Beaver Tail Strike

Beaver Tail Strike: Beaver swimming Courtesy NPS,  J Schmidt, Photographer
Beaver swimming
Courtesy NPS,
J Schmidt, Photographer
When I first saw a beaver in Cache Valley I thought I’d seen an alligator. I was sitting in the front of a canoe when a large head shot past the bow followed by a black tail that flew into the air and came down on the water with a resounding slap

“What was that?” I asked
“I don’t know,” my friend answered
“I think it was an alligator,” I said
By then then creature had disappeared and we paddled on.

I found out later that tail slapping is a common beaver behavior. Its a warning shot before the beaver dives for cover.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more. It came as a surprise to me to find out that when a beaver builds a dam, it is actually building a home. Inside a sturdy wall of sticks, rocks and mud, the beavers build a living space above the water line. It’s dry – and its safe because it can only be entered by swimming through underwater tunnels. Not a problem for a beaver who can swim underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

When the surface of the pond freezes over, the females will give birth. Its an extended family life – an adult pair, the yearlings, and the new kits. When winter is long, and with so many mouths to feed, the beavers have perfected their food storage. Hauling their favorite food, aspen , back to the lodge, they jam it into the muddy bottom of the pond. There is stays, fresh and crisp like any refrigerated food, until its needed.

When fur trappers arrived in Northern Utah in the 1800’s, European hat makers had discovered that felted beaver wool made the very best hats. Bear Lake became a hot spot. The historical marker just north of Garden City tells us,

“Donald MacKenzie, Jim Bridger, and a host of famous beaver hunters operated here. Two major summer frolics and trade fairs brought plenty of excitement to Bear Lake in 1827 and 1828.”

Trappers were harvesting up to 500 lbs a year. But by 1840, the beavers had become almost extinct. European fashion in hats moved on to silk – a good thing for the hat makers as well because the mercury used in the felting of beaver wool caused all kinds of neurological disorders. Its no joke the Hatter in Alice in Wonderland is mad.

Back in northern Utah, the beaver population slowly rebuilt, but the human population also grew and conflicts arose. Recently a farmer in Benson became irate when beavers began to redirect the flow of water through his irrigation canals

Beaver Health Exam Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
Beaver Health Exam
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
It’s the job of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to live trap and relocate these beavers. I was lucky to be allowed into the loop at this point.

When I picked up one of the smaller beavers, I could feel its heart going a mile a minute under my fingers. But it settled down as I sat in a chair holding it against my chest while it got a quick physical checkup.

Holding the beaver close, I had a good look at the nibble fingers on its front feet, the webbing on its back feet that can paddle along at 6mph, and the marvelous flat tail, a good rudder for swimming, a prop for standing on land, and perfect for slapping the water’s surface.

Take my word for it, once you’ve seen this slap up close, you won’t forget it.

I’m Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US NPS, Yellowstone Collection, J. Schmidt, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text & Voice: Mary Heers
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020,

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018,

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2015, June 15, 2015,

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 20-10, August 16, 2012,

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011,

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah Water Watch, Extension, Utah State University,

Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 189 pp. Online at:

Macfarlane W.W., Wheaton J.M., and M.L. Jensen. 2014. The Utah Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool: A Decision Support and Planning Tool. Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab, Utah State University, Prepared for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Logan, Utah, 135 pp. Available at:

Wheaton JM. 2013. Scoping Study and Recommendations for an Adaptive Beaver Management Plan. Prepared for Park City
Municipal Corporation. Logan, Utah, 30 pp.

Beaver Reintroduction Looks Positive for Stream Restoration
in Northern Utah, Utah Forest News, USU Forestry Extension, Utah State University, Volume 18, Number 3, 2014,

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Dam Good! Beavers May Restore Imperiled Streams, Fish Populations, Today, Utah State University, July 07, 2016,

Restoring Degraded Waters, One Pest at a Time, Utah State Magazine, Utah State University, December 7, 2021,

It’s Christmas Bird Count Time! Hallelujah!

It’s Christmas Bird Count Time! Hallelujah! Male House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer
Male House Finch
Carpodacus mexicanus
Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer

Cassin's Finch, Carpodacus cassinii Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Cassin’s Finch
Carpodacus cassinii
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Pine Siskin, Carduelis pinus Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Pine Siskin
Carduelis pinus
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is the nation’s longest-running community science project and it fuels international research throughout the year. Seasoned birders and beginners alike spend a day counting our local populations of bird species. Those just starting to notice birds can be valuable spotters in the mobile sectors, and can easily learn to observe the subtle differences between similar species we’re likely to notice when looking out the window from home for a few minutes.

The Bridgerland Audubon Society launched the Cache Christmas Bird Count watch circle in 1955, contributing to a tradition launched in 1900 by ornithologist Frank M.
Chapman who out of concern for dwindling bird populations managed to change the culture from annual Christmas bird shooting contests into bird counting contests. Bridgerland Audubon always schedules on the first Saturday on or following December 14th, and typically documents about 100 species of birds.

The Cache Valley watch circle is divided into eleven sectors and includes all homes within a 7.5 mile radius from the center of the circle which is located at Main Street & Hyde Park Lane (Hwy 91 & 3600 N). The same 15-mile diameter watch circle is surveyed each December – that’s about 177 square miles, and we can use all the help we can get, especially from folks watching from home. Don’t worry if you can’t identify all of the birds you see – you will just report the ones you do recognize. You can also get help by posting photos to the Bridgerland Audubon Facebook group.

The Home Sector provides a lot of extra data on about 32 species, the most common of which are available on a one page photo-illustrated checklist on the Bridgerland Audubon website where you will also find links to the free Merlin App which identifies birds by their songs. The Visitors Bureau has a nice selection of Utah Bird field guides which are great for beginners.

Bird identification is all about learning to notice the little differences in size, coloration patterns, shape of the beak, the crown of the head, and the end of the tail. For example a House Finch and a Cassin’s Finch may look the same at first glance, but the House Finch has streaks on the side of the body, a rounded tail tip, and the red over the eyes is more like a headband than a top hat. The Cassin’s Finch has a notched tail and lacks those streaks on the breast and and sides. The Pine Siskin looks like a tiny House Finch but it has a hint of yellow on its wings and the beak is small and pointed. Don’t forget that zero is a number! If you’re lucky you might even get creative inspiration as did one participant who didn’t see any birds but did write a poem which they asked be attributed to anonymous:

Christmas Count Lament:
I watched and watched all day,
not one bird did come my way.
Though snow gave way to sun,
still, not a single one.

No delicate song,
no fluttering wing;
no pecking or scratching
-no anything.

How less dimensional
the world would be,
if there were no bird song to hear
or fluttering to see.
– By Anonymous

Visit to find a Christmas Bird Count near you, and visit to join the local count on Saturday, December 18th, 2021. Preregistration is free but required. We will be observing COVID safety guidelines.

I’m Hilary Shughart with Bridgerland Audubon and I am Wild About Utah!

Photo: House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), Courtesy US FWS, Kramer, Gary, Photographer,
Photo: Cassin’s Finch (Carpodacus cassinii), Courtesy US FWS, Menke, Dave, Photographer,
Photo: Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus), Courtesy US FWS, Menke, Dave, Photographer,
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver,
Text & Voice: Hilary Shughart, President,
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart,

Additional Reading

Bridgerland Audubon CBC Toolkit,

National Audubon Data: Annual Summaries of the Christmas Bird Count, 1901-Present,

General Tips for Bird Identification:
Mayntz, Melissa, Jizz Definition – Bird Identification, Learn to Identify Birds by Jizz, Updated on 08/04/21

Tips from eBird on How to count large flocks of birds: “Big numbers of Moving Birds. Their are two ways to count large flocks of moving birds: either by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock; or by counting birds per unit of time.”

The annual plumage cycle of a male American Goldfinch – Sibley Guides

L.A.F., Illustrator, Dark Eyed Junco,, Copyright 2008-2021, Junco Coloring Page

Utah-Centric Books & Field Guides:
Tekiela, Stan, Birds of Utah Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Apr 21, 2003,

Fenimore, Bill, Backyard Birds of Utah: How to Identify and Attract the Top 25 Birds, Gibbs Smith, March 27, 2008,

Kavanagh, James, Utah Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (Wildlife and
Nature Identification) Pamphlet, Waterford Press, September 1, 2017,

Erosion Made My Favorite Places

Erosion Made My Favorite Places: Bluff of Little Flat Top Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer
Bluff of Little Flat Top
Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer

Muddy Creek Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer Muddy Creek
Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer

North Fork Pleasant Creek Terracing Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer North Fork Pleasant Creek Terracing
Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer

Blackburn Draw Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer Blackburn Draw
Courtesy and Copyright Shannon Rhodes, photographer

Brendan Wenzel says the inspiration for his picture book “A Stone Sat Still” was a familiar boulder nestled in a tidal inlet near his family’s home. This stone was a dining place, a perch, a tool, and a landmark, but dependably there day after day, year after year. When I shared this book as a writing workshop launch with fellow educators, it drew recollections of sandboxes, rock collections, garden pavers, mantle stones, stacked-stone cairns keeping us on the right trail, and deeper connections to fathers. I wrote about how stones definitely don’t sit still when I am around. When my father would take us fishing, my brothers and I would most likely be skipping every flat rock we could find across the lake’s surface instead of manning our poles. Even now I can’t resist rolling a moqui marble down desert slickrock or plucking up a river rock to chase scurrying stonefly larva beneath.

Dr. Eric Newell, director of experiential learning at Edith Bowen Laboratory School and summertime river rafting guide, wrote about the secrets stones hold for him: “I like to pick up rounded river rocks, turn them gently in my fingertips, feel the smooth contours, and wonder where they journeyed from to this resting place—how long did it take for the eons to shape and polish them? And what would rivers be without stones?—the meticulous ways the currents stack and sort boulders to sand grains by size, coming to understand that every wave on the surface of the river is created by stones beneath—and the metaphor that provides for seeing and understanding children, adults, and even myself.”

Mountains, boulders, stones, cobbles, gravels, pebbles, sand grains, silt, mud. If the water is muddy or the wind is dusty, we know erosion is happening. It forms valleys, smooths jagged rocks, and carves unexpected slot canyons in the desert. It also causes black blizzards and landslides. According to Mark Milligan of the Utah Geologic Survey, the early decades of the 1900s saw the Civilian Conservation Corps setting to work not only building canals and roads, but contour terracing to stall mountainside erosion here in Utah. There is a sign on Skyline Drive in the Manti-LaSal National Forest that reminds us that those CCC boys were digging horizontal trenches above our cities well into the 1950s.

Many people equate erosion with the destructive forces that wear down earth. Yet, in her book titled “Erosion,” Terry Tempest Williams pairs eroding with evolving. She wrote, “Water freezes and shatters stone; rocks fall from the force of gravity; new rapids appear in rivers. Storms gather and floods roar through dry washes, cutting and scouring a wider channel…” We have water, ice, wind, and time to thank for the erosion that created Natural Bridges and Arches, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Goblin Valley, and Muddy Creek and Blackburn Draw.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about erosion’s role in shaping Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller,
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Courtesy Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Atwood, Genevieve. Geology of Utah.

Manti-LaSal National Forest Visitor Guide.

Milligan, Mark. What Are Those Lines on the Mountain? From Bread Lines to Erosion-Control Lines. Utah Geologic Survey Notes, v. 42 no. 1, January 2010.

Olsen, Beth. Utah’s CCCs: The Conservators’ Medium for Young Men, Nature, Economy, and Freedom. Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 62, Number 3, 1994 by Utah State History.

Oskin, Becky. Mars on Earth: How Utah’s Fantastical Moqui Marbles Formed. 2014.

Wenzel, Brendan. A Stone Sat Still. 2019. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Williams, Terry Tempest. Erosion: Essays of Undoing. 2019. New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books.

Wise Old Coots

Wise Old Coot: Coot walking on ice Courtesy Pixabay, Mabel Amber, Photographer
Coot walking on ice
Courtesy Pixabay, Mabel Amber, Photographer
There’s a wise old coot who calls me up this time of year to plan to go bird spotting. I call him a coot, not because he’s crazy, though he is a bit, but because when you’re out on the marsh and if you’re a duck, who do you flock to for company? It’s not the swans or geese, that’s for sure. Too showy their lot, think they know it all. Those who know what’s actually good for them raft up with the coots. They’ve got the best parties after all.

But regardless, we’ll call this old coot ‘Val’, just a name picked out of a hat. I always look forward to these calls. “Patrick me boy, let’s go accurately count all the starlings at the hog farm!” he’ll declare. That’s code for, “let’s guess at starlings, but really look for great horned owls with thermoses full of cocoa with a kick, and engage in some not exactly trespassing but ‘once we did get shot at here’ while looking for birds down by the river.”

I like going bird spotting because it’s not exactly birding and not exactly bird watching. Sure, we’re watching out for birds, but it’s more formal than a waterfowler’s gaze, though just slightly. Our goal on these solstice forays are to identify and count the birds. For science of course. It’s also not the hyperformal birding because we ramble around in our coot raft, and while the birds are important, the cocoa is strong and that always makes determining the little tweeties a small riot, and we’re not that quiet. We’re more fun than birders.

The last time we went out, we divvied up responsibilities. There was a small army of us spotters. There was ‘Val’, myself, and three others. ‘Val’ drove one truck, and another spotter the other. The rest of us clambered for the heating inside and were supposed to yell, “STOP!” at any dark fleck we saw in the sky as we drove through the country.

All but myself I’d call expert birders, and so I felt very fortunate that I could drag them into the murkiness of bird spotting. I was calling out STOP at everything I saw so that we could identify it, while with naked eyes and not a book in sight the rest could glance past and know exactly what it was and how many. Only later did I realize that it was they who were elevating me from birding to spotting themselves. It was they who cracked open the hot cocoa and laughter after all. When out of your depth, always raft with coots.

Now, as you may expect, our count was perfect that year. Another record for starlings, a ferruginous hawk seent, a few red taileds, and even a screech owl spotted against thick bark through thicker foliage through the concrete flurries of snow, all without feeling in ear, boot, or mitt. It’s good that your eyes can work even when the rest doesn’t.

What I learned, though, besides what a ferruginous hawk is, wasn’t so much about birds. It was that it’s great fun to drive around in old trucks with coots looking for birds you don’t know exist. There are the serious benefits, like hearing the sage wisdom of elders, understanding a tradition that’s gone on longer than you’ve been born, and sharing cocoa. There are also the benefits of knowing a coot, which is no less serious, but would hate to be called serious. The ability to accurately count European starlings with laughter, learning what is in that cocoa, and getting a call about this time every year in a well-practiced Irish accent that rings, “Patrick my boy, let’s go count starlings at the hog farm.”

So if you’re out there ‘Val’, give me a call. I know last year was a bust, but this year, we’ve got the jabs. And definitely still bring your cocoa, but I’ll bring some backup, too. Also I’ll need to borrow some binoculars.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, MabelAmber, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon,

122nd National Christmas Bird Count, 62nd Cache Valley(Logan) Christmas Bird Count,