Pleasant Surprises!

Gopher Snake, Courtesy US FWS
Gopher Snake
Courtesy US FWS

Cow Moose and Calf, Photo Courtesy US FWS, Tim Bowman, Photographer Cow Moose and Calf
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Tim Bowman, Photographer

Golden Eagle, Snake River gorge, Courtesy US FWS, Aldis Garsvo, Photographer Golden Eagle
Snake River gorge
Courtesy US FWS,
Aldis Garsvo, Photographer

Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS Peregrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS

Clark's Nutcracker Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service Dave Menke, Photographer Clark’s Nutcracker Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service Dave Menke, Photographer

Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park Courtesy USGS Frank T. van Manen, Photographer Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park Courtesy USGS Frank T. van Manen, Photographer

Beaver, Courtesy US FWS, Robes Parrish, Photographer Beaver
Courtesy US FWS
Robes Parrish, Photographer

Great Horned Owl and Chick Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer Great Horned Owl and Chick Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer

Douglas Fir, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Douglas Fir
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Mexican Spotted Owl, Courtesy US FWS, Shaula Hedwall, Photographer Mexican Spotted Owl
Courtesy US FWS
Shaula Hedwall, Photographer

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM

Northern Pocket Gopher, Thomomys talpoides. Courtesy NPS, Gillian Bowser, Photographer Northern Pocket Gopher
Thomomys talpoides
Courtesy NPS
Gillian Bowser, Photographer

Muscrat, Courtesy US FWS, Jessica Bolser, Photographer Muscrat
Courtesy US FWS
Jessica Bolser, Photographer

American Marten
Courtesy US NPS American Marten
Courtesy US NPS

We all love pleasant surprises! I especially enjoy nature’s offerings, both pleasant and less so. I wish to share a few from a very long list!

Snakes may be at the top. I believe we have an innate fear of this special reptile, which has imparted indelible memories. Great Basin gopher snakes have repeatedly shown an uncanny
ability to find birds nests in implausible locations, climbing seemingly impossible vertical walls to consume both bird eggs and young. Rarely, rattlesnakes have crossed my path, their buzz always putting me on full alert- a spine tingling surprise.

Moose may be second to snakes. I’ve been charged a few times and revisit nearly every step taken toward me by these grand beasts, my own steps in fast retreat. But it was a sandhill crane – young bull moose memory, where the crane won the day which lingers fresh. As the young bull curiously extending his tender muzzle toward the nesting bird, it elicited a sharp beak response from the nester that sent the youngster scurrying away.

Golden eagles are a favorite bird for their beauty, intelligence, and undisputed apex predator status. I was stunned to find they may not be top bird after all. On two occasions, I have witnessed a peregrine falcon unleashing its powers of blazing speed and agility to usher a golden eagle well away from the falcon’s eyrie.

I associate the Clark’s nutcracker as a keystone species for nut gathering and caching, while inadvertently feeding grizzlies, squirrels, and planting innumerable five needled pines. It rocked my socks when a flock of songbirds were attacking a Clarks who had stolen a baby bird from a nest for a midday snack. This activity forever changed its strictly nut-eating narrative. I’ve had at least a hundred bear encounters in Yellowstone, Tetons, and Denali national parks, all with favorable outcomes. But only once have I crossed paths with a mountain lion in my thousands of miles hiking wild, remote country. I can recount nearly every second of that rare moment. Lurking in the shadows on a beautiful fall day, I mistake the lion for a coyote. As I approached it from about 30 yards distance, it slowly moved revealing a very long tail. Mixed emotions surged while I talked gently, walking slowly in its direction as it gradually moved away. A spellbinding, euphoric moment.

Beaver encircling boat
I experienced two unforgettable occurrences while exploring Zion’s Hidden Canyon. Being midday, I wasn’t expecting anything beyond a rock squirrel. Then came an unusual hoot, definitely not that of a great horned owl. Answering its call, it flew toward me alighting in a large Douglas fir- a Mexican spotted owl- my first and only sighting. Soon after, two furry critters scrambled up a 10 foot boulder, ringtail cats! Mostly nocturnal, a very rare moment indeed!

I’ll conclude with several surprise animal attacks I’ve suffered- a pocket gopher nipped the soul of my boot, a muskrat attacked my hip-waders, and a pine martin chewed on my well protected toe. Finally, I’ve been strafed by various bird species protecting their nests and young. All leaving surprised chuckles from the victim.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, Wild for more of Utah’s nature surprises!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS, USDA Forest Service and US NPS. All photographers acknowledged with images
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Bird Sounds Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Pieces by Jack Greene, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Southwestern Utah Herps

Southwestern Utah Herps: Gila Monster, Courtesy Pixabay
Gila Monster
Courtesy Pixabay

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Desert Tortoise - Right of Hat Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Desert Tortoise – Right of Hat
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

I’m going to go beyond birds a few hundred million years to their precursors, who thrived long before our feathered mini-dinosaurs evolved. These ancient beings continue to thrive to this day, which lured 14 USU students and I to join them in the Mojave wilds of southwestern Utah.

We camped at the Gunlock State Park, where a Utah DWR herpetologist joined us for several hours, who appeared to know every scaly and slimy critter within a 10-mile radius.
A few highlights came when a Smith’s Black headed snake was discovered beneath a cow paddy, about the size of a large worm. No one thought it possible to find such a tiny, shy being, unless you’re flipping cow poo! Other popular reptiles were the small, delicate banded gecko and the diminutive, invasive Pacific tree frog.

Saturday was spent in Snow Canyon State Park where we were entertained by Cheyenne, a young SUU student naturalist, who kept us riveted with stories on some of the more iconic herp residents. She was emphatic on how to keep the reptiles safe from park visitors and ravens. “If a tortoise is crossing the road, please help it to the other side in the same direction it’s headed. Otherwise, never pick them up for they may release stored water, which could mean their death from dehydration. She also cautioned us on leaving the trail, for the desert tortoise spends much of it’s life in its labyrinth of burros. “Your footstep could cause a collapse, entombing the animal.”

Next, Cheyenne pulled a fully mounted Gila monster from her magical tub. Oohs and ahhs were audible, the penultimate reptile. She enthralled them with its life history, spending up to 95% of its life underground, often in tortoise burrows, emerging during the spring months for mating and feeding. It may eat 1/3 of its weight in one meal, consisting of bird, tortoise, and snake eggs and young, young mammals, carrion, and whoever else smells delicious and small enough to fit in its ravenous maw. Many of the calories are stored in its tail, which nourishes the animal for much of the year. Amazingly, Gila monster venom is used for diabetes and obesity treatment. Asked if she had seen a Gila monster. “No, but it’s at the top of my list!” she said.

Following a Cheyenne led hike, we continued the herp search beyond the park boundary. A tortoise discovery brought considerable excitement and photos, a rare siting! But that was overshadowed a half hour later when a Gila monster decided to present itself to myself. I began shouting “monster” hoping to rein in the dispersed crew. They came scrambling through the creosote bushes in disbelief. We immediately sent a text to Cheyenne with the coordinates, hoping she would see her first Monster in the wild! Never have I witnessed more excitement in my students, a surreal moment. I must check with Cheyenne on her success in finding the monster!

The Gila monster is considered near threatened by the IUCN from habitat loss and pet trade. In Utah it is illegal to handle Gila monsters without a permit.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I am Wild About Utah and its herps

https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Sound credit goes to J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Anderson, Howe, Wakeman.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Additional images Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe and Wakeman,
Also includes audio Courtesy & © J. Chase & K.W. Baldwin
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah pieces authored by Jack Greene

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=tantilla%20hobartsmithi

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=heloderma%20suspectum

Mojave Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=gopherus%20agassizii

Western Banded Gecko – Coleonyx variegatus https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=coleonyx%20variegatus

Don’t keep illegal reptiles – including desert tortoises – or release pet reptiles, fish into wild, St George News, Sept 5, 2021, https://archives.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2021/12/05/prc-dont-keep-illegal-reptiles-or-release-pet-reptiles-fish-including-desert-tortoises-into-wild

A Ranger Moment: SUU student Cheyenne Mitchell speaks at OES, March 20, 2023 – by Jacob Horne, SUU News, Student Media, Southern Utah University https://suunews.net/2023/03/20/a-ranger-moment-suu-student-cheyenne-mitchell-speaks-at-oes/

Ask a herpetologist, Megen Kepas, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/1692-ask-a-herpetologist.html

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/28499-Tantilla-hobartsmithi
Information about the Smith above: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_Muir_Smith

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/9865/13022716

Solar Eclipse Behaviors

Solar Eclipse-The Diamond Ring, Courtesy Pixabay, Buddy Nath, Contributor

Solar Eclipse-The Diamond Ring
Courtesy Pixabay
Buddy Nath, Contributor

I believe we’re all aware that the amount of light has major influence on wildlife activity, as it does our own, triggering everything from breeding and feeding activity and various behaviors in general. Thus the very short period of light variation during a solar eclipse has piqued my interest.

When a total eclipse crossed over New England in 1932, researchers put out a call for people to share their wildlife observations probably the first study to intentionally track animals during an eclipse—people reported owls hooting, pigeons returning to roost, and a general pattern of bird behavior that suggested “fear, bewilderment, Purple Martins pausing their foraging and nighthawks flying in the afternoon. Whooping cranes dance shortly after the eclipse, and flamingos congregate. For many birds, it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A citizen scientist watched a yellow okra flower close during totality, just as it would at night—a favorite observation of Alison Young, co-director of the Center for Biodiversity and Community Science at the California Academy of Sciences and lead author of a paper describing the findings. The flower’s response was unexpected, she says in an email, since totality wasn’t very long.

During the 2017 eclipse, more than 600 observers submitted their findings to iNaturalist” a community science effort where observations described an absence of wildlife during the eclipse’s peak: busy bird feeders clearing out, insects going quiet, flowers closing up. Other community scientists noted bees quieting their buzzing in flower patches, zoo animals going through their nighttime routines, and Chimney Swifts swooping and twittering like it was dusk

The Eclipse Soundscapes project is also looking for observers to record and share “field notes” of the changes they see, hear, and feel during the eclipse, whether they’re in the total path or not. By going beyond the visuals, the Soundscapes team hopes to make the big day more accessible for blind or low-vision people who are often left out of astronomy, and to help everyone have a deeper experience of the rare event. “What we’re trying to do is have people be very mindful during the eclipse, and actually use all of their senses to determine what changes. Their resulting study found that as the moon started to cover up the sun, there was a drop in biological activity in the air—suggesting that day-flying birds and insects were coming down to rest.

Countrywide, people noticed swallows and swifts flocking as darkness fell. Frogs and crickets, common elements of an evening soundscape, started to call, while diurnal cicadas stopped making noise. Ants appeared to slow down or stop moving, and even domestic chickens responded—hens gathered together and got quiet, while roosters crowed.

Even in the partial zone, you can still pay attention to how nature responds—and contribute to science. Sending in your observations through a platform like iNaturalist or eBird can help provide valuable data for future research,

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Eclipse Pixabay, AlpineDon, Contributor, https://pixabay.com/photos/snow-canyon-state-park-utah-1066145/
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe and Wakeman,
Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Also includes audio Courtesy & © J. Chase & K.W. Baldwin
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

iNaturalist
Ohio Wildlife Observations: Solar Eclipse 2024 https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ohio-wildlife-observations-solar-eclipse-2024

eBird

The Eclipse Soundscapes project

2024 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA

EarthSky: How Will Animals React During the Eclipse?

Watch Videos from EarthSky Countdown to Eclipse 2024: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcwd1eS7Gpr6QrjJU7aH5K7qBCIb39ECP
Day

Whitt, Kelly Kizer, When is the next total solar eclipse? April 9, 2024, https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/when-is-the-next-total-solar-eclipse-dates-location/

Magnificent Utah Canyons

Magnificent Utah Canyons: Kolob Canyon Landscapes, Courtesy Pixabay, Joe Russell Photography, Contributor
Kolob Canyon Landscapes
Courtesy Pixabay,
Joe Russell Photography, Contributor

Snow Canyon State Park, Courtesy Pixabay, AlpineDon, ContributorSnow Canyon State Park
Courtesy Pixabay
AlpineDon, Contributor

Utah is riddled with the most magnificent canyons on our lovely little planet! Thinking Snow Canyon, Kolob, Zion, Virgin River Gorge, Logan Canyon, Coyote gulch, Big and little Cottonwoods, and several hundred more that deserve mention.

I recently returned from leading an outing for 25 USU international students where we split our time between Snow Canyon and Zion National Park. Their hearts have yet to fully recover from world class scenery and the remarkable geologic features they encompass. Petrified 200-foot sand dunes in Snow and 2000 foot vertical “big” walls in Zion, softened by rushing waters of the Virgin river. The Virgin River Narrows tugged at their sense of adventure as many “Narrows” hikers clothed in waders, holding wooden staffs, came trekking out of the “Gateway”.

Canyon’s deliver our waters and nurture our souls. Majestic rivers- Green, Colorado, Yampa White, San Juan, the Bear, offer all levels of boating thrills from placid to riotous. I’ve experienced many with family and students in various crafts- rafts, canoes, kayaks. Much of the country they cut through is remote and wild. Desolation, Dinosaur, Arches, Canyonlands NP, Bears Ears. Many meander through terra incognito, roadless wilderness, sliced and diced into alluring slot canyons where the sun never shines. Mysteries to behold, and flash floods to unfold.

My daughter-in-law and grandchildren experienced a grand adventure in the Zion subway slot canyon. A beautiful, blue-sky day with no hint or forecast of rain. Midway through their passage the water began to rise. Unknown to them, a heavy downpour had occurred miles above. Fortunately, they were able to scramble up to a ledge where they spent a long, cold, hungry night as the waters continued to rise. Not until the following day did the stream drop enough to allow their escape.

Where else can one take refuge from our overheated summers. Adventure awaits. Hiking, climbing, skiing, wildlife watching, botanizing- all there beckoning!

Birders delights from American dippers to Great Blue Herons. Soon to be filled with bird song as spring unfolds- fox and song sparrows, MacGillivray and Wilson warblers, warbling and plumbeous vireos, black headed grosbeaks and bullock orioles, lazuli buntings, join at least 20 other species adding to the chorus. Resident canyon wrens often announce their presence in vibrant, cascading song.

Beyond their stunning beauty and endless adventure, our canyons encompass myriad watersheds which capture the masses of snow melt resulting in most of our desert state’s water. Additionally, healthy watersheds feed our iconic Great Salt Lake, a critical western hemispheric shorebird refuge, and essential to our well-being in so many additional ways.

These priceless landforms deserve our love and protection. Threats of gondolas, mining, road improvements, and other human activities will continue to be challenges. “Save Our Canyons”, a SLC organization is laser focused on keeping Wasatch canyons from being further compromised. We must all become canyon advocates for the infinite joy and countless gifts they unflinchingly provide.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon, and yes, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Images: Kolob Canyon Landscapes Courtesy Pixabay, Joe Russell_Photography, Contributor https://pixabay.com/photos/kolob-canyon-landscapes-outdoors-5215253/
Snow Canyon State Park Courtesy Pixabay, AlpineDon, Contributor, https://pixabay.com/photos/snow-canyon-state-park-utah-1066145/
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park, National Parks Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/kolob-canyons.htm

Matcha (Contracted content), A Visitor’s Guide to Zion’s Kolob Canyons, Utah Office of Tourism, https://www.visitutah.com/Articles/Kolob-Canyons-Visitor-Guide