Northern Utah’s west desert is a vast empty wasteland, nothing but dirt, rock, and the occasional juniper. At least that was my impression of this desert for many years. My husband’s enthusiasm for the desert has taught me to look a little closer. If you drive far enough down unpaved roads, past the last signs of civilization and look closer, the beauties and wonders in the west desert won’t disappoint. Add springtime and sprinkle some nice weather and you have the perfect mix for a Sunday photo road trip.
The Horned Lark
The very first bird spotting of the day was a horned lark. This bird has been illusive for me. I have seen pictures and heard it was in the west desert but haven’t seen it until this trip. Now that I have seen and identified it, I realize that I have been overlooking it every time I come out to the desert. What I thought were sparrows, where actually horned larks. I was expecting larger birds that were more like a meadow lark but a horned lark is the size and look of a sparrow from a distance and I have been passing them by, ignoring them. They are funny looking birds with short beaks and when they look straight at you, it looks like they have a long nose and a frown. I did get a few pictures of meadow larks as well, so you can see the difference.
Bill spotted a badger along the road. This was our first close encounter with a badger and I will admit, I was not brave. I got a couple shots of the badger running but I stayed in the car. The badger was larger than I expected, it looked like a small bear. I would guess it was over two feet long. The badger was digging in the dirt but would stop and stare at Bill as he got a closer look. Bill got some great shots of the badger, I got pictures of Bill from the safety of the car.
Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge is the most unexpected oasis in the west desert and my favorite destination. One minute you are in a dry barren desert and the next you are in wetlands with tall grass teaming with wildlife. Established in 1959, Fish Springs provide habitat for migratory bird with approximately 10,000 acres of wetlands. It is worth the visit, although I do like having the place to myself every time I go and secretly hope no one ever reads this and gets inspired to go.
Swallows are a funny lot. We found a stand (that is what a group is called) of tree swallows sitting on a sign. They all wanted perch on this particular sign and would fight over who got to sit on the sign. They were so occupied with winning their spot on the sign that they were willing to overlook me and my camera creeping closer and closer. I was able to sit with the swallows and enjoy their antics. Occasionally, a barn swallow would join in.
Last year when Bill and I were brand new to birding, we visited Fish Springs. On our visit we were enchanted with a group of yellow-rumped warblers that displayed very bold behaviors. Later we learned that we had probably found their nesting area or it was some sort of mating thing. We went back to that same area again and found the warblers. I don’t think it was the same behavior, but they were charming to watch. They were flycatching over the water. They would fly low over the water and catch lake bugs with their claws.
The day wouldn’t be complete without seeing the wild horses. At the very end of the day when I had almost given up on seeing them, I saw this beautiful group running through the desert.
Photography Notes: I shot with my Canon EOS R and my EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens with a 1.4 extender attached all day. I noticed when I was shooting the swallows that I would get sharper results at F11 but I had to shoot very fast at 1/2000 and it made for a very high ISO. I am grateful for Topaz Lab and their new software! Here is more information on Topaz Lab if you are interested.