It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the “Top Five Must-See Migrations” in Utah.
“Migration teaches us about the need to protect nature at a global scale,” said Chris Montague, Director of Conservation Programs for the Utah Chapter. “When you see animals moving en masse you realize it is not enough to just protect them in your backyard, but all along their journey.”
The Top Five Must-See Migrations in Utah
1. Migratory Shorebirds and Waterfowl
Utah is home to a migratory stop of hemispheric importance for shorebirds and waterfowl - the Great Salt Lake. The eastern shore of the Lake provides a wide range of habitats from marsh to playa. In the wetlands and along the beaches you may see such species as American avocet, white-faced ibis, snowy plover, and the Wilson's phalarope.
Catch Them: Wilson's phalaropes can be seen from early June through late August. Early morning and dusk are the best times for viewing phalaropes along the Antelope Island causeway and at the Conservancy's Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve.
2. Hummingbirds & Warblers
From now through August, skies throughout the west are filled with southbound migrants that include numerous species of warblers like Nashville, Townsend's, black-throated gray and others, as well as rufous (pictured), calliope and broad-tailed hummingbirds.
Master Migrator: The rufous hummingbird migrates through the Rocky Mountains and nearby lowlands in July and August to take advantage of the wildflower season. They may stay in one spot for a considerable time, in which case they often aggressively take over and defend their feeding locations. Most winter in wooded areas in the Mexican state of Guerrero, traveling over 2,000 miles by an overland route from their nearest summer home—a prodigious journey for a bird weighing only three or four grams.
3. Bald Eagles
Utah is listed among the top ten places to view wintering bald eagles and some years the state has been listed among the top five. Winging here from Alaska, Canada, and northern states, the bald eagle stays in Utah between November and March. Once listed as endangered, its numbers have been climbing steadily over the years. In Utah, estimates flutter around 1,000 birds vacationing each winter. Last year, more than 200 bald eagles were counted at the Farmington Bay management area and the year before there were between 350 and 400.
Catch Them: Every year, in November, hundreds of bald eagles fly into Utah and stay until the ice starts to melt in March. Watch them rest and feed between 10 am and 4 pm at places like Farmington Bay and Willard Bay at the Great Salt Lake, along the west side of Utah Lake, and in Tooele County.
4. Burrowing Owls
These small, long-legged owls nest in burrows, many found throughout the Great Basin Desert. They’re exceptionally vocal, and the typical "who who" call is associated with territory defense and breeding, and is often given by adult males to attract a female to a promising burrow. They also make other sounds, which are described as chucks, chattering, and screams. These sounds are usually accompanied by an up and down bobbing of the head. When alarmed, young birds will give a hissing call that sounds like a rattlesnake.
Catch Them: Each spring burrowing owls return to the western U.S. from wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. Much of Utah is suitable burrowing owl habitat and it is likely there are many isolated populations that go unnoticed by man. However, Iron County is thought to hold the highest population of burrowing owls in the state, where they are commonly seen in association with Utah prairie dog colonies.
5. Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
The rare southwestern willow flycatcher is federally-listed as endangered in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. Destruction of the dense streamside thickets that it nests in, as well as parasitism by cowbirds and predation of nests, has dealt a serious blow to this species. The southwestern willow flycatcher winters in Mexico and Central America, returning to the American Southwest to breed in April and May.
Catch Them: Nesting habitat is found along a number of rivers, including the lower Virgin River between St. George and Mesquite, Nevada, and along the Beaver Dam slope. See them in April or May during the early morning or late afternoon.