Great Blue Heron
Since it is National Wildlife Refuge Week we decided to head north to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to see the fall migration. About a week and a half ago, I checked the bird count on the refuge's website, and saw certain birds were at the refuge in the thousands. However, days later, oh how things had changed!
Ducks in the distance
The ruddy ducks, northern shovelers, and other birds that had been listed in high numbers had all but disappeared on their journey south for the winter. We could see a large number of ducks in the distance, but they were keeping to an area we could not access. Even with our binoculars, we could not positively identify most of the ducks we saw. Duck hunters were in the area, and some had quite a brace of birds, but they were scarce for us!
Fortunately, some birds stay at the refuge all year, and other birds were still passing through.. We spotted some birds familiar to us from our previous visit (like flocks of red-winged blackbirds), but also added some new birds to our list like this Long-billed Curlew. We also saw pelicans flying overhead and sunning on an island in the water.
New this time for me was a view of this Clark's grebe. It differs from the Western Grebe in that the black on its head does not extend below the eye. Both types of grebe were present in the water.
The gulls were everywhere, including lining the roads. One of the highlights for me was the abundance of Great Blue Herons. They stood on the roadside, often on one long leg. As our car approached, they would lower their leg and prepare for flight. We saw at least a dozen during the 12-mile auto-tour loop.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron in flight
We also spotted over a dozen Northern Harriers. These large predators glide low to the ground over the weeds to spot their prey. We saw one eating a mouse by the side of the road.
Northern Harrier eating a mouse by the road
Northern Harrier in flight
At one of the observation decks we saw what looked like owl pellets. They may have been from some other large bird. Birds cough out these pellets containing the remains of their meal that did not digest. My husband kicked one open on the decking, and we could see small animal bones leftover from a meal.
Bones in an "owl" pellet.
Near another observation deck, the mud was drying into a beautiful geometric pattern. The autumn reds and golds of the weeds and grasses contrasted with the deep blue of the sky.
Patterns in the drying mud.
Before we left, we stopped to picnic in the parking area at the beginning of the loop. A skunk ambled past the restrooms and our vehicle, and began exploring the grasses. We stayed safely in the van until the skunk was past spraying distance. If you go visit the bird refuge, keep an eye out for other wildlife. In the spring we saw otters and a badger. This fall, we saw the skunk.
Skunk takes a stroll
Also, see Birding in Utah Part 2.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Autumn
The weather during our October visit was perfect, and the scenery was beautiful. Even if we were not there during a big migration week, we enjoyed our visit and added several birds to our list.
Admission to the auto-tour route at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is free. The loop is open year round, but does close at times due to flooding or snow. It is advised that you call ahead to check the road conditions. The population here changes constantly. We are anticipating the return of the tundra swans who pass through the bird refuge every spring and fall. Bald eagles will be coming soon, too, as the weather gets colder. Unlike many of the other birds, the eagles come to Utah for the winter.
If you go: You can reach the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge from Salt Lake City by traveling north on I-15. Take exit 363, Forest Street in Brigham City. At the end of the off-ramp, turn left and travel west until you reach the auto-tour route. You will pass the visitor's center just west of the freeway.