Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A weekend of birding and a fruitless search

Sometimes we just take the wrong path.  Saturday, I headed north for some birding.  It was a cold but pretty day for it.  When I reached Brigham City, I had to choose: either continue on to Corinne and Salt Creek, or head to Cache Valley in search of that Snowy Owl and blue jay, both very rare in Utah.  Snowy Owls have not been seen in Utah since some time in the 60s.  But last year's irruption brought a couple of sightings.  Then there was a reported sighting about three weeks ago in Cache Valley.  It was a long shot.  I decided to go for the sure thing, and I chose Salt Creek.  It was great up there with lots of birds.  I got my first photo of a Golden Eagle and some Horned Larks as well. I had the place to myself and it felt so wonderful.

Imagine my disappointment when I got home, however, and found that not only was there a confirmed sighting and photo of the Snowy Owl in Cache Valley, they had posted the location online.  If "d been monitoring on my phone, I could have headed up that way and found it.  In fact, if i had chosen the other path, I might have been the one who spotted it at about 2:30. 

This was a big deal and the birder community was excited.  Next day, I didn't return because snow was predicted and I don't drive Sardine Canyon in a snowstorm ever.  It's treacherous.  But some 20 cars of people showed up in Amalga Barrens and scouted all over the western county to no avail.  On Monday I headed up that way.  I wanted to also try to find the eastern Blue Jay in Smithfield.  A number of people had seen that one within about a four by four block range.  Mostly cemetery and public park.

I spent the entire day searching.  First in Smithfield where I didn't find the jay and then in Amalga Flats looking for the owl.  I was patient but not very methodical.  There were not many birds out in that farming county.  I saw a wonderful prairie falcon and hundreds of horned larks, and a few ravens.  Lots of wide expanses of fields covered in deep snow probably make it tough for the birds to find food.  The fog had been harsh that day and the temperatures near zero, and everything was covered in a thick heavy hoar frost that hadn't burned off by the time I left around 3 p.m.  I searched all around Amalga and Trenton.  And finally, after one last pass where it was last seen, I headed back to Smithfield armed with new information for finding the blue jay.  It was so cold and I was tired, but I still tried hard to find it, with no luck.  At 4, I gave up and started the 90-minute drive home.

Upon arriving home, I saw all kinds of Facebook and email notifications that the owl was spotted about 4:30 less than two miles from where I gave up my search.  Many people responded quickly and got a chance to see the owl.   How disappointing, I was so close and missed it.  I will wait another week or so now as we have a string of snowstorms ahead.  I think I may plan to stay overnight in Logan, too, so I won't be in a hurry to get back through the canyon before dark.  The owl seems to make his appearance around 4 or so.  I am not giving up.  I'll try again when the weather is favorable.

Here are a few birds from Salt Creek:  A great blue heron, a horned lark, and golden eagle.  Also saw bald eagles, many ducks and ravens, a handful of rough-legged hawks and pheasants.  There were hundreds of the horned larks everywhere. 


troutbirder said...

Been there, done that! Flyfishing and birding often do. The really good days make up for it though...:)

Bekkieann said...

It's true. And besides that, I'm never disappointed to be in the outdoors, even when the birds are scarce.