Wild About Utah Wildlife
and the Places They Need

Male Ring Necked Pheasant, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Male Ring Necked Pheasant, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
The Wild About Utah archives were one of the first local resources I learned of as a newcomer curious about the large birds striding across my backyard, so it should come as no surprise to learn that it drew me to Utah Public Radio and the Bridgerland Audubon Society, where I am learning all the time, and so pleased to be contributing to the celebration of 15 years of Wild About Utah on Utah Public Radio!

UPR and the Bridgerland Audubon Society are a good fit because of our shared interests in uplifting, informing, and connecting our audience to the world – to “inspire the mind, engage the imagination and perpetuate the habit of lifelong learning.”*

Many listeners know that “Audubon protects birds and the places they need today and tomorrow.”, and some know that Audubon holds a vision for “A future where birds thrive across the Americas because Audubon is a powerful, diverse, and ever-growing force for conservation.”, but everyone needs to know that the driving purpose is that “When we create conditions for birds to thrive, we create conditions for people and the planet to thrive, too.” The Bridgerland Audubon Society’s Amalga Barrens Sanctuary/ Cutler Marsh Important Bird Area (IBA) is a prime example of conservation in action:

The Bridgerland Audubon Society’s 146 acre Amalga Barrens Sanctuary Migratory Bird Protection Area (MBPA) includes one mile of Clay Slough [cow]- or “slew”! – open water for waterfowl and wading birds, and is part of the Cutler Reservoir and Marsh, a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) within the Great Salt Lake watershed. Water in an arid sagebrush steppe provides essential respite for migratory waterfowl, a few species of which are hunted on most other marshland in the region. Pickleweed, bulrush, cattail, and saltgrass provide cover, nesting, and food for birds and small mammals. Additional food sources include water insects such as water boatmen (corixids), and water mites.
Since 1927 Cutler reservoir and marsh have provided nearly 10,000 acres of varied habitat including open water, lowland riparian, wetland, wet meadow, playa, mudflats, grassland and agricultural fields for nesting, wintering, and stopover site for over 165 species of birds. White-faced Ibis, American Pelican, Long-billed Curlew, Black-necked Stilt, Avocet, Sandhill Crane, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Great Blue Heron are noteworthy.

Cutler IBA stakeholders include PacifiCorp, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, with the 150 acre Bud Phelps Wildlife Management Area, Bridgerland Audubon Society, and the Utah State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Bear River sovereign land).

I have not forgotten those large birds which stride through my backyard: they’re the Ring-necked Pheasant, a game species introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1800s,** and it turns out the reason you’re likely to see one well-dressed gentleman with a bright red face and a crisp white collar, accompanied by several well-camouflaged females is that “Pheasants practice “harem-defense polygyny” where one male keeps other males away from a small group of females during the breeding season.”**; another interesting fact is that “Ring-necked Pheasants sometimes cope with extreme cold by simply remaining dormant for days at a time.”** – now isn’t that a clever adaptation!

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

*The mission of Utah Public Radio is to enrich the lives of listeners throughout the State of Utah with quality programming designed to inspire the mind, engage the imagination and perpetuate the habit of lifelong learning. https://www.upr.org/mission

**Ring-necked Pheasant https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-necked_Pheasant/overview

Images: Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Utah’s Featured Birds and Viewing Sites: A Conservation Platform for IBAs and BHCAs, by Keith Evans and Wayne Martinson (2008)
Image of IBA sign can be seen here: https://rockies.audubon.org/chapters

IBA Factsheet https://nasworks.s3.amazonaws.com/resource_files/IBAs_PolicyUse.pdf

Cutler Reservoir & Marsh IBA of Global Importance UT08 https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/cutler-reservoir-and-marsh-ut08

Amalga Barrens eBird Checklist, 165 species https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L693440&yr=all&m=

Bud Phelps WMA, Utah DWR
“At the Bud Phelps WMA, we’re partnering with Pheasants Forever to plan work that includes food plots, other habitat enhancements and fencing. More woody vegetation is greatly needed on this WMA, which has been historically dominated by Garrison creeping meadow foxtail, a highly adaptable grass species. Measures to diversify the vegetation have been underway for a few years, and this project is part of that shift.” https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/766-better-habitat-morebirds.html

Strand, Holly, Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, October 21, 2006, https://wildaboututah.org/important-bird-areas/

Strand, Holly, Cutler Marsh-Amalga Barrens Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/cutler-marsh-amalga-barrens-important-bird-areas/

Bear Lake Limestone

Bear Lake Limestone: Pale Blue Bear Lake from the Shore, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Pale Blue Bear Lake from the Shore
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Blue Sky Reflected on the Water of Bear Lake, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Blue Sky Reflected on the Water of Bear Lake
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Stalagmites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Stalagmites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Soda Straw Stalactites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Soda Straw Stalactites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Small Ribbon  Stalactites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Small Ribbon Stalactites in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Stalagmite in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake, Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Stalagmite in Minnetonka Cave, St Charles Canyon, West of Bear Lake
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

If you stop at the overlook above Bear Lake on a sunny summer day, you may be as surprised as I was to find out that the gray limestone rocks in Logan Canyon are responsible for the brilliant blue color of the lake. Among the wealth of information displayed at the overlook is the fact that as rainwater and melting snow seeps down through the limestone, it picks up tiny bits of calcium. This calcium in the lake water acts as “millions of microscopic mirrors” that reflect the exact color of the blue sky.

Once I started thinking about water seeping through this limestone, I signed up to take a tour of the Minnetonka Caves located above St Charles towards the northern side of the lake. Millions of years ago, water began to seep into small fissures in the rock, widening into larger cracks and puddling into low spots. When the water table dropped, the water drained away, leaving large crevices and 9 open rooms behind.

The cave was discovered in 1906 by Edward Arnell, who was out hunting and shot a grouse that fell just over a nearby ledge. He scrambled down to retrieve the bird, and then he felt it: cold air. Pushing aside some rocks he found the hole in the hillside – just large enough for a man to crawl through.

He found a bear skeleton near the entrance, but no sign that humans had ever been inside the cave before.

In 1939 the WPA went to work enlarging the entrance. They chiseled 444 steps into the rock and paved a rough path between the rooms.

Today the cave is managed by the Montpelier Ranger Station, who lead tours into the cave in the summer months. When my turn came, I slipped on my hoodie, grabbed the ice cold railing, and started down the slippery steps with my group. A generator was keeping the path dimly lit while spotlighting some of the drip formations. I was expecting stalactites and stalagmites, but I was delighted to also see sheets of dripping water frozen in time and looking very much like drapes. Hollow tubes called “soda straws” hung from the ceiling.

About half a mile into the cave our guide stopped us and turned us around. The rest of the cave, he said, was reserved for the five species of bats that spend the winter here. The cave stays at a cool 40 degrees year round – a perfect temperature for hibernating bats who will lower their temperature to near freezing, slow their heartbeat from 200 to 10 beats a minute, and only take a breath every few minutes.

I guess I’ve always envied hibernating mammals like bats and bears who go to sleep fat, doze through the winter, and wake up thin in the spring.

Before we started back up the 444 steps, our guide had one more lesson for us. He turned off the lights to allow us to experience a few moments of utter darkness.

Just as the lights came back on, a drip of cold water fell from the cave ceiling and landed on me. I felt like I’d been kissed.

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


Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Bird Sounds Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver and Water at end Courtesy FreeSound.org, Sclolex, contributor
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

Boling, Josh, Karst Topography, Wild About Utah, November 23, 2o2o, https://wildaboututah.org/karst-topography/

“It is a karst limestone cave, formed from ground water flowing through limestone and carving sink-holes and underground waterways.”
Minnetonka Cave, USDA Forest Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ctnf/recarea/?recid=70736

Minnetonka Cave Brochure, USDA Forest Service, US Department of the Interior, 23.308.415.04/04, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev3_015684.pdf

History of Minnetonka Cave, The Herald Journal, August 6, 2020, https://www.hjnews.com/bear_laker/history-of-minnetonka-cave/article_950c5030-d82d-11ea-9bf1-47556f110eed.html

Davis, Jim and Milligan, Mark, Why is Bear Lake so Blue? and other commonly asked questions, Public Information Series 96, Utah Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, 2011, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/public_information/pi-96.pdf


Shorebirds: Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri), Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023, Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Shorebirds at Utah Lake, June 2, 2023
Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah
Shorebirds in August? I’d been told there was a robust migration during that time, but hadn’t tested the validity of such until a week ago. Three other young ladies joined me to do a count at the Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area near Tremonton Utah. And boy did I need their younger eyes and energy as we were inundated with shorebirds- avocets, stilts, curlews, greater and lesser yellowlegs, dowitchers, marbled godwit, western sandpipers, killdeer, and a flock of small peepes (short for small sandpipers).

Myriad other magnificent migrants joined the mixed flock- numerous duck species, juvenile black crown night herons by the dozens, herons, egrets, ibis, terns, etc., but they don’t qualify as shorebirds, so we enjoyed their presence, but they didn’t make the list.

A few other non-migrants were noteworthy- a burrowing owl that posed beautifully on a fence post emitting constant chatters, and a very fat, mature western rattler with many buttons on its tail./ The Salt Creek WMA is a jewel that gets few visitors given its “out there” location competing with the 80 thousand acre Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge next door, which boasts an outstanding visitor center, offering many resources and educational programs.

This was the first official fall shorebird survey conducted in 30 years at roughly 200 sites across 11 western states. These surveys fill a critical three-decade data gap in our understanding of migratory shorebird populations and their distribution. The results will inform management and policy efforts to ensure there are resources to support birds and the places they need during their migratory journeys.

The survey was organized by the Sageland [Collaborative] organization, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and several others, conducted by volunteers and biologists via airplane, vehicles, ATVs, boats and on our feet. This survey will occur for the next three years, during the same week each spring and fall, to coincide with the peak shorebird migration across the region.

We’re part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, whose wetlands support nearly one-third of the global population of Wilson's phalaropes, more than half of American avocets, 37 percent of black-necked stilts, and 21 percent of the North American population of snowy plovers.

Shorebirds are a diverse group of birds including sandpipers, plovers, avocets, oystercatchers, and phalaropes. There are approximately 217 recognized species globally, 81 of which occur in the Americas for all or part of their lifecycle with 52 species breeding in North America, many of whom visit Utah.

Shorebird are the endurance marathoner winners, some migrating 20,000 miles a year. Their remarkable hemispheric travels coincide with peak abundant food. In their global pursuit of food and breeding grounds, home is nowhere, yet everywhere. As a result, shorebirds are difficult to track, monitor, and protect. /Shorebirds are among a few groups of birds showing the most dramatic declines. Their decline began in the 1800s, in part due to market hunting. As humans have continued to alter the landscape, shorebird populations have further decreased, with declines increasing rapidly in recent decades.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m Wild About Utah’s wild Shorebirds!

Image: Courtesy & Copyright Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Used by permission, https://www.wildlife.utah.gov/news_photos/2023-06-02-shorebirds-at-utah-lake.jpg
Audio: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, https://logannature.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Van Tatenhove, Aimee, The Quiet Importance of Brine Flies, Wild About Utah, Nov 15, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/the-quiet-importance-of-brine-flies/

The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/

Migratory Shorebird Survey, The Sageland Collaborative, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/shorebirds?rq=shorebird

Statewide shorebird surveys restarted after 30-year hiatus; over 84,000 shorebirds counted during spring survey, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, June 2, 2023, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1679-statewide-shorebird-surveys-restarted-after-30-year-hiatus.html

Salt Creek Wildlife Management Area:
Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area, Utah Outdoor Activities, https://utahoutdooractivities.com/saltcreek.html
Salt Creek WMA, UtahBirds, Utah County Birders, https://www.utahbirds.org/counties/boxelder/BirdingSites.htm#SaltCreekWMA
1999-2001 Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey: (Salt Creek is #33 under Survey Areas) https://wildlife.utah.gov/waterbirdsurvey/
Salt Creek Habitat, GeoData Archive, Utah Geological Survey, Utah Division of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://geodata.geology.utah.gov/pages/view.php?ref=7975&search=%21collection104&offset=0&order_by=date&sort=DESC&archive=0

Slow Down, Paddle Backwards! An Educators Reflection on Instructional Style

EBLS faculty during a learning retreat to the San Juan River. The rapids called “The Ledge” were located just upstream of this photo. Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
EBLS faculty during a learning retreat to the San Juan River. The rapids called “The Ledge” were located just upstream of this photo.
Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
On an Edith Bowen Laboratory School teacher professional development retreat last summer rafting the San Juan River, a specific experience made me question my instructional style. I was sitting in the front of what they call a Ducky – a tandem inflatable raft with the passenger in the front and the experienced rower in the rear – with a vibrant and tough 6th grader named Kylie captaining from the rear. Although Kylie was in the captain’s seat, she was not an experienced rower. In fact, she was just learning, and I, from the front, was trying to teach her a thing or two from my very limited knowledge of rowing.

As I sat in the Ducky giving instructions, I reflected on my own instructional style and wondered how I would teach something that I had never taught before? I found myself giving her little challenges like “Try to get the nose of the boat to run straight over that gurgling water boil!” I also found myself showering her with positive, and specific reinforcement such as “I loved the way you corrected the steering by giving a tiny left forward paddle!” However, it wasn’t until we prepared to head down a set of rock smashing rapids called The Ledge that I found the golden nugget of self-knowledge I had been looking for.

Dr. Eric Newell, our guide and true rowing expert on the trip, was leading a separate 16ft. inflatable raft ahead of us. He called us over and was preparing Kylie and I for the upcoming rapid. “Stay pretty close behind me and let me run the rapid first so you can see the line.” All was agreed upon and Dr. Newell expertly launched toward the rapid with Kylie close on his heels. When the rapid was nearly upon us, Dr. Newell shouted backwards from his boat, “Give us a little more space!” In response, I shouted two important phrases back to my own young captain “Slow down,” then without allowing her time to think or react, I yelled “Paddle backwards!”

And this is where I stop the story, for those two phrases ended up being the key to my learning. The first phrase “slow down” was an objective, a goal. It was a problem to be solved and a self-driven adventure to be had by Kylie. You see, Kylie could have made any number of right or wrong decisions in response to the phrase “Slow down!” She could have spun the boat and went upstream, she could have dragged her paddles, or she could have even jumped out of the boat and anchored. There is no knowing, and no absolute safety or certainty in what Kylie could have done in response to the phrase “Slow down!” The only certainty is that she would have had to think, trust herself, and make a decision. In contrast, the second phrase “Paddle backwards!” was a directive, an order. It was a command to be followed and a prescription to be obeyed. There was nothing for Kylie to critically think about in response to this order. She had but one option which was to take the paddle, thrust it into the water, and heave in a reverse direction.

Ultimately, it was the distinction between these two phrases “Slow down!” and “Paddle backwards!” that forced me to reflect on my own instructional style. Am I the type of teacher to challenge my students to think critically by offering open-ended environments that yes, can be risky, but ultimately unmeasurably powerful? Or, do I merely pose teacher-centered directives that precipitate little more critical thinking and decision making than a person on a raft, being told to ‘paddle backwards.’

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild About Utah!

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski & Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/

San Juan River, Utah Office of Tourism, https://www.visitutah.com/things-to-do/River-Rafting/San-Juan-River