Christmas Day of 2012 turned out to be as beautiful as I hoped at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge (also known as Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge) because of bright skies, snow on the ground and virtually having the place to ourselves. The Promontory Mountains to the west were gorgeous covered in a blanket of fresh snow. Bear River had some open water but there was also ice along the shore and some of the smaller ponds were frozen over. The lowest temp I saw was 6 degrees Fahrenheit but it didn’t feel that cold because of the warmth of the sun.
Just before the maintenance buildings at the start of the auto tour route I spotted this Bald Eagle standing on the frozen surface of the Bear River, it looked beautiful in the soft morning light. The eagle was looking at the ice covering the river when it lifted off and flew a few feet towards something that I couldn’t see. This photo was taken as the eagle started to land on the ice once again. Two American White Pelicans lifted off from the river right after the bridge by the maintenance building, they have hung around rather late in the season. Maybe they just didn’t want to be called “snow birds” by the people down south. 😉
Before seeing the Bald Eagle I spotted a Barn Owl flying but the owl would not let us get close enough for images. During the morning at Bear River NWR and north in the Golden Spike Area we saw Bald and Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, a Prairie Falcon and quite a few American Kestrels. In addition I spotted two Short-eared Owls flying over a marshy area. Most of these great raptor were just too far away for photos.
Marshes and the distant Promontory Mountains – Nikon D200, handheld, f14, 1/640, ISO 400, +1.0 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 75mm, natural light
The air was crisp, and the only sounds I could hear when the truck wasn’t moving were the sounds of nature. Rustling Phragmites and Cattails, small birds flitting around and some times further away, the cries of gulls. It was peaceful, relaxing and invigorating all at the same time. What a wonderful Christmas gift.
On the north section of the very muddy auto route we saw a scattering of around 100 Great Blue Herons, I have never seen so many in an area that size at the refuge. It was pretty amazing to see. right after we headed south I spotted this immature Great Blue Heron standing in a section of open water surrounded by ice, it wasn’t long before the bird flew onto a pile of snow topped vegetation which is where it was when I captured this image.
You might wonder how I know that this is a young bird, the crown is dark and there isn’t any white on top of the head or behind the eye as would be seen on an adult. The rusty colored shoulder patches that adults have aren’t evident and the mottled stripes on the chest of this bird wouldn’t be seen on an adult.
After leaving the auto tour route was finally saw another car parked on the shoulder of the hard-topped road and that is where I spotted the first Short-eared owl flying over the marshy area. The driver of the car was out taking photographs so we pulled in a distance behind him to see if the owl would fly in close. The young man came up and introduced himself after a bit. David is from Washington State and it was his first visit to Bear River NWR so we told him what we had seen on the auto tour route and I hope he saw some of the birds we mentioned. It was very nice to have met him.
Bear River NWR and the Golden Spike area are always wonderful but yesterday both seemed even more fantastic.