Earlier this spring, we took a trip out west … Tom drove cross country from Florida to Washington state … I flew to Salt Lake City and Tom picked me up along his journey. We were meeting up in Yellowstone NP with some friends, but not before heading over to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.We had never visited there before, many times driving right past the exit on our way in or out of SLC. This year was the year to visit and though we got off to a late start, we were certainly glad that we finally got there.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and is accessed via your vehicle on a 12-mile drive alongside the wetlands within its 74,000 acre boundaries. Being from Florida, I just LOVE areas that can be accessed by vehicle and when we arrived the weather couldn’t have been nicer. This was our first time that we photographed the yellow-headed blackbird, which seems larger than our red-winged blackbirds, but behaves quite like them. They were flying everywhere and seeing that bright yellow head, I immediately thought I was seeing an oriole of some type. However, it wasn’t and I’m sure I’ve seen them before, just never investigated more about them. They’re beautiful. :-)When we had stopped in at the Visitor Center, we educated ourselves as to what we might see along the way. I was quite excited to hear that we would be seeing grebes … mainly western and Clark’s.
It wasn’t long before we saw our first Clark’s grebe. Having only been around our pied grebes before (again, at least from what I can remember), I was surprised at how much bigger they looked. They sure were beautiful too, especially with breeding season in full swing. Sometimes we would see lone grebes, but before long, we noticed many pairs swimming about. They look very familiar to the western grebes and in the beginning I had a hard time telling them apart. Years ago, reportedly they listed them as a species within the western grebe, but then since they nested nearby without inter-breeding, they got their own species. Overall, their black heads and white around their eyes, made them identifiable to me. I’ll show the difference in a few images.I just love the way they swam around in unison, with their head positioned in unison as well. Another difference between them and the western grebes is the color of their bill. As you can see, this grebe has more of a yellow-orange bill.The refuge also had many other birds including these avocets, possessing their stunning breeding colors.The primary grebes that we saw were the western grebes. As I mentioned earlier, they possess more black coloration around the eye as well as a greener-yellow bill. Love that face with that spunky hair. LOLThey are the largest of the North American grebes. I so wished that we would find some with babies on their backs. Before long, we could see a storm out of the horizon brewing … it was an awesome sight. Ultimately, we had windrain … then hail. As quick as it all started, it made a quick exit. Thankfully!
I was quite surprised when I captured a great blue heron fly past us … with a red-winged blackbird providing him an escort out of its territorial area. Love it when little birds boss around much larger ones. :-)OK, I know that by this point in the day, the light was extremely harsh, but I want to share these images anyway. This grebe got himself a fish, or so we thought. Then he swam it over to its mate.She graciously accepted it of course. It was a tender moment shared and I was quite excited.Down the hatch it went and they celebrated. White pelicans were also out in force at particular section of the road. It was fun to see them and I almost felt like I was back at home seeing them. Well, also due to the immense numbers of mosquitoes out there! OMG, I thought earlier how happy I was that this was a drive, but in reality, it was HORRIBLE for shooting from the car, at least from my side. Every time I opened the window I was blasted by the most wicked mosquitoes I have ever seen and I’ve from south Florida (aka mosquito city)! It was actually better to get out of the car because the winds were strong and kept them from landing on, and biting, you. Pesky little critters. The periodic outside walking was great too for capturing the birds without spooking them. This lovely pair came really close as I sat still by the side of the dirt road.At one point there were 5 western grebes swimming about. Two sets of paired grebes and then 1 lone grebe, who was intent on spoiling the party for the pairs. It would approach a pair, then get chased off!At one point after the loner was defended against, the male came back to its mate with the sweetest face. Though I didn’t get a shot of it, they swam off and danced on the waters surface … like 2 dolphins dancing on the water. I almost broke into tears, it was so beautiful. As much as I watned them to, they didn’t repeat their dance of love for me.As you can see by the number of images I took of them, I was fascinated by their look, behavior, and beauty.I kept seeing motion in the water. Sometimes it was carp which had found their way into the wetlands … very strange to see. Other times it was muskrat swimming around, gathering up leafy green branches for their home and nest. I was thrilled to watch them as they went about with their renovations.I had to laugh as the grebes would swim in pairs, but then dive under independently, emerging from the water, looking around for its mate.They were calling out to each other, a sort of “Marco … Polo” game ensuing. LOL. Often it would take several calls before they found their way. I tried helping them out saying “she’s over there” and pointing, but I don’t think it helped. :-)We were also treated to eared grebes, but they tended to be more shy of the camera lens. They were fascinating for me to see. Though I live in Florida and therefore photograph birds often because of that, I’m definitely not a birder by nature. So it was fun to spend a day trying to learn more about these birds of Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The eared grebes are the most abundant grebe in the world (I did not know that!) Also, amazing to me is that it is flightless for 9-10 months of the year. Amazing! Though I live in Florida and therefore photograph birds often because of that, I’m definitely not a birder by nature. So it was fun to spend a day trying to learn more about these birds of Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.I love terns and there are so many varieties of them with very distinct differences between the different species. This beautiful forster’s tern made its appearance for us on our way out.It is the only tern that is almost exclusively found in North America, so that makes it pretty cool to me. Never knew that either. We had a great time, mosquitoes and all, at the refuge. We will be sure to visit again soon. If you’ve never been there, you might want to do the same. :-)
Next up: Just a few owls … not burrowing, not eastern screech … hmm, what can they be?
© 2016 TNWA Photography