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

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Bell Canyon (Lower Falls) February 11, 2013

(top to bottom): Bell Canyon lower reservoir, milkvetch, canyon stream, nearby rocky cliffs, Bell Canyon Lower Falls

(top to bottom): Bell Canyon lower reservoir, milkvetch, canyon stream, nearby rocky cliffs, Bell Canyon Lower Falls

Bell Canyon (Lower Falls)

Bell Canyon (Lower Falls)

The trailhead parking area is conveniently located off Wasatch Blvd. Bell Canyon ultimately leads up to Lone Peak.

  1. Follow the signs and navigate the neighborhood to reach the canyon mouth. The trail quickly steepens. For about 1/4 mile, you’ll clamber over some small boulders too.
  2. The trail evens out to a more modest incline. This section features the rugged beauty of Utah desert scrub: sage, Gambel oak, and rabbit brush.
  3. At a half mile at the lower reservoir, go north to wrap around this little body of water. Follow a wide maintenance dirt road.
  4. About a half mile, watch for the trail sign to turn off the road and head east. After 5 – 10 minutes, the trail becomes forested.
  5. Go over a little wood bridge another 1/4 mile in. After this, the trail forks to the left and stays to the southside of the stream. Meandering trails intersect the main trail. Look for fresh footprints and other tell-tale signs to stay on trail.
  6. About 5 minutes after bridge, go with the steeper, rockier trail (although the other ones look tempting). Stay on this rocky staircase for about .5 mile.
  7. The next trick is to find the waterfall. After you’ve crossed over a wet section (or a spring during the snow run-off), go another 5 minutes. At a split in the trail, go left, leaving the rockier incline.
  8. Follow the sound of rushing water. Careful getting there: the trail is eroded. Grab branches for stability.
  9. Near the waterfalls are great slabs of granite. Enjoy a picnic while taking in the panoramic views of the canyon and Salt Lake valley.
  10. Return the way you came.

Bell Canyon alternatives

 

Birds February 10, 2013

Filed under: Tips,Wildlife Watching — Chanté McCoy @ 11:58 pm
Tags: , , , ,
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.

 

Picnic Destinations

grassy slope skirting Dog Lake in Millcreek Canyon

grassy slope skirting Dog Lake in Millcreek Canyon

Picnics are another way to reward your good work along the trail. Pack a backpack with some sandwiches, granola bars, a juicy apple…and enjoy the fruits of your labor atop a mountain peak or in a wide meadow filled with wild flowers.

If looking for picnic destinations, these are great trails:

  • Burch Hollow
  • Catherine’s Pass (Albion Basin to Brighton)
  • Cecret Lake
  • Dog Lake
  • Elbow Fork to Mt. Aire

(more links to come…)

 

Wild Flowers & Fall Colors

autumn colors in American Fork Canyon

autumn colors in American Fork Canyon

While panoramic views are breathtaking, I take a lot of joy in the small details: flowers, twittering birds, and the contrasting colors of rock. This explains why I’m a meanderer. Half the time, I have to remind myself to stop looking down to take in the bigger picture.

Indian paintbrush and lupine in Albion Basin

Indian paintbrush and lupine in Albion Basin

Wild flowers are most abundant along sun-drenched slopes and open meadows. Considering you’re in Utah, you’ll have lots of opportunity to enjoy their array of colors.

Asking which trails have the best wild flowers or fall colors is comparable to asking someone to pick their favorite child. Wild flowers, notably in late spring through summer, are amazing on any of the alpine mountain trails. Look for colorful and abundant asters, wild rose, cardinal flower, columbine, larkspur, bee plant, fireweed, gentian, lupine, phlox, paintbrush, and penstemon.  This list doesn’t even begin to suggest the breath of flowers to be found on the mountains, let alone more arid terrain. This guide offers photographs of some of the common flowers to be found.

Come autumn, the fall colors are amazing on any mountain trail too. I particularly like the golden quaking aspens and cottonwoods and red-orange mountain maples set off by the evergreens.

For wild flowers, check out the following trails:

  • Catherine’s Pass (Albion Basin to Brighton)
  • Desolation Lake (via Big Water Trail)
  • Dog Lake
  • Elbow Fork to Lamb’s Canyon
  • Lake Blanche (via Mill B South Fork)
  • Scout Falls

(more links to come…)

 

Panoramic Views

Martha Lake near Catherine's Pass, American Fork Canyon, and and view from Sunset

Martha Lake near Catherine’s Pass, American Fork Canyon, and and view from Sunset

An obvious attraction is the panoramic view afforded by many trails along the way or at the final destination: valley views, stretches of mountain peaks, and glimpses of other geographic wonders, such as the Great Salt Lake.

A hike may be more about the journey than the destination…but what a lovely destination! I’ll go after that carrot anytime.

Consider these trails for views that won’t disappoint:

  • American Fork Canyon
  • Antelope Island
  • Bell Canyon
  • Catherine’s Pass (Albion Basin to Brighton)
  • Cecret Lake
  • City Overlook (via Desolation Trail)
  • City Overlook (via Rattlesnake Gulch and Pipeline Trails)
  • Grandeur Peak (via Church Fork)
  • Lake Blanche (via Mill B South Fork)
  • Mt. Olympus

(more links to come…)

 

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…)