Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Post #109 - Want to see Flammulated Owl? Head to Utah!

This will be the third and final post recapping my recent road trip from Minnesota back to my Bay Area home in California. After leaving South Dakota (see last post, #108, for my account of that state), we made our way across southern Wyoming on Interstate 80. We didn't do much birding along that stretch as we had a very important and time-sensitive appointment in Sandy, Utah with Tim Avery of The Mountain West Birding Company. I first met Tim on my 2014 bicycle Big Year. I stayed with him for two nights during that adventure, and we got along so well that we have stayed in relatively good contact since then. Tim is a master of all things Utah birding. At just 35 years of age, he has eBirded more species (424) from his home state than has anyone else. Much of that can be attributed to his 2007 Utah Big Year, an effort that garnered him a still-state record 355 species! More recently, he tried something a bit less conventional with his 2016 Undercover Big Year. So, when Tim offered to take me out for Flammulated Owl on this, my most recent Utah visit, I jumped at the chance.

Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake
Actually, it's more of a peninsula than an Island.
Causeway access from Syracuse to the northeast.

With a few hours to kill before meeting Tim for olwing, I decided to tour wife Sonia around Antelope Island State Park. I had visited the park once before, also on my bicycle Big Year. The place really is impressive; It's basically a huge, rocky ridge line rising right out of the great Salt Lake just north of Salt Lake City. Summer is the slowest birding season at Antelope, but I still found a number of birds to occupy my attention, most notable breeding plumage Eared Grebes, nesting Sage Thrashers, and the always comical Burrowing Owls. Surrounded by the white, salty crust of the Great Salt Lake, Antelope can at times feel otherworldly, and it is for this reason that I suggest a visit irrespective of one's birding proclivities. Beyond birding, Antelope offers a great view of the Wasatch Mountains to the east.

View east from Antelope Island.
Most of the island is scrub/sage as shown.
Wasatch Mountains in background.

Bison Sculpture at Visitor's Center.
American Bison are found on Antelope. 
We saw them very well from the road.

Though most were a bit distant, I did manage one serviceable Burrowing Owl shot from my visit to Antelope.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 7D2
1/1600 at f/8, ISO 1000, handheld.
*f/8 to get a bit more of the perch in focus

Sonia and I rendezvoused with Tim in Sandy at 8:30pm. By 9pm, the three of us (and Roody!) were piled into Tim's truck, heading up-mountain to start our Flammulated Owl search. It was Friday night, and I was admittedly a bit nervous about our prospects of finding the shy bird given what would surely be increased traffic on both the forest service roads and hiking trails. A master of his surrounds, Tim took us just half an hour from town to find a completely deserted trailhead. From there we walked in about half a mile and began our owl search. We first heard a Northern Saw-whet Owl, but we were unable to get a visual on it despite much effort. In the following hour, we heard 10 Flammulated Owls, and we were able to get visuals of 3 of those. None came quite low or close enough for the sorts of incredible photos that Tim has on many occasions managed, but I was nonetheless happy with these results given how small and secretive this species is. I used an external flash without a flash bracket to obtain these images; Hence, the red-eye.

Flammulated Owl!

These were by far the best views I have ever had of this shy bird, so our night outing was a rousing success. Tim really has this bird down to a science, so if you're looking to add this species to your life list or just get a better view of it than you've had to date, then he's your man. There's all sorts of great birding in the Salt Lake Area, so a search for Flammulated Owl could easily be coupled other Utah specialty species, most notably Black Rosy-finch which is found not too far away.

I forgot to take a photo of Tim and me this time around
so I've recycled the one from 2014. We were both a few
years younger back then so it works!

From SLC, Sonia and I basically B-lined it back to California. We had planned to stop in Nevada's Ruby Mountains to search for Himalayan Snowcock, but the trails were still covered in very deep snow after such a wet winter in the region. I am almost certainly going to return to the Rubys later in the year, so I'll hopefully have a full report about that adventure at some point. The snowcock would couple very well with a few days in Salt Lake with Tim, so keep that in mind for the future!

OK, that's it for the moment! Until next time - Good Birding!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely owl pictures!
    Astounded that snow is hanging in well into July.