Mountain Plovers In Utah

Mountain Plovers are uncommon throughout their range and rare in Utah but I’ve had my moment in the sun with them and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Mia and I found a pair of them on Antelope Island on April 10, 2013 and those two birds were only the 10th confirmed sighting of the species in Utah.

 

mountain plover 4562 ron dudley

 1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Mountain Plovers are unwary by nature but I’d have to say that these two birds were more than that – they were downright tame. We spent an hour and a half with them and they virtually ignored us as they scurried around hunting insects. More than once they very nearly went under my pickup in pursuit of prey. Though the sexes are similar this bird was lighter colored than the other plover.

 

 

mountain plover 4692 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

This is the second, darker bird. In the eastern half of the continent Mountain Plovers may be confused with the non-breeding American Golden Plover but that’s not an issue out west. Mountain Plovers are about the size as a Killdeer but they have longer legs and a more erect posture and they lack the belly bands of most plover species. Unlike most plovers, these birds are rarely found near water.

 

 

mountain plover 4196 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

These two were likely migrating to Montana or Wyoming for the breeding season and they were obviously fueling their journey during their brief stopover on the island – they were excellent hunters and voracious insect consumers. About the only time they would interrupt their feeding activities was when a raven or harrier flew over when they would hunker down in an obvious attempt to hide. When the potential predator had passed they would stay hidden for a surprising amount of time before going back to feeding. They were afraid of large birds but they sure weren’t afraid of us!

 

 

mountain plover 4368 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

They were so intent on feeding, usually with their heads down, that I wasn’t able to get much variety in poses but this bird did give me a wing stretch. Most birds stop moving forward while they stretch but this one continued to walk and hunt during the process. I didn’t get any light in the eye but I do like the pose.

Due to its long-term decline the Mountain Plover was listed as a candidate species under the endangered species act in 1993 but that designation failed as they may never have been a common species in the first place. But a quote I came across on BNA (Birds of North America Online) from the book “Buffalo Hunters” by M. Sandoz makes me wonder about that claim…

“Then there was the dainty little prairie plover that rose singly, at forty, fifty yards and soared gently away, rising gradually, such ready and toothsome game for the hunter. Wright, an early hide man from around Dodge, once killed nearly two hundred in an hour for an entourage of eastern sportsmen.” Sandoz 1954

That’s one plover killed every 18 seconds. Over three per minute. For an hour! Sure doesn’t sound like an uncommon species to me.

 

Every time I visit Antelope Island in the early spring now I think about and look for Mountain Plovers. Many of my readers also visit the island so some of you might want to keep your eyes peeled for them. It could happen again in April, you never know.

But be forewarned. If you do find some of these tame and endearing birds they’re likely to steal your heart, as they did mine.

Ron

 

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