Antelope Island Bison

Bison Bull on Antelope Island Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Bison Bull on Antelope Island
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, PhotographerCowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021 Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Cowboys Staging for the Antelope Island Bison Roundup Oct 30, 2021
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Bison Pair Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Bison Pair
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The sun was just coming up when I drove onto Antelope Island State Park on Oct 30 Bison were grazing on both sides of the road, and I had to stop a few times and wait as they lumbered across the road. But by the time I reached the Garr Ranch on the southern end of the island, I felt I had driven onto the set of a Hollywood western. 250 volunteer cowboys were saddled up on their horses and were getting their final instructions. At 8 am they spread out in a long line and began their slow walk north. Ahead of them the bison began to move. This was the day of the annual bison round-up. By the end of the day, the more than 500 bison on the island were milling about in the sturdy corrals in the northern part of the island.

After giving the bison a day to catch their breath, the park managers started to move the bison through the corrals until, one by one, they stepped on the scales. The young calves born that spring weighed in at about 400 lbs and the old bulls topped the scales at over 2000. The next step was into the restraining chute. It was time to get vaccinated and have a quick medical checkup.

Over the clanging and banging of the solid metal pens, I could occasionally hear the vet cry, “Pregnant!” This seemed to be the magic password, as the front gates of the chute would fly open and the heifer would dash off into a pen that would return her back into the island. The others needed to wait.

This whole story began in 1873 when 12 privately owned bison were sold to the owners of Antelope Island. These twelve thrived in this harsh environment. They grew shaggy warm winter coats and plowed the deepest snow drifts, swinging their massive heads back and forth, down to the grass below. A bison will eat 40 pounds of grass a day. Antelope Island is only 15 miles long and 5 miles wide There is just enough grass to support a herd of 500. Since there are no wolves or natural predators on the island, the park managers will need to sell the excess numbers at an online auction.

In the 1500’s, an estimated 50 million bison roamed the Great Plains. The Native Americans revered them and harvested them mindfully. They found a use for every bison part – including the stomach, which proved a reliable water jug. But the western expansion of white settlers led to the deliberate slaughter of the bison. By the end of the 19th c, only 300 bison were left in the wild.

The chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian National Museum, William Hornaday, spend two summer in remote corners of Montana harvesting and old bull, a calf, and 4 young bison. He brought the hides back to Washington and built a display that he believed would be the only chance for future generations to see this vanishing species.

In Yellowstone National Park, 2 army men patrolling the park on cross country skis witnessed a poacher shoot a bison. The poacher had put down his rifle and was busy severing the trophy head. The two soldiers quietly skied up close enough to apprehend him with their revolver. Still the park’s bison herd dwindled to 23 -until 1902 when he army purchased 21 more from private owners.

The Yellowstone herd now numbers over 5,000.

Today, between parks, private herds, and tribal lands the bison now number half a million.

Bison have come roaring back from the very edge of extinction.

This is Mary Heers and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

US FWS Bison Images: https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/search/searchterm/bison

Clifton, Jameson, Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison, Wild About Utah, June 1, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/get-involved-with-plans-to-manage-yellowstone-national-parks-bison/

Boling, Josh, The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, January 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountains-bison-herd/

2021 Bison Roundup, Antelope Island State Park, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Oct 30, 2021, https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/bison-roundup/

Cabrero, Alex, Annual bison roundup held at Antelope Island State Park, KSL TV, October 30, 2021, https://ksltv.com/475592/annual-bison-roundup-held-at-antelope-island-state-park/

Cox, Erin, Hundreds of volunteers gather to participate in annual bison roundup at Antelope island, Fox 13, Scripps Local Media, https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/hundreds-of-volunteers-gather-to-participate-in-annual-bison-roundup-at-antelope-island

Kokanee

Kokanee flash of red Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Kokanee flash of red
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Every fall, tucked away in the southern tip of Cache Valley, and hidden 30 feet below the water surface of Porcupine Reservoir, a drama begins to unfold. The biological clock of the four year old Kokanee salmon ticks over. Childhood is over is over and it is time to spawn. This beautiful silver fish turns red. The jaw of the males elongates and a hump grows on its back. Both the males and females congregate at the inlet where Cinnamon Creek flows into the reservoir. One by one they point their heads upstream and push themselves against the current.

Walking along the creek banks, looking down into the water, it’s impossible not to feel stirred by the spectacle of flashing red bodies fighting against the current. It’s a journey of fits and starts – a quick surge ahead and then a quivering pause. This is a real fight – the life energy of the fish against the relentless current. Just how difficult it is becomes apparent when the current will catch a fish and send it careening down steam until it recovers its balance and starts upstream again.

Beaver dams obstructing Kokanee swimming upstream Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Beaver dams obstructing Kokanee swimming upstream
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
What we are seeing is a short version of the incredible journey made by their close cousins, the Sockeye Salmon, who travel 900 miles from their birthplace along the tributaries of the Snake River, all the way into the salty ocean, and back again. In contrast, the Kokanee from Porcupine will only travel a few miles, especially this year as beavers have been busy building dams across Cinnamon Creek, and very few Kokanee make it up and over the first few.

Stopped from going further upstream, the female goes to work , using her tail to clear a nest of gravel. She lays her eggs and a nearby male swoops in and covers them with his milt. The female covers the fertilized eggs with more gravel and it is done. The Kokanee life cycle comes full circle, and the adults will die. The eggs are on their own. If all goes well, some will hatch in November. By April they will have grown into fingerlings and will get flushed downstream in the Spring run off. They will then spend the next few years in the reservoir before it is their turn to turn red and point their heads upstream.

The Department of Natural Resources originally stocked Kokanee into the reservoir as a sport fish. I asked a fisherman friend how one goes about catching a Kokanee, and he said you need a boat and a fish finder. The Kokanee live in schools about 30-50 feet below the surface, filling their bellies mostly by filtering zooplankton from the reservoir water. Once the fisherman finds the fish, he trolls right through the middle of the school with a shiny rectangle of metal called a dodger, along with pink and green plastic squid and a bit of colored corn. The fish strike the line out of anger, not out of hunger. “They’re a very tasty fish,” my friend said. “And a beautiful silver. We call it ‘catching chrome'” But for me the most beautiful color of Kokanee will always be the flash of red as it fights its way upstream. And the best taste will be the bit of awe and wonder we get as we catch a glimpse into this unique circle of life as it plays out in our natural world.

Kokanee swimming upstream Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Kokanee swimming upstream
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Boling, Josh, Kokanee Salmon in Utah, Wild About Utah, October 9, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon-in-utah/

Strand, Holly, Kokanee Life Cycle, Wild About Utah, September 19, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-life-cycle/

Strand, Holly, Kokanee Salmon, Wild About Utah, October 7, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon/

9 places to see bright red kokanee salmon in Utah this fall, News, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, September 1, 2019, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1003-see-red-kokanee-salmon.html

Fishing Guidebook 2021, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, September 1, 2019, https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2021_fishing_guidebook.pdf

Sockeye Salmon (Kokanee) – Oncorhynchus nerka, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, 2019, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=oncorhynchus%20nerka

DeMoss, Jeffrey (with Eli Lucero underwater Kokanee photo), The journey home: Kokanee salmon make annual Cache spawning run, The Herald Journal,
Sep 17, 2015, https://www.hjnews.com/allaccess/the-journey-home-kokanee-salmon-make-annual-cache-spawning-run/article_235386ec-27a5-575f-872b-3702f3ded215.html

Ockey, Natalie, Kokanee Salmon Run in Utah. Utah’s Adventure Family, Last updated September 27, 2020, https://www.utahsadventurefamily.com/kokanee-salmon-run-in-utah/

Avian Athletes

Avian Athletes: "I passed them in Malad. They should be here is about 10 minutes."-Derek Alder Courtesy & © Mary Heers
“I passed them in Malad. They should be here is about 10 minutes.”-Derek Alder
Courtesy & © Mary Heers
At eleven o’clock last Friday I was standing alone outside a 120 ft pigeon loft in Fielding, Utah, scanning the sky for incoming birds A few minutes later, the loft owner, Derek Alder, pulled into the driveway. “I passed them in Malad,” he said, hopping out of his truck They should be here is about 10 minutes.” Earlier that morning Derek had driven 250 pigeons to Spenser, Idaho, 180 miles away. He had released them at 8 am and had barely beaten them home.

“Here they come!” Derek spotted the lead group of 40 as they flew into view, just over the tops of two trees a few hundred yards away. When the first bird entered the loft, the computer chip in its leg band sent a message to the loft computer. We heard the ping, It was 11:19. The lead group had flown 180 miles in three hours and 19 minutes. That made the average speed close to 55 mph.

Avian Athletes: "These were all young birds, less than a year old, who had been taken to a place they had never been before, 180 miles away." Courtesy & © Mary Heers
“These were all young birds, less than a year old, who had been taken to a place they had never been before, 180 miles away.”
Courtesy & © Mary Heers
Soon the computer was pinging nonstop I was mesmerized These were all young birds, less than a year old, who had been taken to a place they had never been before, 180 miles away. They had found their way home and were now calmly walking into their loft for a bite to eat and a sip of water.

I had begun my own journey into this world of avian athletes last summer at the Cache County Fair. I had gone to cheer on my neighbor’s kids who were showing their pigs, and ducked into the bird barn on the way out. I was expecting chickens, but found my self surrounded by pigeons. This encounter soon led me to Hyrum to meet the main exhibitor, Randy Balls. He met me at the door to his house with a big smile. “Do you want to see them fly?” he asked. We spent the next hour sitting on a bench in his backyard, watching his pigeons as they circled and swooped overhead Randy’s love for his birds was contagious, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I now find myself with four homing pigeons of my own in an improvised coop in my backyard.

Avian Athletes: I began my own journey into this world of avian athletes last summer at the Cache County Fair. Courtesy & © Mary Heers
I began my own journey into this world of avian athletes last summer at the Cache County Fair.
Courtesy & © Mary Heers
Growing up I had heard stories of pigeons who carried messages in both world wars. My favorite story was the one about a bird called Cher Ami, who was assigned to an American unit and carried into battle in a wicker backpack. The unit was pinned down by German guns, and to make matters worse, was also hit by friendly fire.

A desperate message was written and placed in the small canister tied to Cher Ami’s leg. “We are along the road parallel to 276.4 Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” Cher Ami took off. She was hit by bullets that blinded one eye and shot off part of her right leg. But she kept going. She delivered the message to army headquarters, and was credited with saving the lives of one hundred and ninety four American soldiers.

We know the messaging partnership between homing pigeons and humans can be traced all the way back to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. What we don’t know is exactly how pigeons do it. Somehow they are attuned to the earth’s gravitational fields in ways that humans are not. I like the mystery of it. I like keeping alive the flame of wonder and awe as we continue to learn and interact with the natural world

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text & Voice: Mary Heers, Generous Contributor, Utah Public Radio
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading

Pieces by Mary Heers on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/mary-heers/

The Incredible Carrier Pigeons of the First World War, Imperial War Museum, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-incredible-carrier-pigeons-of-the-first-world-war

Domestic Pigeons Explained: The Complete Guide, Pigeonpedia, https://pigeonpedia.com/domestic-pigeons/



White Pelicans and Team Fishing

White Pelicans and Team Fishing: American White Pelicans at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Pelicans at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
I first caught sight of the eight pelicans swimming in s straight line towards the waters edge, looking a lot like a tank division in in an old WWII movie I slammed on the brakes just in time to see them all dip their bills into the water, come up spilling water and cock their heads back And then, gulp! Fish slid down their throats.

Wow, I thought. These pelicans are working together to to drive the fish into the shallow water’s edge where they can easily scoop the up And then it got better. Fanning out, the pelicans regrouped in a circle Swimming towards the center, they tightened the noose. And bam! Dip, scoop, knock back some more fish

I was amazed at how soundless and seamless it all was and could have watched for hours, but I was on the one lane auto route at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the cars behind me were starting to honk their horns, so I reluctantly moved on.

As soon as I got home I plunged into research on this majestic bird, beginning with the bill. When the pelican dips its bill into the water, the lower portion expands into a flexible sac that allows the bird to to scoop up as much as 3 gallons of fish and water.

White Pelicans and Team Fishing: American White Pelicans Fishing at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
American White Pelicans Fishing
at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
When the pelican cocks back its head, the sac contracts, the water is expelled through a barely open bill, and the fish swallowed. The huge pelican bill, which at first glance looks like a formidable weapon, is actually an exquisitively designed fishing net.

Archeologists have found pelican skulls dating back 30 million years, so this unique bill has definitely passed the test of time.

Back at the refuge I was able to turn into a visitor pull out and pick up the rather stunning bit of information: these pelicans fly in from Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake, over the Promontory Mountains, daily to forage for fish. That’s a 30 mile trip each way!

Long before the Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah, pelicans were building their nest on Gunnison Island. They were briefly disturbed when an artist, Albert Lambourne, tried to homestead for a year in 1850, and a guano mining company dropped off a crew – a Pole, a Russian, a Scot and an Englishman- to mine the bird poop. But the operation wasn’t profitable, and when it closed down, the pelicans reclaimed the island. Each March the birds fly in from as far away as Mexico, build their nests, and raise their chicks. The rookery is the largest in the US. In 2017 the pop was estimated to be as high as 20,000.

Jordan Falslev's Pelican Perch at the Benson Marina on Cutler Reservoir, Click to view a larger image. Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Jordan Falslev’s Pelican Perch
at the Benson Marina on Cutler Reservoir,
Click to view a larger image.
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers

Back in Cache Valley in 2010, Jordan Falslev built a viewing platform near Benson Marina, The Pelican Perch, as his Eagle scout project. There used to be hundreds of pelicans out there on the water, but when I stopped by last week I didn’t see a single one. Numbers are way down now largely because the dropping water level in the Great Salt Lake have exposed a land bridge to Gunnison Island that allows predators to ravage the nesting site.

You can still catch sight of a pelican in flight in Cache Valley. (Their wingspan is 10 ft. Rudy Gobert, in comparison, has a wingspan of 7 ft 9 in.) But for my money, the best show in town is watching packs of pelicans hunt for fish at the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Music: Courtesy & Copyright © Anderson/Howe, Wakeman
Text: Mary Heers

Additional Reading

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Management, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=peleeryt

American White Pelican (AWPE), Aquatic Birds, Great Salt Lake Bird Survey 1997-2001, Utah Division of Wildlife Management, https://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/waterbirdsurvey/awpe.htm

Larsen, Leia, As Great Salt Lake shrinks, fate of nesting pelicans unknown, Standard Examiner, October 11, 2015, https://www.standard.net/news/environment/as-great-salt-lake-shrinks-fate-of-nesting-pelicans-unknown/article_d2f8ff29-aee5-5a59-b377-62369934fdc9.html

Butler, Jaimi, The Great Salt Lake Is An ‘Oasis’ For Migratory Birds, Science Friday, September 21, 2018, https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-great-salt-lake-is-an-oasis-for-migratory-birds/

Hager, Rachel, Great Salt Lake Pelicans Under Threat, Utah Public Radio, May 28, 2018, https://www.upr.org/post/great-salt-lake-pelicans-under-threat

Leefang, Arie, Gunnison Island, Heritage and Arts, Utah Division of State History, September 16, 2019, https://history.utah.gov/exploring-the-history-and-archaeology-of-the-great-salt-lakes-gunnison-island/

Hoven, Heidi, Gunnison Island: Home of up to 20,000 nesting American White Pelicans, Audubon California, National Audubon Society, September 25, 2017, https://ca.audubon.org/news/gunnison-island-home-20000-nesting-american-white-pelicans