It was my day off - but it was sunny and bright and "looked" warm out there. So, I jumped in my jeep named Butch and headed off to do some chilly winter birding along the Bear River MBR's Auto Loop. Now - even though a large portion of the land along the country access road is not Refuge land, I almost always consider my loop to be starting and ending at the Refuge Wildlife Education Center...all 36 miles of it (12 miles out, 12 miles around the Loop and 12 miles back). I have often had some great birding - depending on the season, along this country road in the agricultural fields and the brush along small irrigation ditches and the rocks and waters of the many canals. Not to mention the waters of the Bear River itself before it enters the Refuge proper.
It was the same on this day, the first Monday in 2011. And though I didn't expect to see too many birds...what with the bitter temperatures and mostly frozen wetlands...I am always amazed at the quality of bird viewing along this well-traveled trail. The Rough-legged hawks (11 of them) seemed to want to show-off for the camera (if only I had one.) And the Northern harriers not only are a beauty to behold - sliding smoothly, low over the marshes and frozen fields, but also gave me a rare glimpse at raptor behavior...stealing! While watching a pair of Common ravens inspecting some new find of food out in a field - ZOOM! An adult female harrier zipped right between them just feet off the ground and nabbed what the ravens were hoping to have been their lunch. I wondered who stole first. Before I arrived, had that been the harrier's meal and the ravens had teamed up on her? Had she had enough and taken her prize back? Or - was it she that was being the enterprising thief... realizing times were tough, did she decide to get while the getting was good? I'll probably never know for sure - but sure was a pleasure to watch and let my mind wonder.
I continued along the road and around the loop, scaring up one Great Blue heron after another...seemingly one at ever small open patch of water near each water structure. And then...my jeep, the road and I were immersed in a flock of chirping and fluttering. Larks. Horned larks, to be exact. The flock was 60-70 strong, and like me after a few too many Mello-yellos...just would not sit still! I searched for some time with my scope - trying to see if there was a lark-friendly longspur among them...but not this time. But watching the li'l larks as they hopped, slipped and skated on the icy fields and roads - snipping and snapping about anything they could find edible, was a pure delight.
I could, I suppose, include a full list of the birds I saw on the Refuge that day, but that seems too clinical for the enjoyment of the drive...so I'll leave you with a few other highlight birds (Northern and Loggerhead shrikes, Redheads, Green-winged teal and a skating Northern pintail) and a wish for a very warm and wonderful new year.
- JASON ST. SAUVER