Clark’s Nutcracker

Clark's Nutcracker Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service Dave Menke, Photographer
Clark’s Nutcracker
Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service
Dave Menke, Photographer
Skiing a few miles into a lovely northern Utah canyon in frigid, single digit temperatures I was startled by an abrasive sound rolling down slope from a thick cover of conifers. A Clark’s nutcracker! My spirits were warmed by several degrees.

Lewis and Clark have left their names on many plants and animals in our western mountains. The Clark’s Nutcracker, a member of the jay family, has a long list of special attributes well beyond the norm.

This “forester bird” has planted countless millions of trees from Canada to Mexico, provided food for many other critters including the mighty grizzly bear, and has amazed animal behaviorists with their uncanny recall ability.
Nutcrackers often bury their seeds at the perfect depth for germination. They bury pine seeds in hidden caches in fall, then re-find them during winter, allowing them to nest in late winter, when the forest is still covered with snow. They bury clusters of four or five seeds per location caching up to 500 seeds per hour. They often hide seeds near the base of tree trunks, a tendency that may play an important role in their spatial memory system. Landmarks help nutcrackers remember the precise locations of caches.

By the end of the fall, each nutcracker has stashed tens of thousands of seeds. Clark’s spend so much time hacking apart pinecones that sticky resin sometimes dyes their grey feathers a reddish-purple color. But the prize is worth the effort: Pine seeds are a nutritious food, packed with fats, proteins, and carbs.

Crucially, the birds will hide seeds as far as 20 miles away from their source trees. In doing so, they help trees expand their territory into new areas. As development continues to fragment forests and climate change demands rapid migration, “animals that move between patches of habitat are increasing in importance.

Other feeding habits include catches flying insects in the air, digging insect larvae out of wood, eating berries, insects, snails, eggs, carrion, and even young of other birds, which I observed directly near White Pine Lake in the Bear River range. Knowing them as a seed eater, I stunned to watch as a mixed flock of forest birds mobbed the Clarks who had a youngster in its beak it had plucked from its nest.

Nutcrackers have an especially close relationship with the whitebark pine. Unlike other pines, whitebark seeds don’t have “wings” that let them ride gusts of wind across the landscape. Instead, the seeds and cones seem optimized for a nutcracker’s bill, and as such, the trees rely on the birds’ forgetfulness to reproduce. It’s possible that the birds could play a part in helping the whitebark pine recover. Human foresters are now studying how to attract Clark’s Nutcrackers to aid in forest restoration.

Climate change is forecast by Audubon’s climate model to decrease winter and summer range by roughly equal amounts—around 70 percent by 2080. Tied as this species is to the high western coniferous forests, it seems unlikely it will be able to adapt to any new shifting climate space, as is true with another favorite subalpine resident- the pica, a miniature member of the rabbit family.

Jack Greene, Getting wilder about Utah by the minute!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Jack Greene
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, Lewis and Clark’s Taxonomic Legacy, Wild About Utah, Nov 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/lewis-and-clarks-taxonomic-legacy/

Strand, Holly, Cache and Retrieve, Wild About Utah, Jan 19, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/cache-and-retrieve/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Nutcrackers and Squirrels, Farmers of the Forests, Wild About Utah, Aug 26, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/nutcrackers-squirrels-farmers-forests/

Clark’s Nutcracker Identification, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Clarks_Nutcracker/id?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIoL3708zi3wIVCtNkCh2bVAg1EAAYASAAEgKk3vD_BwE

Clark’s Nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana, Audubon Field Guide, National Audubon Society, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/clarks-nutcracker

,

Winter Bird Feeding

Red-breasted Nuthatch mining out the nest site Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Red-breasted Nuthatch mining out the nest site
Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
This time of year, we see a cast of characters flying among the trees and bushes as they search for food and a place to nestle to conserve warmth and energy.

Black-Capped Chickadee Copyright Stephen Peterson, Photographer
Black-Capped Chickadee
Copyright Stephen Peterson, Photographer
One of these characters is the Black-capped Chickadee a small bird with a black head, white cheeks and cream colored feathers under its grey wings. The Chickadees are found in all 29 Utah counties.

Dark-eyed 'Oregon' Junco Male, Junco hyemalis montanus, Courtesy and copyright 2008 Ryan P. O'Donnell, Phorographer
Dark-eyed ‘Oregon’ Junco Male, Junco hyemalis montanus, Courtesy and copyright 2008 Ryan P. O’Donnell, Phorographer
Another member of the cast is the Dark-eyed Junco, a medium-sized American sparrow with a neat-flashy look. It has solid slate-grey feathers over most of its body except for its pink sides and white underbody. The Junco is found throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The third cast member is the Red-breasted Nuthatch which has a pale red chest, grey wings and a black feathered head with stripes of white below and above the eyes. Its tail is short, its bill is long and it’s one of the few birds that climbs headfirst down trees.

Red Breasted Nuthatch Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Red Breasted Nuthatch
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
All three birds find the majority of their winter nourishment from nuts and seeds, since most insects are hiding in dormancy or are dead.

When a harsh winter hits and heavy snow fall covers their natural food source, the birds can rely on bird feeders to find nourishment.

Although winter bird feeders are beneficial, some Utah residents may hesitate putting out nuts and seeds for the following reasons:

One, they worry the birds may become dependent on the feeders.

Clark Rushing, assistant professor in Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU explains, “In a typical winter these birds don’t need the extra food from a bird feeder to make it through the winter, but…when the snow covers up their [natural food source] they rely on the feeders which increase the birds’ survival rate over the winter. When [snow] conditions [return to normal]… they go right back to feeding on natural sources.”

Another concern some Utah residents have is if the feeders will impact the birds’ migratory behaviors. They worry species who normally migrate might stick around for the winter because they found food.

Rushing says, “This is not a huge concern because most of these bird species use photo period as a que to migrate, which means they start migrating in the Fall when the days start getting shorter and food is still relatively abundant – so food is not the que that these species use to migrate.”

When starting the hobby of winter bird feeding, there are a few good tips to remember.

First, is the importance of keeping your feeders clean. Some diseases can be spread by bird feeders, so keeping them clean is essential.

According to Rushing, “The recommendation is to take [a feeder] down every two weeks, empty it and give it a light cleaning. [Avoid using] harsh detergents. If you see evidence of mildew or mold then a diluted bleach mixture, which you then rinse off, can be really beneficial. Let the feeder completely dry before you put bird seed in it. When [the feeder is wet] is when you have the most problems, so keep it dry.”

Having a variety of feeders and foods is the best way to attract an assortment of birds to your yard during the winter months.

Rushing adds, “The great thing about bird feeding is it connects people to wildlife.”

It’s one of the few ways you can enjoy watching wildlife out your own dining room window throughout the cold winter months.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
 Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
 Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
 Black-Capped Chickadee, Courtesy and Copyright Stephen Peterson, Photographer
 Junco, Courtesy and copyright 2008 Ryan P. O'Donnell, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio courtesy and copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Dr Clark Rushing, Assistant Professor, Wildland Resources, USU S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources, http://qcnr.usu.edu/directory/rushing_clark

Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesL-R/RedBreastedNuthatch.htm

Black-capped Chickadee, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/Profiles/BlackCapChickadee.htm

Dark-Eyed Junco, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesD-K/DarkEyedJunco.htm

eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://ebird.org/home

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Hellstern, Ron, Bird Feeding in Winter, Wild About Utah, Nov 26, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/bird-feeding-in-winter/

Hellstern, Ron, Project Feederwatch, Wild About Utah, Feb 26, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/project-feederwatch/

Hellstern, Ron, Winter Bird Feeding, Wild About Utah, Dec 4, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/winter-bird-feeding/

Kervin, Linda, Bird Feeding, Wild About Utah, Nov 25, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/bird-feeding/

Ron Imagines a World Without Trees

Whether you live in a desert, a city, a suburb or a farm, your life would change if you lived in a world without trees. You may be a person who appreciates their ecological connections, or have complete disregard for them. As William Blake said, “The tree, which moves some to tears of joy, is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way.1

So, take a moment and consider the way the world would look, and function, without trees. Currently, forests cover about 30% of the Earth’s land surface. But that’s a loss of 1/3 of all trees just since the beginning of the industrial era. The top five largest forests are located in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., and China.
Whether you think climate change is natural or human-caused, it affects forests by altering the intensity of fires, creating windstorms, changing precipitation, and enabling introduced species to invade. And the World Resources Institute estimates that tens of thousands of forested acres are destroyed every day.

Sometimes even fragmenting forests can produce harmful results as die-backs occur along the edges, and certain wildlife species will not breed unless they live in large tracts of forested areas. It has been said that roads, which are a cause of fragmentation, are the pathways to forest destruction.

Most people know that trees take in Carbon Dioxide for growth, and release Oxygen via photosynthesis. But trees also remove many air pollutants, provide cooling shade and protection from wind and the sun’s harmful Utra-Violet rays. They can be used as privacy screens, they prevent soil erosion, and are the foundation of wildlife habitat on land. Some provide food, can provide serenity and solitude, and have been proven to reduce stress levels. Their fallen leaves decompose into valuable soil. They reduce the Heat-Island Effect in cities, and are more resistant to climate change impacts. Research has shown they improve retail shopping areas, and speed recovery time for those in health care centers.

For the budget-conscious folks, a mature tree can raise home-property values by as much as $5000. And think about those beautiful Autumn colors.

Ron Imagines a World Without Trees: View of Argyre Basin on Mars Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech https://wildaboututah.org/wp-admin/upload.php?item=8521
View of Argyre Basin on Mars
Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech
Composed from images taken by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Although there seems to be a number of humans who would volunteer to live on planet Mars, would we really want planet Earth to mirror that treeless image?

Perhaps a re-evaluation of trees is warranted. Ponder these imaginative thoughts penned by well-known writers:
Ralph Waldo Emerson: At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back.

William Henry Hudson: When one turned from the lawns and gardens into the wood it was like passing from the open sunlit air to the twilight and still atmosphere of a cathedral interior.

Stephanie June Sorrrell: Let me stand in the heart of a beech tree, with great boughs all sinewed and whorled about me. And, just for a moment, catch a glimpse of primeval time that breathes forgotten within this busy hurrying world.

One way for us to resolve tree issues, is to plant them. And the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. But the next best time to plant them is today.

“Silence alone is worthy to be heard.” – Henry David Thoreau

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: CourtesyCourtesy NASA/JPL Caltech
Audio: Contains audio courtesy and copyright Friend Feller, Utah Public Radio, UPR.org
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Upton, John, Could Common Earthly Organisms Thrive on Mars?, Pacific Standard, May 21, 2014, https://psmag.com/environment/mars-81952

Voak, Hannah, A World Without Trees, Science in School, https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Marriage_of_Heaven_and_Hell.html?id=YUa8AQAAQBAJ

Hudson, William Henry, The Book of a Naturalist, p4, https://books.google.com/books?id=NA4KAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA4&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://forestry.usu.edu/

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur: Visitors can see over 1,500 dinosaur fossils exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Dinosaur National Monument. Image courtesy NPS, Dinosaur National Monument
Visitors can see over 1,500 dinosaur fossils exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Dinosaur National Monument.
Image courtesy NPS, Dinosaur National Monument
My last WAU described the glories of the Colorado Plateau, to which I must return. The very northern reach of the plateau intersects the mighty Uintah Mountains and the Uintah Basin. This magnificent landscape also intersects with a complexity of cultures including Utah Natives, Utah State University, hard core birders, naturalists, paleontologists, mineral extraction, outlaws, and prospectors. This very “out of the way” part of the plateau (meaning well away from an interstate highway and large urban areas) offers scenery and rugged wildlands equal to Southern Utah with far lower numbers of tourists.

Douglass Quarry
Dinosaur National Monument
Courtesy National Parks Service
When my USU students and I first met the enclosed cliff covered with an array of dinosaur debris, our senses were overwhelmed with what stood before us. This incredible display has caught on internationally. Everything remains imbedded in the rock where these giant beasts drew their final breath. Parts of eleven different species are scattered about as you gaze upon this marvel.

A eye popping drive to the Echo Park overlook, view 300 square miles of sublime deeply cut canyons by the Green and Yampa rivers rivaling the grandeur of Canyonlands National Park. Gaze down on the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers, and far above the Gates of Lodore where Powell’s “Voyage of Discovery” met their first gnarly rapids that laid waste to boats and supplies.

“Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing, Recoiling, turmoiling, and toiling, and boiling” quoted by a crew member from a poem by Robert Southy.

The Green River enters Dinosaur at the monument’s northern boundary and flows out of the monument 58.5 miles later, just south of Split Mountain. 47 miles upstream from Dinosaur’s boundary, Flaming Gorge Dam has regulated the Green since November 1962. The impoundment has severely altered the river’s natural regime below the dam. Before Flaming Gorge Dam, the Green River was often clouded by dirt, silt, and other sediments; was subject to high spring flows fed by snow melt; and the water temperature could range from near freezing in winter to almost 70°F in summer.
With the opening of the dam, these conditions largely disappeared. Spring flows, temperature fluctuation, and turbidity (the cloudiness of the water) were all reduced. The Green River downstream from the dam became a much clearer, cooler, and calmer river which added four species of fish to the endangered species list.

The Yampa is the only remaining free-flowing tributary in the Colorado River system. It harbors outstanding examples of remnant native cottonwood willow and box elder riparian communities, and it provides critical habitat for these endangered fish.

Prior to November 1962, the Yampa and Green rivers were very similar in their discharge, water chemistry, sediment load, and fish communities. Pre-dam similarity between the Yampa and the upper Green creates offer an unparalleled opportunity for comparison studies that help guide restoration efforts in riparian systems far beyond the monument’s boundaries.

Include Josie Basset Morris’s historic cabin in your itinerary. Josie was a female maverick who set up shop in the eastern Utah wilds. Josie brewed illegal chokecherry wine during the 1920’s and 30s prohibition era. Excellent birding exists in the large cottonwood trees surrounding the cabin and Cub Creek riparian area. From The Hog Canyon trail begins here which leads to a box canyon for more of nature’s delights.

Jack Greene- I’m totally Wild About Utah

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US National Park Service, Dinosaur National Monument
Audio:
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Earl Douglass and Dinosaur National Monument, Wild About Utah, Oct 2, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/earl-douglass-and-dinosaur-national-monument/

Strand, Holly, Paleontological Paradise, Wild About Utah, Sep 23, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/paleontological-paradise/