May…a beautiful sunny day drive…but where to? How about over to Millard County in Utah to see Forster’s Terns at Scipio Lake! I like to visit Scipio Lake. I’ve seen so many different birds here throughout the spring, summer and fall, but this particular day I was in for a show with Forster’s Terns. Although it is a beautiful 5965 foot elevation reservoir I like to visit, it gets frozen and snowed over in the winter time. Even so, come spring, summer and fall, it’s a great place to go birding. One reason I like Scipio Lake is that it’s shared with birds, AND with grazing cattle. Nevertheless, there is plenty of water for all!
The area around the lake is a sagebrush habitat where cow grazing occurs. My favorite spot on the dirt road is where a small rushing stream flows into the lake from the right. It then flows through the sagebrush under the dirt road through a large culvert. The stream then flows over rocks and has steep banks leading down to it. Most of the time, I have seen some great birds at this tiny stream.
Forster’s Terns… Sights, Sounds and Dives!
It wasn’t long before the movement and contrast of the white birds against the background of junipers and pinon pines on the mountains ahead caught my attention. The stream that flowed through the concrete opening into the lake was the destination of this Tern. I watched the unique circling of the Tern over the stream as if to spot fish, then it made sounds reminiscent of an indian war whoop before diving head first into the water. Seriously!
Forster’s Terns Facts
Terns are in the family of Laridae and are in the species of Sterna forsteri. Terns are waterbirds and most of them get their food by diving, or get insects from the water surface. Some terns are hard to distinguish one from another due to wing tip colors, bill length and color, and not to mention feet color. Some features of the Forster’s Terns to look for:
- Size: Wingspan 31 inches. Length: 13 inches. Weight: 6 ounces
- Bill: orange-red bill with dark tip
- Feet: orange
- Black Cap: Breeding adults have a full black cap
- Habitat for nests: Marshes, freshwater, salt, or brackish. Nests on the ground in mud or sand, on the top of floating dead or live plants, or in marsh plants. Sometimes they will use old Grebe nests or muskrat lodges.
- Boat wakes may occasionally flood their nests.
- Food: Small fish, crustaceans, some insects
Hiding in Plain View
Sometimes, it’s easy for me to get so focused on one bird that I don’t see who else might be present. Birds that just perch, wait and watch with little to no movement makes them hard to even notice. Such was the case with these gorgeous Black-crowned Night Herons. The one standing in the water behind the fencing was moving about looking downward into the water and caught my attention. That’s when I noticed the other two perched on the fence post going up the side bank.
In spite of them having the word “night” in their name, everyone I have ever seen in my life has been in the daytime. However, they are classified as primarily nocturnal. This is a stocky bird with short legs and feeds on mollusks, fish, frogs and crustaceans. They were adorable to watch and it was way cool to watch the herons.
An Hour Well Spent
All-in-all, it was a great hour watching the Forster’s Terns at Scipio Lake as well as the other birds there. This will always be one of my favorite local places to go birding.Hope to see them again!