Antelope Island Bison

Bison Bull on Antelope Island Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Bison Bull on Antelope Island
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Bison Pair Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Bison Pair
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The sun was just coming up when I drove onto Antelope Island State Park on Oct 30 Bison were grazing on both sides of the road, and I had to stop a few times and wait as they lumbered across the road. But by the time I reached the Garr Ranch on the southern end of the island, I felt I had driven onto the set of a Hollywood western. 250 volunteer cowboys were saddled up on their horses and were getting their final instructions. At 8 am they spread out in a long line and began their slow walk north. Ahead of them the bison began to move. This was the day of the annual bison round-up. By the end of the day, the more than 500 bison on the island were milling about in the sturdy corrals in the northern part of the island.

After giving the bison a day to catch their breath, the park managers started to move the bison through the corrals until, one by one, they stepped on the scales. The young calves born that spring weighed in at about 400 lbs and the old bulls topped the scales at over 2000. The next step was into the restraining chute. It was time to get vaccinated and have a quick medical checkup.

Over the clanging and banging of the solid metal pens, I could occasionally hear the vet cry, “Pregnant!” This seemed to be the magic password, as the front gates of the chute would fly open and the heifer would dash off into a pen that would return her back into the island. The others needed to wait.

This whole story began in 1873 when 12 privately owned bison were sold to the owners of Antelope Island. These twelve thrived in this harsh environment. They grew shaggy warm winter coats and plowed the deepest snow drifts, swinging their massive heads back and forth, down to the grass below. A bison will eat 40 pounds of grass a day. Antelope Island is only 15 miles long and 5 miles wide There is just enough grass to support a herd of 500. Since there are no wolves or natural predators on the island, the park managers will need to sell the excess numbers at an online auction.

In the 1500’s, an estimated 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains. The Native Americans revered them and harvested them mindfully. They found a use for every bison part – including the stomach, which proved a reliable water jug. But the western expansion of white settlers led to the deliberate slaughter of the bison. By the end of the 19th c, only 300 bison were left in the wild.

The chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian National Museum, William Hornaday, spend two summer in remote corners of Montana harvesting and old bull, a calf, and 4 young bison. He brought the hides back to Washington and built a display that he believed would be the only chance for future generations to see this vanishing species.

In Yellowstone National Park, 2 army men patrolling the park on cross country skis witnessed a poacher shoot a bison. The poacher had put down his rifle and was busy severing the trophy head. The two soldiers quietly skied up close enough to apprehend him with their revolver. Still the park’s bison herd dwindled to 23 -until 1902 when he army purchased 21 more from private owners.

The Yellowstone herd now numbers over 5,000.

Today, between parks, private herds, and tribal lands the bison now number half a million.

Bison have come roaring back from the very edge of extinction.

This is Mary Heers and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

US FWS Bison Images: https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/search/searchterm/bison

Clifton, Jameson, Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison, Wild About Utah, June 1, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/get-involved-with-plans-to-manage-yellowstone-national-parks-bison/

Boling, Josh, The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, January 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountains-bison-herd/

2021 Bison Roundup, Antelope Island State Park, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oct 30, 2021, https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/bison-roundup/

Cabrero, Alex, Annual bison roundup held at Antelope Island State Park, KSL TV, October 30, 2021, https://ksltv.com/475592/annual-bison-roundup-held-at-antelope-island-state-park/

Cox, Erin, Hundreds of volunteers gather to participate in annual bison roundup at Antelope island, Fox 13, Scripps Local Media, https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/hundreds-of-volunteers-gather-to-participate-in-annual-bison-roundup-at-antelope-island

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer
Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer
It’s turkey time, and time to give thanks for this great bird! There is much to learn beyond stuffing them full of stuffing. In my younger years when hunting was a major part of our Michigan culture, I was forewarned that the wile wild turkey was a formidable opponent for the small game hunter.

I’ve had many turkey encounters beyond eating their deliciousness. Our little town of Smithfield was held at bay by four huge Toms who terrorized a neighborhood with their testosterone-fueled aggressiveness. This followed by two toms in Logan who gave merry chase to police officers that attempted to coral them as they were attractive nuisances at the Main and Center intersection. One unfortunately took refuge in a butcher’s shop. In the wild, I was surprised to find large flocks roosting in trees reminding me of passenger pigeon stories when their massive, collective weight could break limbs. On a Christmas bird count, I witnessed a near 200 yard line of single file turkeys traipsing through deep snow, like a herd of bison plowing through prairie drifts.

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, images.fws.gov
Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer
http://images.fws.gov
Anyone who has the opportunity to meet these animals will tell you that they are highly intelligent birds full of playful and unique personalities. They are incredibly curious and inquisitive and enjoy exploring their surroundings. Turkeys are very social including human companionship. Researchers have found that when a turkey is removed from its rafter (flock that is), they will squawk in obvious protest until reunited. Turkeys have a refined “language” of yelps and cackles, with more than 20 unique vocalizations. They mourn the death of a flock member and so acutely anticipate pain that domestic breeds have had heart attacks after watching their feathered mates take that fatal step towards Thanksgiving dinner.

A bit more turkey trivia. The area of bare skin on a turkey’s throat and head vary in color depending on its level of excitement and stress. When excited, a male turkey’s head turns blue, when ready to fight it turns red. The long fleshy object over a male’s beak is called a snood. Wild turkeys can also fly 55 miles an hour and run 18 miles an hour.

The turkey was sacred in ancient Mexican cultures. The Mayans, Aztecs and Toltecs referred to the turkey as the ‘Great Xolotl’, viewing them as ‘jewelled birds’. From ceremony and food to clothing and companionship, their winged friends have always held significance in their lives. In the ancient Southwest, as elsewhere, human-avian relationships had important social, ritual, economic, and political dimensions.

Wild Turkeys were nearly hunted to extinction in large parts of North America with only 1,900 known to remain in the 1930’s. When European settlers arrived in Utah, none remained. Merriam’s wild turkeys from Colorado were reintroduced into S. Utah in the 1950’s from Colorado, creating an established population that has spread into several parts of Utah. In 1989, a second subspecies- the Rio Grande turkey, was successfully established in Utah’s Washington County. So as you give thanks before partaking in the TG feast, please include the turkey in your many blessings.

Jack Green for the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m thankful for Utah and its wild turkeys.


Wild Turkeys at the mouth of Smithfield Canyon, across from Mack Park, Nov 22, 2009, Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham

Credits:
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/


Zion National Park, Utah – Wild Turkey Mating Dance, “pkerikno” Photographer ‘Eric Def Films, Grandpa Pete Studio Production…’

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys-recently-moved-to-utah/

Utah Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), https://www.nwtf.org/about/state/utah
https://www.utnwtf.org/

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, Guide to North American Birds, National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/wild-turkey

Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wild_Turkey/overview

Rio Grande and Merriam’s wild turkey use areas in Utah, USA, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Conservation Biology Institute, Feb 7, 2011 (Last modified May 13, 2011), https://databasin.org/datasets/8d2b2f9d01544c689f729d3ed0cf270d/

The Quiet Importance of Brine Flies

The Quiet Importance of Brine Flies: Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, Courtesy Pixabay, wnk1029, contributor and photographer
Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake,
Courtesy Pixabay, wnk1029, contributor and photographer
It was early afternoon in mid-July 2019 and my first time setting foot on Antelope Island. As a newcomer to Utah, I was itching to explore the local sights and had come to learn about the impressive annual shorebird migration from my friend, a bird enthusiast and fellow graduate student. Brimming with excitement, and a little put off by the smell of Great Salt Lake mud wafting through the open windows, we parked the car in the Antelope Island Marina parking lot and jumped out onto the shore of the famed isle. Thousands of birds dotted the water around the harbor, and the ubiquitous Antelope Island spiders blanketed the bushes with innumerable webs. But it wasn’t the birds stretching as far as the eye could see out on the waters of Great Salt Lake, or the impressive number of spiders skittering past our car tires that left a lasting impression on me.

As we stepped out onto the beach to get a closer look at the birds bobbing on the salt water and to set up the birder’s favorite tool, a spotting scope, the dark grey sand under our feet sprang to life with a gentle buzz. The sand, or what I thought was sand, was actually a shoal of brine flies, easily numbering in the millions. Surprised by our discovery and shorebirds completely forgotten for the moment, we walked slowly along the shore, and with each step, a cloud of flies jumped up to avoid our footfalls, gently settling back down behind us as we walked on.

Brine flies, which are small flies in the genus Ephydra, are a common occurrence around the lake. These gentle flies do not bite, and as adults, they don’t even have mouth parts to feed with. Much like mayflies, they only live a few days as adults, with the goal of reproducing and laying their eggs back in the waters of Great Salt Lake to start a new generation of flies.

Similar to an aquatic caterpillar, their larval stage lives in the briny waters of Great Salt Lake, feeding mostly on algae and other organic matter. At their peak population around Great Salt Lake each year, brine flies are estimated to number in the billions, and the skins they shed as they emerge from the water as adults pile up on the shore in incomprehensible numbers.

As such an abundant insect around the lake, they provide critical food for all manner of creatures. Our momentarily forgotten shorebirds are avid predators of brine flies, and, hungry from migration, these birds snap up brine flies by the thousands. Phalaropes, stilts and sandpipers are just a few of the bird species that feast on brine flies. Gulls love to feast on brine flies, and in silly gull fashion, go about chasing them up and down the beaches with open beaks and loud wails. Remarkably, for eared grebes, brine flies can make up 40 percent of their diet, while the remainder usually consists of another Great Salt Lake denizen, the brine shrimp.

Birds aren’t the only ones that rely on brine flies for food. Spiders, like the ones keeping us company in the Antelope Island bushes, as well as beetles and other invertebrates, feast on brine flies too. In fact, as scientists say, brine flies are an important part of our Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Walking slowly along the shore with my eyes pointed down toward the great clouds of brine flies at my feet, it was easy to see how their sheer numbers could feed an army of critters.

As someone who spends most of my time thinking about birds that eat fish and how to study them, I’m not one to trouble myself with thoughts about insects often, but thinking back on that remarkable July afternoon and the struggling health of our Great Salt Lake, I can’t help worry a little for the future of our gentle brine flies.

I’m Aimee Van Tatenhove, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, wnk1029, contributor and photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/antelope-island-great-salt-lake-lake-2659982/
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Aimee Van Tatenhove
Text: Aimee Van Tatenhove, USU Department of Biology, Utah State University
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Pieces by Aimee Van Tatenhove on Wild About Utah

Brine Flies, Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, September 01 2021, https://wildlife.utah.gov/gslep/wildlife/brine-flies.html

McPherson, Mia, Great Salt Lake Brine Flies – Important Food Source For California Gulls, OnTheWingPhotography.com, July 14th, 2018, https://www.onthewingphotography.com/wings/2018/07/14/great-salt-lake-brine-flies-important-food-source-for-california-gulls/

Van Elegem, Bernard, Great Salt Lake, Lord of the Flies – Part I, brine flies and bird abundance, June 16, 2015, http://www.bernardvanelegem.com/news/great-salt-lake-lord-flies-part-i-brine-flies-and-bird-abundance

Van Elegem, Bernard, Great Salt Lake, Lord of the Flies – Part II, Cicindela hemorrhagica, June 17, 2015, http://www.bernardvanelegem.com/news/great-salt-lake-lord-flies-part-ii-cicindela-hemorrhagica

Brine Flies scatter as you walk through, Great Salt Lake State Park & Marina, State Parks, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, June 11, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3137388862978108

Great Salt Lake Brine Flies, Antelope Island State Park, State Parks, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://youtu.be/pktAdULIdZk
Brine flies abound around Great Salt Lake in the summer. As far as insects go, these are some of the “good guys”

The Natural Ebbs of the World

The Natural Ebbs of the World: Snow Goose Courtesy Pixabay, Hans Benn, Photographer
Snow Goose
Courtesy Pixabay, Hans Benn, Photographer
I can never tell if the anachronism of daylight savings is ironic. Maybe that’s due to my newly syncopated circadian rhythm. Or maybe it’s all a dream. Or perhaps, it’s somewhere in between.

Either way, it strikes me odd that we take our supposed linear direction on time from circular mechanisms that are unable to change of their own volition, except for once a year where we make morning seem earlier, even though it really isn’t, then in the fall we realize what an odd choice we made and go back on our decision.

Winter then sees us forget about our lapse. The cloud of amnesia, gained through time influencing time, shrouds our minds, so that come spring we’re intellectual infants, fresh as the crisp crocus air.

Now, I am actually not opposed to daylight savings. In fact, I’m very for it, though I differ in how it is implemented. I actually enjoy that, twice a year, our inner apes get to upset the rigid clockwork of clockwork, and use arbitrary tradition to tell our shared system of accountability that it does not have all the sway, and that it is ultimately, itself, an arbitrary tradition. I like that we get to be human in a world that is increasingly machine.

My umbrage with daylight savings, then, is that it isn’t wild enough. A strict date to spring and fall? That doesn’t seem right. It’s too orderly. My vote is that in every town, we pick one critter who wakes then dens, or arrives then leaves, and base our system of time off of something that is actually real, tangible, and unconditional. Maybe for the towns here in Utah, it can be a ground squirrel. Or a swan. Or RV tourists. Instead of having a strict immobile date, we give all time its greatest accountability: the natural ebbs of the world. We give time the context it is itself within.

This system I’d find actually meaningful, and just great fun. Imagine a likeness to groundhog day, twice a year, in every town, with all sorts of menagerie. The message we’ll send is that time doesn’t control us, nor we time. Instead time is controlled by those who are unaware of their own influence. Each living thing would have a potential chance to alter how we conduct ourselves. In this way, daylight savings no longer becomes anachronistic, or even ironic. Instead, daylight savings can become a dialogue with the world; a conversation with our participation in life. Time becomes grounded in reality. I imagine this conversation:

“What time is it?”
“Depends, has the first snow goose arrived?”
“No, but the last leaves fell off the box elder by the post office.”
“Then that explains why Bill isn’t here and we are.”

So this daylight savings, if you or someone you know is grumbling that all of this could be so much easier, just say yes, it could, and pitch them this idea if you’re keen on it, too. Let them see that we don’t have to be where we are, with an inane change of the time based on time, but instead we could change the time based on the world which is alive and vibrant around us each day. We could force ourselves to participate in time, by seeing that who we are depends on where we are and the life which encircles the lives we live. Maybe then, we can lose the ironic anachronism we currently have, and let our circadian rhythms be aligned to those natural forces which run deeper than a calendar date wherever, or whenever, you are.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Hans Benn, Photographer https://pixabay.com/photos/goose-white-snow-goose-flies-4190673/
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/