Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 5, 2013

Birds. Everywhere.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:36 am
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Pair of Western Grebes bobs in the shallow waterway. May 22.

Pair of Western Grebes bob in the shallow waterway.

For three years I’ve been wanting to investigate the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge — one of Roger Tory Peterson’s top twelve birding hotspots in North America. It was finally time.

Tucked between the Wasatch Front and the Promontory Mountains, wetlands at the north end of the Great Salt Lake provide habitat for over 270 bird species in an other-worldly setting. The sun was just rising over the mountains as I cruised down the Auto Tour road with my beloved Chris.

By dawn’s light, our first birds standing in the open grassland looked surreal; their prodigious curved bills seemed out of proportion to their bodies. Long-billed Curlews called to one another, trying to get the attention of a possible mate, courtship rituals making them oblivious to our presence.

Spotting scope's magnification is not optional in wetlands. Water levels are managed by huge system of dikes and valves. May 22.

Spotting scope’s higher magnification is necessary in wetlands. Water levels are managed by huge system of dikes and valves.

Further in, grasslands gave way to shallow ponds which teemed with waterfowl. Spotting scope replaced binoculars. “Hey — that grebe looks slightly different from the others.” A quick look in the Sibley field guide confirmed that we were seeing Clark’s Grebes in among the dozens of Western Grebes. A lifer! Chris added the species to our growing list of sightings on this flawless late-spring morning.

American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts occupied every shoreline, making me smile and shake my head at rich colors, bold patterns, length of legs. White-faced Ibis and Cinnamon Teal appeared around each turn of the road, with various herons and egrets dotting the landscape. An occasional White Pelican fished in the distance while the voices of Sora and American Bittern intrigued us from rushes nearby. Cliff Swallows by the dozens fluttered into mud puddles to pick up nest construction material. A Marsh Wren peeked out from her pouch-shaped nest built on cattail stems. Perched on a driftwood log, a Peregrine Falcon waited patiently for its next meal to pass by. Four dozen species — a memorable May 22.

These Cliff Swallows never stopped fluttering their wings while picking up mud balls for their nests. Highly selective about mud's consistency. May 22.

These Cliff Swallows never stopped fluttering their wings while picking up mud balls for their nests. They were highly selective about mud’s consistency.

It was glorious.

And you know what is even MORE glorious? Sharing a day of discovery with one who delights at your delight, sees things you can’t see, connects the dots on avian ecology, and opens your car door for you even though you’re perfectly capable. Chivalry? Alive and well. Being in love? No words to describe.

March 7, 2012

Of pistols and lithics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Our treasure map


The hastily-scrawled diagram pointed us in the general direction of Bartlett Wash, but we had no backcountry map of the dirt roads. Nor did many of these roads have signage. Out here in the west, most directions utilize features like cattle guards, fence lines, washes, rock formations, et cetera. Today: “Go to the turnoff by the group camp, go about a mile, follow the right fork, and a few miles in there will be a cattle guard with a road right after it. Park at at the turnout by the gate. Follow the fence line to some slickrock. Wander to your heart’s content.” Really. That was it.

Two friends and I were up for the challenge. It was the loveliest imaginable spring day in the desert.

Agile flocks of silvery horned larks adorned the scrublands in which we hiked, and an uncommon Bewick’s Wren sang to us from a low shrub. Dark-eyed Juncos flitted in loose groups from juniper to juniper; a dozen Mountain Bluebirds flashed azure. Atop a lone tree a handsome Loggerhead Shrike posed. Tilting low over the grasslands with its diagnostic white rump displayed, a Northern Harrier hunted for rodents. Overhead, a pair of Common Ravens croaked at us as we followed cow tracks to avoid further damage to the fragile soil crust.

Buried in the sands was this gem. Click to enlarge.

“Hey, what’s this?” Jason exclaimed. We found ourselves in the middle of a large cowboy camp, with rusted tin cans, broken dishes, tobacco tins, cookware, and even an intact glass vase. The more we looked, the more we found. A piece of odd metal was poking out of the sand and he dug up a half of a lady’s pistol — what may have been an ornament that would be stitched onto a saddle bag. I don’t think pistol barrels are built in halves, but I could be wrong.

Anne and Jason are bracketing the lithic scatter at their feet.

After a thorough exploration of this early-20th-century outpost’s remnants, we moseyed east. Within three minutes, our fearless leader stopped suddenly and let out a low whistle. “What in the world–??” He had just stumbled upon a scatter of the largest lithic pieces I’ve seen in Utah, flakes knapped from a parent stone to create tools. How these are all sitting perfectly on the soil surface after 800 years or so, I have no idea, but… there they were. To pick them up and touch them, and replace them lovingly after oohing and ahhing at their beauty, connects me with those who went before. We began discussing what made this exact place so special for bands of travelers many centuries apart: in a shallow dip, with some wind protection, nearby grasslands, perhaps a water supply, towered over by proud buttes of red sandstone. It was a good, good place.

Will you look at this unfinished tool Anne found??? Click to enlarge and see evidence of having been worked at edges.

You know, we never found the destination sketched on our crude map. Treasures, it seems, are often discovered in “wrong” places.

Who wouldn't want to camp, knap, or herd cattle around here?

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