ANTELOPE ISLAND -- A harlequin duck, a species rarely seen in Utah, visited Antelope Island's causeway in September. Two weeks after it first arrived, a few more showed up to keep her company, including a male.
However, the day after Thanksgiving, the ducks were gone.
Local birders, a nickname for birdwatchers, are upset about how the ducks were easily hunted from the causeway. The birders want to change the law allowing duck hunters to fire their guns in such a popular tourist area.
"The Utah birdwatching community now wants to protect this birding gem from hunting," said Robert Mortensen, 34, of Bountiful. "We are not opposed to hunting generally, but there are specific areas that are worth protecting by implementing hunting restrictions."
Mortensen said this is not a case of birders versus hunters, but a situation in which the birders do not want hunting in such a public area. The causeway hosts loads of runners, cyclists and international visitors, Mortensen said, making the area a dangerous place for shooting anyway.
Mortensen said the ducks were spotted the morning of Nov. 25, a day when several birders and hunters were roaming the causeway. Birders who were there that day believe a hunter shot at the rare ducks.
The sighting of the harlequin ducks on the causeway was just the seventh documented record in the state. The ducks are mostly found near pounding surf and whitewater. They are short-distance migrants, and most of them winter near rocky shorelines on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
"Why they showed up here and why they stayed at Antelope Island is a mystery to everyone," said Carl Ingwell, 31, of Salt Lake City. "All birdwatchers in Utah were excited to go out and see them."
Jeremy Shaw, Antelope Island State Park manager, said hunting from the road or the shoulder of the road on the causeway is illegal, as is shooting from one side of the road to the other.
However, hunters are allowed to shoot from the rocks leading from the causeway down to the lake bed, as long as they fire away from the road.
"I would love to say we can't hunt here because of safety, but there is nothing that prohibits that," Shaw said.
He said the causeway is a state road, meaning Antelope Island officials have no jurisdiction over what happens there.
Neither do any Davis County officials, many of whom received emails this week asking for a change.
"Utah birders are asking authorities to stop hunting on the Antelope Island causeway and to provide a no-hunting buffer of at least 100 yards on both sides of the causeway," Mortensen said.
Birders see the causeway as a huge migration area for shorebirds and water fowls.
"They think of the causeway as kind of a refuge, which creates a safe harbor for the birds," said Tim Avery, 29, of Salt Lake City.
The situation also creates an easy target for hunters.
Mark Hadley, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said there are five regional advisory councils that take input from the DWR and citizens and make recommendations to the Utah Wildlife Board. The members of those councils are the first step in changing hunting and fishing regulations in the state.
"There have been times when the public has wanted to see something change and the wildlife board approved change, even when it was something the DWR hadn't approved," he said.