The Casual Hiker™

Trails, Tips, & Other Topics

Birds Along the Great Salt Lake February 27, 2013

Yellow-headed blackbird, California gull, and Great egret

Yellow-headed blackbird, California gull, and Great egret

An amazing variety of birds are found along the shore line and in the bordering wetlands not far from the heavily populated Wasatch Front. Popular destinations for bird watching are Antelope Island (which has a half-dozen trails) and, of course, the bird refuge to the north.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey:

Great Salt Lake supports between 2 and 5 million shorebirds, as many as 1.7 million eared grebes, and hundreds of thousands of waterfowl during spring and fall migration. Because of its importance to migratory birds, the lake was designated a part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network in 1992. The lake and its marshes provide a resting and staging area for the birds, as well as an abundance of brine shrimp and brine flies that serve as food.

At the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, you’ll find an education center, a half-mile accessible trail, and a 12-mile auto route through the wetlands. The refuge provides critical habitat along the Pacific and Central Flyways of North America, with a continuous flow of birds in and out of the area. Swans, ducks, and geese arrive in early March, and shorebirds return from the south in early April through May. Over 60 species will stay to nest. Then, in fall, the migration turns southward. Bald eagles winter in the refuge, as do other raptors.

For a month-by-month breakdown of bird migrations, check out this link. For example, if you’re interested in bald eagles, the high time to see them is early March. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera!

American avocet, Canada geese (not Canadian; they don't have passports!), barn swallow, and mallard

American avocet, Canada geese (not Canadian; they don’t have passports!), barn swallow, and mallard


Birds February 10, 2013

Filed under: Tips,Wildlife Watching — Chanté McCoy @ 11:58 pm
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Yellow-headed blackbird, California quail, Stellar's jay, and wild turkeys

Yellow-headed blackbird, California quail, Stellar’s jay, and wild turkeys

Lazuli bunting, Black-headed grosbeak, American avocet, and Spotted towhee

Lazuli bunting, Black-headed grosbeak, American avocet, and Spotted towhee

Utah is home to a wonderful variety of birds, from majestic raptors like Bald Eagles to shore birds like pelicans and egrets to magpies, quails, hummingbirds, and ibis…and everything in between.

In the mountains, you will encounter grouse, chickadees, blue jays, and finches. For shore birds, Antelope Island is your destination.

The best way to spy a bird is to hone in on its birdsong (particularly in spring) and pay attention to rustling in the surrounding area.  For photos, a good zoom capability will be invaluable.


Large Wildlife

Hoping to see a magnificent moose? Or a cliff-climbing mountain goat? The best times to see wildlife are in the early morning or late evening.

female Shira's moose, bison (Antelope Island), and male mule deer

female Shira’s moose, bison (Antelope Island), and male mule deer

To improve your odds, leave the dog home. Tread lightly. Talk quietly. Listen for twigs cracking.

If you’re lucky enough to spy one, be still as possible to not scare them. Deer skitter away with any sudden movement. Moose hold their own ground better. With their bulk and imposing antlers, they can assume more confidence.

However, in the excitement of your Kodak moment, don’t try to get closer. If they spook and charge, guess who’s going to lose. For close-ups, use a zoom lens.

Rocky Mountain goat and black bear

Rocky Mountain goat and black bear

Rocky Mountain goats can be found throughout northern Utah, including the High Uintas, Lone Peak, Mt. Olympus, Twin Peaks and Mt. Timpanogos. wilderness areas. They’re found on the rugged cliff ledges at higher elevations.

If interested in bison and pronghorn antelope, head to Antelope Island. Antelope Island boasts a bison herd of about 500. Pronghorn abound all around. And you might even see bobcat or bighorn sheep.

For better chances of seeing these impressive animals, check out these trails:

  • Antelope Island (bison, pronghorn antelope)
  • Bell Canyon (Rocky Mountain goats)
  • Catherine’s Pass (moose, mule deer)
  • Desolation Lake (moose, mule deer)
  • Scout Falls (moose, mule deer)
  • Timpooneke (moose, mule deer, Rocky Mountain goats)

(more links to come…)



Filed under: Tips,Wildlife Watching — Chanté McCoy @ 10:15 pm
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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gopher snake

Gopher snake

Snakes are cold-blooded creatures. They take on the temperature of their surroundings, and require external heat to move around much. So, in winter—if you’re snowshoeing—you’ll never encounter a snake in the snow. Come summer, all bets are off on Utah trails, especially on sun-exposed, south-facing slopes.

My perspective on snakes evolved over the years. When in my teens, I’d slam a book shut if I came across a picture of a snake. Through educating and forcing myself to face snakes safely ensconced in aquariums, I’ve slowly learned that snakes just want to be left alone. Even the triangular-headed ones with rattlers that evoke our most primal responses, are simply trying to say “please keep away”. They’re equally scared of us.

Seriously. Don’t worry about them excessively. Three-fourths of snakes are non-poisonous, and most are not aggressive. In Utah, only seven of the state’s indigenous snakes are poisonous. Poisonous snakes include the sidewinder and six types of rattlers: midget-faded, speckled, Hopi, Mojave, western, and Great Basin. (Tell tale signs are the wide triangular heads, long curved fangs, and elliptical pupils like a cat’s.)

If you come across a snake, just let it finish crossing the path, appreciate its markings, and add another notch on your list of bragging rights. If you leave them alone, they’ll reciprocate in kind. A snake only bites in defense.

Preventative measures include: 1) don’t try to kill or catch a snake, 2) stay on well groomed trails, 3) watch where you’re walking, 4) wear boots or high-topped walking shoes, 5) step onto rocks and logs rather than over them, and 6) don’t place your hands on unseen ledges or into animal holes.

Ok, ok, you say, but what if I still get bitten? The good news is that, of the 8000 annual snake bites in the United States, an average of 12—less than 1 percent—result in death. More people die from lightning strikes. More good news: one-third of rattlesnake bites are “dry,” and no venom is injected.

If, somehow you’re just a snake magnet and get bit, remain calm and inactive. Use your mouth (not a knife!) to suction and spit out as much venom from the wound as possible. Call 911 with your cell, or have another hiker get to a spot with a cell signal to call for emergency assistance and get to a hospital ASAP. If hiking alone without cell access, walk slowly to get help.

If you hike with dogs, keep them on a leash. Curious dogs have a higher risk of being bitten, and rattlesnake bites are 25 times more fatal in dogs than humans.