ANTELOPE ISLAND – A low-water year may not be good for the Great Salt Lake, but it does expand birds’ vacation plans.
Thanks to receding lake levels, birds such as Ring-necked Pheasants and California Quail are now walking across the lake bed to take up residence on Antelope Island. Participants in this year’s Christmas Bird Count on the island, set for Jan. 1 at 8 a.m., will find out how many made the trek in 2012.
“Birds like pheasants and quails weren’t very common on the island before because they couldn’t fly,” said Bill Fenimore, who will be leading one of this year’s bird count teams. “In last year’s count, however, we saw several.”
This is the 113th year for the Audobon Society-sponsored count, which is held at designated locations all across the world. Antelope Island is the only official location in Davis County, though counts are also held at Deseret Ranch and other locations throughout the state.
“It’s a great family opportunity, and a wonderful way to introduce children to the natural world,” said Fenimore.
Teams of amateur birders count the numbers and types of birds spotted year after year, creating a rough guide to shifting wildlife populations. Scientists can then use this information to look at everything from environmental changes to where certain bird species are endangered.
“It’s the longest continuing survey in the world,” said Fenimore. “There’s a wealth of information.”
On Antelope Island, naturalists have been re-introducing the once-native Sharp-tailed Grouse. The birds were caught in Box Elder County and released onto the island, and Fenimore has seen signs that they’re settling in.
“There are a couple of lek’s on the island now, so that’s a success,” he said.
Leks are small circular fields where grouse go to seek mates.
“It’s a much more efficient way to do it,” said Fenimore. “Everyone gathers there. It’s like a high school gym.”
Those interested in participating in the bird count should meet in the little parking area adjacent to the kiosk that lets you into the park. In previous years participants have been asked for a $5 donation, but the Audobon Society has waived that for this year’s count.
“Everyone can participate,” he said. “You don’t need to be a professional. You just need to have good eyes.”