Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pacific Loon, Wm. Sterling State Park, Monroe County, Michigan

Probably the most pleasant and easiest rarity chase I've ever done. Several local birders enjoyed a companionable morning watching a Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) make feeding circuits around the northern end of a lagoon that also held a Common Loon (Gavia immer), uncountable numbers of Common Mergansers and Bonaparte's Gulls.

Our mild, end-of-November weather encouraged lingering for a chance of photographs.  These are my best with my point and shoot.  Very cooperative and fun bird to spend time with.

The Pacific and the Common occasionally swam near each other.  This distant view of both shows side-by-side differences in bill and head structure.  Good to remember. 

For really great photos of both birds, plus a nice sunny shot of Common Mergs check out Jerry Jourdan's blog in my links at right.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Great Salt Lake

I attended an Oncology Nursing Society conference in Salt Lake City, Utah during the first week of November.  I had never been to Salt Lake City or to Utah before.  So I took three days vacation at the start of the conference to look around.

I arrived at the SLC airport about 2:00 pm on Monday afternoon and picked up my econo car from Alamo.  From there I found Antelope Island State Park on the GPS I rented and made my way north on the I-15.

Shortly before my visit, the island's buffalo (Bison bison), our largest land animal, had been rounded up for their annual health inspection and to give the young ones vaccinations, etc.  However, a few of the "old bachelors" remained free.  Just beyond where these three are grazing is the entry road to Antelope Island.

The Great Salt Lake waters that lap the shores of Antelope Island State Park are the place to see Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis).  This flotilla contains a few scaup (Aythya sp.) and Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) otherwise these are all Eared Grebes.  There were several large flocks like this.  

The shores are also a good spot for flocks of American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana).  A flock of flying avocets is really a spectacular thing, with black and white wings flashing, but I couldn't capture their flash in a photo.

Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus) were also common hunting over the island grasses.  

I've seen Chukar (Alectoris chukar) in England and in Bulgaria, but these are my first seen in North America.  In addition to these perched birds, as I was leaving the island I flushed a large group that were feeding along the edge of the road.

These Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), fastest mammal in North America, were neatly hidden in the long grass to graze.    

This White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) was hiding in tall grass and scrubby bushes.

On my 2009 car trip to Idaho I saw only three Black-billed Magpies (Pica hudsonia).  There were several on the island and I later saw them in a Salt Lake City neighborhood.  During 2010 and 2011 trips to England and Bulgaria I saw how common Magpie (Pica pica) is in Europe.  Common or uncommon, magpies are big, spectacular birds.    

For whatever reason, this coyote (Canis latrans) was my favorite sighting on Antelope Island.  There were two and the one in the photo above paused long enough to allow a couple of photos - such a beautiful and serene face.   

Ravens (Corvus corax) were common on Antelope Island.  Passerine species I saw on the island included Western Meadowlarks, White-crowned Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds.

The Northern Harrier was hunting along the shoreline and I saw it switch directions and fly out over the lake carrying food.  It appeared to head for the mountain on the opposite shore.

Antelope Island State Park was worth the visit.  The panoramic mountain views beyond the island at sunset were beautiful.  On a late Monday afternoon, there were few other visitors except some cyclists and I felt like I had the place to myself.