Except for the mating carp that failed at being discreet, our day at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was a rare and delightful experience.

We biked for 12 miles without hearing anything but the song of bird calls and buzzing insects.

(A couple of cars disturbed the mood briefly as they drove by on the crunching gravel but I've forgiven them.)

We saw cranes and loons and blackbirds and a whole colony of pelicans.

We watched them lift off, coast on the thermals in the sky and run across the water on little bird feet.

It's extraordinary and beautiful and restorative.

There's nothing quite like it, this refuge with freshwater ponds and canals and hundreds of nesting, happy birds.

The birds are calm, unworried. They sometimes didn't even fly up until we were almost upon them. They seem to know old people toting binoculars on street bikes aren't much of a threat.

One pair of American avocets with orange necks and spindly legs just kept skipping a few feet on down the path ahead of us.

Another couple of black-headed ducks kept themselves within our sights for miles except for when they went underwater for dinner.

We successfully found and identified white-faced ibis, snowy egrets and black-necked stilts. We thrilled at finding tall gray cranes and at watching the American white pelicans shop for dinner.

It makes one appreciate the foresight that has gone into preserving these 74,000 acres of wetlands, literally an oasis for migrating birds as these marshes, located at the mouth of Bear River, are surrounded by arid desert.

The refuge is 15 miles outside of Brigham City off a mostly dirt road that heads west. There's no charge for taking the auto/bike tour and it's an easy bike path with nests, birds and water on both sides most of the way.

There's no shade, so wear sunscreen and pack water if it's hot.

A list provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has more than 80 different kinds of birds that can be found inside the refuge, including swans, geese, owls, hawks, quail, herons, falcons and sandpipers: 18,000 white-faced ibis, 10,000 American avocets, 65,000 black-necked stilts and 60 percent of the breeding population of cinnamon teal.

We found and identified but a handful, but then we're new at this bird-watching stuff.

Right now, the shorebirds are in residence. In July, ducklings and goslings will be on stage with young western grebes riding on their parent's backs. Ducks and geese and tundra swans arrive mid-October. Hawks, prairie falcons and bald eagles haunt the refuge in the winter, hunting the frozen marshes for food.

Whatever the time of year, it makes for a visual, heartening and powerful visit.

Just when you begin to think mankind has messed up the planet beyond saving.


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