Last weekend I finally traveled outside of the Tri-Cities. And not just to the next county. I ventured all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. My daughter and I went to visit my son who is a freshman at the U.
We decided to check out a couple of wildlife refuges along the way. Friday's stop was at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge in Caldwell, Idaho. It was a good rest stop, only a handful of visitors, and there was cellular service so my daughter could attend her online classes.
I walked along the sagebrush trails while she attended her classes. The bees were busy collecting more pollen before cooler fall temperatures kicked in and prepped them for hibernation. Notice the orange pocket, or pollen pants, on this little guy.
We left SLC Monday morning and our wildlife refuge stop was at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, only one hour north in Brigham City, Utah. This refuge is viewed primarily by driving the 12-mile one-way loop. There are observation platforms but on our first stop, I got out of the car and discovered that there were millions of mosquitoes, so it was decided that we'd view with the windows up.
After squishing several mosquitoes that invaded our inner car sanctuary, we headed for the loop drive in search of the white-faced ibis. It was noted on the refuge's web page that the ibis should still be there through the end of September, so I crossed my fingers that we would still find some.
We saw several birds along the drive including white pelicans, sparrows, and western grebes. Our visit must have been between seasons as there were some individuals rather than large flocks. On the last turn of the loop route, I caught a glimpse of a small group of birds along the edge of the pond. With the sun not very high in the sky and the tall grasses blocking light, I could just make out their silhouette. I almost missed them because they blended into the vegetation pretty well. I believe we found the end-of-season stragglers of the largest population of white-faced ibis in Utah.
Because of the mosquitoes, I had to shoot with the lens against the window. And because of the lighting, we can't see the white marking on their face or their red legs and red eyes. While we can see their distinctive curved bill, we can't tell that it is also red. This long curved bill makes it easy to probe the mud in the shallow water for aquatic invertebrates.
I was still quite excited to see this small crew of white-faced ibis. Their habitat range is west through Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and through the mid-western states from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico. They'll spend the winter in Mexico and along the coast of eastern Texas and western Louisiana and then return to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge next April when they'll mate, nest, and raise their young. And when I head down to SLC in the early summer to help my son move from the dorm to an apartment, I'll add some travel time to see the white-faced ibis again. And I'll wear mosquito netting.
Learning to fly is hard work. Especially when faced with natural and non-natural obstacles. The osprey nest I have been watching since the spring has already gone through the loss of its first clutch and the rebuilding of their nest. The second clutch has been successful with the mating pair having 1 offspring. He’s grown quickly and now it’s time for him to prepare to leave the nest and forage on his own. First things first, he must learn to fly.
I didn’t get to the osprey nest until just after sunrise. A flock of white pelicans caught my attention while I was on my way to the nest, so I stopped to photograph them in the sunrise light. They’re so awkwardly graceful and fun to watch.
When I arrived at my usual viewing location alongside the road, I rolled down the passenger window so I could sit on the ledge. As I rolled down the driver’s window, I glanced across the road and saw an osprey perched low on a branch. It was the juvenile. I had missed his initial, possibly ungraceful, descent from the nest. This was his first day learning to fly.
He remained there, looking around for a while, startling at the occasional sound of an airplane taking off from the nearby airport, or just resting and closing his eyes. I guess the newfound physical exertion was exhausting.
He finally decided to give his wings another try. He spread them wide and flapped several times but remained on the branch. After a brief rest, he tried again, and this time made a long leap off the branch and behind the shrubs.
Several more leaps brought him next to the wire fence. As I watched from my car, I quietly chanted “please don’t get caught on the fence” over and over. It turns out that he’s a pretty smart young bird, because he lowered his head and carefully walked between the horizontal wires. Whew. But now he was on the road side of the fence.
He made several more attempts at flight, strengthening those fragile wings. He was now on the wide rocky shoulder of the two-lane road, which very few passenger cars traveled along, but is frequented by big ag work trucks. While he was on the side of the road, he was relatively safe.
Now I already said that this young bird was “pretty smart”. Well, I retract that statement. He quickly became a not-so-smart young bird because he hopped and flapped himself right into the road. Luckily, there were no vehicles at that time. I kept willing the osprey to get off the road, but he wouldn’t go. I know he was tired, but he just didn’t understand the hazards facing him if he stayed there much longer. I wasn’t going to let him find out the hard way.
Then came the first truck. I yelled at the bird to move, but to no avail. I had to do something quick. From the side of the road I flagged down the truck. The driver stopped and asked if the bird was injured. I said “no” and explained what was happening. He got out of his truck and we shooed the juvenile off the road. I told the driver that we couldn’t touch him and hoped that our shooing him off the road wasn’t considered harassment, especially since we were trying to protect him.
The driver told me he would tell others he would see during the day to drive slowly through that area, per my request. Thank you, Mr. Truck Driver. I ended up stopping five trucks that morning because the osprey decided to hop back into the road. And all of them said they would let others know and that they’d take it slow through there for the next few days while the juvenile osprey strengthened his wings.
All those efforts paid off. I returned a couple days later and saw the juvenile in the nest with a parent. Yay! He had survived flight training.
I'm Diana and welcome to my Wild Places Blog. Here I'll share adventures of finding wildlife, new images, and talks about gear.