May 27 - I'm currently holed up in a motel in Astoria, Oregon on the final leg of my third annual driving trip to the U.S. Despite bringing my laptop with me, its been difficult to work on a journal, but I'm doing my best before you all disown me.

My original destination was Utah, but I always look for a few birds on the way. One of my first stops is the Selah Creek rest stop just before Yakima. The viewpoint overlooks a bottomless gorge that is filled with swallows, swifts, and often raptors swirling above and below you. How cool was it to look down on the backs of a pair of White-throated Swifts as they cruised within 10 meters below me? It was almost as good as looking down on a Lesser Nighthawk three years ago. Of course, I didn't have the camera ready, and if I did, it would have been a difficult task anyways as the swifts can zip by at 200 mph! It's an impossible task, but I always take a few clicks just in case I get lucky.


May 12 - The best so far - I only spent 5 minutes trying for a White-throated Swift and was lucky to get my personal best. I was actually quite pleased to get a recognizable image. I think the only way to get decent flight photos of the White-throated Swift is to locate a nesting area and be prepared to take several thousand shots.

After I gave up on the swifts, a strange looking hawk rose from the depths of the gorge. I didn't recognize it at first, but soon realized it was probably a very immature Red-tailed - a recent fledgling. CORRECTION: Thanks to Steve Sutton and Jeremy Gatten for pointing out that the first 2 photos are not the same bird as the third photo. The first two are a Prairie Falcon and the 3rd is a juvie Red-tailed.

The Prairie Falcon was just drifting around in the wind and enjoying the ride just like the Red-taileds.

At times the juvenile Red-tailed was joined by two adults, presumably its parents.

The juvenile and the adults soared off together several times. It was a delight to watch them interact and fly off again.

I think the adult was giving the younster some flying lessons.


After overnighting in Boise, I drove one of the backroads for a few miles looking for raptors. The first birds I encountered were Horned Larks. They were everywhere.

It was difficult to catch a Horned Lark in a more natural setting. I had to settle for one sitting on the fence.

The first hawk I found was sitting in a field. I believe it was a juvenile Swainson's Hawk.

The juvenile took off when I tried to get a little closer, but as it disappeared, it was replaced by a circling adult.

The adult circled me a few times before moving on in the warm morning sun.


May 13 - Finally Utah! Idaho doesn't seem like a very big state but it always takes forever to drive across. My first stop in Utah was Logan. After checking in to a motel I scouted out a town called Hyrum where I had a date at 5:15 am next morning with a Sharp-tailed Grouse field trip as part of the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival. I drove down to a lake by the community park. The first bird I saw was a Black-crowned Night Heron that cruised right in front of me before I could get the camera out of the car. When I was finally ready, I had to settle for a California Gull, the state bird of Utah.

There was a small flock of Forster Terns with the gulls. An immature tern caught my attention.

Unlike the Common Terns, immature Forster's Terns have orange legs.

The terns were very cooperative as they flew up and returned to their roosting spot on the boat dack.

There were also a few Ring-billed Gulls with the Common Terns.

A White-throated Redwing? - At Cutler Marsh near Logan, I was intrigued by this unusual Redwing Blackbird. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to explore more than a roadside stop at Cutler. Apparently it is very extensive habitat with an abundance of species.


May 14 - My real purpose for being in Hyrum was to join 15 other hearty souls who signed up for the Sharp-tailed lek field trip which was part of the Great Salt Lake Bird festival.

The Lek was located about a mile into the foothills on private ranch land.

It was getting late in the year but just as advertised, the lek was still happening.

There were about 35 males trying to outdo each other for the attention of the lone female that ventured in.

The closest we could get to the lek was about 100 feet which accounts for the considerable grain or noise in these photos.


May 14 - After the lek my next stop was Antelope Island. The last time I was there two years ago I photographed a Willet next to the causeway.

Would you believe the Willet was still there? Of course it wasn't, but there was another one in exactly the same place.

The Willet looks fairly large on its own but it is really quite small compared to the California Gull.

Further along the causeway I spotted two shorebirds. A brief look suggested a Western Sandpiper and a Sanderling. When I tried to get a closer look they disappeared, but I wasn't disappointed as a pair of American Avocets landed close to me.

The Avocet is one of my favorite shorebirds. Who wouldn't like such an elegant and graceful bird.

I don't think they trusted the noisy clicking of my camera as they soon departed. I just can't wait for the first camera with a silent shutter.

A small bird caught my attention on a rock pile near the visitor's centre. Not surprisingly it was a Rock Wren.

I would have tried for some better shots, but had to retreat while I still had some blood. The mosquitoes were ferocious.

Burrowing Owls are a common feature on the Island. This one has a burrow by the causeway.

Lark Sparrows are also very common. I encountered several in the three hours I was on the island.

Of course, Western Meadowlarks were everywhere.

They were very approachable as long as you stayed in your car.

The Say's Phoebe I saw 2 years ago at Garr Ranch was still around, but apparently some predator had raided her nest a few days ago. I wonder if she'll try to nest again.

Flycatcher time is both exciting and perplexing as there is always the potential of seeing a new species, but the question is, "What species?"

'm pretty sure this is a new species for me, and my best guess after agonizing over Sibley's guide for the past hour is a Gray Flycatcher. Note that I said, "Best guess." I'll have to ask around for a little identification help.

I'm now in Moab, at Arches National Park. I didn't carry my big lens because of the traffic and heat, but I wish I had for this Black-throated Sparrow. I did have my 50 - 500 mm, but it just isn't as good as Big Bertha, my 300 - 800 mm lens.

I really needed Big Bertha for the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher. It never stayed still for a second as it foraged through the shrubs.

What's a trip south of the border without a Western Kingbird? They were common, but not as common as the Brewer's Blackbird.


Another common species was the Northern Mockingbird. It was the first bird I saw in St. George.

It's always fun to see mockingbirds as they are uncommon on Vancouver Island.

At Zion I got off the shuttle at the Grotto and found a Say's Phoebe nesting in the bus stop.

Another Zion bird was the Summer Tanager by the parking lot.


May 19 - On my way back north out of Utah, I stopped at Hennifer to check out a Sage Grouse lek that I heard about from other participants of the early field trip.

Once again the lek was just a little too far for great shots, but it was fun to watch.

The Sage Grouse aren't as active as the Sharp-taileds, but they still put on an interesting show.

After the Sage Grouse lek I continued towards the East Canyon Resevoir. A greenish colour bird flew by and landed on the hillside above me. It was a Green-tailed Towhee, one of the birds on my photo wish list.

No offense to our Spotted Towhee, but the green-tailed is a beautiful bird.


May 19 - I had the pleasure of visiting the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge two years ago and couldn't wait for a second opportunity to experience this magnificent bird habitat again. It features 74,000 acres of marsh, open water, uplands, and alkali mudflats at the northeast arm of the Great Salt Lake. It is the largest freshwater component of the Great Salt Lake and an oasis for birds as it is essentially surrounded by desert. Just how vital is this bird refuge? It is the breeding grounds for over 18,000 White-faced Ibis, 10,000 American Avocets, 50,000 American White Pelicans, 65,000 Black-necked Stilts, and 50% of the Snowy Plovers in the U.S. Still not convinced? How about the largest staging area in the world for migrating Wilson's Phalaropes (500,000) and also 100,000 red-necked Phalaropes.

It is difficult to believe that this exceptional bird habitat was once on the brink of extinction. Water from the Bear River was diverted for farming and the habitat dried up killing millions of birds. Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of conservationists, legislation was passed to restore and protect the habitat. It is now a carefully managed refuge with dykes designed to regulate the water levels and also provide access for nature lovers. It also provides excellent opportunities for close-up bird photography without getting out of your vehicle.

Despite the light overcast conditions, I couldn't help but feel the excitement as we neared the refuge. We checked in to the visitor's centre for a break before heading out to the refuge. It has to be one of the most spectacular visitor's centres around with exceptional exhibts and information.

The centre is built in a marsh and is surrounded by an array of marsh creatures. American Coots were abundant and many of them were busy collecting nest material or sitting on eggs.

A chattering Marsh Wren gave us the usual vistor's centre greeting as we crossed the bridge over part of the marsh.

The wren also gave us a chattering farewell as we left the centre.

One of the first birds we saw was the majestic Great Egret. It is the largest egret and also the most shy. We saw several but we unable to get close to any of them.

The Cattle Egret was a little more accommodating. We were able to approach fairly closely, but just when we were the closest, a passing car frightened it away.

I didn't realize that Cattle Egrets were in the refuge. We hadn't seen them on our previous visit.

The Cattle Egret was the second egret of our triple egret day.

Last but not least, the beautiful and elegant Snowy Egret.

The most abundant egret at the refuge is the Snowy. I would conservatively guess that we saw 40 in our 2 hour visit.

They are almost as shy as the Great Egret, but if you can occasionally sneak up quite closely especially if they are preoccupied by a fish or amphibian.

We didn't have much luck getting close to the Snowy, but just as I was ready to give up, I found one preoccupied with its prey and soon to be victim. This was my favorite shot - it's a keeper.

We were half way around the refuge before we found a Clark's Grebe, but it was worth the wait.

There was no problem finding Western Grebes. They were at all parts of the refuge. We watched for some possible courtship behaviour but no one got past the synchronous dipping of the heads.

The occasional Long-billed Curlew can always be expected on the grassland portions of the refuge. I saw 2 today.

The Black-crowned Night Herons are quite common at the edge of the waterways. Quite often they are blocked out by the tall vegetation and are flushed before you see them.

Today I was lucky. I spotted one on the far side of a narrow slough before it spotted me. Driving as slow as possible I was able to get in great shooting distance for my 300 - 800 mm lens.

Franklin's Gulls are usually abundant, but it's difficult to take flight shots from a car window. I had to get out and set up the tripod.

Fortunately the wind was gusting to about 30 mph which kept the mosquitoes away while I managed a few flight shots.

As a bonus, one of the gulls turned out to be a Forster's Tern.

The Ruddy Duck was a species that eluded me on my previous visit to Bear River. The powder blue bill of the male is outrageously amazing.

I saw several males and one female. There was one display of mating behaviour as a male pursued a female into the bulrushes.

Finally, the Eastern Kingbird - The Eastern Kingbird was one of the birds I missed on my previous visit, and I was about to miss it again as I was on my way out of the refuge. I thought I had seen one on the way in, but it was long gone by the time I had the car stopped and the binoculars in hand. This time luck was with me. At the last creek before exiting the refuge, I spotted 2 eastern Kingbirds on the wire fence.

Although I would have preferred a picture without the barbed wire, I wasn't going to complain. It was a new species for me and a great parting gift from the Bear River Refuge. Even without the the Eastern Kingbird I had thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the remarkable habitat and wouldn't hesitiate to do it again if I have the opportunity.

Tomorrow we will be in Oregon, and I will be looking forward to revisiting Malheur and then exploring nenew venues at Summer lake, cabin Lake, and the Oregon Coast. See you in Journal 294!


Bird Poster

My posters are on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House; Nanoose Bay - Credit Union; Courtenay - Graham's Jewellers























Comments, questions, or book orders?