Boxelder Bug Poetry

Boxelder Bugs
Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

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

Bill Holm, author, poet and essayist from Minnesota, died last week. He wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. Why I do I mention this on a program about Utah nature? Because through his writing, he helped me come to terms with one aspect of Utah nature that I found troublesome at first —the ubiquitous and abundant boxelder bug.

“My boxelder bugs have odd preferences,” Holm wrote “They love radio dials, phonograph speakers, amplifiers, pianos, and harpsichords. Some would argue that this is because of the warmth and vibrations, but I prefer to think it is because of their taste for Bach and Vivaldi.”

The red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They might stain walls or carpets if you squish them. However, they are annoying primarily because they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers. Once in, they’ll find their way into your personal effects. Like your hair or your toothbrush or the glass of water you keep on the bedside table.

After hearing me go on a boxelder bug rant, a friend gave me Holm’s book Boxelder Bug Variations: A meditation of an idea in language and music. It changed my attitude toward with household invaders, as now I think of them as poetic. Maybe if I read a few verses, you will feel the same:
First, a boxelder bug prayer:

I want so little
For so little time
A south window,
A wall to climb,
The smell of coffee,
A radio knob,
Nothing to eat,
Nothing to rob,
Not love, not power,
Not even a penny,
Forgive me only
For being so many.

In this one, Holm describes a method for disposing boxelder bugs:

Take two bricks.
Creep deliberately up
Behind the boxelder bug,
Being careful not to sing—
This will alert him.
In a graceful flowing gesture,
Something like a golf swing
Or reaching for your lover in the dark,
Gather up the boxelder bug
On the surface of the left brick
Bringing the right brick
At the same time firmly down
Together with the left brick.
There will be a loud crashing,
Like broken cymbals,
Maybe a breaking of brick, and
If you are not careful,
Your own voice rising.
When the brick dust has settled
And you have examined your own hands,
Carefully,
You will not see the boxelder bug,
There is a small hole in the brick
And he is exploring it,
Calmly, like a millionaire
In an antique shop.

And finally, three boxelder bug haiku:

(1) Careful if you kill him!
There may be an afterlife
For both of you.
(2) Those black spots in your lamp?
Only bugs who didn’t make it
Into the next world.

And finally…

(3) The piano string stops trembling
But boxelder bugs
Keep dancing.

Thanks to Jen Levy for introducing me to boxelder bug poetry, and to Milkweed Editions for permission to reproduce Bill Holm’s work.

The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation supports research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, Holm, Bill, 1985, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions http://www.milkweed.org/

Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:
http://extension.usu.edu/files/factsheets/boxelder.pdf

Men’s Hair and the Male House Finch

Male House Finch

Male House Finch

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

A man’s vanity is nowhere more apparent than for the hair atop his head. As men age, their hair may whiten, thin or disappear. As a remedy, some men use dyes or hair growth potions.

But imagine this: What if the right food alone could restore the virile dark hair of youth?

There is a common songbird at your birdfeeder this winter that can do just this. It is the male house finch.

[House Finch Call – #3 Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country]

As with many songbirds, the female house finch is drab compared to the brightly colored male. He sports a showy brow and bib in colors that range from tomato red to orange to straw yellow. Like the tomato and carrot, these colors come from pigments called carotenoids. All birds with red feathers get these carotenoid pigments from their diet, ultimately from the plants that can produce them.

What does the red feather color mean for the house finch?

The ornathologist Geof Hill of Auburn University experimentally altered head feather colors of male house finches. To make red-headed males into carrot tops, Jeff used peroxide. Red hair die achieved the opposite transformation. He then let the guys compete for the attentions of females.

Jeff’s experiments demonstrated that plumage does make the male. The redder the male’s head, the higher his place in the pecking order. And the more females that he could attract. Conversely, redheads lost rank after bleaching. Among male house finches, blondes really don’t have more fun.

So now you can predict the likely winners and losers in the mating game from just a glance at the male house finches at your seed feeder. As is common in science, this discovery leads to new questions: What food makes the male’s head feathers red? Is it some red fruit or berry? Why do some males manage to get more carotenoid pigments than others? Do they instinctively know the right seed or fruit to eat? We humans must get our carotenoids from plant sources too, such as the carotine that we transform into Vitamin A for night vision. The produce aisle at the grocery store might be a much different place though if the right fruit or vegetable could transform our hair color too.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=carpmexi

Bird Sounds: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Dr. Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

Text: Jim Cane and Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Additional Reading:

House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=carpmexi

House Finch, Utah Bird Profile, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesD-K/HouseFinch.htm

A Red Bird in a Brown Bag: The Function and Evolution of Colorful Plumage in the House Finch , Dr. Geoffrey, E. Hill, Oxford University Press, September 2002
ISBN-13: 9780195148480, http://search.barnesandnoble.com/BookSearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=l88eD6dCpP&isbn=0195148487&itm=2

A Tribute to Birders

Outdoor enthusiasts on a
birding adventure in Logan Canyon
Courtesy Stephen Peterson

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

According to Chris Leahy, in his encyclopedic book, Birdwatcher’s Companion, birdwatching refers to “the regular, somewhat methodical seeking out and observation of birds, whether for pure aesthetic pleasure or recreation, or for a more serious, quasi-scientific motive.“

If you are in America, the term birdwatcher is most often applied to people with a passing interest in birds, perhaps as backyard bird aficionados. In contrast, birders are people who seek out birds “in a more serious and energetic manner, either to hone field-identification skills, or to amass an impressive life list.” A life list is simply a record of all the species of birds that one has seen during his or her life. An impressive list in North America may consist of 6 00-700 birds. A person who travels to see birds may have a list of 4000+ .

The demographics of birders are interesting. A 2001 study estimates that there are 46 million birders or birdwatchers 16 years of age or older in the US. Within this collective group, the average person is 49 years old , has a better than average income and education, and is more likely to be female, white and married. Among Utah residents , 27 % of the population qualify as birdwatchers. Utah ranks 18 among states according to % of residents who watch birds. Montana is first at 44%, followed by Vermont at 43%.

However, 88% of the birders considered by this study were categorized as casual or backyard birdwatchers. If you consider only avid birders with carefully-honed identification skills and people who keep life lists, the gender balance shifts dramatically. That’s why most sources consider birding a strongly male –dominated activity. In fact, birdwatching has been described to be an expression of the male hunting instinct as well as linked with the male tendency for “systemizing” which has to do with organizing, categorizing, listing and counting.

A subset of the avid birder group is formed by twitchers. A twitcher is devoted to ticking off as many birds as possible for his or her lifelist. I am told that in the UK twitchers will appear suddenly as a ‘flock’ in some remote corner of the country (or someone’s backyard) whenever a very rare bird has been spotted—usually a migrant blowing in from Europe or North America. Twitchers use the latest in communication media –hotlines, mailing lists, eforums, bulletin-boards, and web-based databases to find out when a rare bird is in the vicinity. Then they will use whatever means available –perhaps a helicopter!—to get there as fast possible. Here in Utah, a twitcher might use the hotline on Utahbirds.org as one source of information.

Those of you who associate with birders will probably agree that they are as fascinating as the birds themselves. Here’s to you, my avian-loving friends.

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 Stephen Peterson, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Leahy, Christopher. 1982. The Birdwatcher’s Companion. An Encyclopedic Handbook of North American Birdlife. NY: Grammercy Books.

Maddox, Bruno. 2006. Blinded By Science Birding Brains: How birding in Central Park in an age of terror makes the man. Discover. Science, Technology and the Future. published online November 30, 2006 (http://discovermagazine.com/2006/dec/blinded-twins-birding-instinct accessed February 14, 2009)

Pullis, La Rouche, G. 2003. Birding in the United States: a demographic and economic analysis. Addendum to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Report 2001-1. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Arlington, VA.

Bonneville Cisco

Bonneville Cisco: Female and Male
The more colorful male is on the bottom.
Size of samples not indicative of gender.
Click to view a larger image.
Photo Courtesy &
Copyright © 1979, 2009 Ron Goede

In mid-January you can witness frenetic fishing along the south-eastern shore of Bear Lake. The Bonneville Cisco are spawning.

These small whitefish are numerically the most abundant fish species in Utah, even though, Cisco are endemic to Bear Lake. And although attempts have been made to transplant them to other waters, they continue to thrive only in Bear Lake.
There are in fact, more endemic fish in Bear Lake than in any other north-American lake: the Bonneville Cisco, the Bear Lake Whitefish, the Bonneville Whitefish and the Bear Lake Sculpin. These deep water salmoniform fish also inhabited Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, the great freshwater sea that covered vast portions of Utah and surrounding states.

The Bonneville Cisco is differentiated from other whitefish by its pointed mouth and smaller size. Growing no larger than 9 inches, it is pale moss green on top with silver sides. Cisco don’t have the spots found on other whitefish.

Cisco eat only small aquatic invertebrates or zooplankton. They are eaten by larger fish in the lake including cutthroat, lake trout, and whitefish. When caught, they are most often breaded whole and deep-fat fried or smoked. Sometimes they are frozen and used as bait to catch cutthroat and lake trout later in the year.

Cisco mature at 3 years and, for a two-week period, prefer spawning on the south-eastern, rocky beach known appropriately as Cisco Beach. The males move first to the area where they wait for the females to arrive. Low water levels in the lake sometimes keep Cisco from the beach; but using fish finders, anglers have found that Cisco spawn in other places throughout the lake. However, they still prefer rocky locations, even if they are in deeper water.

Schools swim parallel, but 3-8 feet from the shore. During ice-on conditions, fishermen drill up to 18-inch holes and fish with nets or lines through the holes. With ice-off, they wade into the water, using smelt nets. Out in the lake, Cisco are caught with lures such as spoons and jigs instead of nets. The current limit is 30.
So if you are near Bear Lake in mid-January, dress warmly and enjoy this unique fishing phenomenon found nowhere else in the world.

Credits:

Picture: Courtesy & Copyright © 1979, 2009 Ron Goede, http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Text: Lyle Bingham and Ron Goede, Bridgerland Audubon Society http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org

Additional Reading:

Fishes of Utah: A Natural History (Hardcover)
by William F. Sigler (Author), John W. Sigler (Author), Joseph R. Tomelleri (Illustrator),
http://www.amazon.ca/Fishes-Utah-William-F-Sigler/dp/0874804698, pp 23, 24, 194-196

Are Bear Lake’s Ciscos a Joy or Curse?, Angler Guide, http://www.anglerguide.com/articles/112.html

Fishing: Bear Lake history & facts, http://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/bearlake.html

Endemic Species of Bear Lake, Pugstones Fishing Guides, http://www.fishingbearlake.com/bearlake.html

Prosopium gemmifer, Bonneville cisco, FishBase, http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=2683

Bonneville cisco, Prosopium gemmifer, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=prosgemm

Utah Sensitive Species List, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ViewReports/sslist.htm

Bonneville Cisco (Prosopium bemmiferum) from Bear Lake, Utah-Idaho, All Enthusiast, Inc., http://www.aslo.org/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/553/sort/1/cat/all/page/1

Winter Fishing Comes Naturally at Bear Lake, Utah Outdoors, http://www.utahoutdoors.com/pages/bear_lake_winter.htm