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Posts Tagged ‘Antelope Island’

Antelope Island

Antelope Island from the causeway on an overcast day. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” – Amelia Earhart

Wilson’s Phalaropes 

My newest writing work in progress, since Travels with Maggie is now published, is a book I’m calling Bird Droppings. It’s about my adventures, and that they have been, of being a late-blooming birder.

Female Wilson’s phalarope in breeding plumage. — Wikimedia photo

It’s a passion that addicted me at the age of 60, just when my body was beginning to revolt against my more strenuous outdoor activities of back-packing, white-water rafting, biking and skiing.

Recognizing the new hobby as a major blessing that kept me moving forward in my zest for life, I reveled in the new experiences. And the more I actually learned about birds, the more enamored I became with bird watching.

As I watched for birds on the island, I always saw other wildlife, and pronghorn antelope were frequently among them. — Photo by Pat Bean

At first, I relied on others to make identifications of birds in the field, but there came a point when I wanted to be able to be the first one to say that’s a yellow-rumped warbler or a ruddy duck. Those two, by the way are usually easy to identify. The first, also known as a butter butt, often moons you so you clearly see its golden backside, and the second has a blue bill and a stuck-up tail,

To satisfy my need to be able to identify a bird on my own, I began solo weekly visits, with field guides in hand, to Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. I called the place my Birding 101 Lab and visited it almost weekly, throughout the seasons, for two years. I never had an outing to the island, which was reached by a six-mile causeway, in which I didn’t learn something new and fascinating.

One of the more interesting birds to me, since I’m a woman who raised five children almost entirely on her own, were the Wilson’s phalaropes. These nine-inch or so shorebirds are members of the sandpiper family. They flock by the hundreds of thousands to Great Salt Lake during the summer. I often watched them swimming around and around in circles, creating a vacuum that would bring up tiny bits of food to eat.

But the thing I enjoyed most about these birds, which I learned from my many bird books and field guides, was that they switched roles. The female had the brightest colored feathers, courted the males, and then left the egg sitting and rearing the young to the gentlemen as well.

As a mom who changed cloth diapers for five children without any help, I couldn’t help but admire the female phalaropes.

            Bean Pat: Refuge https://www.birdnote.org/show/terry-tempest-williams-reads-refuge One of my favorite authors reads a short piece in her soothing voice. This is a real treat, and less than 2 minutes long.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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 “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” – Crowfoot saying.

Favorite Places

Author Bob Sanchez http://bobsanchez1.blogspot.com/commented that he

One of my favorite shots of an American bison is this one of the large animal taking a dust bath on Antelope Island, which is one of my favorite places. -- Photo by Pat Bean

liked yesterday’s photo of the bison mother and nursing calf that stopped traffic in South Dakota’s Custer State Park. As an aside he noted that since these lumbering creatures can be dangerous, he was glad I took the photo through the windshield of my RV, Gypsy Lee.

His cautionary words jogged one of my brain wires to replay, in vivid detail, an incident back in the 1970s that involved my then 10-year-old daughter, Trish. She, I and my son, Mike, were visiting Yellowstone, where we had stayed the night in the Old Faithful Inn.

Antelope Island bison with a view of the Wasatch Mountains on the far side of Great Salt Lake. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Antelope Island bison with a view of the Wasatch Mountains on the far side of Great Salt Lake. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Back then, there was a small cafe located adjacent to the Inn, where the three of us had breakfast. Trish finished first and asked if she could go outside and look around.

“Stay close,” I said in my mother’s voice.

When Mike and I went outside about 10 minutes later, my heart stopped. While Trish hadn’t gone far, she was standing beside a huge bison that had settled down on some warm sand – and was petting it.

Along with bison, chukars are easy to find on Antelope Island. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Thankfully her guardian angel was looking over her. Not only did she escape without harm from the wooly creature, her mother was too relived she was safe to punish her.

My travels the past seven years have often taken me in sight of these great animals that once roamed across North America’s grasslands in great herds before we humans killed them to the brink of extinction. Perhaps it’s because they were so rare for so long that many people today get so excited when they see one.

I was fortunate that before I retired and left Ogden, Utah, I saw them regularly on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.

I used the island, which has a high claim on my long list of favorite North American places, as my Birding 101 Lab. That’s the thing about being a birder. If you’re looking for tiny things, you’ll never miss all the big ones.

*While we may call this creature a buffalo which I did in yesterday’s blog because it is a term everyone understands, the animal that is found in North America is a bison, an American bison to be specific.

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 “My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.” Terri Guillemets

Himalayan snowcock -- Wikipedia photo

Chasing Birds

While the recently released movie, “The Big Year,” hasn’t been a top box-office hit, I thought it was a great film. Of course I’m a passionate birder and could relate to the chase to be best North American Birder of the Year.

The record number of species seen between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, by the way, is 745 species. I won’t tell you who holds the title, however, because that might spoil the movie for one of my readers who hasn’t yet seen it.

One of the scenes in the film, which shows just how crazy we birders can get, depicts a wild helicopter chase of Himalayan snowcocks in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Chukar on Antelope Island ... Photo by Pat Bean

Boy I wish I had such a conveyance at my convenience. I’ve never seen this pheasant species, and these days am not up to the rough hike, which unless one is extra lucky, is the most likely way of spotting one.

I may still give it a try next year, however. Like a lot of other birders, “The Big Year” inspired me to step up my birding game. And my curiosity about snowcocks inspired me to see what I could find out about these birds. The Internet, which I have come to love, turned up a couple of interesting blogs from birders who have seen the Himalayan snowcocks in the Ruby Mountains.

I noticed, when looking at pictures of the birds on a couple of Web sites – http://tinyurl.com/3uya55p and http://tinyurl.com/3w6edbx– that the snowcocks look a lot like the chukars I have seen on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The chukar, however, is not a difficult bird to add to one’s life list. It can be seen in at least nine western states, whereas the snowcock can only be found on this continent in the Ruby Mountains. And it wouldn’t even be there except that Nevada Fish and Game thought the bird would be a good game bird for hunters – and in the 1960s, transplanted about 200 of them there from Pakistan.

There may be 500 or more of the birds today roaming around the mountains near Wells, Nevada. Yes, I am for sure going to have to visit the Ruby Mountains soon. The snowcocks are calling to me.

 

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Above Photo: The Grand Tetons from Togwotee Pass — Photo by Pat Bean

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” — John Muir

Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. Only the top of this mountain, Frary Peak at 6,596 feet, was visible 20,000 years ago when the land was covered by the prehistoric Lake Bonneville. It's a 7-mile steep, round-trip hike to get to the top of the peak, where big horn sheep frolic. -- Photo by Pat Bean

 
“Before computers, telephone lines and television connect us, we all share the same air, the same oceans, the same mountains and rivers. We are all equally responsible for protecting them.”  Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

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 “I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” E. B, White

Thirty-thousand years ago, only the very tallest peak of Antelope Island, which now sits in Great Salt Lake, would have been visible when Lake Bonneville covered nearly all of Northern Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

My laptop computer finally began misbehaving too badly to ignore any longer. Since it’s my lifeline to the world as a full-time RV-er and daily blogger, and because it had given me four years of decent service, I decided it was time to retire it.

Since I’m rather in the boonies here at Idaho’s Lake Walcott State Park, 45 miles away from the closest Best Buy, I decided to drive 160 miles instead to Ogden, Utah, where I had a geeky-in-a-good-way friend whom could help me set up a new computer.

The historical marker at an Idaho rest stop that got me pondering the ever-changing face of the planet we live on.

It was a beautiful drive, sunny albeit a bit windy, mostly through land that 30,000 years ago lay beneath Lake Bonneville. A large historical marker at a rest stop just north of the Utah border tells travelers all about the prehistoric lake, whose shorelines are still in evidence along Interstate 84 which I was driving on this day.

The majority of the 1,000-foot-deep prehistoric lake was in Utah and its two distinct levels were clearly visible from my front porch when I formerly lived in Ogden. I can’t help but notice the ancient shorelines – there’s two distinct levels – every time I return to this city I loved.

The lake took up a huge portion of Utah and smaller bits of Nevada and Idaho until it broke though Idaho’s Red Rock Pass east of 84 about 15,000 years ago.

Great Salt Lake is all that’s left of Lake Bonneville today. It’s average depth is only about 25 feet.

Because I had stopped at the rest stop and seen the sign, I pondered as I drove, about how Mother Nature, with her floods, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and water and wind erosion is constantly changing the nature of this planet we live on.

I had long ago given up believing I was ever fully in control of my life, and now felt sorry for all those who hadn’t yet reached that conclusion. All we can do is take life a day at a time.

This day was a good one. I even got into Ogden in time to purchase my new computer. It’s a beauty, with more bells and whistles than I will probably ever use. But, everything didn’t go as planned.

Murphy showed up just to show me he could. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

.

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A chukar on Antelope Island, where this game bird was transplanted, is usually easy for a birdwatcher to find. I've seen many of them, and each time was as delightful as the first time.

 “Life is a great and wondrous mystery, and the only thing we know that we have for sure is what is right here right now. Don’t miss it.” — Leo Buscaglia

Travels With Maggie

I keep a list of every bird species I see for the first time and a list of the all the places I’ve been. I’m always delighted when I add to these two lists. But thankfully, I’m not like the birder who passed me on a trail on Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake a couple of years ago. .

Maggie and I were dawdling along, she sniffing the flowers and everything else we passed as cocker spaniels do, and me watching red-winged blackbirds flash their scarlet marked wings while listening to a couple of breeding male meadowlarks trying to out sing each other.

Barely slowing his pace, the middle-aged hiker asked if I had seen a chukar. I replied that I often saw this partridge-like bird in the rocks near the bend up ahead. About 10 minutes later, the man ran past me going the other way.

Prong-horned antelope are also easy to find on Antelope Island if one takes the time to drive around and look. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Got it … that’s 713 birds for me now.” His voice was like the rumble of a passing freight train.

How sad, I thought, that he didn’t take a minute to admire the flashy scarlet markings on the blackbirds or to enjoy the melodic voices of the two meadowlarks.

Numbers on a list are only that. It’s being present in the moment – seeing the golden hue on a meadowlark’s throat as it tilts its head toward the sky in song, or the magic of a sunrise slowly coloring the sides of a canyon – that makes my heart beat faster. I enjoy such wonders whether I’m seeing it for the first or the hundredth time.

But I’ll still keep my lists. I like making them. They’re also a great way to recall the wonders I’ve taken the time to enjoy.

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A view of Antelope Island, which appears moody this day. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Antelope Island is a favorite place of birders wanting to add a chukar to their life list.

 Antelope Island is a 28,000-acre bird haven in Utah’s Great Salt Lake accessed by a seven-mile toll causeway. It is home to a thriving herd of bison, playful antelope, sly coyotes and prickly porcupines.

 Migrating warblers visit, as do shorebirds and ducks that feed on the surrounding lake’s tiny brine shrimp and brine flies. California gulls nest each year on the rocky outcrops along the shoreline, bald eagles drop by in winter, and every spring hundreds of western meadowlarks, with their brilliant golden throats and song, nest on the island. The males sit on a high perch to melodiously proclaim their brooding territory while the females sit on nests hidden so well in the grasses below that you can walk within inches of them and not know they are there.

I visited this island almost every single week for two years after I caught bird-watching fever in 1999. It was my birding 101 lab. And every time I go back home to Ogden these days, I make time to once again visit this protected — the entire island is a Utah state park — wonderland.

A buffalo sculture looks out over the lake. Photo by Pat Bean

 

While a live version takes a sandy bath. Photo by Pat Bean

This trip, the drive across the causeway was made with more land than water to the sides of me. Once again, Great Salt Lake is nearing the 1960s record low of 4,191 feet above sea level. In the mid-80s, it was at a record high of 4,212 feet. I was present during this latter period when its high levels and wind-pushed waves tore out the causeway to the island as well as chunks of Highway 80 that stretches across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats to Wendover, Nevada.

Now, 25 years later, I was getting to see it at its lowest. Was it Mother Nature’s drought and warm weather affecting the level, or was it the human diversion of water before it reached the lake driving the lake’s current low level? The question taunted the edges of my brain as I watched a pair of ravens circle overhead where the causeway curved. I wondered if these were the same ravens I had watched raise chicks in a huge nest several years earlier.

Antelope seen on the way to the island's historic Garr Ranch. Photo by Pat Bean

I spent four hours on the island this day. I watched with camera in hand as a buffalo took a sandy bath and kept my eyes glued to rocks for the sight of chukars surveying the landscape. Maggie and I took a hike around the point from the Bridger Bay Campground. Meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds joined their voices to the drum beat of the lakes’s waves against the shoreline. I found the tune calming and marveled at the purepeacefulness of the day.

  While I still had questions and concerns about the lake and the island’s ever-changing future, Mother Nature’s magic was still all around me. I look forward to my next visit, and hope she can still be found.

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