Winter’s First Snow

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 Eagle

Landing 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 ice

Great 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 ice

Mallard 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 background

Prairie 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 Rabbitbrush

White-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!


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: Snow on Antelope Island and more Coyotes

  2. All great shots Mia! I can hardly imagine what you said about the Eagles! I hope the winter is a little more normal, so you can capture a lot of great Eagle photos! We had a Ferruginous Hawk about 2 hrs. North of me here in KY last year, and I’m still kicking myself for not getting up there to see it! You can bet if he gets back, I’ll be there!

    • Karen, being here in the winter when all the Eagles are here is amazing, I am hoping that this year we will have more. I hope you get to see and photograph a Ferruginous!

  3. Pingback: Snow on Antelope Island and more Coyotes | Mia McPherson's On The Wing Photography

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  5. Splendid images, Mia! I love the muted winter colors!

  6. I tried to comment on this post earlier but my iPad doesn’t keep my ID info and it’s a bear typing it in on that thing. So here I am telling you I really enjoyed this post. Perhaps because winter is still a new concept that has set in here in Kentucky so it’s nice to see it. Carol

  7. I love your photography. It’s very inspiring. And from this write, I feel your excitement. It’s one that I share. Everyday is an opportunity to witness something incredible. All we have to do is figure out where it will all be happening….which requires research and lots of patience:) Great stuff Mia. You inspire:)

  8. Fantastic photo series Mia, love the icicle on the white-crowned. poor thing looks cold.

  9. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    Dear Mia, It always amazes me to see the birds go through winter. I wish you all the snow that we’re supposed to get around here. Here is produces serious situations but there it is vital. Thanks for the great photos.

    • Merrill, I really do hope we get more snow than we had last year, we had the cold but not enough snow and i feel like i missed out on winter! Thanks so much for commenting.

  10. Magnificent winter images, Mia! It was nice viewing the wildlife you see in your area. My favorites are the frosty-faced owl, coyote and Prairie Falcon, though they all are outstanding images.

  11. Just stunning images, Mia. Amazing that you could capture that tiny bit of frost on the White-crowned Sparrow’s beak before it melted.

  12. Such a joy to view these images. Great selection, the Barn Owl especially so, topical as I watched a Nature special last night on Snowy Owlets toughing it out in Alaska. It is cold here today for the first time since last year. Anyway, great pictures and narrative as always Mia!

  13. Great photos of some of your winter residents, Mia. The shot of the Barn Owl with the frost on it’s face is very evocative of winter. We have snow now as well and perhaps you have some of our birds that have headed south.

  14. Wow, I love the fox tucking away, and the Prairie Falcon is extremely quiet, but the one thing that I loved, is the White-crowned Sparrow, beautiful.

  15. Humming Bird Lover

    Hi! I so love snow! We do not see much here. I enjoy it fully when it decides to show up. I do envy you ! I will enjoy it thru your pictures tho. Thank you, thank you.

  16. Sweet shots Mia. I feel chilly just viewing them!

  17. Gorgeous winter photos in this post Mia! It almost (but not quite) makes me ready for winter. :-)

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