Silence

Silence: Kings Peak, Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Kings Peak,
in the High Uintas Wilderness,
Ashley National Forest
Courtesy Wikimedia
Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License

Silence is a rare commodity in the world we have created. Our senses are bombarded with all descriptions of sound to the point of sensory exhaustion. Likened to PTSD when violating a safe threshold, it may be time to find an escape.

Our avian friends are experiencing the same affliction.

As I was reminded on my early am canyon run, birds rely heavily on vocalizations to communicate. Lazuli buntings, warbling vireos, the barely audible blue gray gnatcatchers added pleasure to my uphill slog. But not singing for me, rather to attract mates, defend their territory from rivals, and warnings for predators.
The excess racket that humans contribute prompt some species to sing at different times and in different ways. In Mexico, researchers found that house finches raised the pitch of their lowest song notes in response to road noise, and also held them longer. A study published in Current Biology examined song changes of the great tit across ten European cities revealed that in each location the birds omitted the low-frequency portion of their call.
However helpful such biological tricks may be for some birds, the nearer one gets to a densely populated town or city, the less diverse the avian community becomes. Not all species have the ability to work around the commotion.

House sparrows, which have a significant low-frequency component to their songs, have suffered population declines of two thirds in Great Britain over the past few decades. A university of Colorado at Boulder study found that mourning doves and black-headed grosbeaks avoid nesting near sites where natural gas is being extracted, as they cannot tolerate the noisy compressors. Blood tests revealed that levels of corticosterone in birds closest to the gas compressors were far lower than normal. This initially came as a surprise to the researchers, because corticosterone is the bird equivalent of cortisol — the hormone that prompts the human body to release a flood of adrenaline, increasing blood pressure, and jolting our brain with sugar. Only 21 different species resided in the noisy sites, compared to 32 in the quiet ones.

Many of us have grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, perhaps to our demise, but the birds may have a lesson to teach us about the value of peace and quiet: just how frighteningly little of it remains. According to an audio ecologist study, fewer than five minutes go by before the average patch of wilderness is interrupted by the sounds of human interference.

After years of recording the natural environment in places all around the globe, Gordon estimates that fewer than a dozen truly silent places are left. It is not just the birds that are vulnerable, either. The breeding success of some Australian frog species is being impacted by traffic noise, and ocean noise pollution caused by boat engines. Who knows what variety of species may be affected? Noise might seem an unlikely player on the ecological stage, but further study is definitely warranted on impacts of the anthropogenic racket.

This is Jack Greene, and yes, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Leavitt, Shauna, Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks, Wild About Utah, May 6, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/natural-quiet-and-darkness-in-our-national-parks/

High Uintas Wilderness, Ashley National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ashley/specialplaces/?cid=fsm9_002443

Hempton, Gordon, SoundTracker.org, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, Mar 2, 2010 (reprint), https://www.soundtracker.com/

Hempton, Gordon, One Square Inch of Silence, , https://www.amazon.com/One-Square-Inch-Silence-Preserve/dp/1416559108/

The Bear River’s History and Contributions

Bear River Basin Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250x354.jpg
Bear River Basin
Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250×354.jpg
The Bear River meanders almost 500 miles from its headwaters in Utah’s Uinta Mountains to its mouth at the Great Salt Lake, making it the longest river in North America which does not empty into an ocean. Instead, the Bear River serves as the main source of fresh water for the Great Salt Lake, a vast terminal lake in the Great Basin with no outlet except evaporation. This hasn’t always been the case, though. The Bear River once flowed north, serving as a tributary of the Snake River, and ultimately reached the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. That is until about 140,000 years ago when the earth erupted in present-day southeast Idaho and spilled lava across the Bear River’s path.

Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir
Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Now obstructed by expansive lava fields hardening into immense walls of basalt rock, the Bear dog-legged to the south and became—for the first time—a source of fresh water for the ancient inland sea that would eventually become the Great Salt Lake. The river was tenacious, though, and spent its time not only feeding fresh water to ancestors of the Great Salt Lake but also chiseling away at the basalt columns that obstructed its way toward the sea. The river was finally rewarded for its efforts millennia after having been cut off from the Snake and Columbia River Basins, and once again became a tributary of the Snake River. This fate would not last, however. Roughly 35,000 years ago, violent geology would have its way again. More lava flows around present-day Soda Springs, Idaho, bent the Bear River back toward the Great Basin where it still empties today.

the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer

the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
And this has been a boon for the millions of residents—Homo sapiens and otherwise—of the Wasatch Front here in Utah. Let’s consider for a moment what life in central and northern Utah would be like if not for the Bear River. For starters, the Great Salt Lake would lose 60% of its annual inflow, drastically reducing its volume. I wonder if Brigham Young and his Saints would have even considered settling in the Salt Lake Valley after enduring the many lake-bed-dust storms courtesy of the Great Salt Lake that are becoming a growing concern today. We would certainly be deprived of the world-class migratory bird and wetland habitat supported by the Bear River at the famous Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Last fall, Ogden’s Standard Examiner newspaper reported that, quote, “the river had disappeared into a vast mudflat that used to be Bear River Bay.” Experts cited irrigation, municipal, and habitat uses in addition to a host of environmental and climate factors as causes of the Bear River becoming “tapped out” before it reached the Great Salt Lake. A snowpack that has doubled last year’s total according to the Salt Lake Tribune has the Bear River Basin’s snowpack brimming at nearly 300% its average this time of year. This promises to turn things around for the Bear River and the many species which depend upon it.

A complex and interdependent collection of variables impact the Bear River and its hydrologic fate—not least of which are humans, ecology, climate, and the occasional volcanic eruption.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images:
    Bear River Diagram Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
    Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon
    Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound:
Text: Josh Boling, 2019, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, The Bear River, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-river/

Beck, Russ, America’s Caveat River, Wild About Utah, Nov 16, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/americas-caveat-river/

Building a Warm Home for Endangered Razorback Suckers’ Young

Razorback Sucker: A tiny razorback sucker larvae under a microscope. They look like tiny noodles when seen swimming in the wetlands. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
A tiny razorback sucker larvae under a microscope. They look like tiny noodles when seen swimming in the wetlands.
Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Just outside Moab between the cold, fast flowing water of the Colorado River and the slow, warmer waters of the Matheson Wetland Preserve stands a newly constructed escape passage for larvae of the endangered razorback sucker.

The fish nursery was built to provide the newly hatched razorbacks a way to escape the appetites of the large predators in the Colorado River.

The tiny “noodle like” larvae enter the passage, swim through a screen which holds the predators back, then live a peaceful few months in the safe, nutrient rich water of the preserve.

Razorback Sucker: Katie Creighton and Zach Ahrens both native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) standing on the temporary Matheson screen. The Nature Conservancy and UDWR partnered together to build the structure to allow the endangered razorback sucker larvae to enter the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve without the predators also coming in. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Katie Creighton and Zach Ahrens both native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) standing on the temporary Matheson screen. The Nature Conservancy and UDWR partnered together to build the structure to allow the endangered razorback sucker larvae to enter the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve without the predators also coming in.
Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
The larvae will stay in the Matheson Wetland preserve during the summer to grow and gain strength. When water levels drop, the razorback young will be moved back into the Colorado River when they are much larger and have a better chance of survival.

The razorback sucker has lived in the Colorado River for thousands of years and has adapted to Utah’s warm turbid desert waters and rivers.

But during the twentieth century the razorbacks faced two threats: the growing population of non-native predator fish that consume the razorbacks, and the changing flow regime in the Colorado River Basin due to increasing water demand and development. These two threats decreased the razorbacks’ ability to maintain a sustainable population, which eventually led to the listing of the sucker as a federally endangered species.

Light trap near control structure in the Scott M. Matheson preserve. The traps are used to catch and monitor razorback sucker larvae. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Light trap near control structure in the Scott M. Matheson preserve. The traps are used to catch and monitor razorback sucker larvae.
Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Katie Creighton, the native aquatics project leader with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said, “In the Upper Basin [of the Colorado River], specifically around Moab, we saw [a] pretty significant decline in [population] numbers in the mid-90s [which] prompted stocking. We began to augment the populations with fish we reared in hatcheries.”

For 30 years, managers stocked razorback in the Colorado River. Then in 2008, they began noticing an increase in adult razorback numbers and detecting spawning aggregations which prompted managers to begin tracking reproduction.

Creighton explains, “We [went] into the rivers around Moab, in the Green and the Colorado Rivers, and…set larval light traps… to determine whether or not these fish were successfully spawning.”

Light trap in the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve. The trap is used to determine how many larvae make it into the preserve. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Light trap in the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve. The trap is used to determine how many larvae make it into the preserve.
Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
The light traps collected a promising amount of razorback larvae in both the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Managers could now say the razorbacks do well as stocked adults, they reproduce in the wild, and their eggs hatch successfully.

The question left unresolved is why the “young of the year” are not surviving, juvenile razorbacks are rarely seen in the wild.

Unravelling the bottleneck between when the razorbacks hatch and when they become adults has become the new focus for managers. This is where the Matheson Wetlands project came in. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources partnered with the Natural Conservancy to build the fish nursery.

Katie Creighton, native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, setting light traps in Matheson Preserve. The traps are used to monitor razorback sucker larvae. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Katie Creighton, native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, setting light traps in Matheson Preserve. The traps are used to monitor razorback sucker larvae.
Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer
Creighton explains, “The main goal [of the project] is to get [the razorback suckers] off the endangered species list. To recover them to self-sustaining populations that can maintain their numbers without…stocking. It’s a pretty ambitious goal, especially because we have to do [it] in the face of continued water use and water development…The recovery program is not battling or trying to stop water development, its goal is [simply] to recover these species in the face of what is currently happening with water use.”

Phaedra Budy, professor in the Watershed Sciences Department at USU and unit leader for U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit said, “The Razorback sucker has intrinsic value to the [Colorado River system], is a critical member of the ecosystem, and deserves every effort for recovery.”

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
    Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer, Education Specialist, Cedar Breaks National Monument
    Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt,
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Piute Farms Waterfall on Lower San Juan – a Tributary of Lake Powell, Wild About Utah, Aug 6, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/piute-farms-waterfall-on-lower-san-juan-a-tributary-of-lake-powell/

Razorback Sucker(Page 68), Utah’s Endandengered Fish, 2018 Utah Fishing Guidebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Services, https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2018_pdfs/2018_fishing.pdf

Fish Ecology Lab, Utah State University, 
https://www.usu.edu/fel/

Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus), Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org/general-information/the-fish/razorback-sucker.html

Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, The Places We Protect, The Nature Conservancy, https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/scott-m-matheson-wetlands-preserve/

A Nursery for Endangered Fish, The Nature Conservancy, https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/utah/stories-in-utah/razorback-sucker-nursery-utah/

Hungry Hummingbirds

Hungry Hummingbirds: Hummingbird at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Hummingbird at Feeder
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Having witnessed people in poverty, as well as starving animals, I can never condone the fascination some Americans have with Hot Dog Eating Contests. Yet humans are poor competitors when compared to some members of the animal kingdom.

Hungry Hummingbirds: Hummingbirds at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Hummingbirds at Feeder
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
To simplify the math, let’s say you weigh 100 pounds. Imagine eating 150 pounds of food every day just to maintain your energy level! I have about twenty guests at my home near Logan right now that eat one and one-half times their body weight every day, and they’ve been doing it for months. Hummingbirds!

Hungry Hummingbirds: With a length of 9.5 cm, the rufous hummingbird has the longest migration in the world in relation to its size. Photo courtesy and Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
With a length of 9.5 cm,
the rufous hummingbird
has the longest migration
in the world in relation to its size.
Photo courtesy and
Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
We have a good mix of Broad-Tailed, Black-Chinned, and Rufous Hummingbirds that are busy at our feeders from early morning until 9:00pm. Those three are the most common species in Utah although others, like the Anna’s, Costa’s and Calliopes are seen in our Southern regions. And even though we have plenty of feeding stations at our home, it’s interesting how they will usually try to scare each other off each time they approach a feeder. I keep telling them to share, but they won’t listen to me.

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Selasphorus platycercus
Copyright © 2010 Michael Fish
Their need for food makes sense due to their tremendous expenditure of energy. Their heart rates are the fastest of any bird species at about 500 beats per minute…when resting, and 1,200 beats when flying. And their wings beat up to 90 times…per second. Even their breathing is race-paced at 250 breaths per minute. They basically need to refuel constantly.

Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird incubating eggs in nest Archilochus alexandri Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham (cell phone through spotting scope)
Adult Black-chinned Hummingbird
incubating eggs in nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
(cell phone through spotting scope)
Speaking about flying, they can go forward, backward, and even upside down. And while their speed can approach nearly 50 miles per hour, they don’t shirk at long distances. They winter in the tropics, but some will travel up to 2,500 miles one way to breed in Canada and Alaska.

Some scientists are concerned about rising temperatures because flowers are blooming earlier in northern areas, which means that food source may be gone when the hummingbirds arrive.
While they also eat insects, you can attract hummingbirds to your yards with the right plants. They like nectar plants like Columbines, Honeysuckle, Penstemon, Paintbrush, Bleeding Hearts and Trumpet Vines. You can also supplement those nectar sources with feeders.

Young Black-chinned Hummingbird with beak hanging out of nest Archilochus alexandri Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
Young Black-chinned Hummingbird
with beak hanging out of nest
Archilochus alexandri
Copyright © 2010 Lyle Bingham
They are attracted to the color red, but don’t buy commercial food mixes that have food coloring in them because it is harmful to them. And never use honey or artificial sweeteners. Just boil 4 parts water to one part white-granulated sugar. Let it cool and fill your feeders. And in most cases, if you fill it, they will come.
If you’re lucky, the little guys may like your wildlife habitat so much they may even nest there, although those are difficult to see since they aren’t much larger than a quarter. They generally lay two eggs about the size of navy beans, but please don’t disturb the little nest or chicks.

Plant the correct flowers, nesting habitat, and put up feeders, and you may experience one of nature’s flying wonders…the Hummingbird.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rufus Hummingbird, Wild About Utah, Aug 3, 2015,
https://wildaboututah.org/rufous-hummingbird/

Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, June 5, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/gardening-hummingbirds/

Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, Jun 14, 2012,
https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, Sept 3, 2009,
https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Strand, Holly, Heading South, Wild About Utah, Oct 28, 2010,
https://wildaboututah.org/heading-south/