Sego Lily

Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use. Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,  Michael Wheeler, Photographer
Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use.
Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,
Michael Wheeler, Photographer
With pioneer Day’s a few weeks away, it’s time to honor a very special plant that saved many Utah pioneers.

Its been a banner year for our state flower. The sego lily has graced our meadows since early June, now in its late stages at lower elevation. It has generated many stories. Before I launch them, I must compliment its delicate beauty and love for adverse conditions: hot, dry, rocky soils in which it’s found.
The sego lily personifies the tough, resilient beautiful pioneer spirit.

Brigham Young declared the sego lily “a heaven sent source of food.” Friendly Native Americans taught Mormon settlers how to harvest and prepare the bulbs, for much needed survival food when a devastating cricket infestation destroyed crops.

From pioneer journals:

Sego Lily Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Sego Lily
Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
“In the spring of 1848, our food was gone. … Along the month of April we noticed all the foothills were one glorious flower garden. The snow had gone, the ground was warm. We dug thousands of sego roots, for we heard that the Indians had lived on them for weeks and months. We relished them and carried them home in bucketfuls. How the children feasted on them, particularly when they were dried, for they tasted like butternuts.”
Elizabeth Huffaker, Salt Lake City

And here is another one:
In my childhood, our whole group of children used to go east of town, each carrying a sego digger. It was a piece of wood sharpened on one end, and flat on the
other. We would go just out of town and look for segos, which were quite plentiful. When we found them we each went to digging by putting the sharp end of the stick into the
ground close beside the sego and pressing down on the flat end of the digger until it was a few inches in the ground. Sometimes we pounded on the top of the dipper with a rock… When the stick was far enough in the ground to suit us, we just pushed it to one side, and up came the segos. Then we ate them, and oh how we enjoyed hunting them.
Lorena Washburn Larsen, 1868, Manti, UT

Native Americans considered the sego lily a sacred plant and developed culinary uses for its bulbs, seeds, and flowers. Many tribes created a healthful porridge from roasted or boiled sego lily bulbs. For the Navajo, it was one of the “life plants” used for ceremonial purposes.

Sego is derived from the indian word sega. Many indian women were named sego or sego-shi.
The spanish named it Mariposa, their word for butterfly. For these beautiful mountainside flowers looked like butterflies.

The sego lily was formally designated as the Utah State Flower in 1911. Chosen for its natural beauty as well as its historical significance.

The lily gets its scientific name Calochortus nuttallii from Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist, who collected the sego lily in 1811 while traveling along the Missouri River.
Its found around the western states.

Please do not disturb this iconic beauty. Photos are encouraged.

This is Jack Greene, for Bridgerland Audubon. I continue to be infatuated with Utah’s wildness.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US NPS, Michael Wheeler, Photographer
      Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Sego Lily, Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/nature/sego-lilly.htm

Utah State Facts and Symbols, Utah.com, Deseret Digital Media, https://utah.com/state-facts-symbols

Utah State Flower – Sego Lily, Pioneer-Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, https://pioneer.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/flower.html

Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii Torr. & A. GrayShow https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CANU3

https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/liliaceae_calochortus_nuttallii.htm

Sego Lily and Friends, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sego_Lily_and_Friends_(14368043194).jpg

LORENA EUGENIA WASHBURN, Autobiography, Published by her Children, Brigham Young University Press, 1962, http://www.ourfamilylegacy.info/files/washburnlorena1860autobio.pdf

Young, Levi Edgar, The Sego Lily (See quote from Mrs. Elizabeth Huffaker, a pioneer of 1847, p.7), The Great West in American History, Bulletin of the University of Utah, Volume 11, Issue 9, Department of Western History, University of Utah, https://books.google.com/books?id=4LfOAAAAMAAJ

Sagers, Larry A., Utah Sego Lily Thrives In Dry, Sandy Hillsides – Not Gardens, Deseret News July 25, 1990, Larry A. Sagers, https://www.deseret.com/1990/7/25/18873035/utah-sego-lily-thrives-in-dry-sandy-hillsides-not-gardens

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Green-eyed Dragonfly Courtesy Pixabay Guenther Lig Photographer
Green-eyed Dragonfly
Courtesy Pixabay
Guenther Lig Photographer
A few days ago a friend invited me to join him on a dragonfly odyssey high on a ridge in a canyon east of Smithfield, Utah. What we observed can only be described as a natural phenomenon.

At 6 am, the sun was just cresting the Bear River Range as we arrived at our destination. We dropped off the ridge to search small cliff bands of Lake Bonneville conglomerate for our quarry. We were not disappointed.

Hundreds of dragonflies were just beginning to launch from the cliff bands to being their daily hunt. As many were still plastered to the rock face awaiting the critical temperature to activate. I was mesmerized while sun-lit wings glowed gold and silver. Questions filled my head. Why so concentrated far above the canyon bottom in this strange rock? At what temperatures are they active? How many species occupy this small space? How can there be enough prey to support this high population? How far do they range from this rest in their daily forays? A good research thesis for a USU grad student!

An updated Utah faunal list contains 94 species dragonflies and damselflies, or Odonate, with 5000 recorded world wide.

Odonates are aquatic or semi-aquatic as juveniles existing up to 6 years in their aquatic state. Thus, adults are most often seen near bodies of water and are frequently described as aquatic insects. However, many species range far from water. They are carnivorous throughout their life, mostly feeding on smaller insects.

Odonates can act as bioindicators of water quality because they rely on high quality water for proper development in early life. Since their diet consists entirely of insects, odonate density is directly proportional to the population of prey, and their abundance indicates the abundance of prey in the ecosystem. Species richness of vascular plants has also been positively correlated with the species richness of dragonflies in a given habitat. If one finds a wide variety of odonates, then a similarly wide variety of plants should also be present.

Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
Twelve spot skimmer, Courtesy US FWS, Rick L. Hansen, Photographer
In addition, odonates are very sensitive to changes to average temperature. Many species have moved to higher elevations and latitudes as global temperature rises and habitats dry out. Changes to the life cycle have been recorded with increased development of the instar stages and smaller adult body size as the average temperature increases. As the territory of many species starts to overlap, the rate hybridization of species that normally do not come in contact is increasing. If global climate change continues many members of Odonata will start to disappear. They are one of the first insects to develop

Trivia: With 300 M years of flight evolution, dragonflies are supreme – longest nonstop distance (11,000 miles across oceans), helicopter maneuvers, eat and have sex on the wing, and near 40 mph top speed. They are amazingly efficient hunters with 95% success. And sight- 30,000 lenses allow 360 degree range and can see in ultraviolet light.

There wingspan can range from less than an inch to 6 inches and lifespan from a few weeks to a year. In Indonesia they are eaten as delicious snacks and considered good luck if one lands on your head.
This is Jack Greene for BAS- and boy am I wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Guenther Lig, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/dragonfly-wings-insect-nature-3456317/
Audio:
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Dragonflies, Wild About Utah, July 21, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/dragonflies/

Morse, Susan, Dragonfly Spotting on Wildlife Refuges, Nov 14, 2019, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/dragonfly-spotting-on-wildlife-refuges.html

Wild Utah, Dragonflies and Damselflies, https://www.wildutah.us/index_dragon.html
Eight-spotted Dragonflies, Wild Utah, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_d_skimmer_8_spotted.html

Dragonflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf/wildlife_and_habitat/dragonflies.html

Order Odanate, Dragonflies and Damselflies, Bugguide.net, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, https://bugguide.net/node/view/77

Report Dragonfly and Damselfly sightings, much like eBird to:
Odonata Central, https://www.odonatacentral.org/#/

Paulsen, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West, Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Princeton-Field-Guides/dp/0691122814/

Kavanagh, James (Author), Leung, Raymond (Illustrator), Dragonflies & Damselflies: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar, Widespread North American Species, Wildlife and Nature Identification Pamphlet, Waterford Press, April 9, 2018 https://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-Damselflies-Familiar-Widespread-Naturalist/dp/1583554750

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak Courtesy Pixabay Alain Audet, Photographer
Evening Grosbeak
Courtesy Pixabay
Alain Audet, Photographer
The stunningly beautiful evening grosbeaks are mystery birds that come pouring from the canyons to invade our urban areas on a daily cycle- an eruptive population here in Cache Valley. I always hear their loud chirp notes high above, often beyond sight. They alight in towering trees where they feed and converse with chirps and trills all the while. Highly social, evening grosbeaks are unlike their four solitary grosbeak cousins.

Their behaviors leave me puzzled. – Why this daily ritual of flying back and forth from rural to urban? Where and when do they nest? Do they nest close together given their flock behavior? Are they urban or rural nesters? I was able to find some answers, but there are yet many gaps in on their behaviors and highly variable populations.

The Evening Grosbeaks were of much interest from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, resulting from its eastward range expansion. Comparatively few recent studies have been conducted other than breeding ecology and behavior in Colorado during the 90’s. They were formerly restricted to the western United States but have expanded their range eastward across the country, perhaps a result of the establishment of box elder trees in eastern cities with abundant seeds that persist through the winter, and outbreaks of eastern forest insects which they feast on.

Evening Grosbeak Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer
Evening Grosbeak
Courtesy US FWS
George Gentry, Photographer
As is the case with many irruptive, nomadic species, it is difficult to determine their true population. Unfortunately, this bird has almost disappeared from the east once again, and has all but disappeared in the Appalachian Mountains and has suffered heavy declines elsewhere. A focus on understanding what is driving population trends is needed for developing conservation strategies to help it recover.

Potential causes of the Evening Grosbeak’s decline are tar sands mining, which has destroyed large swaths of its Canadian boreal forest breeding habitat. Pesticides used to control spruce budworm, an important food for Evening Grosbeak, may also be a factor. Large numbers are killed by window collisions, and cars during winter, when they gather on roadsides to pick up road salt and grit.

During the breeding season, their behavior is quite secretive, and courtship occurs without elaborate song or display. This secretiveness makes it difficult to study this species’ life history. They breed in high altitude and high latitude various forest types throughout North America. Nests are typically located high up in trees, on horizontal branches well out from the trunk. The female builds the nest, which is a loose saucer of roots and twigs lined with fine grass, moss, rootlets, needles, and lichen. Both parents, generally monogamous, help feed the young. They forage in treetops for insect larvae during the summer, buds in spring, and seeds, berries, and small fruits in winter. They sport heavy, strong beaks which can crack open the toughest shells, including cherry pits- a favorite. Evening Grosbeaks are known to snip off the twigs of Sugar Maple trees and sipping the sweet sap- yum!

As birders and citizen scientists, we must document all we can to supply the much needed dearth of data on this marvelous bird, and report it to www.ebird.org

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon- and I’m wild about Utah and its evening grosbeaks!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Pixabay, Alain
Courtesy US FWS,
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Evening Grosbeak, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Evening_Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus, Birdweb.com, Seattle Audubon Society, http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/evening_grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus, eBird.org, https://ebird.org/species/evegro

Nature Sings to Assuage Our COVID Fears

American Robin Turdus migratorius Courtesy US FWS Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
American Robin
Turdus migratorius
Courtesy US FWS
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer

Robins, house finch, and lesser goldfinch singing with gusto! Dippers on the stream blasting their melodious notes from watery perches on Summit Creek. An eastern blue jay bops out to wish me good morning in a nearby Park, its rarity always a treat, instantly teleporting me back to earlier days in Michigan. Meadowlarks reveal their hearts in song in fields below as I work my way up a canyon ridge. A fox sparrow with ear shattering song competes for “America’s Got Talent”.

On another outing, three individuals walking ahead of me pause to locate loud hammering high in a dead cottonwood. A flicker woodpecker- our largest and loveliest of the woodpecker family, beats his head against the tree hoping to attract a lady!

Totally unaware of COVID-19, which has inverted our human worlds, the bird world is right on schedule with their spring business of propagating more bird song.

Male House Finch Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer
Male House Finch
Courtesy US FWS
Gary Kramer, Photographer

Thank goodness, my usual escape into local Canyons has not been disrupted. Early spring plants are there to greet me- glacier lily, spring beauty, violet. Many more will emerge in coming weeks. Over 30 species will be blooming from now to early June accompanied by as many species of birds and butterflies.

We take a Sunday drive through our valley wetlands where abundant waterfowl rest and feed- pintails, mallards, gadwells, Northern shovelers, American widgeon, cinnamon teal, and the ever-present and magnificent Canada geese. A pair of Sandhill Cranes emerges which will be populating our valley by the hundreds as spring progresses. Many will remain to nest and raise their colts. 

Yes, these are tumultuous times- socially, economically, fear for our health. My usual spring activities have all but disappeared – travel, students, and direct contact with family members.

Lesser Goldfinch Courtesy US FWS Robert F Burton, Photographer
Lesser Goldfinch
Courtesy US FWS
Robert F Burton, Photographer

Spring is a transformation from winter’s death grip back to renewed life. This year I sense another transformation that gives me hope. Throngs of neighbors and others have invaded our canyons with kids, dogs, bikes, boards, horses, with joy in their hearts as they break free from COVOD’s bondage. Keeping the appropriate social distancing, their warm smiles and desire to chat reflect nature’s magic. Strangers become instantaneous friends. It’s reminiscent of my time in Europe where these outdoor activities are far more common. I sense a cultural shift.

Spring is here- my favorite season has returned filled with song, passion, Easter, and a rebirth of optimism- strong tonic for these difficult days. Our Earth Mother is being honored well before Earth Day!

Jack Greene for Brigerland Audubon and thank goodness for Utah Wilds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Dr Thomas G Barnes, Gary Kramer, Robert F. Burton, photographers
Contains Sound: Courtesy Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society | Utah State University Sustainability

Additional Reading:

American Robin, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin/id

House Finch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Finch/id

Lesser Goldfinch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lesser_Goldfinch/id