South Canyon Sage-Grouse

Male Grouse Closeup Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Male Grouse Closeup
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
At 3:00 a.m. on a frigid winter morning Nicki Frey, an Extension Associate Professor in the Department of Wildland Resources at USU, leads a group of new biologists who are trapping west of Bryce Canyon.

Cold, deep snow is all they can see on the valley floor.

The group is looking for the greater sage-grouse whose GPS transmitters are sending Frey signals – indicating they are nearby.

Grouse Tracks in Snow Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Tracks in Snow
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
For best results, researchers trap sage-grouse on moonless nights. The only light they have comes from the ATVs and headlamps.

Frey explains, “Southern Utah is the farthest southern location where greater sage-grouse live in the U.S. This valley is part of their winter habitat.”

In disbelief, one biologist responds, “It would be impossible for grouse to winter here.”

Documenting Grouse Trapping Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Documenting Grouse Trapping
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
The biologist’s statement is understandable, since research shows the winter habitat for greater sage-grouse is in areas where sagebrush is above the snow, so the grouse can hide underneath and receive protection from the brush and nutrition from its seeds.

Just as Frey begins to respond – 20 grouse burst out of the snow in front of them and fly away. “It scared us out of our skin.” Frey said.

“Everyone retreat! Everyone off of the snow!” Frey calls out.

Grouse Snow Angel and Cave Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Snow Angel and Cave
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Then she and her colleague Lisa Church, a biologist from Bureau of Land Management get down on their hands and knees and begin searching for where the grouse were hiding. They see wing marks in the snow and a hole close by. With the use of a flashlight, they look down the hole and discover the birds came from a cave under the snow-covered sagebrush.

Going against the grain, the grouse have been living under the deep snow.

Sagebrush in this area only grow 1.5 to 3 feet, and since the snow can get up to 12 feet it’s not far into winter before the sagebrush is completely covered.

Surprisingly, the grouse have been able to adapt.

Frey explains, “They make these little snow caves and eat the sagebrush leaves inside the cave until they’re gone, then they pop out and pop back into the next sage brush cave and eat the leaves in there.”

Buried sagebrush isn’t the only obstacle the southern grouse have had to adapt to.

Grouse on Edge of New Treatment Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse on Edge of New Treatment
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Frey explains, “[In Northern Utah you have …nice rolling hills with lots of sage brush that seems to go on forever. In Southern Utah, we have little valleys of prime sage-grouse habitat, but they’re divided by rugged mountains and tree covered hills.”

This environment pushes the grouse to fly longer and further than they normally would.

They fly back and forth between the fragmented sagebrush habitats to find what they need to have a healthy population.

Having to constantly travel between these habitats takes a toll on the southern grouse.

This is an area Utah wildlife managers have helped the greater sage-grouse by removing pinyon-juniper forests which fragment their habitat.

According to Frey, “Anytime we [reconnect] habitat [in the southern region] the grouse use it immediately because they want to expand.”

The impact the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources projects have had on decreasing the forest barriers is astounding. “The numbers of sage-grouse have steadily increased every year.”

Frey’s research highlights this bird’s remarkable ability to adapt to southern Utah’s climate.

By using the research to assist with management planning, Utah can continue removing barriers for grouse survival and ensure their continued presence in our wildlands.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Principal Investigator: Nicki Frey
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Nicki Frey
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Wildlife In Winter & Climate Change

American Dipper Peter Hart, Photographer Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
American Dipper
Peter Hart, Photographer
Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Last Saturday 3 intrepid young families joined us for a morning with the Stokes Nature Center slipping and sliding along a canyon trail to discover animal and plant adaptations to survive the winter. We marveled at the American dipper as it enjoyed plunging in icy water hoping to capture its prey. The dipper remains dry due to a super-sized uropygial gland used for waterproofing its feathers as it preens combined with a thick layer of super isolative fur like feathers. Its temperature actually drops in extreme cold reducing radiated heat loss.

Water reptiles and amphibians were in deep sleep in their mud cocoons. They manage winter through slowing metabolic processes which greatly reduces their need for oxygen, nutrition and waste elimination. What little oxygen needed can be absorbed through their skin without breathing.

Animals such as bears can go into an alternate, light hibernation state called a torpor. Torpor is like hibernation, but in this condition, the bear can be awakened easily. I was reminded of this fact from a friend tagging bear cubs in Book Cliffs of eastern Utah. She would enter the bear din very gingerly trying not to awaken a grumpy mom! Ground squirrels are also among animals who torpor, however they shift between hibernation, torpor, and being awake.

The common poorwill, an uncommon bird in Utah Mountains, is the only bird that goes into true hibernation. It hibernates during extreme temperatures — when it is either too hot or too cold — and at times of food scarcity. The common poorwill can even hibernate while they are incubating eggs, proving to be not only a true survivor, but also a riveting multitasking animal.

Grouse Snow Angel Exiting Subnivean Cave Courtesy US FWS & Wikimedia, Tamarac Refuge, MN
Grouse Snow Angel Exiting Subnivean Cave
Courtesy US FWS & Wikimedia, Tamarac Refuge, MN
Snow is an excellent insulator where many of our more active animals spend most of their winters in subnivean (beneath the snow) environments. Mice, voles, and shrews retreat here for protection from cold temperatures, bitter winds, and hungry predators. Food is right at hand: grass, leaves, bark, seeds, and insects are free and unfrozen. These tiny mammals create long tunnel systems complete with air shafts to the surface above. Perhaps you’ve seen the pocket gopher tunnels revealed as the snow retreats- a snaking ridge of soil creating some interesting, artistic patterns.

Short-tailed weasels, also known in winter as ermine, have a long, slender body shape that allows them to invade subnivean tunnels to prey upon smaller mammals.Photographer: Steven HintCourtesy WikimediaLicensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
Short-tailed weasels, also known in winter as ermine, have a long, slender body shape that allows them to invade subnivean tunnels to prey upon smaller mammals.
Photographer: Steven Hint
Courtesy Wikimedia
Licensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
It takes only six inches of snow for mice, voles, and shrews to have a sturdy roof over their heads and roomy living quarters below. Add another two inches and the subnivean zone remains within a degree or two of 32°F, regardless of the temperature and weather conditions in the outside world.

Living under the snow is not without risk. Owls can hear mice and voles running around underground from thirty yards away. With balled-up feet, they crash through the top crust and all the layers of snow to grab their prey. Foxes and coyotes detect by scent. With an acrobatic pounce, these predators will dive right in for their meal. Suffocation is a hazard for those left behind in a collapsed tunnel.

So what happens to these little critters in a low snow-no snow winter becoming more common in a changing climate? I’m guessing a much higher rate of mortality which may not bode well for those bigger critters- hawks, owls, fox, coyote, etc., who munch them.

This is Jack Greene and I’m Wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Peter Hart, Photographer, Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Courtesy Wikimedia Steve Hint, Photographer, Licensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Larese-Casanova, Mark, The Shape of Wildlife in Winter, Wild About Utah, Jan 26,2012, http://wildaboututah.org/the-shape-of-wildlife-in-winter/

Mackay, Barbara, The Subnivean Zone: Shelter in the Snow, Northern Woodlands, Dec 29, 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/the-shape-of-wildlife-in-winter/

Peering into the secret world of life beneath winter snows, National Science Foundation,
https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=136986

Snow Tracks, National Wildlife Refuge System, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/SnowTracks.html

Glacier National Park:
Winter Wanderings, https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/winter-wanderings.htm
Winter Ecology Teacher’s Guide https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/upload/Winter%20Ecology%20Teacher%20Guide%202010.pdf
Subnivean Samba: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/subnivean-samba.htm
4-6, Unit Five, Activity 1: “Snug in the Snow” https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/4-6-unit-five-activity-1-snug-in-the-snow.htm
Winter’s Coming!, https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/classrooms/winters-coming.htm
Winter Ecology, Preparing for your Trip, 3rd-5th Grade Field Trip, https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/education/upload/3rd-5th-winter-field-trip_GNP.pdf

Rocky Mountain National Park:
Winter Ecology Teacher Guide, https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/education/upload/Winter-Ecology-Teacher-Guide-for-web.pdf

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve:
Lesson Plan, Prepare for Cold Air!, https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/prepare-for-cold-air.htm

Wild Children

Isa and Students Imitating Raptor Flight Patterns at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Isa and Students Imitating Raptor Flight Patterns at the
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS)
Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer
*Field Recording:
Isa Identifies Raptors


So eagles fly how?
Student:
Straight.
Isa:
How do buteos fly? Like a red tail? They are modified dihedral.
How do vultures fly? They are wobbly and in a V
How do Accipitors fly? Flap-flap-glide

Lisa Saunderson teaching students to observe and ponder the landscape before rendering their horizons in watercolors at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Lisa Saunderson teaching students to observe and ponder the landscape before rendering their horizons in watercolors at the
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS)
Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Edith Bowen third graders recently had the opportunity to visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City. The day was chock a block full of exciting activities like the one we just heard meant to engage students’ senses and ground their understanding of core curriculum within the context of the place we were visiting.
[We] learn better when we’re immersed in the context of the thing we study. Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newel Director & Photographer
[We] learn better when we’re immersed in the context of the thing we study.
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS)
Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Place-based and experiential education are relatively new terms for old human evolutionary qualities. Basically, we humans learn better when we’re immersed in the context of the thing we study. Being in a place, engaging each of our senses in its character, and learning how that character and our own are interdependent builds powerful context. When educators can insert their core curriculum into that context each strand of understanding becomes deeper and richer.

So we had people like my friend Isa, who you heard at the beginning of the segment, racing with students through the grasslands, imitating the flight patterns of raptors to drive home an understanding of adaptive specificity in different bird species.

Art at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Art at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS)
Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer

Our art teacher, Lisa Saunderson, sat with students to observe and ponder the landscape before teaching them to expertly render their horizons in watercolors. For my small part, I sat with students- six or seven at a time- and introduced them to Aldo Leopold. As it was the final day of November, I read from the Chapter of A Sand County Almanac honoring the month.

In reading Leopold’s words, I wanted to model for my students how close, careful observation can deepen our experience of a place and even transcend time through the words we write down- fleeting thoughts becoming immediately eternal with the stroke of a pen. When I gave them time of their own to sit, observe, and write, what they came up with gave me goosebumps.

Field Recording: Avery’s reading
All Around Me by Avery F.
In front, water is weaving around a maze of marsh
Beside me there is a bench standing all alone.
Behind there is a wall of stalks, some almost as tall as me.
Beside there is an endless walk waiting for men to walk and talk.
Field Recording: Lila’s reading
November ends
The deep coolness flows through the cheeks and the nose
The water is as still as rock
Cattails are stuck in black tar
The birds whistle and sing
It spreads and spreads until you can’t hear
The grass flows as the wind blows
Where am I?
Recording Observations at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newel Director & Photographer
Recording Observations at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School(EBLS) Experiential Learning
Eric Newel Director & Photographer

Awareness of a place produces powerful perspectives of it, especially among the tiny human sponges we call children. The day went on and on like this, students building deep contextual understandings of their place. What were once the far hinterlands of their home range became an intimate, familiar setting they knew and spoke of fondly. Eyes lifted to goose music and the whistle of flight feathers thereafter.

To finish our visit, we heard a welcome interpretation of the natural history of the bird refuge- a bit of geographical orienting for the kids to digest and incorporate into their understanding of the place.

Field Recording: Ranger Interpretor
You live in what is called, (And this is a 4th-grade concept, but your guys are so smart, you know it just like that.)
The Bear River Watershed.
Okay, it is the corridor, in this valley, through which the rivers travel.

“Hey,” Johnny cried suddenly, catching the Ranger off guard. He pointed 20 yards beyond her as a raptor cut quick and low across our field of vision. “Look! Flap, flap, glide! It’s an accipiter!” If awareness was what we were after, we had gotten it in spades!

This is Josh Boling, writing and reading for Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos and Sound: Courtesy Eric Newell, 2017
Text: Josh Boling, 2017

Sources & Additional Reading

Leopold, Aldo, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold Foundation, Originally Published 1949, https://www.aldoleopold.org/about/aldo-leopold/sand-county-almanac/

Edith Bowen Experimental School, Utah State University, https://edithbowen.usu.edu/

Name That Raptor Quiz Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships, Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, National Conservation Training Center, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://nctc.fws.gov/resources/knowledge-resources/birdscapes/sprsum03/Inaegg.html Source: Hawk Mountain http://www.hawkmountain.org/raptorpedia/how-to-identify-hawks/page.aspx?id=353Name That Raptor Quiz
Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships, Division of Bird Habitat Conservation, National Conservation Training Center, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://nctc.fws.gov/resources/knowledge-resources/birdscapes/sprsum03/Inaegg.html
Courtesy US FWS and Hawk Mountain http://www.hawkmountain.org/raptorpedia/how-to-identify-hawks/page.aspx?id=353

Dark Skies

Delicate Arch at Night Courtesy National Park Service, Jacob W. Frank. Photographer
Delicate Arch at Night
Courtesy National Park Service, Jacob W. Frank. Photographer
The night sky…throughout history humans have looked up after the sun set in the evening and marveled at the astral bodies spread above them in a sea of black. This sight has inspired people from every age of history and from every culture around the world.

But it’s not the same as it used to be.

For most people, the cycles of night and day are so constant in our lives that we often take them for granted. The rising of the sun in the morning and its setting every evening molds our lives, and has for all of human history. The heavenly bodies we see above us, the sun, moon, planets, comets, and stars, influence all aspects of human civilization, from religion and philosophy to art and poetry. While daytime has remained constant from the beginning to the modern day, the same cannot be said for the night.

Until the end of the 19th century, the setting sun meant a world enveloped in darkness. The night was a time for retreat to homes and hearths, a respite in human activity until dawn. Try to imagine looking up into the night sky from the side of dying campfire ten thousand years ago, or from the step of a frontier cabin only two hundred years ago and seeing the moon and stars as the only source of light around you. Today this universal heritage is quickly being lost to the artificial light emitted by humans across the globe.

It may seem strange to think of darkness as a natural resource, but its importance to life on Earth cannot be overstated. Beyond humans, the billions of plants and animals across the planet have evolved over the eons to their own niche in the day-night cycle. Sunlight, or the lack of it, controls plant and animal behavior, from when to eat or sleep, when to migrate, where to travel to look for food, and even when to reproduce. The artificial light cast by cities disrupts these natural patterns for animals and can lead to hardship and death for many.

Efforts to reduce light pollution are picking up across the country and include everything from buildings and factories shutting off all non-essential lighting during animal migration seasons, to everyday citizens simply turning off outdoor lights when they go to bed.

Despite these efforts however, most Americans in the 21st century are still affected by at least some light pollution and many city-dwellers have never seen a truly dark night sky. Even for those living away from cities, a night sky might be interrupted by sky glow, a phenomenon that occurs when clouds scatter and reflect light back to earth.

Luckily for Utahns however, dark skies might be closer than you think. Utah is home to nine different “Dark Sky Parks”, certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Among these places are Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks; Natural Bridges, Hovenweep, and Cedar Breaks National Monuments; Dead Horse Point, Goblin Valley, and Antelope Island State Parks; as well as the North Fork area in Weber County. These dark sky parks offer a distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment protected for future generations. So whether you are an astronomy enthusiast, an animal lover, or just want to see the night sky as our ancestors saw it for thousands of years, dark sky parks are the place for you.

Starry Night Vincent van Gogh Courtesy: Google Art Project
Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh
Courtesy: Google Art Project
As Vincent van Gogh, the mastermind behind the famous painting Starry Night once remarked, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

For Wild About Utah, I’m Kajler Rask.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy National Park Service, Frank W. Jacobs, Photographer
Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, Courtesy: Google Art Project
Text: Kajler Rask

Clear Sky Charts, Utah, Attilla Danko, ClearDarkSky.com, http://cleardarksky.com/csk/prov/Utah_charts.html

Utah Leads The World With Nine International Dark Sky Parks, International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org/utah-leads-the-world-with-nine-international-dark-sky-parks/

Dark Sky Parks, Utah Office of Tourism, https://www.visitutah.com/things-to-do/dark-sky-parks

Top 5 Star Gazing Spots in Utah, Utah.com, Utah Travel Industry Website, https://utah.com/article/top-5-star-gazing-spots

Eyes In The Sky: Exploring Global Light Pollution With Satellite Maps, International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org/eyes-in-the-sky-exploring-global-light-pollution-with-satellite-maps/

Dark Skies, Antelope Island State Park, https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/dark-skies/

Utah State Parks Dark Skies Program, State Parks, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://stateparks.utah.gov/resources/utah-state-parks-dark-sky-initiative/

Stargazing, Arches National Park, https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm

Lightscape / Night Sky, Arches National Park, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/lightscape.htm

Night Skies, Natural Bridges National Monument, https://www.nps.gov/nabr/learn/nature/darkskypark.htm