FIELD TRIP: Utah Bird Watching and Great Salt Lake - May 2012

My job sent me to Salt Lake City for a conference recently so I tacked on a couple of days to the front of the trip so I could enjoy Utah. I'd never been, so I planned on renting a car and driving to a couple of spots not too far from the city (not any of the national parks which are 5 hours drive from SLC).

After considering my options I decided to first visit Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area which is on the southeastern side of the Great Salt Lake.

This description on their website is was got me:

"During migration, the diversity of sound and color astounds visitors to Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area (WMA). Hundreds of thousands of waterbirds, songbirds and raptors visit this area during the migration and nesting seasons. More than 200 different species have been documented on the management area."

Here's where I was:

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I entered from Glover's Lane (North Entrance open year round 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and right away I knew my time there would be memorable. I drove at a snail's pace trying to identify a whole host of birds that waded in the marshy area and swooped down from overhead. I spotted Killdeer, American avocet, Black-necked stilt, and a variety of gulls and terns. A beautiful black and white bird with very long tail feathers flew by.

As I was driving I saw another of these birds land on a nearby tree and snapped this photo. It turned out to be a Black-billed magpie. Magical birds. Didn't get a photo of one in flight but there are a couple here.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica)

After a short time I came to an area with a posted map and other information. Because of the delicate nests, no cars were allowed after a raised area called Goose Egg Island.

I slowly drove to that area, on the way seeing American coot, American white pelican, Grebes, Red-winged blackbird, a beautiful black bird with a yellow head which turned out to be a Yellow-headed blackbird (creative name huh!) and others.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Once I parked on Goose Egg Island I got out to walk down one of the roads (according to the Google map I was walking SW on Dike Rd.).

Pretty quickly I saw something dark, tall and skinny with a long bill and indeed it was a White-faced ibis. As I got closer I saw its mate and two chicks! I didn't get a good photo of them because I didn't want to get too close and scare them away. The only other time I'd seen one of these beautiful birds was tidepooling at Doheny State Beach near Dana Point, CA.

White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
As I walked along I heard a strange sound (car alarm mixed with cicada?) which turned out to be many more Yellow-headed blackbirds. They are beautiful in flight. To hear what they sound like go to this page, scroll down a bit and click "Listen to call" on the left-hand side. According to, "It has been described as a strange mixture of honking, gurgling and strangling noises."

I also was finally able to see some Clark's and Western grebes close enough to be able to distinguish between them. I'd seen one or the other kayaking the month before but couldn't tell which it was. You can see in this photo that the Western grebe is a bit darker in color and the dark feathers extend over the eye area. In the Clark's grebe (on the left side in this photo), the area around the eye is white. These birds are known to carry their chicks on their backs when swimming. I wasn't able to see any this day.

A group of grebes are collective known as a "water dance" of grebes. :) They are very elegant with their long white necks.

1 Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii) and 2 Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
I did, however see a large family of Canada Geese.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)
On my way back to the car I spotted something that was swimming too low in the water to be a bird. I think it was some kind of beaver or other mammal. It was diving down and coming back up with more and more grass in its mouth. I guess it was nesting season for more than just the birds!

As I was exiting the preserve I saw someone stopped with a telephoto lens pointed towards the marshes. A Great blue heron posed for some photos. These birds always create a sense of calm in me and I was happy to see one to bid me a fond farewell.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Looking at the map now I can see the area is quite large. One could walk around the different roads for hours and probably see different birds in each area. I saw photos on Flickr from someone who saw many Bald Eagles in Farmington Bay. I didn't see any this day, but there's always next time. :)

After leaving the preserve I drove southwest to the Great Salt Lake Marina to check out the lake itself. It was windy and deserted that day so I didn't stay long but I was able to snap these photos.

I passed by a strange building which turned out to be The Saltair, a resort which opened in 1893 and fell into disrepair during the Great Depression before closing in the 1950s. It was recently turned into a music venue.

After leaving the lake I drove east to Big Cottonwood Canyon to see some snow!

For more photos from my Utah trip, see my Flickr set here.


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