Burrowing Owl adult
I wanted to share a sampler of bird images that I have taken over the past week in Davis and Box Elder Counties.
I took this Burrowing Owl image two days ago. There is just something about these owls that delights me every time I see them.
Canada Geese are common here in northern Utah but they aren’t common every where, just ask people in Florida. I like Canada Geese.
Killdeer on a rock
Some of the noisiest shorebirds I have ever come across are the Killdeer though this one was silent it did perched nicely on top of a rock at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. I really like the smooth background.
Male Ring-necked Pheasant
I photographed this male Ring-necked Pheasant displaying near the road that goes to the auto tour route of Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, if there was another male in the area I could not see it but this pose indicates the type of territorial behavior I see when two male pheasants are getting ready to have it out.
Hundreds of (thousands) swallows at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge
The air is alive with midges and swallows at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, I can’t tell how many of the 5 species that inhabit the refuge are in this frame but the huge numbers of swallows is very impressive.
Turkey Vulture in Box Elder County
The Turkey Vultures came back to Utah several weeks ago but I haven’t had many opportunities to photograph them this spring, two days ago we came across some that were warming in the early morning sunlight in Box Elder County. I’m not sure Turkey Vultures could be called beautiful but they are a fascinating species and they do clean up the environment.
Western Grebes in a courtship display
I saw these two Western Grebes displaying and hoped that they would rush, they did but they rushed with their backs to me. I’ll keep trying to get them rushing towards me.
Western Meadowlark stretching
Western Meadowlarks are every where, singing from the tops of their perches, flitting about in a hurry, preening and stretching like this one on Antelope Island.
I saw many more birds in the past week, all of them wonderful, all of them fascinating and every one a great subject to photograph.
One of my favorite locations to photograph birds in northern Utah is Bear River National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve selected some of the birds there that delight and entertain me while I observe and photograph them.
There are several different species of Flycatcher that visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, among them the ones I see most often during the warmer months are the Eastern Kingbirds…
and Western Kingbirds. Both of them look rather dapper in my opinion.
Male Black-necked Stilt
There are also many shorebirds the pass through or nest on the refuge, Black-necked Stilts nest on the refuge…
as do American Avocets. Both of these shorebirds appear rather elegant in looks and movements.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Herons are common wading birds at the refuge and despite their name, they aren’t strictly nocturnal. Black-crowned Night Herons are year round residents…
Snowy Egret in flight
but Snowy Egrets are not, they migrate to the refuge. This Snowy Egret is showing the peachy-colored lores seen during the breeding season.
Barn Owl flying in the snow
Barn Owls are year-round residents of the refuge and although they are primarily nocturnal they do fly during the day when the weather is bitter cold and there is heavy snow cover on the ground and they will fly later at dawn and earlier at dusk when they have chicks to feed. This one was flying during the day as the snow fell.
Swainson’s Hawks are also migratory birds and they are seen on the refuge during the warmer months. Their diet consists primarily of insects like grasshoppers and there aren’t many of those around during the cold months in Utah.
American White Pelican
American White Pelicans also nest on the refuge and come into to feed on fish in the fresh water impoundments.
Male Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbirds, with their mechanical sounding call, can be found perching in cattails, reeds, phragmites and other vegetation as they forage for food. I was tickled to get this male in this pose.
The most common found grebes on the refuge are Pied-billed, Clark’s and Western although Eared and Horned Grebes are also spotted there at different times of the year.
Tundra Swans by the thousands call the refuge home during the winter and can be seen flying overhead, swimming in open water or standing on ice. This adult shows a stained head and neck.
The sound of Marsh Wrens can be heard all over the refuge, they may be tiny but their voices aren’t.
Cinnamon x Green-winged Teal hybrid
All types of ducks can be found on the refuge during different seasons of the year. It pays to keep a look out for unusual ducks, you never know when a hybrid might be seen like this Cinnamon x Green-winged Teal.
Terns and gulls can also been seeing hunting over the water and nesting there as well. This Forester’s Tern in breeding plumage was hunting for small fish.
This is just a small selection of the birds that can be found at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, a location that I treasure.
It has been too warm here in Utah to be called “Winter” yet, the snow that we have had hasn’t lasted long and even most of the mornings have been above freezing but the weather forecasters say that is going to change this weekend. Well, weather forecasters are often wrong so I won’t be holding my breath but it does give me a little hope.
Three years ago today though the ground was covered in drifts of snow, the temps were below freezing, there was ice on the ponds & lakes and there was a sharp briskness to the air that can only be found in winter. These are a few of the images I took that morning at a pond a few blocks from where I live.
American Coot wing flapping – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
We have tons of American Coots here in the winter until the water freezes solid and then the coots move to find open water. Coots aren’t the most colorful of birds but they are amusing to watch and photograph and they are a challenge because of the high contrasts between the whites and the darks.
Mallard drake – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f8, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
We also have plenty of Mallards too, domestic, wild and hybrids. Behind this drake this there is a sheet of ice on the pond. By the time I took this image my hands were getting cold even with gloves on and a heat pack tucked into them.
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe in an icy pond – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
Pied-billed Grebes are another species that will be on my local pond until it freezes over and they are great fun to photograph because they are feisty little characters. This one was a hatch year bird when I photographed it as it still shows evidence of the striped head that juvenile Pied-billed Grebes have in their first year.
American Coot in pre-attack pose – Nikon D300, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light,
The coots squabble and fight a lot amongst each other, this coot was getting ready to chase another one across the icy pond.
Common Goldeneye female – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
There are times we get other duck species including Common Goldeneyes but they never seem to stick around long. This female Common Goldeneye was gone the next time I visited the pond a few days later.
Ring-billed Gull on the edge of ice – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
There are also California and Ring-billed Gulls at my local pond during the winter. This Ring-billed Gull had walked too close to the edge of the thin ice and nearly fell in, it was walking back from where one of its feet cracked through the ice and it was using its wings to regain its balance.
Snow is supposed to arrive this Saturday, I hope it does, it is time for winter!
Rushing Western Grebes 1 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
I photographed these Western Grebes rushing in early June of this year at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge in Box Elder County. I had been keeping an eye on this pair while photographing other grebes that were closer and noticed that both of these birds were holding their heads low to the water with their necks out stretched which is called ratchet-pointing. I realized they were getting ready to rush and aimed my lens at them. (That is a female Yellow-headed Blackbird flying on the right side of the frame)
Rushing Western Grebes 2 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
Rushing is a courtship dance for Western (and Clark’s) Grebes that occurs during the mating season, it is amazing to watch these grebes become upright with their bodies completely out of the water and rush across the surface with the aid of their large feet. The sound of the splashing water seems to intensify the action.
Rushing Western Grebes 3 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
The male is on the left, female on the right, his chest is larger than hers. Normally I see Western Grebes courting earlier than these two birds, June seemed rather late but I’m super happy that I noticed the ratchet-pointing behavior these two exhibited or I might have missed photographing this interesting behavior. As a bird photographer I have learned that knowing my subject and its behavior helps me to anticipate their actions and that can lead to some wonderful action photos.
Rushing Western Grebes 4 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge contains great habitat for Western and Clark’s Grebes and they are very abundant during the warmer months, right now their numbers are dropping because many of them have already migrated south. They’ll be back in the spring to dance across the water again.
More Western Grebe images
Adult Pied-billed Grebe in breeding plumage
This is how we normally see Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) - floating on the water. This adult in breeding plumage was photographed near where I live at a local pond in December of 2009.
Juvenile Pied-billed Grebe in duckweed
I photographed this juvenile Pied-billed Grebe at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on a visit to Utah in October of 2008 before I moved here. The Duckweed just about covered the whole surface of the pond.
Because of the posterior placement of the legs and feet Grebes have a very difficult time standing or walking on solid ground.
Adult Pied-billed Grebe out of the water
On September 21, 2009 I saw several Pied-billed Grebes out of the water and standing on solid ground while photographing birds at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. Doesn’t this grebe look barrel-chested? We don’t normally get a view of a Pied-billed Grebe like this one.
Adult Pied-billed Grebe flapping its wings while standing
This image was taken the same day as the one above and it is the same grebe flapping its wings as it moved towards the water.
Three Pied-billed Grebes out of the water
On the same date we saw several Pied-billed Grebes out of the water, some of them were resting (far left and right) while others were actively walking or flapping their wings while standing in an upright position.
Standing Pied-billed Grebe adult
Three days later, September 24, 2009, at the same pond at Farmington Bay WMA there were more Pied-billed Grebes standing on the shoreline while a few others floated on the water’s surface.
Adult Pied-billed Grebe flapping its wings
I think this image shows how far the legs and feet of Pied-billed Grebes are placed at the back of their bodies very well.
Around the time period these standing grebe images were taken there was an outbreak of Avian botulism that was killing grebes, ducks and other water birds in the Salt Lake Valley.
“Avian botulism is a naturally occurring toxin in marshes, activated by warm temperatures and a lack of oxygen in the water. Outbreaks generally happen every August along the Great Salt Lake marshes.” – Salt Lake Tribune (click here to read the article)
I’m not a scientist or a wildlife biologist, I am just a bird photographer who studies my subjects as I photograph them in the field but I did wonder if these Pied-billed Grebes instinctively knew that being in the water during the avian botulism outbreak of 2009 was a risk to their health and if that was why they were resting and standing on the shoreline of the pond. I suppose a biologist who studies Pied-billed Grebes might know the answer to that.
It was an unusual experience to see these Pied-billed Grebes standing upright and walking on the edge of this pond, some might even consider it rare. I know I haven’t seen or photographed them standing since the 24th of September in 2009. You just never know what you might see while out in nature.
Bob Zeller’s recent post Pied-Billed Grebes – Cuties of the lakes at Texas Tweeties reminded me that I have meant to do this post for sometime, today is as good a day as any other!