Mushrooms in Utah

Russula emetica
Courtesy &Copyright 2008 Michael Piep

Does the mere mention of stuffed or sauteed mushrooms start your mouth to water? Perhaps you start your day dreaming of morels, porcini, truffles or chanterelles. Alas, what is poor mushroom aficionado to do? Michael Piep of the Utah State Intermountain Herbarium tells me that tasty wild mushrooms can be as close as our own backyards.

From among the most delicate and delicious to the most deadly, Utah has them. Many people are astonished to learn that Utah is home to a diversity of mushrooms. Our state has several thousand species of fungi, from molds that inhabit that old jar of jelly to the delicious King Bolete of our conifer forests.

Adroit at camouflage, Utah’s fungal wealth can be discovered by the dedicated. What is better than a day spent searching the forests for edible mushrooms? Few activities compare to traipsing along riverbeds after morels in spring, all the while avoiding poison ivy. There is a reason they call it mushroom hunting.

Fungi can be both blessing and curse… Some are innocuous decomposers of dead plant material, or active partners in mycorrhizal relationships with plant roots, but others cause dread illnesses in both plants and animals…. the fungi do it all. In each of our state’s plant communities live unique species of mushrooms, as any avid mushroom hunter can tell you.
Of course, the fruiting or our devious little friends is weather dependant. So petition your local weather service for wet weather. Dry air and soils inhibit fruiting by mushrooms.

The next time you eat a slice of bread, uncork a bottle of wine, quaff a beer, or simply savor grilled mushrooms on your steak, thank a fungus. If you wish to explore more, contact one of the two mushroom societies in the state. There, your fellow mushroom lovers will be happy to help you get on the path to fungal enlightenment.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Michael Piep

Text: Michael Piep, Utah State University, Intermountain Herbarium http://herbarium.usu.edu

Additional Reading:

Bridgerland Mushroom Society will meet 18 February 2009 See http://herbarium.usu.edu/ for details

Mushroom Society of Utah http://www.utahmushrooms.com/

The Mushroom Journal, http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/

Utah State University: Intermountain Herbarium, http://herbarium.usu.edu

Fun Facts about Fungi, Utah State University, Intermountain Herbarium, http://herbarium.usu.edu/fungi/FunFacts/factindx.htm

The Christmas Bird Count

A Mountain Chickadee
One of 103 bird species found in the 2007
Bridgerland Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Photo Courtesy Bridgerlandaudubon.org

The Christmas holidays bring us a bevy of welcome annual traditions. Even now I can smell the cookies, hear familiar caroles and see the decorated tree. I hear the western screech owl too, for I also join in the Christmas Bird Count. These are exhaustive one day surveys of all the individuals of every species of bird that can be found in a locality. Christmas Bird Counts began 109 years ago in New York City as a holiday alternative to the excesses of the so-called “side hunt”. From that first inspiration, the Christmas Bird Count has spread to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and beyond. Last year, most of the 2100 counts were in the US, totting up 57 million individual birds representing nearly 2000 species. Here in Utah, we reported 180 bird species. Provo holds honors as Utah’s first Christmas bird count, held in 1903. Today, hundreds of Utahns participate in 20 local counts, from Saint George north to Bear Lake.

 

I always join Bridgerland Audubon’s count in Logan, which has been running for 52 years. Last year, we finally topped 100 bird species in our allotted count circle of 150 square miles, the effort of 61 birders. That’s remarkable for a chilly winter’s day, considering that many of our feathered friends, such as hummingbirds, flycatchers and more have hightailed it south for the winter, but note that some northerly species, such as roughlegged hawks, view Utah as the balmy endpoint of their fall migration.

Christmas Bird Counts offer something for everyone, from novices to seasoned birders, and from simple feeder counts to backcountry walkabouts. I’ll be up in the predawn, listening for owls. Every count’s data contributes to long-term research about winter dispersal patterns of birds, their population trends, and impacts of troubles like West Nile virus, which is especially hard on crows, magpies and jays. If you like birds, join in the fun and make the Christmas Bird Count one of your holiday traditions.

All counts are scheduled between December 14 and January 5. Utah’s Christmas Bird counts are listed on our website: just search for Wild About Utah. Our Logan count is on Saturday, December 20. That evening, we’ll flock together for a big potluck and count compilation party.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy BridgerlandAudubon.org www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane

Additional Reading:

Christmas Bird Counts in Utah, Utahbirds.org, Milt Moody, Webmaster, http://www.utahbirds.org/cbc/cbc.html

The 109th Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action, National Audubon Society, Inc. http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html

Idaho Circles: http://app.audubon.org/cbcapp/findCircles.jsp?state=US-ID&start=1

Utah Circles: http://app.audubon.org/cbcapp/findCircles.jsp?state=US-UT&start=1

Bird vs. Window

The Cedar Waxwing is a fruit eating bird.
It can become intoxicated
eating the fermented fruit of
mountain ash, chokecherry
and other trees and bushes.
Courtesy Utah Division of Natural Resources

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

While working at my desk this fall, I was unnerved by the frequency of soft thumps caused by feathery bodies slamming into the windows of our house. One day I counted 20 hits in a single hour . We have designs etched into the glass, but they didn’t seem to deter the feathery missiles from their kamikaze flight trajectories.

Intense periods of frequent window strikes coincided with feeding frenzies on chokecherry and then crabapple fruit in our yard. Birds get intoxicated from the berries and their judgement flies out the window (so to speak) impairing flight control. Robins, waxwings and other fruit eaters that feed on fermented berries from mountain ash, crab apple or other trees and bushes are the most frequent crash victims.

Of course drunkeness is not the only cause of bird- window confrontations. Sometimes birds attack windows. This spring, I was startled by an angry-looking robin trying to attack me through the glass. But I was not the object of his rage. He was simply a male defending his territory against his own reflected image.

But back to collisions. Most accidents occur when birds see trees, sky, or clouds reflected on a glass but do not see the hard transparent window surface itself. Ornithologists estimate that in the United States alone well over 100 million birds are killed each year by window collisions. Sometimes the birds are merely stunned and recover in a few moments. Often, however, window hits lead to severe internal injuries and death. Strikes are most frequent in winter because birds are attracted to feeders placed near windows.

Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do minimize collisions. First, check your feeder placement. Pete Dunne, an ornithologist, found that feeders placed 13 feet away from a window corresponded with the maximum deaths. However, a feeder place within a meter of window actually reduced the accident rate. Birds focus on the feeder as they fly toward the window. If they strike the glass leaving the feeder, they do so at very low speed.

You may want to cover windows with netting or screens which will function as a sideways trampoline if a bird should hit them. You can also redirect birds by putting up awnings, beads, bamboo, fabric strips. Stickers or silhouettes will help if they are spaced 2-4 in. apart across the entire window. A single, black hawk-shaped silhouette in the middle of a bit picture window does not prevent crashes.

If you find a bird dazed from a window hit, place it in a dark container with a lid such as a shoebox, and leave it somewhere warm and quiet, out of reach of pets and other predators. If the weather is extremely cold, you may need to take it inside. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it as much as possible. The darkness will calm the bird while it revives, which should occur within a few minutes, unless it is seriously injured. Release it outside as soon as it appears awake and alert. If the bird doesn’t recover in a couple of hours, you could take it to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo Courtesy Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=bombcedr

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Dunne, Pete. 2003. Pete Dunne on Bird Watching: The How-to, Where-to, and When-to of Birding. HMCo Field Guides. http://www.amazon.com/Pete-Dunne-Watching-Where-When/dp/0395906865

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Bird Notes from sapsucker woods. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/notes/BirdNote10_Windows.pdf (Accessed Nov 30, 2008)

Leahy, Christopher. 1982. The Birdwatcher’s Companion. NY: Grammercy Books. http://www.amazon.com/Birdwatchers-Companion-North-American-Birdlife/dp/0691113882/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228882143&sr=1-1

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, Ogden, UT http://www.wrcnu.org/

Bird Feeding

Pine Siskins and an
American Goldfinch feed
on thistle from a sock feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Many of our songbirds have departed for tropical climes to spend their winter. I confess that some days I envy them their choice. Like you and I, though, many others remain behind. They will fluff their feathers to tough out the cold, spending these short days in a perpetual hunt for food to keep them warm. You can help their hungry quest.

Remember the movie Mary Poppins and the scene where the lady sings “Feed the Birds”? She was feeding city pigeons, but you can feed our diverse songbirds using a convenient birdfeeder. For loose seed, we use a hopper feeder. The hopper resembles a tiny roofed house which is filled with seed that is dispensed from a trough at its base. To exclude squirrels, we have a metal squirrel-proof feeder, but you could put a baffle on the feeder’s supporting pole. The other common style of seed feeder is a broad tray. It will need a roof and drain holes to keep the seed dry and free of mold. Our feeder is above a stone walkway for birds like juncos that prefer seed spilled on the ground. A ring of upturned tomato cages around this area excludes cats, and the season’s discarded Christmas tree will provide them cover.

 

Hopper Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

The best seed to offer is black oil sunflower seed, rich in fats and proteins, with a thin shell. Our diners include chickadees, finches, sparrows, nuthatches and woodpeckers. If you buy seed mixes, juncos and sparrows will take white millet, but milo or so-called red millet is a filler. Doves and jays like cracked corn too. Goldfinches and pine siskins flock to Nyjer thistle seed dispensed from a fine mesh sock you can buy with the seed.

Hopper Feeder
with frustrated
squirrel
© 2008 Jim Cane

Woodpeckers and nuthatches appreciate a suet feeder too, being a wire mesh cage containing a block of seed-filled suet, typically rendered from beef kidney fat. Expect magpies to hammer chunks off that suet block occasionally; our dog knows all about it. Nothing quite cheers a wintry day for me like colorful songbirds noisely bustling at our feeders.

If you do put up feeders, consider participating in Project Feeder Watch. You can find details on our web site, WildAboutUtah. Bon apetite!

Credits:

Suet Feeder
© 2008 Jim Cane

Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2008 Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Jim Cane, Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Bird Recordings Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Kevin Colver, WildSanctuary, Soundscapes, http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

 

Additional Reading:

Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://library.fws.gov/Bird_Publications/feed.html

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

Educator’s Guide to Bird Study, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/feeding_birds/bird_feeders.htm

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Birdsource.org, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Creating landscapes for Wildlife — A Guide for Backyards in Utah, A production of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service & Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215