Holy smokes!

Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018 Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018
Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Holy smokes! Once again, our summer has become a smoke filled world we’re warned against breathing. I often wonder how our feathered friends are weathering the pall.

About a year ago, a mass die-off of song birds was witnessed over parts of the southwest tentatively attributed to the historic wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington, which
may have forced birds to rush their migration. But scientists do not know for sure – in part because nobody knows precisely how wildfire smoke affects birds. With increasing changes to
climate and rising temperatures, we do not have enough time to collect the data – things are changing faster than we can keep up with.

Enter eBird, a popular app for logging bird sightings. This platform, and the citizen birdwatchers who populate them, have become a critical tool for scientists trying to unravel the mysteries at the intersection of birds, wildfires and climate change. Researchers are increasingly relying on data collected by citizen scientists and birdwatchers to better understand the effects of climate change, including intensifying wildfire. The eBird app was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology alongside the National Audubon society, to crowdsource data on the locations and numbers of bird populations globally.

A leading theory behind the south-west die-off is that widespread smoke pollution may have forced birds to start migration sooner than expected. Most of the birds seen dying were migratory. Migration had just started and they were trying to flee the smoke-filled areas and may have starved to death without an opportunity to add extra nutrients for their epic flights. Beyond the effects of smoke on migration patterns, the rise of megafires is also drawing unprecedented attention to the effects smoke may have on a bird’s delicate breathing. Birds and their lungs are certainly affected by smoke. Most of us have heard the phrase “canary in a coalmine”, which comes from the fact that birds are particularly sensitive to toxins in the air. The sensitivity could have something to do with birds’ unique respiratory system. While humans and other mammals use their diaphragm to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, birds possess a far more
efficient system, essentially inhaling and exhaling at the same time. This allows them to get enough oxygen to fuel near-constant activity and to breathe at much higher altitudes than
mammals.

To do this, birds have tube-like structures called parabronchi, similar to human alveoli in the lungs, which are covered with sacs and capillaries for gas exchange. And as in humans, smoke damage can burst those bubbles, creating less surface area for gas exchange making it more difficult to breathe.

We can all help by joining eBird and reducing our heat trapping emissions. Go to our Bridgerland Audubon website for more information.

Jack Greene for BAS and I’m wild about Utah, but not its smoke!

Credits:

Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

eBird, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/home

Hellstern, Ron, Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Oct 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wildfires/

Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/

Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Mack, Eric, California Wildfire Smoke Could Explain Thousands Of Dead Birds In The Southwest, Forbes, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Bobolinks

Bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Bobolink
Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Many years have passed and yet I still have vivid memories of the skylark- a joyous bird of the English countryside whose aerial song lifts one’s spirit to mingle with this buoyant beauty. Thankfully, we have our own version of the skylark whose name reflects its unforgettable song.

Washington Irving called the bobolink “the happiest bird of our spring and added that his life seems all song and sunshine”. Emily Dickinson called the bobolink “the rowdy of the meadow for its bubbly, jangling song”. It was immortalized by nineteenth-century American poet William Cullen Bryant, in a poem titled Robert of Lincoln.
Singing on the wing, the bobolinks song can be over ten seconds long with more than one hundred phrases, a remarkable feet! Their lungs are much more efficient than ours. It can store oxygen in air sacs, and as air is exhaled to produce song, the air sacs deliver fresh oxygen to the lungs.

Bobolinks migration is no less remarkable. They return from the tropics each spring, having completed one of the longest migrations of any songbird in the Americas: roughly six thousand miles. Bobolinks fly from northern Argentina to the northern US and Canada. They cross all sorts of hazardous terrain and hundreds of miles of open water. Like many birds, they rely on cues from the stars and sun and from landmarks on the earth to guide them. Additionally, they can sense the earth’s mineral magnetite, thanks to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve.

Alarmingly, like its European cousin, bobolinks have declined in numbers on its North American breeding grounds by over 60% since 1970. It is a Species of Greatest Conservation Concern in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces in which it occurs, and is listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act in Canada. Populations are predicted to decline by 30% over the next two decades from habitat loss aggravated by a changing climate.

People have shot Bobolinks as agricultural pests, trapped and sold them as pets in Argentina, and collected them as food in Jamaica. But the main reason for the Bobolink’s decline is land-use change, especially the loss of meadows and hay fields. To improve the Bobolink’s prospects, people can maintain its breeding habitat by mowing fields once nestlings have fledged, by preserving and better managing natural prairies through prescribed burns.

The skylark is facing a stark future in Europe as well. Only 10% remains compared to 1960 numbers. Farmers are being paid to create habit for this iconic bird, perhaps something we should consider for the bobolink.

One of the few breeding populations in Cache Valley exists in an area being threatened with a proposed housing development. We are hopeful the planners will allow this struggling bird species to continue on as their planning proceeds.

Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m wild about Utah’s bobolinks!

Credits:

Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Bobolink Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bobolink/overview

Bobolink, Bird of the Week: September 18, 2020, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/bird/bobolink/?gclid=CjwKCAjwrPCGBhALEiwAUl9X058HMZvoFUELlV1kLrB2bv5wMytW2sDIUqOJgD7OYkHDilr3BfqVRRoCgkoQAvD_BwE

Bobolink, Species, eBird, https://ebird.org/species/boboli/L941919

Strand, Holly, Spring Migration, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/spring-migration/

Renfrew, R.B., K.A. Peters, J.R. Herkert, K.R. VanBeek, and T. Will. 2019. A full life cycle
conservation plan for Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service., https://partnersinflight.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/A-Full-Life-Cycle-Conservation-Plan-for-Bobolink.pdf

The Bobolink Project, A research study developed by researchers at the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Vermont. Administered by Mass Audubon, Audubon Vermont, and New Hampshire Audubon, https://www.bobolinkproject.com/

Bobolink Habitat, Advocacy, Our Projects, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/advocacy/bobolink-habitat/

Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer
Acorn Woodpecker
Melanerpes formicivorus
Courtesy US FWS,
Gary Kramer, Photographer

My first encounter with an acorn woodpecker occurred many years ago in California, a species unknown to me. I was surprised to find a small flock of these comedic looking birds- most unusual for woodpeckers, which are generally solitary other than with mates or young. And those startling yellow eyes!
On a recent West Rim trek in Zion N.P., to my delight, I got a second encounter near Potato Hollow. Their loud, sharp calls first alerted me. I paused to find the source, and was startled to see who it was, unaware they existed in our state.

Acorn woodpeckers live in large groups, hoard acorns, and breed cooperatively. These woodpeckers live in oak and mixed oak-evergreen forests on slopes and mountains in the Southwest and West Coast. They are found infrequently in the south end of our state. They’re tolerant of humans, and occur in towns where there are acorns and suitable places to store them.
If more than one female in a colony breeds, they lay eggs in the same nest cavity. When egg-laying is not synchronized, females often destroy each other’s eggs. In-synch egg-layers, however, produce a clutch totaling three to seven eggs. Although this behavior seems counterproductive, it may be beneficial, resulting in all chicks being roughly the same age and size. Several different individuals of each sex may breed within one family, with up to seven breeding males and three breeding females in one group.

All members of the colony share in incubation duties, and all pitch in to feed the chicks when they hatch. Young adults remain with their parents for several years to help raise successive broods, but eventually disperse to other territories. Nesting groups can contain up to ten offspring helpers. These breeding coalitions are typically closely related. The males are often brothers, and the females are usually sisters. Inbreeding is rare, however, meaning that co-breeders of the opposite sex are almost never related.

All members of an Acorn Woodpecker group spend large amounts of time storing acorns. typically stored in holes drilled into a single tree, called a granary tree. One granary tree may have up to 50,000 holes, each of which is generally filled with an acorn by autumn.

When any protective group of woodpeckers experiences a death or disruption to the hierarchy, nearby birds rush to the area and fight for access to the trove; these fights also attract woodpecker audiences who leave their own territories to witness the battles.

In 1923, American ornithologist William Leon Dawson called the dapper Acorn Woodpecker “our native aristocrat.” “He is unruffled by the operations of the human plebs in whatever disguise…Wigwams, haciendas, or university halls, what matter such frivolities, if only one may go calmly on with the main business of life, which is indubitably the hoarding of acorns.”

Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m totally wild about Utah and its acorns!

Credits:

Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/2755/rec/3
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Acorn Woodpecker Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Acorn_Woodpecker/overview

Acorn Woodpeckers, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=melaform
also Fieldguide, Utah Species, Utah Division Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, http://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=melanerpes%20formicivorus

DAWSON, William Leon, Islapedia, Santa Cruz Island Foundation(SCIF), https://www.islapedia.com/index.php?title=DAWSON,_William_Leon

Webinar: Adaptations of Acorn Woodpeckers with Sahas Barve, National Museum of Natural History, Science How, Smithsonian Institution, https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/life-science/webinar-adaptations-acorn-woodpeckers-sahas-barve

Murtaugh, Paul, Granary Tree Image, Oregon State University, http://sites.science.oregonstate.edu/~murtaugp/photos/jan2017/p12.html

The Glacier Lily

The Glacier Lily: Glacier Lilies, Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
Glacier Lilies,
Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
I find it difficult to leave my canyon home in N. Utah especially during April and May. Every day brings new bloom and bird song. On April 12th I returned from 9 days in Georgia for a family event. I quickly retreated to the canyon where I found spring in full bloom- spring beauty, balsamroot, Indian potato, locoweed, violet and perhaps my favorite, the glacier lily. It often appears at the edge of receding snow banks.

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
Its delicate beauty is a favorite early season food of the grizzly bear. Bears “till” up the land, turning over chunks of soil to access their tasty bulb. Glacier National Park scientists have learned that this “tilling” has some important side effects. Areas with recent bear diggings have less plant diversity and higher nitrogen levels than undisturbed parts of the landscape. Without much competition from other plants, glacier lily bulbs can quickly regenerate, and these new lilies produce twice the usual number of seeds, thanks to the nitrogen rich soil!

After digging up glacier lilies, bears often leave the bulbs for a few days to wilt in the sun. This “cooks” them a bit making them sweeter and easier to digest. First Nations lore shows that early peoples learned to dry and cook glacier lily bulbs by copying the grizzly. Black bears relish the bulbs as well while Elk and deer munch the foliage.

The Shoshone ate the corms fresh or with soup, and the dried bulbs were a popular trade item between tribes. The leaves are edible as well and the green seedpods taste like green beans when cooked. Medical applications include reducing fever, swelling, infection, and they were used as a contraceptive. The glacier lily was collected during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meriwether Lewis mentioned this species numerous times in his journal. This may be because he thought it could be used as a “botanical calendar” to help track the onset of spring.

Glacier lilies are very sensitive to disturbance and harvesting the corm will effectively kill the plant. Though native tribes practiced active management of them, their populations have been greatly reduced. It is better to leave collection to wildlife.

“The snow is melting. The grizzly bears that have been sleeping beneath the snow, suspended like seeds, will prowl the warm fields just beneath the snow, grazing on the delicious emerging lilies. Sometimes the yellow pollen gets caught on the fur and snouts of the great golden bears as they grub and push through the lily fields, pollinating other lilies in this manner. In this crude fashion, they are famers of a kind, nurturing and expanding one of the crops that first meets them each year. The lilies follow the snow, and the snow pulls back to reveal the bears, and the bears follow the Lilies. The script of life begins moving with enthusiasm once again.” Rick Bass, author, naturalist, activist.

Jack Greene for BAS and you guessed it- I’m wild about Utah, and its long lost grizzlies

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & © Andrea Liberatore
Bear image: Courtesy USGS, Frank T van Manen, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text:     Jack Greene, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Glacier Lily — Erythronium grandiflorum. Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Retrieved on April 18, 2021, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=PMLIL0U050

Alberty, Erin, Wasatch wildflower update: Early blooms emerging in low places, The Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2017, https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=5090577&itype=CMSID

Rey-Vizgirdas, Edna, Forest Botanist, Boise National Forest, Yellow Avalanche-lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), Forest Management, Rangelands Management, & Vegetation Ecology Programs, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/erythronium_grandiflorum.shtml

McConnell, Tatum, Vital Ground Communications Intern, How Grizzly Bear Digging Shapes Mountain Meadows, The Vital Ground Foundation, https://www.vitalground.org/grizzly-ecology-bears-and-dirt/