Ron Hellstern

Ron Hellstern Contributor to Wild About Utah
Ron Hellstern
Contributor to Wild About Utah
A mighty tree has fallen- but its seed has been cast far and wide through his great works. I speak of a frequent Wild About Utah contributor, educator, and conservationist. On January 3rd, 2020, Ron Hellstern left us for the great beyond. He was the personification of Wild About Utah.

Ron’s legacy can be found in the thousands of youth who accompanied him in the classroom and field where they participated in many citizen science projects for birds, butterflies, countless tree plantings, restoring streamside environments, and competing in the Utah Envirothon, which Ron helped establish in Utah

He preferred the title “Redrock Ron” which Ron earned from his unflagging love for Utah’s red rock country, culminating with Zion N.P. His contributions there were many- writing curriculum for the park, Christmas bird counts, assisting with the state Envirothon competition which he convinced Zion to host, and much more. His greatest thrill were the many family hikes and campouts he reveled in, to have those near and dear with him to partake of its splendors.

Closer to home, Ron was synonymous with monarch butterflies, fireflies, and reforestation. He spent many years with students and others hatching, tagging, and releasing monarchs to help map their western migration patterns, adding new information to assist with their preservation. Ron was a relentless advocate for planting milkweed, the host plant for rearing the monarch’s chrysalis and caterpillars.

Once he discovered fireflies in a city marsh, Ron realized this rarity needed protection. As both a city council member and citizen, he convinced the city of their unique importance. The Nibley firefly park was the result. A few thousand folks showed up for its inauguration.

And “Trees are the answer” from Ron’s perspective. His plantings were notorious throughout our valley- from school grounds to open lots, his town recognized as a Tree City USA. Ron deeply appreciated all that trees provide for people, wildlife, protecting soil and our mountains watersheds. It seemed that whenever I visited Ron, he was planting yet another tree.

Ron was instrumental in establishing the first “Childrens Forest” with the USFS in Logan Canyon. He was the primary force behind his town of Nibley receiving Utah’s first, and yet only, designation as a Wildlife Friendly City through the National Wildlife Foundation.

Ron Hellstern with Elderberries Courtesy and Copyright Morgan Pratt, Photographer
Ron Hellstern with Elderberries
Courtesy and Copyright Morgan Pratt, Photographer
As a member and major contributor to the Utah Society for Envioronmental Education and North American Association for EE, Ron’s influence as an extraordinary educator was recognized. He served on both boards where his influence was felt forming policy and programs on a state and international level. Ron was a relentless champion of classroom teachers in both of these acclaimed organizations.

Ron was a kindred spirit, the brother I never had. His presence will never leave me- every tree, monarch butterfly, firefly, trip to redrock country, Ron will be with me.

This is Jack Greene in behalf of our dear friend- Ron Hellstern


Images: Courtesy TBA
Images: Courtesy Morgan Pratt for Ron Hellstern
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene, USU and Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading:

Ron Hellstern Obituary, HJ News, Legacy,

Ron Hellstern Author Page, Wild About Utah,

Hellstern, Ron, Christmast Trees, Wild About Utah, Nov 25, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron,More From The Hidden Life of Trees, Wild About Utah, September 30, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, The Hidden Life of Trees, Wild About Utah, August 26, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, The Colorado Plateau, Wild About Utah, July 22, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Living in snake country – six things to consider, Wild About Utah, July 1, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Hungry Hummingbirds, Wild About Utah, May 27, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Lawn Reduction, Wild About Utah, April 22, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Silent Spring Revisited, Wild About Utah, March 25, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Seventh Generation, Wild About Utah, February 4, 2019,

Hellstern, Ron, Ron Describes Exotic Invasive Species, Wild About Utah, January 21, 2019,


Hellstern, Ron, Winter Bird Feeding, Wild About Utah, December 31, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Ron Imagines a World Without Trees, Wild About Utah, December 24, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Bird Feeding in Winter, Wild About Utah, November 26, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Composting, Wild About Utah, October 29, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Wildfires, Wild About Utah, October 8, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Invasive Species, Wild About Utah, September 24, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Migration, Wild About Utah, September 24, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Exotic Invasive Species, Wild About Utah, September 17, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Incredible Hummingbirds, Wild About Utah, August 27, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, Wild About Utah, July 30, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Keep Utah Clean, Wild About Utah, July 23, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Knowing Trees, Wild About Utah, June 25, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard, Wild About Utah, May 28, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Poetry of the Forest, Wild About Utah, April 23, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, A World Without Trees, Wild About Utah, April 2, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Project FeederWatch, Wild About Utah, February 26, 2018,

Hellstern, Ron, Utah Envirothon, Wild About Utah, January 29, 2018,


Hellstern, Ron, Winter Bird Feeding, Wild About Utah, December 17, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Farewell Autumn, Wild About Utah, November 13, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Autumn Migrations, Wild About Utah, October 16, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Majestic Yosemite, Wild About Utah, September 11, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, The Zion Narrows, Wild About Utah, August 21, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home, Wild About Utah, July 17, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, June Fireflies, Wild About Utah, June 19, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Conserving Water, Wild About Utah, June 5, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, Bird Benefits, Wild About Utah, May 1, 2017,

Hellstern, Ron, The End of Royalty?, Wild About Utah, April 24, 2017,

Christmas Bird Count 2019

Christmas Bird Count: Mourning Dove Pair Courtesy Pixabay
Mourning Dove Pair
Courtesy Pixabay
On December 14th, I will join several others for an exciting day of counting bird species and numbers in our lovely, snowy valley. The numbers will be entered on a database that will be shared globally.

Count Data:
The data collected by observers over the past 120 years has allowed researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space. This long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategists to better protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues, with implications for people as well.

The count has special significance for our changing climate’s impact on birds which is disrupting populations and their spacial distribution that are changing at an accelerating rate.

The report:
Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report is a comprehensive, first-of-its kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. Of the bird species studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. The models indicate that 314 species will lose more than half of their current range by 2080. Adding to this, a recent study by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported a 29 percent decline in North American bird populations since 1970.

142 species of concern are found in Utah including our state bird, the California gull and our national symbol, the bald eagle. Averaging the most recent 10 years, Cache valley has seen 16 species increase and 11 species decline. Of course we would need a much broader sweep to know the true story of these species, but our data may play a significant part in the overall analysis.

Audubon’s Climate Initiative, encourages its members to take steps to address the climate change threat in their backyards and communities. Visit their website at for how to take action.

Many Citizen Science programs exist for families to participate in- that have generated reams of data over many years showing the species diversity and abundance of birds in North America and globally. Our valley Christmas Bird Count occurs next Saturday, December 14th. Contact for details. Always a good time gathering important data!

And please, keep those bird feeders full as we enter the coldest month of the year!

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.


Images: Courtesy Pixabay:
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Sat, Dec 14, 2019 Logan, Utah Christmas Bird Count,

Bridgerland Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Page,, 2019 Christmas Bird Count Schedule, (Local)

National Audubon, Christmas Bird Count,

Greene, Jack, Cache Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Climate Change, Wild About Utah, December 11, 2017,

Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2008,

Cane, James, Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 9, 2010,

Liberatore, Andrea, Ruffed Grouse and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 8, 2014,

Greene, Jack, Climate Change and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 12, 2008,

Winter Songs

Winter Songs: American Dipper Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
American Dipper
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Most of our songbirds have taken their songs and headed south. Even robins and meadowlarks have ceased their lovely melodies that carried well into the fall months. But there are a few noteworthy choristers that have remained- Townsend solitaires and N. American dippers. Not only do they sing beautifully (anthropocizing here) but they vocalize for different reasons than most. The breeding/nesting season has long since passed, which is the primary reason birds sing- attracting a mate and defending their breeding territory from other males.

So one might ask why sing? Both of the species mentioned are defending their feeding, not breeding territory. Townsends switch from insects to berries during the winter months, including juniper berries (actually cones) which they have a special penchant for. I’ve witnessed many instances of them doing battle while defending their tree from intruders. They often perch on the highest branch daring others of their kind to pick a berry. Females defend as well.

In my cozy little canyon they begin migrating down from their high mountain nesting territory in October filled with song, which is supposedly different from that used during courtship. Townsends keep good company as members of the thrush family which include bluebirds, robins, and various other thrush species- all known for their enchanting refrains. A flock of thrushes is known as a hermitage, interesting considering there is one named hermit thrush, quite common in our mountains.

Winter songs: 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, also berry eaters, are welcome guests, and often share the same tree with the solitaires. Considerably larger than their cousins, they feed unmolested.

The dipper sings its river song as it flits along streams. The varied notes are complicated and loud, possibly to compete with the rushing waters where it resides, including water falls. They will lay claim to a stretch of stream and like the solitaire, daring another of its kind to trespass. I’ve witnessed this amazing songster singing full tilt during white-out blizzards, challenging the storms intensity with its brazen refrains. “The dippers song is strong and sweet, made up of a great variety of trills and flute-like passages, delivered with great spirit and brilliance.”

I’ve not attempted to measure the length of its feeding domain, but assume it varies depending on food abundance. This little “penguin of the Rockies” as I call it, will dive underwater using its wings to stroke along the stream bottom while capturing its prey, which may include small fish. Constant preening with oil from near the base of its tail keeps it dry, and high density feathers provide excellent insulation. The cold waters must bring relief from comparatively frigid winter air.

I once observed a most unusual mating behavior when a pair of lovers suddenly spiraled up well over a hundred vertical feet from the stream, where they are otherwise tethered. Is this usual during courtship? I’ve only seen in on one occasion. Nature is full of mysteries and shock factor. Never say never! The Audubon Climate/bird reports Solitaires lose 92% of their summer range and an 88% loss for dippers by 2080, and their songs as well. This means more miles on my bike and less in my car.

This is Jack Greene- most fortunate to be part of this Wild Utah!


Images: American Dipper, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Images: American Robin, Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014,

Cane, James, Winter Song Birds, Wild About Utah, Feb 3, 2009,

Porter, Diane, Learning Bird Songs in Winter, 2009,

Utah Porcupines

Utah Porcupines: North American Porcupine Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Tom Koerner, photographer
North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Tom Koerner, photographer
It was late evening at our 3rd annual Utah Youth Environmental Summit at the Wasatch Mountain Lodge above Brighton Ski Resort. We were winding down the day when someone happened to look out the window which elicited a high volume shriek.

“What is it?!” A gnarly looking beast had cozied up to the window. Its face was a mixture of the grotesque and cuteness. A throng of students rushed to the window. “A porcupine!!” None of the 30 students had seen one in the wild. The questions began. “Can it shoot its quills at you?” “What do they eat?” “Do they bite?” “Do they hibernate”? And so on.

Utah Porcupines: North American Porcupine Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Lisa Hupp, photographer
North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Lisa Hupp, photographer
Having grown up in the north woods of Wisconsin and Michigan, I could answer most of their questions. No, it does not shoot its quills, but beware of its strong tail which it uses to impregnate quills with a quick slap at the assailant. And no, it doesn’t hibernate and yes, they can bite! Further, they are excellent swimmers and tree climbers. Also, their quills, which are similar to our fingernails made of keratin, can regrow once lost.
Unfortunately, most of the porcupines I’ve happened on have been road kills. The others have been in trees where they may spend considerable time eating the bark and stems. A large pile of fecal material may be found at the trees base similar to that of grouse in shape and size.

Another thing I learned is they adore outhouses and will greatly enlarge the holes as whey chew away the salty urine flavored wood. They also have a penchant for ax handles and canoe paddles where salt accumulates from ones laboring hands.

They are long lived- up to 30 years in captivity. I later learned that our Wasatch Mountain Lodge beast had become habituated, a regular visitor looking for a bit of garbage or a treat.

A few other tidbits worthy of note. Porcupines tend to be solitary animals except for when they are mating or caring for their young. They can use caves, old trees, and logs to create their dens, in which they may remain for many days in inclement weather. They possess a wide-variety of calls including moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks and tooth clicking.

Utah Porcupines: Porcupine in a Tree Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Public Domain
Porcupine in a Tree
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Public Domain
Late summer and early fall are the mating times. They make a great deal of vocalizations to draw a mate to them and to keep other males out of the area. Males become very aggressive, the strongest winning the female for which he will dance and then urinate on her for further affection. What!! Typically only one young is born seven months later. The baby’s quills are very soft for delivery, then harden after an hour. They remain with mother for about 6 months.

Predators are often deterred by the rattling of its hollow quills after which an offensive odor may occur. If the above threats fail, the porcupine will attack by running sideways or backwards while swinging its quilled tail in the direction of the predator.

Their magical quills are being researched by medical scientists to create adhesives, improve needle penetration, and for antibacterial properties. They also had extensive use by Native Americans for exquisite decorative purposes, and their bodies served up a fine meal- with quills removed!

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


Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Lisa Hupp and Tom Koerner, photographers
Sound: Courtesy
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Can a Porcupine Shoot its Quills? Smithsonian Channel, youTube, March 2, 2015,

Porcupines, Wild Aware Utah, (Utah DWR, Hogle Zoo, USU Cooperative Extension)