back BACK

Pitta Nature Tours
Great Salt Lake Bird Festival Marathon Birding

What happens when you take 4 crazy birding guides, a couple of vans, and have 18 hours during the height of migration in northern Utah? Marathon Birding, a northern Utah Big Day tradition that we've been leadign at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival since 2008

2021 Tour Date

Sunday, May 16, 2021



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

Overview Up to 18 hours of fast-paced, species-rich birding!

The day starts off leaving our meeting point (TBD) at 6:00 AM sharp. We leave at 6, with or without you, so don't be late! We will travel in comfortable vans with enough space for each participant to have a window seat for the entire tour. We will provide water for the duration of the tour as well as lunch and dinner, and a vareity of snacks.

COVID-19 PRECAUTIONS AND TOUR FLEXIBILITY. Due to the ongoing pandemic we have planned this years tour a little different from past years. Depending on the severity of the outbreak and if Davis County is able to go forward with this years fesitval, we will have 3 options available. When you sign up you will be put in a priority order to deicde if you want to go on the tour, when we make a final decision on which option to offer. Masks will be required AT ALL TIMES while travelling in vans. AND, priority for spaces will be given to participants that can provide proof of vaccination for Covid-19.

Option 1: Limited restrictions, full capactiy. 2 vans, 4 leaders, and 10 participants. This is our typical tour and we hope we will be able to run this option.

Option 2: Covid spread still out of control, but limited state restrictions in place. 1 van, 2 leaders, and 6 particpancts.

Option 3: Medium state level restrictions. 1 van, 1 leader and 4 participants.

And lastly if spread is out of control and there are major state level restricitons in place we will cancel the tour.

With that said, please feel free to reach out with any querstions, or sign up to reserve a space if one of the tour options is able to go! Check out the itinerary below.

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

Our morning starts off birding a local wetland and wildlife managment area where we often pick up more than 1/3 of our species for the day. Heavy on waterfowl, wading birds, and often a good mis of shorebirds this early stop is one of the few times we will spend moving a short distance to see a lot of birds. OUr haul here often includes Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egret, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Clark's Grebe, Western Grebe, Sandhill Crane, Common Yellowthroat, and Virginia Rail.

From here we work our way north along the shore of the Great Salt Lake to the world famous Antelope Island Causeway where depending on how shorebird migration is going, we often spend around an hours scouring flocks of migrants to see if we can pick out any vagrants. Birds like Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, and Western Willet are often highlights while we hope for things like Red Knot, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover, and Ruddy Turnstone. Anything is possible in May, and we'll make the most of whatever we are able to find.
On the island we'll spend time seeking out variety of birds that call this desert landscape home. Burrowing Owl, Grasshopper Sparrow, Rock Wren, Great Horned Owl, and Chukar are jsut a few of the birds we'll encounter on our way to Garr Ranch where songbird migration often pays off in huge dividends with flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, and other passerine migrants. By the time we leave the island late in the morning we've usually tallied over 100 species.

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

After picking up sandwiches for lunch and taking a short break at a local park to eat we'll continue birding. The afternoon itinerary often varies greatly form year to year depending on weather conditions, the staus of mountain roads due to later season snow, and what our target list looks like. In past years weve visted Logan Canyon, Ogden Canyon, Monte Cristo, Deseret Ranch and Southwest Wyoming, Alta, Park City, The Lake Mountains, and numerous other locations depending on where we think we'llbe able to pick up the most birds. No matter where we end up there are a few things we generalyl track down every year. Mountain Bluebird, MacGillivray's Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Cassin's Finch, 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 American Dipper, Red Crossbill, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Mountain Chickadee among a number of other common mountain species.

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 and Ruffed Grouse shows up from time to time as well.

If time permits we may work on finding a Western Screech-Owl in the valley while we make our way back to our dropoff location and call the tour a wrap.

2021 Pricing

*By signing up you are joining a waitlist to go on this tour. The "options" below are not actual choices, but the tour we will offer based on what we feel is safe at the time of the trip. When we decide which option we will be offering we will work through the sign up list in order of sign up until the trip is full. No payment is due at this time to reserve a space.

What's Included & What to Expect

What to Expect on Your Tour

On the day our tour beings we will provide pickup from our set departure location (TBD) by 6:00 AM.  At the end of the tour, we will drop you off where we picked you up between 11:00 PM and Midnight


During the tour, we will travel in our comfortable 12-person Transit Van (aptly named Otus). Our 2nd van if we are able to take the fulll group will be a mini-van. 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.


Lunch will be a quick stop at a sandwich shop or similar. And dinner will be takeout from a local favorite, for a quick dinner!


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


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 80’s.  While in the mountains daytime temps range from the 40’s to 60’s, and owling typically drops into the 40'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. Biting gnats are generally an issue at Antelope Island as well.  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 14 years of guiding I have never encountered either during a tour!

Non-bird Highlights

  • The Great Salt Lake
  • Antelope Island State Park
  • Pronghorn, Bison, Mule Deer & Coyote

What's Included

  • Professional Guide Service
  • Transportation
  • 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 Marathon Birding Tours

Least Flycatcher
May 17, 2021
152 Species Read Recap

Evening Grosbeak
May 19, 2019
151 Species View Checklist

Rock Wren
May 20, 2018
160 Species View Checklist

Black Rosy-Finch
May 21, 2017
161 Species Read Recap

30,000 Red-necked Phalarope
May 15, 2016
159 Species View Checklist

Northern Waterthrush
May 17, 2015
170 Species Read Recap

May 18, 2014
167 Species Read Recap

Red-throated Loon
May 19, 2013
160 Species No Recap

Ruddy Turnstone
May 20, 2012
136 Species Read Recap

Northern Goshawk
May 15, 2011
132 Species No Recap

Cattle Egret
May 16, 2010
142 Species No Recap

Yellow-billed Loon
May 17, 2009
128 Species No Recap

May 15, 2008
134 Species No 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!