Utah/Great Salt Lake
Local partners including Audubon, Sageland Collaborative, Tracy Aviary, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all worked together to coordinate a “big day” survey of Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, and Amalga Barrens (a sanctuary for birds near Logan, Utah managed by Bridgerland Audubon Society). On August 12th, 99 volunteers, agency staff, and professional biologists surveyed over 60 unique areas (50+ on the Great Salt Lake) by foot, ATV, vehicle, airboat, and airplane.
The surveys came together without a hiccup, but the conditions, especially at the Great Salt Lake, were frightening. This year’s scorching weather in Northern Utah compounded the effects of the drought with the Great Salt Lake reaching its all-time record low for the second consecutive year. Surveys were challenged by the weather, which, despite a sunrise start and some scattered clouds, saw temperatures quickly soar into the mid-90s. Declining lake levels made for difficult walking through miles of microbialite fields. These fields are an integral part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem that, as they become exposed and lifeless, put brine flies, brine shrimp, and the birds that rely on those food sources at risk.
Low levels at the Great Salt Lake also made planning for the surveys difficult. Historic surveys in the late 80s and early 90s occurred when water levels were much higher. In places where an airboat used to simply skim along the shoreline and count birds, shallow water and dry lakebed made this impossible. These areas, now inaccessible by boat, had to be covered by airplane, ATV, or by foot.
Utah Surveys at a Glance
99 participants at 60 unique survey sites across the state.
5 modes of survey transportation: Airplanes, boats, cars, ATV’s, and feet.
31 species of shorebirds, including some rarities (Red Phalarope, Hudsonian Godwit).
Over 228,000 shorebirds. Some of the highest species counts follow:
72,000 Red-necked Phalarope
38,000 Wilson’s Phalarope
57,000 unknown Phalarope
30,000 American Avocet
19,000 Black-necked Stilt
2,000 Long-billed Dowitcher