Nature Therapy

Nature Therapy: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Contributor
Delicate Arch,
Arches National Park
Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad Contributor

Bighorn near Jones National Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument and Vernal, UT. Courtesy US FWS, Erin Falk Photographer Bighorn near Jones National Fish Hatchery, Dinosaur National Monument and Vernal, UT. Courtesy US FWS, Erin Falk Photographer

During the COVID days, there was an explosion of outdoor activity as we found an escape from being locked in buildings. Sporting good shops soon sold out of most of their outdoor gear. Our local recreational lands and waters, including national and state parks, soon became overwhelmed with outdoor enthusiasts, most of which has continued to this day.

The intrinsic value of connecting to nature has been realized and capitalized. It’s becoming more common for health workers, both mental and physical, to subscribe nature as a potential cure for many ailments.

From a human evolutionary perspective, our 300 thousand years as a species has been spent outdoors. We were intimately connected to natural landscapes and all our Earth Mother provided. Even over the past ten thousand years, most of our ancestors have been farmers, living close to the land and its fickle moods. I’m sure our biophilia is imbedded in our neurological network. Thus nature deficit disorder looms large once this vital connection is severed.

For a deep dive, the Child & Nature Network is bursting with research on this topic. Beyond our immediate health, having access to natural landscapes enhances academic and work performance, and reduces the number of sick days registered. Many countries beyond our own have structured programs such as forest bathing and goat yoga. I have yet to try goat yoga, but find it alluring- love goats and yoga!

I designed and ran an outdoor adventure program at a youth ranch in Michigan for troubled youth. It became very popular and effective, especially when we invite parents and care givers to join us on some of our adventures. The Utah Conservation Corps had a program for Latino high school students, some of whom were struggling as adolescence often do. Again, the program was transformative for many of the participants, who continued on to higher education rather than becoming high school dropouts for work.

I now volunteer with the International Friends Program where I lead an outdoor program for USU international students and scholars. It’s become very popular where young adults find friendship and engage in new outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, Nordic skiing, ice skating, and many others. Something about escaping to the indoors and engaging in stimulating activities on land and water allows walls to disappear and rich conversation to flow.

I’ve also had recent outings with Common Ground Outdoor Adventure, a marvelous program that serves all abilities- both mental and physical. The joy it brings to their lives is a joy to witness.

A new PBS program “America Outdoors” with Baratunde Thurston takes you to different states where you witness natures impact on struggling individuals in gorgeous landscapes. Virtual immersion in earth’s offerings, including an extraordinary episode on Utah! https://www.pbs.org/show/america-outdoors-baratunde-thurston/.
Being a naturalist, I always include information on the local geology, ecology, and natural history. I find it enriches the experience and allows new ways of interacting with the natural world beyond its astounding beauty.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about the natural healing Wild Utah affords!

Credits:
Images: Delicate Arch: Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Contributor, https://pixabay.com/photos/delicate-arch-arch-delicate-utah-3768200/
Images: Big Horn: Courtesy US FWS, Erin Falk Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, https://npr.org/ and Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Children & Nature Network, https://www.childrenandnature.org/

America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston, https://www.pbs.org/show/america-outdoors-baratunde-thurston/

Pika

Pika, Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
American Pika
Courtesy Pixabay, Makieni77 Contributor
As I hike the high country, there is a non-bird call that always brightens my way. A mini rabbit, or rock rabbit in Jack vernacular, the pika, has been declared North America’s cutest mammal. I won’t argue with this declaration, unless it’s compared to my grandkids.

On a scramble up two gnarly peaks above Alta Ski Resort a few weeks ago, my spirits went sky high with an abundance of pika busily gathering hay for their winter larder. Their Ehhhhh! Notes surrounded us, tiny furry forms darting in and out of boulder fields while we made our way to the summits.

This was especially heartening given the warming trends, which push these little spirits beyond their limits of heat tolerance in too many locations. Pikas have disappeared from more than one-third of their previously known habitat in Oregon and Nevada. Despite this, the American pika has not been listed under the Endangered Species Act. The pika can overheat and die within 6 hours when exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

American pikas are famously vocal. They chirp, sing, and scream in an effort to protect their territory. They use their signature call to alert others in the colony of an approaching predator, to establish boundaries, and in some cases, to attract mates.

Pikas spend a great deal of time gathering vegetation for winter which they cure on rocks to prevent molding, then store their piles under rocks for safekeeping, occasionally moving them so they don't get rained on. Haystacks, as they're called, weigh a whopping 61 pounds on average. The timing of haying seems to correlate to the amount of precipitation from the previous winter. They appear to assess the nutritional value of available food and harvest accordingly. Pikas select plants that have the higher caloric, protein, lipid, and water content. They also enjoy their fecal pellets, which have more energy value than stored plant food, by consuming them directly or store for a later sweet treat.
Cedar Breaks National monument in southern Utah has adopted the pika as its token mammal. You can get your own stuffy who has a remarkable resemblance to the real deal. Your donation will help the Monument with its field research on the pika and other park critters.

Considering pika are mostly found in alpine and subalpine environments with cool temperatures and deep snow, I was shocked to find them occurring at Craters of the Moon NM in Idaho averaging 6000’ elevation. Summer temperatures at the Monument can soar to 170 degrees on the black rock surface, which would fry a pica in short order. Yet, here they are, finding relief in lava tubes and deep crevasses. Unlike their diurnal alpine cousins, they are primarily crepuscular- active early morning- late evening.

The American pika can be found throughout the mountains of western North America, from Canada to New Mexico. Of the 30 global species, only two inhabit North America, which includes the collared pika found in Alaska and Canada.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah and its rock rabbits!

Credits:
Image: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/pika-animal-wildlife-nature-cute-5326942/
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Cane, Jim, Voice: Dick Hurren, Pikas, Our First Haymakers Wild About Utah, October 28, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/pikas-our-first-haymakers/

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw, Pika Country: Climate Change at the Top of the World, September 18, 2020, https://www.amazon.com/Pika-Country-Climate-Change-World/dp/1970039027

Plumb, Sally, A Pika’s Tail, May 1, 2012, https://www.amazon.com/Pikas-Tail-Sally-Plumb/dp/0931895251

Shorebirds

Shorebirds: Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri), Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023, Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023
Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Shorebirds in August? I’d been told there was a robust migration during that time, but hadn’t tested the validity of such until a week ago. Three other young ladies joined me to do a count at the Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area near Tremonton Utah. And boy did I need their younger eyes and energy as we were inundated with shorebirds- avocets, stilts, curlews, greater and lesser yellowlegs, dowitchers, marbled godwit, western sandpipers, killdeer, and a flock of small peepes (short for small sandpipers).

Myriad other magnificent migrants joined the mixed flock- numerous duck species, juvenile black crown night herons by the dozens, herons, egrets, ibis, terns, etc., but they don’t qualify as shorebirds, so we enjoyed their presence, but they didn’t make the list.

A few other non-migrants were noteworthy- a burrowing owl that posed beautifully on a fence post emitting constant chatters, and a very fat, mature western rattler with many buttons on its tail./ The Salt Creek WMA is a jewel that gets few visitors given its “out there” location competing with the 80 thousand acre Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge next door, which boasts an outstanding visitor center, offering many resources and educational programs.

This was the first official fall shorebird survey conducted in 30 years at roughly 200 sites across 11 western states. These surveys fill a critical three-decade data gap in our understanding of migratory shorebird populations and their distribution. The results will inform management and policy efforts to ensure there are resources to support birds and the places they need during their migratory journeys.

The survey was organized by the Sageland [Collaborative] organization, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and several others, conducted by volunteers and biologists via airplane, vehicles, ATVs, boats and on our feet. This survey will occur for the next three years, during the same week each spring and fall, to coincide with the peak shorebird migration across the region.

We’re part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, whose wetlands support nearly one-third of the global population of Wilson's phalaropes, more than half of American avocets, 37 percent of black-necked stilts, and 21 percent of the North American population of snowy plovers.

Shorebirds are a diverse group of birds including sandpipers, plovers, avocets, oystercatchers, and phalaropes. There are approximately 217 recognized species globally, 81 of which occur in the Americas for all or part of their lifecycle with 52 species breeding in North America, many of whom visit Utah.

Shorebird are the endurance marathoner winners, some migrating 20,000 miles a year. Their remarkable hemispheric travels coincide with peak abundant food. In their global pursuit of food and breeding grounds, home is nowhere, yet everywhere. As a result, shorebirds are difficult to track, monitor, and protect. /Shorebirds are among a few groups of birds showing the most dramatic declines. Their decline began in the 1800s, in part due to market hunting. As humans have continued to alter the landscape, shorebird populations have further decreased, with declines increasing rapidly in recent decades.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m Wild About Utah’s wild Shorebirds!

Credits:
Image: Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Used by permission, https://www.wildlife.utah.gov/news_photos/2023-06-02-shorebirds-at-utah-lake.jpg
Audio: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, https://logannature.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Van Tatenhove, Aimee, The Quiet Importance of Brine Flies, Wild About Utah, Nov 15, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/the-quiet-importance-of-brine-flies/

The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/

Migratory Shorebird Survey, The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/shorebirds?rq=shorebird

Statewide shorebird surveys restarted after 30-year hiatus; over 84,000 shorebirds counted during spring survey, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, June 2, 2023, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1679-statewide-shorebird-surveys-restarted-after-30-year-hiatus.html

Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area:
Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area, Utah Outdoor Activities, https://utahoutdooractivities.com/saltcreek.html
Salt Creek WMA, UtahBirds, Utah County Birders, https://www.utahbirds.org/counties/boxelder/BirdingSites.htm#SaltCreekWMA
1999-2001 Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey: (Salt Creek is #33 under Survey Areas) https://wildlife.utah.gov/waterbirdsurvey/
Salt Creek Habitat, GeoData Archive, Utah Geological Survey, Utah Division of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://geodata.geology.utah.gov/pages/view.php?ref=7975&search=%21collection104&offset=0&order_by=date&sort=DESC&archive=0

Tigers

Tigers: Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer
Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer

Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas, Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas,
Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer

Western Swallowtail Butterfly Seeking Salt From Soil, 6/24/2017 Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer Western Swallowtail Butterfly Seeking Salt From Soil, 6/24/2017
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer

The year of the tiger. Our mountains, canyons, and valleys are replete with tigers-there’s no escaping them, tiger swallowtail butterflies! Even my grandkids captured one, which entertained them for days. It had a damaged wing and preferred crawling to flying. It’s angelic beauty transfixed the onlookers. Although injured, it hung on for a week- about the average life span of an adult butterfly.

The normal range of the western tiger swallowtail covers much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico south. Individuals occasionally turn up in eastern North America, though it is generally replaced by the similar eastern tiger swallowtail.

Western tigers emerge from winter chrysalids between February and May, the date depending on the temperature. They are seen earlier in the more southerly and coastal parts of their range. These are high energy butterflies, rarely seen at rest.

The females lay up to a hundred eggs on a wide variety of host plants including willows, aspens, ashes, poplars, alders, and cottonwood. The eggs are deep green, shiny, and spherical. They are laid singly, on the undersides of leaves. The caterpillars emerge about four days later.

The caterpillars molt five times, eventually reaching a length up to 2 inches before pupating to adults. In summer, the butterfly can emerge as quickly as 15 days after the caterpillar’s pupated, but when the caterpillar pupates in the fall, the butterfly does not emerge until the spring. For camouflage, the young caterpillars, strangely resemble bird poop as they hatch. Once they begin to molt, they turn bright green in color, with large, yellow eyespot marks studded with black and blue pupils. These fake eyes may frighten predators, along with retractable, iridescent, horn-like structures on their head.

To harvest nectar, a butterfly unfurls its proboscis, a tube that functions like a straw and is coiled below the head when not in use. It inserts the proboscis into the flower and sucks up nectar by rhythmically contracting the muscles in its head. Sugars in the nectar provide energy for flight, defense, reproduction, and other daily activities.
Tigers also obtain nutrients and replenish fluids through “puddling,” where they congregate in large groups on mud or wet sand around puddles, streambanks, or on piles of fresh manure. I’ve observed puddling many times, always a levitating experience! Here they take up salts, proteins, and minerals. Salt is scarce in the butterfly diet, but is essential for reproduction and flight.

Puddling is primarily a male behavior, and during mating, a male butterfly transfers salt to the female in a sperm package, which she incorporates into her eggs. Researchers have found that sodium increases reproductive success in some butterfly species. During puddling, groups of males are conspicuous to females seeking mates. Males also patrol at treetop level looking for mates, swooping down to intercept females.

Thus, if you see a tiger, don’t be alarmed, just relax and enjoy their exquisite beauty and fascinating behaviors.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah, and its puddling tigers!!

Credits:
Image: Courtesy US FWS, Thomas Maurer, Photographer, https://www.fws.gov/media/western-tiger-swallowtail
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Agyagos, Janie, Attracting Butterflies, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd899349.pdf

Backyards for Butterflies, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, State of Ohio, Publication 5089, January 2020, https://ohiodnr.gov/static/documents/wildlife/backyard-wildlife/Backyards%20for%20Butterflies%20pub089.pdf

Carroll, James, 2006, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails gathered at mineral trace along Blackwater River tributary in Western Florida, BugGuide.net, https://bugguide.net/node/view/79626

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio canadensis, [Click to second picture to view puddling], Montana Field Guide. Montana Natural Heritage Program, https://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=IILEP94250