Saturday, December 30, 2017

Labor Day Lizards, Bugs, and Public Lands

This post should have been published back in September. Somehow I started but never finished it. I hope it is better late than never.

Labor Day weekend reminded me of why I love living in northern Utah. I had Saturday and Monday mornings to spend off the beaten path hunting down lizards and 4-wheeling on some hillsides in our local desert. I had just returned from a trip to Kentucky where most of the land is privately owned. Don't get me wrong. I love my home state of Kentucky, but I have grown very fond of and come to treasure the vast expanse of public lands here in the west. I have a wandering spirit that needs to roam, explore, and discover. Venturing into public lands here in Utah is medicine for my soul, a needed charge to my batteries. It's ironic, but exploring the arid deserts of the west quenches my thirst for exploring and discovering.

I spent Saturday morning exploring Soldiers Pass and the sagebrush-juniper habitat around the south end of Lake Mountain in Utah County. Below is an image showing the view from the summit of Solders Pass looking east toward the south end of Utah Lake.

Heading west on Soldiers Pass Road.

A few side-blotched and sagebrush lizards were out soaking up the sun as I hiked along a rocky ridge, but this robber (aka assassin) fly caught my attention for a few minutes. This is one of nature's aerial fighting machines. They often ambush and take out other flying insects midair.

This image of a male common side-blotched lizard was captured with my long lens.

The following video and images were captured using my phone after I managed to snag a few lizards.

My target lizard for the day was Desert Horned. I essentially gave up on finding one after scouring several ideal locations and coming up empty. I called my wife to let her know I was on my way home and began to drive down a gravel road toward a paved highway. Thanks to a little luck in terms of timing and my 20-15 vision I noticed a small creature scurrying across the path ahead of me. I had second thoughts when I initially ignored my impulse to stop, go back, and check it out. My curiosity had to be satisfied so I pulled off to the side of the road and walked back to search for the creature of interest. The tiny creature turned out to be a young Desert Horned Lizard and fortunately for me it was having trouble scaling the loose dirt that formed a steep climb along that side of the road. This phone image provides some perspective on the size of the lizard.

I captured a few images using my long lens as the lizard explored the bed of my truck.

And a couple of images after returning the diminutive dinosaur back to its natural habitat.

Labor Day morning was spent around an area called Chimney Rock Pass.

Chimney Rock Pass proved more productive in terms of the number of lizards I ran across.

The best lizard discovery turned out to be a Western Fence Lizard that was sunning on a lichen-covered boulder. This one was about seven inches long.

Another stop along a dirt road on the west shore of Utah Lake turned up a few Whiptails, bees, and dragonflies. I believe the dragonfly is some type of meadowhawk.

I felt like I had been on a safari without going very far from home as the holiday weekend came to a close.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Great Horned Owl Preening

The day after Christmas was a work holiday so I spent most of the sunny but cold morning cruising for raptors in some of my favorite winter raptor locations. I enjoyed observations of eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. A pair of sleepy Great Horned Owls offered a few minutes to study and photograph them. One of the owls, which I believe to be the male since it was noticeably smaller than its mate, slowly fluffed its feathers and proceeded to preen as I was capturing a few images from within my truck on the side of the road.