Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Earl Nelson was driving on the Antelope Island Causeway in early December when he spotted this snowy owl hanging out on the beach. He managed to snap a few images of the "accidental" species before it headed north while being harassed by ravens and gulls. Courtesy Earl Nelson
Snowy owl spotted in northern Utah, but where are the bald eagles?
Wildlife » Weather pattern credited for attracting rare raptor to Utah, and sending others elsewhere.
First Published Feb 20 2012 11:32 am • Last Updated Feb 21 2012 11:06 am

Earl Nelson heads to Antelope Island about once a week to take pictures of the numerous wildlife found on the Great Salt Lake landmark.

In early December, the West Haven resident got more than he ever dreamed of when he spotted something large and white while driving on the causeway.

Photos
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"As we got closer I realized it was a snowy owl. I had always wanted to see one, but never thought it would happen in Utah," Nelson said.

The snowy owl is listed as an "accidental" species in Utah, with birding officials requesting information on any sighting. The raptors nest in the tundra region of the Arctic and typically spend their winters throughout Canada and the northern fringes of the United States.

Snowy owls are so rare in Utah that some professional birders questioned Nelson’s report. At least until they saw the pictures.

Nelson captured images of the owl in midday standing on the banks of the Great Salt Lake. The owl was eventually chased to the north by a group of ravens and some gulls.

Reports of a snowy owl invasion from Washington state to Rhode Island hit the news soon after Nelson’s sighting. National Audubon Society officials attribute the unusually high number of snowy owl sightings in the lower 48 to a limited amount of food for the raptors in their typical winter range.

There has not been a report of a snowy owl since Nelson took his pictures, but there was at least one sighting at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in December 2010.

While wildlife enthusiasts have been excited about the opportunity of crossing a snowy owl off their life list, they have been disappointed in a lackluster showing by bald eagles at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

In years past, hundreds of bald eagles have shown up to feast on carp at Farmington. Visitors this year say they are lucky to see three.


story continues below
story continues below

Markus Mika, the science director at HawkWatch International in Salt Lake City, said that while the owls may be showing up looking for food, the eagles are no-shows because they found other sources.

"The bald eagles have historically come to Farmington Bay and other sites because they are reliable food sources. This year there may be other resources available," Mika said. "They don’t have to come to Farmington Bay because they are finding food in other places."

HawkWatch has been tracking raptor numbers in Utah and the West for 25 years. The nonprofit group relies heavily on volunteers for annual fall counting and banding projects.

Mika said winter survey counts conducted by volunteers have shown some depressed numbers of certain species, while others are up.

Last year’s long winter with deep snow may have congregated raptors in reliable food areas like Farmington Bay, but it may have also helped the critters they like to eat throughout the summer. And, with a mild winter this year, those food resources are easier to find.

Mika used the example of a winter raptor survey group out on a recent weekend that came across 30 bald eagles hanging out in a field near Logan.

brettp@sltrib.com



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.