Songs of the Western Meadowlark and Canyon Wren

Western Meadowlark
Sturnella neglecta
Courtesy US FWS,
John & Karen Hollingsworth,
Photographers, images.fws.gov

Everyone recognizes bird-watchers by their binoculars. Bird-listening, on the other hand, takes nothing more than your ears, and attention to Nature’s sounds. Listening for bird songs, then, may require your concentration at first, but soon it will become second nature. Some common birds of Utah are more easily found and known by their song than their appearance.
The Canyon Wren is one of my favorites. Its song is unique in North America. This tiny cinnamon-brown bird weighs little more than a marshmallow, but it belts out a cascading song big enough to reverberate off the rocky cliffs and slopes that are its home. You may not see the canyon wren, but try conversing with it by whistling its song in reply. I listen year-round for its song throughout Utah and our neighboring states, particularly in mid-elevation canyons.

Bird song can help you distinguish related bird species too. On the Great Plains, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks co-occur. The plumage of these two starling-sized species is nearly identical, but their songs differ dramatically. The eastern species sings but a few clear notes, but our western meadowlark sings a beautiful musical warble.

Canyon Wren
Catherpes mexicanus
Courtesy & Copyright © 2007,
Lou Giddings, Photographer
utahbirds.org

Meadowlarks reside here year-round, typically in grassy areas, pastures and foothills. Their backs are brown, but the male’s chest is a brilliant yellow the color of fall aspen leaves. Males are frequently seen singing atop a fence post. Hearing a meadowlark always makes me smile, they seem so cheery. And that is another reason for listening to birds, for the sheer enjoyment of their song.

In the months to come, we will bring you more of Kevin Colver’s fine bird recordings to enjoy, interpret and learn. These are music lessons that everyone can enjoy!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photos: Western meadowlark, Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)

Canyon Wren, Copyright © 2007 Lou Giddings, Utahbirds.org

Recordings: Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading:

Last Blank Spots on the Map

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Today the river corridor still retains
its wild and pristine qualities.
Copyright 2009 Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything

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

The Green River is one of Utah’s signature waterways. It begins high in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and winds southward 730 miles to join the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. 60% of river’s extent lies in Utah– attracting river runners, archaeologists, fishermen, hunters and hikers. And of course, geologists.

Desolation boasts steep dramatic walls.
From the top of the Tavaputs Plateau to the river
is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Click to view larger image,
Photo Copyright 2009 Dan Miller

It’s hard to believe that less than 150 years ago, most of the Green and the Colorado canyonlands were unlined areas marked “UNEXPLORED” on maps. One such place was the area between Uinta Valley and Gunnison’s Crossing — now called Green River, UT. Another blank spot lay south of the crossing all the way to Paria which is now called Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

To some folks, a blank spot on a map is an irresistible call to come and see what’s there. So it was with John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran working as a curator in a small natural history museum in Illinois. He became intrigued with exploring the canyons of the Colorado and the Green after spending some time out west collecting rock samples.

Lighthouse Rock 1871
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Impatient for adventure and discovery, Powell quickly assembled a crew of nine men –mostly rough and tumble mountain men used to living off the land. They set off from Green River WY and were making good time until disaster struck in the Canyon of Lodore. One of the boats hit a boulder, and a third of the food and half of the cooking gear sunk to the bottom of the river. A week later, a fire destroyed more food and gear. But eventually, five of the original nine made it all the way to the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona.

A second expedition benefited from more funding, planning and hindsight. This time round, Powell chose a more scientifically-minded crew including a geologist, cartographer and photographer to research and document the trip. Once again they launched from Green River, WY. Powell perched in an armchair strapped to the middle bulkhead of a boat named after his wife, the Emma Dean . He read poetry to the crew as they floated along calm stretches of the river. The crew ran the Green and then started down the Colorado without any major incidents. After overwintering on the north rim, they ran the rapids of the Grand Canyon in late summer of the following year.

John Wesley Powell with Tau-gu
a Paiute, 1871-1872
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Upon return, surveyor Alven Thompson completed a topographic map of the region, and Powell’s monumental account was published in 1875 by the Smithsonian Institution.

The last “UNEXPLORED”s on the United States map were now replaced by specific landscape features with measured altitudes. Nowadays we still use the many evocative names that Powell and his men bestowed during their travels. Names like Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Dirty Devil River, Escalante River, Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon tell us something of the experiences of these brave men as they were exploring Utah’s last mysterious places.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Additional thanks to Rey Lloyd Hatt and the friendly staff of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT.

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

Images: Copyright Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green

Powell images: Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Aton, James M. and Dan Miller (photographer) 2009. The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green. Logan: Utah State University Press.

http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=6523

Stegner, Wallace. “ Green River: The Gateway” in Blackstock, Alan. 2005. A Green River reader. Salt Lake City: University Utah Press.
http://www.amazon.com/Green-River-Reader-Alan-Blackstock/dp/0874808375

John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT http://johnwesleypowell.com/

USGS. 1976. Geological Survey Information 74-24. John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist.
http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/geology/publications/inf/74-24/index.htm [Accessed October 30 2009]

Spruces in the Urban Landscape

Colorado Blue Spruce
Courtesy Linda Kervin

A spruce tree was felled in my neighborhood recently. I have no quarrels with its removal, especially since it was leaning over my roof. But some wild neighbors were not so upbeat about the incident. A Red Squirrel scolded anyone within earshot. It had lost its secure pathway between the front and backyards. Now it must run on the ground before once again climbing into the safety of loftier pathways.

Spruce trees have much to offer the non-human inhabitants of our urban landscapes. The noisy Red Squirrel may also have been complaining about the loss of a nest. Both squirrels and birds like to nest in spruce trees.
The dim interior of the spruce is a good place to look for owls roosting during daylight.

Spruce trees shelter animals during storms, their dense branches providing a dry, calm haven from wind, rain and snow.

Spruces offer a high perch from which every bird, house finch to crow to robin, can declare their territory by song sung lustily from the topmost branches.
When the Sharp-shinned Hawk swoops the birdfeeder for a feathery meal, the juncos and chickadees scatter to hide themselves in the spruce’s embrace.

Last winter, flocks of White-winged Crossbills descended upon Utah. Their bill crosses at the tip, which makes it perfect for prying open spruce cones to get to the tasty and nutritious seeds. These birds wander the Northern Hemisphere in search of abundant cone crops of spruce and other conifers.

The noble, lofty spruce is more than a decorative landscape tree. It offers food, home, safety and shelter to our wild neighbors.

Our theme music was written by Don Anderson and is performed by Leaping Lulu from their CD High Road, Low Road. Our bird music is provided by Kevin Colver.
Credits:

Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

 

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey, A Life
Cover Courtesy
University of Arizona Press

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

Utah nature has influenced a number of eminent nature writers, Edward Abbey among them. A novelist, essayist, and poet, he especially loved the desert southwest– the slickrock desert of southeastern Utah had a special place in his heart. He once declared: “Within this underslung lopsided rump-sprung dough-bellied highly irregular parallelogram lies the least inhabited, least inhibited, least developed, least improved, least civilized, least governed, least priest-ridden, most arid, most hostile, most lonesome, most grim bleak barren desolate and savage quarter of the state of Utah—the best by far. “

Undeniably one of our best western writers. Abbey has been called a “national treasure,” and Thoreau of the American West. He has also been called an arrogant self-centered bigot, a militant conservationist, and America’s crankiest citizen. He was full of contradictions about his own beliefs about nature and society. He could run on and on about the “hooved locust,” his name for cows, grazing everywhere on public land. Then he would order a steak from a restaurant a few hours later.

Born in 1927 in Pennsylvania, Abbey came west to study at the University of New Mexico. He moved to Utah in 1956 to take a job as a ranger in Arches National Monument. During his time in Arches, he created a multi-volume journal of his experiences. He later collapsed the journal material from three seasons into one season to produce one of the bestselling books on nature ever written, Desert Solitaire.

The very first Earth Day, April 22nd 1970 drew millions of people to numerous locations around the country. Abbey was invited to speak in Logan by organizers Thomas Lyons and Ingrid Eisenstadt. He accepted and was favorably impressed by the area and its people. When the University of Utah offered him a post as the first Writer in Residence, he accepted, spending much of his time with Ingrid in Logan in a little house on 6th East.

Abbey didn’t stay in Utah for long. He was a restless man, roving around in search of wilderness or adventure and in pursuit of a number of women, 5 of which became wives at different times of his life.

Eventually, Tucson became his main residence. But he still made many trips to Utah, spending time here and there visiting friends and wild places.

Abbey died in 1989, perhaps in part a victim of his own hard living. As he requested, he was placed in an old sleeping bag and buried beneath a pile of rocks to keep the coyotes away with “No comment” engraved on his gravestone. A wake was held in Saguaro National Monument and then in Moab where 600 of his friends celebrated his life and writing.

Information for this program was gathered from Edward Abbey : A Life by James Calahan. Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

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

Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Abbey, Edward. 1990. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone; Reprint edition http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Calahan, M. James. 2001. Edward Abbey : A Life. University of Arizona Press http://www.amazon.com/Edward-Abbey-James-M-Cahalan/dp/0816522677

www.abbeyweb.net