A Moral Dilemma

A moral dilemma: Robin Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
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.
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, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014 (Repeated February 2, 2015), https://wildaboututah.org/robins-winter/

Bingham, Lyle, Richard Hurren(voice), The Occupants on Robin Street, Wild About Utah, July 8, 2008, 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.

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.
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

A New Beginning

A New Beginning: Keep Your Social Distance and Keep Wildlife Wild Chart NPS/Matt Turner
Keep Your Social Distance and Keep Wildlife Wild Chart
NPS/Matt Turner

National Parks and Monuments in Utah

State Parks in Utah

Brigham City, UT Parks
Logan UT Parks
Ogden, UT Parks
Orem, UT Parks
Provo, UT Parks
Sandy City, UT Parks
St George, UT Parks
West Jordan, UT Parks
West Valley City, UT Parks

The snow is melting down from the high country; the rivers, creeks, and streams are swollen with runoff and sediment; wildflower blooms are hitting their stride; and schools are officially offline. Summer has arrived ahead of its solstice again. How do we begin to navigate this new beginning in a time of extremely abnormal circumstances?

The hashtag “#StayHome had its moment…[b]ut quarantine fatigue is real,” writes Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School. Americans are going to head for the outdoors, now; and in places like Utah, we feel we’ve been isolated from our playgrounds and sacred spaces for far too long. But how do we venture safely into the back of beyond, or, for that matter, the hidden wild spaces of our cities?

Experts at the Cleveland Clinic tell us that “it’s important to remember that the same rules of social distancing that you follow indoors still apply while outdoors.” For the most part, this should be relatively easy to achieve. Personally, I follow the parking rule: if I can’t find a spot to park my car at the trailhead or my blanket at the park at least six feet away from others, I’ll head somewhere else.

The Guardian Newspaper recently surveyed a group of experts on the pros and cons of wearing masks outdoors. The answer was not a blanket “yes” or “no” to the question of outdoor mask-wearing; but there are considerations individuals should make when considering the outdoor space they will be using and whether or not they should wear a mask. First, it’s important to note that viral shedding is more prevalent when taking deeper, harder breaths—as one does climbing a steep switchback or running along a trail. More droplets; more virus, they say. Experts recommend at least doubling the social distance when exercising outdoors and forgoing the trail altogether if you’re feeling ill. Even for those without symptoms, considering a mask is important. Asymptomatic spread is a known possibility, and “the purpose of the mask is more to prevent you from spreading the virus as opposed to keeping you from getting it,” said one expert to The Guardian.

Preliminary studies have shown that if we follow these guidelines when recreating outdoors and use common sense strategies to limit exposure to those outside of our household, we’re at a relatively low risk of contracting the virus. The New York Times reports that “one study of 1,245 coronavirus cases across China found that only two came from outdoors transmission.”

As a backcountry enthusiast, the current pandemic has challenged me to rethink my recreation. I can no longer call up a buddy and set up a car shuttle for a 15-mile ridge walk or a leisurely paddle down the river. I’ve had to find the quiet spaces between neighborhoods while the snow melts and the curve flattens. But, in the process, I’ve been reminded of how to stretch a half-mile of trail into a half-day adventure, of the sounds of nature when man-made noise is absent, and of the care we have for one another’s safety when a family walks single file on the sidewalk past me.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah


Photos: Courtesy NPS/Matt Turner
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: A New Beginning: Josh Boling, 2018

Additional Reading

Coronavirus (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Coronavirus, State of Utah, https://coronavirus.utah.gov/

McGregor, Nick, Want to Get Outside During COVID-19? Here’s How To Do It Safely, University of Utah Health, https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/04/exercise-during-covid19.php

Sullivan, Peter, Evidence mounts that outside is safer when it comes to COVID-19, The Hill (Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., A Subsidiary of News Communications, Inc.), May 6, 2020, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/496483-evidence-mounts-that-outside-is-safer-when-it-comes-to-covid-19

Kaufman, Kenn, As Coronavirus Sows Turmoil and Fear, Seeking Solace in Nature’s Calendar, Audubon Magazine, March 30, 2020, https://www.audubon.org/news/as-coronavirus-sows-turmoil-and-fear-seeking-solace-natures-calendar