Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Summer Trip to Utah and Central California

Since my last blog entry, I spent much of my time on a nice long vacation in Utah and Central California. My Mom, siblings, niece, nephews, and assorted great-nieces and great-nephews live in Utah, so I combined a family visit there with the chance to find and photograph western birds, dragonflies and butterflies that we do not see here in Virginia. So even though this blog is supposed to be about local wildlife and nature, I’m going to stretch that boundary and showcase some western species. The photos in this entry were all taken in Utah; next time I’ll post some from California.

I’ve forced myself to limit the number of photos I share here to fifteen. I saw so many new and beautiful things that it was hard to decide which ones to post, but hopefully you’ll enjoy the variety that I picked.

At the top of this post is a photo of a Black-necked Stilt with her chick. As you can see, Stilts have impossibly long legs, which helps them to wade through ponds and wetlands looking for food. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City, UT is a prime breeding site for these birds, as well as for American Avocets, White-faced Ibis, and various other waterfowl and waders. I was raised in Brigham City, but during those years I had no interest whatsoever in the wildlife out at the Bird Refuge; I considered it a “boring” place (there are many of those when you’re a teenager). Now I could easily spend hours out there every day with camera in tow.

The road to the Bird Refuge is a good place to scan for raptors. In the summer you might see Red-tailed, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, as well as Golden Eagles and Northern Harriers. In the winter, Rough-legged Hawks can be fairly common, and Bald Eagles abound. Below is a gorgeous Swainson’s Hawk that I photographed on the way to the Refuge.

Western Kingbirds are also plentiful almost everywhere in Utah during the breeding season. Below is a photo of a young one that hatched earlier in the spring. Adult Kingbirds are feisty and aggressive little birds during the breeding season, and very territorial; they have been known to chase away small aircraft that fly over their nests!

I saw very few butterflies at the Refuge, and this might be because northern Utah is an agricultural area and they spray heavily for mosquitoes and other pests, which also kills beneficial insects. Butterflies are considered “collateral damage.” Dragonflies, on the other hand, were abundant at the Refuge, although I soon determined that there were only a handful of different species. That was okay with me, because the ones I identified were new to me! Here is a striking Blue-eyed Darner that I was fortunate to photograph while he hovered for a moment:

The most abundant dragonfly species was also one of the most beautiful, the Variegated Meadowhawk. The male is a vivid red color with a complex pattern, and the female is striking in her own right:

Male Variegated Meadowhawk

Female Variegated Meadowhawk

There were also good number of Eight-spotted Skimmers and Twelve-spotted Skimmers at nearly any pond in northern Utah:

Eight-spotted Skimmer

 Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Back at my Mom’s house in Brigham City, we watched the birds that came to her feeders, and we took a nice little walk along a creek in her neighborhood. One of the more spectacular birds at her feeder was the Lazuli Bunting, a close cousin of the Indigo Bunting that we see here in the East. At one time there were five males there in her little back yard:

The walk along the creek produced some good finds, including the beautiful male Band-winged Meadowhawk, below, and the one and only Two-tailed Swallowtail that I've ever seen. (The name describes it well; all of our other swallowtail species have one tail at the bottom of the hindwing; this species has two).

Band-winged Meadowhawk

Two-tailed Swallowtail

One of the highlights of my trip was a visit with a dear friend who lives in Salt Lake City; she’s one of those friends who you instantly connect with even after years apart, and it was wonderful to see her. Her in-laws have a cabin way up in the High Uintah Mountains east of Park City, and we spent a night and parts of two days there. As soon as we got out of the car at the cabin, we were surrounded by fluttery white and black winged critters that I later identified as “Police Car Moths,” a diurnal moth of mid-to-high elevations:

Both days we took a hike to a little waterfall about a mile from the cabin, and my friend was very patient while I tried to chase down anything that flew! Two of my favorite “finds” were the Four-spotted Skimmer (dragonfly), below, and the Mormon Fritillary. The Fritillaries flew all around us as we walked, but none would land, ever! I finally found one taking minerals at the edge of a pond and got my photo:

Four-spotted Skimmer

Mormon Fritillary

Here’s a photo of the view of the Uintahs and the mountain meadows as we walked along the trail to the waterfall. I do miss the mountains, and it felt so good to be there, taking in the view, listening to the mountain stream, and smelling the clean, cool air:

The people in the cabin next to ours had hung hummingbird feeders, and they were busy! They graciously let me sit on their back deck with my camera and photograph the Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds that visited the feeders. Most were females or juveniles, but I was able to get photos of adult males of each species, showing off their beautiful gorgets:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Okay, sorry, that was 17 photos. I can't help myself; there were so many beautiful things to see, and I've just shared a very small portion of them with you here. If you're interested in seeing more, you can check my photostream on Flickr (www.flickr.com/birdingva) If you take these kinds of photos and share the same interests that I do, please make me a "contact" if you have a Flickr account. Better yet, come to the quarterly "Nature Photo Night at the Library" event that I facilitate at the Chesapeake Central Library (298 Cedar Rd.) Our next photo-sharing night is on Monday, October 21 starting at 6:00 p.m. Call me at 757-410-7147 if you would like more details -- ask for Karen. 

Next time, we go to California! Here's a peek:

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