Spring Testosterone

Spring Testosterone: Male House Finch Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer
Male House Finch
Courtesy US FWS
Gary Kramer, Photographer
Love is in the air! While shoveling snow, it seems a bit ludicrous to say “spring has arrived”, but here it is! I first noticed it 3 weeks ago when a burst of house finch tumbling notes filled the vapors. That was followed by a robin dusting of some rusty phrases which will soon be heard across the mid-latitudes of N. America.

What is one to think of such outrageous behavior as the snow continues to fall and the thermometer dips well below freezing? In one word-testosterone! This magical chemical is surging once again entirely dependent on the ratio of daylight to dark which has changed to such a degree that life helplessly submits to the urge for love.

Boxelder at Court of the Patriarchs,  Zions National Park Courtesy NPS Amy Gaiennie, Photographer
Boxelder at Court of the Patriarchs,
Zions National Park
Courtesy NPS
Amy Gaiennie, Photographer

Even plants are getting in the mood due to hormonal change in response to increasing length of daylight. If I were still teaching science at Logan High we would be tapping a spile into a box elder tree to catch the dripping sap and boil down on the Bunsen burner to delicious maple syrup. When we began this activity 32 years ago March was the month. It gradually changed to mid-February as the winter season shortened.

Death Camas Bryce National Park Courtesy US NPS
Death Camas
Bryce National Park
Courtesy US NPS
I’m guessing the tiny pink flower of stork’s bill geranium and yellow of biscuit root is already blooming beneath the snow on south facing slopes. Death camas leaves are beginning to poke through moist soil.
Snow geese and tundra swans are beginning to populate our open waters with sandhill cranes and many other species of waterfowl soon to follow.

Mountain Bluebird Pair Courtesy & Copyright Milt Moody, Photographer Utahbirds.org
Mountain Bluebird Pair
Courtesy & Copyright Milt Moody, Photographer
Utahbirds.org
In the heavens you may see golden eagles performing their talon locked tumbling courtship death plunge, and paired ravens cavorting in mid-air. Outrageously beautiful Mountain bluebirds begin decorating fence posts in the countryside. Clark’s nutcrackers are beginning their migration to ridgetops for nesting activities.

Great horned owls present a special case. Their hoots reached a fevered pitch during their January courtship period. Nesting begins in February but no nest building needed. They take the easy out by occupying other raptor nests, especially red tail hawks, crows, or a handy ledge. They are fierce defenders of their young and have caused injure to clueless humans who approach to near. The family unit will remain together into the fall season.
Coyotes and fox are in full courtship mode showing overt affection. Parents of both of these wily canids help with den preparation and rearing pups born a few months later. Both are common in native legends for the cunning and trickery.

“If the day should ever come when one may camp and hear not a note of the coyotes joyous stirring song, I hope that I shall long before have passed away, gone over the Great Divide.” Earnest T. Seton, American naturalist, author, activist and father of the Rocky Mountain N.P.

This is Jack Greene and I’m Wild about Wild Utah!

Credits:

Images:
    Male House Finch, Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer
    Boxelder at Court of the Patriarchs, Zions National Park, Courtesy NPS, Amy Gaiennie, Photographer
    Death Camas, Bryce National Park, Courtesy US NPS
    Mountain Bluebird Pair, Courtesy & Copyright Milt Moody, UtahBirds.org
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Körner, Christian, Plant adaptation to cold climates, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5130066/

Have BoxElder Maple Trees? Make BoxElder Syrup! Quirky Science, https://www.quirkyscience.com/make-boxelder-syrup/

How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

Yellowstone wolf running in snow in Crystal Creek pen; January 1996; Accession No. 15606 Courtesy US National Park Service
Yellowstone wolf running in snow in Crystal Creek pen; January 1996; Accession No. 15606
Courtesy US National Park Service
Outlying wolves of the Northern Rocky Mountain population occasionally wander into Utah, but seeing one is rare. If you want to increase your chances of viewing one of these majestic beasts, the best place to go is the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

Wolf standing in water, in Grand Teton National Park, close to Yellowstone. Courtesy US National Park Service.
Wolf standing in water,
in Grand Teton National Park,
close to Yellowstone.
Courtesy US National Park Service.

For over six decades, wolves were missing from Yellowstone’s ecosystem. But on a cold January day in 1995, eight gray wolves from Canada were released in the park in an effort to restore the predator to this native habitat.

Before their release, wolves were the only indigenous mammal missing from the Park. The last pack of wolves were killed in the 1920s.

The Park is now one of the few ecosystems in the temperate world to have the same mammals wandering around, as it had hundreds of years ago.

A mother wolf nursing her pups outside their den. 7-16-2010 Courtesy US National Park Service
A mother wolf nursing her pups outside their den. 7-16-2010
Courtesy US National Park Service

Today, approximately 88 wolves live in Yellowstone.

Finding one of these gray wolves is challenging, but if a person knows where to look, with the right equipment, the chances increase considerably.

Nathan Varley, a naturalist guide with Yellowstone Wolf Tracker says, “Wolves are usually spotted from long distances, using high quality optics. Recently, I guided a group that had their first wolf sighting over two miles away. We patiently watched the pack of 11 wolves move until they were less than a mile away.”

Leopold wolf following grizzly bear Courtesy US National Park Service, Doug Smith Photographer, April 2005
Leopold wolf following grizzly bear
Courtesy US National Park Service,
Doug Smith Photographer, April 2005

“The pack encountered a bison herd and attempted to single out a calf. The herd rallied, surrounding the calf so the wolves couldn’t get to it. Snow began to fall so we lost sight of the hunt, but learned later the pack was unsuccessful. We found them the next day, many miles away.”

Before arriving in Yellowstone, visitors may want to learn how to distinguish coyotes from wolves.

Two wolf pups gnaw on bison bones Courtesy US National Park Service
Two wolf pups gnaw on bison bones
Courtesy US National Park Service

Rick McIntire, who researched Yellowstone wolves with the U.S. Park Service since 1995, explains, “In a given wolf pack territory which may be 300 square miles, there could be 10 coyote packs. So the chances of visitors seeing coyotes before wolves is high.

McIntire gives the following tips for identifying coyotes and wolves:

“It may be hard to tell smaller wolves from bigger coyotes. One thing to look for is coyotes have big ears and narrow jawlines like a fox, whereas wolves have ears that are proportional to the size of their heads, and strong stout jaws.

Their vocalizations are also different. Wolves have a deep howl, while coyote’s howl has a high pitched tone.

The wolves color may also help. Roughly half of Yellowstone wolves are black and since coyotes are never that dark, if you see a group of canines and one of them is black you have found a wolf pack.

The best place to begin the search is the northeast corner of the park at Lamar Valley – the “Serengeti” of the Yellowstone. Many prey gather here, which attract the large predators like bears and wolves.

Once you arrive, find an appropriate place to park, set up your viewing equipment close to your car, then settle down for a relaxing couple hours of observation. Patience often pays off, so be alert.

Daniel MacNulty, associate professor in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU, who has been studying the Yellowstone wolves for the past two decades said, “Watch for prey standing alert looking at something, follow their gaze, they may point you directly to a wolf pack.”

So if you’re ready to find one of these majestic beasts, gather some family or friends, your high quality optics – and head north. The northern road in Yellowstone which passes Lamar Valley is open all year long, so you won’t have to wait till spring.

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

How to find Wolves in Yellowstone-Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service:

Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

How to find Wolves in Yellowstone-Additional Reading

Wildlife Viewing, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/viewanim.htm

Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

Inside Yellowstone Videos – Lamar Valley and Wolves, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/0031lamarvalley-iy.htm

Wolves, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolves.htm

Maps, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/maps.htm

Blakeslee, Nate, American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West, Crown; First Edition edition (October 17, 2017), https://www.amazon.com/American-Wolf-Story-Survival-Obsession/dp/1101902787

Lamplugh, Rick, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy, https://www.amazon.com/Deep-into-Yellowstone-Immersion-Controversy/dp/1546448322

Allphin, Don, Not crying wolf: There really are wolves in Utah, Herald Extra, Logan, Jan 9, 2015, https://www.heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/not-crying-wolf-there-really-are-wolves-in-utah/article_4c19beea-06c2-59d4-b963-49fe2fd48136.html

Wolves in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolf/

Utah Wolves, Sierra Club Utah Chapter, https://utah.sierraclub.org/content/utah-wolves

Utah Wolves, The Wildlife News, http://www.thewildlifenews.com/category/wolves/utah-wolves/
See also:
http://www.thewildlifenews.com/about/
How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd

American Bison Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
American Bison
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer
The Henry Mountains of southeast Utah are famous for being the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to have been officially mapped. Indeed, before they were mapped, they were often referred to as the “Unknown Mountains.” Another relative unknown detail about this range is that it harbors one of only five genetically pure, free roaming bison herds on North American public lands.

In 1941, a seed herd of 18 American Plains Bison (B. b. bison) were transplanted from Yellowstone National Park to the arid desert of Utah’s Robbers Roost. A year later, five more bulls were introduced to the herd in hopes of sufficiently diversifying the gene pool and sustaining the herd. The bison must not have found Robbers Roost as appealing as Butch Cassidy had, though, because this new Wild Bunch set out for literal greener pastures that very same year.

The small herd forded the Dirty Devil River and travelled southwest toward the Burr Desert. The herd stopped here for a while, enjoying their newfound buffet atop the Aquarius Plateau. 21 years later, though, in 1963, the still small herd grew tired of the desert and abandoned it altogether for the higher, more verdant snow fed meadows of the nearby Henry Mountains. Here, the herd thrived and quickly swelled in numbers.

Today, the herd’s population is estimated to be between 300 and 400 animals, which ecologists and wildlife biologists regard as the maximum carrying capacity of their Henry Mountain range. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has responded accordingly. In an effort to perpetuate the health of the herd and their range, the DWR began issuing “Once-in-a-lifetime” permits to hunters hoping to fulfill not only a tag but also a burning sense of adventure. The Henry Mountains, after all, were mapped last for a reason. They remain one of the most rugged and remote places in a state known for its rugged and remote places.

Fittingly, quite unlike their more quintessential Plains Bison brethren, the Henry Mountains bison can be found almost anywhere in the Henrys between the desert lowlands and timberline. Apparently no one has told the herd that Plains Bison don’t typically like high elevations or steep mountain slopes. This unique proclivity of the Henry Mountains herd to cast off behavioral stereotypes works in their favor when hunting season rolls around and they abandon the high, open meadows for steep, wooded canyons and thick groves of aspen and evergreens.

This highly adaptive nature unique to the Henry Mountains herd made it an obvious candidate to serve as a seed population in early 2010 when 39 individuals were transplanted from the Henry Mountains to the Book Cliffs along the Utah-Colorado border. These 39 animals were to serve as a genetic supplement to a relatively new herd first reintroduced to the Book Cliffs by the Ute Indian Tribe in 1986. The now 600-strong Book Cliffs herd is well on its way to reestablishing the American Plains Bison’s historic range in the Book Cliffs.

The story of the Book Cliffs and Henry Mountains Bison give us reason to hope that one day soon, the American Bison might reclaim its territory, a historic range that once ran from Alaska through the Canadian territories and the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. And, if so, the role the Henry Mountains herd will play in that expansion may be a significant one.

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

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2019

Sources & Additional Reading

Utah’s Book Cliffs Herd, Bison Bellows Series, National Park Service, June 30, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/articles/bison-bellows-6-30-16.htm

How scientists brought bison back to Banff, National Public Radio, Feb 28, 2017, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/scientists-brought-bison-back-banff

Buffalo (Bison) on the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef Country, Wayne County Tourism, https://capitolreef.org/blog/buffalo-bison-on-the-henry-mountains/

Henry Mountains, Utah.com, https://utah.com/henry-mountains

Bison Unit Management Plan, Unit #15 Henry Mountains, Utah Division of Wildlife Management, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/bison_15.pdf

Gilman, Don, Rare, genetically-pure bison found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, St George News, Jan 12, 2016, https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2016/01/12/djg-genetically-pure-bison-found-in-utahs-henry-mountains/#.XB7nRs9KjfY

Henry Mountain Outfitters, HuntersTrailhead, http://www.hunterstrailhead.com/index.php?ID=147

Brian, Jayden, Utah Henry Mountain Bison Hunts, Bull Mountain Outfitters, LLC, http://henrymtnbisonhunts.com/

Henry Mountains bison herd, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Mountains_bison_herd

Wild Cats

Bobcat in plants Courtesy US FWS Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Bobcat in plants
Courtesy US FWS
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
I remember well my first encounter with a wild cat. I was sitting in a deer stand beneath a cross-country powerline, at the edge of a meadowed thoroughfare the whitetails frequented. Dusk was settling in—nearly time to go—as the trees opposite me began to rustle. With a few minutes of legal light left, I readied my trigger finger; but instead of a deer, a bobcat exited the woods. I was shocked. This—I had not expected. I watched as the cat looked left, then right, then straight at me, making eye contact. There was no reason I should have been noticed. I hadn’t made a sound, hadn’t moved in nearly three hours save the scanning of my eyes and the slight rise and fall of my chest with every breath.
Bobcat Public Domain image courtesy US FWS National Conservation Training Center
Bobcat
Public Domain image courtesy US FWS
National Conservation Training Center
Still, I had been found. The cat ambled slowly but with purpose toward the ladder that connected my seat to the ground, stopping a few meters away. He or she never broke eye contact. Neither did I. I’m not sure why. Instinct, perhaps. I would learn many years later from a man who had stared down a mountain lion from a meter away that you never break eye contact with a big cat in the wild. Never. I have no idea how long we sat there together. Minutes? Seconds? Hours? It was fully dark when the animal turned to leave—so dark I had lost the pattern of its coat in the shadows. I never saw where it went; but I’ve been enamored with wild cats ever since.

Bobcat Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer
Bobcat
Courtesy US FWS
Gary Kramer, Photographer
The landscapes that have shifted and morphed and been politically bordered into what is now the state of Utah has been populated by wild cats since at least 40,000 years ago. During the Pleistocene Epoch’s last ice age, the infamous saber-toothed cat roamed Utah’s glacier-clogged crags. Bones of the saber-toothed species known as Smilodon have been unearthed in Utah, most notably from the Silver Creek site near present-day Park City. Smilodon, with its legendary curved, saber-like canine teeth, was a fearsome hunter of ancient Utah’s mega fauna like the mastodon and wooly mammoth; but when the glaciers receded and the Earth began to melt, the mega fauna couldn’t adapt, so Smilodon had nothing to hunt.

Smilodon gave way through the millennia to the smaller but no less impressive cats that occupy Utah’s crags and hills today—the bobcat, the Canada Lynx, and, of course, the famous mountain lion.

Big cat footprint Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Big cat footprint Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
It hasn’t been too long since that spring evening in the canyons of southern Utah. We had just rappelled into a small grotto where, at the bottom, there was an ephemeral pool. The sand was already wet with little droplets along the edge, a footprint here and there leading away—the way we would take—down the only path toward home. We chattered more loudly, making ourselves known, as we proceeded. Then we’d grow quiet again, eyes sweeping here and there, secretly hoping we would get a peak of the lion as it sauntered away from us. We never did, but it was there.

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

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS
Big cat track photo courtesy and copyright Josh Boling
Audio: Includes audio from North Sounds, Inc.
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Golla, Julie M., “Urban Bobcat (Lynx rufus) Ecology in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Metroplex” (2017). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 6857.
https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/etd/6857

Bauman, Joe, Ice Age in Utah, Deseret News, Dec 3, 1997, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/598582/Ice-age-in-Utah.html

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Mountain Wildlife Field Book, Utah Master Naturalists, https://extension.usu.edu/utahmasternaturalist/files/UMNP_Mountains_Wildlife_Book_booklet.pdf

Fossils on Reclamation Lands Provide a Glimpse Into the Past, https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/stories/detail.cfm?RecordID=57996

Ice Age Animals of Utah, Utah Geological Services, A division of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://geology.utah.gov/popular/general-geology/ice-age/ice-age-animals-of-utah/

Strand, Holly, Mountain Lion, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2010https://wildaboututah.org/mountain-lion/

Greene, Jack, My Cougar Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jan 16, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/my-cougar-encounter/

Murie, O. J. (1982). Animal Tracks. Peterson Field Guides. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin. http://www.amazon.com/Peterson-Field-Guide-Animal-Tracks/dp/061851743X