Is “Dancing with the Stars” coming to Utah in June? Not exactly, but a spirited quick-step is underway across the marshes, lakes and ponds of northern Utah this spring. The contestants are waterfowl, the Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe. These birds have just flown in from a winter spent on the salt water bays and estuaries along our Pacific Coast. Choosing, or being chosen, as a mate is their first order of business upon return to Utah.
These two Mallard-sized grebes look nearly identical, with long white necks like a swan’s and lance-shaped bills like a heron’s. They differ subtly in the color of that bill and the extent of their black caps. What is most striking about western and Clark’s grebes is not their dapper appearance but their exuberant courtship dance. Like Snoopy dancing beside his mirror image, a pair of birds will tread furiously across the water surface, enabling them to rise upright with their necks stretched forward. After skittering ahead for 20 feet or more, the couple abruptly pitches forward and dives beneath the surface.
On our lakes and marshes, these two species of grebes today make the biggest splash on their watery dance floor. Just a century ago, they were hunted to near extinction for feathers to adorn womens’ hats. Happily, conservation trumped fashion, and populations of both species have largely recovered. Can any North American waterfowl match the vigor of this foot-churning courtship display? You be the judge. Pull up a lakeside seat, and with a little luck, you will be in the audience when they dance their splashy quick-steps to the primordial cadence of spring.
Photo: Courtesy of Weather Underground, Inc. www.wunderground.com
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Jim Cane
For More Information:
Check out Grebe Video on Google
Twelve miles up the Logan Canyon in the Bear River Range of the Wasatch Mountains is the grave of Old Ephriam, the last grizzly bear seen in Utah. He was trapped and shot in 1923 by Frank Clark, a sheepherder from Malad. Clark, an animal lover–except for bears–doggedly tracked Old Ephriam for 10 years during which the grizzly poached local sheep with impunity.
The name “grizzly” is based on the fact that bears in North America’s interior have hairs with white tips, resulting in a “grizzled” appearance. Many think the grizzly is a separate species, but in fact, the brown bears of North America, Northern Asia and Europe are all local variations of the same species–Ursus arctos. Brizzly, Kodiak, Manchurian, and Siberian brown bears may differ in size and color, but they all share a characteristic shoulder hump, a dished face and extra long claws so good for digging.
Old Ephriam was said to be a “giant grizzly”, weighing in at around 1,100 pounds. Such a weight would be unremarkable for a costal Alaskan brown bear, which can reach up to 1,500 pounds. But, because of their more limited food supply, interior brown bears, such as Old Ephriam, usually range between 225 and 670 pounds. Thus, it is very likely that the 1,100 pound figure might just be the product of good storytelling.
Today, you may visit utah’s most famous brown bear in two different places. Old Ephriam’s skull is on display in the Tanner Reading Room of Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier library in Logan. But maybe the best way to pay your respects to this Utah celebrity is to hike to his old stomping grounds northeast of Logan. His grave is six miles up the right-hand fork of the Logan river. A large stone monument, built by the Boy Scouts in 1966 lies near the 1923 gravesite.
Photo: Courtesy http://www.utahmountainbiking.com/trails/ephriam.htm
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand, Jim Akers, Jeannie Huenemann
Sources & Additional Reading
IUCN Bear Specialist Group Assessment: http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details/41688.pdf
Old Ephriam’s Grave, Utah.com http://www.utah.com/bike/trails/old_ephraims.htm