Pop Goes the Weasel

After a glorious trip to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge last summer I didn’t want to miss the chance to check it out in the winter when our trip required us to pass right by it. As it turned out, we were about ready for a stop after driving through Salt Lake City. With a long day’s drive still in front of us and questionable weather, I knew that we would have to make a quick, early morning stop if we were going to stop at all.

As it turned out, it was actually sunnier than when I visited it in the middle of June. Unfortunately, the sun was quite low on the horizon and the light was extremely orange-colored, making it harder than usual to identify birds that I seldom see in their winter dress.

At first I thought this might be a Ring-Necked Duck, but my bird guide doesn’t show this variation for Ring-Necked. It also looked a little like a Scaup, but my best guess is that it is probably a Redhead in eclipse plumage.


When we first saw these two grebes (I realized immediately they were grebes), I thought they must be an unknown variety, but, as it turns out, they were simply Pied Grebes in winter colors, something I seldom see, especially in the bright, morning sunshine.


There was no doubt about these two because I spent over two years looking for one before I saw a whole flock of them near Santa Rosa. So it was a treat to see a pair of Canvasback ducks, even if they were much too far away to get a really good shot.


We saw so many Northern Harriers at the refuge I just assumed this was one as it swooped down and caught a mouse, but a quick look on screen made it clear that this was no Northern Harrier, though, again, I’m far from certain what it is. My best guess is that it’s a Rough-Legged Hawk.


The thrill of the day, though, came just as we were finishing the auto-tour. As we were slowly scanning the lake I happened to glance down at the ground and see a white blur. I got Leslie to hand me the small lens since there was no way she could see what I was seeing from her side of the car. Luckily, this little Long-Tailed Weasel popped up from the foliage again,


took a quick glance at me,


realized I was too old and slow to present any real danger and dashed out of the grass and retrieved a dead mouse that it must have dropped as I drove up. Unfortunately, he was right, I wasn’t nearly fast enough to get a shot of him as he picked the mouse up, even though I got a great view of him.

Although I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Big Bear as I was on my earlier visit, that two-minute adventure made my day, making it possible to bear the long drive home through, snow, sleet and hours of darkness.

Take the Long Way Home

No matter what map program you consult if you’re driving from Tacoma Washington to Broomfield Colorado, they will default to driving I 80 across southern Wyoming, not an entirely bad choice since it cuts nearly two hours off the trip.

After driving that route on my recent trip, though, I began to question whether the time saved was worth it or not. I’m not sure if it’s the worst drive I’ve ever taken, but it was definitely high on the list. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were forecast on I 80 nearly the whole way. Before we left our motel the second morning we were warned that a fatal accident had taken place 35 miles to the east. As it turned out, temperatures had dropped to 22° and fog was at ground level. Speed limits had dropped from 80 mph to 45 mph and motorists were warned not to use Cruise Control (because of black ice). Apparently that didn’t deter truck drivers who obviously hoped to get home before Thanksgiving. I got passed by a lot more trucks than I passed,


as they seemed oblivious to the truck that had rolled over hours earlier.


Whatever scenery there was was obscured by the clouds and snow.


Even with the delays, though, we had made very good time, having spent nearly the amount of time on the road that Google had predicted.

However, after five hours of driving through fog-shrouded, icy roads without using cruise control, I had to pry my fingers off the steering wheel and could barely hobble to the restrooms my right leg was so stiff. It was certainly the furthest I’ve driven without cruise control in the last 20 years.

So, after checking that the passes near Vail didn’t require chains, I decided to return instead via I 70, which turned out to be a great choice. There was occasional snow and ice on the road, but there were no high winds and, more importantly, the scenery provided a delightful break from the monotony of driving.


Unfortunately the most beautiful parts of the pass were so narrow that there weren’t any pullouts where I could stop and get pictures, and I wasn’t willing to make an “emergency” stop to shoot scenics. The only place I managed to stop and get some shots was a rest stop near the end of the pass.

In the end I’m sure this route took several hours longer than the Wyoming route, particularly since we encountered a rush-hour accident in Salt Lake, but I didn’t regret the choice for a minute. Sometimes it is wisest to take the long way home.

Colorado Kestrel

Although we had some great weather while visiting Tyson’s family in Broomfield, Colorado, over Thanksgiving, the one chance we got to go birding was not one of those days, despite the fact that it was sunny and our weather app said it was 54° outside. The first sign that the app might have been wrong was a text message from Tyson indicating that there were high winds when he went to church. Then our car thermometer suggested it was really 22° outside. Still, when we stopped the car it seemed bearable since we both had warm sweaters and wind-proof jackets.

I was jacked when I got this shot of a kestrel sitting at the beginning of the trail.


Unfortunately that was the only bird shot I got in Colorado. We made a sharp right turn about fifty yards down the trail and were struck by a bone-chilling wind. After a minute or so of walking I could barely feel my nose. Another minute and I’d had enough, and we turned back and headed to Home Depot to pick up some Christmas decorations. I remembered why my cold-weather bag sitting at home contained a scarf to wrap around your face and a Baklava for even more severe weather while out cross-country skiing.

I might drive 1,500 miles to visit a birding area, but I’m not hard-core enough to risk frostbite to get a great bird shot, been there, done that, ain’t stupid enough to ever let it happen again.