Kokanee Salmon

Kokanee Salmon above Porcupine Reservoir
Kokanee Salmon above Porcupine Reservoir
Copyright 2008 Mary-Ann Muffoletto

A little over a week ago, I saw my first kokanee salmon run up Little Bear River just east of Porcupine Reservoir. This year, researchers counted over 10,000 fish within a mile of the reservoir. That’s a record number. My friends and I marveled at these wriggling flashes of color as they struggled upstream. It inspired me to spend the week reading about salmon. Here’s what I learned.

First of all it surprised me that salmon and trout are so close genetically. Along with whitefish and grayling, they form the family Salmonidae, but salmon and trout are the most similar. The main difference between them is that salmon generally migrate from their freshwater birthplace to the sea to get more and better food. And then they return to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams where there are fewer predators. And generally – although it’s not true for all – salmon spawn once and die while trout go through a number of spawning cycles.

The Pacific Sockeye salmon resembles a silvery rainbow trout during most of its life. But when it spawns, the male especially undergoes a miraculous transformation. His head turns green, his body turns a bright red, and his back grows a bump. And his jaw begins to hook until he’s got a pronounced overbite. There’s a lot of jostling over females during breeding, and the humpback and hooked jaw helps him intimidate other male fish so he can fertilize more female eggs. And the red color is considered highly attractive to the opposite sex.

White-talied Kokanee Salmon Copyright 2008 Mary-Ann Muffoletto
White-talied Kokanee Salmon
Copyright 2008 Mary-Ann Muffoletto
The kokanee is an evolutionary branch of the sockeye. Both of them spawn in freshwater nurseries and then move to a nursery lake to grow for awhile. Then the sockeye salmon migrates to the ocean while the kokanee remain in the lake. After a few years they both return to the freshwater streams to spawn and die. The funny thing is, that if you take a sockeye and keep him in a lake, he doesn’t turn red when it’s time to spawn. That’s because red color derives from carotenoid pigments in the salmon’s diet and these pigments are much more prevalent in ocean food. So why does the kokanee turn the same red as the sockeye? It’s because the sexual preference for red was so strong that the kokanee actually evolved the ability to process carotenoid pigments with 3 times the efficiency of sockeyes.

White-talied Kokanee Salmon
Copyright 2008 Mary-Ann Muffoletto

Because it flexibly defines a lake as its ocean, the kokanee has become a popular fish for reintroduction into western lakes and reservoirs. In 1922, the kokanee was first introduced for sport fishing into Utah’s Bear Lake. Nowadays you can see them spawn in the Little Bear River out of Porcupine Reservoir, Sheep Creek near Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and tributary streams of Strawberry Reservoir.

If you hurry, you can still catch the last of the spawning kokanees, their bright red bodies an aquatic response to the flaming Utah maple on the surrounding hillsides.

Special thanks to Charles Hawkins (Watershed Sciences, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University) , Phaedra Budy (USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University) and Bret Roper (US Forest Service, Fish & Aquatic Ecology Unit, Logan, UT) for their comments on this piece.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy of and Copyright 2008 Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading
Aggies Help State with Fall Salmon Count 2008. Utah State Today. Sept 25, 2008. http://www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=30698

Coates, P. 2006. Salmon. London: Reaktion Books

Craig, J.K., and Foote, C.J. 2001. COUNTERGRADIENT VARIATION AND SECONDARY SEXUAL COLOR: PHENOTYPIC CONVERGENCE PROMOTES GENETIC DIVERGENCE IN CAROTENOID USE BETWEEN SYMPATRIC ANADROMOUS AND NONANADROMOUS MORPHS OF SOCKEYE SALMON (ONCORHYNCHUS NERKA), Evolution 55(2), 2001, pp. 380-391.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka). Wildlife notebook Series No. 10.http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/newkokan.pdf (accessed Oct 3, 2008)

See also:

Kokanee Salmon in Strawberry Reservoir http://www.redrockadventure.com/fishing/Strawberry/strawberry_kokanee.htm

See bright red kokanee salmon at Sheep Creek, near Flaming Gorge http://wildlife.utah.gov/news/05-09/sheep_creek.html

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

Mobbing

Mobbing: Crows mobbing a barn owl, Photo Courtesy Daily Mail and Copyright Andrew O'Conner ABC, Photographer, dailymail.co.uk
Crows mobbing a barn owl, Photo Courtesy Daily Mail and Copyright Andrew O’Conner ABC, Photographer, dailymail.co.uk
Mobs reveal a dark and terrifying side of human nature, whether it be the chaotic urban masses crying for the guillotine during the French Revolution, or a shadowy crime syndicate ruled by a guy named Joe Bananos. Many birds practice a different sort of mobbing, wherein there is rarely an injury and the little guy prevails.

When a predator such as an owl, a hawk or even a large snake ventures into a location, they may be detected by a resident bird. That sentinel will make a noisy, dissonant fuss to recruit reinforcements who will join in harassing that hawk or owl. Just who participates is a matter of size matching and a species’ predilection. Tiny predators such as a screech owl or a merlin will be plagued by tiny birds, with chickadees often leading the charge.

When you hear crows or magpies stirring up a ruckus, chances are that a large hawk such as the red-tail, or perhaps a great horned owl, is at the center of the melee. As the harassment escalates, the hawk will typically take wing in a disgruntled huff, trailed by its fussing mob. By remaining perfectly still, an owl can sometimes become seemingly invisible, its smaller marauders gradually losing interest and dispersing.

Why a predator doesn’t lose its temper and turn on its unwelcome mob I don’t know, but I have not seen it happen.

And the purpose of mobbing? Perhaps in loudly announcing a predator’s presence, the hunter’s advantage for stealth and surprise is lost. Or maybe the mob is just telling the hawk or owl to: “Push off and leave our neighborhood!”

By imitating an owl’s call or by producing the right dissonant “pishing” noise, like this “pishpishpish”, I can sometimes lure a small mob briefly into view, one often led by a valiant chickadee. Soon recognizing my deceit, after a few minutes, the group will quickly disperse, leaving me to smile at just what a frisky mob that was!

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Daily Mail CO.UK and Copyright Andrew O'Conner ABC, Photographer
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane

Magpies a.k.a. Holstein Pheasants

Magpies a.k.a. Holstein Pheasants: A Dark Black-billed Magpie, Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Library, Stephen Peterson, Photographer
A Dark Black-billed Magpie
Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Library
Stephen Peterson, Photographer

I knew a man who referred to those black and white, long-tailed birds as “Holstein Pheasants.”
He used to say, you can shoot pheasants, can’t you? Magpies are loved or hated. Few are without opinions when it comes to these protected, I remind you protected, birds.
In Asia, they are revered for good luck; while their relatives, the crows, are omens of bad luck.

The black-billed magpie of Utah is related to the yellow-billed magpies in California and more distantly to the European magpie and the Korean magpie.
They all have a similar general appearance, black and white with a long black tail.

Our Black-billed magpies mate for life and stay together until one dies. Then the other may find a new mate.

Their home-building skills will not produce awards for neatness on the outside. But are marvels of architecture.
Nests are collections of loose sticks, mud, bark and other available materials, often built on older nests. A hood of loose sticks covers the nest with multiple entrances.
And the inside is lined with soft grasses and other materials.

Once the nest is built, the female lays six or seven eggs. While she sets on the eggs, the male feeds her for up to 18 days. The parents feed their young about two months, even though the young fledge in about a month. Upon independence from their parents, the young flock with other young magpies.

Magpies can be seen harassing hawks, eagles and owls as they perch in trees.
But despite the begrudging landlords, owls and hawks often take up residence in old magpie nests.

Bold and gregarious, magpies are well adapted to man. They are the bane of back yard bird feeders, driving songbirds away and eating everything in sight.
I know at least one local birder, however, who enjoys magpies and attracts them with Cheetos and soft cat food, but on the other side of the house from her regular bird feeders.

Magpies are opportunists and nest raiders. They are despised by hunters because they clean out unprotected and abandoned nests.
And fruit growers fight them with netting, flags and pyrotechnics. But don’t hold that against them.
These Holsteins clean up roadkill, tent caterpillars, grasshoppers and many other things that we’d rather not see or smell.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Image Files

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Lyle Bingham and Dick Hurren

Additional Reading:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds, Black-Billed Magpie, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Black-billed_Magpie_dtl.html, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://www.enature.com/flashcard/show_flash_card.asp?recordNumber=BD0032, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird_details.aspx?id=315, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/magpies.htm, Accessed July 31, 2008