California Condors in Zion National Park

California Condors Zion National Park: Click for a larger image - Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Click for a larger image – Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Condors in Zion National Park:
Here we have Zion National Park. We’re looking up the canyon at all these beautiful, beautiful cliffs and rock structures. This is one of the reasons [why] people come, but when you talk to people who come here, even from around the world, one of the things on their list is condors. Can I see a condor? So there’s a lot of interest about condors and to think that in Arizona and Utah we have probably a quarter of the California condors that exist in the whole world, that’s kind of an exciting thought.

My name’s Keith Day. I’m a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Cedar City, Utah and I am responsible, in some regard, for California condor management.

All of the releases for this population have occurred in Arizona and this population is focused around the Grand Canyon ecosystem. The birds discovered Utah and really started moving up into Utah by 2005. And now, essentially, any bird will travel to Utah at some point in time for some period of time during the year. And this pair in Zion this year moved into the main canyon. They’re in an area where they’re actually visible from the visitor center and the administration center and the museum, so we’ve been able to keep a close eye on them. The chick has been produced, it’s been observed on several occasions, which is really exciting. The park has been really good about condor issues and maintaining support for the condor recovery program and they’re really excited to host the first nesting pair in the state of Utah for a couple of hundred years. The sad thing about it is the male of the pair was found dead and so the female is raising the chick by herself and apparently doing just fine, the chick is still thriving.

There is paleontological and archeological evidence that condors existed across the country in historic times. As white settlement increased there seems to have been some impact on the condors and one of the biggest things is lead poisoning. That was recognized years and years ago as one of the challenges for condors. We still have that issue. We’ve done really well as far as establishing this Arizona-Utah population and the populations in California. But, we still have death in the population and when we can determine the cause of that death, the majority of them are due to lead poisoning. Studies have indicated that lead poisoning is tied most specifically to lead ammunition and although it’s a good thing to have remains of game animals in the field for condors, it’s not a good thing if they have lead in them. And that’s what’s led to the voluntary programs in Arizona and Utah to ask hunters to use non-lead ammunition when they’re hunting in condor range. And we’ve had a lot of support for that here in Utah.

To see them soaring around, especially when they’re on the wing on a thermal they’re really really quite graceful. You know they have that distinct black feathering on the adults with the white under the wing. I just enjoy seeing wildlife and I think that most people in Utah do. We talk about one of our mottos in Utah is “Life Elevated” one of the reasons people come to Utah is because of the wild aspect, the scenic aspect, we have a diversity of habitats, and the wildlife aspect. We have a whole panoply of things that add to the value of life in Utah because of our wildness and condors are a part of that. And the fact that they’re a listed species and they’re so few really kind of accentuates that in that regard. Well this is Keith Day, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources California condor recovery program, in a windy day in Zion National Park. Thanks for listening to Wild About Utah and take care.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University with assistance from Keith Day, Utah DWR

Sources & Additional Reading

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) recovery plan. Third revision., US FWS, http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/document/id/1246

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, US FWS, http://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=B002

Bat Netting within Antelope Island State Park

Bat netting on Antelope Island: After the sun sets, fine mist nets are raised high into the air to capture passing bats. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
After the sun sets, fine mist nets are raised high into the air to capture passing bats.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

[Sounds of a bat echolocating]

Jessie Bunkley – The sound you are hearing is a bat echolocating through the darkness of the night. Bats use sound to detect their surroundings. They produce frequencies that are much higher than what we’re able to hear and as those sound waves hit objects in front of them and reflect off the bats interpret the echoes to sense their environment. What you’re hearing is a bat detector that has taken these high frequency sounds and cut them down to a level that we can hear.

Adam Brewerton – I’m Adam Brewerton. I’m the wildlife conservation biologist for the Northern Region with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Jessie – And I’m Jessie Bunkley. I’m a wildlife technician with UDWR.

Bat netting on Antelope Island: Large ears and prominent nose glands are conspicuous features of this appropriately name Townsend’s big-eared bat. Her thumbs are also visible as she holds them in front of her face. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Large ears and prominent nose glands are conspicuous features of this appropriately name Townsend’s big-eared bat. Her thumbs are also visible as she holds them in front of her face.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Adam – And our bat survey tonight out at Antelope Island we’ve been pretty successful so far. We’ve caught a little brown bat and we’ve caught seven Townsend’s big-eared bats. It’s part of the statewide species distribution and occupancy study and we’ve got several survey locations that have been randomly selected out of a grid system. So Antelope Island is just one of those randomly selected sites. In addition to that it’s also close and convenient for people to come out and learn about bats so that’s why we’ve invited [the] public to come out and join us tonight.

Jessie – To capture the bats we’ve set up several mist nets, which are very long, fine nets. We have stacked the nets two or three nets high and we use a pulley system to raise and lower them.

Adam – They fly into the net and they get caught and tangled. We go get the bats out as gently as we can and we come back for the measuring and weighing and identifying. It helps us to track relative species occurrence throughout the state. So being able to say that the species is doing well or declining or increasing. We can really only say that based off of how frequently we catch it in different places relative to other species.

[Bats echolocating and squeaking in the background]

Bat netting on Antelope Island: A Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) is carefully untangled from a mist net. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
A Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) is carefully untangled from a mist net.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Jessie – Bats are the second most diverse group of mammals, right behind rodents. There are over twelve hundred species of known bats throughout the world and this represents about twenty percent of all mammals. In Utah we have eighteen species that regularly occur in the state.

Adam – The wing membranes connect all their fingers together so their hand is shaped very much like ours, their thumb sticks up with a little claw hook on it, and then that membrane stretches between their finger digits. They’re cool because they’re interesting, they’re unique, they’re the only mammals that fly, they’re skeletal structure is totally different than other mammals, they echolocate, they’re intelligent, social, they live in a completely foreign world that we can’t really understand how they view the world through echolocation. What makes them interesting too is just so much that we don’t know and [there is] so much more to learn about them.

Jessie – For Wild About Utah that was Adam Brewerton and I’m Jessie Bunkley signing off from Antelope Island State Park.

Bat netting on Antelope Island: Adam Brewerton, the conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Northern region, holds a Townsend’s big-eared bat after taking measurements and examining her. Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
Adam Brewerton, the conservation biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Northern region, holds a Townsend’s big-eared bat after taking measurements and examining her.
Courtesy and © Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Bats & Echolocation, Holly Strand, Wildaboututah, http://wildaboututah.org/bats-and-echolocation/

Bat Echolocation recordings from the Western Soundscape Library at the University of Utah Marriott Library,

Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS and USDA Forest Service
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Bat Conservation International. 1997. Bat Chat: An Introduction to Echolocation
http://www.batcon.org/, http://www.batcon.org/educatorsK/pdfs/chat.pdf

Wilson, Don E. 1997 Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC http://www.amazon.com/Bats-Question-Smithsonian-Answer-Book/dp/1560987391

Bats Live, Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, VA, http://batslive.pwnet.org/

Bat Week 2015
Sometimes misunderstood, bats are important and fascinating animals. Watch this video to learn some bat facts, find out what challenges are facing bats today and what you can do to help #savethebats.
Bat Week Video from USGS, US FWS and The Organization for Bat Conservation

Bats are Important/Fascinating, Bat Conservation International, Inc. 2016, http://www.batweek.org/index.php/about/bats-are-fascinating

Yellow bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Yellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

If you have explored the mountains of Utah, you’ve inevitably heard the iconic high-pitched chirp associated with Utah’s Yellow-Bellied Marmot.

Sporting chubby cheeks, large front teeth, a reddish-brown tail that spins like a helicopter rotor when fleeing, a greyish-brown back, white patch of fur between the eyes, and a yellow-orange belly, these sun-loving, flower-chewing mammals exude a Buddhist-type nature, especially when compared to their frantic neighbors, the pika.

Yellow-bellied marmots belong to the mammalian order Rodentia, in the squirrel family Scirudae. This family includes all species of prairie dog, chipmunk, and the woodchuck. Marmots fall under the genus “marmota.” The scientific name of yellow-bellied marmots is “Marmota flaviventris.” Although the origin of the term marmota is not certain, one accepted interpretation stems from a similar Latin word meaning “mountain mouse.” Flaviventris means “yellow belly” in Latin.

There are 15 species of marmot worldwide, all in the northern hemisphere. Most live in mountainous areas such as the Alpine marmot found only in Europe, though some live in rough grasslands. Although commonly believed to be in the same genus, the prairie dog is not classified in the genus Marmota, but in the related genus Cynomys.

When alarmed, yellow-bellied marmots emit a shrill whistle which earned them the nickname “whistle pigs,” by early settlers. Sometimes they make a “chucking” sound, which could explain another nickname, “rock chuck.” Additional monikers for marmots include “whistlers”, “mountain marmots”, and “snow pigs.”

Yellow-bellied marmots live at average elevations of 6,000-13,000 feet throughout western North America. They are often found in highland meadows and steppes, and almost always near rocks. Burrows are usually constructed in areas with plentiful plants which comprise the marmot’s main diet: herbaceous grasses and forbs, flowers, legumes, grains, fruits, and insects. Marmots spend the summer months sunning on warm rocks and fattening up in preparation for winter hibernation which can last up to 8 months.Thus, they are especially plump in the fall, right before hibernation, and reach weights of around 8-11 pounds. They may also estivate in June in response to dry conditions and a lack of green vegetation, only to reappear later in the summer when food is once again plentiful.

The typical social structure of yellow-bellied marmots includes a single male with a range of one up to four females. Males are territorial and aggressively protect their harem from other male marmots and smaller predators such as the ermine. Other predators to the yellow-bellied marmot include coyotes, foxes, badgers, bears, and eagles. Females raise their annual offspring of 3-8 jointly with other females within the harem. Baby marmots or pups are born relatively undeveloped and require large amounts of care until they emerge from the nest three weeks later. Only about half of marmot pups survive and become yearlings. If they make it through the first year, marmots may live up to 15 years of age.

Given that they spend about 80% of their life in a borrow, 60% of which is in hibernation, consider yourself lucky the next time you encounter a chubby, sun-bathing, whistling marmot!

For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Text:     Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability


Additional Reading:

Yellow-bellied Marmot, Utah Conservation Data Center, Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=marmflav

Marmot Burrow, UCLA, Daniel Blumstein, http://www.marmotburrow.ucla.edu/watching.html

Marmot, Rocky Mountain National Park, http://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/marmot.htm

Yellow-bellied Marmot (Rockchuck), Deseret News, 14 Mar, 1998,
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/629775/Yellow-bellied-Marmot-Rockchuck.html

Ute Ladies’ Tresses-Orchids in Utah

Orchids in Utah: Ute Ladies' Slippers (Spiranthes diluvialis) Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lindstrom, Photographer
Ute Ladies’ Slippers (Spiranthes diluvialis)
Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lindstrom, Photographer
What is it about orchids in our desert state that excites me so? Perhaps its finding them so far removed from their usual tropical biome, or their uncommon beauty. I was surprised to discover that Utah has at least 16 native species of orchids. Most occur in moist, higher elevations, but a few are found in our valley bottoms.

I rejoice at spotting the first white bog orchid or striped coral root as I hike mountain trails. In the Uintah’s you may find the gorgeous Calypso orchid- also called lady slipper, perhaps my favorite. Now, the late season rattlesnake plantain is in full bloom.

Further, I was amazed to find orchids species diversity second only to the composites with orchids hosting 28 thousand species!

Last evening, I joined 8 others with the Bear River Land Conservancy near Mendon to survey a wet meadow for the late blooming Ute Ladies Tresses, a fragile beauty placed on the EPA Threatened Species list in 1992. Shrinking habitat, limited reproduction, over collection, competition from exotic weeds, and herbicides are the main threats. Other threats include impacts from recreation; mowing for hay production, grazing by cattle or horses; hydrology alteration, herbivory by native wildlife (especially meadow voles); reduction in the number and diversity of insect pollinators; drought; and conflicting management with other rare species.

Regarding reproduction, their minute seeds contain little stored food to sustain embryos and are probably short-lived in the soil. Recent attempts to germinate them took up to 1.5 years. It is hypothesized that germinated seedlings must quickly establish a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal soil fungi in order to survive. The absence or rarity of appropriate fungal symbionts in the soil may be a major factor limiting the establishment of new Ute ladies’- tresses populations. On a more positive note, under favorable conditions, they have extreme longevity living beyond 50 years.

Bees are their primary pollinators, particularly solitary bees in the genus Anthophora, bumblebees, and occasionally non-native honeybees. Long-term monitoring studies indicate that the relative abundance and composition of the available bee fauna varies from year to year, which may impact overall fruit production rates for the Ladies Tresses.

Orchids have vast cultural connections in art a literature. They are revered as the national flower for several countries and cities. Reading “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean gave me insights into the very lucrative business world surrounding this coveted flower.

For more, visit The Utah Orchid Society and Utah Native Plant Society websites for further information and plan to join them for their frequent outings.

This is Jack Greene reading and writing for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

MOUNTAIN PLANTS OF NORTHEASTERN UTAH, Original booklet and drawings by Berniece A. Andersen and Arthur H. Holmgren, http://forestry.usu.edu/files/uploads/hg506.pdf

https://rockymountainorchids.org/

US Wildflower’s Database of Wildflowers for Utah, https://uswildflowers.com/wfquery.php?State=UT

http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=EPGI

http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=EPGI

http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=10638

http://intermountainbiota.org/portal/imagelib/index.php?taxon=Orchidaceae

Ute ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis), ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, USFWS, https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=Q2WA

Conserving Rare Plants and Private Wetlands in Cache Valley, Thursday, Jun. 02, 2016, https://www.usu.edu/today/?id=55893

Spiranthes diluvialis Sheviak, Streambank Lady’s Tresses, Ute Lady’s Tresses, North American Orchid Conservation Center, http://goorchids.northamericanorchidcenter.org/species/spiranthes/diluvialis/