Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my!

Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my! Endangered Yellowstone Grey Wolf with Radio Collar Courtesy US FWS, William Campbell, Photographer
Endangered Yellowstone Grey Wolf with Radio Collar
Courtesy US FWS, William Campbell, Photographer
Wolves and wolverines in Utah? Oh my! As I prepare for a 3 day trip with students to Yellowstone, a stronghold for what once was, these iconic critters come to mind. The last wolves were cleared from Cache Valley in 1869. A predator drive through our valley was mustered, where every able-bodied citizen was called to arms to rid us of these villains. A wolverine met its demise on the hill where the Logan Temple now stands.

Thank goodness, we have awakened to the value of predators in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and for their aesthetic and spiritual value. After all, they coexisted along with their prey for millions of years before our species came along and began tinkering.

There are well-documented visits by these two species in Utah, including actual tactile experience. However, established breeding populations are yet to be found. Both require vast, relatively undisturbed wildlands to thrive.

Since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995, the Utah DWR has been able to confirm 20 wolves in our state. Nearly all confirmed sightings have been consistent with lone, dispersing wolves.

Due to a recent court ruling, wolves in much of Utah are once again listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act except a small portion of northern Utah where wolves are not welcome. There is a statewide wolf management plan and personnel to manage them. Any wolves that move out of the small, delisted area are considered endangered and are subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction.

A wolverine was recently spotted in Rich County, now wandering the Uinta Mountains with a GPS collar around its neck. This is the first wolverine ever captured in Utah history. The wolverine is a male, between 3-4 years old, and biologists say he is in excellent physical condition. They are excited to learn more about this elusive animal with only eight confirmed sightings in Utah since 1979. We are on the southern edge of the wolverine’s typical habitat. This GPS tracking will allow us to understand and manage wolverines in Utah.

Now on to Yellowstone where both species are well established. Around a hundred wolves in 8 packs, and about 7 wide ranging wolverines may be found in the park. Climate-change models predict that by 2050, the spring snowpack needed for wolverine denning and hunting will make the greater Yellowstone ecosystem a critical part of its southern range. Wolverines are so rarely seen and inhabit such remote terrain at low densities that assessing population trends is difficult and sudden declines could go unnoticed for years.

I doubt we will see a wolverine on our visit, but wolf sightings are a good bet as we will be led by a park wolf technician, that is if we don’t succumb to hypothermia before a howl is heard!

Jack Greene for BAS. With confirmed sightings of wolves and wolverine in our state, I’m even wilder about Utah!

Pictures: Courtesy US National Parks Service, William Campbell, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, https://upr.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

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

Wolves in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, Last Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolves.html#:~:text=Are%20there%20wolves%20in%20Utah,20%20wolves%20in%20the%20state.

Gray wolves again listed as endangered in most of Utah, A recent court ruling limits wolf-management options, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, March 1, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolf/wolves.pdf

Podmore, Zak, (Report for America), A gray wolf is in Utah for the first time in years. The state is setting traps, The Salt Lake Tribune, June 3, 2020, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/06/03/gray-wolf-is-utah-first/

Wolverine captured, collared and released in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, March 14, 2022, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1380-wolverine-captured-collared-and-released-in-utah.html

Miller, Jordan, Wolverine spotted in Utah this month marks third publicized sighting this year, The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 20, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/10/20/wolverine-spotted-utah/

A Tale of Green Inspirations

Green River Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Green River
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

In one of my first childhood books I met a washerwoman hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle who lived on a hilltop higher than the clouds that had a spring, peculiar rocks, and mysterious footmarks. Its author had studied and recorded both in words and watercolor detail in her sketchbooks everything from bird eggs and bees to caterpillars and cornflowers to water lilies and Flopsy Mopsy rabbits with naturalist precision.

What if children’s book author Beatrix Potter would have known Utah the way she captured interesting elements of places she visited while on her family holiday outings in the English Lake District, North Wales, and Scotland? I wonder how her mind might have played with our minty Green River, sometimes in Utah’s history known by the names Rio Verde and Seedskeedee. What would she have done with its Gates of Lodore or Desolation Canyon?

Green. Everywhere I look outside I see green. Perhaps that is why green is my favorite color. Nothing stops me in my tracks like chartreuse wolf lichen clinging to the bark of conifer trunks. What stories would Potter spin with that had she wandered through Utah’s forests? It is said that her favorite organism was actually fungi like the Amanita gemmata or jeweled deathcap, so much so that her naked-eye and microscope-enhanced renderings led her to compose an essay about spore germination for the Linnean Society in 1897.

The world knows her best for her Peter Rabbit tale, yet because she was such an observant nature artist, spinning fantastical stories about creatures in the wild and pairing them with companion pencil and watercolor illustrations begs little of the reader in the way of imagination.

Few may know her, though, for her beautiful nature journals. Her entry of a painted lady butterfly, zooming in specifically on the wing scales, or magnified studies of a ground beetle’s leg and elytra reveal hours she spent noticing. I marvel at how long it must have taken her to know amphibian structures and behaviors to craft a tale with such specificity. In “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” she portrays a frog punting like on the River Cam, fishing, and nibbling butterfly sandwiches. She draws him dipping his foot in the pond, swimming, and leaping across the meadow in his tattered macintosh. What would she have imagined the Northern Leopard frog thinking as it zigzagged through my lawn last summer? Why did it have to come from the far-away canal across concrete and road to my home before I noticed its distinctive snoring and clicking croak or learned to appreciate its tenacity?

Potter found equal perfection in “the highest and the lowest in nature,” aware and eager to capture it all with imagination and detail. As our world greens this spring, I hope we take time to sit and sketch the wonders, even if we don’t have the courage to eat “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Drost, Charles. Status of Northern Leopard Frogs in the Southwest. December 15, 2016. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/southwest-biological-science-center/science/status-northern-leopard-frogs-southwest

Larese-Casanova, Mark. The Call of Springtime: Utah’s Frogs and Toads. March 22, 2012. https://wildaboututah.org/the-call-of-springtime-utahs-frogs-and-toads/

Lear, Linda. About Beatrix Potter. 2011. The Beatrix Potter Society. https://beatrixpottersociety.org.uk/about-beatrix/

National Park Service. Northern Leopard Frog. https://www.nps.gov/articles/northern-leopard-frog.htm

Northern Leopard Frogs. Biokids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lithobates_pipiens/

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. 1906. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15077/15077-h/15077-h.htm

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. 1905. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15137/15137-h/15137-h.htm

Strand, Holly. Last Blank Spots on the Map. October 29, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Thomson, Keith. Beatrix Potter, Conservationist. May-June 2007. https://www.americanscientist.org/article/beatrix-potter-conservationist

Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866), Day by Day in Conservation History, Today in Conservation, July 28, 2017, https://todayinconservation.com/2020/04/july-28-beatrix-potter-author-and-conservationist-born-1866/

U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Lichens. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/didyouknow.shtml

Victoria and Albert Museum. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. 2022. https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/beatrix-potter

Webb, Roy. Green River. Utah History Encyclopedia. 1994. https://historytogo.utah.gov/green-river/

Wilkinson, Todd. Utah Ushers Its Frogs Toward Oblivion. High Country News. May 27, 1996. https://www.hcn.org/issues/60/1858

Woolley, Ralf R. The Green River and Its Utilization. United States Department of the Interior. 1930. https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0618/report.pdf

A game called ball; a game called chase

A game called ball; a game called chase: Sable Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Me and my partner have three dogs who love two games and this is their favorite time of year to play them. The first game is called ‘ball.’ There is one rule in ball: ball. The goal is to have the ball and taunt the other player that you have that ball. Sometimes, there are two balls and the stakes for both wealth and risk increase. But most of the time, there is just one. Me and the dog who loves ball the most, Sable, will go outside especially this time of year after all of our snow has melted and the ground has firmed well, and, with a ball chucker to ease my deteriorating shoulder, hunt for any token to play with. Usually she finds one first, leaping upon it like a fox hunting shrews in snow, then parades the ball with full royal vanity, pomp, and pride. My play then is to have another ball I’ve kept hidden in my pocket: the new most valuable ball. As I slowly reveal it, Sable freezes and stares. “Oh dear,” she thinks, “ball.” As I clasp it into the chucker, her jaw goes slack and now yesteryear’s ball drops to the ground with a dull thud. All she wants is this new old ball, because, well, ball.

Sable will then do one of three things. Most often, she gives a short enthusiastic dash in the direction that she believes I will throw the ball, then quickly sits to wait with patience, even though she’s already decided her lead. Sometimes, she will run all the way to the end of where she anticipates the arc to be complete to get an even more keen lead. And sometimes, she will try to snatch the ball right from the chucker. Wily is the game of ball.

Either way, as soon as she’s done one of those three things, I direct her to settle and wait. If she’s gone down the field to gain a lead, I will turn on my heels and throw the ball the other way. Ha. She must learn not to over-anticipate. If she is but a short way in front, I’ll throw the direction she anticipated to teach that good guesses are sometimes right. If she gets scrappy and goes for it before I’ve even let it go, I’ll make her sit and wait for it to already be downfield and out of sight, then when she’s settled, I let her go and she sprints like lightening to snatch the treasured new old ball. Once retrieved, she comes back in full tilt with fuller pride, and parades it yet again. I’ll find that first ball she dropped, and the game continues. New new old ball. Same new old game.

The second game played is chase. Sometimes it’s just my other two dogs which play, sometimes it’s all three, and sometimes it’s all four of us. This game is simple, though there is still one rule: chase. We’ll zip and zag all about the garden, ducking under trees, hiding behind bushes, and intermittently stalking the chickens as intermission to catch our breath. We run, tumble, and freeze when we all see a Eurasian collared dove unwittingly selecting millet off the ground while we are here, instead of biding its time in the safety of a perch until we’ve gone indoors. Even though chase requires fewer materials and less patience, it’s still, like ball, best enjoyed outside and in free form. It’s harder to break lamps that way, too.

So as our spring blooms and the ground firms, see what draws you to be outdoors yourself, whether it be games, or dogs, or robins, or sunshine. Rediscover that it’s no longer hard to love being outdoors if it was, just as each crocus and violet surely must renew that same urge each year after it, too, getting through winter. Remember that no matter which draw you choose, even if none at all, every day a new surprise awaits for patient and keen eyes: the raptures of such a season of renewal, emergence, and life. Doesn’t it feel good to be outside and play.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Images: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Swan Life

Swan Life: Tundra Swans in Flight Courtesy & © Mary Heers
Tundra Swans in Flight
Courtesy & © Mary Heers

Tundra Swans at Dusk Courtesy & © Mary HeersTundra Swans at Dusk
Courtesy & © Mary Heers

Swan Life Book Cover, Courtesy & © Copyright Mark Nicolaides, All Rights Reserved https://www.swanlife.com/about Swan Life Book Cover,
Courtesy & © Copyright Mark Nicolaides, All Rights Reserved

Tundra Swan in Flight Cygnus columbianus Courtesy US FWS Donna A Dewhurst, Photographer Tundra Swan in Flight
Cygnus columbianus
Courtesy US FWS
Donna A Dewhurst, Photographer

Swan Life: Tundra Swan Pair Cygnus columbianus Courtesy US FWS Tim Bowman, PhotographerTundra Swan Pair
Cygnus columbianus
Courtesy US FWS
Tim Bowman, Photographer

Mounted Swan at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mounted Swan at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Two weeks ago I got an excited phone call from a friend of mine in Fairview, Idaho.

“The swans are back,” she said. I hopped in my car and raced over to watch as hundreds of swans plodded over the bumpy cornfields, devouring the bits and pieces of corn left behind by the harvester.

My next stop was the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, and sure enough, hundreds of swans were there too, dipping their heads into the shallow water and pulling up one of their other favorite foods, pondweed.

These magnificent migrating birds had already flown hundreds of miles from southern parts of the hemisphere, and had hundreds of miles still to go. They were here to briefly rest and recharge.

What happens to these swans in the next few months is a somewhat private affair. The swans pair up for life, and fly north to build their nests in remote areas close to the arctic Circle. I was curious. So I sent away for a book, Swan Life by Mark Nicolaides, who won the trust of a pair of mute swans on a nature reserve in England, and was able to observe them raise their young in the wild.

Mark’s story begins with Kay, the female, sitting on her nest. Kob, the male, was standing guard. Kay sat on the nest, rain or shine, for 6 weeks. But very soon after the chicks hatched, Kay hopped out of the nest into the shallow surrounding moat. The bewildered chicks had no choice but to plunge headlong out of the nest and plop into the water. It was their day one, and time for their first swim. Also time to learn to forage for their own food. Unlike bird mothers who bring food to their chicks, Kay got her chicks out of the nest and led them to food.

Over the summer, the young swans stopped looking like gray balls of fluff. They put on weight, stretched out their necks and wings and grew thousands of feathers. They learned to flap their wings and walk at the same time. At five months, it was time to learn to fly. Kay waited for a windy day, and took them to an open stretch of water. Pointing into the wind, she galloped over the water, pounding her wings, and lifted off. The young swans raced after her, the breeze giving them that little bit of extra lift. Their tails were still draping along in the water, but it still counted as flight.

Mark writes how the young swans went wild – like players who score a goal in the World Cup. They beat the water into a foam, dove underwater and came up like sea monsters with their mouths wide open, and finished with a flip upside down.

Meanwhile the weather was changing and it was time to migrate south. Almost to a day, five months after they hatched, the young swans flew off one by one, to join other migrating swans and begin their own adult lives.

So if you missed seeing the Tundra swans passing through Cache Valley this month, you’ll have another chance when they pass through in the fall. These beautiful birds, weighing about 15 pounds and averaging a wingspan over 6 feet, are a sight not to be missed.

But what I like best is the thunder of their wings as they run across water and lift off.

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

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Book cover: Courtesy & © Copyright Mark Nicolaides, All Rights Reserved https://www.swanlife.com/about
Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Donna A Dewhurst and Tim Bowman, Photographers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
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

Nicolaides, Mark, Swan Life, Lulu Press, June 3, 2015, https://www.amazon.com/Swan-Life-Mark-Nicolaides/dp/1326281208
Mark Nicolaides’ website: https://www.swanlife.com/about

Tundra Swans, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tundra_Swan/overview

Strand, Holly, Til Death Do Us Part, Wild About Utah, February 21, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/til-death-do-us-part/

Tundra Swan, Utah Bird Profile, UtahBirds.org, http://utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/TundraSwan.htm
Other Photos: http://utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/TundraSwan.htm