Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Deseret Ranch

As a birthday gift to my birdwatching mom, I arranged for a guided birding trip of the Deseret Ranch.  The trips are led by Bill Fenimore, who lives in Farmington.  I have run across Bill several times before at the Swaner Nature Preserve.  He is on their advisory board and I am a volunteer.

We met Bill down at the Smith's grocery store and he drove from there.  It was about 45 minutes towards Wyoming and Idaho, covering some interesting back roads. Since we had an extra seat, Bill's wife decided to join us.  Here we have Bill and his wife with my mom (in the red sweater).
The Deseret Ranch is a 250,000 acre working ranch.  That's a square roughly 20 miles on each side!  Makes our half acre lot in Park City feel a wee small. It is owned by the LDS Church (the Mormon's).  They have done a very interesting mix of using it as a cattle ranch with about 8,000 cows, hunting land for elk, moose and deer, and a wildlife area for research and birdwatching. They test out quite a number of eco-oriented land use processes and then share their experiences.

I have been driving down the road and had to wait for a cow to get out of my way.  I think this is the first time I have had to wait for a herd to get off the road.
The ranch has well over 200 bird species during the year.  We were there to see what we could see, but ideally finding mom two new life birds: the Sage Grouse and the Clarks Grebe.  One of the advantages of the ranch is that it has so many different micro-climates.  We journeyed past a reservoir, steep canyons, rolling hills, forest, sage, farm land, and more. 

Our first find was a Dusky Grouse.  Close, but no cigar.
Less than an hour later we find the Ruffed Grouse.  Same thing.  Interesting, but not what we were hoping for.
We finally saw the Sage Grouse, a pair actually, but I was on the wrong side of the truck to catch a photo.  Amazing to see three different grouse in on day when lots of people never see their first.  We also found the Clarks Grebe on one of the large ponds, but to see it we were using a powerful spotting scope, so no pictures there.  For someone with over 1600 life bird species (mom), getting two new ones in one day, all without leaving the country, is pretty amazing.

We also spotted quite the collection of mammals.  First we saw these two bull elk.  I'm not a hunter, but they certainly seem like a good rack.  You can hunt in the ranch, but it has to be guided and I think a permit for an elk cost $15,000.  You have to want it bad!
We also saw a number of deer, a coyote, and a lot of prairie dogs. I think the prairie dogs are cute, but apparently they can be quite invasive and the ranchers don't like all the leg-breaking holes they leach on the range. Between those and the chipmunks, the predators should be quite full by winter.

The Deseret Ranch is very scenic and an incredible site for bird watchers.  It is unfortunate that the only way you can see it is with a guide.  Just the same, I imagine that without Bill we wouldn't have seen as much and we might still be out there driving around lost.
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