Perched Prairie Falcon with prey
January was bitter cold at times and one day I saw -22°F near Corrine in Box Elder County but those temps didn’t stop me from going out to look for birds to photograph and I spent 15 days in the field during the month. Many of those days I photographed close to home and it was nice to be back home with a cup of steaming coffee in my hands within a few minutes of walking in the door.
I went to HawkWatch International to see and photograph Galileo, a Short-eared Owl I helped to rescue who is now an education bird for the organization. I have to admit I feel a bond with Galileo and even though he wasn’t releasable I am happy he has a home there.
One morning I drove up to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and got all the way to the beginning of the auto tour route when I noticed the light was so much better further north. On impulse I spontaneously turned my Jeep around and drove about 37 miles to where I had seen that the light was great. I’m so glad that I did because after a bit of driving around looking for birds I found this Prairie Falcon on a post with prey. That falcon and my love of wandering made my day.
I photographed many birds during January including hawks, falcons, ducks, geese, gulls, hawks, sparrows and eagles.
Rough-legged Hawk on a snow and lichen covered rock
February was cold too but not as brutal as January had been, I was out in the field photographing 14 days of the month. Highlights included Rough-legged Hawks who visit Utah from the Arctic during the winter, Peregrine Falcons along the causeway to Antelope Island State Park, Gray Partridges foraging in deep snow, Common Mergansers at Farmington Bay and closer to home I took some photos of a Pied-billed Grebe in flight which is rare to see.
Towards the end of the month warmer than normal temps occurred, the snow pack melted early and quickly and that led to rivers flooding and road closures at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
I started looking forward to the early spring migrants but took as many photos of our winter birds as I could knowing it wouldn’t be long before they left.
Red-tailed Hawks copulating
I was in the field photographing for 17 days in March. Temps hit the mid 70 mark on the 14th and by the 18th it was nearly 80 degrees. Spring migrants moved in and birds were already nesting and breeding. A highlight was photographing mating Red-tailed Hawks in Box Elder County.
Turkey Vultures arrived early and I had great fun photographing them along with hawks and eagles in northern Utah. I spotted Burrowing Owls at burrows, Long-billed Curlews calling and courting plus I had wonderful opportunities with a female Belted Kingfisher closer to home.
The roads opened at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge temporarily and I was able to see some of the Tundra Swans before they migrated. Sandhill Cranes and American White Pelicans arrived along with migrant shorebirds. Flooding caused the roads to close again.
It was a very warm but birdy March.
Dark morph Swainson’s Hawk looking right at me
Rough-legged Hawks departed for the Arctic in late March and very early April and I found my first of the season Swainson’s Hawk by the 10th of April. I spotted my first of season Short-eared Owl on the 4th of April. Lark Sparrows and swallows arrived and their nesting season soon began.
American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts arrived at the Bear River MBR and when the roads were open to the auto tour route I was able to see them along with Western & Clark’s Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens and heard the sweet songs of Savannah Sparrows.
The Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks were busy nesting & mating.
I only went out photographing for 13 days in April but I made the most of my time in the field. Temps nearly reached the 90’s a few days in April.
Green-tailed Towhee head tilt
Early May was warmer than usual, then temps moderated the middle of the month and shot back up to warmer than usual by the third week. I spent time in the West Desert, far northern Utah, Antelope Island, a few trips to Bear River MBR, some of the canyons in the Wasatch Mountains and the local pond. I was out in the field with the birds 21 days in May.
I had fun photographing birds including wrens, swallows, sparrows, blackbirds, terns, pelicans, ducks, geese, owls, herons, sandhills, shorebirds, hawks, towhees and coots. May was very birdy and I still haven’t finished culling all the photos I took that month. Who knows what gems I haven’t looked at or processed yet.
Short-eared Owl male on a old cedar fence post
June was hot, hotter than normal, by the 7th there were places in northern Utah that had already reached 100°F. I spent a lot of time photographing up in canyons of the Wasatch Mountains because it was cooler there. Some of my favorite subjects from those canyons included Green-tailed Towhees, Gray Catbirds, Yellow Warblers, Barn Swallows, Mountain Bluebirds and Red-naped Sapsuckers.
By the middle of the month we had some wicked winds blow through the state, in some locations it was in excess of 80 mph, and it took down a Red-tailed Hawk nest in northern Utah that had three chicks in it who were not old enough to fledge. All three chicks survived the nest being blown down but later on two of the chicks were struck by cars, one of the young birds was captured and euthanized.
The other Red-tailed Hawk nests I knew of held up to the winds and the chicks in those nests flourished.
Short-eared and Burrowing Owls were hard to find and they didn’t appear to be nesting in locations I found them to be plentiful in years past.
Other highlights from the month included photographing a resting Common Nighthawk in Box Elder County and a gorgeous Ferruginous Hawk in the West Desert.
I was on the road looking for birds for 15 days in June.
Adult Red-naped Sapsucker feeding its chick
July was a scorcher, only two days below 90, and starting on the 4th of July there was a week were the temps were all over 100°F. It was hot and dry and that increased concerns about wildfires.
I watched and photographed the young Red-tailed Hawks I knew about learning to fly then hunt on their own in far northern Utah.
A camping trip to Idaho and Montana was a highlight and it was during that trip that I finally was able to take my dream photos of a Red-naped Sapsucker chick being fed at the opening of a nesting cavity. I was stoked and also disappointed that I missed the young sapsucker fledging from its nest. The trip was great for other birds too including Mountain Bluebirds, Short-eared Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks and American Crows.
July back in Utah had highlights too including massive murmurations of Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes. Later in the month I got excited when I saw a leucistic Eared Grebe out on the Great Salt Lake from the causeway to Antelope Island and then another and another until I had counted at least 10 of the white grebes. That was amazing.
I only spent 13 days in July photographing birds, 6 of those were up in Idaho and Montana.
Juvenile American White Pelican
August was hot but not nearly as hot as July though the summer doldrums did set in because most of the birds had finished nesting and the chicks had fledged for the most part. I was out looking for bird 15 days during the month of August at Bear River MBR, Antelope Island, the West Desert, the high Uintas and in some of the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains.
It was harder to find birds but some of the best were immature Yellow Warblers, White-faced Ibis, juvenile Western Kingbirds, a Great Blue Heron on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, juvenile American White Pelicans at Bear River MBR and a very nice Gray Catbird in a mountain canyon.
Yellow-rumped Warbler perched over a pond
I was glad when September arrived because the temps started to cool down, it had been a long, hot summer. I was only out in the field looking for birds 13 days of the month but many of those days were lots of fun. I saw and photographed Clark’s Grebes rushing at Bear River MBR, a pelican that appeared to be flying with it’s bill full, young Forester’s Terns, juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron and busy little Marsh Wrens every where I looked at the Refuge.
Later in the month things started hopping on Antelope Island State Park where I finally got decent photos of Sagebrush Sparrows and closer to home my highlights were migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers that seemed to be every where.
Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet in fall colors
The cooler weather in October was wonderful after a summer of high temps. Migrating bird were a delight to find and photograph and I spent a lot of time photographing smaller birds like kinglets, pipits, and warblers. My time was spent in far northern Utah, Bear River MBR, Antelope Island SP, Farmington Bay WMA, the West Desert and close to home.
I was out looking for birds 21 days of the month, the cooler temps made me more motivated I guess.
American Tree Sparrow up close
I slowed down a bit in November for various reasons but the 12 days I spent looking for and photographing birds were nice. Highlights included a female Brewer’s Blackbird with light colored eyes and great opportunities with American Tree Sparrows.
I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post titled “For The Love Of All That’s Birdy, There Is No Such Thing As A Seagull” that was intended to be humorous and I think with well over 4k likes and more than 6k views in one week most of the people who read it got “it” but around four people got all perturbed. Oh well.
Male Common Goldeneye flapping his wings
So far I have been out photographing 22 days in December. I say so far because if I can finish this post up soon I will be heading out one more time in 2017. December has been frustrating, I have felt like I have banged my head on a wall more than I haven’t. Birds have been challenging to find but the pond close to home has been awesome.
I did get out this morning and although I didn’t photograph many birds it was a super way to spend the final morning of 2017.
I was out in the field looking for birds a total
191 192 days this year (so far).
I love what I do, I love my subjects and it doesn’t matter if I find them close to home or further away. I am blessed. 2017 Has been wonderful and I am excited for what 2018 may bring.
Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!
Life is good.