bearriver Blog

Arrival of the BIG STARS!

Friday, October 25, 2012

Let's just admit it right now.  Bald eagles and Tundra swans are two of the biggest stars in the bird world, especially right here at the Refuge, and for weeks (and sometimes months) before their return...people are asking "Any swans yet?"; "When do the eagles get here?"; and "When is the best time to see swans and eagles?!"  Tundra swans and full moon over the BRMBR, by Lloyd Bush

Well folks...that time is just...about... NOW.  Swans have started to arrive on the Refuge..from just a few last week to hundreds and maybe thousands this week, and the number is expected to grow into the 10s & 20s of thousands into mid-November until the wetlands freeze over. Of course,    if they don't freeze over like last year       (due to such a mild winter)  we can have flocks of swans here straight through the cold months until March for Swan day on March 9. But - if we have a more regular Thanksgiving or shortly after,   most of the swans will head south and west of us to Mono lake and southern California. (Photo: SWAN MOON, by Lloyd Bush.)

As for the eagles - it is possible to see some in the winter...but they prefer it around here when the ice is almost covering the wetlands with scattered open water to fish in.  The best month is February - hence we have Bald Eagle day on February 9th - but we do get "Baldies" coming in in late November and through December as keep an eye out for this superstar.

So, Papparazzi birders, get your bins and scopes ready for the BIG BIRDS and their entourages...and don't forget to dress warm!

Happy Birding

 - Jason

“What’s a nice bird like you doing in a place like this?”

Wednesday, October 10

"What’s a nice bird like you doing in a place like this?", I thought, as I realized that the small bird landing on a fence post near the observation tower was a Red-breasted Nuthatch … no kidding, a nuthatch, likely a dozen miles from the nearest wooded habitat where it might be just a wee bit more comfortable. Apparently, I needed another dose of you-never-know-what-to-expect at Bear River Refuge, and that’s what the nuthatch gave me.

red-breasted nuthatch

My October general bird survey started with a pleasant, seasonal surprise—a milk chocolate and off-white female or first-year Richardson’s Merlin hunting low along a canal near the Perry gate. It was my first Merlin of the fall, and right on time. Another seasonal pattern very obvious today was the use of the sunflower crop by the seed-eaters. Red-winged Blackbirds are dominating the scene in high numbers and billow into patches of roadside sunflowers until a Northern Harrier cruises by, pushing them along or out into the marsh. American Goldfinches tweet and twitter as they flush from the seed-laden heads, and several species of sparrows—White-crowned and Song and Dark-eyed Juncos—work their way deep into the tangles and peck at the seed heads.

Migrating Barn and Tree Swallows leave their roosts on the playa or in phragmites stands as the day warms and insects take to the air. The numbers of both swallow species is humbling, especially because I have to count them. The refuge hosts more than enough of what they need (bugs) to fuel their journey south. Come back in the spring! We’ll make more!

Other signs of the season appear in the species list: Thirty-six Western Meadowlarks distributed throughout the survey route; in spring and summer, I find them only at the east end of the D-line; American Pipits, first of fall migration for me; a Mourning Dove, a species I only see in fall or winter far out on the refuge.

By next month, the first Bald Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks will be on the refuge, and the species count will dwindle to just over a dozen in preparation for the icy lockdown. But I hesitate to predict exactly what the refuge will be hosting then, because after all, I couldn’t have told you that today’s highlight would have been a nuthatch at the observation tower!

 - Kris Purdy

Cold snap brings more than snow!

Saturday, October 6

If anyone has been out in northern Utah birding this weekend - you will be feeling the chill!  The cold front has moved in . . . and even though there are many more weeks til Winter, you can certainly feel it's first fingers this morning.  But dont' forget -  the first freeze and chilly winds don't only mean snow and shoveling are on their way;  it also means that winter ducks will be arriving!

Many species of waterfowl prefer the cold - or at least tolerate it well - while migrating through Utah.  Already, the Refuge is seeing huge flocks of Ruddy ducks, American wigeon, American green-winged teal and Northern pintails moving in and through.  And any day now we will start seeing their winter diving mates like Bufflehead, Scaup, Canvasback, Redhead and Ring-necked ducks arriving.  Early cold months can also be excellent time to watch for mergansers of all types moving through...and to watch neighboring "city" ponds for Hoodies and Woodies (Hooded mergansers and Wood ducks). 

Also - arriving soon as the cold spell continues - can be Tundra swans, Bald eagles and Rough-legged hawks!  These species may take a bit longer - appearing when ice-up begins - but there are always "early birds" NOT looking for worms.

So - get out your warmer winter wear, and let us know which arrivals you find!

- Jason