Racoons: Masked Bandit Dumpster Divers

Racoon in Apple Tree, Courtesy US FWS, Bill Buchanan, Photographer
Racoon in Apple Tree
Courtesy US FWS, Bill Buchanan, Photographer
Those masked bandits raiding our gardens by night and bird feeders by day, who often wash their food (actually enhancing tactile experience), have human-like highly sensitive hands, love to eat chickens, as do I, and have a very clever brain- an animal full of contradictions much like us human animals.

I have deep affections for racoons that began with an young childhood in Michigan. A farmer friend discovered a litter of racoon kits in their haymow. Their mother was found dead on a nearby gravel road, a common demise for racoons, skunks, possums and host of many other critters.

The kits barely had their eyes open and needed intensive care. I took two from the litter and began gathering information on how to keep them alive. I don’t recall the details other than my mother mothering me and the baby racoons. We filled a doll bottle with whole, unpasteurized milk, which they quickly drank with gusto! As they drank, their tiny hands would massage my own, which brought me pure joy.

As they grew, I became their world as they explored me from top to bottom, their sensuous hands gathering texture, and other nuances of touch. We became inseparable companions. Neighbor kids soon joined the fun and were delighted by their playful, inquisitive antics.

I was forewarned they could become threats as they matured, even vicious at times, and possibly contracting rabies and other communicable diseases for cats, dogs, and humans. Our neighbors had gardens, keeping careful watch over my pets. Fortunately, my racoons were never a problem. Perhaps it resulted from being so habituated, they became one with us, and being well fed and entertained, never strayed into mischief.

Once the racoons gained maturity, and I became involved with school activities that fall, it was decided to return them to the farm where they were gladly accepted by the younger family members. A month or so later, one was found dead on the highway. A few days later, it’s sibling met the same end near it’s sister. Naturally, it shattered my heart.

So many years and a lifetime later, we are living on a small, wooded stream in N. Utah. Wild racoons are a constant, once birthing a litter in our chimney, occasionally finding their way to my bird feeder, on our deck, and exploring our garage. The grandkids are always enthralled, when these nocturnal beings tap on our deck windows both amazed as they lock eyes.

Raccoons, although not native to Utah, are abundant throughout much of the state. Resource agency professionals estimate that raccoons cause 60–70% of all urban wildlife problems. Racoons display problem-solving skills on par with monkeys. Further, they far outclass domestic pets such as cats and dogs, suggesting an astonishing level of intelligence. And that is often their undoing, as it is our own!

Jack Greene for BAS and I’m wild about our masked bandit dumpster divers!

Credits:

Images: Racoon in Apple Tree, Courtesy US FWS, Bill Buchanan, Photographer, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/11639/rec/2
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Hinkamp, Dennis, Racoons are Costly Pests, Extension, Utah State University, Dec. 9, 2003, https://extension.usu.edu/archive/raccoons-are-costly-pests

Reese, Julene, Racoons Raiding Your Garden and Garbage, Extension, Utah State University, May 31, 2013 https://extension.usu.edu/archive/raccoons-raiding-your-garden-and-garbage

Everyone Can Be a Part of the February Global Bird Count!

Everyone Can Be a Part of the February Global Bird Count! Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology on behalf of Great Backyard Bird Count, GBBC.org
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology on behalf of Great Backyard Bird Count, GBBC.org

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer

There are deeply concerning drops in bird populations, and shifting migration ranges and patterns are changing before our eyes, but on the bright side, the crisis presents a strong reason and opportunities for even the most novice birders to be a part of the solution, to contribute to environmental conservation through community science. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada urge us to walk into nature and count birds for the mid-February Global Bird Count known as the Great Backyard Bird Count. February is the month to help scientists better understand global bird populations before one of their annual migrations, and the data collected will help bend the curve for bird survival.

“Spend time in your favorite places watching birds–then tell us about them! In as little as 15 minutes notice the birds around you. Identify them, count them, and submit them to help scientists better understand and protect birds around the world. If you already use eBird or Merlin, your submissions over the 4 days count towards GBBC.”

Everything you need to know will be shared in a free online webinar, so “Get ready to flock together for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door. Discover how to join a group taking part in the GBBC and explore fun ways to involve kids. From bird ID tips to counting birds with ease, this webinar is your ticket to an engaging and confident GBBC experience.”

We’ve posted links for local parks and trails with eBird printable checklists, and it’s encouraging to see the number and variety of species accessible right in town, and in our nearby National Forests and Wilderness Areas. Will you see American Robins, Black-billed Magpies, and Northern Flickers? Can you tell the difference between the American and the Lesser Goldfinch, or the Mountain and Black-capped Chickadee? Will you get lucky and spot a Gray-crowned Rosy finch feasting on black oil sunflower seeds in your own backyard?

There’s no time like the present to establish new traditions for connecting with nature and being part of the solution to the climate challenge. There are ample online resources for new and experienced birders, and in addition to the four local Utah Audubon Chapters, the Birding in Utah Facebook group provides a birding community with expert help with learning how to identify birds even in blurry photos. Team up to be a part of the constellation of community scientists documenting history, and weaving a safety net to ensure that birds have the places they need to thrive today and tomorrow.

I’m Hilary Shughart with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am wild about the National Audubon initiative to promote community science for Bird-Friendly communities, and I am Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Great Backyard Bird Count, Cornell Lab of Ornithology et. al.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch: Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Other Wild About Utah pieces authored by Hilary Shughart

Global Bird Count in February, Great Backyard Bird Count, https://www.birdcount.org/

About the Great Backyard Bird Count, Every February, count for as little as 15 minutes in your own backyard to help expand our understanding of birds. National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/conservation/about-great-backyard-bird-count

Global Bird Count in February; Great Backyard Bird Count, Birds Canada, https://www.birdscanada.org/bird-science/great-backyard-bird-count

eBird Field Checklist Sue’s Pond–Logan River Wetlands and Shorebird Playa (178 species), Cache, Utah, https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L586105&yr=all&m=

Who Likes What: The Favorite Birdseed of Feeder Regulars and Rarities, Here are the top three seed choices for a variety of species, per a scientific observational study of 1.2 million bird feeder visits. National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/news/who-likes-what-favorite-birdseed-feeder-regulars-and-rarities

Birding: The Basics & Beyond (1 hr 12 mn video), Natural Habitat Adventures & WWF(World Wildlife Fund), https://www.nathab.com/traveler-resources/webinars/your-daily-dose-of-nature/birding-the-basics-beyond/

Bridgerland Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count Page, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birding-tools/birding-events/great-backyard-bird-count/

Howe, Frank, Rosy Finches, Local Bird Spotlight, The Stilt, Bridgerland Audubon Society, December 2009, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/documents/BAS-Stilts/Stilt-2009/Vol%2038%20Image%2010.pdf

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray-crowned_Rosy-Finch/overview#

“Get ready to flock together for the 2024 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door.”
Beyond the Backyard: All About the Great Backyard Bird Count Webinar, Tuesday, February 13, 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern, https://dl.allaboutbirds.org/2024gbbcwebinar

Pony Express & Wild Horses

Pony Express & Wild Horses: Pony Express Messenger Badge on Mail Satchel Camp Floyd State Park Museum Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers
Pony Express Messenger Badge on Mail Satchel
Camp Floyd State Park Museum
Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers

Images of the Old Stagecoach Inn As Sketched by Cecil Doty and Published in the Utah Historical Quarterly July 1958 and other images therein credited. Camp Floyd State Park Museum Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers Images of the Old Stagecoach Inn
As Sketched by Cecil Doty and Published in the Utah Historical Quarterly July 1958 and other images therein credited.
Camp Floyd State Park Museum
Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers

Pony Express Ad Camp Floyd State Park Museum Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers Pony Express Ad
Camp Floyd State Park Museum
Image Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers

Last month, Tom Williams’ interview with author Will Grant really caught my attention. Will was describing his adventures retracing the original Pony Express route thru Utah with his two horses, Chicken Fry and Badger. When he was crossing Utah’s West Desert, he ran into a wild stallion. The Onaqui herd of wild horses now roams freely there, but this stallion was a loner.

Will saw the horse first, about a mile away, rolling in the mud at a watering hole. Will knew the stallion would resent an intrusion into his space. Will picked up some stones.

The stallion came at them at a dead run. At the last moment, the stallion veered off and circled them at a gallop. At 40 feet Will threw his first stone. He missed. The second stone hit the stallion, who reared up and hammered the air with his front hooves. Luckily, after a few more stones the stallion had had enough and went off to graze.

Hoping to see the wild horses -from the safety of my car – I picked up the Pony Express trail as it skirted the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake. I stopped in Fairfield at a historic inn that had been the first overnight stop for the stagecoach leaving Salt Lake with the mail for the new state of California. The stagecoach journey took 25 days. The Pony Express said it could do it in 10. So, at this inn, the Pony Express rider just jumped on a waiting horse and kept going.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I poked my head into a small brick building adjacent to the inn. Inside was a lone state park employee who was delighted to see me and insisted I watch a 10 minute video. I was amazed to find out that at this very spot over 3,000 US soldiers spent three years at what they called Camp Floyd. Then, when the Civil War broke out, the soldiers pulled up stakes and disappeared with hardly leaving a trace.

Back in my car, I followed the original pony express route for miles down an empty slim road. Up head I knew it would become so dry and desolate that water would have to be hauled to the relay stations by wagons. I was just starting to offer up a small prayer that I wouldn’t have any car trouble, when I caught sight of the highway intersecting the trail up ahead. I don’t remember ever being so happy to see traffic.

The very first Pony Express rider galloped into Utah in April 1860. Every rider rode between 75-100 miles, switching horses every 10 miles. It was expensive but it was fast. At the same time, another company, the Intercontinental Telegraph, was cutting down trees across the Utah Territory and extending their line of telegraph poles. In Oct 1861, five months after the Civil War started, the telegraph company had its 27,500 poles and 2,000 miles of iron wire in place. A message was tapped out in California, went zinging through the wires in Salt Lake, and was delivered to Abraham Lincoln’s desk. The people of California, the message read, would remain loyal to the union.

The message traveled from coast to coast in seconds. The Pony Express closed down its operations two days later. It had lasted 18 months.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers, as taken at the Camp Floyd State Park Museum, Fairfield, UT
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

2021 Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses Gather, Bureau of Land Management, US Department of the Interior, July 18, 2021, https://www.blm.gov/programs/whb/utah/2021-onaqui-wild-horse

Onaqui Mountain HMA, Bureau of Land Management, US Department of the Interior, https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/herd-management/herd-management-areas/utah/onaqui-mountain

Grant, Will, The Last Ride of the Pony Express: My 2,000-mile Horseback Journey into the Old West, Little, Brown and Company, June 6, 2023, https://www.amazon.com/Last-Ride-Pony-Express-Horseback/dp/0316422312

“The horse went extinct in the Americas (along with other large mammals like the mammoth and giant sloth) about 10,000 years ago. It was the Spanish Conquistadors that reintroduced the horse to North America. When Hernan Cortez and his 200 soldiers landed in Mexico in 1519, they brought 16 horses with them. Over time, some of these horses got away to form wild bands, and others fell into the hands of the Native Americans.”
Heers, Mary, Gallop Thru Time, Wild About Utah, August 22, 2022, https://wildaboututah.org/gallop-thru-time/

Senior Bird Talk

Senior Bird Talk:Belted Kingfisher, Courtesy US FWS, C Schlawe, Photographer
Belted Kingfisher
Courtesy US FWS
C Schlawe, Photographer
What about birds? Why are they so alluring, so beloved by so many? Perhaps it’s their extraordinary beauty, their fascinating behaviors, their presence in our deep history and art, their ability to mimic us, their high intelligence and remarkable ability for flight, sight, agility, navigation.
Whatever the reasons, the bird is the word!

It was never more apparent than when I visited an assisted living facility for elders in Logan, Utah where I was invited to deliver a 45 minute presentation. As I entered the room, a young lady had them riveted with a bird trivia quiz. Then came my turn. Many were in wheel chairs, others with walkers, some seated with staff assistance.

I opened by asking them if they had a favorite bird, or bird story to share. A diminutive lady of Indian heritage and telling accent told of her mother’s favorite- a parrot which lived on her shoulder and would chat away as she went about cooking and housework. Later in the session she had another story. As a young girl she was eating a sandwich when an raptor swooped down and snatched it from her hands, leaving a slice that left a scar which she attempted to show me.

When a lull occurred, I asked if anyone had ever been called “bird brain”. Several raised their hands with a sheepish giggle, as did I. I lavished them with trivia on the remarkable neurological design that allows a tiny bit of high quality, tightly packaged neurons to perform the amazing feats birds are capable of. Beyond this, how bird brains can change form for breeding season activities and when half brain sleeps and half awake during migration.

Another filler. I paraded bird skins and nests from our locals for bird ID and notes of interest. The hummingbird and nest was an immediate hit, as was the stunning Bullock’s oriole with its nest made from horsetail hair and fishing line. The common snipe was of special interest. “How many have been on a snipe hunt in the night?” Many hands raised. Then I showed the bird, a far cry from what they imagined this mystery animal to be.

A woman near the back shared another story of a family parrot which had some unseemly language to share with guests, could miraculously escape from most any cage, and dismantle whatever it pleased- a brilliant, very mischievous bird.

Another bird of special interest was the kingfisher. Holding it in my hand, I shared an intimate experience when a kingfisher slammed into our window (since successfully installed bird deterrents). Thinking the bird dead, it later awakened in a cardboard box I had placed it in, and was released in fine flying form. A day later, it reappeared on my deck rail, looked me in the eye with a gratuitous head tilt as if to say “thanks Jack!” and flew off. Most unusual behavior for the kingfisher!

I learned much from my audience that morning, bird love, great story telling, and new friends- I hope to return!

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

Credits:

Images: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

“Legacy House” in Logan