Bighorn Sheep

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Bighorn sheep used to be quite common in UT. They were a frequent subject of pictographs and petroglyphs indicating their importance to prehistoric people. In 1776 Father Escalante a Spanish Franciscan missionary-explorer, wrote about a site near the Colorado river in Utah “here wild sheep live in such abundance that their tracks are like those of great herds of domestic sheep.”

While not so common today, you can still see two subspecies of bighorn in Utah: Rocky Mountain bighorn and the desert bighorn. In 1997 twenty three California bighorn sheep were transplanted to
Antelope Island. Formerly thought to be a subspecies, the California bighorn is now usually considered to be a separate population not a subspecies of Rocky mountain bighorn sheep.

So what’s the difference between the Rocky Mountain and the desert bighorn sheep ? Rocky Mountain bighorns are noticeably larger–about 1/3 again the size of the desert bighorn. Not surprisingly, the desert bighorn is better adapted to arid environments. It can go several days without drinking free water and lose up to 10% of its body weight in water. Then it can make up for it in a single drinking spree. Since drinking sources are limited in deserts, a significant portion of water intake comes from plants. Prickly pear, pincushion and barrel cactus are often necessary parts of their diet. Rutting season for the desert bighorn lasts from July to December while the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is generally limited to November and December.

The geographic boundary between the 2 subspecies is hard to define but in general you can use I 70 as a rough dividing line.

By the 1960’s Utah had almost lost most of its bighorn populations due to overhunting, habitat loss and competition with domestic sheep. Now, thanks to transplants from WY, CO, NV and Canada, we have 800 sheep in 6 areas in the northern half of the state. There are 2800 desert bighorn found in a large number of sites in southeast Utah. Some of them are even the original Utah herds rather than transplants.

All bighorn are known for their surefootedness, remarkable eyesight, and preference for canyons, gulches, talus cliffs, steep slopes, and mountain tops. Look for them within 200 meters from “escape terrain” or landforms that are too rugged for both human and non-human predator.

On November 14-15, Friday and Saturday of this week, the Utah Division of Wildlife sponsors its annual Bighorn Sheep festival. Bring your binoculars to see rams running headlong into each other and bashing their heads in an attempt to win females. For a link to more information about this festival see wildaboututah.org

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Photo by Brent Stettler, http://wildlife.utah.gov/news/08-10/bighorn_festival.php

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bill Bates, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, personal communication November 10, 2008)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 1999-2005 Statewide Management Plan for Bighorn Sheep. http://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/bighorn_plan.pdf

Valdez, Raul, and Paul Krausman eds., 1999. Mountain Sheep of America. Tucson: University of Arizona Press

For more information on the bighorn sheep festival see:
http://wildlife.utah.gov/news/08-10/bighorn_festival.php

Pikas, Our First Haymakers

Pikas, Our First Haymakers
Pika
Photo © 2004-2008 Mark Chappell

“Make hay while the sun shines” is a venerable bit of farm wisdom that encourages cutting and drying of hay during fair weather. One, two, possibly three cuttings of alfalfa hay have been baled and stacked this summer by Utah’s farmers to feed dairy cows and horses this winter. More traditionally, ranchers have cut meadow or marsh hay to be piled in the lofts of their barns.

Utah’s first haymakers were not ranchers at all, however. These earliest haymakers cut hay for their own consumption. To see and hear these daytime haymakers, you must travel high into our mountains, to 9,000 feet or higher. Look for a boulder strewn talus slope or rockslide. Listen for this call….. if you hear it, you have found the pika, our first haymaker. That call was either declaring the pika’s individual territory or an alarm announcing you. These rounded relatives of our rabbits resemble a tawny-coated chinchilla or a plush, plump guinea pig. They have nearly circular small ears and no apparent tail.

All day long during the alpine summer, pikas are busy cutting grasses, sedges and wildflowers from neighboring meadows. They haul this back by the mouthful to tuck in crevasses in their stony stronghold to dry. These stockpiles are their winter larder. You see, unlike their alpine kin, such as marmots, ground squirrels and chipmunks, our pikas don’t burrow and they don’t hibernate. Unlike the snowshoe hare, pikas don’t get out much either once the snow flies. Under the snow pack, they simply dine on hay.

Pikas are strange little lagomorphs
(relatives of rabbits and hares)
that live in rocky areas and talus slopes
in alpine habitats in much of the
mountainous western US and Canada.
Photo © 2004-2008 Mark Chappell

In Utah, poke around for pikas amid high peaks along the mountainous central spine of our state, from the Uintas south to Brian Head, wherever peaks reach toward tree line and you can find. There you may find pikas making hay or loafing atop prominent stones in their rock jumbles, or contributing to the territorial calls of their talus slope choir. Their intolerance of heat keeps them from spreading downslope. Like the moose, they are one of the animals that will fare poorly with significant climate warming. For now, though, you can continue to peek for picas amid Utah’s glorious alpine scenery.

Credits:

Photo: Images of the Natural World, Courtesy & Copyright 2004-2008 Mark Chappell http://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane

Additional Reading:

American Pika, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=ochoprin

Pikas in Utah, Video from Utah DWR, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czMoUzBUkTE&feature=channel_page

“Damn Cute Pikas” Narrated by David Attenborough and posted by Paul Garita on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVJuRgil0wQ&NR=1

American Pika, Nature Works, New Hampshire Public Television, http://www.nhptv.org/NATUREWORKS/americanpika.htm

Pika, Utah DWR Instragram Account, https://www.instagram.com/p/r7_haQtoZC/?modal=true

Moose in Utah

Moose Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jason Pietrzak, PTRZK.com
Moose
Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jason Pietrzak, PTRZK.com


Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from Bridgerland Audubon Society.

If you’ve spent much time in the forests and wetlands of northern Utah, you may have been lucky enough to see one of North America’s most magnificent animals, the Moose.

The Moose is the largest member of the deer family, and one of the largest mammals to survive the last Ice Age. Utah’s subspecies of Moose is known as the Shiras,
or Wyoming Moose. Although the smallest subspecies of Moose in North America, it can grow to be nearly six feet tall and weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. Bull Moose
can grow a rack of antlers that reaches four feet across.

One might assume such an ancient and enormous animal has long existed in Utah, but in fact the Moose is one of Utah’s newer immigrants.
The first Moose in Utah were seen about 100 years ago, and the total population may have been less than 100 animals as late as the 1950s. Today, there are about 4,500
Moose throughout northern Utah. So how did the Moose become so plentiful in such a short time?

The Moose’s immigration to Utah looks like a case of perfect timing. Many of the Moose’s predators like Grizzly Bears, Wolves and Mountain Lions had been largely
exterminated. At the same time, logging was replacing mature forests with new meadows and scrub that Moose prefer. The combination of young growth and wetlands provided
the ideal habitat for Moose to thrive.

On top of these favorable conditions, human management has helped the Moose expand. Overwhelming demand for Moose hunting
has fostered strategies to encourage population growth.
More recently, there have been attempts to speed up the expansion of Moose by transplanting them to new mountain ranges.

Despite success in the last hundred years, Moose face many challenges in the next hundred. Maturing woodlands will be able to support fewer Moose.
Old predators are rebounding slightly and will take their toll. But the most difficult challenge the Moose may face is that of climate change.
The Moose evolved to survive in extreme cold climates. If temperatures continue to rise, the Moose will retreat
higher into the mountains and further north until one day this recent visitor returns to Wyoming or even further north.

The next time you visit the mountains, pay close attention to the streams and lakes particularly those surrounded by willows.
And you too may be lucky enough to see the moose.

For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and Copyright Jason Pietrzak www.ptrzk.com

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jason Pietrzak, Dick Hurren

For More Information:

Utah’s Unbelievable Ungulates, Nature’s Call, Fall 1997, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/97fall-gw.pdf

Where Do They Go When It Snows?!, Nature’s Call, Winter 1993, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/93winter-nc.pdf

The Eyes Have It

Deer Eyeshine Courtesy National Park Service, US Department of the Interior
Deer Eyeshine
Courtesy National Park Service
US Department of the Interior
Hi, this is Holly Strand for Stokes Nature Center located in beautiful Logan Canyon.

A few years ago, I was working for World Wildlife Fund in eastern Montana. One night, we were doing a nocturnal survey of the black footed ferret, the most endangered mammal species in North America. We were counting reintroduced ferrets by riding around in a truck with a large spotlight mounted on top. When the spotlight hit a ferret, we could see the emerald green glow of its eyes as the animal looked back at the light. We’d stop the truck, walk toward the green points, and confirm the presence of a curious ferret for our census count. If the glowing eye color was something other than green we kept on driving. It was during this nocturnal safari that I learned about animal eye-shine and how it can be used by hunters as well as naturalists in finding target species.

Eyeshine occurs when light enters the eye, passes through the rods and cones strikes a special membrane behind the retina, and is reflected back through the eye to the light source. This special mirror-like membrane, called the tapetum (ta-PEA-tum), is not present in the human eye. The light-capturing system allows light to pass through the eye twice, and it is one way a nocturnal animal increases its ability to see in dim light. It’s the tapetums cause the eerie glow that we see in a housecat’s eyes caught in a light or when our car headlights surprise a deer, or badger.

The color of eyeshine varies from species to species. Most owls have red eyeshine. Coyotes as well as mountain lion shine greenish-gold. Elk and deer – varies from silver white to a light silvery green or light silvery yellow. Desert cottontails’ are red. Tiny pricks of light may signify the presence of wolf spiders or moths. Even certain fish have eyeshine.

To see eyeshine in the wild, just take a walk on a relatively dark night, and hold a flashlight on top of your head so that you are looking down the beam. Direct the beam at bushes or low vegetation. Chances are, you’ll see the pink-tinted eyeshine of spiders. Near water, look for the greenish glow of frogs’ eyes. Keep the beam directed at the eyeshine and move closer until you can spot its owner. Bigger animals like deer or raccoons will be farther away so you may want to use binoculars in combination with a light, lining up the field of view with the light beam, and then moving the two in unison. Searching for eyeshine is the perfect summer night activity, so grab your flashlight and go out and experience some real Utah night life.

This is Holly Strand for Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior Wind Cave Resource Ramblings 2007 – 11
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center
Thanks to Eric Gese, USDA National Wildlife Research Center, Department of Forest, Range, and Wildlife Sciences, for his expertise.

Sources & Additional Reading

2001, Corben, Chris and Gary Fellers. A Technique for Detecting Eyeshine of Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Review, 32(2): 89-91. http://www.werc.usgs.gov/pt-reyes/pdfs/spotlighting.pdf (accessed June 2008)

Eyeshine. Electronic Naturalist. Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. http://www.enaturalist.org/unit/171/qr (accessed June 2008)

Texas Parks and Wildlife. Eyeshine in Young Naturalist Series. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/nonpwdpubs/young_naturalist/animals/eyeshine/ (accessed June 2008)