Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bear River Refuge, Idaho and Wyoming briefly

November 20-22, 2008

Thursday: Sometime deep in the night I woke up with the inside of the campershell all lit up. I stuck my head up and there were headlights a few feet away, and a voice asking if I was alright. It was a young cop, and he actually seemed to care if I was alright. I said no problem, told him the campground had been closed. He'd apparently already checked the license for stolen, but did sheepishly ask to see my driver's license. I told him the plan to get into the refuge early, and got a recommendation for a breakfast place. No problem. Asked if I have a phone, wished me well, and went away.

I was up way before dawn and found the diner he'd mentioned. Standard Utah, with standard Utah early risers, ranchers and construction, very white but a couple of ethnics showed up before I left, fueled up on eggs and pig meat. I was driving in at first light just starting to be able to make out ducks on the wetlands along the entry road. It was a great morning. A few swans flew over, but there were thousands about a mile off the road. The expected good variety of ducks, a few Pied -bill Grebes, but no diver species. There were also surprisingly late small batches of Long-billed Curlews, Long-billed Dowitchers, and American Pipits too. I was in there until nearly noon, me and the hunters. On the way out I stopped at the Visitor's Center, deserted but for one woman minding the store. Found a Marsh Wren in the reeds outside along the walkway bridge.

Escape from urbanity was almost within reach, I was on the far northern edge of the City. It was about twenty miles to Golden Spike National Monument, and that was one of the few Park Service palces I'd not been. I'd recently read a book about the building od the western railway and had a mental picture of the immense undertaking that had finished there. It was a wide and drear land of rolling topography. There were a few traces of the parallel roadbeds, and some obviously major cut and fill operations, but the modern railway was relocated a few miles to the north. There's a big Thikol plant near there, with rocket testing facilities hidden over some taller hills.

I had spotted some likely looking sites along a route into Idaho, but they were duckless, totally, hunter swept clean. Between wrong roads and dead ends I managed to waste a couple of hours before getting to the state line. Once in I could start adding tics since Idaho was one of the places where I'd not kept records from earlier trips. I added 19 tics of roadside birds in about three hours. Finally got to Bear Lake (not river, different) NWR by a really roundabout northern approach that put me on the wrong side of a washed out bridge, so another twenty miles of dirt roads had to go by before I could get to the refuge proper. The best part was a lady in a fried chicken place who looked me over (I get to looking pretty well used) and said the pieces were running small so she'd give me three breasts for the two I ordered. They were the biggest I'd ever seen. Blessings on her. It was getting late, gray and windy, and just before I parked I spotted a small flock in the failing light that showed clearly white patches on the upper wing. I puzzled them out in the field guide as Snow Buntings, the first I'd seen in years. I slept by an outhouse on the tour loop after not seeing a soul or a vehicle for a couple of hours.

Friday: I got out early and was into Wyoming around sunrise. This was another just nip the state's corner opportunity with Seedskadee NWR along the way. The bad news was that somewher in the night or morning I'd gotten just far enough north or just enough higher that the refuge was mostly frozen, and the world pretty much stayed that way until I was back in Kansas on the way home. Saw a few small flocks of ducks on the river but they flushed at a distance, hunter shy I guess, and I was only able to actually ID 3 new tics in WY. Ended up going through Green River and into Flaming Gorge. I tried afew likely overlooks and boat launches there but no luck, very few waterfowl. Just before crossing back into Utah I had stopped at a wetland overlook, and spotted some sewage ponds along a county road. Turned out to be the border road, and the ponds were in Utah, and bermed up and fenced so that I could just barely see in by standing on the tailgate, tippy-toe, with the scope legs folded to make a monopod. There were good birds, including some divers that had been missing at Bear River. Ring-necks and Ruddys.

I had stopped at the Visitor Center in Green River and the woman there had explained where I could camp free on the south side of the highway in Utah. I drove along that stretch, noting little roads back into the forest and finally came to the Red Canyon area. That VC was closed, the view was stupendous, but the ranger that came by made me nervous since I hadn't purchases a daily use permit. As I was driving back to the highwayhe was parked in the middle of the road taking pictures out his window of a dozen Big Horn Sheep. There were three rams, and two of them were pushing and chasing. I parked and eventually the pair ran all around my truck as I watched, passing within ten feet. When I finally drove on past I talked to the ranger who said they were almost in rut, and the serious head-banging was a few weeks off.

Just on a whim I drove down to the restaurant that I presumed was closed, but the sign said they would be open at five, it being Friday. And ther was a catch-and-release pond out front with waterfowl. In fact with Common Loons, Goldeneyes, and Mergansers. I also found Clark's Nutcrackers. When five arrived I got coffee, and told the waitresses I was birding, they offered me the Flaming Gorge list, and then mentioned it had been compiled by the owner who happened to live in back. Great luck, huh? His name was Mark Wilson and he invited me in when I knocked and introduced myself. And I got two more tics on his birdfeeders outside the window, Steller's Jay and Hairy Woodpecker. Strangely he didn't know about the sewage ponds I'd found, and I was pleased to turn him on to something new in his own patch. Duty finally called him to the job, and I went back and parked back in the forest. Tried some owl calls but nothing called back.


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