Sunday, January 9, 2011

Utah Birding Hotspot: Antelope Island State Park

Black-billed Magpie gleaning some sort of food under the snow on the rocks.  Photo taken at the Antelope Island Visitors Center while searching for Chukars.
I took my family out for my first Utah birding adventure since moving here. Well, to be honest, my family watched movies or read books in the minivan, while I birded! We went out to Antelope Island State Park yesterday.  The day was overcast and we had cabin fever, so we just had to get out and do something.

Out on the causeway (the land bridge connecting Antelope Island to Syracuse, Utah) we met some great friendly birders: Pat Jividen of Salt Lake, Jessie Knapp from Maine, and an enthusiastic birder/photographer from Germany (sorry I don’t recall his fine German name). I’m glad I was able to meet Pat and caravan with his group as he seemed to know the island and its birds very well. It is so fun to witness other birders gaining life birds right and left too! I know one guy that will be grinning all the way back to Germany today.
Antelope Island Causeway
This is a view from the Visitors Center looking back toward Syracuse, Utah
On the causeway we enjoyed American Kestrels, Horned Larks (dipped on the Snow Buntings and Longspurs…bummer), watched Bald Eagles fighting over food, several Northern Harriers, loads of Northern Shovelers, Common Goldeneye, and one winter-plumaged Horned Grebe.

American Kestrel on Rabbit Brush - photo by Mrs. Birding is Fun!
At the visitors center, patience paid off as we finally found a couple dozen Chukar off in the distance.  A couple jack rabbits and cotton-tails startled me as they seem to shoot out from underfoot as I walked through the sage brush. Pat also pointed out the resident Burrowing Owl, which didn’t seem to mind the cold as it stood guard at the entrance to its burrow. The bison were right alongside the road here too.

Burrowing Owl next to its man-made burrow.
It was too far out for my 150mm lens for a great photo.
On the road to the ranch we enjoyed several pronghorn as they slowly crossed in front of us. What was most surprising were the two dozen or more porcupines munching on tree branches! Finally, something that got my nine year old boy out of the car! In the same area as the porcupines we found a Great Horned Owl and a pair of Virginia Rails and Ring-necked Pheasants. We did not find the Barn Owl at his known roost near the bison corrals, but we saw at least three coyotes and even more buffalo.

Great Horned Owl - camouflaged almost perfectly in the branches.
There was a porcupine munching on branches right over its head.
At Fielding Garr Ranch we found another Virginia Rail that let us approach to within a few yards, lots of California Quail, Dark-eyed Juncos, and more regular every day birds.

Virginia Rail at Garr Ranch
Ring-necked Pheasant at Garr Ranch
On the way out, at the water inlet, I observed many more Common Goldeneye and even four Barrow’s Goldeneye in the mix.

I can’t wait to visit Antelope Island throughout the year, especially during spring and fall migrations!  My Utah birding is off to a great start!

I’ll post photos of the mammals we saw over the next couple of days.


  1. Robert, yes it is! I know you will see lots of birds here throughout the year! Congrats on your first trip out! I can't wait to see more photos next time!

  2. Wow! Your first birding adventure in Utah turned out to be a winner. Such great bird and wildlife sightings. Antelope Island State Park sounds like a glorious place to visit. Wonderful series of photographs! As always, a joy to view your outstanding blog.

  3. Kathie & Julie G - Thanks for stopping by Birding is Fun. You are two fantastic bird and nature bloggers yourselves!

  4. You definitively have more snow than us... I love the burrowing owl picture and would love to see this bird... Decades I have seen a pheasant, they are becoming so rare ion France because of the hunters!!

  5. Hi Robert - You have some awesome photos here. Looks like you are enjoying the Utah bird sites. I finally saw some Bald Eagles and Barrow's Goldeneye's on the Greenbelt. There are photos on the Flight of the Peregrine site. Cheers and keep up the great photos.

  6. @Chris, I'd love to come to France some day and see all your birds and wildlife!

    @Bob and Robin, glad to hear your keeping tabs on things in Boise for me. Now that the move has settled down, I can get back into reading my favorite blogs!

  7. Roberts, sounds like you had a very productive day and am looking forward to seeing more of the area. i loved the Kestrel on the Rabbit Brush! Maybe you ought to include more of her photos :-)

  8. @ Hilke - I am very excited to be living so close to some great birding areas at the Great Salt Lake and in the mountain canyons. My wife has a pretty artistic eye and would probably be a better photographer than I, if only I let her use the camera more often.

  9. I love the Black-billed Magpie. I can't wait to see one in person someday! Very cool bird!

  10. @Chad, Thanks for the comment Chad! I take BB Magpie's for granted because growing up in Idaho, they were everywhere. One cool thing about birding blogging is that you can share your common birds with others that may have never seen them before.