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An Afternoon at the Beach

May 13, 2010

The Great Basin is a desert. Having said this, where there is water one may encounter a remarkable variety of waterfowl, waders, peeps, shorebirds, and other water-loving birds, and in surprising numbers. Utah and Nevada are part of the Pacific flyway. The waters of the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Bear Lake, Pyramid Lake, and many dozens of smaller lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, wetlands, and sloughs provide essential relief for millions of migratory birds and summer homes for the many species that breed in the area.

I took the afternoon off and visited Lincoln Beach, one of Utah Lake’s few points of public access. It is not so much a beach as a bit of muddy shore, mostly without appeal to swimmers and sunbathers but a haven for birds, especially on quiet spring days. It was cool and breezy. Rain alternated with occasional bursts of sunshine. And the beach was empty of humans. Most numerous were the gulls, ring-billed and California. A few Caspian terns loitered in the general vicinity. Two American white pelicans lumbered overhead, eyed the beach, and then continued eastward. More interesting were the shorebirds. One of the ubiquitous killdeer kept a close eye on two chicks, squash-ball sized birds with huge eyes, bristly feathers, and over-long pipe cleaner legs. A lone black-bellied plover wandered up and down the waterline. Snowy plovers searched peripatetically across the mud, probing, sampling those things that struck their fancy. A mixed flock of western and least sandpipers bathed in pools and at the water’s edge, taking a few moments to groom before resuming their long flight to Alaska. These birds will be gone tomorrow. The killdeer, snowy plovers, and gulls will remain, nesting in the area. But I’ll return in a few days and check again. During migration, every day is different. And the bird gods reward the diligent.

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