* A little something different for this entry… birding OFF the Refuge, but my counterpart – Park Ranger Katie McVey – led tours for the recent Great Salt Lake Birding Festival that I thought you would be interested in. Enjoy!
This past week, I had the privilege of leading the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival’s ‘Owl Prowl’ tours on Antelope Island State Park. With co-leader Brian Ferguson, a long-time Island and Refuge volunteer, we saw 4 of the 5 species of owls which nest each spring on the Island.
On the tour we saw burrowing owl nesting sites, young great-horned owls and young barn owls. State park employees have improved owl nesting habitat by installing nesting boxes and platforms. In turn great-horned, barn, and burrowing owls are nesting in these man-made structures and are relatively easy to view from park roads.
The owl sighting of the day was without a doubt, long-eared owls. These owls resemble great-horned owls but are much smaller. They generally nest in abandoned black-billed magpie or American crow nests, which are often constructed in thick stands of willow and Russian olive trees. It was awesome to visit the female owl, sitting on the nest, and male owl, guarding the nest. Owls are masters of camouflage so spotting one in a completely natural setting can be tough.
If you have never been to Antelope Island State Park, I highly recommend it. The causeway provides an opportunity to view shorebirds and birds that dive. Once on the island - bison, pronghorn and mule deer roam freely. You will hear western meadowlarks, horned larks, and long-billed curlew. Visit the nesting boxes to catch a glimpse of young owls and if you are very lucky, spot a long-eared owl guarding his mate at a nearby nest site.
To view a picture of the Long-eared owl seen during the tour, go to this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/5736894221/in/photostream
Katie McVey, Park Ranger