Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

A festival is, by definition, a celebration, and I certainly have reason to celebrate after last weekend's Great Salt Lake Bird Festival. I participated in a trio of amazing field trips -- one to a large, local pond that featured a great blue heron rookery, another to a private duck club (a birding destination not available to the general public except during these special events), and a third as a marathon sprint around desert and mountainous habitats. All told, I saw well over 100 species during the three trips and cumulative thirteen hours of birding, an outstanding 25 of which were new to my life list. My new life birds are...

  • Western Kingbird
  • Marsh Wren
  • Snowy Egret
  • Forster's Tern
  • Western Grebe (pictured, top)
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Long Billed Curlew
  • Willet
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Snowy Plover (the festival's target bird)
  • Bobolink
  • White Faced Ibis
  • Blue Winged Teal
  • Osprey (nesting)
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Wilson's Phalarope
  • Red Breasted Merganser
  • Ash Throated Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Juniper Titmouse
  • Black Throated Gray Warbler
  • Yellow Breasted Chat
  • Green Tailed Towhee
  • Brewer's Sparrow

It is amazing to see the tremendous variety of bird species that can be found locally, as well as the diversity of habitats. During the thirteen hours of birding spread across three consecutive days, I visited riparian habitats, deserts, juniper and pinyon pine forests, elevated forests, wetlands, salt marshes, ponds, and grasslands. In each place the birds thrive, all cleverly adapted to their unique niches.

It is also amazing to see the diversity in different species' behavior and personalities. The yellow breasted chat, for example, is secretive and shy, while the juniper titmouse is an inquisitive and perky bird, boldly flitting around even a large group of birders. Some water fowl and shorebirds, such as the snowy egret, are comfortable in communities, while others, like the western grebe, are more solitary, even while they both share the same pond.

Of course, these are not the only birds I saw during the festival. I was also thrilled to spot other beautiful birds such as the yellow headed blackbird, lazuli bunting, cinnamon teal, American avocet, and golden eagle, along with dozens of other species. Yet despite all of this birding success, I know I missed out by not participating in more field trips and taking better advantage of the available events. Perhaps next year I will enjoy the urban birding field trips to see Salt Lake City's peregrine falcons, or maybe a trip to more northern Utah birding destinations.

In the meantime, happy birding to all! Summer is nearly here, eggs are hatching, and feeders are getting emptied more quickly. Time to make your own birding festival right in your backyard!

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