In Utah, August means shorebirds--and other migrants--but mostly shorebirds. It's the height of fall shorebird migration here and the Antelope Island Causeway hosts some of the largest concentrations migrant shorebirds in the world. It's hard to quantify exactly how many birds are on the lake during the month, but some studies and counts have put the numbers in the millions. Over 500,000 Wilson's Phalarope at one time, 10's of 1,000's of Red-necked Pharalope.
The sheer numbers can be dizzying, not only on the eyes but for identification.
Swarm of Wilson's Phalarope
at the Causeway
Flocks and strings of shorebirds zipping past--10 here 100 there, 2,500 in that flock. Were those phalarope? Which kind? Was the a plover, a sandpiper, a knot? Godwits, curlews, willet, avocets, stilts, and whimbrel. The list goes on. Aside from the quantity of individuals, the quantity and quality of the species is also high. Using just eBird to pull a list of species for the month of August on the Cuaseway and we find there have been 32 validated species.
32--that's more than 1 species every day during the month of August. That's also 84% of all validated species that have been observed--38. The 6 other species are all extremely rare vagrants--Wandering Tattler, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden-Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, and Stilt Sandpiper.
And although you might see more shorebird species in September (34), the volume is unmatched in August.
as far as the eye can see
Over the past 20 years the causeway has undergone a transformation from a thin strip of land, separating two large sections of water on either side to a road that goes through 4 miles of dry lake bed before even getting to a hint of water. The last 2 miles have shore line, while the last mile represent the way the causeway looked in the past. In the past smaller number of shorebirds hugged the shoreline--but in recent years with the emergence of more shoreline, and mudflats, the numbers and variety have increased. But this year will be a test with the water the furthers from the mainland it has been in my lifetime. It's a strange catch-22--the exposed habitat is awesome, but the further the water gets out, and eventually there will be no habitat near the causeway, rendering it useless...
The drying out of the Great Salt Lake
But let's worry about this fall and what it will bring. Right now those Red-necked Phalarope
numbers are building, and the Wilson's Phalarope
should show up in mass any day now. These two species are the highlight species for the causeway and the real reason to visit.
Young Wilson's Phalarope
You will undoubtedly pick up some Western Sandpiper, American Avocet, and Black-necked Stilts
. Long-billed Curlew
are wandering shore, and Snowy Plover
can be picked out among the rocks. Black-bellied Plover
will start pouring in, and mixed with them might be a few American Golden-Plover.
flock i nflight
A few Red Knots
will undoubtedly pass through, and large numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers
, will start passing. Scanning all these birds and you might find a Dunlin
or better yet a Curlew Sandpiper
. One day someone will find either a Little or Red-necked Stint in the throngs of Western Sandpipers
. It's a birding site and sight to behold. It's one location and experience every birder should do at least once in their lifetime--shorebird migration at the Antelope Island Causeway.
Of course you need some great gear to look at shorebirds,and if you're not looking to break the bank we have a great scope for shorebirding. The Vanguard Endeavor 20-60x82ED angled spotting scope
is a great starter to mid-range scope. We've got it for $699.99
, which includes a case and carrying strap, but more importantly a premier lifetime warranty. The warranty guarantees Vanguard will repair or replace the scope forever, no matter what reason it needs to be fixed. The warranty provide you with a peace of mind in knowing that you will be able to use your scope forever and never have to worry about what you'll do if it breaks.
And the warranty doesn't exist because of spotty workmanship, but just in case. If your scope were to blow over in the wind and hit a rock, or fall off the tripod for some reason, you'd be covered.
The scope is built really well and when you get it on the tripod its easy to handle. With a regular focus wheel and a fine focus knob as well you can get your view crystal clear. I recently took one of these scopes out to the causeway and used it to scope shorebirds. The big eye piece was easy to use, with great eye-relief. At 20X the view was impeccable. I scoped phalarope out to a couple hundred yards, where I zoomed into 40X. The view was still great--there was some image degradation, but the amount of light coming in more than made up for it and the picture was still very clear. By the time I got it up to 60X there was some definite loss of light and quality--this happens with most scopes, even the high end stuff. I thought the image quality was about on par with my Nikon, but the view seemed a little brighter.
One great option the Vanguard scope provides is an easy to use digiscoping adapter
that actually hooks right into small lenses--those with 58 and 52mm filter threads. So if you have the Canon 18-55mm kit lens, you can hook that right onto the adapter, and digiscope with the scope and your SLR. The adapter is just $34.99, turning your scope into a telephoto lens without having to have both a scope and a lens.
I also took out the Vanguard Endeavor 8x42ED binoculars
which I love. I have added a pair as my backup binoculars, and my travel optics. The glass in these compares nicely with my Nikon Premier 8x42, and come in at 1/7th the cost. For $349.99
equipped with the same life time warranty, I don't believe there is a better binocular under $1000. The lightweight binoculars are well built, with a two-barrel open bridge design. They come with a strap, case, eye-cup cover, and lens covers that can remain hooked to the optics while in use. While the scope is great for looking at stuff further out, the binoculars are great for viewing the stuff along the close shoreline, and the birds flying overhead.
One thing I recommend every shorebirder have is at least one if not a couple shorebird guides. We don't carry books yet, but are working on it. For now there are two books I highly recommend adding to your gear bag. One is The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson which you can snag on Amazon for $19.42.
This is my go to guide for shorebirds and it's got some great info. The other one is Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia: A Photographic Guide by Richard Chandler which can be picked up for $25.84 on Amazon
. These books provide lots of additional information not found in traditional guides like Sibley or Nat Geo so if you want to really dive into shorebirds get them before you head to the causeway.
The last piece of field equipment I was using and have made a staple in my field gear bag is the Mosquitno Band
. This chemical free wristband is good for up to a week of use, and contains nothing more than all natural citronella. I was skeptical at the beginning of the summer when I first put one on, but have been thoroughly surprised at how ell they work.
I haven't been bit by mosquitoes while wearing the band yet. You can pick one up for $3.00
and it included a resealable pouch so you can reuse it for up to 7 days (as long as you leave it in the bag these days don't even need to be consecutive).
Labels: fall, optics, shorebirds, Vanguard