Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring at Antelope Island

No matter what month you go visit Antelope Island, you can always find something to photograph. This trip I was pretty certain I was going to find wading shore birds along the causeway and then baby Great Horned Owls at the ranch at the end of the island.

Off to a good start with some American Avocets. 
All the little dots in the photo are brine flies.  There are billions of them flying around the Great Salt Lake.  Fortunately they don't bite, sting, or show any interest in humans.

The bad news is that my quick start ground to a halt.  Perhaps the water levels are still too high or the birds just aren't ready, but the abundance of birds were way out in the water and almost nothing was close to shore.  It was going to be a very short day.
Then I saw a coyote, which is my favorite mammal on the island.  They always seem to be wandering along the shore looking for dead animals and bird eggs.
Then this guy (a Whimbrel?) came strutting across the road.  I can't look at this pose without thinking of the Beetle's Abbey Road album cover.
This female Pronghorn covertly crept behind the SUV.  There was no way she was going to get by my assistant photographer and spotter, Jasper.  He let me know she was there, but was quiet enough that she didn't spook.
In all my trips to Antelope Island, I have never seen the White Pelicans.  They can't feed there because the biggest living animal in the Great Salt Lake is a tiny Brine Shrimp.  Not much for pelican food.
However as I kept watching above me, I kept seeing more of them.  It was a mystery (solved later in the day).
This was my weirdest sight of the day.  I keep trying to photograph the numerous hawks that soar over the island, but I haven't had a lot of luck.  I watched this one for a while, but it was behaving differently.  Less soaring, more flapping, and more diving.  Finally I realized that I was looking at an owl, not a hawk. I think it is a Barred Owl. Isn't he supposed to be sleeping?
This bird was quite patient with me taking his photo, but I haven't figured out what he is yet.  Another case of bird watching by photo.
And now, back to the White Pelicans... I saw a flock of about a hundred of them circling, over and over, rising up over the mountain.  It was such an odd behavior I had to ask a park ranger.  It turns out that they use the rising air currents between the lake and the mountains to gain enough elevation to soar off to their feeding grounds.  Why pedal when you can coast?
I haven't seen Horned Larks in a while but I ran across several.
And now on to my "almost got the great one" shot.  I have wanted to get a shot of a coyote hunting and then dining on his catch.  As I was heading off the island, I saw a coyote wandering through the tall grass, hunting for voles. He was awesome at it.  Three times I saw him pounce, catch a vole or mouse, and then wolf it down.

Each time he did this, he was hidden by wave after wave of tall grass.
Once he was done hunting and dining, he came right out into the open for a clear, easy shot.
Then he was even kind enough to look our way, perhaps giving Jasper a taunt of "I get to eat all the voles I want!"
Another few trips out and I will have the picture I want.

There are quite a few Bison on Antelope Island, but they normally just sit still and chomp grass like a cow.  They are impressive, but it makes for some boring photos.

This bull was willing to put on a more entertaining show.  He kept laying down, rolling over onto his back, and then wallowing in the dust.
Then he would stand back up and give a good head-wagging shake. He did this three times before taking a break. I hope he was comfortable, clean, or bug free, whatever the actual goal was.
Meadowlarks are all over the island. Everyone of them sings at the top of their lungs.
Every time you get close to one they fly off.  I did catch this one in the act.
This antelope was off in the distance, but I wasn't in a hurry.  I figured out which way he was heading and drove way ahead of him.  Then Jasper and I just sat and waited.
We remained as still and quiet as we could, and he just kept coming closer. Pronghorn aren't that impressive, but this guy was pretty cool.  In the full resolution version of this photo, I can count his eye lashes.
As I left the island, I saw a huge flock of little shorebirds. They fly around at an incredible clip, all turning simultaneously, like they are of one mind.  It's fun to watch but a still photo just doesn't capture it.
... and we end on an odd note. This Grackle sat there posing while I shot pictures of some shorebirds.  All of the photos look like a normal bird until this one.  Here he looks just a little bit insane.
For a day that started so slowly, we had a great time.
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