Rocky Mountain Elk

Rocky Mountain Elk: Canada Elk Cervus canadensis Courtesy William(13222272) and Pixabay
Canada Elk
Cervus canadensis
Courtesy William(13222272) and Pixabay

Bull Elk in Profile Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Hagerty, Photographer Bull Elk in Profile
Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Hagerty, Photographer

Jackson Elk Herd Courtesy US FWS, Lori Iverson, Photographer Jackson Elk Herd
Courtesy US FWS, Lori Iverson, Photographer

Bull Elk and Herd at National Elk Refuge Courtesy US FWS, Kari Cieszkiewicz, Photographer Bull Elk and Herd at National Elk Refuge
Courtesy US FWS, Kari Cieszkiewicz, Photographer

The Rocky Mountain elk is Utah’s state mammal for good reason. No one can deny its majesty and uncanny intelligence while being hunted, and the spine tingling bugle released in fall mountain splendor.

My introductory encounter with Rocky Mountain elk came during my first deer hunt in Utah on the east side of Mt. Nebo. I was nearly trampled by a large bull and herd of cows that leaped over me as I cowered behind large boulders. What magnificent beings they were, dwarfing the whitetail deer I had grown up with in Michigan.

Since that time, I’ve led countless groups of students and others to view elk during the rut in Grand Teton National Park. On one occasion, we were sleeping under the stars on a warm fall evening, awakened by a minor earth quake as a herd ran through us, a wakeup call I’ll never forget!

A matriarchal society, the cow elk rules the herd other than during the fall rut. Bulls will often separate to avoid this embarrassing situation. If you’ve had the pleasure of holding a large set of elk antlers, you will appreciate the physiology that allows this amount of annual growth to produce such weapons and status symbols. Cows generally outlive the bulls by several years. Prime bulls exhaust themselves, during the rut, and face the harsh winter months in a depleted condition. Some won’t make it providing a feast for waiting predators and scavengers come spring.

Elk are a sacred animal for many Native Americans. “Elk Medicine is a powerful totem animal of stamina, strength, sensual passion, nobility, pride, respect, and survival. Elk are also known as Spirit Messengers. Their antlers connect to the medicine of lightening, and channel that energy to earth. With this medicine comes instant knowing and messages from Spirit with great clarity.” Animal Spirit Medicine Elk by Beverly Two Feathers

My spiritual encounter came on a full moon vernal evening on a ridge in Birch Canyon near Smithfield. It was unusually warm so decided to take a moonlit stroll. Once on the ridge, large, gray forms emerged. I soon found myself surrounded by an elk herd. I moved slowly for safety, and not to startle the animals. A euphoric moment. Another came last fall when I had a large group of USU international students with me. It was after dark at the base of Teewinot. I hushed their chatter. Soon after came the hauntingly beautiful sound sliding down the slope above, bugling of bull elk. They were transfixed as was I.

A favorite book is Wapiti Wilderness, coauthored by Olaus and wife Margaret Murie, capturing their lives in the Yellowstone and Teton wilderness tracking elk herds over many years, often with their young children. A revealing and enduring read I highly recommend.

This weekend I will be taking 24 international students to Hardware Ranch for a sleigh ride among the wintering pasturing elk. Here they are fed hay to replace their lower winter range, which has been replaced by human activity. Yet another spiritual experience!

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon and I’m Wild About Utah and its elk.

Credits:
The Wonders of Bird Migration
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay William(), Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/elk-canada-deer-wildlife-nature-4825105/
Image: Bull Elk in Profile, Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Hagerty, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/20291/rec/19
Image: Bull elk and herd at National Elk Refuge, Courtesy US FWS, Kari Cieszkiewicz, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/33128/rec/5
Image: Jackson Elk Herd, Courtesy US FWS, Lori Iverson, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/18432/rec/2
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
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:

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

Murie, Margaret, Murie, Olaus, Wapiti Wilderness, University Press of Colorado, December 15, 1987, https://www.amazon.com/Wapiti-Wilderness-Margaret-Murie/dp/087081155X

National Elk Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/national-elk

Visiting Hardware WMA-Education Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hardware-visit.html

Owens, Beverly, a.k.a. Beverly Two Feathers, Native American Totems, https://native-american-totems.com/author/bevspaper/page/13/

Teewinot, NPS History, US National Park Service, Autumn 2004, http://npshistory.com/publications/grte/newspaper/fall-2004.pdf

I’m a Beaver Believer

I'm a Beaver Believer: North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer

Beaver-Chewed Tree Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer Beaver-Chewed Tree
Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer

Beaver-Chewed Tree Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer Beaver-Chewed Tree
Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer

I’m a beaver believer. These remarkable rodents are a critical part of the ecosystem, a keystone species. The beaver’s role in creating wildlife and fisheries habitat, filtering and cooling water, and adding new water storage capacity, is essential for our prolonged drought in a warming climate.
When I had a neighbor call a few weeks ago to report he thought a beaver might be cutting down his aspen trees. I was in disbelief. Right here in our little city of Smithfield no less! John invited me over to confirm his suspicions.

After inspecting the tree stumps, teeth marks were undoubtedly those of beaver. We discussed on how to address the situation. John had lost several thousand dollars-worth of trees, and was quite desperate to remediate the situation. I suggested reporting the rogue beaver to animal control or UDWR. Perhaps they could live trap and transport the animal to a more favorable location, while dreading the possibility of having to destroy my iconic, heroic mammal friend. In the interim, I suggested he use chicken wire to save what remained. Another personal conflict arose from my position as Smithfield Tree Committee chair. I was fully aware of the many values urban forests offer to our local environment and quality of life. It was my mission to protect our trees.

I inquired as to where the beaver was setting up shop. There must be a tangle of aspen leavings nearby. John hadn’t noticed any. I began searching the stream to find the missing trees, never expecting to see a beaver. Not more than 20 yards upstream from his property boundary, there it was. I quickly took a picture before it slid into the water disappearing beneath the ice.

I returned to my neighbor who was busy installing chicken wire around his remaining aspen. He too was not wishing to exterminate the animal, but there were homes with aspen, willow, and cottonwood both up and downstream from our location, a veritable feast for this wanderer. I mentioned that I had some acquaintances at USU who worked with beaver reintroduction, and may offer some solutions as well.

Given its small size and unexpected location, this was most likely a two-year-old juvenile who had been forced from its family, similar to how we gently nudge our young adults out the door. I was well acquainted with our mountain landscape and quite certain this beaver had traveled a distance of many miles to end up in Smithfield.

After consulting my USU friends, it did not bode well for poor beaver. To catch and release this animal during the winter offered little hope for its survival. Further, it would not fare well in several months of captivity, being alone in a high stress environment.

I’m now waiting to hear from my neighbor for the rest of the story. May it be favorable for this remarkable aquatic mammal, so essential for creating healthy watersheds, which equals abundant, high quality water!

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

Credits:
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer & Brett Billings, Photographers https://images.fws.gov/
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://npr.org/
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:

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

Bingham, Lyle, Welcoming Rodent Engineers, Wild About Utah, February 7, 2022, https://wildaboututah.org/welcoming-rodent-engineers/

Heers, Mary, Beaver Tail Slap, Wild About Utah, October 12, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-tail-slap/

Heers, Mary, Birch Creek Beaver Restoration, Wild About Utah, June 20, 2022, https://wildaboututah.org/birch-creek-beaver-restoration/

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, Wild About Utah, July 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/leave-it-to-beaver/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, Wild About Utah, April 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-beaver-helping-keep-water-on-drying-lands/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques, Wild About Utah, December 18, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/sixty-instream-habitat-structures-in-four-days-demonstrating-creek-restoration-techniques/

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving

Box Elder Bug on Milkweed Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer
Box Elder Bug on Milkweed
Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer

Perigrine Falcon Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer Perigrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer

Northern Shrike Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Northern Shrike
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Robin with Chicks in Nest Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov James C. Leopold, Photographer Robin with Chicks in Nest
Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov
James C. Leopold, Photographer

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving: Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, images.fws.gov Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer
http://images.fws.gov

I’m Giving thanks for a Wild Utah, which is all around us- in our yards, downtown, and even in our homes. I will make my case with the following vignettes.

Box elder bugs are my nemesis, reproducing numbers far beyond what their predators can control. But my grandkids adore them. Calling them “Boxies”, they are enthralled with their “cute” little friends. They will make a home for them in a jar, making sure they’re comfortable and well fed with collected leaves.

While sauntering through Temple Square on a lovely June day, I was startled by the kee-kee-kee call of peregrine falcons. One lit atop Moroni’s head, which adorns the temple, soon to be joined by another. The elder missionary who had begun his missionary pitch to me was aghast as I explained the peregrine coupling on their sacred figure.

My grandkids and I were keeping track of a robins nest which had been built over our front door facing. Checking the eggs, which were near hatching, we discovered a great basin gopher snake had crawled up the vertical house wall for egg soufflé, devouring all four eggs. How in the world did this reptile even know there was a nest with eggs in this unusual location, and make the vertical climb to eat them? A natural wonder!

Our bird feeder is quite popular with predatory birds. We noticed a darling little saw-whet owl sitting in the tree where the feeder hung with a junco in its beak. On another occasion, my wife alerted me to a stellar jay sitting on a limb outside the kitchen window with a fat meadow vole dangling from its mouth.

A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a photo of a mystery bird that had slammed into their window. What is this bird? A northern shrike was the victim- a rarity indeed. Fortunately, it recovered, hopefully without serious injury, to hunt her birds another day.

When our children were young, a Jerusalem cricket was discovered in the basement. These Tonka Toy-like insects are marvels- and very scary. It kept our children occupied for hours. On another occasion, we came home to find baby skunks had invaded us. One of our sons had found them near their road-killed mother and adopted them. These cute little critters soon adapted to our presence, and no one was sprayed, but they did harbor a skunky odor for some time, probably from their deceased mother.

Given the Thanks Giving season, I’ll wrap this up with turkeys. Downtown Logan had four tom turkeys who were causing mayhem with traffic at the Center and Main intersection. Our fearless law officer were called out to remediate the situation. Following an hour of frantic scramble, the officers were defeated, as were the turkeys, who found an open door for refuge in a butcher shop. True story.

Wishing you a Wild Utah Thanksgiving!

This is Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m wild about this Utah!

Credits:
Picture: Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Picture: Northern Shrike, Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Picture: Robin with Chicks, Courtesy US FWS, James C. Leopold, Photographer
Picture: Jerusalem Cricket, Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, PublicDomainImages AND https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-woodland-through-walking-387109/
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer,
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer https://images.fws.gov/
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
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:

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

Greene, Jack, Wild Turkeys, Wild About Utah, November 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys/

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-turkeys-recently-moved-to-utah/

Strand, Holly, Boxelder Bug Poetry, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/boxelder-bug-poetry/

Kervin, Linda, Shrikes, Wild About Utah, October 31, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/shrikes/

Intelligent Tree Squirrels

Intelligent Squirrels: Squirrel Courtesy Pixabay
Squirrel
Courtesy Pixabay
Primates of the northlands. I consider tree squirrels to be on par with many primates for intelligence and agility. Those who have bird feeders may agree with me as they vainly attempt to thwart squirrel’s from invading their feeders. We have red squirrels visiting our bird feeder regularly. I’ve outsmarted them for the moment, but they continue to work on the problem I’ve presented them and feel a failure coming my way!

I’ve watched red squirrels manipulate fir cones with their front paws with amazing dexterity. Like myself eating a cob of corn, it spun the cone rapidly while shredding the cone scales to access the seed. Their tiny toes grip the cone identically to my fingers gripping the cob of corn. I’m amazed how they can unerringly navigate their way from tree to tree through our forest. There are many examples of squirrel intelligence witnessed by animal behaviorists.

Arboreal squirrels often build dreys that look like bird nests. Dreys are made up of twigs , moss, feathers and grass. All the items surrounding the dreys provide support and insulation. Chimpanzees exhibit very similar behavior.

Squirrels make use of several vocalizations to communicate with each other, they also create scents to attract opposite sex or communicate. They can create signals with their tails as well, by twitching it to alert other squirrels on the presence of a potential danger.

Tree squirrels display fantastically acrobatic movements, phenomenal adaptability to urban environments, and possess very cute little faces to boot. The 7th International Colloquium on Arboreal Squirrels was held 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. Studies routinely come discover new, amazing behaviors, especially involving the squirrel’s signature behavior, that it buries caches of its food to access later. One experiment found that they’ll try multiple tactics to open a locked box. Another found that squirrels remember the location of their caches without using their keen noses to locate them. Another found that they’re able to quickly learn from their peers.

A 2010 study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive, or paranoid, behavior. When squirrels are being watched, they’ll construct fake caches, pretending to bury a nut by digging a hole, patting it down with their front teeth, and scraping dirt or grass over the top of it while concealing the nut in a pocket near their armpit, and will make the real cache somewhere else. Even while watching, it can be difficult to tell when a squirrel is making a fake or a real cache. How smart is that?

A study was conducted at UC Berkley in which students were placed in a competitive game to act like squirrels. They hid caches of plastic eggs, and then 15 minutes later returned to find them. This is a very squirrel-like test: memory, deception, location, observation, paranoia. Most students couldn’t remember their own hiding places. Squirrels bury about 10,000 nuts per year, making many different caches, and may not uncover them for months. They may dig up a cache and bury it somewhere else, and do that up to five times. Squirrels, unlike UC Berkeley students, are engaged in this intellectually draining activity while also avoiding predators and braving the elements.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon. I’m Wild About Utah and its amazing squirrels!

Credits:

Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Alexas Fotos, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/squirrel-rodent-animal-cute-nature-5158715/
Audio: Courtesy UPR
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:

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

Utah Fox Squirrels, NHMU is studying Fox Squirrels, and we need your help!, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/citizen-science/utah-fox-squirrels

Types of Squirrels in Utah! (3 species w/ pictures), Bird Watching HQ, https://birdwatchinghq.com/squirrels-in-utah/