Sunday, December 8, 2013

Way Too Easy For Three Rare Bird Encounters

One of my good birding friends observed a young Long-tailed Duck along one of the jetties surrounding the Provo Marina at Utah Lake State Park on November 25th. That is an extremely rare duck for Utah County. I had never seen one in Utah County so I wanted to observe, photograph, and add it to my Utah County life bird list. Unfortunately, my schedule did not accommodate "my wants" so I prepared myself mentally for not getting that one. About a week later the duck was still being seen in the same area. I had some time one afternoon so I made the 20-minute drive from home to Utah Lake State Park in Provo, Utah. When I first arrived at the park I noticed a Horned Grebe in non-breeding plumage right in the Marina. Horned Grebes are not as rare as Long-tailed Ducks, but they are still very uncommon since they generally are seen only while they are passing through the area in spring and fall/winter during their annual migrations north and south. I fully expected the grebe to fly if I exited my truck (they are nervous little guys) so I observed it and took photos from within my truck. I then went and located the continuing Long-tailed Duck and got some photos from the truck and then as I stood on the jetty practically right next to the duck. It dove and fed on the bottom of the lake as I watched. Here's a series of images of the cute little diving duck. Skies were overcast so the colors are muted.

Most people will tell you they have to observe a rare duck like that through a scope while it sits out on a lake hundreds of yards away. It was way too easy to photograph such a rare duck.

On my way off the jetty and back past the marina I noticed the Grebe was closer to the shore. I decided to exit the truck and get better photos this time. Once again, it was way too easy to photograph an uncommon and rather skittish bird.

Since I was already in the area, I exited Utah Lake State Park and made an immediate right turn onto the Provo Airport Dike Road to make the four mile drive around the airport. It's a very popular birding location because Utah Lake is on one side of the dike and a mote is on the other side as it makes a loop around Provo Airport. Its sort of a migrant and rare bird trap because of the habitat and location.

I found three separate Great Horned Owls during that drive--all three within about fifteen minutes. None of the owls flushed from their roosts during my observations of them. Great Horned Owls aren't exactly rare, but watching one cast a pellet (aka hack a fur ball) is a unique birding moment. How many of you have seen something like that happen? This image was captured right before the pellet fell from the owl's mouth and down into a thick stand of phragmite. I like this image because it shows the not-so-great, tiny tongue of the Great Horned Owl. If I had to guess I'd say its a female due to the extent of the tawny coloring around the eyes. The best way to tell is by seeing a pair together. The females are noticeably larger than their male counterparts.

Here's an image of the third and final Great Horned Owl from that day. I like how the plumage of the owl blends in with its chosen  perch and how the blue sky in the background drops down and transitions to a soft brown from the phragmites surrounding the marsh behind the owl. It ties in with the brown leaves remaining on the tree in that corner of the image.


  1. Sounds like a great day being able to get so close to a rarity and an uncommon visitor apart from the Owl.

  2. A very pleasant couple of hours indeed.

  3. Nailed em'!
    That's maybe the best Long-tailed vagrant sighting I've seen and read about on these here interwebs. Well done and congrats Jeff!

    1. Thanks, Laurence. Birds are so unpredictable. Sometimes they pose, but most times they seem to know when I'm even thinking about taking a picture and they abscond with my opportunity.