where, when, and what to find

Antelope Island SP -- Garr Ranch

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 

Garr Ranch from Google Maps Contributor

The Fielding Garr Ranch is a ranch located on the southeastern portion of Antelope Island State Park at Garr Springs which is one of the strongest and most consistent springs of the 40 known springs on the island.  The ranch was initially established in 1848, the year after the first Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah.  This location is no secret to birders who have been coming here for decades due to the migrant trap conditions the ranch creates.  With its location jutting out on the east side of the island, the large stand of cottonwoods, russian olives, and various other deciduous trees is an oasis on the island and the Great Salt Lake.  The springs at the main ranch are surrounded by thick riparian habitat with wetland habitat on the east side.  To the north and west are dry hillsides, grassland, and shrubsteppe.  To the south are large agricultural fields with 2 more springs surrounded by small patches of russian olive as well.  A large picnic area just south of the parking lot as a huge lawn with no undergrowth, but a great canopy with trees over 60' tall.  Between the main spring and the springs to the south is a large wild field that has had a big brush pile in the center for a number of years.  The field is lined around the edges by trees which provide easy viewing.  East of the small wetland on the edge of the ranch are vast dry lakebed where the Great Salt Lake formerly came to the shores of the island.

Birding on Antelope Island during the spring or fall mean a visit to Fielding Garr Ranch, referred to by birders as just "Garr Ranch". This migrant trap has had no shortage of rarities of the years and is as a reliable place as it comes for various migrants.  The trap quality of the location has had its share of fallouts and when birding here you never know what you might find. Over 200 species have been recorded at the ranch--the most famous of which has been a long staying pair of GREAT HORNED OWL that have nested here year after year.  The ranch staff takes great pride in sharing this info with birders and non birders alike. Interestingly the ranch has played host to quite a few owl species with BARN and LONG-EARED OWL also showing up every once in a while.  Both FLAMMULATED OWL and NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL have been observed during fall migration on multiple occasions.  But the owls aren't the reason birders come here--its the passerine species.  EMPIDONAX FLYCATCHERS are always a treat with all 5 of the regularly occurring Utah species present in spring and fall for side by side study.  LEAST FLYCATCHER has shown up here as well--while ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and EASTERN PHOEBE although not empids have been seen as well.  The SOLITARY VIREO complex is also a fall favorite here with CASSIN'S VIREO being a regular migrant--this may be the single best location for this species in Utah.  With those Cassin's there have been several BLUE-HEADED VIREO.  This is often a complex identification with the range of Cassin's Vireo's here coming from almost Plumbeous to basically Blue-headed.  Many more Blue-headed are reported than have actually been documented.  VEERY has been seen here, while VARIED THRUSH is reported with some frequency; perhaps not annually but pretty close to it.  The star of the passerine show is no surprise though--its the wood warblers. With at least 21 species reported here the list is impressive.  Big flights in the fall of WILSON'S WARBLER make it an easy find here.  While NASHVILLE WARBLER is all but guaranteed in late August and early September.  TOWNSEND'S WARBLER are usually findable here in the fall as well, all the way into October.  The springs attract NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH most years in the spring and the fall making it the most reliable location in Utah for this species.  AMERICAN REDSTART are occasional as are BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER.  The rarest of the bunch include sightings of: TENNESSEE, MAGNOLIA, BLACKPOLL, BLACK-THROATED BLUE, YELLOW-THROATED, and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS.  Other colorful passerine species have also popped up from time to time with ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK being recorded several times, along with INDIGO BUNTING. One of the best birds to show up was a PAINTED BUNTING that showed well over 5 days in 2013.

Birding here is easy. Strolling through the grounds there is always something to look at.  AN easy way to bird is starting at the parking area and birding the trees to the northeast along the back of the stables.  These open trees often have flycatchers and warblers during migration. Working south walk along the main entrance south of the barn towards the ranch house.  There are usually hummingbird feeders here in the fall which attract the 4 regularly occurring migrants in August and early September.  RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD is often a constant this time of yeah and the feeders allow close views.  A RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD was photographed here in 2010 visiting the feeders.  From the house walk east past the spring house through the gate towards the wet areas. At the gate look right and there should be a large bird feeder although it seems to rarely have feed in it.  On your left is a usually damp "stream bed" where Waterthrush are occasionally seen.  Straight ahead is a small pond that runs into a mostly wetland area heading east.  Bird activity is usually quite good right here.  Walking back toward the spring house and then going south through the trees is a great spot to look for vireos and Nashville Warbler.  If you go back west around the south end of the springs the trees are very thick and birds are often zipping around high above your head here.  If you walk all the way back to the spring on the east end you might spot a VIRGINIA'S RAIL coming out of the marsh.  This is also where the GREAT HORNED OWLS often roost in the trees.  Turn around and head south along the fence line and you'll be in a large field.  The trees surrounding the field to the east and south are often good for empids and warblers, as well as WESTERN TANAGER.  The large brush pile in the field is a good spot to check in the winter for sparrows. WHITE-THROATED and "RED" FOX SPARROW have both been seen here.  Heading south through the gate its a short walk to the next set of springs where waterthrush tend to show up from time to time as well.  You can continue further south to the last spring as well before turning around and heading back to the field with the brush pile.  Often in the northwest corner near the ranch house there are LARK and other SPARROWS depending on what time of year you visit.  Head into the picnic area and you can bird the trees here fairly quickly.  RED-EYED VIREO has been seen here on several occasions.  You're back at the entrance and if you've been thorough you've probably seen most of the birds here.

In Layton, take I-15 exit 332 west bound onto Antelope Drive for about 7 miles to the entrance station to the park.  After paying an entrance fee continue about 6 miles across the causeway to the island. At the sign where the road splits stay left and continue up the hill till you see the turn off on your left to Garr Ranch.  Turn left and follow this road 10.6 miles.  Garr Ranch will be on your left when you arrive; pull into the parking area and you're there.

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