European Starling eating Brine flies on the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake

European Starling eating Brine flies on the shoreline of the Great Salt LakeEuropean Starling eating Brine flies on the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake

Last week I was photographing shorebirds and a Chukar eating Brine flies on the shore of the Great Salt Lake when this European Starling flew in and started to eat them too. I was surprised to see the Starling ingesting the flies because they are relative newcomers to North America and it seems that they have adapted to the hyper-saline environment around the salty lake and are taking advantage of the abundance of brine flies there. Now I can add European Starlings to my list of birds I have observed and photographed eating the brine flies here.

Mia

The Brine Fly Buffet begins on the Great Salt Lake

First of the year Brine FliesFirst of the year Brine Flies

Yesterday while near the marina on Antelope Island State Park I spotted my first of the year Brine Flies warming up on some of the rocks in the water. You might wonder “why” am I so excited about flies?

It is because I know how many birds feast on the little buggers! If the brine flies are out it won’t be long before the shorebirds that eat them arrive.  Last week there was ice on this water, how quickly things change. The image above was taken yesterday.

California Gull in a thick mass of Brine FliesCalifornia Gull in a thick mass of Brine Flies

This image was taken last year when the brine flies were thick, all of those little dark dots in the air, on the rocks and in front of the California Gull are Brine Flies. With billions of them in just a small area it is easy to see why the birds that devour them like the area of the Great Salt Lake. The California Gulls are already here and they appear to be eating the flies along the causeway.

Franklin's Gull with Brine FliesFranklin’s Gull with Brine Flies

It won’t be long before the first of the Franklin’s Gulls arrive too and for a short time the Bonaparte’s Gulls will feast on the flies too before heading further north. All those dark flecks on the water? Brine Flies.

California Gull with Brine Flies in flightCalifornia Gull with Brine Flies in flight

I do get excited about seeing the first Brine Flies because I know that their presence brings on the birds and the feeding frenzies that follow!

Mia

California Gull – The Chase is On

While my mother was visiting Utah she was able to see how California Gulls chase and feed on Brine Flies, it is fascinating feeding behavior. As my mom watched, I photographed.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 1California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 1

The gull starts out standing on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. The Brine Flies can bee seen in this image floating on the hyper saline lake surface.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 2California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 2

Then it begins to run and the Brine Flies lift off from the sand and water surface. All of the brown colored specks on the shoreline are the pupal casings of the Brine Flies.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 3California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 3

As the gull gains momentum it lifts its wings and more flies take to the air…

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 4California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 4

Then the gull starts to catch the flies by opening and closing its bill as it runs along.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 5California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 5

The Brine Flies fan out in an undulating wave in front of the gull as it races along snatching them from the air

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 6California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 6

When the flies thin out in front of the bird the gull slow down

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 7California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 7

And come to a stop.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 8California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 8

The gull rests a few moments and begins chasing the Brine Flies again. This frame shows the gull a little further from the shoreline and the flies lifting up from the sand.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 9California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 9

Again the gull grabs the flies from the air with its bill.

California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 10California Gull feeding on Brine Flies 10

And comes to a halt again. I have no idea how many flies a California Gull catches when it runs along the shoreline, it would be interesting to know though.

All of these images were taken using my Nikon D300 with my lens resting on my Noodle, f6.3, ISO 500, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/2000 to 1/3200 and all of them were taken using natural light.  These images are a challenge to create because at times the camera tries to focus on the mass of flies instead of the bird.

There are more images of California Gulls exhibiting this feeding behavior on this post titled California Gulls feeding on the Brine Flies of the Great Salt Lake.

Mia

Birds of Antelope Island – A Mix of Feathered Friends

Yesterday I photographed a mixture of birds on Antelope Island State Park.

Chukar walking on the Oolitic sand dunes of the Great Salt LakeChukar walking on the Oolitic sand dunes of the Great Salt Lake – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

There aren’t many places on this planet where a Chukar can be photographed walking on an Oolitic sand dune, I’m fortunate that I live where I can do that. The oolitic sand this Chukar is walking on was formed in the Great Salt Lake when calcium carbonate attached itself to brine shrimp feces in concentric layers. The rolling motion of  the waves on the lake give the grains of sand an egg shape. I was glad I saw the Chukars on the sand.

Preening Lark SparrowPreening Lark Sparrow – Nikon D200, f8, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Later in the morning I spotted this Lark Sparrow perched on some dead Sagebrush branches, it preened for quite some time. I especially liked that the background is composed of sagebrush bushes. These sparrows are so handsome.

Mockingbird chickNorthern Mockingbird chick – Nikon D200, f8, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

While I was photographing the Lark Sparrow I kept hearing a short, soft bird call so I kept peeking around my lens to see what making the sound. Before long I saw a tiny head pop up on a sagebrush and I scoped it with my lens. To my surprise it was a young Northern Mockingbird. It took awhile but the chick hopped up onto a branch where I could get a fairly clear shot of it and as an added bonus it had the Great Salt Lake in the background.

Sage ThrasherSage Thrasher – Nikon D200, f8, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Not very far from the Northern Mockingbird chick I spotted this Sage Thrasher, for a change this one was cooperative and stuck around for a bit. It shouldn’t be long before I start seeing their chicks too.

Chukar chick surrounded by Brine FliesChukar chick surrounded by Brine Flies – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

One of the last stops was near the marina where there are boulders that line the shore. We’ve had a tremendous hatch of Brine Flies and even the Chukars are benefiting from that.

Several Chukars with chicks were on the boulders and the muddy shore and oddly enough I also saw a California Quail with the group. California Quail are not common on the island. One of the adult Chukars that was in the mud had the brine flies covering its back almost to its neck. All of those grayish spots in the air, elongated shapes on the boulder the chick is standing on and dark spots on the boulders in the background are brine flies.

Brine FliesBrine Flies

There were flies tickling my face and hands while I photographed these birds, fortunately they don’t bite! This photo shows just a tiny section of the shoreline and a boulder, the small bits of blue is water, everything else that is on the surface are brine flies.

Mia