Our morning visit to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge began with swarms of swallows flying around us. As we approached their mud nests, they abandoned their homes and swirled around the area. I don't know if they were trying to distract us, or were just waiting for us to leave so they could return to their nests. We saw both barn swallows and cliff swallows. The cliff swallows had a light colored patch on their heads.
A cliff swallow works on his mud nest.
We saw swallows down near the water getting mud for their construction projects. These nests were under every eave near bathrooms and under pavilion roofs.
We saw several water birds, including this American Avocet. The rosy colored head is indicative of breeding season. In winter, these birds have a white head.
A Black-necked Stilt
The black-necked stilt had bright pink legs! I enjoyed watching these long-legged birds walk.
The brightly colored cinnamon teal was a favorite. It was easy to pick this bird out, even from a distance, because of its rich cinnamon color. The female on the left is much duller in coloration.
Canadian Geese and Goslings
Driving in to the refuge, we saw several Canadian geese in fields. As we drove the auto-tour loop, however, we saw families of geese. They swam away from the shore as we approached, keeping their goslings safely between the parents. These goslings were much larger than the first ones we saw, and fewer in number.
At first I thought this might be a Bonaparte's gull, but the Franklin's gull has a distinctive red beak. When we looked through the binoculars, it was clear that this fellow sported the red beak, and therefore, we determined it was the Franklin's gull. The Franklin's is more common in this area anyway, so it made sense.
The American coot looks a lot like a duck, but is not considered to be a duck since it does not have webbed feet. It has large lobed toes instead. It is the only all-black bird with a white bill. We saw several of these, and they became a favorite as they were easy to identify.
As we drove, we saw several gulls standing on what looked like pieces of wood. However, as we got closer, we realized the "logs" were really dead carp. I am not sure why they died. The water level was lower in this channel, and perhaps these big fish were trapped without enough water. The gulls were ready for a feast, though!
During breeding season, the black on the head of a western grebe extends down to its eye, and often below the eye. It is also identified by its red eye and yellow bill. The Clark's grebe is similar, but has an orange bill and the black does not extend to the eye. We saw many western grebes during our drive. Sometimes they move their necks back so that their heads are practically resting on their backs. I enjoyed seeing the birds exhibit this behavior.
Western grebe with its head pulled back.
Yellow-headed blackbirds were everywhere. The white on the wing was more visible when the bird was in flight. I even learned to identify the females which are a lighter brown with a yellow-brown head. We also saw several red-winged blackbirds.
The red patches on the wings are particularly brilliant when these birds are in flight.
American white pelicans.
I have occasionally seen a pelican, but it was great to see these birds in larger numbers. We watched them floating on the water, walking on the shore, and flying in the air. These are big birds, and it was beautiful to see several of them flying together.
Pelican in flight.
One of the observation decks along the auto-tour route.
Parking is available at several pull-outs along the drive. The observation deck offered a different perspective of the refuge. This is a great place to use your binoculars. The views from the deck were beautiful.
View from an observation deck.
There were lots of mosquitoes, however, and we were always happy to return to the car. At one point along the drive, we saw a badger look at us, then duck into his burrow. At another stop, we saw otters swimming in the water.
Otter in the water.
The small killdeer ran along the side of the road. They were also fun to watch, but blended in well with the dirt and gravel.
I think one of my favorite birds of the day was the snowy egret. These birds are beautiful. Their white feathers are tufted and soft looking at the back of their heads, and they also scrunch their heads down sometimes, so that their neck almost disappears. The very best part, however, is the fact that they have big yellow feet. Really! Black legs, and big yellow feet. I wasn't able to get a photo of their feet, as the ones I saw were standing in the water. However, when they took off in flight, we could see their yellow feet.
Beautiful plumage of a snowy egret
As we finished our auto-tour, we pulled into the parking area by the last observation deck. I wanted to get a better photo of a white-faced ibis, and one was conveniently posing near the road.
We debated whether or not we should go up on the last observation deck, but we were a bit intimidated by the swarms of bugs. Also, we felt like we had seen a wide variety of birds, including two great blue herons that we enjoyed watching take off, but were unable to photograph. The consensus was everyone was tired and hungry, and it was time to finish our tour. As I looked out the passenger window, however, I spotted a big bird trying to blend in with the grasses. It stood with its head pointing up, like a weed, and held really still. I had no idea what it was, so I pointed it out to my passengers. One of them said, "American bittern." Sure enough, as we double checked the guidebooks, there it was. An American bittern. I had never even heard of this bird before! And now I have seen one.
The American bittern has green legs. If you look closely at the photo, you can see them. We had a great time birding, and hope to return to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge again. Since it is only a bit more than an hour from Salt Lake, I plan to return to see migrating birds this fall. I am also going to try some other birding sites in Utah. We saw a few other birds that day that I did not capture in photos, such as the eastern kingbird, mallard ducks, and a cowbird. Overall, it was a great experience and a fun family activity.
For more information about the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and useful tips for birding, check out my other blog post, Birding in Utah - Part 1.