back BACK

Pitta Nature Tours
Best of Utah Birding Tour

The Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake all meet in northern Utah and this tour combines our Mountain Highlights, Great Salt Lake, and Sage & Juniper Tours into a full day, capping things off with our famous Flammulated Owling Tour.

Upcoming Tour Date(s)

No Set Dates Yet CONTACT FOR AVAILABILITY & TO SET A PUBLIC OR PRIVATE TOUR DATE

Up to 7 Spaces available per tour!

Itinerary

Itinerary subject to change due to weather, birding conditions, and other factors out of our control.

Sage & Juniper Specialists Perhaps the most interesting niche habitats in the Mountain West are the Sagebrush Sea and Pinyon & Juniper.

Arriving in the "forest" at dawn we'll depart the vehicle and take a short hike in the direction of whatever we hear.  Typically some of our target birds are singing as we arrive and we will focus on the hardest to get or number one target first--the Gray Vireo.  As we hear birds we will attempt to track them down and quite often we end up finding a number of our target species during this short hike.  Gray Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Bewick's Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Ash-throated Flycatcher are the main species we'll be on the lookout for.

We'll continue the morning driving through the forest and stopping at several other points to look for birds, and find anything we may have missed earlier. With any luck, we may also find things like Bushtit, Lazuli Bunting, Common Nighthawk, and early or late in the season, migrant Western Tanager.  

As the morning warms up and we've crossed most of our juniper specialists off our list, we'll descend out of the forest onto a large sagebrush plain.  Here the trees fade to knee-high gray-green brushes as far as the eye can see--and with the strange environment come a handful of birds that rely on a healthy sage ecosystem to thrive.  The main target here is the locally common but difficult to find Sagebrush Sparrow.  This impeccable songster perches at the tops of the highest brushes--blending into its drab surroundings quite easily.  Other sparrows more common on these flats include Brewer's Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, and Lark Sparrow and we'll focus on tracking each down while here.

Mountain Highlights Rising to more than 13,500’ at their highest peaks, the mountains in northern Utah provide an incredible wealth of birds.

Northern Utah's rugged landscape is dominated by mountains. And the mountains hold a variety of interesting and coveted target birds. After wrapping up the early hours in the desert we'll make our way into the mountains. Where we go and what we see largely depends on the time of year, the weather, and the latest information we have from our previous tours. In general we'll work on covering a variety on montane habits focusing on riparian, Aspen, and mixed conifer forests. Quite often we'll head to a canyon near Salt Lake City and make our way up to 8,000' where the temps are cooler and the bird life is more active. Mountain Bluebird, MacGillivray's Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Green-tailed Towhee, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird are typically seen.

Depending on the route we go we should also be able to track down birds like Cassin's Finch, American Dipper, Red Crossbill, Western Tanager, and Mountain Chickadee among a number of other common mountain species. We'll eventually descend to lower elevations and enjoy lunch on the go while we spend a little more time in the montains during the heat of the day.

The Great Salt Lake Although it has been called "America's Dead Sea", the lake provides habitat for millions of birds.

It goes without saying, that any visit to Utah isn't complete with going to the Great Salt Lake. By and far the most requested destination for birders visiting Utah, we have come up with a short enough tour to give any birder a nice introduction to the lake. The lake is the largest remnant of Lake Bonneville, a prehistoric pluvial lake that once covered much of western Utah. In terms of surface area, it is the largest lake in the United States that is not one of the Great Lakes.

We'll make our way to the lake in teh mid-aftenroon, visiting the Antelope Island Causway. Despite record low water levels the past few years the causeway still provides a great intro to the birds of the Great Salt Lake. Year-round we will see the Utah State Bird--the California Gull--ask us about the history and we'll happily share the story of this uniquer state bird! Birds like Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, and Western Willet will be present from spring through fall migration. Perhaps the best time and reason to visit is July through August when millions of Wilson's Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope stage on the lake and put on a shorebird spectacle like nowhere else in America. In the spring and fall, 100's of 1,000's of Eared Grebes also create a unique birding experience.

Leaving the island we'll head back towards Salt Lake City visiting a freshwater marsh on the edge of the lake. Here where freshwater meets salt, the brackish areas create an incredible abundance of food, and in turn an increidble number of bird species. In the summer, breeders like Clark's Grebe, Western Grebe, Sandhill Crane, Common Yellowthroat, and Virginia Rail are all possible.

Flammulated Owling One of the most difficult owls to locate in North America is the perfect way to end the tour!

This tiny, gray and reddish owl, the size of a smart phone, spends its summers foraging for moths and other insects in pine, oak, and aspen forests of the mountain west. These aspects make it hard to spot, although its repetitive, low-pitched hoot may be easier to notice. Once considered rare residents of these mountainous forests, we now know this species is actually quite common!

The mountains just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah provide some of the closest and easiest to access nesting habitat for Flammulated Owls, and by far the best opportunity to see these birds anywhere in the world. Often one of the last North American owls for ABA listers, Utah has become the go-to location to see this bird! After dinner we'll make our way into the mountains to one of our favored owling sites. While we have daylight we'll look for anythign interesting we might have missed during the day.

Once dark (usually about 15-30 minutes after sunset), we will use our time-tested techniques to illicit a response from an owl. Once we've found a responsive individual we'll attempt to track the bird down, and breifly shine our low-temp LED spotlight near the bird, and use a laser pointer to provide directions to see the tiny owl. Often times other nocturnal birds show up on this tour. Common Poorwill is encountered with some frequency, while Northern Saw-whet Owl shows up from time to time as well.

2020 Pricing

Private Tour

You’ll have van to yourself, and up to 6 friends. Perfect for families or small groups!

Max Participants: 7
$500 + $100/person
Book Now  
Looking for something else?

Not quite what you're looking for? We offer a number of Utah birding tours to the Great Salt Lake, the West Desert, and the Mountains--as well as our popular Flammulated Owling Tour. Looking for a custom Utah birding tour? Check out our custom tours page for more information!

What's Included & What to Expect

What to Expect on Your Tour

On the day our tour beings we will provide pickup from local hotels and/or one of our set departure locations by 6:00 AM.  At the end of the tour, we will drop you off where we picked you up around 6:00 PM.

Transportation

During the tour, we will travel in our comfortable 12-person Transit Van (aptly named Otus).  Since this tour caps at 7-people, that means each of our 3-rows in the back has just 2-people, with the 7th passenger riding shotgun.  Lots of room to stretch out with your gear and not feel like a sardine in a tin.

We provide a step stool for easy access in and out of the van and ice-cold water is available whenever you need from the back of the van with a custom tour water bottle provided for you to keep at the beginning of the tour.

Meals

Breakfasts will usually be boxed and eaten in the field.  Lunch will be a quick stop at a sandwich shop or similar. And dinner often is at a sit down restaurant, or a quick stop if the group want to keep focusing on birds!

Pace

The pace of the tour is fast--we cover around 300 miles during the day. 

Difficulty

This tour is not physically demanding. We will do numerous short outings, under 1-mile (usually much shorter), on even terrain.

Weather and Temperature

This tour provides for interesting mix of temperatures as we move between high elevation sites in the mountains and low elevations sites in the Great Basin.  It is not uncommon for daytime temperatures at lower elevations to reach into the high 90’s or even low 100’s.  While in the mountains daytime temps range from the 50’s to 70’s.  I recommend bring a variety of clothing, that is easily layered.  

Insects, Snakes, and Predators

Oh my!  Mosquitoes can be found at most places we will be visiting, so protective clothing or repellent is highly recommended.  While there are other biting bugs, most are not very active this time of year.  There is one species of rattlesnake in the Great Basin, but we have not encountered them on any tours.  With that being said, please be aware it is possible to encounter them.  And lastly, there are both Black Bear and Cougar in the Mountain West, but in 13 years of guiding I have never encountered either during a tour!

Non-bird Highlights

  • The Great Salt Lake
  • Antelope Island State Park
  • The Sagebrush Sea
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Pronghorn, Bison, Mule Deer & Coyote
  • Summer Wildflowers & Butterflies

What's Included

  • Professional Guide Service
  • Transportation from SLC
  • Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner
  • Spotting Scope while Birding
  • Water for Refreshment
  • Birds—we’ll find some birds
  • Some Flammtastic Tour Swag
  • Delightful Conversation about Birds
  • A Thoroughly Enjoyable Time!
We also include SFW dad jokes, witty bird puns, and the occasional commentary on things non-bird related!

What's Not Included

  • Alcoholic Drinks
  • Binoculars
  • Cameras and Lenses
  • Bug Spray
  • Jackets or Sweaters
  • Shoes and Socks
  • Flights or Transportation to Utah
We highly recommend all of the above ;)

Still have questions? Ready to book a tour? Either way tapping the buttons below will put you in touch with us!

Past Best of Utah Tours

June 27, 2019
Mountain Highlights Read Recap

Recent Photos from this Tour

Still have questions? Ready to book a tour? Either way tapping the buttons below will put you in touch with us!

Mailing List

Sign up for our mailing list so you never miss an update, get our latest tour news, and exclusive deals on new products and tours!