The Highs And Lows Of My Morning On Antelope Island

Yesterday morning there were extremes of both including a case of mentoring gone bad.


This was the scene that greeted me just after dawn (7:16 AM) yesterday morning toward the west end of the Antelope Island causeway looking north (if you’re on a small screen you won’t really be able to appreciate it). To the left the lake reaches almost endlessly toward Gunnison Bay. To the upper right we see Fremont Island first (it’s more golden in color) and the Promontory Mountains behind it. The foreground is the slope of the shaded causeway leading toward the water.

But the real highlight was mixed flocks of Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them. Every little speck you see on the water is a bird and almost all of them are phalaropes. The rustling sound coming from the feeding activities of that many birds was mesmerizing, especially in the peace and quiet of early morning. And this is only a tiny portion of the total – there were birds as far as the eye could see and stretching out of frame for a great distance both left and right. These phalaropes use the Great Salt Lake as a staging area during migration so they can rest and fatten up on brine flies and brine shrimp before they continue their journey.

Relatively few people in the world ever see a sight like this and I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity to experience it.



When groups of them take off briefly in murmurations they’re very difficult to photograph well but this photo should give you some idea of what it’s like.


But things went downhill from there. Severely so.

In sharp contrast to this portion of the lake the island itself is almost a dead zone for birds right now. Most of the breeders have left and even magpies, meadowlarks and Horned Larks are hard to find. The only bird I photographed on the island itself was a scruffy looking Sage Thrasher still apparently feeding a fledgling (I suspect it may have re-nested, having failed the first time) and those photos will likely be deleted.

So we turned tail and headed for home thinking things couldn’t get any worse. We were wrong.



When we got to the Antelope Island Marina one of the four young boys with this woman was using an air rifle (seen here in the woman’s left hand) for “target practice” on a bottle they’d set on a post overlooking the marina inlet where boats are stored on the water. They were shooting from the edge of the parking lot. I immediately stopped along the road some distance away and while I was reaching for my camera to document what we were seeing Mia hollered out to them “Hey, you can’t be doing that here”. The woman responded “We’re only shooting at bottles” and Mia answered “Doesn’t matter, you can’t be doing that here”. I should note that there were many gulls and shorebirds directly behind the bottle and just a little further away. What those boys were actually shooting at I just don’t know.

The woman retrieved the air rifle from the boy and here she’s about to put it in her trunk so we soon left the area (she was very aware I was photographing them). I reported the incident to the attendant at the entrance station (including showing her one of my photos) and she said that she’d “alert my ranger”.

What I observed and documented from these folks is beyond ill advised and unethical – it’s also illegal. I took the following from the Antelope Island State Park brochure:

  • “Possession or use of firearms, traps or other devices capable of launching a projectile that can immobilize, injure or kill a person or animal, or damage property is prohibited unless the weapon or device is 1) unloaded and packed away to prevent its use, or 2) being used by authorized law enforcement officers in the performance of official duties.”


I don’t blame the boys (I’ve blotted out their faces in the photo). They’re young and at the point in their lives when they should be being taught (by example) the ethics and legalities of gun use if they’re going to use them at all. I blame this woman. Even if she was raised like these boys are apparently being raised she’s old enough now to know better.

Every day I survive on this earth I become more pessimistic about where we’re going as a species. And the future of all of us.


PS – Sorry for the downer. We’ve had enough of them lately…

Addendum: I decided to include another example of idiocy running wild on Antelope Island (and elsewhere) these days. This photo was also taken yesterday morning.


Camping on the island is only allowed in “designated areas” but yesterday morning both campgrounds were essentially full so this person decided to set up camp at his place of choice, “designated” or not. There are several active Burrowing Owl burrows nearby.





45 comments to The Highs And Lows Of My Morning On Antelope Island

  • Debbie Trainer

    It is truly amazing to see that many birds at one time. I can’t even imagine
    This lady is definitely not in the running for Moth of the Year. How disgusting of her to think she was giving her kids a fun time by shooting close to birds like that. I am sure the birds were the target and not the bottles. Why go there to shoot bottles? She is showing them that it is ok to kill birds. She probably has no respect for their lives. All birds deserve to live and not be killed in the name of fun. Very upsetting.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, so glad you got to see the Phalaropes in person. What an incredible sight. Hopefully that helped offset the disgust you felt with the woman letting her boys engage in such illegal activity. Yes, I also had thoughts about what that buffalo could do to that tent!!!

    There are some good people left, as shown by the comments of your readers. That is comforting to me and sure it is to you as well.

  • Sigh.
    And hiss and spit.
    I really, really loathe the ‘its all about me’ attitude which leads so many people to believe that what they want (now) is much more important than anything else. Or anyone else.
    On the good side of the equation? I would LOVE to see a murmurration. So much.

  • Judy Eberspaecher

    Thank you again, Ron, for a peek into Antelope Island, both good and bad.
    I have read all the comments and I couldn’t have expressed myself better or differently than your audience; I agree completely with most. We can’t give up, though or we are allowing the idiots to win and where will that leave our children!
    Keep the food for thought coming. I would love to sit down with you and have a long face-to-face talk some day.

  • Susan Stone

    I just hate the stupidity of so many people. It does me a lot of good to read the comments on a post like this, because it confirms what I already know: your readers are good people. I’m glad there are still a lot of people who do care, because stupidity seems to be at an epidemic level. Thankfully we have beautiful birds, plants and other wildlife to calm us down.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I was awed by the first image, sickened by that “mother—–” , then the campers. Your comment struck me like a blow to the heart, because that’s exactly how I feel. I often feel guilty about my negative attitude and comments, but it’s this kind if mindless, uncaring, destructive stupidity that so deeply tarnishes any feelings of hope and optimism I might have. I was never a pessimist, often an optimist, always a realist…Whatever the label, I don’t feel l much hope now…things look bleak to me…my heart aches…I often feel like weeping…

  • Sandy

    You really hit a cord with this post Ron. A couple years ago I watched (and photographed) a guy shooting (at what I don’t know) from a picnic table near the concession building. He saw me and put the rifle on the table. I left, turned around and came back only to find him with the gun back in shooting position. I also reported it. The guy eventually left and I didn’t see him again. Wondering if this is more common then I thought. Thanks for your post. Know you are not alone in your pessimism and concerns. Happy snapping.

    • “Wondering if this is more common then I thought”

      It probably is, Sandy. Some people will try almost anything if they think they can get away with it. That’s where a long lens can come in handy for documentation. If they think no one is watching…

  • Becky Stone

    As frustrating as it was, Ron, I am glad that you two came upon the scene and stepped in to point out that what the woman was doing was unlawful, unreasonable, unethical and destructive. Fingers crossed that she didn’t put an alternative spin on her decision to the “young minds” in her care. You did what you could do. Yay!

  • Marty K

    IDIOTS!!! (And yes, I’m shouting!) Sometimes I just don’t want to to live on this planet anymore…

    Then I see gorgeous photographs like your phalaropes (how do they choreograph those crowded takeoffs?) and I feel better. Or I take a group of youth volunteer teams through the animal shelter and show them how to help the dogs feel more comfortable in their kennels or show them how to bathe shelter dogs and I see the good mentoring that these parents are doing with their kids.

    • “how do they choreograph those crowded takeoffs”

      Marty, not only do they take off that close to each other, they also fly just as close to other birds in the flock. I keep watching to see if they ever collide with each other but it’s something I’ve never witnessed. And they fly fast! It’s truly amazing.

      • Laura Culley

        Murmurations are truly one of life’s great mystical magics! I mean, seriously, how do they DO that? It makes me think about our inability to do that–there would be a BIG NASCAR-like super crash within minutes, if not seconds with mayhem and chaos everywhere!

        • Marty K

          I know what you mean. I bump into stuff when I’m by myself! Yesterday, I was walking the dog (and going slowly because she’s pretty old) and I still managed to trip on a tiny bump in the sidewalk and wrench my back as I caught myself. I’m dangerous! 😛

  • I’m glad that you called out this behavior . If just one of those children absorbed the message you gave this family , the ripples might spread and create awareness in unexpected groups of people……

  • Shirley

    Human ignorance & stupidity frustrates me to no end! They must be educated, isn’t it the law to go to school and learn how to read? That must mean signs as well as books I am trying to get signs put up here where a lot of birds come because people camp & shit and leave it along with their ass wipe, people have their dogs off lead to shit, doesn’t get cleaned up and the worst is when the dogs chase the poor Swans & other birds that have stopped to feed & rest. I better stop as I am getting angry!!!

  • Laura Culley

    “Every day I survive on this earth I become more pessimistic about where we’re going as a species. And the future of all of us.”

    Yeah, I GET that. I’ve been in a major radio silence since I left New York. While I used to be very active on Facebook, I haven’t logged on there since the election. I just can’t handle humans anymore and I’m pretty happy in rural Arizona where humans are relatively scarce and I can exercise the invisibility of geezerhood when I go to town. Nobody knows me or cares! I don’t care right back. I’ve made a choice to populate my life with ethical, honest, and positive people (you see where I am right now! Your blog is my safe place.). As for the others, well I’m not a if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em kind of gal. I refuse to compromise my ethics, honesty and positivity to fit in. I can’t change the trajectory of humanity and I’m not all that bummed about where we’re going as a species. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I just hope we can make our exit from this spinning rock without taking any others with us. Sadly, I think that’s not possible, but I can hope.

    My choice is to enjoy the magics of this world while they’re here, soaking in all the beauty and majesty available. I’m doing my best to reside in my hopeful self. You help me do that and I thank you!

    I saved a clip from the New Yorker magazine online, as follows: “How had the gun industry obtained such a hold on national politics? How had white nationalists found a home in the carnivalesque campaign of Donald Trump? In an essay on the Chinese dissident Xu Hongci, New Yorker magazine correspondent Evan Osnos wrote, ‘What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in the instant; it arrives like twilight, and, at first, the eyes adjust.'”

    I’m hoping that once the eyes adjust we can see what’s happening and turn it around. But every day, that hope is eroded like the water of the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon.

    Now, all that said, let’s all focus on the positivity in our lives.

    • Laura, many of us have strategies enabling us to survive the current craziness – mine are somewhat similar to yours with just a few significant differences.

      Let’s hang in there in our “geezerhood!

  • I keep having a vision of the bull deciding to hump the tent. I getting more and more evil in my old age.

  • Judy Gusick

    Great photo’s Ron. Too bad the entitled shit-for-brains folks had to put a down side to your day. Too bad that buffalo didn’t take exception to the tent………………….:)

  • Marina schultz

    Oh the worst is the drive by shootings kids grown men drive up and down BLM land shooting from trucks at prairie dogs for sport

    • Laura Culley

      A friend of mine who lives here was out hunting with his Harris’ hawk when a red pickup with two men in it drove up and stopped. His bird landed on the truck (Harris’ hawks are like that) and they shot his bird! Seriously, they just shot him! THANKFULLY, they just nicked the bird’s wing, and after a little R&R, he recovered. The falconer was able to identify the truck and the shooter was caught and prosecuted. But who would DO that? I just don’t get it. I just don’t and I never will! HOW does that make ANY sense?

  • Marina schultz

    It aggravates me !!!!! But people break the rules many times I’ve ran people off for fishing at lakes marked NO FISHING!!!!!!!!! People fishing with bait on fly only lakes People clearly keeping over bag limits … I ran into two boys 10 years old packing a 45 and a 38 pistol using birds in trees for target practice .. I lectured them told them to use a target not a living thing… and those idiot people who stressed the ospreys to the point that they abandoned they’re eggs

  • Dick Harlow

    This country needs, in my mind, a way that we as a people can recapture the manners and concern for each other, to be able to understand whats right and whats wrong to teach people manners! Basically the morays of the WWII generation! It is beyond reason why there are those that feel entitled! Although I can be pessimistic, I refuse to buckle under the present political climate. As one senator said about his brother died fighting the Nazis he refused not to fight them here! I lost relatives in WWII fighting in Europe and I know how he feels. Thanks for this post, it is good that we all see the perspective in the rest of the country.

    The mass of Phalaropes is phenomenal! Didn’t see as many as you, but have seen many getting ready to migrate in the Bay of Fundy! It is one beautiful sight!

  • Jeffrey Tufts

    Sorry for the bad experiences Ron, but the phalarope shots are sensational.

  • Alan Kearney

    Apparently rules are made for everyone but him…

    Reinforced everyday our congress lets the Orange Buffon bully his way from pre-dawn to night, making a fool of himself (OK, no question he is) and laughing stock of the USA.
    No names needed, sorry for the swing to politics.

  • The opening photograph is gorgeous and reminds me of what I am fighting for in terms of my…our environment. The woman is, as my mama would say, a piece of work. I’m so very glad you and Mia called her out and turned her in. It’s that sense of entitlement I see so much in so many. If individuals like you, Mia and me and others don’t step up and speak up….the unthinkable will win.

    Let’s keep it up.

    • “It’s that sense of entitlement I see so much in so many”

      Exactly, Arwen. I saw another example of entitlement on the island that morning. Since it was a weekend both campgrounds were essentially full so one guy tent-camped in an area where no camping is allowed.

      Apparently rules are made for everyone but him…