The Next Adventure- Eagle Surveys in the West Desert of Utah
by Bryce W. Robinson
After a weeks respite, I have returned to field work. Now that the migration season is over, my work has refocused to wintering Golden Eagles in the west desert of Utah. I am charged with cataloging the presence of eagles across the vast landscapes. This task is quite heavy, as I travel alone throughout the vast lands alone, with only my own eyes to spot the birds. Luckily, these birds are large and dark. Thus far, they have not been too difficult to discern from the landscape. I have picked out a few birds perched high on rock faces.
In only two days of surveying, I have already found more than a dozen eagles. I have been blessed with a few close encounters, one of which was an eagle perched atop a decaying tree trunk, deep in the no-mans-land. Basking in the evening sun, the large eagle sat in seeming comfort. The bird was, no doubt, enjoying the warmth of the setting sun, as was I. Of course my camera was ready to capture the encounter. I came away with a few photos that I enjoy immensely.
Upon discovering this beautiful golden bird, I was taken aback by the overall impression the bird gave at a distance. Golden Eagles are unmistakable. They are long bodied creatures, and look very unlike the stocky appearance of a perched Buteo. Still, what I noticed was the shape of the head of this bird. Usually, the eagle looks sleek. This bird was fluffed and ruffled, likely warming itself. The feathers on the head of the eagle were raised, which gave an impression of a round headed bird much like that of a Red-tailed Hawk. The beak of the bird looked small and delicate. Indeed, the image I saw was endearing, and was far from the usual fierce demeanor that eagles often portray.
I included the following video of another eagle I found perched on a rocky hillside. This video adequately illustrates my experience, as I watched the bird from afar, through my scope. Using my camera phone, I digiscoped the bird. I am pleased that the bird does not simply sit motionless, but is often glancing about, surveying its surroundings.
The video is not the best in quality. I do like the aesthetic though. I wanted to illustrate how it might look through the lens of the scope. I have been taking some video with my telephoto lens, and will surely share when they are ready.
I have found a wide variety of birds while I have been traveling the west desert. Buteos abound in the agricultural areas, and I have been blessed by finding the best of the birds. I can’t believe the number of Rough-legged Hawks that I have stumbled upon. I find more than twice the number of B. lagopus than B. jamaicensis, which is surprising. I cannot wait to share my discoveries, birds and beyond. The desert is home to unique structures, abandoned vehicles, and any number of remnants from humanity’s past in the place. Juxtaposed against the otherwise human-less landscape, the decaying history presents a dramatic scene of which I love.
Next week brings the second leg of my adventures. I am anxious and excited to hit the road again, in search of N. America’s Aquila, and whatever else may come.
Bryce, last year I noticed that the more Rough-legged Hawks I saw in a particular area the fewer Red-tailed Hawks I found. I don’t know if that means anything at all butu it was that way the whole time the Roughies were here.
I envy your opportunity to be way out in the west desert looking for Golden Eagles, they are such magnificent birds and I have so few acceptable quality images of them.
I’ll be paying attention to the Rough-legged numbers versus the Red-tailed numbers. Interesting…
Hope you have some luck with eagles in the near future.
Once again I’m jealous of your field experiences, Bryce. I love it out on the west desert, for just the reasons you describe. And then there’s the raptors. I still don’t have any top-notch Golden Eagle images so they’re high on my photographic “quarry” list. I enjoyed your post, as always!
Thanks Ron. Can’t wait for this week.
Hey B, last winter I tagged along on a couple of surveys to Snowville. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but RLs always seemed to outnumber RTs by a wide margin. Easily 2-3 to 1, sometimes more. Curiously, we typically saw RLs on the ground or some type of artificial structure (pole, pivot, haystack), while the RTs were usually in trees. Not always, but surprisingly often.
Curious… This summer in Snowville it was largely skewed to SWHA and FEHA. We only saw two RTHA. My feelings from my surveys last winter is that young RTHA tend to hang around agricultural areas in winter, while many adults maintain their territories. That could be why you saw very little. Purely speculation…