Terns at Bear River Migratory Wildlife Refuge

I guess I didn’t realize how many birds I saw at Bear River Migratory Wildlife Refuge until I started posting about my visit. I was amazed at the number of species nesting on the refuge, birds I only see in the winter or during migration. In retrospect, it’s an even more remarkable place than I thought it was the two days I was there — and I already thought it was very special.

I see Common Terns in many places and I’m always trying to capture shots of them in flight,


especially hovering just before diving.


What I’ve never seen before, though, is them constructing nests. I’m sure I was anthropomorphizing while watching these two Common Terns building a nesting site, particularly since we just spent a week having our house repainted. However, it really seemed to me that this (female?) tern was berating her mate about how slowly the nest-building was going.


Eventually, the mate showed up with a rather large stick in its beak


and spent an inordinate amount of time deciding exactly where to place that stick — so I’m assuming it wasn’t just a pile of sticks, that at least one of them had some sort of “plan” as to what this nest should look like — I suspect it was the female.

Once again, I really wish I’d had another week or two to see how this nest proceeded. I’m going to have to coördinate my trip to Colorado next year so that I can stop before and after my trip to have a better chance of seeing the birds while their nesting.

And Black-Necked Stilt, Too

As already noted, I went to Bear River primarily to see Avocets, but I wasn’t at all surprised to see a large number of Black-Necked Stilt there. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing Avocets without also seeing Black-Necked Stilt, though I have seen Black-Necked Stilt without seeing Avocets.

It’s hard to say whether there were more Stilts or Avocets, but if you click on this shot you’ll see a single Avocet in the middle of this flock of Stilts.


Black-Necked Stilt often get territorial, chasing other stilt away, but I’ve never seen one try to chase away an Avocet, even though they are often feeding quite close to each other. Why is that? Do the stilts and avocets eat different food, so they don’t see them as competitors. If they don’t eat the same foods, why do they appear in the same environment so often? Although many sites link them together, none discuss similarities or differences. Frustrating.

For the moment, I guess I’ll have to be satisfied admiring their delicate beauty,


and marveling at their long, thin legs


Those long legs give the impression that the Black-Necked Stilt is a large bird, but seeing them next to the smallish Cinnamon Teal reveals how delicate they really are,


an impression reinforced by this close-up.


American Avocet at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

I knew when I heard two years ago that the Great Salt Lake is one of the primary breeding areas of avocets that I would have to go there to see them . And see them, I did. They were throughout the refuge, from wetlands to dry lands.

Of course, I expected to see them wading in the wetlands because that’s where I have always seen them at Sacramento and Malheur, In fact, I tend to think of them as “shorebirds” because I’ve always seen them wading


while sweeping up food with their long, curved bills.


I didn’t drive two states to merely see them wading in water. I actually came to observe them during breeding season and hopefully to get some shots of them with chicks.

I was a little surprised to see Avocets strutting across what appeared to be sand dunes,


which also turned out to be a nesting area. In fact, a barren area just before the auto tour had been taped off because it was an Avocet nesting area. Their nests turned out to be little more than hollows in the sand lined with small sticks and brush.


The greatest surprise, though, was learning that Avocets used the same ploys that Killdeer use


to lead predators away from their nesting area. This one must have spent ten minutes trying to tempt me to follow it away by dragging it’s wings on the ground and fluttering in the dirt. I’m not sure, but it seemed that even females who didn’t have a nest were intent on leading me away from an area where several Avocets could be seen sitting on nests.

Unfortunately, I turned out to be too early to get pictures of Avocet chicks; locals weren’t sure whether the egg laying was late because the weather had been cold or if it was just too early to see chicks. I’ll have to find out before returning next year.

Eared Grebe at Bear River

When we missed our opportunity to visit Mono Lake, California, this summer I thought I’d also missed my chance to see Eared Grebes in breeding colors this year since Mono Lake is one of their main breeding areas. I didn’t realize that they also breed in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and Big Bear River is at the north end of the lake.

Although I mostly saw Clark’s Grebes at Big Bear, it was a pleasant surprise when I saw a small flock of Eared Grebes on my second trip around the auto tour.


The first time I saw these bird up close in breeding colors a few years ago I was shocked by the bright red eye and the “ear” plumage which makes the eye stand out, and I’m still fascinated by the distinctive plumage.


I rarely see Eared Grebes, so it’s definitely a treat when I do get a chance to see them, particularly in breeding colors.


I was surprised to learn that they are the most abundant grebe, something I would never have guessed since I commonly see Pied Grebe, Horned Grebe, Red-Necked Grebe, Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe in the Puget Sound areas but have yet to see an Eared Grebe.

One moment you think you really need to stay focused on a particular area to truly understand a particular phenomena; the next moment you realize you need to go to other places to put things in proper perspective. I’ll need at least another seventy years of retirement to learn all the things I want to learn.