Pleasant Surprises!

Gopher Snake, Courtesy US FWS
Gopher Snake
Courtesy US FWS

Cow Moose and Calf, Photo Courtesy US FWS, Tim Bowman, Photographer Cow Moose and Calf
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Tim Bowman, Photographer

Golden Eagle, Snake River gorge, Courtesy US FWS, Aldis Garsvo, Photographer Golden Eagle
Snake River gorge
Courtesy US FWS,
Aldis Garsvo, Photographer

Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS Peregrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS

Clark's Nutcracker Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service Dave Menke, Photographer Clark’s Nutcracker Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service Dave Menke, Photographer

Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park Courtesy USGS Frank T. van Manen, Photographer Mother Grizzly Bear and Cubs in Yellowstone National Park Courtesy USGS Frank T. van Manen, Photographer

Beaver, Courtesy US FWS, Robes Parrish, Photographer Beaver
Courtesy US FWS
Robes Parrish, Photographer

Great Horned Owl and Chick Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer Great Horned Owl and Chick Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer

Douglas Fir, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Douglas Fir
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Mexican Spotted Owl, Courtesy US FWS, Shaula Hedwall, Photographer Mexican Spotted Owl
Courtesy US FWS
Shaula Hedwall, Photographer

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM

Northern Pocket Gopher, Thomomys talpoides. Courtesy NPS, Gillian Bowser, Photographer Northern Pocket Gopher
Thomomys talpoides
Courtesy NPS
Gillian Bowser, Photographer

Muscrat, Courtesy US FWS, Jessica Bolser, Photographer Muscrat
Courtesy US FWS
Jessica Bolser, Photographer

American Marten
Courtesy US NPS American Marten
Courtesy US NPS

We all love pleasant surprises! I especially enjoy nature’s offerings, both pleasant and less so. I wish to share a few from a very long list!

Snakes may be at the top. I believe we have an innate fear of this special reptile, which has imparted indelible memories. Great Basin gopher snakes have repeatedly shown an uncanny
ability to find birds nests in implausible locations, climbing seemingly impossible vertical walls to consume both bird eggs and young. Rarely, rattlesnakes have crossed my path, their buzz always putting me on full alert- a spine tingling surprise.

Moose may be second to snakes. I’ve been charged a few times and revisit nearly every step taken toward me by these grand beasts, my own steps in fast retreat. But it was a sandhill crane – young bull moose memory, where the crane won the day which lingers fresh. As the young bull curiously extending his tender muzzle toward the nesting bird, it elicited a sharp beak response from the nester that sent the youngster scurrying away.

Golden eagles are a favorite bird for their beauty, intelligence, and undisputed apex predator status. I was stunned to find they may not be top bird after all. On two occasions, I have witnessed a peregrine falcon unleashing its powers of blazing speed and agility to usher a golden eagle well away from the falcon’s eyrie.

I associate the Clark’s nutcracker as a keystone species for nut gathering and caching, while inadvertently feeding grizzlies, squirrels, and planting innumerable five needled pines. It rocked my socks when a flock of songbirds were attacking a Clarks who had stolen a baby bird from a nest for a midday snack. This activity forever changed its strictly nut-eating narrative. I’ve had at least a hundred bear encounters in Yellowstone, Tetons, and Denali national parks, all with favorable outcomes. But only once have I crossed paths with a mountain lion in my thousands of miles hiking wild, remote country. I can recount nearly every second of that rare moment. Lurking in the shadows on a beautiful fall day, I mistake the lion for a coyote. As I approached it from about 30 yards distance, it slowly moved revealing a very long tail. Mixed emotions surged while I talked gently, walking slowly in its direction as it gradually moved away. A spellbinding, euphoric moment.

Beaver encircling boat
I experienced two unforgettable occurrences while exploring Zion’s Hidden Canyon. Being midday, I wasn’t expecting anything beyond a rock squirrel. Then came an unusual hoot, definitely not that of a great horned owl. Answering its call, it flew toward me alighting in a large Douglas fir- a Mexican spotted owl- my first and only sighting. Soon after, two furry critters scrambled up a 10 foot boulder, ringtail cats! Mostly nocturnal, a very rare moment indeed!

I’ll conclude with several surprise animal attacks I’ve suffered- a pocket gopher nipped the soul of my boot, a muskrat attacked my hip-waders, and a pine martin chewed on my well protected toe. Finally, I’ve been strafed by various bird species protecting their nests and young. All leaving surprised chuckles from the victim.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, Wild for more of Utah’s nature surprises!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS, USDA Forest Service and US NPS. All photographers acknowledged with images
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Bird Sounds Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Pieces by Jack Greene, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Outdoor Experiences in High-Def

First Look Used with permission Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski
First Look
Used with permission
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

The Whole Class with Binoculars Used with permission Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski The Whole Class with Binoculars
Used with permission
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

Finding a Dead Nuthatch Used with permission Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski Finding a Dead Nuthatch
Used with permission
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

A Pine Siskin Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski A Pine Siskin
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

A Crow Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski A Crow
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

Two Nests Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski Two Nests
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski

A hot, sunny, May day was Christmas for my avid 2nd-grade birders, when 35 pairs of high-quality Vortex binoculars and chest harnesses were delivered to our Edith Bowen Laboratory School classroom. We had secured a grant from the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation to purchase supplies to enrich our school’s outdoor education program, specifically my classroom’s integrated focus on birding. Kids cheered when the binos arrived, knowing that we’d be able to put these powerful tools to work in the field. They scrambled to set up the harnesses and prepare the equipment for use.

Although the adjacent Logan City Cemetery is one of our frequent birding locations, it was going to be our first outing where all students had their own set of binoculars to view the world in high definition. We left the school equipped with our new binoculars, and students were thrilled about the awaiting possibilities. Long before we arrived at the cemetery the binoculars were put to good use, “Everyone look!” a little girl yelled, “an American Crow!” The sighting stirred commotion as 25, 7-year-olds scrambled to get into position where they could see the large black bird with their binoculars, as it bounced around the USU sidewalks looking for morsels of college students’ neglected snacks. Then ensued a student debate over whether or not the bird of interest was an American Crow or a Common Raven; the victorious crow-supporters claimed victory only when the bird flew away, revealing a fan-shaped tail.

Once we arrived at the cemetery, it was clear students were experiencing this environment in an enriched way thanks to the binoculars. Students spent much more time in each location throughout the cemetery, and there was more advanced and technical dialogue between students about what they were seeing. Students would call each other over to their specific viewing area to show them a bird they had viewed, and they would describe to the person how to find it in their binoculars. This description facilitated incredible spatial language regarding the location and reference of the bird, such as “It is halfway up the largest pine tree on the right” or “Look on the ground next to smaller bush!” One exciting shared discovery was sparked by a high-pitched, upsweeping zreeeeeeeeeeet sound that the students kept hearing. Throughout the walk, students kept using their binoculars to look for the culprit of the sound, to no avail. Then near the end of the outing a student erupted in excitement, calling everyone over to see the bird making the noise. Eventually directing everyone’s focus on the bird, the students discovered a small, white and brown bird atop a sycamore tree, which they identified as a Pine Siskin due to the distinguishing yellow color on the wings.

Other special encounters on this outing included the finding of a dead, Red-Breasted Nuthatch aside the pathway, and the scientific reasoning about who could have been the engineers of two different bird nests found in the grass under trees –a large one with a mud base and a small one full of human hair!

Reluctantly, hot, sweaty, and ecstatic kids returned to school after their first ever birding outing with binoculars and experiences they’ll draw upon forever. No doubt, the binoculars that brought these students these magical discoveries will do so for many kids to come in the future.

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Outdoor Education in Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/

Grants & Planning, Utah Outdoor Recreation, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://recreation.utah.gov/utah-outdoor-recreation-grant/

Binoculars, Vortex Optics, https://vortexoptics.com/optics/binoculars.html

Grant assistance provided by Bridgerland Audubon Society: https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/about-us/grant-funded-projects/

YOU can inspire the next generation of birders, email seeking support for American Birding Association’s Young Birder mentoring program, June 12, 2024, https://api.neonemails.com/emails/content/N_INi5O3fy9qblwkA6KQ0BSTBplt7i-KGshPfQ0eZWg=

Enhance Backyard Birdwatching When You Feed & Protect Birds

Ripple Effects: Enhance Backyard Birdwatching When You Feed & Protect Birds: Downy Woodpecker Male at Bird Feeder Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer
[Downy Woodpecker Male at] Bird Feeder
Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer

Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window Courtesy US FWS Brett Billings Photographer Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window
Courtesy US FWS
Brett Billings Photographer

Birdwatching is a fun hobby for all ages and it is a great way to connect with nature and increase self-efficacy, so let’s discuss the benefits and the importance of a safe environment for feeding our backyard birds. First, the benefits of supplemental feeding, and second, preventable deaths from cats and window collisions.

Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds, especially through the winter months. Sites with bird feeders attract more birds over time than those without feeders, and the birds are in overall greater health than birds at sites without feeders. A higher percentage of chicks hatch at sites with bird feeders, and the survival rates are significantly higher, but supplemental feeding must be done in a safe environment.

Free ranging domestic cats and window collisions are leading causes of bird deaths in North America. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States alone. Approximately one billion birds are dying from window collisions each year in North America – that represents about ten percent of our birds dying from crashing into windows (1), and combined, that’s over three billion fewer insect eaters, fewer pollinators, fewer seed spreaders, and fewer parents for the next generation.

Cats should be kept indoors, and windows should be treated, especially if they reflect trees and shrubs. If you have seen a ghostly bird imprint or heard the sickening thump of a bird hitting your windows, then those are windows in need of treatments such as screens, translucent UV tape, or even tempera paint designs, because even birds that manage to fly away have potentially life-threatening internal injuries. Feeders less than 3 feet away don’t allow birds to build up too much speed before they collide, so it’s good to put feeders and birdbaths 3 feet or closer to a window or greater than 30 feet away.

Feeders placed on or near windows have the added benefit of being easy to access and monitor. In addition to a window suet feeder, one of my favorite window feeders is actually a clear plastic suction-cup toothbrush cup holder from the dollar store – it’s easy to clean and there’s no need for binoculars!

In addition to enhancing a backyard bird watching hobby and improving bird health and survival, the ripple effects of feeding birds, keeping cats indoors, and preventing window collisions include pest control in our gardens where birds feast on slugs, snails, aphids and grasshoppers. I for one particularly appreciate Black-billed Magpies when they remove wasp nests from my house! The Bridgerland Audubon website has tools, coloring pages, checklists, and science-based information on window collision prevention. Solutions can be as simple as the careful placement of bird feeders and keeping cats indoors. Find us at bridgerlandaudubon.org, that’s Bridgerland Audubon – A-U-D-U-B-O-N dot org.

I’m Hilary Shughart, and I’m wild about Bridgerland Audubon, wild about Utah Public Radio, and Wild About Utah!Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, Leah Schrodt and Brett Billings, Photographers
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 ReadingSupplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Procure Bird Seed from local Audubon Chapters:
Great Salt Lake Audubon
Last year: https://greatsaltlakeaudubon.org/events/full-calendar/sunflower-seed-pickup-at-wild-birds-unlimited
Bridgerland Audubon
Other Statewide Birding Groups

Hellstern, Ron, Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home, Wild About Utah, July 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/build-community-wildlife-habitats/

Hellstern, Ron, Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard, Wild About Utah, May 28, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/attracting-birds-and-butterflies-to-your-yard/

Beorchia, Mykel, How To Create a Bird Friendly Yard, Wild About Utah, November 9, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/how-to-create-a-bird-friendly-yard/

Shughart, Hilary, To Grow Your Own Bird Food, Native Plants Are Key!, Wild About Utah, April 12, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/native-plants-are-key/

Kervin, Linda, Bird Feeding, https://wildaboututah.org/bird-feeding/

Kervin, Linda, Cane, Jim, Feed the Birds, Wild About Utah, December 1, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/feed-the-birds/

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/landscapingforwildlife.pdf

Sizemore, Grant, Cats Indoors–Cats and Birds, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/

Bird-Strike Prevention: How to Stop Birds From Hitting Windows, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/glass-collisions/stop-birds-hitting-windows/

Messmer, Terry, Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, and Sullivan, Kimberly, Ask an Expert: Seven Tips to Keep Birds from Hitting Your Windows, Utah State University Extension, March 28, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/news_sections/agriculture_and_natural_resources/bird-windows

Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, Sullivan, Kimberly and Messmer, Terry, Reducing the Risk of Birds Colliding into Windows:
A Practical Guide for Homes and Businesses [NR/Wildlife/2017-01pr], Utah State University Extension, March 2017, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2682&context=extension_curall

Klem, Jr., Daniel, Solid Air: Invisible Killer: Saving Billions of Birds from Windows, Hancock House Publishers, October 5, 2021, https://www.amazon.com/Solid-Air-Invisible-Killer-Billions/dp/0888396465

For the Birds (Download Brochure PDF), US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, rev March 2001, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/api/collection/document/id/1107/download

Morse, Susan, To Feed or Not to Feed Wild Birds–Bird Feeders Can Be Sources of Joy — and Disease,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/feed-or-not-feed-wild-birds

Make Your Home a Safe, Healthy Home for Birds,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Sep 13, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/story/2021-09/backyard-birds

Celley, Courtney, Helping wildlife while avoiding common pitfalls,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/helping-wildlife-while-avoiding-common-pitfalls

West Nile virus bird identification, , Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, October 20, 2017, https://wildlife.utah.gov/bird-identification.html

Dragon, Sydney, (Student Conservation Association intern), Conservation in Urban Areas: Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service Bird Walks (Texas), U.S. Department of the Interior, Apr 27, 2021, https://youtu.be/2bkliew6aj8

Southwestern Utah Herps

Southwestern Utah Herps: Gila Monster, Courtesy Pixabay
Gila Monster
Courtesy Pixabay

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Gila Monster Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Gila Monster
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

Desert Tortoise - Right of Hat Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer Desert Tortoise – Right of Hat
Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer

I’m going to go beyond birds a few hundred million years to their precursors, who thrived long before our feathered mini-dinosaurs evolved. These ancient beings continue to thrive to this day, which lured 14 USU students and I to join them in the Mojave wilds of southwestern Utah.

We camped at the Gunlock State Park, where a Utah DWR herpetologist joined us for several hours, who appeared to know every scaly and slimy critter within a 10-mile radius.
A few highlights came when a Smith’s Black headed snake was discovered beneath a cow paddy, about the size of a large worm. No one thought it possible to find such a tiny, shy being, unless you’re flipping cow poo! Other popular reptiles were the small, delicate banded gecko and the diminutive, invasive Pacific tree frog.

Saturday was spent in Snow Canyon State Park where we were entertained by Cheyenne, a young SUU student naturalist, who kept us riveted with stories on some of the more iconic herp residents. She was emphatic on how to keep the reptiles safe from park visitors and ravens. “If a tortoise is crossing the road, please help it to the other side in the same direction it’s headed. Otherwise, never pick them up for they may release stored water, which could mean their death from dehydration. She also cautioned us on leaving the trail, for the desert tortoise spends much of it’s life in its labyrinth of burros. “Your footstep could cause a collapse, entombing the animal.”

Next, Cheyenne pulled a fully mounted Gila monster from her magical tub. Oohs and ahhs were audible, the penultimate reptile. She enthralled them with its life history, spending up to 95% of its life underground, often in tortoise burrows, emerging during the spring months for mating and feeding. It may eat 1/3 of its weight in one meal, consisting of bird, tortoise, and snake eggs and young, young mammals, carrion, and whoever else smells delicious and small enough to fit in its ravenous maw. Many of the calories are stored in its tail, which nourishes the animal for much of the year. Amazingly, Gila monster venom is used for diabetes and obesity treatment. Asked if she had seen a Gila monster. “No, but it’s at the top of my list!” she said.

Following a Cheyenne led hike, we continued the herp search beyond the park boundary. A tortoise discovery brought considerable excitement and photos, a rare siting! But that was overshadowed a half hour later when a Gila monster decided to present itself to myself. I began shouting “monster” hoping to rein in the dispersed crew. They came scrambling through the creosote bushes in disbelief. We immediately sent a text to Cheyenne with the coordinates, hoping she would see her first Monster in the wild! Never have I witnessed more excitement in my students, a surreal moment. I must check with Cheyenne on her success in finding the monster!

The Gila monster is considered near threatened by the IUCN from habitat loss and pet trade. In Utah it is illegal to handle Gila monsters without a permit.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I am Wild About Utah and its herps

https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Sound credit goes to J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Anderson, Howe, Wakeman.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/photos/gila-lizard-dragon-reptile-monster-5536750/
Additional images Courtesy & © Jack Greene, photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe and Wakeman,
Also includes audio Courtesy & © J. Chase & K.W. Baldwin
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah pieces authored by Jack Greene

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=tantilla%20hobartsmithi

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=heloderma%20suspectum

Mojave Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii, Field Guide, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=gopherus%20agassizii

Western Banded Gecko – Coleonyx variegatus https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=coleonyx%20variegatus

Don’t keep illegal reptiles – including desert tortoises – or release pet reptiles, fish into wild, St George News, Sept 5, 2021, https://archives.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2021/12/05/prc-dont-keep-illegal-reptiles-or-release-pet-reptiles-fish-including-desert-tortoises-into-wild

A Ranger Moment: SUU student Cheyenne Mitchell speaks at OES, March 20, 2023 – by Jacob Horne, SUU News, Student Media, Southern Utah University https://suunews.net/2023/03/20/a-ranger-moment-suu-student-cheyenne-mitchell-speaks-at-oes/

Ask a herpetologist, Megen Kepas, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/1692-ask-a-herpetologist.html

Smith’s Black-headed Snake Tantilla hobartsmithi, https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/28499-Tantilla-hobartsmithi
Information about the Smith above: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_Muir_Smith

Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/9865/13022716