Utah’s Farmington Bay: Mecca for Birds and the Birders Who Love Them

01 November 2018 Published in News & Events

By Emma Penrod, Sierra Magazine

It’s early autumn and the reeds surrounding me are mostly dead, but they still sound very much alive, filled with the rush of the breeze, creaking insects, and the shy songs of birds.

My guide, long-time Utah birdwatcher and Audubon Council president John Bellmon, tells me that my keen ear, which hears elusive bird calls all around us, is a gift. Many people bird by ear, he says—you learn to identify the bird songs then follow the sound to its source for a glimpse of a new feathered friend to add to your “life list.”

I am not so easily convinced I have an aptitude for the hobby given my difficulty in actually locating birds of any note. I detect some movement in the reeds across a pond, prompting Bellmon to set up his sighting scope and peer inside. Mallard ducks, he declares. They’re the most common type of duck in Utah—nothing to write home about.

Not that home, for me, is very far.

I have lived in Utah my entire life, but I have never tried birdwatching—despite the fact that the state’s iconic Great Salt Lake is hemispheric mecca for birds. Millions of them—entire species, in some cases—rely on the wetland habitats that surround the lake. 

This remarkable landscape is rarely celebrated by the locals. Even life-long residents are often unaware of the natural resource in their backyard. Because of this disconnect, few are aware of plans for urbanization that stand to impact 11,000 to 15,000 acres of wetland habitat in northern Utah in the next few decades.

Galvanized by these threats, conservationists have banded together to help the public connect to their surroundings. That’s what has brought me to Farmington Bay on the southeast shore of the Great Salt Lake—the newly opened Eccles Wildlife Education Center, Bellmon had told me, was the perfect place for a first-time birdwatching lesson.

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Why We Care

  • Years ago the Great Salt Lake was a entertainment destination for the people of Salt Lake City. One of my ancestors had a vacation home near Black Rock, where he would take his family to escape the heat and cares of the city. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then. For many reasons the lake is not as popular as it once was. But it has been a source of peace, contemplation, and inspiration to me. I reflect on photos I have seen of the grand days of Saltair and the love of floating in the lake. I have done this myself on numerous occasions. I love the sensation of effortlessly floating. And we can escape the cares of the world.

    Clinton Whiting, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant