Winter Calm at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Our autumn sunrise at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge ended up among the favorites in the assortment of impressions and memories of the past year. The Refuge is a serene and meditative place in any season, but we especially love it in the winter: Everything is so spare then. Because all the other colors are drained away, shades of brown and white, a rich palette of them if you only look closer, dazzle. You can read about the logistics of visiting the Refuge in my autumn post. Here, I would like to simply show you what it looks like when most things are still.

Mountain reflected in the river, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah

The 12-mile drive to the Refuge seems bare without the wildflowers and delicate avocets wading in the water. The landscape feels flatter somehow. But, as ever, cows graze at a distance, and mountains frown silently, now under the light cloak of snow.

Cows and mountains, almost at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Red-winged blackbird on cattails - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah

Red-winged blackbird, hanging out with electricity: Blackbirds begin to sing in February

Welcome sign to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Here we are

Road at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

The road ahead

Most of the Refuge’s regular visitors and residents are away in winter. No matter, for this is the season of some of the Bear River’s most charismatic temporary patrons: owls, bald eagles, hawks, falcons, and tundra swans. Every second Saturday, January through March 2013, the Refuge celebrates a particular favorite–owls in January, bald eagles in February, and tundra swans in March. We didn’t see the owls, but eagles, marsh hawks, and tundra swans were not as shy.

Four bald eagles, hanging out - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Four bald eagles resting on a tree

Two bald eagles - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winter

Two bald eagles: Can you spot them both?

Marsh hawk at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winter

Northern harrier (marsh hawk)

Marsh hawk, Bear River in winter

Marsh hawk, on a mission

Clouds of tundra swans arrive at Bear River from Alaska in October. They sometimes move on to California for the solid-freeze part of Utah’s winter, only to return in March and stay into April–an impressive spectacle, if you can catch it. Like gulls, a year-around presence at the Refuge, these are not quiet visitors.

Tundra swans all over Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Sounds of a mild Bear River winter: a ceaseless chorus of tundra swans and gulls.

Tundra swans launching - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

It makes your heart skip when, startled by something, an entire flock of swans rises, swooshing sounds of their wings eerie and monotonous against the cacophony of their cries.

Tundra swans flying - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

A sprinkling of other waterfowl brave the winter–small ducks mostly. Common goldeneyes and mergansers were the most unusual for us.

Common Goldeneye - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winter

Common goldeneyes, our first time seeing them

Common mergansers, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Common mergansers

Ducks floating far away in a lake at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Ducks, far away

But even the familiar outlines of ravens and Canadian geese are a welcome sight against this color-starved backdrop. We enjoyed watching a couple of geese launch into flight.

A raven carrying something in his beak, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

A raven carrying something in his beak

Canadian Geese - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Canadian geese walking on water 1 - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Canadian goose walking on water 2 - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Canadian Goose takes off - Bear River Migratory Bird RefugeCanadian Geese flying away - Bear River

Canadian Geese flying against the snowcapped mountains - Bear River

And even when all birds are gone or too far away, the quiet and the indifference of the scenery absorbs you.

Flora of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winter

Like at Antelope Island, the sky and the water seem to dissolve the space between them: Patches of dry grass, small marshy islands, mountains look like mere blotches of solid form, slowly drowning in the clouded endlessness above and below.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge - endlessness

Soft reflections - Bear River

Soft reflections

River bend, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Marshy landscape and mountains at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winterFlora of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in winter - tall grass

Mountains at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

River flowing into endlessness, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Finally, dusk slowly approaches, introducing gentle rose and cream to the congested sky.

Winter at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge - mountain, clouds, and plainWatchful red-winged blackbirds will follow you out, flying from grass strand to grass strand.

Red-winged blackbird - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

We are always sorry to leave this place. But it is time to go home.

Dusk at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in February

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16 thoughts on “Winter Calm at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

  1. Pingback: Sunrise at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge « Transplanted Tatar

  2. It looks like a wonderful place for birdwatching. I truly love watching bald eagles and you have some great shots. However, for a cold weather sissy like me, I have a good spot a bit further south. In fact, it’s just north of Cocoa Beach, Florida. It’s a stop on the Eastern Continental Flyway, and while there aren’t eagles, it’s certainly warmer. Great post, Thanks.

    • Good to know! Florida is great for birdwatching–and, yes, a lot more pleasant in cold months. Bear River is haven for birds in all seasons, but I do love the eagles in winter. I’ve never seen so many adults in one place. As ever, thank you for reading.

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