Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers: A beaver dam built by resident beavers on the Price River. The dam helps hold the water on the desert landscape which benefits the native and endangered fish populations. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer
Dam on the Price River_Emma Doden: A beaver dam built by resident beavers on the Price River. The dam helps hold the water on the desert landscape which benefits the native and endangered fish populations
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

The beaver’s powerful hands and tail which are used to build dams in Utah’s desert rivers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer The beaver’s powerful hands and tail which are used to build dams in Utah’s desert rivers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Emma Doden, graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU  conducting radio telemetry to find the location of both resident and translocated beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Emma Doden, graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU conducting radio telemetry to find the location of both resident and translocated beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Quarantine Pen – Once a beaver is caught it is placed  in quarantine for three days before translocated so it will not spread disease.  The beaver is kept cool, well fed, and close to water. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Quarantine Pen – Once a beaver is caught it is placed in quarantine for three days before translocated so it will not spread disease. The beaver is kept cool, well fed, and close to water.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Adult beaver being released into Utah desert rivers after they have been equipped with radio-transmitter and PIT-tags in their tails. Researchers can then use radio telemetry to track the movement of the beavers.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

San Rafael River: a tributary of the Green River which runs through some of the driest parts of Utah. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer San Rafael River: a tributary of the Green River which runs through some of the driest parts of Utah.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Processing a beaver kit, Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Processing a beaver kit,
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

Radio transmitters: The types of radio transmitters which are attached to the beaver’s tails so researchers can monitor its movement. Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photographer Radio transmitters: The types of radio transmitters which are attached to the beaver’s tails so researchers can monitor its movement.
Courtesy & © Emma Doden, Photogrphr.

The Price and San Rafael rivers flow through some of Utah’s driest areas. Both are tributaries of the Green River. These rivers are essential to sustain the wildlife, riparian vegetation, native and endangered fish populations, and livestock that live in Utah’s eastern desert.

Beavers, native to both rivers, have far-reaching impacts on these waterways because of their ability to build dams which hold the water on the arid landscape – they are nature’s aquatic engineers.

One beaver dam can improve the living conditions for a host of fish, insects, plants, birds and mammals who live in and around the river.

Emma Doden, a graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU is working to understand the dynamics of beavers who are translocated to desert rivers for restoration purposes and how they compare to the naturally-occurring resident beavers who are already established.

Doden explains, “I help relocate nuisance beavers to desert river systems to give them a second chance, and help restore the river for the imperiled and endangered fish species…in this arid climate.”

Currently, Doden’s work is “passive desert river restoration” because there is no machinery manipulating the landscape or man-made structures impacting the research results. She is relying solely on beavers and their resources which have been part of the rivers’ ecosystems for millions of years. The beavers’ engineering teeth, tails, and paws build dams and lodges from riparian vegetation, gravel and mud.

Many of the translocated beavers come from the USU Beaver Rehabilitation and Relocation Center which captures nuisance beavers, quarantines them for three days to ensure they cannot spread disease, then passes them to Doden to be released in the desert system.

Nate Norman, a field biologist in the USU Ecology Center who helps operate the Beaver Rehabilitation and Relocation Center said, “Working with Paul Chase from the US Forest Service we have trapped and relocated approximately 8 to 10 beavers from around Cache Valley [in northern Utah, to the desert rivers in Doden’s research.“

Both the resident and translocated beavers in the study receive a radio-transmitter and PIT-tag in their tail.

Doden explains, “The PIT-tag is similar to the microchip [a] dog or cat gets at the vet for identification if it ever gets lost. We use radio-transmitters and PIT-tags to track the movements of our beavers so they do not become lost after release.”

To this point, 90% of the translocated beavers have moved outside Doden’s research area as they explored their new habitat. They were probably searching for a companion and a suitable place to build a home.

This travelling increases the beaver’s vulnerability to predators since they have no underground burrow or lodge for protection. During the 2019 field season, of the eight beavers released, three of the translocated beavers were taken by predators.

Many of the tributaries of the Green and Colorado rivers are wood-deprived because of changes in the river flow due to human extraction. To increase a translocated beaver’s chances of surviving and its likelihood of remaining where it’s placed, the research team has proposed building simple dam-like structures out of wood fence posts, which would encourage the beavers to stay where they’re released. Once they receive NEPA approval the structures will be built.

Doden adds, “Our project goals are already being met, as we are learning so much about the fate of translocated beavers in desert ecosystems. Restoration goals will also be met if even a few beavers stay in the study area and build dams, supplementing the resident beaver population and creating more complex habitat for imperiled desert fish to live.”

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

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers-Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & © Emma Doden
Lead Audio: Courtesy and © Friend Weller
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers-Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rosy Finches, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rosy-finches/

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/

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

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, June 15, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/riparian-zones-and-a-critter-quiz/

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/huddling-for-warmth/

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/

Ramsey, R. Douglas, Banner, Roger E., McGinty, Ellie I. Leydsman, Watershed Basins in Utah, USU Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangelands/ou-files/RRU_Section_Four.pdf

A Moral Dilemma

A moral dilemma: Robin Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
Robin
Courtesy & © Rob Soto
Used with permission
I had a moral dilemma.

I was driving home from work on a small back road as I usually do to avoid traffic. As I was heading north, two juvenile robins swooped down across the road as they normally do in the path of an oncoming red truck. The first robin managed to cut upwards fast enough to dodge the truck’s hood, but the second broadsided the truck, hitting its door, and fell to the ground crumpled.

I slowed down and looked out my window at the bird writhing in the median of the road, and something inside of me happened that I cannot explain. I pulled over, went over to the convulsing bird, and quickly ferried him to a grassy patch on the shoulder underneath a tree. I hopped back in my car, and continued my drive home. The young robin passed from my mind.

As I arrived home, I decided to kick my feet up with my partner in the backyard and unwind by watching our young dogs play. We call it Dog TV. It’s a hoot. I saw a robin perch and sing on the roof of my garage, and the young broken robin from my drive home re-entered my mind.

I began to wonder if he was ok. I asked my partner if I should go back and check on him.

There were three options I settled on as to his state, and the need for my checking in. Perhaps he was just stunned by the impact and would’ve recovered quickly and wouldn’t be there, easing my mind. Perhaps he was in fact injured beyond saving and would not recover and so it was my responsibility to end his suffering myself. The last option was that he had already passed, and so I would take his body so that it could be buried, or at least given to the crows. I wouldn’t want to be left on the side of the road as a finality, and I doubted he would either.

I asked my partner: do I go and see to an end if any, or leave his fate be?

She thought about this for a moment and finally declared that I should let nature be nature, and to leave him be.

At first, this was not the response I had wanted. Inaction does not suit me, and so I argued this in my head. But am I not nature, too? Can I not act as that agent of nature being nature and choose to do my diligence, to either see that he survived, give him an end, or commit his body back to the world?

I took a breath and decided to pivot my reflection towards my inability to pass the bird by initially. Though the thought did occur to me to pass him by, I experienced that I could not from a visceral place, not the mind. I reacted, and the instinct of care I felt upon seeing this bird could not be suppressed.

I came to a conclusion. What was this instinct of mine but nature being nature? Why did it trigger but as a sign of my own agency as a natural being? Who am I to assume that only I could carry out being an agent of compassion? If this instinct was natural for me, then it is natural for others, and thus could be realized by anyone. This realization gave me hope.

I decided that I was nature being nature, a human being compassionate, and chose to trust the rest of the world to be so with gentle caring, too. I chose to see what I cannot control with goodness, and allow myself to remain abdicated of my control. I chose to have faith that, if I could be struck and pulled to empathetic action from my animal gut, others would too.

I broke my contemplation, and agreed with my partner that I would let nature be nature.

We turned our attention back to our dogs playing, and the robins kept singing. Life continued to be good, even in the face of the unknown.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
A Moral Dilemma
Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Bengston, Anna, American Robin, , Wild About Utah, January 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/american-robin-160118/

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter 2014/03/13 , Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014 (Repeated February 2, 2015), https://wildaboututah.org/robins-winter/

Bingham, Lyle, (voice: Richard Hurren), The Occupants on Robin Street, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/the-occupants-on-robin-street/

Wildlife Rehabilitation, Bridgerland Audubon Society, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birding-tools/wildlife-rehabilitation/

Finding the Black Rosy-Finch

Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer
Black Rosy-Finch (cropped)
Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer
High in the snow-covered mountains of Northern Utah, Kim Savides, a graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University waits for the daily avalanche report during winter months. If favorable, she ventures out to remote bird feeders in hopes of finding black rosy-finches.

The finches thrive in bad weather. When it’s a clear, sunny day Savides knows her likelihood of seeing a finch is slim. But on nasty, snowy, windy days she can count on seeing hundreds of the finches around the feeders.

Most of the bird feeders are on Utah’s beautiful ski resorts such as Alta and Powder Mountain. On blizzard-like days when skiers are choosing to staying home, Savides is heading up the slopes.

Newly Banded Adult Male Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Kim Savides
Newly Banded Adult Male
Black Rosy-Finch
Courtesy & © Kim Savides
Clark Rushing, assistant professor in Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources and principal investigator on the project explains, “To catch these black rosy-finches, we’re travelling to locations when the weather is at its worst. They are extremely hardy birds, how they survive in those conditions is pretty astounding. They are small birds weighing only a few ounces.”

Due to the warming temperatures, the black rosy-finch populations may be at risk.

Scientists fear the finch numbers may be decreasing, based on the reports from bird watchers who say they are seeing much less of the attractive bird. Researchers are concerned it may be a result of climate change.

Rushing explains, “The black rosy-finch has a small breeding distribution confined to very high elevation sites. Climate change may drive this species to smaller and smaller population sizes and possible extinction because as climate warms these sites, where the finches can breed, they will get smaller and smaller. The birds could eventually get pushed off the tops of the mountains with nowhere to go.”

According to the Wild Utah Project, “The black rosy-finch is one of the least-understood birds in North America. We understand little about its reproduction, population status, survival rates, or migratory tendencies.” Without this information wildlife managers can do little to help conserve its population.

Savides’ goal is to assist in gathering enough data so wildlife managers may begin to understand the life cycle of the finch and plan for conservation efforts.

Her project began by setting up mist nets around the feeders to catch the birds. Once caught, the finches were gently held while a micro-chip bracelet was attached to their legs.

Each time one of the tagged finches approaches a feeder, equipped with a radio frequency reader, the bird’s visit is logged.

The finches tagged last year are now returning. The data is beginning to be gathered.

Recognizing the amount of data needed, researchers have expanded the data gathering to include citizen scientists. These are residents of Utah who volunteer to be trained to identify the black rosy-finches. In the winter when the birds come down to lower elevations, in certain parts of the state, residents can report when they see the finches.

Any resident interested in becoming a citizen scientist can go to the Wild Utah Project website and receive more information.

As more and more data are gathered, researchers and wildlife managers can begin understanding the phenology of when the finches come down to lower elevations, when they return to higher elevations to breed, and how likely they are to survive from one year to the next. This knowledge could help with conservation efforts.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & © Janice Gardner
      Courtesy & Copyright © Kim Savides,
      Courtesy & Copyright © Wild Utah Project
Lead Audio: Courtesy and © Kevin Colver
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rosy Finches, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rosy-finches/

Gardner, Janice, Rosy Finch Study, Wild Utah Project, Fall/Winter 2019/2020, https://www.wildutahproject.org/black-rosy-finch-study

Strand, Holly, A Big Year in Utah, Wild About Utah, October 27, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/a-big-year-in-utah/

Black Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black_Rosy-Finch/id

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray-crowned_Rosy-Finch/id

Rosy Finch Study Wild Utah Project
Rosy-Finch Study, Wild Utah Project

Black Rosy Finches, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,
Species Version: https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=leucatra
Fieldguide Version: http://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?Species=Leucosticte%20atrata

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches,
Species Version: https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=leucteph
Fieldguide Version: http://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?Species=Leucosticte%20tephrocotis

Black Rosy Finches, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/Profiles/BlackRosyFinch.htm

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesD-K/GrayCrownedRosyFinch.htm

Black Rosy Finches, Tim Avery Birding, http://www.timaverybirding.com/photos/thumbnails.php?album=404

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, Tim Avery Birding, http://www.timaverybirding.com/photos/thumbnails.php?album=403

A Pretty Decent Salve

A Pretty Decent Salve: [Watching a] Bird Landing Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
Bird Landing
Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
I saw a bird miss the line the other day. I had never seen that before. Truth is, birds sticking the landing was so ingrained in my very concept of a bird that I had not even considered it before. It was pretty funny. [A Pretty Decent Salve]
The small black bird flew in hot to the powerline that runs next to my house, and came in just a bit too low. He couldn’t recover his trajectory, and instead of giving up, chose to use the chin of his beak to hang on like a feathered J hook. He kept flapping to stay on the line, perhaps because he didn’t trust his balance, but eventually the effort was too much, and he let his beak slide off backwards, and flew on. The whole thing only lasted a few seconds. I can only assume he stuck his next landing attempt.

Fledging Bird Landing Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
Fledging Bird Landing
Courtesy & © Rob Soto, Artist
What struck me about the whole thing, aside from the comedy of a bird having a moment of failure at being birdy, was that he decided that hanging on trepidatiously by his beak was better than missing altogether. Why did he decide to do this? Was the urge to land by any means stronger than the urge to land with his feet? Was he embarrassed and in a reflex decided that some contact was better than none? Or was it a game of horse, where he dared the other of his lot to match his silly feat?

Whatever it was, I can’t say. What I can say is that it was funny. Now I’ll forever see birds differently, too, knowing that making the landing isn’t as unconscious as I once thought, and so I can watch a once-passive act with a bit more suspense for slapstick.

I saw another funny thing recently, too. It also involved birds seen from my home. What I know is that I was watching a dance, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell if it was a warning display, or a proposition gone poorly.

There is a small tribe of house sparrows that lives in some shrubs adjacent to my home. I was working out on my porch in the sunshine one day when I heard an unfamiliar song in a familiar voice. I looked up to the top of a dead crabapple tree and saw a male sparrow doing a funny little jig. He was orbiting a female sparrow also perched in the tree, hopping and spinning from branch to branch, singing his flittery song. His back was flat, perpendicular to whatever branch he was on, and his wings were held in L-shapes which ran parallel to his flat back. It reminded me of the robot somehow.

I know that some birds dance, but I never thought it of the sparrows I see everyday and had never seen dance before. I’ve probably seen thousands of those little guys, but none apparently as gregarious before with me in the audience. I don’t know if the male was brave, indifferent, or if I was just lucky and this sort of thing happens all the time. Either way, his dance looked beautifully silly. It made me laugh to imagine myself dancing like this in the future, and when people looked at me quizzically, I could just say that I learned it from a sparrow. I could imagine the puzzled faces, tilted heads, and eye rolls: my personal humor at their gentle confusion.

After a few short minutes, the female sparrow being danced at, who had the whole time remained on a single perch just watching perhaps as perplexed as I was, flew off. In the end, I guess it did not matter if the male was dancing as a warning of territorial infringement, or as a suggestion of spring tangos. Whether the male was successful or failed cannot be told. He was though, I’ll say, the best house sparrow I’ve ever seen dance. So there’s that.

In all, it’s been a good challenge for me to look for everyday things with a lighter touch. It’s also been good to take time to look at what’s here, to challenge myself to enjoy some sunshine moments, to drive myself to look at average birds with interest, to upset my assumptions and learn why they’re not so average after all.

In this time, where a lot of what we are all doing is looking to a brighter future, imagining going back to familiar ruts, I’ve at least found that there is something that brightens the present in challenging yourself to be present: to take a minute in the sunshine, to take a minute to watch a bird you’ve seen a thousand times, to still find good humor in a still good world. While everything isn’t perfect, and we may feel like that bird who missed the line, confused and in a panic to say the least from being in uncharted waters, having a little laugh and finding the buoyant joy inherent in the natural world that’s always been there, and can always be there, is a pretty decent salve. I recommend it.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
A Pretty Decent Salve
Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Kubota, Taylor, What makes birds so good at sticking their landings?, Stanford Engineering, Transportation & Robotics, Stanford University, August 09, 2019, https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/what-makes-birds-so-good-sticking-their-landings

Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org