Juvenile Western Meadowlark In Flight (compared to an adult)

The differences between juvenile and adult Western Meadowlarks often go unrecognized by observers in the field but when you see them up close through a lens those differences become striking.


western meadowlark 8400b ron dudley1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Three days ago my first trip to Antelope Island after the fire was mostly a bust for bird photography. Except for the weasel I photographed as I left the island this young Western Meadowlark was my only cooperative subject. This bird seems to be quite young and probably very recently fledged. I like to photograph birds in all stages of development and plumage conditions so I was happy to get this image taken soon after the bird lifted off from sagebrush.

I like the takeoff posture, the position of those large feet and legs, the light on the bird overall, the clean, slightly wispy background and the excellent eye contact.

From a distance this bird would appear to many to be “just” another adult meadowlark in sage but notice that it lacks the black V-shaped band on the breast and the vibrant colors and bold face pattern of the adult. And to my eye its plumage appears to have a soft, silky appearance that I don’t see in adults.



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1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Here’s an adult in a similar pose for contrast. Up close like this I think the differences between adult and young juvenile are striking.

John James Audubon gave the Western Meadowlark its scientific name, Sturnella neglectaneglecta because he thought early settlers and explorers had overlooked this common bird and Sturnella because of its similarity to starlings. I’m not fond of that comparison because I’ve never been a big fan of starlings and that opinion was reinforced last week when a young starling fell down the vent of the furnace in my home and ended up in the ductwork. Its claws on the ductwork sounded like there was an angry Tasmanian Devil caught in the furnace and I spent half of a day tearing the furnace apart to get it out. I was not a happy camper.

But in the end I released the starling (minus all of its tail feathers) and it flew off to cause more mischief.


Note: My disparagement of starlings was mostly tongue in cheek – after all it’s not their fault they’re here…

A Report On The Aftermath Of The Antelope Island Fire, Including Photos

Yesterday morning they finally opened the east side road to Fielding Garr Ranch and I was among the first to drive it after the fire. What I saw was depressing but it certainly could have been worse.


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But two mornings ago I had to visit the island even though I knew most of it was closed to access because of continuing fire suppression efforts. This was my first good look at the fire scar from along the causeway to the island. Almost exactly half of the  28,000+ acre island was consumed by flames but much of the destruction was on the inaccessible and extremely remote back side of the island.

Each of the following images was taken yesterday morning and they’re presented in no particular order.



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Thankfully very little of the fire scar is even visible until you pass the access road to the Frary Peak trailhead (although some of it can be seen on the back side from the Buffalo Point Overlook). As soon as I could see the fire line I could also see a large portion of the bison herd (there were many more of them than can be seen here) as they moved toward fresh water springs on the edge of the island for their morning drink.

For obvious reasons they’re avoiding the burned areas.



antelope island fire 8020 ron dudley

In some areas, particularly southwest of Garr Ranch, fire lines cut by a bulldozer can be seen in the burned areas but this one was apparently cut north of the advancing fire but the fire never reached it – thanks to incredible efforts by firefighters. These cuts should eventually heal.



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I presume the reddish stains that can be seen in many areas to be fire retardant dumped by the helicopters and planes that were fighting the fire. Here the fire was advancing to the north and it looks like the retardant stopped it in its tracks.



antelope island fire 8522 ron dudley

One of the things I was extremely worried about was the groves of trees at the ravine bottoms on the east-facing slopes. These trees are important habitat for a variety of species including porcupines during summer. I assumed that many of them were consumed by the fire so I was very pleasantly surprised that most seem to have survived.



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At one point the fire came within several hundred yards of the road but in most areas it was nowhere near that close.



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Yet another grove of surviving trees in a ravine. It appears that firefighters may have made specific efforts to save them. Trees are at a premium on this desert island so I was delighted to note their survival.



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The fire came quite close to the road at this spot but once again the stain of the retardant helps to tell the story.



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Firefighters fought hard to save Garr Ranch. This is the scene from the upper (dirt) parking lot at the ranch looking southwest.

Even though half of the island burned most of the loss was on the west and south sides where it’s less visible to visitors.

While I was on the island yesterday I stopped and talked to Antelope Island State Park manager Jeremy Shaw for about 20 minutes. I asked lots of questions and Jeremy was forthcoming with answers. Below are some of his more interesting points (paraphrased as accurately as I can recall):

  • The fire was started Thursday evening – one of the park employees actually saw the lightning strike on the remote back side of the island. But there was no apparent fire or smoke so it was thought that the strike was benign. The next morning (Friday) Jeremy hiked in to within a couple of miles of the strike and there was still no apparent fire or smoke but it blossomed later in the day. Jeremy believes that it may have smoldered in a tree until the afternoon wind brought it alive.
  • Jeremy was deeply appreciative of the incredible efforts of firefighters. Many of them drove all night to get here from other states and then put their lives on the line to fight the fire.
  • The fire was extremely dangerous to fight. The grass burned like tinder in the wind. In some cases flames were 6-8′ high and advancing at speeds up to 25mph. Two fire trucks were nearly consumed by the flames.
  • As of yesterday there is no evidence that any large mammals were killed by the fire but that could change as more of the island is explored
  • The Bison herd should be able to be maintained at or near its present size. Doing so may or may not involve trucking in food temporarily. Further management decisions will be made as more is learned about the situation.
  • Reseeding efforts will likely be made in an effort to replace some of the invasive cheat grass with native species
  • The effect on the Bighorn Sheep in remote areas of the island is unknown at this time

After four days of fighting the fire and incredible uncertainty about the eventual effects of the burn Jeremy actually seems quite upbeat about the future of the island. It could have been much, much worse.