The Learning Center
Saturday we shook off the winter doldrums and set off for one of Utah's many magnificent wildlife refuge and conservation areas. Viewing birds, mammals and reptiles in the wild is one of my favorite pastimes.
Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area encompasses approximately 1,500 square miles near the Great SaltLake between the metropolitan areas of Ogden and Salt Lake City on the Wasatch front.
Binoculars or spotting scopes help you get a closer look at birds and the best viewing is often from your car! If you're extra lucky you might see fox, hares and small rodents.
Great Blue Heron rookery built by Boy Scouts
Farmington Bay hosts an array of wetland habitats including fresh water ponds, marshes, expansive flats and open salt water. These diverse wetland types are vital habitats for an assortment of wildlife along the Great Salt lake even in the dead of winter.
Saturday dawned bright and shiny with a bit of our normal winter haze (smog inversion). The marshes were teeming with birds of every description. We saw Great Bird Heron standing in ice, Northern Harriers hunting low through the cattails, coots, ducks and gulls floating and bobbing in the icy waters.
Northern Harrier waiting for prey
Fresh-water and brackish marshes support vegetation such as cattail, hardstem and alkali bulrush, saltgrass and pondweed. These are important because of the food and protective cover they provide for wildlife. An abundance of protein-rich invertebrates such as insect larvae provide important food for very young birds. Several species of fish also live in the ponds and provide food for fish-eating birds such as great blue herons and American white pelicans.
Saline mud flats support a range of salt tolerant plants known as halophytes. Salicornia, commonly called pickle weed, is a plant found commonly on these flats. This halophyte produces seeds that are consumed by migrating waterfowl as well as other species. The sensitive western snowy plover nests on the saline flats at Farmington Bay.
The Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River and it is the largest salt lake in western hemisphere. At the current level the Great Salt Lake is approximately 75 miles long and about 35 miles wide.
The catchment area of the lake (the surrounding marshes) is 21,500 square miles. The average surface area of lake is approximately 1700 square feet. On a wet year the lake is larger than the state of Delaware (1,982 square miles). However, in 1987, one of the wettest years on record, the surface area was at the historic high of 3,300 square miles!
Even with its immense size, the average depth of the lake is only 14 feet. It does reach a depth of 75 feet in some areas.
Great Salt Lake is the remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville; a great ice age lake that rose dramatically from a small saline lake 30,000 years ago.
Often called America's "Dead Sea", it is clearly not dead with all the wonderful wildlife which depend on its existence.
Most Utahns take the lake for granted. We marvel at the glorious set suns over lake, but otherwise we don't pay much attention to it.
Because of the high salt content, it is not a "swimming" lake. And the the beaches are too stinky from the brine shrimp to make picnicking a pleasant experience.
However, people come from all corners of the earth to "float" on the lake like a cork!
Sarah Bryden of England floats on The Great Salt Lake, November 1908!