Bear River National Wildlife Refuge (Utah)

The explorer Captain Howard Stansbury said in 1849 of the place where Bear River National Wildlife Refuge now is, “I have seen large flocks of birds before—but never did I behold anything like the immense numbers here congregated together…as far as the eye could see.”

In the mid 1980s neighboring Great Salt Lake rose after record snowmelt and flooded this 116-square-mile (300-km2) Utah refuge of upland, shallow marsh and mudflats with salty water that destroyed much of its habitat. Clean-up efforts and replanting are beginning to pay off. Large numbers of birds are beginning to return.

Sometimes in spring and fall migration, millions of birds of more than 200 species have been here—thousands of golden-tufted eared grebes, a half-million swallows in a great windborne cloud, hundreds of marbled godwits and long-billed dowitchers. There can be 20,000 tundra swans, largest concentrations anywhere, and a half-million or more ducks flying up against the snowy Wasatch Range and blue Promontory Mountains.

In spring the dikes can be alive with killdeer doing “broken-wing” acts to distract attention from nests, and thousands of black-necked stilts and russet-hooded avocets with young families. White pelicans commute to nesting islands in the Great Salt Lake. Young western grebes ride atop their parents’ backs.

Visitor facilities are in process of reconstruction but a 12-mile (19-km) auto tour route is open mid-March through December.