As I write this the first snow of winter is falling outside my living room window. For the past week I have seen the snow on the mountain tops and I had been looking forward to seeing the snow covering the Salt Lake Valley. It might not snow enough to do that today but I know it won’t be long. Here are some images from previous winters here in Utah.

Fresh Snow on Antelope IslandFresh Snow on Antelope Island

This was taken last winter, it had snowed during the night and the island had a light covering of it. Winter last year; if you can call it that, was mild. I’m hoping that we get more snow in the valley than we did then.

Coyote eating Falcon leftoversCoyote eating Falcon leftovers

Even though we didn’t get much snow last winter the temps were bitter cold some days, cold enough that the Great Salt Lake would freeze and when it would warm back up enough to thaw some of the ice the north wind would blow huge sheets of ice to the shore and large piles of ice would form there. This Coyote was eating falcon leftovers with the sheets of ice piled up behind it.

Frost covered Barn OwlFrost covered Barn Owl

Winters can be harsh here in the Salt Lake Valley with bitter cold temperatures, icy fog, high winds and heavy snow. This Barn Owl shows the effects of a very cold night, that is hoar frost all over its face and back. The birds that stay here in the winter… they are tough, they have to be!

Landing Bald EagleLanding Bald Eagle

Very soon I will be seeing Bald Eagles in the valley. During the summer I rarely see them here, I either need to go up into the high country or head north to see them. But during the winter Bald Eagles from the far north migrate to the Salt Lake Valley to overwinter. Last winter the numbers were low because it had been mild but during a typical winter it is not unusual to count more than a hundred eagles in a morning.

Great Blue Heron on thin iceGreat Blue Heron on thin ice

Our Great Blue Herons are year round residents and once the ponds, marshes and lakes freeze over they hunt voles in through the snow instead of hunting for prey in the water. Even the Great Blues are tough birds.

Mallard on iceMallard on ice

The pond down the hill from where I live will host Mallards, American Coots, Canada Geese, Pied-billed Grebes, gulls and if I am lucky I’ll see other ducks species and mergansers too. It is so close that I hope to spend time down there perfecting my skills at photographing them in falling snow like I did with the male Mallard above.

Prairie Falcon with the frozen Great Salt Lake in the backgroundPrairie Falcon with the frozen Great Salt Lake in the background

It will become easier to approach raptors like this Prairie Falcon, when it gets colder the birds get stickier and are less apt to fly away so quickly. Our American Kestrels, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons are year round residents but during the warmer months they are a challenge to get close to. Rough-legged Hawks will soon be arriving and the Red-tailed Hawks are coming down from the high country to spend the winter in the valley. Merlins have already been reported. Who knows, maybe some Snowy Owls will show up too. I’ll also want to go to the west desert to look for Golden Eagles and Ferruginous Hawks.

White-crowned Sparrow on frost covered RabbitbrushWhite-crowned Sparrow on frost covered Rabbitbrush

Even smaller birds like this adult White-crowned Sparrow get stickier when the weather turns colder, I am able to get more images of sparrows during the winter than I can get during the summer.

I heard thunder awhile ago, I’ve always gotten a kick out of thunder-snow.

After living for five years in the heat and humidity of Florida I relish fall and winter. Bring on the snow!