Jack Loves the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/journey-north/

Greene, Jack, I Love the Four Seasons, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2015, http://wildaboututah.org/i-love-the-four-seasons/

Conners, Deanna, Why Earth has 4 seasons, EarthSky.org, September 20, 2016, http://earthsky.org/earth/can-you-explain-why-earth-has-four-seasons

State Symbols

Most people could probably name the state bird or the state tree, but what about the state gem? The state grass? State fruit? Do you know why they are important to Utah? Here are just a few of Utah’s State Symbols that you might not have known.

State Symbols: Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard's Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Sherry-colored topaz from Maynard’s Claim (Pismire Knolls), Thomas Range, Juab County, Utah, USA, By Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10450654
Topaz was named Utah’s state gem in 1969 because of its abundance on Topaz or Thomas Mountain in Juab County. In this area, perfect topaz crystals can be found and collected. This semiprecious gem can also be found in Beaver and Toole counties. Topaz can be found in a variety of colors, but in the Thomas Range it is known for its sherry hue. When exposed to sunlight, amber colored topaz will often become clear. Topaz collecting is free and open to the public in most areas and could be a great way to get to know Utah a little bit better.

Utah’s state grass was selected in 1990 to be Indian Ricegrass. As you might suspect, indian ricegrass was given its name because of the significance in Native American life. This tough bunchgrass was a common food source and was absolutely crucial to survival when the corn crop failed.

Indian Ricegrass Courtesy US National Park Service
Indian Ricegrass
Courtesy US National Park Service
It can be found in wet and dry areas throughout the West. Long ago this grass was important for Native Americans; now it is important in fighting wind erosion and grazing cattle.

The cherry did not become the state fruit until 1997 when a group of second graders did their research and petitioned for the fruit to be recognized. Cherry was discovered to be the most economically beneficial fruit for Utah when compared to other fruits like peaches and apples. Both sweet and tart cherries are grown commercially in Utah. Utah is the only state ranked in the top five cherry producing states for both types of cherries.

US Cherries for sale in Korea Courtesy USDA
US Cherries for sale in Korea
Courtesy USDA
The cherry is native to Asia, but flourishes in Utah’s environment.

The state insect might be a little easier to guess than the state grass and state fruit. Utah is known as the beehive state, so naturally our state insect is the honeybee. When settlers first arrived in Utah they called it Deseret which means honeybee. Some native bees are listed as endangered species, but many Utahns have become “backyard beekeepers” to help these bees survive.

Honeybee Extracts Nectar Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Honeybee Extracts Nectar
Courtesy NASA ClimateKids
Bees might seem insignificant, but are actually the unsung heroes of the world’s food supply. Growing bee friendly plants or becoming a beekeeper yourself are great ways to help Utah’s honeybee thrive.

No matter where in the state of Utah you are, you can learn more about these plants, animals, and rocks and see them in action. As a Chinese proverb says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS and US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

State Symbols, as found on OnlineLibrary.Utah.gov, http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/

Utah as found in StateSymbolsUSA.org: https://statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/utah

Gorman, Steve, U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time, Scientific American, A Division of Nature America, Inc., Jan 11, 2017,
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-lists-a-bumble-bee-species-as-endangered-for-first-time/

Hrala, Josh, 7 Bee Species Have Been Added to The US Endangered Species List, ScienceAlert.com, 3 OCT 2016, https://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list

Insects: Bees in trouble and agriculture decline, Endangered Species International, Inc. http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/insects6.html

Ingraham, Christopher, Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine, Washington Post, October 10, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/

Project FeederWatch

Feederwatch Handbook and Instructions Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Click to view the .pdf
Feederwatch Handbook and Instructions Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Click to view the .pdf
There are several programs where citizens can report their observations of nature to science organizations who need their data. Today, I refer to “Project FeederWatch” hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the premier institute for the study of all kinds of wild birds.
View or download Project Feederwatch materials from feederwatch.org Courtesy Project Feederwatch
View or download Project Feederwatch materials from feederwatch.org
Courtesy Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The main goal of the program is to combine the interests of backyard bird watchers with the needs of professional ornithologists. By making simple, standardized counts of the birds in their yards and reporting them to the database, citizens are contributing directly to the scientific understanding and monitoring of bird populations. Our observations help those scientists study changes in the distribution and abundance of feeder birds over time. And people of all ages and experience levels can contribute to actual research by participating in Project FeederWatch.

Observation sites can be as large as two tennis courts, or as small as a single feeder. Make sure the site is easily seen through your windows, then just use that same site all season. You simply observe the birds that come to that site for two consecutive days each week. And your counting time can be less than an hour, or more than eight hours, depending on your personal choices.

The scientists want data collected only during winter months, so in 2018 the reporting time ends April 13.

Record and report the largest number of each species you see at any one time during the two days to avoid double-counting birds.

When the observation season is completed, you can learn the numbers and distribution of various species and see how your yard compared to others who have been observing throughout the United States and Canada.

A couple of tips to get you started: Place your feeder in a quiet area where they are easy to see and fill. It is best to have them around 10 feet from natural cover such as trees and shrubs. This provides them cover and discourages cats and squirrels from leaping to the feeders. Buy fairly large feeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. The best all-around attractant is black-oil sunflower seeds due to its high fat content and it is easy for small birds to handle and crack open. Suet, or cakes of beef fat containing a variety of seeds, is another great choice for attracting insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. The cakes are placed in small cages to hold the suet while birds enjoy the feast. If you can provide grit (sand, very small pebbles, or ground eggshells) the birds will appreciate it since they use that in their gizzard to basically “chew” the seeds. Water is essential for birds even in winter, but you may need to provide a birdbath heater to keep ice from forming. And NEVER use anti-freeze since it is poisonous to ALL animals. Keep your cat indoors. You can also prevent birds crashing into windows by breaking up the reflections on the glass with netting or other decorations.

And if, one day, while you’re enjoying a melodious chorus of bird songs that suddenly go silent, you may have a visiting Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned Hawk hunting for lunch.

For more information, and how to register, go to feederwatch.org

This is Ron Hellstern and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Project Feederwatch, feederwatch.org
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/

Feederwatch Handbook & Instructions, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Handbook.pdf

Instruction summary, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/about/how-to-participate/instructions/

Detailed Instructions, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/about/detailed-instructions/

HOMESCHOOLER’S GUIDE TO PROJECT FEEDERWATCH, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birdsleuth.org/398/

Beyond Penquins and Polar Bears, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University, Funded by NSF, February 2009, http://beyondpenguins.ehe.osu.edu/issue/arctic-and-anarctic-birds/project-feederwatch-integrating-real-time-science-and-math

The Language of Ravens

Language of Ravens: Ravens in Bryce Canyon National Park
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bryce Canyon National Park
Courtesy US National Park Service
And found on Wikipedia

I was three days downriver and hadn’t seen a soul since shoving my canoe away from the boat ramp outside of town. The only sounds accompanying my solitude were the white noise of rapid water and the echoes of thoughts pin-balling around my mind—that is, until the third morning when, stooped over the small, blue roar of my cook stove, I was startled by an unfamiliar sound. It was a dry heave and the snap of a twig to my imagination at first, before I turned on my haunches to face the raven. But when I saw its eyes reflecting my own, set within a Victorian ruffled collar of frosted ebony feathers, the sounds became a gesture, an announcement of the bird’s presence.

At first, it was only the eyes I could track—deep, watery, and of a midnight hue, darker even than the feathery blanket they peered through. I didn’t respond quickly enough, I suppose. The raven blinked first, hopped toward the cold charcoal of last night’s fire and scooped a piece into his beak—not intending to eat it I’m sure; there was no tilting of the head as to swallow it. And after the first unpalatable bit was cast aside, another was scooped and cast in the same fashion. Then another. Four or five times before I realized what the raven wanted—my oatmeal, of course. As I turned back to my stove, there came the sound again, an ‘Urp!’ and a click of the beak.

The languages of birds in general are vastly complex and nuanced. And the language of ravens is supreme among them. In the unassuming journal Psychology Today, Avian Einsteins blogger and bird author John Marzluff dissects the reasons why. “A complex social lifestyle, long lifespan, and songbird brain provide the motive and machinery a raven needs to remain the most eloquent of avian orators,” Marzluff explains. The clucks, trills, haaas, and quorks common among all ravens are, in and of themselves, amazingly contextual and referential, used in varying sequences and settings to convey different meanings. And according to Marzluff, “New, useful, and intriguing noises can be memorized…and imitated as near perfect renditions,” to be “incorporated into a growing and individual repertoire.” This capacity for continued song learning not only makes raven language one of the most complex in the Animal Kingdom, but it also allows them to engage us humans.

My raven had given up scattering charcoal chips across the sand and had taken to watching me spoon oatmeal into my mouth as I stared back at him. Sat atop my cooler, hunched against the cold, January wind blowing up the canyon, I must not have been a menacing sight to the raven. Every few seconds, it hopped several inches forward toward me and clicked its beak, just as it had done when we first met. Then came the ‘Urp!’ again.

I would relay this experience several weeks later to a colleague and teacher of avian ecology. “It’s a begging behavior,” he would tell me. I was starting to figure this out for myself that morning—however late. I could tell the raven was getting frustrated with me, my relative intelligence coming into question within those midnight black eyes.

Our eyes kept finding each other. Only then did the ‘Urps’ and clicks stop. I was clearly not the first of its human encounters, but this was the first acquaintance I’d ever formally made with a raven. It was both thrilling and unsettling. I thought of Poe, shuddered, and looked away, back to my breakfast which was finally getting cold. I didn’t look at the raven anymore.

He left in disgust, I think, with a parting scoff. I turned at the gesture’s remarkable humanity, a familiar emotion translated between species. And I swear, as he banked into the river bend, he turned his head to glare back at me with those watery midnight eyes.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US FWS, US NPS
Sound: Courtesy ESA and Popular Culture via YouTube
Text: Josh Boling, 2017

Sources & Additional Reading

Raven Sounds:

Max Ushakov, A huge raven making weird sounds in front of a crowd at the Tower of London., YouTube.com, July 14 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7jgjovK5lY

ESL and Popular Culture, Raven ~ bird call, YouTube.com, Dec 12, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDv_PlrBg14

Common Raven, Animals, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/c/common-raven/

Bird Note, How to Tell a Raven From a Crow, Oct 22, 2012, Audubon, http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tell-raven-crow

https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/raven_intelligence

Ravens, Arches National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: February 8, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/ravens.htm

Common Raven, Zion National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: January 31, 2016 https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/raven.htm