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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A sprinkling of other waterfowl brave the winter–small ducks mostly. Common goldeneyes and mergansers were the most unusual for us.
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.
And even when all birds are gone or too far away, the quiet and the indifference of the scenery absorbs you.
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.
Finally, dusk slowly approaches, introducing gentle rose and cream to the congested sky.
We are always sorry to leave this place. But it is time to go home.
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