the environment, the beautiful landscapes and of course the birds. Hopefully future trips will feature more birds but this trip got me hooked with a new part of Utah and got me back in birding mode until the spring. It's great to be back to my very first passion.
This summer wasn't totally devoid of birding trips but oftentimes I had to pack them into trips for other things I was doing. I will start recapping these summer trips that led me all over the place, from areas around Joshua Tree National Park to Zion Park to the Uintas and the great birds I saw in on these trips. Keep an eye out for them!
Labels: lucin, migration, West Desert