Antelope Island

If you've read my blog, you might know that I have never seen a barn owl in the wild. I've handled them at The Raptor Center, held injured ones, etc--I just haven't seen one doing what a barn owl does naturally in the wild. At the Bear River Refuge, one had apparently been roosting at night outside of the building, you could see streaks of its poop above the deck:

The way this structure was designed out on the deck allows sounds to be picked up off the refuge. You can hear people on the other side of the wetland having conversations as well as western meadowlarks, coots, grebes and frogs. I wonder if the barn owls hung out there at night to take advantage of the amplified sound...not that they really need it. Anyway, the poop just seemed to mock me all the more--"You haven't seen a wild barn owl--nah nah nah nah."

I heard from a reader of this blog (Hi Susy) that I had a pretty good chance of seeing a barn owl at Antelope Island so decided to check it out. When I drove onto the island, I was so overcome by the beauty of the landscape I didn't care if I saw a barn owl or not, it was just so gorgeous and worth every penny of the $9 entrance fee. I was there early on Sunday morning and apparently most people in Utah are in church, so I pretty much had the island to myself. I just sat and took some time on the rocks looking over Salt Lake and some of the other landscape enjoying the sounds of the wind, the waves on the lake, the California gulls and western meadowlarks. What a glorious way to spend a morning.

The weird thing about this place is that it was called Antelope Island, but I didn't take the title too seriously. I grew up in Indiana and used to go to Turkey Run State Park, but I never even saw turkeys there, let alone see one running a state park (although from what I hear from my mom, there are probably turkeys there now). I wasn't on the island very long when I saw an antelope:

Who knew? An actual antelope on Antelope Island. This guy had just crossed the road and was on his way to another heard in the distance. The antelope were actually kind of dangerous if they started chasing each other and not paying attention to the cars. Several times as I was driving I would catch a couple males running in my peripheral vision and within seconds they were in front of my vehicle.

When I walking around along the rocks and brush I did find some old antelope bones. Judging by the size of my the leg and hoof compared to my hand, I would guess that it was very young when it died and was dragged into some brush by the prdator for feeding. All that I could find were leg bones, no skull and no ribs. I wondered what predators the antelope had out here and very quickly got my answer. Here's what I digiscoped in the distance:

A coyote running around in broad daylight. Probably what got the young antelope. I did find part of a rabbit skull in the same area and then this sitting on top of some sage brush:

At first I wondered if it was left over prey shoved in by a shrike. Upon picking it up, I discovered that the dead little rodent was so dried out, it was practically mummified. It didn't have much of a smell and must have been there awhile. There was a black-billed magpie flitting around nearby as well as a pair of kestrels. Perhaps one of them had dropped this prey and forgot about it.

Antelope Island was chock full of chukars. They were all over: mating under rocks, clucking on top of rocks, scurrying in front of vehicles, just doing what comes naturally to a chukar. If you've never seen a chukar, this is the place to go, you can't spit without seeing one.

Another island specialty are the buffalo. They were everywhere. So for fun, I popped in an excerpt from the Dances with Wolves soundtrack from my iPod while driving around looking at them. As I was doing that I suddenly started having images of Kevin Costner and his "acting" so I put in the Vertigo soundtrack instead. While on the subject of buffalo, you want to see what a photo of an idiot looks like? Less than half a mile from the sign pictured in the above photo, I saw this:

Now, I call the person in the above photo an idiot because I have done enough idiotic things in my life that I feel like kind of an authority. Call me crazy, but when a sign asks you to stay in your car, getting within 20 feet of a 2000 pound animal may not be the best decision you could make. I stuck around and watched the scene with my cell phone at the ready. There were actually about six buffalo surrounding her. As she got closer, one of them stood up and started coming towards her. After snapping a few photos she walked back to her car and didn't get trampled. What a dork.

When I got to the island, I checked in at the visitor's center to find out if the barn owls were still being seen. I was told by the guy working at the front desk that the barn owls were in fact still in the area and if I drove down to the ranch and walked into the barn that I would see them. He was also kind enough to point out some burrowing owls hanging around outside the center--what a helpful guy! I drove to the ranch and checked with the man at the gate and asked to see the barn owls, he pointed the way and here is what I saw:

A barn owl in the sense that it is a great horned owl nesting inside the barn. It had laid its eggs inside an old raven's nest. A very cool owl but not the barn owl I was looking for. Ah well, another bird for another day.

Susy, thank you for pointing me to this wonderful park, I truly enjoyed my time there.