Scary Antelope Island


Lord of the Brine Flies. A seagull feeds among a swarm of brine flies in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

The photo above should make it clear why I said last week that this week’s post would be somewhat disturbing. The Great Salt Lake is popular with photographers for the abundant bird life, but on my visit it was the bug life that truly impressed. Whenever a bird would take a step forward, clouds of brine flies would lift into the air around them. It was truly shocking. The only redeeming thing was that they had no interest in humans and never really got above knee height. Still, scenes like this are horrifying:

Land Coral. Brine flies completely encrust a small bush in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Here’s a tighter crop from the above image:

No Doubt. Yes, there is a plant under all those brine flies and no, you can’t see it.

Before we made it down to the shoreline where are the brine flies were, we climbed up a small rocky hill to get a little bit of a view. Climbing up was easy, but going down towards the shore was heavily guarded by spiders:

Seventy-two. Nine spiders block a passage through the rocks in Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

This isn’t the best photograph, but there are nine spiders here, each with their own web inches behind the one in front of it. Almost every gap between rocks was similarly barricaded. Eventually we were able to pick our way down to the shoreline where we were rewarded with the aforementioned brine flies. It’s a good thing that down by the shore there wasn’t anything for the spiders to support their webs with, or they would all be the size of Tolkien’s Shelob and have taken to eating birds and the occasional passerby long ago.

I did get some good practice taking pictures of birds in flight (BIF) with my still-new Z8, but I think I will do a BIF post sometime in the future. This image of a wading Avocet was one of my favorites from the outing:

Radius. Brine flies floating on the water give an American Avocet a wide berth in Antelope Island State Park, Utah.

American Avocets are pretty birds anyway, but I like the pose of the bird’s foot—almost but not quite touching its other leg—the ripples reflecting the blue sky, and the way the flies on the water are keeping a respectful distance.

I have no idea whether massive quantities of brine flies like this are common—I assume not—but am glad that I could share (what I hope will remain) a unique experience in my life.

Next week, I will post about something pretty. Promise.

(Update: Two weeks after publishing this post I learned that these flies are called brine flies and have updated the post and captions accordingly. And apparently massive quantities of them are common.)

Technical notes. The photographs in this post were taken with a Nikon Z8 using—since I didn’t want to get very close—the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. All were processed from RAW in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

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