Golden Eagle vs Chukar

I can't believe I forgot about these photos.  While cleaning out my iPhoto cache today I came across a picture of a chukar at Antelope Island in Utah.

Okay, so it's a very mediocre photo of a chukar.  I was driving around, just taking photos of anything when I tried to get a shot of this chukar.  They are all over the island and I always end up seeing them on the sides of roads or in parking lots. They also have a knack for scurrying in to grass or brush as soon as a lens is aimed at them.  Less than a minute after I got this photo, the chukar dove into the grass. I told myself to look up and about 10 feet above my rental car windshield was a golden eagle.

I wasn't able to get a camera on the golden until it was well past, it moving moving fast!  Scott Mehus at The National Eagle center says that if you see turkeys running like a bat out of hell from a field near a goat prairie around Wabasha, MN, chances are good there's a gold eagle overhead.  The golden made a dive for the chukar and missed it, but boy, what a treat to have right in front of the car.

After that I got bonus time of watching the golden eagle circle on thermals coming off the bluffs on Antelope Island. It was great to be able to see the golden hackle feathers (the feathers on the back of the head).

Bison & Lazuli Buntings

For some reason, buntings are a hard bird for me to get.  Both painted buntings and lazuli buntings were always fluttering out of sight just before I would arrive to see one.  A common phrase, "Oh a whole flock just flew past here like five minutes ago." I finally got painted a couple of years ago in Florida but the lazuli seemed intent on pouring salt on my wounds.  When we went to Las Vegas to make bird videos, Non Birding Bill saw one and when he pointed it out, the lazuli bunting flew away and all I saw was a small bird flashing blue.  Gr.

When I was at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival this past spring, word on the street was that a flock of lazulis were hanging out at feeding station near the barn on Antelope Island State Park.  I consulted Bill Thompson about this and he gave good directions.  I had a tough time finding the exact location of the feeder, it was sort of hidden away in some trees.  There was the above bison pen nearby but the beast was fenced up so I could keep my ungulate phobia in check.  I was getting the old ungulate stare down though.  That's right, bison, I'm just going about my birding business, you stay there.

The feeders were absolutely dead.  There was a sprinkler nearby and some birds were using the water source.  I decided to stake myself out among some bushes, set up my scope and camera and hope for the best.  I figured that this would be another opportunity to NOT see a lazuli and concentrated on the few birds that did come in like the above white-crowned sparrow.  Suddenly, a large flock of pine siskins descended on the feeder and I aimed my digiscoping set up on them.  The feeder was in the shade and it wasn't easy to get photos, but digiscoping passed the time as I waited for a lazuli.

And then magically among the siskins was a lazuli bunting! As soon as I got this shot it took off.  As it flew, I heard chip notes and then the same chip notes from other buntings in the trees above me.  More were around and I'm sure this little migratory flock couldn't resist coming down to this food source.  So I waited.

And in about 10 minutes, a flock of lazuli buntings were on the ground.  It was a challenge getting any photos because the birds were in the shade and my camera didn't want to give me the shutter speed I needed.  So I played around and used the timer.

And I did manage to get some fun shots.  Note the tiny white millet seed on the tip of the beak of this male?  Most birding feeding guides say to not use millet or at least not very much, but colorful buntings are one of the few species of birds that really, really like it and it's worth having a bit in your seed mixes during the spring and fall migration.

As I was living la vie da lazuli, I suddenly heard a heavy "thump, thump, thump" and it sounded like an ungulate in full trot mode right behind me.  I turned around to the sound and discovered...

The bison that was in the first photo of this post was now very much out of the pen and trotting around behind me.  It started trotting right at me, then turned and went the opposite direction.  I tried to take a shot as it headed towards the left of the barn (you know, one of those last known photos they could find in my trampled camera next to my trampled body). The bison pretty much went in the direction I needed to go in order to get back to my car.  I stayed where I was, heart pounding and recalled the video of the woman who got charged by a bison because her idiot brother-in-law threw a stick at it to get his attention. I wouldn't do anything like that, but what if I inadvertently startled it?  I've said it before and I'll say it again--large ungulates make me nervous and I really don't think my Sand People technique of startling cows would work well with a bison. They are unpredictable and it's really just a matter of time until they realize how big they are and stampede the heck out of me.  I went back into the trees to stay out of the bison's line of vision and debated with myself on how to get out with a rogue bison on the loose.  I soon saw one of the Antelope Island rangers and went up to here, "Uh, your bison is on the loose!"

I was also going to ask for a ranger escort back to my car but she said, "Oh yeah, he's fine, it's feeding time."

I was not going to get a ranger escort back to my car. They have signs all over this island that read, "Stay away from bison" and so I found her mellow attitude about the loose animal unnerving but I also realized that I have a larger fear of bison than most and decided to man up and walk myself back to the car.  I didn't encounter that particular animal...but... bison encounter was not over.  Bison roam this island and on the road back to the exit, a small herd was grazing along the side.  I slowed and the bison  decided to cross.  I had to get a shot of how close this one was to the road--see the mirror of my rental car on the right hand side?  I slowly drove past, the bison watched me and I assumed the sort of upright posture most drivers do when passing a police or sheriff's car that says, "No, sir, I'm not speeding, I'm a good citizen."

Small price to pay I guess for finally getting my lifer lazuli bunting.


Back In Utah

If I could have a love affair with scenery, I think Utah would be a top contender.  This is my third trip to this state and every time I arrive I always think, "I do not have enough time to explore everything I want to explore."

The sky is a constant swirl of colors with snow capped mountains surrounding you.  When I tweaked my knee last Saturday, I was wondering how I would fare but so far so good.  I put in a wheel chair request with Delta and the wheeled me to my gate, they gave me a better seat to let my leg stay extended, wheeled me to baggage claim, grabbed my bags and wheeled me to my rental car.  I called the hotel ahead of time (which interestingly does not have any of the expected literature in the room, but a couple of books by L. Ron Hubbard and a Scientology brochure) and they gave me a room on the ground floor, near a door and helped me with my heavier luggage (and some of those Swarovski cases are not light).  My knee is getting better every day, although, I still can't quite bend it the way I used to yet, but at least the swelling has reduced considerably.

I had some time in the afternoon and I couldn't get in to the Salt Lake Bird Fest show area to set up my booth, so I went to do some birding.  What better place to revisit than Antelope Island?  I can easily drive around to take photos (I had force myself to not go hiking all over the trails, but better safe than sorry).

Antelope island lives up to it's name.  This was not digiscoped but taken out the passenger window of my rental car.  The antelope weren't so much playing as trying to craze and loped away as if to say, "Yeah, Midwesterner, I'm special to you, but I do this every day, move along."

There were quite a few black-bellied plovers on the road out towards the island--it's so fun to see them in breeding plumage.  We get them in Minnesota but not when they look all snazzy like this.  When I've seen them, it's been cold, windy and they are gray with black "armpits."  But in breeding plumage, they are down right dapper.  Saturday morning I'm going to do a digiscoping workshop and we are going to have such a great time!  Birds here are so accommodating.

One thing I did forget was the noseeums.  I left my bug spray back at the hotel and every time I opened my window or stepped out, they swarmed.  The clouds were so nasty, they went into every opening--ears, nose, mouth--ick.  My scalp was on fire with bites until I had the sense to put my hood of my hoodie up and then drive away from the swarms.  Still got some great shots.  Below is a western meadowlark singing.  You can hear me walk away from the camera taking the video (trying to avoid a swarm of noseeums), you'll hear one buzz the microphone and then you'll see the western meadowlark rub his face as if to scratch an itch:


Love that song!