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Posts Tagged ‘Great Salt Lake’

A Chilean flamingo. — Wikimedia photo

“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” – Isadora Duncan

They Called Him Pink Floyd

In 1987, a Chilean flamingo escaped from Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah, then he, or she, eluded all efforts to be recaptured. No one knows where the flamingo migrated to each spring, but the bird was usually spotted every winter for the next 15 plus years on the Great Salt Lake, where it dined on the inland lake’s brine shrimp.

Pink Floyd wasn’t the only thing I saw in Northern Utah. These great blue herons were wintering on Farmington Bay adjacent to the Great Salt Lake. — Photo by Pat Bean

The flamingo became a legend to birders, and someone called it Pink Floyd. The name stuck.

I got a rare, distant glimpse of him in about 2002. His pink coloring made him stick out among a flock of avocets and gulls, which were feeding in shallow waters a goodly way from shore. Pink Floyd was quite an oddity, and I felt privileged to have seen the flamingo, especially since I had become addicted to birding in 1999, and then spent a couple of years on the lookout for Pink Floyd.

Chilean flamingos have a life expectancy of up to 50 years, but Pink Floyd hasn’t been seen since 2005.It is suspected he didn’t survive that winter.

When I sat down to write my blog this morning, I had no idea what I was going to write about. That happens some days. Then suddenly, Pink Floyd pecked my little grey cells and said: Write about me.

Bean Pat: Masterpieces at the Musee d’Orsay http://tinyurl.com/ycgu9aoq Take an armchair tour of a Paris museum. I loved the Van Gogh.

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 “My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.” Terri Guillemets

Himalayan snowcock -- Wikipedia photo

Chasing Birds

While the recently released movie, “The Big Year,” hasn’t been a top box-office hit, I thought it was a great film. Of course I’m a passionate birder and could relate to the chase to be best North American Birder of the Year.

The record number of species seen between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, by the way, is 745 species. I won’t tell you who holds the title, however, because that might spoil the movie for one of my readers who hasn’t yet seen it.

One of the scenes in the film, which shows just how crazy we birders can get, depicts a wild helicopter chase of Himalayan snowcocks in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Chukar on Antelope Island ... Photo by Pat Bean

Boy I wish I had such a conveyance at my convenience. I’ve never seen this pheasant species, and these days am not up to the rough hike, which unless one is extra lucky, is the most likely way of spotting one.

I may still give it a try next year, however. Like a lot of other birders, “The Big Year” inspired me to step up my birding game. And my curiosity about snowcocks inspired me to see what I could find out about these birds. The Internet, which I have come to love, turned up a couple of interesting blogs from birders who have seen the Himalayan snowcocks in the Ruby Mountains.

I noticed, when looking at pictures of the birds on a couple of Web sites – http://tinyurl.com/3uya55p and http://tinyurl.com/3w6edbx– that the snowcocks look a lot like the chukars I have seen on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The chukar, however, is not a difficult bird to add to one’s life list. It can be seen in at least nine western states, whereas the snowcock can only be found on this continent in the Ruby Mountains. And it wouldn’t even be there except that Nevada Fish and Game thought the bird would be a good game bird for hunters – and in the 1960s, transplanted about 200 of them there from Pakistan.

There may be 500 or more of the birds today roaming around the mountains near Wells, Nevada. Yes, I am for sure going to have to visit the Ruby Mountains soon. The snowcocks are calling to me.

 

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“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” Wallace Stevens

 

Looking down on Mono Lake from the Highway 395 overlook. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

My trip back to Texas from my summer in Idaho was a hurried affair. Usually I plan on arriving for my winter rounds with family just in time for Thanksgiving But a grandson’s wedding, which takes place tonight, moved that up by about six weeks.

Even so, I managed to knock two things off my to-do list, now more popularly called a bucket list, on my way back to my native Lone Star State.

Mono Lake and Yosemite National Park now have check marks beside them. .

It may be easier for some of you to understand why Yosemite was a place I wanted to visit than it is to understand why Mono Lake was on my list. After all, it’s simply a shallow, very salty, often smelly lake As we neared the lake basin, My canine traveling companion, Maggie, perked up at the smell, wrinkling her nose a bit as she caught the scent. . I’m not sure what she was thinking.

 

California gulls along the shoreline -- Photo by Pat Bean

 The odorous shoreline, however,  reminded me of Great Salt Lake, a place whose beauty I came to greatly appreciate while living next door to it for 25 years.

The Utah lake is larger and much younger than the smaller and much older California lake. Both, however, are part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network that provides habitat for millions of migratory birds.

About the only species I saw on Mono Lake, however, was the California gull, which incidentally happens to be Utah’s state bird. It was given the honor after Mormon settlers in the Salt Lave Valley credited the gulls with saving their crops from a cricket infestation.

Neither lake has an outlet, and so remain the depository for everything that flows into them. Their importance to the ecosystem, however, has in recent years led to conservation practices engineered for their protection.

Mark Twain, in his “Roughing it,” called Mono Lake “a lifeless, treeless desert … the loneliest place on earth.”

I think otherwise.

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 “I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” E. B, White

Thirty-thousand years ago, only the very tallest peak of Antelope Island, which now sits in Great Salt Lake, would have been visible when Lake Bonneville covered nearly all of Northern Utah. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

My laptop computer finally began misbehaving too badly to ignore any longer. Since it’s my lifeline to the world as a full-time RV-er and daily blogger, and because it had given me four years of decent service, I decided it was time to retire it.

Since I’m rather in the boonies here at Idaho’s Lake Walcott State Park, 45 miles away from the closest Best Buy, I decided to drive 160 miles instead to Ogden, Utah, where I had a geeky-in-a-good-way friend whom could help me set up a new computer.

The historical marker at an Idaho rest stop that got me pondering the ever-changing face of the planet we live on.

It was a beautiful drive, sunny albeit a bit windy, mostly through land that 30,000 years ago lay beneath Lake Bonneville. A large historical marker at a rest stop just north of the Utah border tells travelers all about the prehistoric lake, whose shorelines are still in evidence along Interstate 84 which I was driving on this day.

The majority of the 1,000-foot-deep prehistoric lake was in Utah and its two distinct levels were clearly visible from my front porch when I formerly lived in Ogden. I can’t help but notice the ancient shorelines – there’s two distinct levels – every time I return to this city I loved.

The lake took up a huge portion of Utah and smaller bits of Nevada and Idaho until it broke though Idaho’s Red Rock Pass east of 84 about 15,000 years ago.

Great Salt Lake is all that’s left of Lake Bonneville today. It’s average depth is only about 25 feet.

Because I had stopped at the rest stop and seen the sign, I pondered as I drove, about how Mother Nature, with her floods, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and water and wind erosion is constantly changing the nature of this planet we live on.

I had long ago given up believing I was ever fully in control of my life, and now felt sorry for all those who hadn’t yet reached that conclusion. All we can do is take life a day at a time.

This day was a good one. I even got into Ogden in time to purchase my new computer. It’s a beauty, with more bells and whistles than I will probably ever use. But, everything didn’t go as planned.

Murphy showed up just to show me he could. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

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A chukar on Antelope Island, where this game bird was transplanted, is usually easy for a birdwatcher to find. I've seen many of them, and each time was as delightful as the first time.

 “Life is a great and wondrous mystery, and the only thing we know that we have for sure is what is right here right now. Don’t miss it.” — Leo Buscaglia

Travels With Maggie

I keep a list of every bird species I see for the first time and a list of the all the places I’ve been. I’m always delighted when I add to these two lists. But thankfully, I’m not like the birder who passed me on a trail on Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake a couple of years ago. .

Maggie and I were dawdling along, she sniffing the flowers and everything else we passed as cocker spaniels do, and me watching red-winged blackbirds flash their scarlet marked wings while listening to a couple of breeding male meadowlarks trying to out sing each other.

Barely slowing his pace, the middle-aged hiker asked if I had seen a chukar. I replied that I often saw this partridge-like bird in the rocks near the bend up ahead. About 10 minutes later, the man ran past me going the other way.

Prong-horned antelope are also easy to find on Antelope Island if one takes the time to drive around and look. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Got it … that’s 713 birds for me now.” His voice was like the rumble of a passing freight train.

How sad, I thought, that he didn’t take a minute to admire the flashy scarlet markings on the blackbirds or to enjoy the melodic voices of the two meadowlarks.

Numbers on a list are only that. It’s being present in the moment – seeing the golden hue on a meadowlark’s throat as it tilts its head toward the sky in song, or the magic of a sunrise slowly coloring the sides of a canyon – that makes my heart beat faster. I enjoy such wonders whether I’m seeing it for the first or the hundredth time.

But I’ll still keep my lists. I like making them. They’re also a great way to recall the wonders I’ve taken the time to enjoy.

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 “This seems to be the law of progress in everything we do; it moves along a spiral rather than a perpendicular; we seem to be actually going out of the way, and yet it turns out that we were really moving upwards all the time.” Frances E. Willard.

The Spiral Jetty -- Photo by Michael David Murphy

Travels With Maggie

Sometimes you just have to do something even if it makes no sense. This was true the day my good friend, Kim, and I drove out to Rozzel Point on the northern end of Utah’s Great Salt Lake to see the Spiral Jetty.

The earthworks sculpture was created from black basalt rock by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 at a time when the lake was near its historic low. Within 10 years, however, the rising waters of the lake hid it from view.

Kim and I viewed the jetty in 2003, when the lake level was once again on the low end of its spectrum. By this time, the dark basalt rock was encrusted with salt, and its now white and jagged outer coat outlined in pink. The color of the lake water is a result of bacteria and algae that thrive in the heavy salt content now present in this section of the lake because of decreased water circulation due to a railroad causeway across the lake.

Looking out at the jetty, my friend Kim and I shared the same thought. There was no way we could come this far without taking a walk to the center of the spiral. It was as if there would be a magic reward for doing so. But afterward, all we had to show for our difficult efforts were salt encrusted legs and wet tennis shoes full of grainy crystals that made walking difficult.

Well, there was our great sense of satisfaction.

If you visit the jetty, which is once again now visible, don’t pass by the nearby Golden Spike National Historic Site without stopping. It was here where the Union and Pacific railroads joined their rails in 1869. A visit here, where the first transcontinental rail line became a reality, makes more sense than walking the spiral jetty, or as some might say, creating such a nonsensical structure in the middle of nowhere in the first place.

Sometimes, however, a person has to do what a person has to do.

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A view of Antelope Island, which appears moody this day. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Antelope Island is a favorite place of birders wanting to add a chukar to their life list.

 Antelope Island is a 28,000-acre bird haven in Utah’s Great Salt Lake accessed by a seven-mile toll causeway. It is home to a thriving herd of bison, playful antelope, sly coyotes and prickly porcupines.

 Migrating warblers visit, as do shorebirds and ducks that feed on the surrounding lake’s tiny brine shrimp and brine flies. California gulls nest each year on the rocky outcrops along the shoreline, bald eagles drop by in winter, and every spring hundreds of western meadowlarks, with their brilliant golden throats and song, nest on the island. The males sit on a high perch to melodiously proclaim their brooding territory while the females sit on nests hidden so well in the grasses below that you can walk within inches of them and not know they are there.

I visited this island almost every single week for two years after I caught bird-watching fever in 1999. It was my birding 101 lab. And every time I go back home to Ogden these days, I make time to once again visit this protected — the entire island is a Utah state park — wonderland.

A buffalo sculture looks out over the lake. Photo by Pat Bean

 

While a live version takes a sandy bath. Photo by Pat Bean

This trip, the drive across the causeway was made with more land than water to the sides of me. Once again, Great Salt Lake is nearing the 1960s record low of 4,191 feet above sea level. In the mid-80s, it was at a record high of 4,212 feet. I was present during this latter period when its high levels and wind-pushed waves tore out the causeway to the island as well as chunks of Highway 80 that stretches across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats to Wendover, Nevada.

Now, 25 years later, I was getting to see it at its lowest. Was it Mother Nature’s drought and warm weather affecting the level, or was it the human diversion of water before it reached the lake driving the lake’s current low level? The question taunted the edges of my brain as I watched a pair of ravens circle overhead where the causeway curved. I wondered if these were the same ravens I had watched raise chicks in a huge nest several years earlier.

Antelope seen on the way to the island's historic Garr Ranch. Photo by Pat Bean

I spent four hours on the island this day. I watched with camera in hand as a buffalo took a sandy bath and kept my eyes glued to rocks for the sight of chukars surveying the landscape. Maggie and I took a hike around the point from the Bridger Bay Campground. Meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds joined their voices to the drum beat of the lakes’s waves against the shoreline. I found the tune calming and marveled at the purepeacefulness of the day.

  While I still had questions and concerns about the lake and the island’s ever-changing future, Mother Nature’s magic was still all around me. I look forward to my next visit, and hope she can still be found.

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