It is 6:58am on Saturday the 23rd of January. It is dark and cold. Sleepy junior high students roll out of their parents cars with breakfast in hand. A college student and local adult show up, interested to learn about birds. "Alright we got to head out, the bald eagles leave their roosts around 7:30" said our local bird expert, Dr. Merrill Webb. We all piled into a 12 passenger van and drove down I-15 to Spanish Fork and took the exit taking us west toward Utah lake and the farming communities out there. The junior high kids dozed and sat in silence. The educators and college student and other adult hummed with excitement about what they might be seeing. The morning light began to increase and then off to the left in a large, bare, cottonwood tree was a bald eagle roosting. "There, out there! Do you see it!?" exclaimed Dr. Webb. Faces pressed to the windows and brakes slammed as we pulled to a parking spot. "Let me get out first and set up the tripod and get the scope on it and then come out, okay?" Dr. Webb cautiously stepped out of the van and got his tripod and scope. When he had it set in the scope he invited the new birders to come and take a look. The mornig sky began to glow with the rising sun behind the Wasatch mountains. After just a few minutes the eagle took off and displayed that large (up to 7.5 foot) wingspan. Dr. Webb put away the tripod and scope and we piled back into the van. There was more energy and excitement now tha we spotted what we came out there for. Educators began helping the new birders identify common birds and non native birds like european starlings and eurasian collard doves. We saw american kestrels, on of the smallest species of raptors, or birds of prey. One was out kiteing, which means they flap their wings very quickly allowing them to temporarily hover as they scan the ground for a meal.
Winter in Utah is a time where there are generally less species of birds to be seen, but many birds stop in Utah as they migrate. Eagles are an example, they follow the large flocks of migrating waterfowl. That was our next target. We drove the vans to Salem pond and saw some winter visitors like ring neck ducks, gaddawals, ruddy ducks, northern shovelers and american widgeons. Ducks can migrate hundreds of miles and fly at high speeds, some around 60 mph! An eagle was also lurking in a tree by the pond, likely waiitng for an opportunity to grab a meal like a canada goose.
The next stop was at the east bay golf course, where in a thicket of trees was a family of black crested night herons, a parent and two yearling juviniles. Night herons work togther as parents like many ther bird species. Their thicket was surrounded by a large water feature at the course and there were hundreds of northern shovelers and a few other species.
We then returned to the Monte L. Bean Life Science museum, hopefully with a new appreciation for our feathered friends we frequently see around us. In total our birding nature experienceship resulted in 31 different species of birds observed.
Colton, museum Educator
Species seen on 1/23/16:
Great Blue Heron