Christmas Bird Count 2019

Christmas Bird Count: Mourning Dove Pair Courtesy Pixabay www.pixabay.com
Mourning Dove Pair
Courtesy Pixabay
www.pixabay.com
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 audubon.org for how to take action.

Many Citizen Science programs exist for families to participate in- https://www.birds.cornell.edu 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 bridgerlandaudubon.org 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.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/service/license/
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Sat, Dec 14, 2019 Logan, Utah Christmas Bird Count, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/save-the-date-sat-dec-14th/

Bridgerland Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Page, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count/

Utahbirds.org, 2019 Christmas Bird Count Schedule, (Local) http://utahbirds.org/cbc/cbc.html

National Audubon, Christmas Bird Count, https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

Greene, Jack, Cache Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Climate Change, Wild About Utah, December 11, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count-cbc-climate-change/

Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-christmas-bird-count/

Cane, James, Kervin, Linda, The Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 9, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/christmas-bird-count/

Liberatore, Andrea, Ruffed Grouse and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 8, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/ruffed-grouse-christmas-bird-count/

Greene, Jack, Climate Change and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, December 12, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/climate-change-and-the-christmast-bird-count/

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!

Credits:

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, https://wildaboututah.org/robins-in-winter/

Cane, James, Winter Song Birds, Wild About Utah, Feb 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/winter-song-birds/

Porter, Diane, Learning Bird Songs in Winter, 2009, http://www.birdwatching.com/tips/earwatching_winter.html

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!

Credits:

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) https://www.wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/porcupines/

Cougars in Utah

Cougars in Utah: FemaleF43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009 Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Female F43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009
Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Cougars are more widely distributed in Utah than many residents realize. These shy cats are found across the state. They roam from the high Uinta Mountains to the dry southern deserts.

David Stoner, assistant professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources who has studied cougars for the past two decades said, “[Cougars] are common in terms of their distribution, but are rare in terms of their numbers. They live in many places but there are never a lot of them, typically occurring at densities of 1 adult per 20 square miles.

Stoner continues, “They’re just a big cat. Most of us are familiar with a house cats, and know how they behave, their movements, and idiosyncrasies. The main difference is their size. Cougars can be as large as humans [males usually range between 110 to 180 lbs.] They have evolved to take prey larger than themselves. You see this in the size of their muzzle – the mouth, nose and jaw. All of that is much larger in a cougar relative to its own body than a house cat. This becomes even more dramatic in the really big cats like tigers and lions with very large muzzles.

Stoner partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to study cougars in two Utah areas, one of which was Monroe Mountain in Fishlake National Forest.

Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah
Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
The researchers noticed an unusual movement pattern of juveniles on the mountain. When the young were ready to leave their mothers they could have migrated in any direction to find good habitat but they disproportionately chose to go either NE or SE. This perplexed the researchers.

At about the same time the cougar research was winding down, DWR was starting a mule deer monitoring program.

Stoner said, “We were very fortunate. What DWR found was the Monroe Mountain deer herd were mostly migrating NE and SE. I looked back at our data and found the cougars who were leaving Monroe were going in the same direction as the deer migrations, the young cougars were tracking the deer herds.

Due to their hunting methods and nutritional needs, cougars require large home ranges. Researchers gathered data from NV, UT and AZ to represent a wide range of environmental conditions from very dry systems close to Las Vegas to relatively wet systems along Wasatch front.

Stoner explains, “We found the size of the home ranges…varied with precipitation. The wettest areas the cougars had the smallest home ranges, because of the abundance of prey in these highly productive systems. Females tend to have ranges strictly based on the food they need. The male’s range is much larger because they are looking for breeding opportunities, so they overlap numerous females. These ranges can be quite large. One collared male had a home range of over 2,500 square miles, which was visible on maps at the scale of the entire western United States.”

When it comes to human interactions with cougars, Utah has been very fortunate. In the past 100 years, no humans have been killed by a cougar. In hopes of maintaining this record, DWR keeps safety tips on its website. The most important tip is to never run from a cougar, this will cause them to instinctively think you are prey and begin the chase. If you have a child with you pick them up. Stand firm and look intimidating, let it know you’ll fight back. Your goal is to scare them off.

With the wise actions of humans, Stoner and DWR hope this majestic cat will continue to flourish in Utah.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © David Stoner
Audio: Courtesy
Principal Investigator: David Stoner, https://qcnr.usu.edu/directory_cv/D.Stoner_CV_10-2016.pdf
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, My Cougar Encounter, Wild About Utah, January 16, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/my-cougar-encounter/

Strand, Holly, Mountain Lion, Wild About Utah, March 4, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/mountain-lion/

Boling, Josh, Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, December 10, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-cats/

Löe J. and E. Röskaft. 2004. Large Carnivores and Human Safety: A Review. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment Aug 2004 : Vol. 33, Issue 6, pg(s) 283-288 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8328070_Large_Carnivores_and_Human_Safety_A_Review

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Mountain Wildlife Field Book, Utah Master Naturalists, https://extension.usu.edu/utahmasternaturalist/files/UMNP_Mountains_Wildlife_Book_booklet.pdf