View of the water at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Have you seen "The Big Year?" This 2011 movie starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson is about three men pursuing a "big year" in birding--trying to see the most birds in one calendar year. The prize? A ranking in a birding magazine indicating who had the highest counts. Oh, and I guess personal satisfaction is the real reward. The whole competition works on the honor system. This is a great little movie you may have overlooked. After seeing it last year, I started learning a bit about birding opportunities in Utah.
Western grebes - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
My birdwatching experiences have been very casual. We had a bird feeder at our house when I was young, and I learned to identify common backyard birds such as robins, house finches, sparrows, juncos, and black-capped chickadees. Since then, I have expanded my knowledge base to include several other local birds, and I have seen some interesting birds on vacations. I even know a few birds by their calls, but that has been the extent of my birding adventures.
View from an observation deck .
I have learned that Utah is a major migration pathway for several species of birds. This gives many opportunities to see a variety of species practically in my own backyard. With that in mind, I loaded the kids in the car and we took off for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Most of the spring migrations took place in March and April, so we were focusing on seeing species that live at the refuge year round, or that come for breeding and nesting season. I do want to return in the autumn months to see some of the migratory visitors.
Cliff swallows fly close to their nests.
It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the bird refuge from Salt Lake. Take I-15 northbound to Brigham City. In Brigham City, take the Forest Street exit (Exit 363), and travel west on Forest Street until you reach the bird refuge (about 12 miles). You will pass the visitor's center not too far off the freeway. We opted not to stop at the visitor's center, but continued on to the auto-tour route. This is a 12 mile loop on a one-way road. Sometimes the road is closed because of weather conditions, but normally it is open during daylight hours year round. There is no fee to visit the bird refuge.
First birds of the day!
We stopped in the first parking area (there are toilet facilities here) and began our birding adventure. Since I am a complete amateur at this, I wondered if we would have any success. However, I learned that a little preparation goes a long way in helping everyone have a successful birding experience. Here are my bird watching tips:
- Take binoculars. We had six people in our group and shared 3 pairs of binoculars.
- Download the bird list from the Bear River Migratory Bird site. This list tells you which birds are at the refuge in which seasons, which birds stay year round, which birds are common and which are rare, etc. I also checked the website before we went to see which birds had people had been seeing in large numbers. This gave me a pretty good idea of which species to look for before we hit the road.
- Take a guidebook. We had a couple of different books with us, one specific to Utah, and one specific to North America. Both books were helpful.
- If you are birding with small children, consider printing out pictures so they can compare the photos with the birds they are looking at. The visitor's center would also be a good place to visit with small children.
- Take food and something to drink! I was too lazy to pack snacks for this trip, and we did get a little hungry and thirsty.
- Take bug spray! I didn't even think about it, but since this is a marshy area, the mosquitoes are large and healthy.
- Take a notebook to record which birds you see. We identified 23 species of birds in the time we were at the bird refuge. There were a couple birds we could not identify, but overall, we were satisfied with our success.
This was a lot of fun. It took us about 2 hours to drive the auto-tour route. We stopped at several parking pull-outs, and both observation decks. I don't think you are supposed to stop along the road, but we did several times since there were no other cars in sight. We encountered a few people fishing, but there were no crowds on the auto-tour, and it was a Saturday morning when we went.
American Crows greeted us on the drive.
I highly recommend a visit to this bird refuge. In my next post, I'll showcase some of the birds we saw during our visit. Have you ever been birding? What are your favorite birds?