bearriver Blog

Marbled godwit encounter

A note from recent visitors!

"Lots of marbled godwits at 2 p.m. in shallows along east leg of auto tour route.  Estimate of 2,000.  Sky was filled with brown with bars.  They circled around into reeds to the south but eventually cam back in smaller groups flying fast and close to water.  Eventually re-gathered in large group flying 200-400 feet high like starlings. This was a sight we had never witnessed before!." From:  John E. Houser and Dennis Allen

A bit more about Marbled godwits. Marbled godwits breed from central Canada south into Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota.   Large flocks of wintering Marbled godwits can be found in southern California and western Mexico. The Refuge is an important staging area for Marbled godwits as part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Refuge may host up to 6 percent of entire population during fall staging periods while entire Great Salt Lake system may host up to 19 percent (Oring et al. 2000).  A five-year survey of the Great Salt Lake yielded a mean population of 15,125 (July-August) (Paul and Manning 2002). The Refuge mean from the five year survey was 8,867 Marbled godwits. They are some of our earliest migrant arrivals with the first waves coming as early as late July, but they are also some of the last to leave just before the Refuge ices over.

Uncommon for shorebirds, Marbled Godwits sometimes forage almost exclusively on plant tubers during migration. Main food items taken on interior staging areas and breeding grounds are insects (particularly grasshoppers), aquatic plant tubers (sago pondweed), leeches, and small fish. In Idaho, foraging birds noted as common on large mudflats, occasional on moderate mudflats caused by reservoir drawdowns. In Manitoba in fall, Marbled Godwits feed in shallow water with soft mud substrate. They feed primarily by probing substrate, but known to glean insects from water surface or terrestrial habitats, and small fish from shallow water.

Photo by: Larry MuenchMarbled Godwit  foraging, by Larry Muench

Whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on...

 I speak for everyone when I say ‘it’s great to be back!’ We are working hard at getting back on schedule.  The birds are here in full force, the waterfowl hunting season has opened, birders and photograhpers are here as well. Water levels are being checked and adjustments made. The L-line construction project will start up again. And at the Wildlife Education Center we are the getting back to business as usual. 

 It was an interesting 16 days during the Government Shutdown.  Everyone but our Project Leader Bob and LEO Greg were sent home.  Lucky for us Zone Officer Lisa was able to stay on the job as well.  Together they spent countless hours at the Refuge gates upholding the shutdown status. 

During the closure the waterfowl migrated into the Refuge in large numbers.  It was a ‘duck-nado’ said one officer.  The arrival of waterfowl signaled the departure of other birds.  Shorebirds, egrets, and pelicans are all moving to warmer climates.  The swallows are gone, but the American pipits are arriving and whether we are open or closed, the seasons march on.

In the past week since we re-opened, visitor's are reporting Rough-legged hawks, Tundra Swans by the hundreds, and the diving ducks are starting to arrive as well.  Plus, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons are gathering in flocks. Its a good time of year to see the Mule deer that frequent the Refuge as well. Come on out and see the Refuge for yourself.





Goose Banding Report: Special report from Volunteer Brian Ferguson

Goose Banding Report: Special report from Brian Ferguson  “June 12 was the first round of the annual goose roundup on the refuge.  This program is the State Division of Wildlife Resources effort to band geese in northern Utah.  It is truly a partnership effort between the State and US Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor goose movements through this flyway.  State employees, Refuge staff and volunteers, and other volunteers from the public including members of Ducks Unlimited and dedicated waterfowl hunters joined in on this effort.  This is the time when adult geese are molting and are not able to fly and the young of this year have not developed flight feathers.  Four air boats were used with an operator and four crew members to catch the geese and transport them back to a central location for banding and data recording.  Hanging over the front of an airboat as it speeds along its way and grabbing geese out of the water is rather an invigorating experience.  One hundred geese were delivered to the banding sight and after the required information was taken (age and sex) they were released back to the wild.  There were a number of geese that had been previously banded and their band information was recorded.  This information goes into a data base where managers can track where they were banded , recaptured and if they are harvested during the waterfowl season, the band information would give managers an idea of movement and how long they have been in the wild.  One of the State employees commented that a bird captured earlier this season had been banded 15 years prior.  This is one of those projects that really makes volunteering really exciting, thanks to all that participated!” 

Thanks to Brian Ferguson for this great inside look at banding!

Exerpt from Refuge Volunteer Newsletter July 2013

Thoughts from the kids!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Last week - the great students and teachers from Green Acres Elementary stopped by the Refuge and we had a great bus tour around our Auto Loop.  No one can say it better than the kids themselves - so we're posting many of their own thoughts of what the visit and the Refuge meant to them. ENJOY!

Bird Refuge Reflections by the 4th graders from Green Acres Elem.

            When we went to the Bird Refuge one of my favorite things was on the way there we got to drive on the freeway with our windows open. I liked to wave at the people in the cars next to us, and we played games and made up silly stories. When we got there we watched a really cool short movie about the refuge. Then we talked about birds and asked questions. Something I learned is that the Marsh Wren can sew twigs together and make lots of nests to impress the girl Marsh Wren so they can choose their own nest that they like. I thought we had a really fun time and I would like to go again sometime.    by: Megan

I liked the trip to the refuge. I liked watching the movie and the bird noises that our tour guide made. My two favorite birds would be the pelican and the American Avocet. I like the pelican’s big bill and I think they look cute. I like the American Avocet because its beak looks upside down and I like that it’s kind of like a peachy color.

            I like the marsh wren because it makes 10 to 15 houses for a girl to choose which house she likes. I also like grebe because they swim under the water and dance. I think the trip to the refuge was good and bad because our bus kind of broke down but we still got to see lots of birds.

by Daisy

Something I liked about the Bird Refuge is looking at all of the cool birds. They have a lot of amazing birds. I learned a about many things.  Two of my favorite birds are the Grebe because I like how they look and how they dance under water. Another one of my favorites is the Marsh Wren. It makes a lot of nests to impress the female. Also they make a type writing sound .A habitat I learned about is around cattails and tall grass. It was fun seeing all of the birds and that the bus broke down.  My feelings are that the Bird Refuge is fun.    By Lauren


            Something I liked about our trip to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was when our bus broke down and we got in a new bus. My 2 favorite birds were the Tundra Swan and the Great Blue Heron. I liked the Tundra Swan because I liked the color. I liked the Great Blue Heron because it was pretty. An adaption I leaned about is a Western Grebe goes underwater like a submarine to hide. I loved the trip and I’d like to go there again.

                                    By Olivia

            Something I learned was that Bald Eagles sometimes eat American Coots.  My two favorite birds are Bald Eagles and Snowy Owls. These are my favorite birds because they are big and have cool colors. Pelicans have pouches that hold all the fish that they scoop up. My feelings about the trip I think it was cool to see all the birds.



            I liked the Bird Refuge because we got to see all the birds. I learned that Pelicans are big but are not heavy. My two favorite birds are the Pelican and the red winged black bird. I like the Pelican because the Pelican’s bill is huge and can catch a lot of fish. I like the Red winged black bird because when you look at them up close they are so beautiful. I really liked the bird Refuge. It was fun to see all of the birds and to learn about all the kinds of birds

By Jaylee

            I loved the fieldtrip because I learned so much about birds. This refuge has a three mile road that lets you see hundreds of birds,   and not all the same type. I saw at least five Great Blue herons two hawks   fifty coots and  much more. You can boat, drive, and hike there. You don`t want to miss the amazing opportunity to go to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

                                                                                                                             By Spencer

I liked all the different birds and how they don’t keep them in trap the birds, they keep them out in the open. I also liked the way that all these different birds come and we can see nature closer and seeing their life and also how they fly. AT lunch I loved the way that Jason {our guide} told us about birds and also that they don’t just have birds they have different animals there too. When we got back on the bus. It started slow and the pedal was broken, so I realized that we could see better then when we were going fast. Then we met a different bus and headed back to the school. My two favorite birds were the Pelican and the Great Blue Heron because they’re beautiful.

By: annastin

When I was at the refuge I learned that birds have to go the bathroom every time because they need to be light when flying. My two favorite birds were Cliff Swallows and Pelicans. I like their adaptions. The Cliff Swallow’s nest is cool. They get mud and they spit with their sticky spit to make I hold. It’s so cool how Pelicans eat they scoop fish in their huge beak. It was great I never knew how cool birds were.                                              


I learned that birds could dive in the water and swim. I liked the colorful birds and how they could dive under water and fly out of water. But they cannot walk on the ground. My favorite bird is the grebe’s because it can dive underwater. They can see fish when they dive. I love the whiteness on the grebe’s neck. And how they are so calm, unlike ducks. They Quack and hank a lot. I know a lot about birds now. I LOVE birds.

By Philesia

            We learned about lots of birds and saw birds that we never saw before. Pelicans and hawks. I like the way the pelicans catch their fish. The hawk was perching on its branch looking for prey. The pelicans adaption is in their beak when the water is Their mouth it drains out of the beak. The hawks habitat cities and deserts. I liked the field trip. It was fun!

By Weston

I learned that a crow sits on a wire and then drops its nut on a cross walk and waits till the red light then hurries and goes down and grabs it. I liked the humming bird because of  how fast and pretty  it is, and I also liked the Marsh Wren because of its unique sound, it sounds like an old typewriter. An adaption I learned about is a grebe, it has legs behind it so it can run on land faster, because it`s a water bird. I really liked this fieldtrip because it was amazing to see all of the birds and wildlife. I liked it when the bus broke down because we got to see more wildlife during the time from lunch to the bathroom. The fieldtrip may have been hot and a little bit boring but it was one of the most amazing fieldtrips I`ve ever been on before in my whole life.

                                                                                             By Sara

            I liked the bird refuge because we got to see lot of pretty birds. My 2 favorite birds are the Tundra Swan and the Great Blue Heron. I liked the Tundra Swan because of its pretty white wings. I liked the Great Blue Heron because of its color.  I leaned that the Great Blue Heron has long legs for standing in the water to catch bugs. I enjoyed the trip and would go there again.

By Sarah

I learned about all sorts of birds like: Yellow headed Black-bird, and the Red winged Black-bird. Those are my favorite birds because the color of them. The Yellow headed Black-bird has a really yellow head. The Red winged Black-bird have red on the top of the wing and yellow on the bottom. They live in grassy areas and not dirty areas. I feel good about learning about them, and I bet they like to eat bug a lot but not all the time. I think they are pretty animals. They fly pretty. I like the way they are, where they live, what they eat, how they look, how they fly over water to get to one big shard of grass to another big shard of grass each time it lands on one. From small to medium to large. It is very cool to watch. I like and know that they are not the best flyers in the world. But they are getting better each day like right now I bet one is flying to get better. They are helpless little animals. They start out not so good.

                                                                 By: Emily

What I liked is when then the bus broke down. I was scared at first because I thought eat I was going  to walk home. I learned the five heaviest birds. One of my favorite bird is the Great Blue Heron because we saw six teen of them. It was blue and gray and had long legs. Another bird I liked is the Grebe. Its cool when he goes under water and dances.  

By Skylie

I liked it when we stopped and saw the cliff swallows nests. My two favorite birds are the       Great Blue Heron, and the red winged black bird. I liked the Great Blue Heron because of its colors and its size.  And the reason I liked the red winged black bird is because of the yellow and red on its wings. Their habitat is very swampy. An adaptation for the Great Blue Heron is to have very long legs so it can stand in the water and catch food.  My feelings about the field trip were it was extremely fun except for the part where the bus broke down.  And they had to bring us a new one. 

By Katelyn

I liked the movie because they were cool birds. I like the Red tailed hawk and the Barn Owl . The Red tailed hawk is a bird of prey and eats during the day.  The barn owl can see better at night. For adaptions the barn owl eats at night.

 By Ares

            I liked the fieldtrip when the bus broke down because we got a longer ride. My favorite birds are the cliff swallow and tree swallow because they make cool nests and because their fast. Some adaptations are feathers hollow bones and beaks I felt scared that we wouldn’t get back on time. And happy to have a long ride.  


            I liked the part when the bus kind of broke down and started going slower than usual. We got to see the birds a lot better than before. I also liked the part when Jason, our guide, was making bird noises. They sounded so real. My two favorite birds are the Great Blue Heron and the Cliff Swallow. They are my favorite birds because they are colorful. The Great Blue Heron is a big, beautiful bird. The Cliff Swallows are always sitting on a stick whenever I see them. It was really cool to learn about the Cliff Swallows’ houses. Their house is really cool. They use mud to make their houses. They have an exciting looking habitat. I felt very surprised how many Red-Winged Black Birds I saw. It was amazing! I was really excited to go on the field trip. I’m glad I went!

                                         By: Korina

The Value of a Rarity / Spring / Moving On

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

As you can tell by the title, this entry is going to have three parts.  I’d like to start in the middle – because that’s just how I am – I do things my own way.

SPRING!  It certainly has sprung on the Refuge lately.  Chorus frogs are “chorusing.” Filaree is blooming, and multitudes of migratory birds are amassing across the wetlands.  Some recent returnees are:  Long-billed curlews, Franklin’s gulls and Cliff swallows!  But, I’m not going to name them all, instead I will just say, GET OUT THERE AND SEEM THEM YOURSELVES!  It is amazing.

Now, back to the beginning.  I would like to mention something I’ve been thinking about lately – a subject that is near and dear to my heart – that is Citizen Science and the value of a rarity. 

First, if you don’t know, there are many, amazing citizen science projects out there for everyone to get involved in.  For birders, bug lovers, plant fans, etc.  And participating is a huge help – more than you know – to science and scientists around the world.  From counting and reporting birds and nesting times, to watching lightning bugs or charting plant bloom times, there is something for every interest and age out there.  Some of my favorites (being a birder)  are eBird, NestWatch and the Great Backyard BirdCount! And that brings up my second point. The value of spotting, and even more so – reporting, a rare bird is beyond words. Over the past year, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in California has hosted a very rare Asian bird, a Falcated duck. This bird has attracted thousands of birders from all over the country for the chance to see it on their home turf.  These birders in turn have created hundreds of thousands of dollars in community revenue for local businesses and conservation concerns – especially for the Refuge.  But just think – what if the first birders to spot it had not entered their sighting in eBird, or had not posted it on an internet website or listserv?  Think of the effects this would have on that Refuge, the local economy especially of now filled hotels and diners, etc.  That one duck brought national attention to wildlife conservation and the need for habitat protection, duck stamps, water quality control and on and on.  The effects ripple through almost everything – and all from a report of one lonely and beautiful little duck. 

So – I urge you – if you already don’t, to keep records of what you see when you’re outside. Report it to eBird or Bugguide or BudBurst. It DOES make a huge difference and takes very little time.

And finally, I just wanted to let everyone know, that come April 19, I will be moving on to a new career with the National Audubon Society in Texas. It has been a joy working here at Bear River MBR and writing this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Stay tuned for blog posts by new writers from the Refuge staff and volunteers . . . and as always, I wish you  HAPPY BIRDING!

-          Jason

Sure Signs of Spring 101

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

With Spring "springing" everywhere outside lately, I thought I'd whip up a quick list of some of the SURE SIGNS OF SPRING around the Refuge right now.

1.  Red-winged blackbird males are singing, showing off their neon epaulets and staking out territories!

2.  Canada geese are pairing up and looking for good nesting habitat.

3.  BUGS!  Bugs are zooming through the air and water again - and not far behind will be bug-eating birds!  Insects hatching are always a great sign of the warmer weather of Spring.

4.  Plants growing and blooming.  Grass is greening; bulbs are burgeoning; trees are budding. Aaaahh

5.  Water begins to flow faster as ice melts, wetlands thaw and rivers and streams almost burst their banks.

6.  WIND!  Spring breezes are important to put many seeds, like the seeds at the end of cattail fluff, into the air to be deposited elsewhere and grow more cattails.

7. And on that wind is also the amazing SMELL of spring - wet earth, decayed leaves, sprouting shrubs... of course, for those of with allergies - this isn't the most exciting of the signs, but it surely is one....AAAAAHHHHCHOOOOOO!

8.  And finally (though I am sure there are many more signs)  the return of migratory birds!  From robins to swallows, cranes to curlews - the return of favorite yard or Refuge birds brings the promise of Spring's return to everyone that sees them.

Happy Birding

 - Jason

Birds know a very different budget

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On this very final day of February - hours before possible government sequestration and large amounts of government funding cutbacks and personnel furloughs . . . I turn my thoughts to a very different "budget" . . . a bird's activity budget.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - especially the Refuges across the nation - are here to protect and serve the natural resource. That is BIRDS, specifically , here at the Bear River Migratory BIRD Refuge.  What's that, you say?  Basically, an activity budget shows how much time an animal spends in various activities such as eating, resting, sleeping, and moving.   So - while we're all worried about the economy, gas prices and sequestrations . . . the birds are worried about where the next meal is coming from and if the water is open or frozen, etc.

It just makes you think. When trying to decide whether or not to move from one spot to another for food or warmth - are the main concerns on your budget - how nice it might be to be a bird.  But then, if you've ever watched one closely and tried to record their activity budget, you will immediately realize it IS NOT.  To change a bird's activity budget, even by only a small amount (especially during tough years or during mating season), can make a HUGE difference  . . . possibly even between life and death. For example - as fun as it may be for your dog to run on the beach and chase sandipers and plover...this is deadly dangerous for those birds, many of which are terribly threatened and endagered species. That bird is working very had to try and feed and gain enough weight to make it through migration.  Chased and harried by people or dogs . . . it has just wasted time, energy and fat mass doing something it shouldn't need to. The difference between life and death.

So while we are all watching and wondering what will happen with our won budgets . . . let's not forget how much more dire it can be for our feathered friends and their activity budgets. 

Happy Birding

 - Jason

"The early bird gets the . . . territory!"

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013

Even with snow and colder temperatures still in the forecast for the next week or seems that spring is just around the corner.  It must be - because out in the frozen marshes, all the local Red-winged blackbird males - as well as the resident male Song sparrows - are singing up a storm!

Many local or resident birds start tuning-up their songs well be for the actual arrival of spring, because - let's face it - "the early bird gets the territory...and thusly, the girl."  Many species of birds - from blue jays to cardinals out east - to red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows and chickadees here in the west - that are local residents are practicing their songs and already coming into lovely breeding plumage.  This is all to get a jumpstart on the mating season.  It literally is life or death to these birds.  To be able to mate and pass on their genes is the most important event in a bird's life. And if you can get the best territory, with a bounty of food and resources for nesting, PLUS you happen to have gorgeous epaulets or lovely gorgets or a snazzy song . . . then you are more likely to be chosen as a mate and succeed in your goal.  

This early-bird phenomena can definitely be heard right now around the Refuge - and probably in your backyards or local parks.  It still seems like weeks to months away til some of the migrants will show up, but for those birds that are already here...the show has already begun.  Male pheasants are "coralling the babes" and showing off their rainbow colors, and even a few western meadolarks have been heard to warble a practice tune or two.

Of course - there are also other great views of spring activity this early in the season. Many of the winter duck species - such as goldeneye and bufflehead - have begun chasing each other around the ponds and wetlands, and throwing their heads back in showy splendor in preparations for the all important show up north on their breeding grounds.

So - while spring may not quite yet be "in the air" - it definitely sounds like it can't be too far away!

Happy birding.

- Jason


Friday, February 8, 2013

Bald Eagle

Tomorrow is Bald Eagle day in Utah, and we're celebrating this majestic bird here on the Refuge as well with all kinds of activities, movies, and presentations.  I'd thought I'd take a quick minute and blog about a few Eagle Fun Facts that maybe you didn't know!

  1. Benjamin Franklin was against having the Bald Eagle as the national bird and symbol of the nation because they so frequently steal from each other.  He, instead, preferred the very wily and smart  (and noble, he felt)  Wild Turkey.
  2. Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are found ONLY in North America!
  3. Though still protected, due to amazing research and conservation actions, the Bald Eagle is no longer on the Endangered Species list . . . having been removed in 2007, a great success!
  4. Utah hosts 25-30%  (around 1200-1300) of the wintering Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. Last winter of 2011-2012, the Refuge's high count was 180 eagles!
  5. Bald Eagle's second favorite food if they can't nab fish . . . is the slow flying American coot.
  6. Both eagles in a pair will build their nest together . . . but it's the female that picks the tree.
  7. Obviously, Bald eagles aren't truly "bald" . . . the word comes from the old english word, balde,  meaning white.
  8. The Golden eagle - another local eagle - is actually not the Bald eagle's closest relative. The "Baldie's" closest cousins are other sea or fish-eating eagles:  the African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) of sub-Saharan Africa and the white-tailed sea-eagle(Haliaeetus albicilla) of Eurasia.

HAPPY BALD EAGLE DAY  and Happy Birding

 - Jason

Barn Owl Bonanza!

Barn owl in flight

Thursday, January 25, 2013

Boy, oh boy are the Barn owls out in force this winter...and while that is a great thing for birders and photographers like many of us, it is not necessarily a good thing for the owls.

First - lets talk about the good.  It is so thrilling to see these soul-stirring silent hunters up close.  Right now - with conditions as they are - is an amazing time to see them hunt and glide above the marshes around the Refuge Auto Loop.  They dive from signs and building-tops -  they bullet up from roads and rushes - and they stare sarcastically from the snow saying, "I'm not cold - are you?" 

Over the past weeks - several Barn owls have been seen on and around the Refuge rather consistently - and my own two forays around the loop in the past week have yielded sightings of 7 Barn owls both times! I've seen them pounce on prey or search the snow for more.

Now - for one of the unfortunate reasons we are seeing so many and getting such a good glimpse of them this winter.  They are hungry and possibly starving in the harsh conditions this year.

Barn owls - and owls in general - had a rather good season last winter - with mild temperatures and a plentiful poplulation of rodents for a food source.  The cold temps, thicker snow and now - ice on topf of the snow - have really changed those conditions this winter.  Rodent populations are down - or they are much harder to get to.  With deep snows or hard, ice-covered drifts that the owls cannot puch through, owls resort to hunting along roads and - due to their low flying and camoflauged colors, often get hit by cars during harsh winters.  Also - to make up for hard hunting conditions and less food - especially coming into the breeding season or having to feed young - some owls resort to hunting in the daytime much more than they would normally.  Again - this makes it great owl viewing, but unfortunately - it is very hard on the birds themselves. But - to end on a good note, usually these conditions and harsh seasons are cyclical (as a lot of natural systems are) so this may be nature's way of keeping populations healthy and thinning out the "herd", so to speak.  Either way, it makes for some excellent wildlife viewing right now - so if you can brave the cold and slick roads...get out there and enjoy the owls!

Happy Birding

 - Jason

"Raptor's Delight!"

Tuesday, Janary 8, 2013Bald eagle

RAPTOR'S DELIGHT   -  Bear River Gang

"I said a hick, a hawk, a rough-legged hawk 

I said a hick, a hawk, and you don't stop, til you get a Red-tailed hawk!"

O.K. For anyone not around for the early ages of rap, that lil ditty might be completely over your head...and even IF you were around, it is most definitely silly, I admit.  But my recent trip around the Refuge and the surrounding promontory mountains was SO FILLED with raptors that I just couldn't help myself in changing Rapper's Delight to RAPTOR'S DELIGHT!

As part of the Mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey...I got the chance for a chilly drive to search for eagles and raptors...and my, they didn't disappoint.  My tally by the end of the survey was well over 100 raptors seen of 9 different varieties!  We'll start with the most famous...Bald eagles.

I spied 14 Bald eagles, 9 adults and 5 juveniles, along my route. Did you know you can tell the youngsters apart?  You can!  Bald eagles do not become mature adults, with fully white heads (where the name Bald comes from) and white tails til they reach four or five years of age.  Before this - they are very splotchy and patchy with white and brown feathers all over..and their beaks lighten from dark to the famous bright golden yellow.  Bald eagles love it here in Utah in the winter - hunting for fish along open areas in the ice and congregatting in tall cottonwoods along the rivers.

Their slightly larger and darker cousins, Golden eagles, stay in the area year-round.  Golden eagles are named for the golden colored plumage on the backs of their heads when they are adults, but again - when they are younger - they have some white feathers in large patches under their wings.  Unlike Bald eagles who prefer to eat fish, Goldens prey on mammals in the open grasslands like rabbits, marmots or even baby deer or sheep. They also rarely nest in trees, but prerfer cliffs and rock ledges.  I was lucky enough to see 5 of these majestic raptors along the route.

Along with the eagles...this route is an excellent place for other raptors, such as owls, hawks and falcons.  I spied one Prairie falcon and many American kestrels... our smallest falcons.  Peregrine falcons are also seen along this route frequently...but I was not able to find one out there today. Peregrines are known for their 200mph stoop, or dive, to knock their prey right out of the air!

I mentioned owls...and they did not elude me today. I was able to spot two Great Horned Owls. These are the earliest breeders of the owls - already setting up pairs and nests and calling constantly to each other at night.  Another owl species that was spotted is the short-eared owl. This little owl is diurnal as well as nomadic...sometimes around in big numbers and other years there may be none at all - all depending on the availability of food sources like mice and voles. This year in northern Utah - it has been a GREAT year for the short-eareds. Almost every trip around the Auto Loop provides a look at several.

And last but not least, is the larger hawk species such as the common Red-tailed hawk and the winter visitors from the Tundra - Rough-legged hawks. These two large Buteo hawks are easily spotted, usually perched atop a telephone pole or tree-top, watching calmly for a small rodent or bird to make a mistake and fly too close or move too slowly. Adding these two species together made up over half of my survey count, totalling 51 birds seen!

So you see- Raptor's Delight is definitely an apt description of the Refuge and northern Utah in the winter months!  I hope you get a chance to experience it!

 - Happy Birding,  Jason

Christmas Bird Count fun!

Friday, December 21, 2012

While many people are celebrating the Winter Solistice...and others are "celebrating" the end of the world (if you believe the Mayans)...I'm thinking back to the excellent time I had on Wednesday taking part in the Christmas Bird Count on the Refuge!   

The 113th year of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is in full swing all around the country, and this past wednesday our friends from Wasatch Audubon  ( ) were here to help us count the birds on several portions of the Refuge.  This fun and easy..and now free ... citizen science project is a great way to get outdoors during the holiday season and enjoy the birds and the beauties of nature.

Wednesday was a brisk and chilly morning, leaving the majority of Refuge wetlands frozen over and waterfowl numbers a little lower than in past years...but there were still small pockets of ducks, geese and swans.  Rough-legged hawks and Northern harriers were numerous and enjoying the weather. And along with many of the species that we expected to find on the Refuge during the count...were a few that were unexpected.  First thing in the morning, at our feeder station near the Wildlife Education Center, we had a lovely little Common Redpoll.  It is believed this is a first record for the Refuge.  These little irruptive finches (as well as Evening grosbeaks and Red crossbills) are being seen all across Utah this year.

A few other highlights from the count this year:  a Prairie falcon,  a Thayer's gull, and THREE owl species...including a Great horned owl, a Barn owl and several Short-eared owls!

Christmas Bird Counts continue across the country through the first week in January - so if you're looking for something fun to do after all the food is eaten and gifts have been opened - contact your local Audubon chapter and join in the count!

Happy Birding and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 - Jason

Christmas Bird Count Fun

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today was the Christmas Bird Count on the Refuge.  Several Staff and volunteers from the local Wasatch Audubon Society joined up to survey the Refuge as part of the 113th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  CBCs have been held around the nation, coordianated by the audubon society, for a long time, and they are a great citizen science project to get people outside and to get a great handle on local bird populations. And not to mention...but they are fun!

Today i had the pleasure of counting thousands of birds on the Refuge, and even though I bird (for both work and fun) a LOT - I can always find or see something new.  Today we got to see two female harriers fighting over a recently killed (presumably by one of them) coot.  We saw a couple of coyotes eyeing some of the cold birds we were counting. And we even found a few birds that are more rare and exciting for this area at this time of year.

Lots of Bald eagles were seen, as well as several species of owls:  Great horned, Short-eared and Barn. There was also a Prairie falcon, lots of horned larks and pipits..and a Thayer's gull.  One of the more exciting and uncommon birds seen was a Common Redpoll - first thing on the frigid morning - at our feeder station.  These little irruptive finches are being seen all around Utah this year, but some winters you will see none at all. 

Along with these highlights - many of the more common birds still gave us a special treat.  We got to view two female harriers squabbling over a recently killed (presumably by one of them) coot.  We saw some very chilly Tundra swans "skating" on thin ice. And we agonized for several minutes scanning a flock of gulls looking for something different until we all realized they were just all the common ring-billed gulls. We promptly jumped back into our WARM pick-up truck!

There are still many CBCs coming up - running for the first full week of 2013.  It is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, see some amazing birds and make some new friends. If you are interested in participating - contact your local Audubon chapter and get out there and count!

Happy Birding and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

- Jason

NOT Seeing the Bird Can Still Be a Success Story

Friday, December 7

I'd like to chat for just a quick second about us crazy birders . . . come on, you know who you are! I freely admit that I am a total birdnerd and sometimes (ok, most times) am a bit more obssessive with my birding and listing than I perhaps would like to be.  But, that said, I have learned something lately that I find important and interesting that I'd like to impart.

First - it is certainly not a new concept. I've read about the same feelings in Ken Kaufmann's KINGBIRD HIGHWAY as well as in Mark Obamscik's THE BIG YEAR. And I thank both of those gentleman and all the other birders and birding experiences they introduced me to which has sparked my interest and my upcoming comments.

Second - for those of you who don't know - I have been doing what I'm calling a "Big Year (on a budget)."  Several years ago, without trying too hard, I racked up a year list of birds numbering 340. I was surprised and thrilled.  But, of course, it made me wonder..."Hmmm, what could I do if I really tried."  I knew I wouldn't be able to do a really, truly serious Big Year. They are EXPENSIVE and EXHAUSTIVE...and i'm poor and feeling old. LOL  But, why not do what I could. I knew I would be traveling for work and family reunions.  I knew I worked on one of the best birding Refuge's around. And with a mild January 2012...I was quickly nearing 200 birds!  

Well, it's 11 months later and my number has jumped to 387! I'm thrilled but also - so close to 400 - I'm scrambling to try to reach that benchmark. It's still possible with a holiday visit to my see my Parents in the Rio Grande Valley. to the point.

The point, I have realized, isn't neccesarily the number or the amazing additions (like Sulpher-bellied flycatcher or Ancient Murrelet) to my Life List. The real reward has been that challenging myself - I have seen and done things I hadn't before. I have traveled to amazing places - both local and far afield in this amazing nation and seen sights, even when the birds did not appear, that were stunning and awe-inspiring. I've met fellow birders and nature-lovers, and enjoyed food and culture all along my travels. It is the searching for the bird that can be just or more exciting than actually seeing that elusive bird.

So I challenge all of you to try this. If not a Big Year....a Big month, day, or just try to find as many birds as you can in your backyard, local park or county. It will become much less about the actual list and number you achieve...and much more about enjoying time outside and experiencing something new and wonderful.

Happy Birding, Happy Holidays,  and a Happy Birdy Holidays!

 - Jason

Scaup Scoop!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012female Greater Scaup

Yesterday we had a rather uncommon bird on the Refuge...a Greater Scaup. This diving duck spends its breeding season well north of us in Alaska in the west and northern Canada to the east.  Then, come winter, the Greaters move south along the coastlines - rarely straying inland - but sometimes seen mixed in with other flocks of divers such as Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked duck and their cousins, Lesser Scaup.  So - when our Biologist, Howard Browers, returned to the office after a bird survey reporting he had seen one female Greater Scaup, the buzz zipped around the birders like static on wool socks.

Luckily, as an avid and experienced birder, Howard asked me to try and go back out and confirm the sighting...and it just so happened I needed to get out and clean our Auto Loop restrooms as well, so the timing was perfect.  After performing my watercloset duties, I drove to where the bird had been spotted and YES...she was still there - in bold browns, blacks and whites - to be confirmed and seen.

Greater Scaup are one of the very few circumpolar duck species, over 80% of the population wintering along the coasts in the Atlantic flyway, but small numbers do winter out here in the West. Preferring shallow water lakes and ponds in the summer - the Greaters switch to coastal, shallow, salt-water bays and brackish river inlets in the winter.  In Utah, most sightings happen around the Great Salt Lake, so it was unique to find one in the fresh water wetlands of the Refuge.  But then, in winter, scaup switch from their summer diet of insects, crustaceans and mollusks to a much more green diet of submerged plant matter, so the Refuge seems like a great place to stop for a snack.

Now, the scoop on differentiating between Greater and Lesser scaup is a bit tricky. But here are some key characteristics or field marks to look for:  Head shape.  Greater scaup are slightly larger than Lessers, with a noticeably larger and more rounded head. I like to think of it as a clear, curvy S shape from back up to bill on the Greater.  Whereas, Lessers have a flatter back-of-the-head area that comes to almost a point at the back of the crown - much more like Ring-necked ducks. This shape - to my eye - always makes it look like the Lessers are looking down a bit, head tilting down toward the water. Another great clue, if you see a male, is the color of the head. Greaters tend to have a much more green irridescent wash on their head unlike a darker blue/black/purple on Lessers - but this is not always clear unless seen in the right light. And another way to differentiate between male scaup is the amount of white and quality of white/grey on the sides of the bird. Lessers are much more grey overall...contrasting shades of grey from sides to back, whereas the Greater males are very bright white to white-ish grey on the sides - a much bolder contrasting set of colors.  Now of course, little of that helps in differentiating female scaup. Both have white cresents before their eyes and are mostly brown.  Using the head size and shape helps, and female Greaters seems to be "brighter" or to have bolder, constrasting patters of browns/blacks and whites. And finally, bill size. Greaters have larger and slightly wider bill than Lessers.  All of this is much easier seen when both species are present and comparisons can be made.

So, that's the scaup scoop for today. I hope you enjoyed and learned a little...but even more so, I hope you have the opportunity to observe these stately and handsome duck in the wild...if not here on the Refuge, perhaps along one of the coasts this winter.

Happy Birding

 - Jason

Winter's not's rough-legged!

Saturday, November 10

So - the title is corny, I know, but just had to say it.  And with all the snow this weekend and colder fits perfectly with the return of the lovely Rough-legged hawks!  

I took a spin around our Auto loop in the snow yesterday early-eve and had lots of great birding. I didn't realize how much I look forward to the return of these stunning tundra raptors and just how handsome they are.  They never cease to amaze me with their ability to perch on the tiniest of branches...looking like at any moment the twig will snap, yet they are calm and statuesque. I also love how - unlike many other birds - each individual seems to look different.  This one has more white on it's head...that one looks almost all brown and streaked...while the next is somewhere in between. It felt perfectly apt they they seemed to arrive in numbers (I saw at least 10) just as the snow did; I also think that there may not be anything to match watching a rough-legged hawk fly low over a frozen field as big flakes of white fall gently around it. Aaaaaaaahhhhh...winter.

Now, of course, "roughies" were not the only birds around the loop.  The amount of waterfowl, especially in southern unit 3 is amazing. Thousands of pintail and teal and gadwall - and not to mention another winter specialty...Tundra swans!  There was also the last bastion of shorebird flocks - hurriedly gorging on food and probably wondering why they had stayed so late.  Dowitchers, godwits and yellowlegs remained..but looked furtive and frio out there in the sleety snow, so they may not stay long.  And little flocks of pipits were pipping here and there as well...rarely sitting still for long enough to get a good look at.

So, eventhough the seasons have changed, the excellent birding has not.  Enjoy a saunter around the loop and let us know what you see . . . and have a wonderful winter and holiday season!

 - JasonRough-legged Hawk (USFWS)

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


Federal Duck StampSaturday, Sept. 22, 2012

There is a sound in the wetlands this morning, that not every birder loves...and that is understandable.  Today is the youth hunt in Utah, and the Refuge is proud to host some excellent hunt areas to allow these young sportsman to learn waterfowl ID and sportsmanship. Each one of our young hunters will have paid $15 for a duck well as their parents that are with them.  $14.80 of each stamp goes directly for purchasing or lease of wetlands so very needed by our migratory birds.  It is for this reason I prefer to call it not the hunting stamp or even just the duck stamp...but the birding stamp.

I urge all birders who enjoy birding on public lands and refuges around the country to purchase a Federal Duck stamp each year - even if you do not support hunting.  It is about MUCH more than that. Many of our Refuges (like Bear River) are free of charge and many of our Refuge parcels were acquired with duck stamp funds. The duck stamp is not only one of the most efficient funding sources for conservation in the United States, it is a great educational tool as well.  The Jr. Duck Stamp program gives kids the chance to learn more about waterfowl and conservation through art.  Many birders wear their duck stamps proudly and get asked about them.  Word of mouth is one of the best ways to tell other birders about this great program.  I like to give them as gifts...especially to my friends and family who really have all they need - I give them the gift of helping and caring about our wetlands and waterfowl...not to mention a beautiful stamp that can be turned into a  pin or keychain so very easily.

So during the upcoming season . . . consider giving a gift that will continue to help ensure the birding spots that we all  love will still be there in years to come.

 - Jason

" Yo, where my peeps at?!"

Saturday, September 15, 2012


What do you think of when you see or hear that word?  Is it the sound a baby chick makes?  Is it a glutenous, sugary, glob-o-goo shaped like a duck or bunny?  Is it a sound you DON'T make when your parents tell you not to? 

Peep to me has meant many things through my life.  First being the marshmalloy treat to be found around the Easter holiday. I grew older and moved to NYC - the urban young man in me learned that your "peeps" were your friends . . . the local lads and lasses you hung with and perhaps got in some trouble with. But then I grew a little more and peep has become a whole new it probably has to many of you.  Peep is the term for any tiny little shorebird (Least, Western, Semipalmated name a few) that are hard to tell apart at a distance, especially in the Fall.  When you're not sure which species they are... ya just call them a "peep."  I think the word comes from the tiny sounds they make while feeding and not their resemblence to the sugary treats...but I'm not sure.  All I know is, knowing the word peep makes me feel good about not being able to tell a Least from a Western from a Semipalmated sandpiper when they're flying away from me at speed.  I know many others have had the same problem and have collectively adopted the word peep to describe them. 

And speaking of peeps . . . (the birds, not my homies) there were lots of them on the Refuge this past week, of almost every species to be expected, as well as some of their larger cousins such as Baird's and Pectoral sandpipers. 

So, while we await the return of the edible and delicious peeps delivered by the Easter bunny . . . get out to the Refuge and check out the live and just as adorable ones that are stopping through and filling up in our wetlands and mudflats.

Happy Birding!


Return of the Ruddy!

Ruddy Duck Sept. 5, 2012

It's that time of year again!  (No, not tax time...phew!) It's waterfowl time on the Refuge. As temperatures begin to dip...flocks of ducks and geese begin to arrive for their southward migration.  Some will stay and feed on Refuge wetlands for months...dining on sago pondweed, alkali bulrush seeds and macroinvertebrates.  Many species of waterfowl - from duck to swan to goose - can be found passing through the Refuge...and this's the Return of the Ruddy!

Now - it's true - small numbers of Ruddy ducks, the chubby-cheeked and stiff-tailed diving duck, do breed on the Refuge, but they usually are not seen in the hundreds to thousands as they can be seen right now during migration.  Unit 2, the water in the center of the Auto Loop - and especially the deeper southeast end - seems to be a favorite spot for the large flotillas of Ruddies right now, as well as grabbags of earged grebes!  Short and stocky and low to the water like a sawed-off submarine, Ruddies are easily picked out even in just silohuette.

And don't forget all the other waterfowl arriving too.  Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Mergansers may start arriving any time...and the wetlands are already being inundated by Pintail, Mallard and Teal!  So enjoy a motor around the loop and while you for a wave from many a stiff tail of a Ruddy duck!

 - Jason

International birding

This week's guest "blogger" is Byron Taylor from the UK.


My name is Byron Taylor, 20, and I am visiting the US from England for 3 weeks. I have been to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge twice during my trip and have thoroughly enjoyed them both.

I am passionate about wildlife and birds in particular, and in the UK I shoot Waterfowl, partake in wildlife photography, and conservation. It was very interesting to see how conservationists and shooters work together and it is something I'd love to see happen in England. It is also great to see such vast amounts of space managed and dedicated to the preservation of birds and other wildlife; which would not be able to happen in the UK due to lack of space. I'd like to thank everyone at the reserve for being helpful and friendly during my visits.

I spoke to Kathi in the visitor centre and she asked if i had a blog for the website, I do not, but i do have a flickr site ( that you may find interesting as it has photos from the reserve on it, and there will be more to come of both the reserve and all the British birds. She mentioned putting my flickr site as a link on the website, which would be great, but either way have a look as you surely are also passionate about wildlife and you may find it interesting to see the birds of England, and correct me if I have made any mistakes on identifying American birds!

Thanks very much,  Byron Taylor.

Thanks, Byron, for the comments and the link to your photos of both the Refuge and other birds from the UK!

"Hey, I Did That!"

special entry from Refuge STEP student, Ruben Davila

"I started working as a STEP Student at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge almost by pure luck. I had been working in a restaurant when the Wildlife Refuge Manager came in one day and became a regular costumer, naturally my family got to know her. One day we were talking about getting a job with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) where she got her start and since the great outdoors is my passion and favorite place to be I applied for the YCC. Unfortunately I was not selected then she told me about a program called the Student Temporary Employment Program. She told me I could still be outdoors (which was great) but also since I was a natural Spanish and English speaker I could make a huge impact on our attempts at translation/interpretation and Latino community outreach. Since then I’ve been “hooked” on this job and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’ll never forget the time that I got to spend with our YCC Crew especially when we all got to go out on airboats and catch Canada Geese with our bare hands and then later, put information bands on their legs so scientists and state officials could tell how old they were, where they came from, etc.

Working with the Fish and Wildlife Service has taught me so many things and helped me accomplish so many of my current goals. I love the feeling of looking back on a project, paper, or assignment and think “Hey I did that” or “I helped with that”. It’s always satisfying to me when I can look back and know that I made a difference.

Next I hope to go to college at Oregon State or Utah State University and after that join either the USFWS and become a Law Enforcement Conservation Officer or become a Park Ranger with the U.S. Forest Service."

  -  Ruben

Thanks, Ruben, for all your hard work this summer and making conservation your passion, and sharing that passion with the Refuge and all our visitors and friends.  

Of Short-eared Owls and Fashion Statements

August 8, 2012

On Monday, I did my regular monthly non-waterbird survey at Bear River Refuge and logged two adult Short-eared Owls, one on the west side of the auto tour loop and one behind the gates. I also found a dead baby SEO on the road to the refuge between mile posts 3 and 4. This bird had likely been hit by a car the previous night and was not mature enough to fly yet. I suppose that weighed on me a bit. I’m not sure why a driver couldn’t avoid a baby owl nearly as big as a Burrowing Owl on the road in such a wide-open place. I moved the carcass off the road so at least it could decompose in peace without the additional indignity of becoming flattened fauna.

This evening, I decided to return to the area with the hope of seeing the adults and more babies. Any surviving siblings should not yet be able to fly and the parents should still be in the area as well. And that was exactly the situation. I saw the first adult landing on the stubby grass south of the road and just east of the Texas low-water crossing within those two mile posts. I watched it for awhile before I continued west through the crossing. I saw the second adult also standing on the ground on low, scrubby grass, although a bit farther out. This area had some cover and clumps of greasewood, which I scanned until I saw one with a small, solid brown blob snugged against the bright green of the shrub. It was far enough out that I could only speculate that it was a young owl, although a slight movement gave me a pretty good clue. I wanted to be sure and to see this baby better. There was just one problem—I had arrived at the spot in a skirt and sandals with 3-inch heels, and trucking across the brushy playa dressed as I was brought grim visions of broken branches and pulverized playa working into my strappy shoes. No problem! Don’t all girls keep a set of knee-high rubber boots in their SUVs for impromptu adventures like striding through brush and playa to see baby owls? Of course we do.

I must say that knee-high rubber boots with vestigial mud from some earlier adventure paired with a skirt are quite a fashion statement when striding across a playa. I headed toward my quarry about 100 yards out to find that it was, indeed, a baby Short-eared Owl. These birds are so chocolate brown and fluffy you’d think they were plush toys from Toys R’ Us. This little guy’s buffy checkered flight feathers were starting to fill in as well, just like its road-killed sibling that I had seen on Monday. It stared at me fixedly and didn’t move, hoping not to be seen. It looked like the bird had been roosting at the particular greasewood clump for a little while due to the grass around the clump being tamped down in a ring. I also noticed single owl pellets and single drops of whitewash next to multiple clumps of greasewood on the walk back to the road, indicating the adults’ continuing presence.

I didn’t stay long. The adult was still standing farther out keeping an eye on me, although not alarmed because it wasn’t flying or barking as I’ve seen years ago when I inadvertently drove through a day roost and flushed both young and adults. I returned to the road and then continued to drive west until I found another adult Short-eared Owl flying along both sides of the road near mile post 2. This bird dove into the short grass multiple times, but didn’t come up with anything.

On the return past the Texas crossing, the first adult SEO east of the crossing was flying and landing along the road embankment, continuing east as I did. It finally landed on a small post right in front of the big brown Bear River Refuge sign and stayed as I pulled up adjacent to it and watched the bird for a long time just 10 yards or so away. This wasn’t the last one of the night. Another SEO was flying along the road at mile 6.3 and also landed out in the short grass for me to watch through what was murky twilight by this time.

I figured it was a pretty good trade-off: Five Short-eared Owls including a baby for the small investment of looking goofy for no one but them in a skirt and a pair of mud-covered Cablela’s rubber boots. Some things are just worth making a fashion statement like that.

Kris Purdy

Where's all the water?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Well - first off I must apologize for being so remiss in my blogging.  But, I do have a good excuse, trust me.  That said - birds are still around at the Refuge - even with the constant question of "Where is all the water?" by many-a-visitor.

We are definitely in a slight to moderate drought this year in northern Utah. With limited water coming in...Refuge management is keeping water only in priority nesting areas for the birds and that unfortunately means that many of our other units have dried or are drying up.  But - do not be discouraged, oh birders, no. The birds have survived years much worse than this in the past - and I'm sure will again.  And - right now it just means the birds are bit more concentrated in the wet areas and easier to find!  Our tours have recently reported over 50 species spotted - including short-eared and barn owls, Caspian and Forster's terns, and lots of young from Cinnamon teal ducklings to gangly stilt juveniles and skittering rail and sora chicks.  Grebe babies are now much to large to be allowed up onto Mom or Pop's their fending for themselves, and the Refuge even had several pair of Sandhill crane colts born this year.

Also - in the hopes of staying positive in the face of this year's drought - I'm betting it could be a very good late summer / early migration for shorebirds on the Refuge.  Already I have seen flocks of Wilson's phalaropes zipping around and heard my first few returning Greater yellowlegs.  The avocets and mostly finished with their rearing duties, are starting to bunch up in larger flocks and getting ready to stage before their long migrations southwards in a month or so.  Maybe this low-water level during migration will bring the Refuge some visitors like Dunlin, Ruddy turnstones, Red knots, or Stilt sandpipers. You never know.

So don't fear the heat or the drought . . . see it as an advantage to observe what nature does in times of stress, and perhaps it will even help you alleviate some homo sapien stress while you're at it.



The amazing "Sit and Watch" method!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello friends and fellow "bird nerds."  For today's installment I'd like to talk about a type of birding that is difficult for me (being much like a hummingbird or small child and not being able to sit still for long) called the "Sit and Watch" method. 

This past week I got the privilege of getting to meet alot of our visitors during a national survey we are taking about the Refuge.  I was posted at our Duckville parking lot, right before the Auto Tour Route starts, and spoke to visitors passing by about the great birding on the Refuge right now.  In between visitors - I got to do a little birding all from one spot...and mand did I get lucky. 

My normal birding instincts are to walk, hike, crawl or drive to find as many cool birds as I can...but this day, I had to sit and wait.  It is a great change-up to really get to observe some great bird behavior - as well as some other wildlife passing by.  First off, I got to see an example of kleptoparasitism. That is when one bird tries to steal food from another - usually between birds of same species - but sometimes by others.  Eagles do this. Gulls definitely do.  And on this instance, it was a Caspian tern harassing a Forster's tern for the fish the Forster's has caught.  It was a noisy and desperate chase - with the Forster's winning and probably taking that fish back to hatchlings somewhere south on the Refuge.

Next I was amazed to watch a male Northern harrier snatch a barn swallow right out of the air and rocket off with it to the east, most probably - again - to a hungry youngster.  It actually took me a few seconds to realize what I had just seen and I'm sure the smile was pretty large on my "birdnerd" face. 

And as if that wasn't all great enough...I also got to see male Cinnamon teal fights, a long-tailed weasel "high-tail-it" (literally) across the road, Western kingbirds nabbing twelve-spotted dragonflies out of the air, and a bat roosting in the kiosk! 

It's amazing what you'll see if you just stop and smell the roses - and watch around them too!

Happy Birding



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It is THAT time of year again . . . time for bird babies on the Refuge!  Our earlies nesters already are showing off their new broods.  Over the past week I've seen groups of goose goslings, dollops of ducklings, and even a few grebe chicks getting a grebie-back ride from a parent.  I'm sure the youngsters will only increase in number as the season wears on...with soon to arrive avocet and stilt chicks practising on their new and LONG legs, tons of tiny teal tots, as well as many of possibly the ugliest of all bird babies - those in the heron and egret family - trying hard to hold their huge heads up!

Also - while taking a turn around the tour route - watch for several smaller species like marsh wren, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds and common yellowthroats...who all should be starting to carry food back to little ones in the nests hidden down in the cattail and bulrush.

Enjoy the season and happy birding!


Tern jewelry!

May 5, 2012

WANTED: Reports of Caspian Terns Wearing Jewelry

If you see a Caspian Tern wearing colored leg bands, a research team in Oregon would like to hear from you.  

Jack Binch photographed a Caspian Tern on the refuge on Thursday, May 4 with color-marked leg bands, which can be seen on the Refuge Facebook page.

According to Oregon State University researcher Yasuko Suzuki, the tern was banded as a chick at Crescent Island in the mid-Columbia River (near Pasco, WA) in June 2004. Of the thousands of tern chicks banded since the program’s inception, this is only the second color-marked Caspian Tern sighted in Utah; the first was photographed at the Sandy fishing pond in 2011.

The purpose of the banding project is to study Caspian Tern predation on endangered species of salmon in the Columbia River estuary and plateau as researchers and fish biologists attempt to restore populations of the fish. The research team appreciates any information about their banded birds, and since Caspian Terns nest at Bear River, we’re prime for seeing them.

For more information about the color markings including how to record them, launch the link below: You can report your sightings at with a courtesy copy directly to a project researcher at

And for information on the project, launch this link:

Kristin Purdy

Pelican path or Kingbird highway?

Friday, May 4, 2012

While birding the Refuge Auto Loop the other night, I noticed how pockets of certain species in certain habitats made it feel almost like certain portions of the road were designated for a few certain of these species… and it got me thinking.  If we didn’t call it the Refuge Auto Loop (which I’m not suggesting we change) what would we call it?  I definitely know what I’d call portions of it:

Kingbird Highway.  The first 3-4 miles down the road from the Wildlife Education Center…through some of the residential/agricultural areas rife with barbed-wired fence lines and telephone wires is full of Western kingbirds…and soon to be Eastern kingbirds as well.  In just one week their numbers have tripled or more and it is almost impossible NOT to see one of these yellow-bellied flycatchers doing just that…fly catching.

Whimbrel Way:  OK.  This one is probably a long shot… as Whimbrels are a rarity on the refuge, only moving through during migration and usually quickly at that. But – this season has already provided several sightings of one here and there, in the playa wetland and grassland areas along the county road also referred to as Curlew flats –due to all the nesting Long-billed curlews. 

Pelican Path:  This one would be very fitting for the southernmost part of the tour loop, as almost everytime I’ve driven it this spring there are large fleets of pelican group-fishing and foraging along the canals and waterways before they head back to a local island to nest.

Black-crowned Bypass:  We have a rather good year for Black-crowned night herons. And combined with snowy egrets and great blue herons, there is a rookery of nests started just off the Auto Loop in a closed area of the Refuge to the east of the route.  But – this large nesting colony means a lot more views of these “squownky” birds when they are out hunting – usually best found after 4pm.

Tern & Teal Trail:   Last and certainly not least, a section should be dedicated to two of the Refuge’s specialties…Cinnamon teal and Forster’s terns.  Both these beautiful birds are now massing in numbers…the teal starting to nest along shorelines and canal edges while the terns are gracefully winging and plunge-diving above and into canals for fish.

I’m sure there are many more ideas of species and areas of the loop to highlight.  If you have any, feel free to share them with me at, and Happy Birding!


Migratory bird day is EVERY day at Bear River!

Saturday, April 28

Sorry I haven't written for a bit...but the birding has been, well, just TOO good to be inside typing! But, today while I'm working I thought I'd try to get off a quick message to our friends and fellow birders out there in birdland.

International Migratory Bird Day is coming up on May 12th.  All across the nation, Refuges, Parks and organizations will be throwing celebrations and having tours to enjoy the return of migratory birds to their area.  Bear River is no exception. We're having a small open house to celebrate with games and movies and crafts - and the awards for the 2012 Junior Duck Stamp competition!  This got me is great to have a day to celebrate the amazing journies some of these birds make every year...twice!  The Arctic tern is the longest - migrating from the tips of South America to the far northern tundra above the Arctic circle. 

But when I'm out birding - especially around the Auto Loop at Bear River - I can't help celebrate Migratory Bird day EVERY DAY.  I hear 30 little Savannah sparrow males singing and jostling for territory in a grassland and I'm thrilled to stillness at how none of them were here just a short week or two ago.  I watch male Long-billed curlews (and their seemingly bored female counterparts) vociferously spiral above the grasslands showing the lovely russet colors of their udnerwings and think..."what were you guys and gals up to just a few weeks back?  Did I see you when I was in Texas in January?"  I drive on.

I arrive near the maintenance shop and am enthralled with the number and noise from flocks of foraging mixed swallows (Tree, Cliff, Barn, Bank and even Northern rough-winged). It is difficult to tell them apart at first - but then - if you listen closely, you can start to pick up their different dialects. Or, if you're lucky, in a moment of calm they'll aline the fences and canal crossing gaurdrails and you get a quick scan of them all sitting.  I identify them quietly to myself..."Banky, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Barn!  Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Tree, Tree, Roughie!"  I continue the drive.

Gulls.  Thank you Franklin's gulls.  I love them. Mainly, because most gulls I find very difficult to identify from other gulls with all their phases and stages and plumages...but the good-ol' brine-fly-eatin' Franklin's' I just love.  With their handsome black heads and "red-lipped" bills, they are readily identifiable when they return (as they have just done) to the Refuge and the Great Salt Lake basin.  Also - their much higher pitched (and a bit screamish) call is also pretty obvious. So thank you guys and gulls - I appreciate it, and welcome back.   I'm rounding the bend.

Now, there are certainly MANY more birds on the Refuge right now. Migrating in to stay....migrating through to continue onward.  Avocets and stilts abound. Ibis are always around.  Herons and egrets are fishing.  Birders tryin' to find sparrows are pishing.  And then there's me. Enjoying every marsh wren, yellow-headed blackbird and (gasp) even brown-headed cowbird I see...and celebrating every day as Migratory Bird day...and feeling rather lucky that I get the chance to do so.

Happy Birding!


Up with the temperature : Up with the Bird count!

March 12, 2012

Well fellow friends and birders . . . it is that time of year again . . . SPRING MIGRATION!  It has started rather early this year, due to a combination of mild-winter and earlier-than-usual warming trends.  Already the Refuge has Tree swallows passing over and feeding on clouds of midge, as well as early flocks of shorebirds like godwits, stilts, avocets and yellowlegs.  Our first Yellow-headed blackbirds have been heard "cronkling" from the wetlands, and marsh wren and song sparrow males are singing and building emphatically. 

It won't be long until Cliff swallows are seen scooping mud and slathering it along our building or bridge undersides.  Western and Clark's grebes have begun to be seen in small pods - meaning only a month or more until dancing may begin it's graceful tete-a-tete.  Large flocks of American white pelicans are already teaming up in squadrons to cordon of fish for lunch, while returning Double-crested cormorants watch them for scraps or missed morsels.

As you can see - it is quite a hive of activity at the Refuge - and as the temperature rises, so does the number of birds and species to be seen, as well as the types of activities from signing, feeding, building, mating and more. So I highly recommend an easy drive around the Auto Tour Loop to see the wonders the wetlands hold with the return of Spring!

Happy Birding


Get 'em while they're...cold?!

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

A Tundra Swan of the Eurasian BEWICK’S subspecies was feeding along with thousands of its best buddies within the auto tour loop today at Bear River MBR in Box Elder County. I viewed the bird from the west leg of the loop, about 1/10 mile south of a pullout with an interpretive sign that reads, "About Midges". The Bewick’s Swan was feeding with others along the closest edge of swans to the road. I estimated it was 50-100 yards away.

I was sweeping the flock for Trumpeters and actually settled on a Tundra Swan with a relatively large yellow lores spot. They attract my attention due to the pop of color. And then the bird behind the Tundra lifted its head and YowZA! Talk about a pop of color. The yellow extended from the bird’s eye to 1/3 to ½ way down its upper mandible looked like a saddle of yellow, but it didn’t reach far enough to get my heart pumping for a Whooper Swan. It fed the whole time I watched it, which was likely 45 minutes or so, routinely spending more time rooting under water than breathing above. It was very difficult to find again if I moved because it fed so consistently under water, and not because it was either far away or obscured by other birds.

I’ve been on a swan tear over the last few days and have visited the southeast unit at Farmington Bay a couple times (walking well south on the dike from the four-way at the end of the dike road), and the refuge today. I hope to find Trumpeters to study and while that hasn’t happened, I’ve recorded nine collar numbers between the two locations to report to the Canadian Wildlife Service. That’s always fun. In addition, a flock of 32 Snow Geese tried to hide behind the big bodies of their also-white cousins, but to no avail; I spied them anyway.

I spent so long with the Bewick’s Swan that I ran out of time to look for the gulls and Eurasian Wigeon Kenny Frisch reported yesterday. Oh, well. I’ll have to be happy with the Eurasian bird that I did see.

Swan viewing on the auto tour loop at Bear River MBR is as good as I’ve ever seen not only due to thousands of birds, but the particular ice/water situation of the moment may support the birds’ habitat preferences in Units 2 and 2A, the two major units that run along the west leg of the loop. As the ice continues to melt and Unit 1, their historic preferred unit north of and outside the loop, becomes fully available, the birds may move there where they’re much more distant and not at all easy to observe. So the moral is: Get ‘em while they’re hot (or cold, as it were).

Kris Purdy

What a difference a year (and a few more birds) makes!

Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 is Valentine's day and my love goes out to all our wildlife struggling throughout the world to live in habitat so changed by humans as to be totally unrecognizable as wildlife habitat. 

But, that said, let's try to keep our hopes up and remember the progress we HAVE made.  I am currently participating in an online book-club/blog called AMERICA's WILD READ and enjoying it tremendously  ( )  This month's book is BURNING RIVERS by Dr. John Hartig and concerns four urban rivers that have actually burned due to pollution.  These rivers, due to public outcry in many forms, have all been reclaimed and restored and have many species of fish and bird and more returning to them and the Great Lakes basin. 

And this brings me to my subject of the day...the 21 Bald Eagles I saw on the Refuge this past week.  This group was only a small portion of over 150 eagles that have been in the area the past weeks of mild weather...lining up along opening ice edges to nab fish (or steal them from another eagle.)  It seems like just yesterday that I was thinking..."Boy, eagle day is just around the corner...where are all the eagles?"  Boy, did I not have to worry this year.  And thinking back to last year, we hardly had any around the Refuge at this time of the year, while Farmington Bay had tons.  Just reinforces that they are WILD birds and do and go where they want or need to.  But let's not forget - how lucky we are to see so many of these amazing birds.  It was less than 40 years ago that these birds were still in danger of NOT being seen in numbers like this, and only 5 years since removing them from "the List."  Every time I see and adult or young Bald eagle I try to remind myself of this and continue to hope we will do better each year with the many species that are still in need.  And withough getting into climate change or habitat loss too deep . . . I try to just keep it simple.  "What would my life - and the life of everyone I know or love or work with - be like without this bird, this tree, this chub, this bug, or this bud...gone from the planet forever.  Some species make it harder than stinkbugs?  ok.  No more poison ivy, sounds great.  But no.  Any loss of species affects the planet and its species in ways even our brightest scientists cannot always imagine or foresee.

So today - when you get a chance to view a Bald eagle...or even just a house finch in your back yard...imagine what it might be like without that bird.  Imagine if we somehow keep conservation stationary or ___ forbid, moving backward.  And then make that step to try to make a difference in any way you can.   [  And for today, here's a great way:  Be an endangered species' valentine.  ]



Feb. 1, 2012

So - i'd like to chat just a little bit about my recent birding experience away from the Refuge.  As you all know from an earlier post, I am doing my own "mini" big year, this year.  I don't have the time or funds to due a true big year...but I am challenging myself to get out more, travel a bit if gas prices allow, and see the country and its amazing aviana.  And my first month of a year has started of quite well with a trip to the Rio Grande Valley of souther Texas. (My parents are Winter Texans, so, a visit to see them also becomes a great trip for birding.  With many TX state parks and refuges partnering with the World Birding Center - the birding along the RGV is really hard to beat almost any time of year - except for maybe warbler migration back east. 

I have now visited the area three times and each time have been amazed at the variety of birds - not to mention the list of stunning "lifers" I have been able to add to my list at almost every hotspot. But - what really always hits me as special - along with the rarities and mexican specialties that "hang" along the border - is what I like to call the special birdlinks.  A birdlink to me is when that thing...that bit of information that you've always known conceptually (for example - long billed curlews migrate to fields of southern texas for the winter) becomes reality by seeing the birds at both ends of their migratory path.  This is true for any part of the nation or North America - of course...not just Utah to southern Texas.  Having the chance to see a a Sora or a Vesper or Lark sparrow or the aforementioned curlews both on breeding grounds and wintering grounds someone seems extra special to me. It brings the importance of conservation not just in pockets or lone refugia but along major pathways, landscapes and migratory flyways into crystal clear view.  It also helps the conservationist, myself happily and proudly one, understand these species and their needs to a much fuller extent.  Knowing what the curlews are heading to and how they get there - can help enhance our management of the species back here at Bear River.

So - as we enter February of 2012 - I challenge everyone to get out and bird..and travel if you an area where the birds you are used to use the landscape very differently than they would near your home.  And if travel in these expensive times is difficult - check out range maps and the amazing info.on species in the Birds of North America or All About Birds from our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Learn what it's like for the tanagers or towhees down south and I will bet you...that when they return this spring and summer to your yards and feeders...they will look even lovlier to your eyes and your appreciation of conservation at a much larger and grander scale with have grown tenfold.

Happy birding!


You never know what birds you might see at the Refuge!

January 12, 2012 

(from guest blogger and Refuge Volunteer - Kris Purdy)

You never know what birds you might see at the refuge. That’s why I perform a monthly survey not for water birds, but for birds that may not be associated with water—raptors, gallinaceous species, doves, owls, woodpeckers, and songbirds. I had completed my January survey and was arriving at the visitor’s center to record my data at the eBird kiosk. I noticed a small hawk perched on the guardrail as I drove up the driveway to the parking lot. "A Merlin!", my gut said, considering the open habitat around the center.

But I was wrong. The first-year Sharp-shinned Hawk, ambush species of woodlands and backyards, flushed from the guardrail just as I reached the spot. What on earth was a Sharpie doing there? The hawk angled toward the walkway leading from the parking lot to the building and took a new perch. I had a good long look at the bird as I approached the walkway while its attention was focused down. Then, it flew again, this time toward the south side of the building where the feeders are, and I figured that was the last I’d see of a bird that seemed so out of place in the wetland that surrounds the center. But I was wrong.

I could hear mysterious rustling in the reeds as I passed the spot, and I figured a couple American coots were down there, tripping over cattails with their fat lobed toes. Then, unmistakable chirps of House Sparrows told me who was using the thick cover.

I half-turned and looked down the walkway I had just crossed as I was opening the door to enter the center. There was the hawk again, this time perched on a piling, looking down into the reeds intensely. The bird wiggled its tail back and forth like a person who rubs his or her hands together with great anticipation, and then, the bird flew down toward the reeds and swooped under the walkway. I wondered what madness was ensuing under there where I couldn’t see. Accipiters are known for pursuing their prey on foot through brush, and I had no doubt the little Sharpie was causing havoc among the sparrows. Eventually, the hawk emerged from the north side of the walkway and flew west, remaining low over the parking lot like a falcon does, but with the flap, flap, flap gliiiiide flight pattern of an accipiter.

I’ll never know if the hawk actually caught a House Sparrow or not. But I do know that bird knows where to find dinner, and just like at your backyard bird feeder, it will likely be back. Keep your eyes peeled on the walkway!

Kristin Purdy

Big Year Birding

January 6, 2012

So, fellow bird-nerds, have you seen THE BIG YEAR film or read the book yet?  Thoughts?  I actually enjoyed the movie more than i expected too.  And - it had an unexpected effect on me (and probably others, as well).  I really would love to DO a big year some day!

That said - to accomplish a true Big Year takes a lot of time and money and I only have some of one and a lot less of the other. (Take your guess)  But then I thought, why not just shoot for the biggest year I can - with the main goals being to enjoy nature and the birds I love so much, to travel a little bit and visit places I've never been, and to share and educate to others - especially youth, about my adventure.

Well, so, I'm doing it!  Durint the holiday break - with the unseasonable weather here in Utah - I got quite a headstart.  I've birded all around the northern part of the state and am very excited about my progress.  It helps to be a birder that also WORKS right here on this amazing Refuge - seeing shrikes and eagles and hawks and harriers all over the place.  But there are so many other great places within 15min. of Perry Nature Park, Mayor's pond, Mantua reservoir and Box Elder campground to name a few. 

So bring on 2012!  It's off to a roaring start.  And if you enjoy birding and get bitten by big year fever like I did...Bear River is a great starting, middle and end point for racking up the species.  Just thinking of 2011 - we had easily over 150 different species stop through...including such rarities as a Eurasian wigeon and a Little Blue heron.

Here's wishing everyone a Happy 2012 and a great year outdoors.

Happy Birding,


a riot of raptors

Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

So, I'm not sure if a "riot of raptors" is actually the correct a gaggle of geese, a convocation of eagles or an exaltation of larks, but a "riot of raptors" certainly seems apt after the past week's observations on and around the Refuge.

Within the past week - almost every type of raptor, ranging from common to uncommon, has been spotted on the Refuge, and chatter about the rarer visitors to Northern Utah has been all over the other bird sightings websites.  Volunteer, Kris Purdy, while surveying the Refuge for landbirds last week had a Merlin along the  Refuge access road, as well as a Golden eagle.  Both Golden and Bald eagles have been seen in increasing frequency now that the land and water is freezing over. 

The following day after Kris's survey, I had the chance to drive the loop and had amazing views (of course I had forgotten my camera ...d'oh!) of Northern harriers, Rough-legged hawks, Bald eagles, American kestrels, a Peregrine falcon and a very cooperative Short-eared owl!  The following day we had several Barn and Great horned owl pellets left around the Wildlife Education - signaling to us that they were NOT to be left out of the "riot."  And then, to add to the list just this past Friday, while driving out to clean the Refuge restrooms at the start of the Auto Loop - spotted a nice Prairie falcon enjoying its recent kill.

Also, eventhough they are not raptors, it has also been a great time to view the very raptor-like little shrikes.  We have both Loggerhead and Northern shrikes on the Refuge right now, perching on road signs and fences and watching for prey...mmmmmmmm.

So, even though the numbers of waterfowl are much lower due to frozen over wetlands, and the tundra swans have mostly headed to southern california, if you're a fan of raptors as I am . . . a tool around the loop in frigid but sunny temps is still worth the while.

Happy Birding



Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

The weekly swan survey from the Utah DWR came out this week - and the numbers are starting to dwindle.  The amazing and vociferous Tundra swans are slowing spreading out and heading south to warmer climes as the waters of northern Utah begin to freeze over.  At one point we held at or above 40,000 swans on the Refuge or nearby wetlands.  They return each year to rest and feed in the deep waters of the Refuge's Unit one and surrounding waters filled with nutrious vegatation such as sago pondweed.  Having the large expanse of healthy habitat certainly draws the flocks in and keeps them coming back.  And, while they are starting to leave for the winter, they will surely be back again as the ice starts to open up in March - so if you've missed seeing and hearing these white wonders, make sure to visit us (or other areas around the state like Salt Creek or Farmington Bay) on Utah's TUNDRA SWAN DAY - Saturday, March 10, 2012! 

Swans were also in the headlines in the SL Tribune this week:

Happy Birding



Nov. 17, 2011

Today was a fun day for many reasons - but it was also a chilly day.  When you're outside in the winter elements, it's always challenging to stand still or not shiver and shake your binocs.  And, the feeling of vertigo it can cause when you are shivering and trying to spot ducks in the distance can be rather strange.  But - that said  - it is rather fun to "brrrrrrrd" in the cold when you're lucky to be a Park Ranger teaching environmental ed. to visiting school kids.  Our friends from Venture Academy where here today and got to build Wood duck boxes for WOW (Wild about Wood Ducks) and then toured our Auto Loop to compare the bird species to their last visit back in August.  Seeing the rosy-cheeked faces grin in amazement at the thousands of swans, or at the cooperative flock of adorable Horned larks, is quite a special treat that I highly recommend to anyone. Watching the young eyes pop in pride and identifying correctly their first avocet or northern harrier is quite a booster to one's day. 

Thanks again to Venture for visiting.

 - Jason

Excited about "throw-up"

Wednesday, Oct 26, 2011

Yesterday morning was the first morning since last fall/winter that we've had "throw-up" outside the back doors of the Refuge...and man are we excited about it!  GROSS - you say?!  That's crazy and think to yourself.  Well, that may be but finding the first Barn owl pellet of the season is a very exciting thing around here!

In fact, we've had excellent owl activity on the Refuge lately - with sighints of Barn owls, Great-horned owls and a Short-eared owl all within the past few weeks.  Several of these species are getting geared up for the winter and the mating season - or perhaps deciding to move a bit further south if I'm a Short-eared...though they may stay as well.  These amazing birds are rarely seen, nocturnal hunters . . . though in times of stress or while raising young . . . they are sometimes more obvious before dusk and just after dawn.  But - the best way to tell if they've been around is usually the barf!  You can't imagine, after the first few moments of being "grossed-out", how much fun and education visiting school kids get from dissecting owl pellets.  They learn about the amazing birds themselves and find out first-hand what their diet is.  Here on the Refuge we've found a lot of voles in the pellets - but also bullfrogs, snakes and other small birds.  One very fresh pellet basically looked like mouse wrapped in frog...mmmmmmmmm!

So - be on the lookout for pellets in your area...or come by the Refuge Wildlife Education Center to see if we have any lying about, and make sure to ask for directions to good places on the Auto Loop to look for our hooting feathered friends of the owl variety.



Thursday, October 6, 2011

With a temperature change of almost 40 degrees in a day (from 80s to low 40s) and wind and has Fall come in with a cold shoulder!  And with it,  many birds have high-tailed (all pun intended) it outta here.  This morning the remaining barn swallows looked very cold and angry at the turn of events - or at their friends for convicing them to stay late into the season.  But, this weather also means that many other birds will start to arrive to the Refuge in large numbers.  Most waterfowl has already been seen in LARGE numbers this year - due to good water conditions - and other later species such as Scaup, Goldeneye and Bufflehead cannot be far behind.  Also - a priority and premiere species for the Refuge, Tundra swans are expected any day keep your eyes and ears open for the big white flocks of cacophonous Cygnus columbianus.

A few other later year arrivals to watch for:  American pipits are moving through along road and wetland edges, rails and soras are "talking" about leaving, and Rough-legged hawks should be replacing our summer Swainson's.

Enjoy the birding - but bundle up!


Perfect Partnership

Saturday, September 17

This morning is the beginning of the Youth Hunt in Utah...and it made me think of a few things I'd like to talk about:  hunting and birding.   Many times in past and present - these two pasttimes have been at odds here and there - and I understand a bit of that.  BUT . . . as a birder myself, I also understand that without hunting and fishing groups at the community level and at the national level (like Ducks Unlimited)  much of our waterfowl habitat across this country would already have disappeared into development or farmland.  Avid hunters and sportsmen have always been a strong voice for conservation and rehabilitation of wetland habitat.  And, let's not forget,  hunting can serve some very essential biological goals.  By keeping populations down on species such as Canada geese, hunting helps prevent overpopulation and the spread of disease.  It also keeps biodiversity rich and maintains food and habitat for smaller or rarer species.

I've talked to several birder friends in the past and many have said something like..."Ugh, it's hunting season . . . I don't want to go birding as I won't see anything."    I also do not neccessarily agree with this.  Birds that may just be hiding or feeding are now stirred up and circling or flying to find a resting and feeding area that IS closed to hunting.  (Which, 70% of the Refuge is.  Only 30% is open to hunting for just the short few months the season is open.)   True - it is always a bit unsettling to hear gunshots if you're not prepared. 

Another HUGE pro of partnerships with hunting organizations and hunters in the U.S. is the AMAZING Federal Duck Stamp program    All hunters need to purchase one of these amazing stamps before they can hunt.   AND - I strongly urge all birders to do so as well.  I like to give them as gifts, and here is why.   They are BY FAR the most effective tool to wetland conservation ever created.  98cents on every dollar  (14.70 from every $15 stamp) goes DIRECTLY to the purchase and conservation of wetlands for migratory birds and waterfowl.  I know THIS Refuge would not be here without this program...and many of our amazing WMA's in the prairie pothole regions exist only because the Duck Stamp program was able to preserve them.

So, my birding friends, I hope you all enjoy the fall migratory season and are looking forward to LOTS of waterfowl as I am.  And, when you hear the start of the hunting season "popping" outside in the distance . . . remember that each one of those hunters HAD to pay $14.70 to save our amazing wetland habitats.


Wildlife Wanderer

This summer - the Refuge has been lucky to have two SCA (Student Conservation Association) interns...Nikki Tulley and Micah Knabb.  Micah - from Ohio, has been writing his own, great blog on his wildlife conservation work here at the Refuge...check it out!

Running the Gauntlet

Aug 4, 2011

Running the Gauntlet

A big, brown silhouette of a bird standing on the ground in the grassy area north of the cattle guard caught my attention this morning. It was a young Red-tailed Hawk. But the really interesting part about this bird’s presence was what had attracted its attention.

Movement in the grass just 20 feet or so ahead of the hawk morphed into a what looked like a Northern Pintail hen leading a large brood of ducklings past the hawk. She was very alert, cautious and yet, continued to push forward with her brood of twelve ducklings half her size instinctively following. The babies tumbled and stumbled over the ground after Mom, maintaining formation as best they could. Just then, an adult Swainson’s Hawk landed on the other side of the brood. Ms. Duck was leading her family through a gauntlet of predators.

The Red-tail watched silently for a few moments and then took off; I half-expected the hawk to swoop down and snatch a duckling. It’s possible that an Eastern Kingbird foiled the attack. The intrepid kingbird, known for its fearlessness, swooped down to the Red-tail and tried to peck the hawk on its back. Then, both flew off. That left the hen to contend with the Swainson’s.

The Swainson’s was interested and took a couple running steps with wings open toward the brood. But Momma just kept moving forward. Then I saw her breast was bloodied. I can’t say if she had tangled with the hawks before I happened on group, or if the blood came from her breast or the tops of her webbed feet. It just didn’t look good for her or the babies. 

One thing that came through, however, was the hen’s resolve. She continued to press south through the grass and across the county road, and then farther south to the bend in the river. It’s as if she had a homing instinct for the water. They made it across the road in time due to the good graces of a refuge truck driver, which slowed enough to let the whole brood pass safely.

Meanwhile, the Swainson’s had lost interest, flown, then landed again near the ducks as they crossed the final upland section between the road and the river. Once again, the Swainson’s made a running feint at the brood without making a grab for any of them. It would have been easy pickings, but instead, the hawk took flight.

The hen and her brood made it to the river. I calculated I had watched the drama for at least a sixteenth of a mile.The last time I saw them, she was leading her babies downstream…eleven of them. One of the babies had not been able to keep up just after the Red-tail left. I saw the duckling stumble twice and then remain alone in the grass long before the brood crossed the road to the south side. Mom did not wait.

I guess that would be called survival of the fittest.

 - Kris Purdy

It's not a's a Grasshopper SPARROW!

Grasshopper sparrows - grassland birds of North America - are losing their habitat...large, open expanses of native grasslands.  These days their habitat is scarce and so...finding and seeing one of these little birds is becoming more and more rare.  And - hearing them is sometimes also a bit of a in the spring and early summer, the males "song" doesn't much resemble any other bird "song."  It sounds like a tiny, chirruping insect down in the grass..sneaking thru the veg like a mouse instead of jumping up and flying around. 

Over this past spring and summer - it has been exciting to find that we definitely DO have Grasshopper sparrows, in limited numbers, on the grassland portions of the Refuge near our Visitor Center.  We heard at least 5 males singing this spring, and a recent visitor was lucky enough to snap a photo of a one on a nearby fence  post.

So - if you're looking for a challenge...let us know, and stop by and try to see and/or hear this lil grassland rarity that is the Grasshopper sparrow.

Bear River Birding Link

Thanks to Kristin Purdy for sharing a link to her article in the Standard Examiner about Birding on the Bear River MBR!

Water recedes to find a new visitor!

June 20, 2011

Well . . . it's been a trying several weeks, with high water levels and access to our Auto Tour Route closed, but the water has finally receded to safe levels and the road is OPEN again! 

First off - i want to thank everyone in the birding and general visiting public for their patience.  We tried our best to offer alternative opportunities for birding and visiting while the road closed...including directions to other nearby birding and hiking hotspots,  offering behind-the-gates birding tours and guided walks.  I also hope everyone understands that it was definitely a safety issue and that is why the road was closed.  Not only was there water crossing the road, but it had made the road unsafe in a couple areas...AND - it made fishing very dangerous along the river and canals with very fast moving and turbulent waters. 

As of Friday the 17th - we were able to work with the county and our staff and open the road up again..and in no time, folks were out and enjoying the newly paved road and amazing wildlife along the Auto Tour Route.  And - the star was a Little Blue Heron found on June 19 in the waters just off the county road.  This is definitely a rare record for the Refuge and we were thrilled that he/she showed up just in time for the re-opening of the road! 

We hope everyone gets a chance to get back out on to the Refuge again and enjoy its amazing appeal..and, watch for little ones!  Baby coots, grebes and ducks have been reported.


green, Green, GREEN!

June 6, 2011

Wow - I leave for a week (lucky enough to do a work detail at the National Elk Refuge) and return to wetlands of GREEN.  The cattail and bulrush sprouts - which were only several inches high when I left, are now easily in the 4 - 5 foot range and getting hard to see over.  I guess it should be no surprise these wetland wonders are doing so well (and providing amazing habitat and food for many of our bird species)  with all the water we have this year. 

Many of our species use these great plants in a diversity of ways.  Marsh wrens and coots will use both to make nests - one sewn above the water and floating just on it's do the grebes.  Herons and bitterns will use them as hiding and hunting areas...carefully avoiding predators while performing predatory fishing from within the vegetation. Waterfowl will enjoy the bulrush seeds come late summer and fall - when the bounty falls to the water surface like a buffet to snatch up. And not only birds love this new wealth of greenery. Muskrats LOVE the cattail tubers - one of their favorite foods - and make their lodges out of last year's old stalks and leaves, and several insect larvae - like dragonflies and damselflies - will use the vegetation as a ladder, climbing out of the water - spreading their wings - and taking flight!

So - in a year with "too much" water and flooding issues - let's remember how important all that water is to our wetland vegetation and in turn, to our wildlife.



*  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!

Owl Prowl 

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:

Katie McVey, Park Ranger


Cliff swallows building nests May 14, 2011

Today - in honor of International Migratory Bird Day - I'd like to give a special "BRAVO!" to the master builders out there...and there are many. 

As pictured to the right (Photo: J St. Sauver, USFWS), Cliff swallows have returned to the Refuge - and these amazing migrants have been using local mud, their own saliva and a whole lot of skill to create tiny-tube adobe homes above our Education Center doors.  Just yesterday, these smooth-flyers were clinging to wood and yet today - there are over twenty nests built and many more on the way.  Made with a special sized entrance - so that only they can squeeze in - the homes already (presumably) holding precious ones inside their eggs, as one swallow is staying in on the nest while the other is foraging for midge and mosquito to bring back for food.

Not to be outdone,  male Marsh wrens are even busier than most birds on a usual spring day...but this year, with unfortunate heavy rains last week - they are beginning again.  Marsh wrens build not one nest to impress his mate - but several - in hopes that a female will love his architectural design!  And they are wonders -  egg-shaped bulbs of sewn rushes and cattails with a tiny litle circular entrance...all lined inside with cattail fuzz for the days of nesting.

Several of the grebe species on the Refuge are also quite "handy" with making special homes.  Floating nests are their expertise...using rushes, mud and more, to make a soft and comfy little house-boat-type-barge nest for their little ones. But - without a roof, and a tiny bit unstable in high-water conditions, these parents go a step farther and give their young a "grebey-back" ride just after they're born.

And finally, another amazing architech of the the Bullock's oriole.  Orioles are amazing weavers and sew grasses together to make a hanging, hammock-like enclosed nest that has no rival.  They're so strong and well-made, you can usually see old nests still in many trees throught the winter from years past.  What a better way to spend a summer morning with the wee-ones...than by swinging gently in the breeze.


Bullock's sightings, birds singing and boys scouting

May 12, 2011

We have had MANY visitors to the Refuge lately - for both birding and environmental education - and they all got to take advantage of learning through birding.  We had a great group of high schoolers visit yesterday to learn about Refuge management, wetland ecology and avaian adaptations...and they got to go out on the Refuge to look and learn about our feathered-friends.  We had great views of a female Peregrine Falcon eating her prey (possibly an ibis or pheasant) and the first sightings of the spring of Bullock's orioles - bright and orange! 

Later in the afternoon, we had much younger visitors - a den of Wolf scouts - join us also to learn about birds.  We chatted about field marks and how to focus binoculars, and then trekked outside on our Wetland Walk and spotted almost 15 species...from Yellow-headed blackbirds to Sandhill cranes, but most exciting, was a quick sighting of a Virginia rail being chased off by an American coot.  The rail species are very secretive and are often only heard and rarely both myself and the boys got a rare treat to see this rusty lil rail hop up out of the reeds for a quick glimpse.

And finally - just the cacophonous calls of birds singing and chatting at this time of year is hard to ignore.  Marsh wrens chattering and blackbirds sqwonking...Canada geese honking and warblers warbling...terns ska-reeing and is quite a spring symphony!


Birds and BUGS!

May 3, 2011

O.K.   So, I took another swing around the Refuge Auto Tour Route last evening...and MAN what a difference a few days makes!   The Western kingbirds have definitely arrived...lining the fences and hawking for meals.  And - only a week a go or so - I'd get excited seeing some of the early Cinnamon teal pairs, but this was hard NOT to see they were in almost every little pond and pool and bit of water they could find along the road...the males head-bobbing and squacking (yes - squacking) to attract the ladies. AND...the numbers of White-faced ibis has easily quadrupled over the past few days.  BUT, although the birds are amazing and plentiful . . . the most numerous creature was easily the flying Midge!  The bugs were FIRMLY in charge along the wetlands..keeping me inside my jeep most of the time.  Now - don't get me wrong - I dont' want to discourage anyone from birding the loop - it's still outstanding, but just be aware...that cloudy grey film you see in the air is not smog...but midge!   Check out the air around this Yellow-headed blackbird photo...and you'll get the picture.  Happy bugging and birding! Yellow-headed blackbird and Midge swarm

So many birds . . . So little time!

April 25, 2011

I had the chance to take a quick half-hour drive out onto the Refuge access road last evening - just before a big storm and the evening set in...and man the birds!  I am always constantly amazed at the amount and the diversity of birds on this Refuge and the surrounding wetlands and grasslands.  How often do you get to see over 15 species all within one quick pass over the habitat with your binoculars . . . Cinnamon teal (pictured below) and killdeer feeding next to American avocets, Franklin's gulls and Caspian terns. . . and flying by are Horned larks, American pipits and masses of Yellow-headed and Red-winged blackbirds.  CITE (Photo: J St Sauver, USFWS)And not only are the numbers of birds amazing...but the plumage at this time of year is equally stunning.  The gold of a meadowlark's breast or the jet of a Franklin's gull's head.  The greening of the cattail enhancing the sunburst of a Yellow-headed blackbird's namesake.  Stunning.

It is times like these, and opportunities to do such things, that remind me how lucky I am to have a job that combines my love for birds with the my care for the natural world around us.  I wish everyone a happy spring and wherever you are - get outside and listen to the singing and enjoy the colors.  I'm sure it'll put a smile on your face.

- Jason

Water, water and more water!

April 20, 2011

Well - that title says it all.  This spring in northern Utah, with record snowfalls still in the mountains and heavy rains recently - we have a LOT of water rushing into and thru the Refuge right now.  Unfortunately - it has made our Auto Tour Route unsafe to drive - and it is temporarily closed until further notice.

I was watching the water rise recently - and, while it's sad for birders like myself to not be able to get out on the Refuge to see the birds we love so much - I began thinking about all the birds that have already begun nest building and even rearing young (as we have seen our first brood of goslings on the Refuge).  I wondered how many poor little Marsh wren males have had their dummy nests lost to high waters.  I thought, man, I hope all that work the Pied-billed grebes and coots put in to their floating rush nests hasn't washed away.   And THEN I thought about all the Snowy plovers, least sandpipers and other shorebirds that do NOT like deeper water...and hoping that they would still be able to find some quality feeding stopover sights this year. 

Wildlife is often much more resilient than we I'm sure most of these species will be fine and will adapt to the conditions.  These weather cycles have been around throughout history and I'm sure are nothing new to the wrens or the plovers, but it still made me think. It will be interesting to watch as the months go by and the water continues to rise . . . how everything will pan out in the very WET wetlands of the Bear River Refuge this spring.

 - Jason St. Sauver


April 11, 2011

"Kidick. . . kidick. . . kidick"   [silence]      "Kick-kick-kick MAGREEEEER!"

These are just some of the fun calls and sounds you may here from the depths of the rushes on the Refuge and nope, they are not made by a frog or an insect. . . but from a "thin-as-a-rail" Virginia Rail!  In recent days, these very secretive marshbirds have begun returning to the wetlands of the Refuge where many may stay and nest and breed.  And - as secretive as rails are (we also have Sora which can be heard "whinnying" from the wetlands) the Virginia rails are especially vocal. They also have a loud "chuck, chuck , chuck, chuck, chuck" communication well as many other notes and chips they can make to young.  And - if you here one - and another is in hearing distance, you may hear several of the little rusty birds talking back to each other.

The Refuge wetlands are prime habitat for VIRA (the 4-letter banding code for VIrginia RAil), providing prime nesting areas and they prefer to feed and nest in freshwater wetlands with thick cattail and bulrush type vegetation. Also - the abundance of food including beetles, acquatic larvae, snails and crustaceans and bulrush and spikerush seeds - make the Bear River delta especially rich for the rails.  Refuge Biologist, Howard Browers, reported several returning rails were calling on the Refuge on April 10. 

So, if you're out visiting the Refuge Auto Loop from now until the early Fall, feel free to look for these adorable little wetland wonders, but don't be surprised if you don't see them . . . but definitely listen for them to tell you hello from under the depths of the vegetation with a guttaral and gutsy       "Kick-kick-kick MAGREEEEER!"

Wonders of the Wetlands!

March 31, 2011

Yesterday and today, we had 4th grade classes from Lewiston visiting as part of our Mountain Wilds to Wetland Wonders environmental education program.  The students were treated to two great days of outdoor fun and learning - especially by our feathered friends!  Sandhill cranes were cooperative - flying and circling above the school kids and providing them with great views of their large wingspans and long legs.  Western meadowlarks continue to sing for territory all along the wetland walk - and this morning, we even had a nice big American white pelican checking out the habitat. (pictured below)   Students, led by staff and volunteers, also learned about macroinvertabrates, water quality in the Bear River watershed, plants and uses by wildlife and native peoples, and much more.  In perfect timing to learn about migration, we had a small group of Bald eagles fly over - circling and soaring on a thermal and moving north along the Wasatch front. And even the Song sparrows helped teach this morning, by teaching about territorial song displays and camoflauged plumage.

American White Pelican

White Geese above and around Refuge

When an airborne flock of geese sees a good patch of wetland right next to verdant agricultural land, they don’t bother to speculate who owns it and would they be welcome there? They put down. And so thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese have been using the waters of the Bear River and Chesapeake Bay Clubs north of the refuge and east of Unit 1.

I saw my first white geese of the spring season on Saturday, March 5, as I was completing a non-waterbird survey along the D-Line. A huge flock of white and black confetti was stringing south and west across refuge impoundments. The flock made a big loop and headed north and east, and then became so distant that I lost them against the backdrop of the snowy Promontory Mountains.

On March 18, I purposely headed to Corinne at dawn to execute an annual rite of spring: Watching for the birds to rise off the water north of the Bear River Club to fly to stubbled corn and newly sprouting winter wheat fields in Corinne to feed for the first of two daily feeding sessions. A particular passion of mine is to scan the flocks for birds marked with colored collars with alpha-numeric codes to report them, ultimately, to researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service. One year was so good I ended up reporting 23 collared birds.   

The show begins shortly after sunrise from a vantage point pointing south toward the duck clubs and the refuge on 6800W. in Corinne. The flocks boil up off the water; some heading north without a thought to feeding; some heading to the fields. Once they put down and settle to feed, they’re very approachable from within the confines of a mobile wildlife blind; i.e. a vehicle. Just make sure the roads offering the closest approach are not restricted or you have permission to travel them, and you’re not likely to get stuck.

The birds land in a flurry of black and white and noise against a backdrop, often of soft blue sky on clear days, and emerald green of the newly sprouting wheat. It’s one of the most breathtaking sights of spring I’ve seen, especially when the flocks number in the thousands. Their landing in stubbled cornfields means good entertainment is ahead; the funniest sight is when a Snow Goose unearths an ear of corn and runs away with it while being pursued by other geese.

My friend, Jack Rensel, and I have made the pilgrimage two additional times since then. The most recent was this past Saturday, March 26. We gleaned a total of six collars to report and had a nice conversation with a local farmer, who has mixed feelings about the birds’ presence. While the flocks do damage to the wheat crops as the birds graze and sometimes tug the sprouts up by the roots, he also appreciated their beauty and was taking pictures.

We were there just to appreciate their beauty. The birds are likely to be sojourning in the area for just a few more days or a week or two; the instinct to migrate will take them north some morning at dawn without stopping in the fields to feed again.

- Kristin Purdy, refuge volunteer

Sure Cure for Cabin Fever

March 23, 2011

I recently returned to northern Utah after being on a brief work assignment in northeastern Montana and...MAN what a difference a week makes! I can really feel and see the signs of what most of us love so much, Spring. It is the annual rebirth of the natural order of things. I could see some green in the landscape which was white and brown when I departed - an indicator of what is about to be upon us in full swing. The bird life surely increased ten-fold since I have been gone, as well. The courtship is just starting for some and nesting and mating, too, will soon be in full swing. I continue to be impressed with this Refuge as I enter my fourth Spring working and managing its wetlands and grasslands. I am a little bit of a ski bum/powder hound and so the winters are very,very enjoyable for me. But, if you are someone who suffers from cabin fever and need some signs that Spring is in fact, HERE and very much alive and well, come visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge... I know you will enjoy your visit.

- Jack Heisler, Asst Manager/Wildlife Refuge Specialist

Even ONE bird can make the day!

March 18, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, as I walked our Wetland Walk trail here on the Refuge, I was reminded that even one bird...even a common bird...can really make your day.

As spring continues to sneak up on us, the coots and the grebes, the swallows and wrens and shorebirds, keep trickling in.  Some of our local birds (song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks) are already singing and setting up territories in preparation for hopeful mating and nesting.  It was one of these birds, a Western meadowlark, that made me smile yesterday.

Like a small burst of sun peeking out of the grass, this young male was singing his hear out, and not even me walking by was going to disturb him.  In fact, I couldn't believe his stamina...hardly taking a breath between songs. He continued on for over 10 minutes as I watched, feeling honored to be able to see this so up-close-and-personal.  He varied his song a bit, as well as his ensure all the airwaves around him were slathered with his melodious tune.  It was quite a show, and with the slight chilly spring breeze, he breast was puffed up to both show-off his colors and possibly stay just a bit warmer.

It is moments like these I remember how lucky I am to love nature and be able to get out into it, not only for work but in my free time.  It makes the less-fun portions of the day seem worthwhile and inspires me to continue in whatever path I'm on.  So, I say "Thank You, Mr. Meadowlark."  And remind everyone to get outside. Take a walk, enjoy a bike ride or a hike, listen for the frogs or the birds or the whisper of the wind.  I can bet you that nature will make it worth your time.

- JasonWestern Meadowlark


Friday, March 11, 2011

No, sorry, the title of this blog entry does not allude to two crotchety old men arguing on the Refuge until it comes to fisticuffs.  I'm talking American coots, the marsh birds that are beginning territorial wars in the wetlands just outside our Education Center windows!

Also known to many as "mudhens," American coots make up for their lack of beauty in plumage or song with their interesting behavior and odd vociferousness. This swimming rail has lobed feet instead of webbed and a bill more like a chicken's than a duck's - which is used for foraging on aquatic vegetation on or under the water's surface. Coots are widespread and can be found in Utah throughout the year as long as there is open water, but spring is the time they begin to move back to breeding grounds and are some of the earliest  waterbirds in Utah to start setting-up and defending territory...which they'll do with quite a squawkety show!

Using such tactics as spattering (running across water flapping wings and feet loudly upon the surface), patrolling, charging and even swanning (extending head downward while raising wings and tailfeathers to appear as large as possible), the coots appear like miniature medieval knights jousting for the princess' approval.  In fact, her approval sometimes looks very similar to the fighting male behavior!  Ah nature - sometimes so hard to tell between love and hate.

So - stop by and enjoy the jockeying for nesting sites and catch one of nature's intriguing creations showing off at its squawkety best . . . the American coot.

 - Jason American coot

Spring, Swans and Skipper

March 8, 2011

Well, the date would indicate that we are on spring’s doorstep, but the storm yesterday says that winter still maintains a strong foothold.  The moisture this winter has been wonderful in northern Utah and should bring on a great spring migration of birds as they head toward their respective breeding grounds.  Saturday is swan day at Bear River Refuge and a great celebration of the migration for a spectacular bird.  Linda and I spotted our first north bound swans in late January but now the numbers are steadily increasing.  I grabbed Skipper (our pup) and we headed for the marsh.  I wanted to scout out some areas for our tour on Saturday, as well as checking out what birds have made their return.  The contractor is grading the county road to the tour loop in preparation for paving this spring and summer.  That portion of the road is in great shape; unfortunately the same cannot be said for the tour loop.  The rain and snow the last few days has made for a muddy mess.  Happily, the birds don’t seem to mind so much.  The Canada geese have paired up and seem to want to hang out on the road while pairs of Sandhill cranes were wandering in the tall grass.  Pond 1 was holding large numbers of swans and ducks and Pond 2 had good numbers of waterfowl as well.  There is a lot of open water and most of the birds are a good distance from the road and a good spotting scope would be helpful.  We kept the truck headed down the road, as opposed to heading for the ditch or worse yet, the canal.  Skipper enjoys the ride, mostly augering into my hunting coat and getting in some quality nap time.  The pooch ain’t much help spotting birds and I don’t think he would provide much support if I got stuck.  I didn’t see much along the west portion of the loop until I made the turn off D-line and headed for the main gate.  This portion of the refuge had quite a few swans and geese, but the numbers of ducks, easily dominated by northern pintails was staggering.  The icing on the bird cake today was watching eight bald eagles on the ice and perched on some dirt mounds - watching the ducks and swans - which I am sure they’d nab for a meal if the opportunity came up.  Saturday should be a good outing for our visitors but we will probably have to restrict the tour to the D-line road and let the tour route dry out a bit.

- Brian Ferguson, Refuge Volunteer


Thursday, March 3, 2011

 FOY, for those of you who may not know, is an acronym in the birding and scientific world for Firs Of Year sightings of a specific species.  For FOY peep could be deciphered as the first returning, small, brown sandpiper (such as a Western or Least) in the Spring.  Used mainly for neotropical is an additional recordkeeping label that has a lot of value in these days of climate change and possibly altered migration times, bug emmergence and plant flowering dates.

Already, eventhough Spring has certainly not sprung, we have had a few FOY birds appearing on the Refuge...with several more due within the next few days and weeks.  Already spotted have been killdeer, marsh wrens and Sandhill cranes...and although Tundra swans and Western meadowlarks can stay through the winter, larger numbers are returning from areas just south of us.  In the imminent future we expect FOY sightings of White-faced ibis and American avocets.

Another sure sign that Spring can not be TOO far away, is that some of our local birds that did brave the winter, are setting up territories and nests.  Song sparrows are declaring their favorite spots of bulrush, Red-winged blackbirds are having tiffs over stands of cattails, and Red-tailed hawks and Black-billed magpies are already building nests.

So, when you're out there on the Refuge, or birding in your area...see if you can notice not only what type and how many birds you see...but also, what they are up to!  Several of them will surprise you with sure signs of Spring, and perhaps you'll get your first FOY!

 - Jason

Some B's of Birding

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011

Today was a Beautiful and interesting day for Birding on the refuge.  First off - we had a lovely, mature Bald eagle on the fence post just south of the Wildlife Education Center that preceded to sit there and show off for most of the morning.  Later, our resident Barn owl was seen hunting above the wetlands for some Brunch.  These two B birds had a clash later in the afternoon - either for territory or possibly because the Bigger Bald eagle wanted the Barn owl for lunch.

Then - later in the day - a sure sign of the Beginning of spring (and there have been many, despite the recent snow)  was the appearance of the first Sandhill crane of the season - feeding in a nearby field with some Canada geese. Now, neither, I know, start with B ...But Both were Browsing on the available feed.

All in all - even in this harsh weather - the Bounty of the Bear River Bird refuge is obvious...and it's Beauty and magnificent Birds can't BE BEAT!

 - Jason

Wild Winter Waterfowl (and other birds) Survey

February 22

This is my last opportunity to get out on the Refuge for a bird count in February.  They had already had a count last week so Linda and I stayed home.  Howard Browers, biologist at the refuge, wanted to go along but wanted to include his survey for waterbirds as well.  This was a good opportunity for me to see what his ideas were for the counts and also see how one counts literally 1000.s of bird in a fairly short time span.  We met at the Education Center at 0730 and headed out.  It was a nice morning with temps in the mid 20’s, little wind and overcast skies.  We had a good visit as we headed for the Perry gate and it didn’t take long before we were countin’ birds.  Redwing blackbirds, ravens and ring billed gulls got us started.  By the time we hit the turn in the D-line road we hit our first large group of waterbirds.  Howard broke out the spotting scope and started calling out species and numbers.  Swans, geese and a good variety of ducks kept me busy with the tally sheets and then my song birds would bring me back to the reality that I had to keep track of them as well.  I was caught off guard when Howard started calling out bald eagle sightings and they didn’t come one at a time.  There was one large group of mature balds on the ice totaling 14 birds, what a grand sight that was, bet they are eating a lot of ducks. 

We continued working our way around the different Units and when we strayed the normal route for the songbird count I would get a break.  Sometimes Howard would have me tally by bird counts and sometimes there were so many birds he would estimate the total and then give me species by percentages.  It didn’t take long in our route before we had a bit of a weather change and a cold wind kept me in the truck while he braved the elements to get out with the scope.  We had a wonderful day in the marsh and the birds were fairly cooperative except for the little brown jobs that flit from one patch of Phrag to another and never seem to hold still long enough to be identified before they pass clean out of sight.  When we hit lunch time and still had not hit the half way point in our count, I knew we were in for a long day (sure wish I had brought a lunch, guess the diet coke would have to hold me for a while). 

Around 2:00 we started seeing snow squalls working their way across the Promontory and Wasatch mountains and down into the basin floor.  It wouldn’t be long before the snow would work its way across the refuge and change our count strategy.  I learned quickly that any kind of bird is hard to identify in a white out, but Howard persevered and we made it through to the end.  We hit about 14 species on the songbird/raptor count and Howard estimated somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40,000 water birds.  It was a real eye opener to watch Howard ID birds at 500 yards with the scope. 

Our top sightings for the day were the tundra swans, 49 bald eagles, two smelly little skunks working the road banks for a bite, and a barn owl hunting the marsh for a mouse or two as we passed the electric gate and headed back to the Education Center.  Nine volunteer hours, not a bad day for an old retired guy!

 - Brian Ferguson   

(Please note, this Survey was done by US FWS Biologist, Howard Browers, and Refuge Volunteer Brian Ferguson.  Not all areas surveyed are open to the public - but many of these birds and species can be seen from our public Auto Tour Loop as well!) 

Winter Refuge Haiku


Bear River Refuge

Wildlife will always come first

Conserve the future


Horned Larks flit and flee

Rough-legged hawks soar above

Voles duck and dive home


Eagles perch proudly

Watching for fish and for fowl

Iconic and grand


 - Jason

The watching is worth the work and the wait

O.K.   That title has a lot of W's in it. But you'll understand why in if you continue reading just a bit more.  I'd like to tell you about an experience I had this weekend - birding both on the Refuge and off - that highlighted something I've been dying to chat about for some time.

First - I spent a lovely sunday morning driving the Refuge Auto Loop and the county road that connects to it.  The views of wintering raptors were amazing - always making me wish I was a better photographer. It almost felt like the Rough-legged hawks were modeling and the Bald eagles were posing...both species circling and perching.  I thought to myself, "Boy - I hope these guys are all around NEXT weekend for Bald Eagle day!"  And, to add to the special morning, I learned something new about bird behavior.  I seem to almost every time I go birding. Even the most common birds can always do something to startle or enthrall me.  This day - it was a lonely little Horned lark.  I've rarely ever seen them on their own - almost always in small to large flocks feeding together.  This lil fella was calling - maybe trying to find his lost friends.  But I loved his perch - or perches, to be correct.  He would call for a bit - then fly off to another spot and call some more.  His perches of choice?  Large mounds of frozen cow poop!  Sturdy, raised, good vantage point. Seems like a good choice to me.  But - on my many times out birding - and taking the time to watch horned larks, I had never seen this.  It takes time, patience, and sometimes work.

Second -  the following morning I decided to bird off the Refuge - to go in search of a more elusive bird that has not been as easy for me to observe.  In fact, this was my third trip - up a steep mountain road, then hiking in freezing and drifting conditions, to try and spot a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy-finches on the top of Powder Mountain.  The drive is precarious - even on good-weather days.  The hike from the ski lodge area up to the private Condo area where the finches have been hanging out - is slippery, blustery and just darn right cold. The first two times I've made this payoff was an empty bird feeder the first time and a partially filled feeder with only one mountain chickadee the second.  I was beginning to feel the lil Rosies were not in my cards.  But, yesterday...after the toughest and coldest hike of the three...there they were!  And about 50 of them, at that, enjoying the feed with a Hairy woodpecker thrown in for the fun of it.

And now, finally - this brings me to my point.  These birding observations of mine - are just that much more special to me because I didn't have the birds pointed out to me, or just get lucky and have them fly across my yard.  Don't get me wrong - luck has a lot to do with seeing tough to find birds sometimes. But - the immense joy I get out of seeing new or interesting birds or bird behavior - comes not just from focusing my binocs on them and checking them off my list. No, my friend, not so.  Some of the most memorable sightings I've had in my birding years are of those birds that have been work to find.  Those species I've had to research first.  To ask around about good habitat and put up with several "no show" hikes before finally getting the glimpse I've been looking for.  I have too often been disheartened with birders or visitors alike that will be angry or disappointed when they do not see birds they expect to see on a Refuge.  My usual response:  they're wild birds...would YOU stay put?  But even more disappointing is when the birds are there but folks do not want to put in the extra effort.  "I didn't see any swans out there at all!"  "Well - did you get out of the car?"  "No"   There's my point.  Go the extra step or two.  Take that slightly cold and slippery hike if you can.  If the birds are there - and trust me, they won't always be there, it will be all the more worth it to you when they are.  So - back to the W's.  Do the Work. It may take some Waiting...but it will be Worth it when you are Watching the bird you've been Waiting to see.

 - Jason

Which Finch

Just a quick blurb to highlight something that made me chortle a bit.  Yesterday, while walking by our feeder station at the Refuge...the one little tree (invasive Russian olive - we know - we have plans!) it looked as it usually did. Almost like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree - all twigs n bare branches - but covered with little feathered ornaments...about 30 of 'em.  Usually - they're brown 'n' striped and some are rosy-headed.  BUT...I did a double take.  While 95% of the time the tree is filled with House finches...for some was all American goldfinches.  I just thought it adorable and interesting...that one morning - though at first glance - all looked the same, it wasn't.  Just goes to show you...don't take anything for granted and always look twice, or even thrice!

 - Jason

"killy, killy, killy, killy!"

(thought i'd try something a little different today...and write from the point of view of one of our local feathered friends...see if you can guess what species I am?!)

"Brrr, brrrr, brrr...brrrrrrrrr!   Man, is it chilly out here today...but gotta keep warm. Gotta find food...gotta keep warm. Zoooom...i zip and zag and perch atop this big crazy building in my favorite territory...ever watching for food, food and food.  I love this spot.  I can see two areas where the silly finchies and other LBJ's try to get at some of that free food (why do they get free food and not me?) that the two-legged tall thingies go in-and-out of all the time.  Nuthin' better than a good lil finchie for breakfast, brunch or lunch..well, except maybe a vole. Vole's one of my favorites."

"Killy,killy, killy, killy!  Get outta my spot, Mrs. harrier....I was here first!  I'm fierce and fiesty and festival colored so look out.  But, oh well - she's a lot bigger than I am so maybe i'll flap on over to the tall-pole above the place with cats and dogs and chickens.  They have good food around there, too...lots o' starlin's and micees. Mmmmmmm, miceees. Oo, and there's one now...I can see your little trail, little mouseee, with my amazing eyes.  I don't even have to see you, just where you've used the it glows like a nightlite.  Up I go - hover....hover....hover.....and DIVE!  Swooping down almost unseen - a blur of pinks and blues and then back back back....Aaaahhh.  LUNCH!!!"

(Do you know who I am?  I'm seen at the Refuge daily...some come visit and see me in person.)

 - Jason St. Sauver as an ____________?

A return to Utah and native birds

Today, as jet-lagged as I am, I just thought I'd drop by our blog for a quick update on something that bugged me about my recent vacation - but that made returning home that much more special. I've just returned from a trip to the island of Maui - and don't get me wrong - I had a lovely time. The vistas were beautiful, the snorkeling was amazing, and the views of breaching and nursing humpback whales was extrodinary.  But - the birding, on the other hand...while good, left me feeling just a little sad. 

It's true that I added many new species to my life list...but the majority were introduced and sometimes invasive species - not native to the island. This is the case on almost all of the Hawaiian islands. Very few Hawaiian endemic species remain - due to human disease, monoculture sugar cane fields and other more prolific and invasive bird species.  While I was lucky enough to find the I'iwi and 'Amakihi - the 'Apapane and the Nene...I also couldn't get away from the Myna and the Zebra dove - the Mannikins and the Java Sparrows. And as adorable as the Red-crested cardinal is - I just couldn't enjoy seeing it too much, knowing that it has learned to eat fruit and nectar from the bottom of some plants so that when native honeycreepers try to dring from the flower above...the glass is definitely below half empty.  :(

All that said, my arrival back home and seeing Northern harriers, American kestrels and Rough-legged hawks around the Refuge...seems even that much more special; and makes me feel that much more privileged to work towards ensuring that upon every return home...they'll all still be here to see.

 - Jason St. Sauver

VOLE FOR LUNCH! - by Kristin Purdy

(Sunday, January 16, 2011)

Today’s rain after the snow gave the refuge a foggy, dreamy look, and because of the wet snow muffling the sound of tires on the auto tour loop, the place seemed utterly insulated from the sounds of man. Most of the Rough-legged Hawks I saw today exhibited the species’ characteristic wariness by flushing long before I was close. But one adult male standing on the ground along the west side of the auto tour loop held his position as I approached. Perhaps my quiet approach helped explain why he stayed; the other reason lay in the dark pile of fluff atop the snow next to which he was standing. He was pulling flesh from an object pinned beneath his feet. I had found the bird at his dinner. He tugged a few more bits from his prize and then stomped away from the dark pile like a person learning to walk on snowshoes for the first time. The heavy feathers on his legs looked like pantaloons streaming behind him and under his tail. The bird stood quietly, not concerned about my presence, and took in the gray scene around him. Several times, he leaned down and swiped his beak in the snow; once, he drove his face into the snow and swiped his whole face from side-to-side. I was watching the equivalent of a human dabbing his napkin at the corners of his mouth.

Once his post-meal primping was complete, I began to ease forward in my vehicle to get a better look at him and the remains of his prey. The bird was relaxed enough to stand on the road until I was about 25 yards away, then, he flew into the murk. That gave me the chance to study the scene of his meal.

The hawk had taken a vole. The dark pile of fluff was the plucked fur of the creature, punctuated with odd curlicues and S-shaped segments of entrails that were staining the snow yellow. A deeper depression where the hawk had been standing when I first saw him tugging bits of flesh was bloodstained. The vole’s head remained in the pile, bright orange incisors obvious within the gray fur of the face. The hawk’s tracks, smaller than the many pheasant tracks that formed a crazy latticework all over the refuge this morning, led from the depression and to the main tire track of the dike road where he had swiped his beak.  It was also easy to see where the hawk had struck the vole and to imagine the bird dropping out of the sky onto his prey.


I did not see another human visitor on the auto tour loop this morning. While poor weather discourages visitors, the birds must continue with their struggle for winter survival and great wildlife watching opportunities exist even in rain and fog and snow.

 - Kristin Purdy

"Inside" Birding

Today, a lazy, chilly Saturday at the Refuge, was still a great day for what I call "inside" birding.  We had a small group of scouts visit the Education Center, and as part of their naturalist requirements - learning about flyways, bird migration and bird identification at a Refuge were the goal of the day.  Well - at most times of the year - a lovely wetland walk or drive around the Auto Loop will provide the scouts and leaders with excellent bird viewing and educational opportunities.  But what to do on a gray and cold winter day?  Bird and learn INSIDE if we must. 

Using our 131 photo bird wall - now numbered - the scouts played our Bird ID Quiz game - learning about field marks and beak adaptations while trying to differentiate between a Dunlin and a Western sandpiper, or a Western and Eastern Kingbird.  Watching the scouts' and the leader's eyes light up when they correctly identified the Green-winged teal - they're favorite bird of the day - made my day and made up for the less than cooperative weather out of doors.  Of course - a view at a lovely female Northern harrier hunting just outside was also a special treat.


foggy ' n ' frosty Friday

Well - I guess every day at Bear River MBR can't be the BEST birding day.  With the foggy and frosty weather today...not too many birds seen around the Education Center except the lil House and Gold-finches who sit lil holiday ornaments on the one lil tree by our feeding station.  Sit, that is, until our local Kestrel friend decides to stir them up.

So - instead of blabbing and blogging about nothing - I just decided it was a good day to post a pic of one of our friends from this past summer...who we hope to see again when spring returns.  I like to call him "Senator Swainson" as I think he looks stately. 

Swainson's hawk

Here's to warmer winds when the magic of migration is magnified all around us. 


a chilly, bumpy and "birdy" day

     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 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 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.  




Bear River Birding Blog is Up and Running

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge will be starting a Birding Blog in the new year (2011) so stop back here for reports on the birds and birding activities on the Refuge.