My favorite Utah wildlife viewing events
My Favorite Wildlife Viewing Events
There are never any guarantees when it comes to nature. You can travel thousands of miles to see one specific critter and come home skunked. One good way to increase your chances of seeing wildlife is to take advantage of events that are sponsored by wildlife agencies.
In the state of Utah we have a "Watchable Wildlife" program. Nearly every month of the year, and sometimes more often, there are wonderful events sponsored by the Utah Division of Wildlife and other agencies designed to get people outdoors to see the wealth of wildlife in the state.
Here is a list of my eight favorite events.
I tried to pick a favorite event, but it was impossible so I'll list them chronologically. For more information on these and other events visit the Utah Division of Wildlife website by clicking on the link below.
All photos and videos were taken at the events, or shortly thereafter in the same area, by myself or my son Michael.
Bald Eagle Day
One of the great things about Bald Eagle Day is it takes place in early February, right during the peak of cabin fever season. Another nice feature with this event is that there are several different locations scattered across the state where people can participate. These and other features make this one of Utah's most popular wildlife viewing events.
DWR personel are on hand to teach attendees about raptor, particularly bald eagles. Some venues will have live captive eagles on display. Free posters and informational brochures are also available.
Biologists can direct visitors to the most likely areas to see eagles, offer viewing tips and, in some cases, provide binoculars and spotting scopes for an up close look.
We usually attend the event at the Fountain Green Fish Hatchery because it's so close to home. We've always seen eagles and also spotted red tailed hawks, elk, and mule deer.
Utah Snow Goose Festival
It's been said that life should not be measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. If that's the case, the snow goose festival is one of those moments that would be counted. Every spring, in mid February, tens of thousands of snow geese stop near the small central Utah town of Delta on their migration north.
Spotting scopes are provided by the DWR and biologists are available to offer insight and answer questions. You can watch the geese loafing on the waters of Gunnison Bend Reservoir, flying to and from the surrounding farms, or enjoying a meal of emerging grain at the expense of the landowners.
One of the highlights of my photo safari experiences occurred at this event. I'd gotten permission from a landowner to photograph some of the geese on her property and was sneaking down a fenceline toward the feeding geese when a flock of at least 200 brilliant white snows glided over my head at about 20 feet. I could feel the wind from their wings and hear the air as it slipped between their flight feathers. It was truly an awe inspiring moment.
Mountain Goat Viewing
This event, held in mid to late April, proves you don't have to travel miles of rutted backroads to see wildlife. Held at the Park and Ride lot at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, this is a golden opportunity for those less able to hike around to see animals that make the most rugged and forbidding habitat their home.
Biologists will have displays of goat hides and horns along with posters, brochures, and spotting scopes to make it easier to see these beautiful white cliff dwellers. It's interesting how the goats can stay so clean, even when the ground might be muddy.
It's amazing to watch these agile critters, especially the younger ones, as they traverse the sheer cliffs effortlessly. Just watching them can make me tired.
The goats can be seen at other times as well. They usually spend most of the winter in the area, starting in November and going on through mid April.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Little Cottonwood Canyon Park and Ride
Sunnyside Bighorn Sheep Watch
Located about 20 miles east of Price, Utah, Sunnyside is a town of under 500 people and about 25 bighorn rams.
This event is usually held in mid June, but the rams don't always cooperate on the exact day of the event. I have found that even though we miss out on the information provided by the DWR we have better luck seeing undisturbed sheep if we make the trip a week or two after the scheduled day of the watch.
The rams usually stay in the area until early fall when they move south looking for ewes before the breeding season gets into full swing.
Tushar Mountain Goat Watch
I know this is kind of a repeat of the Little Cottonwood Canyon event, but the Tushar mountain experience is completely different. Participants meet in the central Utah town of Beaver and caravan east to the top of the Tushar Mountains, and elevation of over 11,000 feet.
From there you can look down on most of southern Utah, a view that, in and of itself, is worth the trip. Wildlife biologists can almost always find some goats to watch. Some years they are up close and offer wonderful viewing opportunities.
As a bonus, you may be lucky enough to see some pikas.
Held in early August it can be cool at these elevations. Bring a jacket, some water and a lunch so you can spend some quality time enjoying the high mountain grandure and the entertaining wildlife.
Kokanee Salmon Day at Strawberry
This event features the Kokanee salmon run as the breeding fish swim up stream to spawn. Held at the Strawberry Reservoir Visitor Center in late September, visitors can see the bright red spawning colors of the salmon and learn about their lifestyle.
Strawberry Reservoir is located about 25 miles east of Heber City, Utah and the drive to the visitor center is a real treat with the aspen trees showing off their fall colors with bright yellow leaves mixed in with the dark green of the conifer trees.
Last time we went to Kokanee day we had the added bonus of spotting a pair of moose.
Kokanee Salmon Day at Strawberry Reservoir
Antelope Island Bison Roundup
Antelope Island is home to a free ranging bison herd of about 700 animals. Each year in late October the bison are rounded up on horseback and corralled to be weighed, tested for disease, inoculated and pregnancy tested.
The biggest bulls are left alone. Experience has shown that trying to work with them in the corrals is an exercise in futility that puts both the bison and biologists in danger. The 1200 pound bulls can do a lot of damage to the equipment.
Weekend cowboys and cowgirls can participate in the roundup by making prior arrangements with the State Park office on the island. Spectators are also welcome to watch the roundup and see the bison in the corals before they are turned loose to enjoy their island homes.
Nash Wash Mule Deer Watch
This event is scheduled to coincide with the mule deer rut in late November. Up to a hundred deer can be seen with dozens of trophy sized bucks competing for the attention of the does.
Nash Wash is a long way from anywhere and about a 4 1/2 hour drive from Salt Lake City, but if you enjoy seeing nice mulie bucks it's worth the drive.
Nash Wash is on the south end of the Book Cliffs. Many of the deer that spend the winter in the area come down off the Uintah Ouray Reservation where they see very little hunting pressure. As a result, some really big bucks can be seen during this event.
Go prepared for any kind of weather and it's a good idea to make the drive in a truck or SUV if the roads are wet.