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Preview: Musings on Nature (and other things)

Musings on Nature (and other things)

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." John Muir (Misquoted)

Updated: 2017-07-28T00:02:27.323-06:00


Terms of Endearment


There are many places, people and things that I love. But not too many to which I can truly attach the phrase "In love with".

The other day as I was driving around work (i.e. Antelope Island State Park), that phrase struck me as the feeling I was having toward that place.

Yep, I am in love with Antelope Island.

Banding Burrowing Owls


Most people are pretty familiar with at least a few types of owls. Big, nocturnal birds, nesting high in trees or maybe barns. But did you know not all owls nest above ground, nor are all owls nocturnal?A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help band several burrowing owls. As the name suggests, these owls nest in underground burrows. They are also one of the few owls that can often be seen during the day.And they aren't very big. One birder compared them to the size of a pop can, which is pretty accurate.Most of the owls we were able to capture and band were juveniles, just hatched this year, but the adults aren't really much bigger. Burrowing owls don't dig their own burrows. They use existing burrows, either naturally formed, or excavated previously by another ground dwelling animal, such as a badger. They will also readily use man-made structures, such as underground nest boxes.To trap the young, we placed a "live trap" in the entrance of the burrow with entrance flaps that only open inward. So as the owls emerge from the burrow, they walk right into the cage but can't get back out.Once trapped, we carefully remove them one at a time.Each owl is carefully given a leg band, and then weighed.Receiving a leg bandRecording banding informationWeighingWeighingThe purpose for banding the owls is to monitor their migration, lifespan, nesting success rate, etc.They also make good candidates for photographing.[...]

Please Consider


I don't generally put up requests on my blog. But I think this is a great and very important message that needs to be heard. Please watch and consider donating.


My "Lazy List" of Birds


I've become a lazy list keeper. So for this past year, here is what I've jotted down as having seen. I know I'm missing a lot.

American Avocet
American White Pelican
American Kestrel
Bank Swallow
Barn Owl
Barn Swallow
Black-bellied Plover
Black-billed Magpie
Black-necked Stilt
Bonaparte's Gull
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock's Oriole
Burrowing Owl
California Gull
California Quail
Canada Goose
Cliff Swallow
Common Grackle
Common Raven
Double-crested Cormorant
Eared Grebe
European Starling
Franklin's Gull
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Horned Lark
Lark Sparrow
Lesser Scaup
Loggerhead Shrike
Long-billed Curlew
MacGillivray's Warbler
Marsh Wren
Mourning Dove
Northern Harrier
Northern Shoveler
Red-winged Blackbird
Ring-necked Pheasant
Sandhill Crane
Say's Phoebe
Short-eared Owl
Western Kingbird
Western Meadowlark
White-crowned Sparrow
White-faced Ibis
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-headed Blackbird



It's so nice to see plants blooming. Especially in the desert.

Backyard Yucca

Nature is Amazing!


This really speaks for itself. Sit back and enjoy. You won't regret it.

The Beauty of Pollination

Great Salt Lake Bird Festival


In case you aren't also following the wonderful Summer of Salt - I'd like to invite you over for a look-see. The most recent post is by yours truly and discusses my experience helping out and leading several tours during the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.

And while you're over there, check out some of the other posts that are up. This summer has just begun. There is so much more to discover and explore. So come back often.

Munchy Visitor


I didn't have to be to work until 10 am, so I fully intended on sleeping in. Then my boss sent me a text at 6:15 am with a question that required me to get out of bed and consult my schedule. I planned on going back to bed, but then I heard a quiet "woof"-like sound out the window. I thought maybe it was a young coyote, so I peaked out the window. But rather than a coyote, what I saw surprised me.Up in the top of a Russian Olive tree was a large porcupine. Then as if to confirm to me it was the one who had made that sound, it did it again while I was looking at it. Very strange little sound. Very strange little animal.Needless to say I didn't go back to bed. I sat there with my bins watching this little critter munching on the leaves, wondering how it avoided the sharp spines on this particular variety.The only camera I have at home is my phone with no zoom, and I new I couldn't get a picture of it from where I was. So I just watched. When I wasn't watching the porcupine, my gaze fell upon three young fledgling magpies, and a couple of brightly colored warblers.After a while, the porcupine slowly made its way down out of the tree, using its tail as an extra limb for support and balance.When it reached the ground, it disappeared around the back of a large rock. I didn't see it emerge from the other side, so I figured it had hunkered down back there to take a little rest. That's when I decided to finally venture out and take a closer look.Do you see it on top of the rock wall, near the tree?I could see it from a distance away, and never having been all that close to a porcupine, I didn't know how close I could get before spooking it. So I cautiously approached, very slowly, not wanting to frighten it, or tick it off.Still just laying on the rock, as if sunning itself.Porcupines are mostly nocturnal. So they spend all night munching on leaves and grass, and then look for a quiet, protected place, sometimes in a log, or a tree, or apparently on a rock wall, to rest during the day.It is totally just lounging around.Finally caught a whiff of me and is searching the air trying to figure me out.Porcupines have very poor eyesight. I was only a few feet away from it and the most it got was a slight smell of something curious. It didn't seem to notice me at all visually. So I decided to get a little closer.Still totally relaxed.Now its hackles go up slightly.Once its hackles went up ever so slightly, I decided I was close enough and would leave it alone. So I backed up and decided rather than going all the way back around the wall like I had come, I would go over the wall. When I moved to the wall I apparently crossed directly into the breeze blowing past me and toward the porcupine. It suddenly had a clear smell of me, and immediately jumped up and fully extended every single (up to 30,000) quills on its body. It was a quick, and rather alarming sound to hear that movement and that quill extension. I jumped back from the wall very quickly, afraid the porcupine was going to run at me. But it didn't. It just sat there, quills fully and threateningly extended.I got the message. I went back around the wall the long way.Later that morning it had found a new resting place. Up in another nearby tree. The tree with the fledgling magpies. I don't think they appreciated having that prickly house companion. But there is stayed for the rest of the morning. By the time I returned from work, it was gone again. Off looking for another evening meal.[...]



I spend my days off from work in my city home, off the island. Since the weather has been so nice, we sleep with the windows open. And so early in the morning the sounds of the birds (and the neighbor's fighting dogs) greet me. European starlings are always among those voices, sometimes American robins, and much more often lately has been the call of the dove - unfortunately it has been the call of the Eurasian Collared-Dove. Not too many years ago, the only dove I'd hear in this neighborhood was the Mourning Dove.Mourning Dove by Jim Huddle I love that sound. And I miss it. I haven't heard it in far too long. Rather, the sound I hear now is the collared-dove.Eurasian Collared-dove by Milt Moody While in and of itself, it isn't a bad sound, nor is it a bad looking bird, the fact that these birds have all but displaced the mourning doves virtually everywhere makes me annoyed when I hear their call.The first sighting of a collared-dove in Utah was in May of 2000 and by March 2007 it was reported in every county. I remember a couple of years ago I was on a birding field trip and the leaders told us to watch for the collared-dove, as it was still quite rare and a treat to find. We didn't see any that day. However several months later I heard a new and unfamiliar coo-ing sound. At first I thought it was a mourning dove, but the pattern of the coo-ing was all wrong. So I looked it up. And sure enough it was the collared-dove. I was quite excited to have found one, as it was still not too common.However, it wasn't long before that was the only dove I was hearing and seeing. The mourning doves had been displaced.From  The story of the Eurasian Collared-Dove is captivating. A century ago, this species was found primarily on the Indian subcontinent, although its range extended slightly in Europe, in Turkey. In the early 1900s, however, the species began expanding its range significantly and by 1950 had reached the British Isles. Today, collared-doves are living above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. Eurasian Collared-Doves were introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s, and their populations soon expanded around these islands. What happened next was unclear. At some point in the 1980s, Eurasian Collared-Doves migrated, without assistance, from the Bahamas to Florida. And because they look much like the Ringed Turtle-Dove, the collared-doves started to spread unnoticed. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that ornithologists realized the suddenly prolific and quickly spreading "turtle-doves" they were watching were actually Eurasian Collared-Doves. So if you have doves in your neck of the woods, give them a good listen to see who's out there. If you still have the mourning dove, treasure that sound. It may soon disappear. [...]

What I Know


I got on my bike this evening after work. It was the first time in several weeks due to my little lungs suffering through a bit of pneumonia. As I drove home part of me wanted to bike, but most of me just wanted to crash in the living room and watch a movie. But something moved me along once I got home, and the next thing I knew I was slowly making my way along the dirt road from my house to the asphalt. This post was initially going to be me lamenting over the slow pace at which I had to ride over said dirt road, and the advantage the no-seeums took of that. And while I will be incorporating a head net into my bike accessories, the focus of this post changed while I was biking.I realized I was no longer tired, but rather quite full of life and energy...and peace.There are so many things in life over which we have zero or little control. The future and what that holds is one of those things. The future has been on my mind quite a bit lately. The future, and trying to figure out what it will look like, and what I need to do to get there, and how it will all work out. I have no doubt we all do that from time to time. But despite all our efforts and planning and scheming, the future is never quite what we expect.I thought about this as I biked along the road, watching the incredible sunset that is so much a part of Great Salt Lake. And it occurred to me - I really have no idea what the future holds for me. None. There are too many unknowns. Too many variables. But what I do know is that it will include this...Great Salt Lake SunsetAnd this...BikingAnd this...Antelope IslandMy next thought goes right along with that - I have no idea who will be a part of my future. I have hopes, and wishes, and desires, but I really don't know. What I do know, and what was made very clear to me is that it will include them...Thousands of birds  and Him...The Lordand yours truly.Me enjoying birds, the sunset and biking That is what I know. This is what I felt quite clearly as I let the peace of the evening wash over me and settle into my heart and soul. And so of course my future will also include moments like this...Bison in a cabana[...]

Summer of Salt


I have been asked to participate in the second season of the fantastic blog Summer of Salt.

If you've ever wondered what's so great about Great Salt Lake (or even if you haven't), this blog is for you.

I met with the main blogging crew this past week and we have a fantastic season lined up. Sun, salt, stars, hikes, tunnels, sailing, spiders, dusty roads, bugs and birds. It's all there and more. I look forward to getting to know Great Salt Lake, and the Summer of Salt crew, better. And I look forward to sharing it with you. 

So I hope you'll consider coming along this summer on our journey of exploration.

No-See-um Update


Well, hi. So less than 24 hours later I need to update the gnat info. They are now at the "drive you insane" stage.

I took a very brave and good-natured group out on a little adventure this morning down to the lake side. Once we got to the beach all was well. It was just traveling from the parking lot to the beach and back that gave everyone a wonderful taste (sometimes literally) of the extent of the gnats on the island. Everyone was covered in them. None of us had head nets. So all of us got swarmed and chewed on.

I've considered buying head nets for visiting school groups. I think I'll follow up on that idea.



The biting gnats (no-see-ums) have been hatching for the past couple of weeks. For the most part they haven't really been a problem or noticeable at all. But today, they're noticible. Not enough to make you go mad, but enough to get your attention.

There are thousands of species that are commonly referred to as biting gnats, biting midges, or no-see-ums. What we think we have here at Antelope Island are Bodega Black Gnats. But the jury is still out on just exactly what we do have here. I mean, come on, with thousands of species, it's sometimes hard to narrow it down. Especially when the critter is mere millimeters in size. But here is what do know: they are very small and they bite.

But let me be perfectly clear - not every single insect a person encounters on Antelope Island is of the biting variety. We have many, many insects. There are four that are quite common: biting gnats, mosquitoes, non-biting midges and brine flies. There are others, like horse flies and such. But those four are the main attractions.

Biting gnats and mosquitoes, obviously, bite. While you can generally keep mosquitoes away with insect repellant, the gnats aren't bothered by it in the least. The solution for the gnats is a fine mesh head net. You may look funny to others around you, but believe me, they will be singing a different tune when they realize you are having a marvelous time on that hike, while they are being eaten alive.

The non-biting midges and the brine flies are quite harmless. They do tend to swarm in large numbers, but they don't bite. So how can you tell the difference between those that want to eat you whole, and those that could care less? Well, if you can see them, and they are in a large swarm, you are just fine. Remember, no-see-um perfectly describes the little biters - you can't see 'em. And mosquitoes, while they can be plentiful, don't generally swarm.

You will find the non-biting midges along the roads, generally, in large columns. Brine flies you will find along the beaches in staggering numbers.

Biting gnats you will find, well, just about everywhere. So go get yourself a head net, and come out to the Island anyway. This is a perfectly beautiful time of year.

And the birds are singing about it!



I saw one today. I was pretty shocked, and really wanted to jump out of my car and chase it. But I decided that might not be the best idea.

But there it was, running across the road just in front of my house. I stopped and watched it as it ran through the brush, stopped to look at me a couple of times, and then continued on out of sight. I was, and still am, pretty excited about that. We have indications that we have badgers out here, but very few people ever report seeing one. Now I can say we really do have them...well, at least one. :)

Males have a home range of up to 2100 acres, and female ranges vary from about 1700 acres in the summer, down to as few as 5 acres in winter. So, with that in mind, there may only be a few individuals on the northern 2000 acres of Antelope Island. And they are generally nocturnal. That may explain why they are so rarely seen.

Until this morning.

Wildlife Sightings


One of the things I love about Antelope Island is that the wildlife is so accessible. I love to be able to tell  visitors where they can go to see the bison or the pronghorn, and be pretty certain they will see something when they head out.

Quite often folks will come in just so excited to share that they saw a pronghorn right next to the road. Or a herd of  bison, or a rabbit. I was excited today when I found a barn owl nest, with the owl hunkered down low, hiding from our prying eyes. I'm not going to tell you where I saw it. You'll have to come out to the island, and then MAYBE I'll show you.

Speaking of barn owls, they are fast becoming my favorite owl. I think the reason may be because of the number of times I have had the opportunity to see one since I've been out here. Quite often in the morning I will startle or be startled by one hiding up in the rafters of the visitor center. I almost got splattered by one who seemed quite annoyed that I spooked him off his perch. This past winter I was frequented by a barn owl who would come and dine just outside my window on my window AC unit. He would leave castings, droppings and the occasional innards of a mouse.

Plus they're pretty owls, and exceptional hunters. When they are feeding a young brood, they consume an unimaginable number of mice throughout the summer for themselves and their young. That makes me happy for a number of reasons; fewer mice to invade my home, and plenty of castings (owl puke) for me to gather and use for educational purposes later.



Thursdays are becoming my after work bike day. I rather like it. Today I just did the 6 mile loop from my house, around the Visitor Center, past the beach and back up to my house. It's only 6 miles, but it had me feeling pretty queezy. Nice head wind, and a few short but intense hills about did me in. Not to mention the cool breeze penetrated right into my ear canals, and about froze them all the way down to my brain. I'm rather out of shape on my bike. It will be nice to see how that ride progresses as the summer goes along.

Anyway, my point of all this is that I was able to pass by the beach as the sun was setting lower in the sky. The gulls and other birds were out just having a marvelous time making all kinds of noise, no doubt enjoying the setting sun as well. I took this short little clip - again with my phone, so not the best quality, but hopefully you get the idea.

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It really is pretty awesome out here right now.

A Neighborly Visit


I am sitting in my living room with the blinds open to the "front yard". The air is perfectly pleasant, and I just replaced some of the damaged screens, so I had the window opened a crack to let the air and the sounds in.

Do you know the sound of a Western Meadowlark? If not you really should click on that link back there, because I can't mimic them, especially in writing. But they have a wonderful song. It's most cheerful in the morning and the evening. So their voices filled the room and brought a smile to my heart.

As I was thinking about writing about them, I heard a crunching noise outside just behind where my chair sits. As I craned my neck around, this is who I saw:

Pictures don't really do justice to how massive this guy is. And I wish the detail on his face was visible (this pic was with my phone and through the window, but still). It certainly increases the intimidation level to see that black face, and those dark, round eyes staring you down.

He watched me for a few moments, then continued on his way, past two large boulders and an apple tree. I hoped these might help you visualize his size. I'm still not sure it really does it. I bet he weighed upwards of 1700 lbs (maybe more).

Now the clouds are rolling in. A few drops of rain have fallen. It promises to be a very windy, worry about your satellite dishes blowing off the roof, night.

And the Meadowlarks are still singing.

Simple Focus


I always have such big ideas about blogging, and getting my blog up and active again. Okay, maybe not big ideas, but ideas, nevertheless. Sometimes big.

I make token efforts from time to time. Those efforts succeed to varying degrees. I've always wondered why that is. There is so much to write about. So much to discover and explore. Especially now, working and living out here on Antelope Island 4 days a week. Antelope Island and Great Salt Lake are treasure troves of natural discovery.

And then it hit me. The abundance of opportunities to explore and discover, and then the desire to write about those things has overwhelmed my ability to do just that. There is so much to blog about I actually feel overwhelmed and inadequate to do any of it justice. And so it has actually made my mind go blank with regards to blogging. I think I want to do too much, say too much, go into such great detail that I end up feeling overwhelmed and not writing anything.

So I'm making a mental change of focus. Rather than thinking I need to be all eloquent and full of wisdom, I simply wish to share some of my experiences with nature in short, simple ways.

So here you go:

I was out with a school group on a short hike out to Lady Finger Point. The day was incredibly windy and little chilly. I expected to see few if any wildlife, maybe a few birds, and if lucky a rabbit. We did see one rabbit, and a few birds. But we also had a nice surprise by a visit from a somewhat cold, and slow-moving Gopher Snake.

I carefully picked it up and talked about some of the ways you could tell it was a gopher snake, and non-venomous. Then the only girl in the group wanted to hold it, while the boys took turns being nervous, then relenting to touch it.

After a minute, we let the snake go into the bushes, and continued on our way.

That was a highlight for my day.  I'm a simple girl.

Athena - The Goddess of Wisdom


Yesterday a co-worked and I had the chance to visit the Kennecott Nature Center of Murray. The director there is a good friend of ours, and she invites us both down once a year to do a presentation for visiting classes and then we all go out to lunch to celebrate our birthdays. :) It's just a fun excuse to get together, do some fun programming, eat and chat.Yesterday was especially fun for everyone, as we had a new co-presenter.Athena This is Athena, a Great-horned Owl. My co-worker houses and takes care of her because she is non-releasable. Her wing was broken several years ago and it didn't heal right which limits her ability to fly. So now she gets to live her life as an education bird.Me and Athena. Those fun necklaces are part of our birthday celebration. :)This was the first time I'd met her personally, so Kathy,  my co-worker let me do the handling. We are both permitted to handle education birds through the State of Utah and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.Teaching kids about owl adaptations.Kathy also houses a Peregrine Falcon which I've handled several times. And let me say, Athena is so much heavier than he is. Okay, maybe you wouldn't think 3.5 lbs is heavy, but just try holding it up for a while. It is. :)Female birds of prey are about 1/3 larger than males. She's a big, beautiful girl. She did great. Kathy said she never hoots, but to our great wonder, at one point she tried to fly off my arm and in the process let out a few low "hoo-hoo-hoo"s. It was very cool. The kids loved her. Who wouldn't? I mean, she's an owl after all. I have a pretty good job.[...]

What's Wrong With This Picture?


Can you tell me?

Yeah, those are 1500 + pound bison that this photographer continues to approach.

Don't worry. I called this individual back to the road, and then gave a reminder of how dangerous that was.

Remember, they can move 30 + miles per hour. You can't.

Satellites...or something


I was nearly asleep last night about 10:30 pm when my phone rang. It was my roommates boy, P. He was out with his friends and were looking at something really bright in the sky. They didn't know what it was. It was flashing "blue and red". Someone thought it was a satellite, but I said satellites don't flash. Airplanes flash, I told him. He said it wasn't an airplane. They didn't know what it was.So I crawled out of bed and looked outside in the direction he mentioned - kind of south-east.Sure enough, there was a bright something up there. My first, groggy thought was a planet - so I said "That's Jupiter."P: "Oh really? Why is it twinkling?"Me: "Because of the atmosphere."P: "Wow, that's cool. Okay thanks. Sorry about getting you up."Me: "That's okay. Night."And off I go back to bed. But I kept thinking of that night sky. It was very beautiful and very clear. Then I thought more about what I saw, and remembered seeing Orion's belt, and that it was pointing right at that bright star I had called Jupiter. And I realized I had been mistaken. It wasn't a planet at all. It was the star Orion's Belt always points to. So I send P a text. Me: * I was mistaken. It's actually the very bright star 'Sirius'. True story.*P: * Ooh okay...I was wondering why it was twinkling...was it just barly found? I have never seen it before*I had to chuckle a little with that question.Me: * No. It's been there forever. It's just a very clear night so it stands out more*P: * Okay...*I know that tone of text from him. It means, "I don't really buy it, that still doesn't answer my question of why I haven't seen it before. It is so bright, how could I miss it in all the times I've been camping and out and night...but I'll just leave it at that with my doubting and wondering."So understanding that this was probably what he was thinking I continued my explanation.Me: *Also you only see it in the winter. That may be why you don't recognize it. You're used to seeing the summer sky.*Whether he bought that or not, I don't know. He didn't answer after that. But it got me thinking about the night sky, and how most  people only give it a passing glance most of the time. It's there. There are stars up there. The big dipper is about the only thing most people can find. Maybe Orion's Belt. But there is usually a disconnect between when one can see Orion's belt and when they can't.When I do astronomy programs in the summer I often get asked where Orion's belt is. To which I explain that it is a winter constellation, and isn't visible in the summer (except maybe during the wee hours of morning). So why can't you see Orion in the summer? For the same reason we have day and night and different seasons. The earth rotates and more importantly, orbits the sun. As it orbits the sun, the view of the night sky shifts with the shifting position of the earth in space. So go check out the winter sky. It is truly one of the best times to see the night sky. Bright constellations. Clear skies. Orion. And his Belt of three stars. [...]

It Stinks Today


There is a brisk, 30+ mph wind blowing from the east, right across the shallowest part of the lake. It's stirring up the dead and decomposing matter from the lake and sending those smells right to us. Oh, so pleasant.

When most Utahns think of Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake, they think of a hot, dry, stinky place. Well, it is dry, and it can be hot, but the stink, well, yes, it's there too. However, generally that lovely decomposing smell is only noticed on a day like today, with wind whipping the lake up, or for just a brief moment as one drives across the 7-mile causeway to the Island. Once on the island, the smell is gone.

Unless of course it's today. Then those winds are bringing that smell right to us.

No Antelope on Antelope Island


Just as Bison are quite commonly called Buffalo, Pronghorn are also misnamed, and referred to as Antelope. While they do indeed resemble Antelope, they are quite different animals. Not even in the same family.Here we have some Antelope, family Bovidae. The term antelope is a general term used to describe all members of the family Bovidae which don't really fit into the category of sheep, cattle or goat. Other members of the family Bovidae include bison, African buffalo, water buffalo, gazelles, and muskoxen. Blackbuck AntelopeTrue antelope have unbranched horns which are never shed. They continue to grow throughout their lives. And if they get broken or knocked off, they may or may not grow back depending on the severity of the break.Here we have a Pronghorn, family Antilocapridae. Pronghorn are the only surviving member of this family, and so have no close relatives to compare them to. Pronghorn are native to North America.Pronghorn at Antelope IslandFemale PronghornBoth male and female Pronghorn have horns. The horns of the male are considerably larger than those of the female and are branched, or at least have a slight "prong" on them, hence the name.    Male PronghornThe horns of Pronghorns are different from both the antlers of deer, and the true horns of sheep or bison. Antlers are heavily branched, made of bone and are shed every year. True horns are made a keratin, or compressed hair, growing on a bony core, and are never shed, nor are they ever branched. The horns of Pronghorns are a little of both. They are made of a branched keratin sheath, growing on a bony core, and the sheath is shed each year.  Pronghorn are the second fastest land animal in the world, just behind the cheetah. It has been noted that they can run up to 70 mph for short distances, and can maintain half that speed over great distances. Pronghorn are truly a plains animal, and while they can jump, they almost never do. Out on the plains, they will travel for miles along a fence looking for an area they can climb under.Out on Antelope Island, they have no such barriers and can be seen ranging over the entire 28,000 acre land mass.[...]

Is this An Antelope or Not?


The name of the Island where they live is Antelope Island. So they must be Antelope, right?

Just Because


Yeah, it's pretty awesome out here.