Mallard Musings

Mallard Musings: Fall Migration at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Courtesy & Copyright Brian W. Ferguson, Photographer
Fall Migration at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Brian W. Ferguson, Photographer
The Bear River Mountains near the Utah/Idaho border are the headwaters of the Logan River, which flows southwest through Logan Canyon, works its way westward through Logan, and converges with the Little Bear and Bear River about 5 miles west of town. All three rivers are halted by Cutler Dam to form Cutler Reservoir. The Bear River exits the dam which continues southwest and drains into the Great Salt Lake. The portion of the Great Salt Lake where the Bear River drains is managed by the federal Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge which holds spectacular opportunities to view some of nature’s most stunning birds. With a lovely visitor’s center and an auto tour route, even an inexperienced outdoorsman is likely to have a magnificent adventure observing birds interacting in an unmolested manner, unpressured by many elements of human development. If you haven’t ventured there, I recommend doing so and I suggest starting your journey at the visitor’s center near Brigham City. However, this segment is not about the fantastical birds at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Instead, it’s about a bird that many people see daily, and like me, have drifted through years of life without appreciating their beauty or their behavior.

Labs Alert by Passing Mallards, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Labs Alert by Passing Mallards
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Perfectly Camouflaged Pair, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Perfectly Camouflaged Pair
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Ready for Takeoff, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Ready for Takeoff
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Game of Tag, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Game of Tag
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

My back yard abuts the Logan River as it gently meanders through Logan, UT and my two Labrador Retrievers and I spend many sunny hours sitting in a lawn chair by its banks, enjoying the sound of water and wildlife that call this riverway home. Along with the typical presence of the Black-Capped Chickadees, Belted Kingfishers, American Robins, and Mourning Doves, the stunning green-headed Mallard Duck is a daily companion; one I have grown quite fond of. Often moving in pairs, these boisterous ducks go up and down the river. Sometimes they are flying, one way or the other, wings gliding but six inches off the top of the water. My wet tongued friends are always first to alert me of the flying passers when their heads pop up and ears prick alert. It seems like a dance for the ducks, as one launches from the water for no apparent reason, luring the others to follow. They fly but 50 yards up or down and raucously splash back into the water. No doubt, it seems that a hen is always leading the charge with one, or multiple, green heads following her around. Other times these ducks are bobbling along on the water this way or that. On their way downstream, they seem to stay in the middle and just bounce in the current like a bobber bobs on windy ripples. But on their way upstream, the perfectly camouflaged birds blend into the twigs and boulders on the bank as they pick their way along the side eddies and dabble as they go, heads down and butts erect, foraging for any aquatic insect or vegetation they may find nestled in the stones and debris along the riverbed.

These ducks don’t just stay in the waterway, and often frequent the yards along the river. When on land, these Mallards engage in a game of tag that seems both exhausting and exciting. The drakes seem to chase anything that comes their way, whether it is another drake or a hen. With obvious intentions, the game seems to escalate in the late winter/early spring months as the greenheads become vehemently passionate. These courtship rituals are quite a fascinating site to behold.

So thank you Mallards, for my time by the river just wouldn’t be the same without you to keep me company, and to stir observation and reflection.

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

Credits:

Images: Fall Migration at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge-Courtesy & Copyright Brian W. Ferguson, Photographer, Used by Permission
All other images, as marked, Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/, Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections and J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin. 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/

Mallard, Ducks Unlimited, https://www.ducks.org/hunting/waterfowl-id/mallard

Mallard Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/overview#

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/refuge/bear-river-migratory-bird

About Logan, Logan City, UT, https://www.loganutah.org/visitors/about_logan/index.php

Leavitt, Shauna, The Ecology in and around the Logan River, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/the-ecology-in-and-around-the-logan-river/

Water Inspires Writing & Drawing to Learn

Water Inspires Writing & Drawing to Learn: The first reach of the Little Logan River at River Hollow Park. This is the river’s connection to the Logan River, and in the proposed Logan River Watershed Plan it will be an excavated to bury piped water, severing the historic Little Logan River from the Logan River forever. Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer
The first reach of the Little Logan River at River Hollow Park. This is the river’s connection to the Logan River, and in the proposed Logan River Watershed Plan it will be an excavated to bury piped water, severing the historic Little Logan River from the Logan River forever.
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer
Water Inspires Writing & Drawing to Learn: The Little Logan River Anabranch & the PBS Utah Writers & Illustrators Contest for youth from Kindergarten through 6th Grade

Throughout history, cities and towns have often been established along the banks of rivers, because these waterways provide a source of drinking water, power, and transport links to other communities. The City of Logan, Utah, is no exception – in fact it was just over a century and a half ago, in the Spring of 1859, when the first white settlers chose to camp on the banks of the Little Logan River in what is now named Merlin Olsen Central Park. Right away, they began building mills and farming the fertile Island between the rivers. Our natural and cultural heritage are linked to water, so it’s an exciting opportunity to be inspired by the PBS KIDS Utah Writers & Illustrators Contest theme of “Our Water, Our Future”. Children in Kindergarten-6th Grade are invited to participate, and stories are accepted in English and Spanish, can be fiction or nonfiction, may be about your very own neighborhood or faraway lands. Anyone can take a look at the PBS Utah activity sheets and printable resources online.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood park where you go wading and tubing? Did you know that the Little Logan River flows through half a dozen beloved parks, including River Hollow Park which was established at the source, where the Little Logan River branches north from the Logan River. The Little Logan meanders through town where it used to power multiple mills, including Central Mills, established in 1867 and considered to be the oldest continuously-run business in the state. The river is an anabranch of the Logan River, a diverging branch of the river which re enters the main stream at the west edge of town. Fun Fact: In Australian Public Works Departments* an anabranch is called a billabong!

Speaking of water, if you put a shallow bowl of clean water out for birds you might see them flock to your little oasis for a drink and a careful Tai Chi-like bathing ritual, and with a heated bird bath in winter, you might witness a fascinating meeting of a variety of species gathering around the warm watering hole, perhaps sharing a quiet appreciation for the nutritious seeds in the nearby dried Sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, and Indian Rice Grass.

Hearing the birds brings to mind the insightful observations by Terry Tempest Williams, that “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”

Now is the time to celebrate the biodiversity supported by our rivers and lakes, and each and every life-sustaining drop of water in our watersheds.

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

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright, Hilary Shughart, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver AND Friend Weller, Retiring Engineer, Utah Public Radio, https://www.upr.org/people/friend-weller
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Full Power Flour: The relationship between the farmer, the miller and the baker are key to the success of Central Milling’s organic mission. By Darby Doyle https://www.visitutah.com/Articles/Full-Power-Flour

Little Logan River Topo Map https://www.topozone.com/utah/cache-ut/stream/little-logan-river/

An anabranch is a channel of water that leaves a river or stream and then rejoins again further downstream. An anabranch is considered to be part of the river or stream that it comes from.
An anabranch can be nearly half of a river’s flow of water. When there is an island in the river, an anabranch is created as water passes around the island. The smaller channel of water passing the island is an anabranch of the river. http://worldlandforms.com/landforms/anabranch/

PBS KIDS Utah Writers & Illustrators Contest: Our Water, Our Future https://www.pbsutah.org/kids/writers-illustrators-contest/?utm_source=sfmc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=03.21.24+E-news&utm_term=https%3a%2f%2fwww.pbsutah.org%2fkids%2fwriters-illustrators-contest%2f&utm_id=114875&sfmc_id=147746441

“Unlike Main Street, or Center Street, or 400 North Street, which are streets of commerce, the Little Logan River is the raison d’etre of the City of Logan. “
A History of Logan Island, by Virginia C. Parker, Logan, Utah, 2007, http://exhibits.usu.edu/exhibits/show/the-island-market/item/25944

Billabong https://cide.en-academic.com/dic.nsf/cide/17968/Billabong

Working Water in Cache Valley, Cache Pioneer Museum, Cache Chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, https://cachedupmuseum.org/in-the-news.html

Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, Sarah Crichton Books; First Edition (April 10, 2012) https://www.amazon.com/When-Women-Were-Birds-Fifty-four/dp/1250024110

ECONET April 2, Proposal to sever the Little Logan River from the Logan River, 5:30 p.m. Logan City Hall, 290 N 100 West Logan, UT, Bridgerland Audubon Society, March 29, 2024, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/econet-proposal-to-sever-little-logan-river-from-logan-river/

Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology

Logan Rivers evolving geomorphology: Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology: Children enjoying Logan River as they search for insects among the dropped sediments of the Logan River. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Children enjoying Logan River as they search for insects among the dropped sediments of the Logan River.
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Logan River’s geomorphology, or landform, has changed very little over the past 150 years in the mountain canyons. But where the river leaves the mountains and drops down onto Cache Valley’s floor, its geomorphology has changed dramatically.

A river’s geomorphology is how it interacts with its environment, how it changes and moves over time, how it picks up sediment and debris when its flowing fast then releases the sediments downstream where the river slows and spreads over open-flat landscapes.

Logan Rivers evolving geomorphology: Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology: Father and son enjoying a day of fishing on the reservoir behind First dam in the mouth of Logan Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Father and son enjoying a day of fishing on the reservoir behind First dam in the mouth of Logan Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
The route of Logan River is noteworthy. Peter Wilcock, department head of Watershed Sciences in the Quinney College of Natural Resources explains, Logan River cuts through a large amount of the Bear River mountain range [in northeastern Utah and southeastern Idaho] and is by far the biggest drainage from the range.

The river’s size has made a mark on the mountain. When all the tributaries and springs come together, the result is the fast-flowing river with great force for erosion. If you compare Logan Canyon with other canyons coming out of the Bear River Range such as Green Canyon or Providence Canyon you can see Logan Canyon is close to 600 feet lower than all the other canyons. The volume and force of Logan River cut through the beach material that ancient Lake Bonneville left behind, the other drainages have been too small to cut through the ancient short line.

In the early 1800s, the lower part of Logan River flowed freely, meandering and spreading across the Cache Valley floor. As it entered the valley, the river would form into an alluvial fan spreading like fingers over the valley floor and meeting the natural functions of a river to transport water, sediments and nutrients.

As each decade passed an increasing number of buildings, roads and complex infrastructures were built to keep up with the growing population. And to protect this infrastructure, people attempted to restrict the movements of the river. In many places, the river was straightened or channelized even as its water was re-routed for irrigation.

The dams placed along the river and at the mouth of Logan Canyon slowed the river before it reached the valley floor. As a result, a large percentage of the sediments which would have dropped on the valley floor, are now captured behind the river’s dams and fill the reservoirs.

Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, explains how this impacts the river’s geomorphology, “Water released from the dams is free of deposits; the river is now “hungry” – hungry for new sediments. It’s now capable of picking up large amounts of sediments which causes erosion problems miles below the dams.”

The Logan River Task Force, consisting of representatives from Utah State University, Logan City, Cache County, State and Federal Agencies, six non-profit organizations, corporations and interested citizens came together to find solutions to the erosion problem and other river issues. To address these issues, they prepared a “long-term plan for the Logan River to balance ecological and social values and capture what Cache Valley community wants the river to become. “

Rivers, by nature, are dynamic. They move back and forth especially where the slope is gentle. Over time, this meandering movement delivers fine sediments, across the river’s floodplains creating rich soils diverse in vegetation and wildlife. By changing the river’s geomorphology, we’ve altered the rivers dynamics, as well as how and where it delivers sediments.

Fortunately, parts of the Logan River’s geomorphology can be restored. River restoration will be the topic of our fourth and final segment for the Logan River series on Wild About Utah.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology-Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright ©
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by: Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, adjunct associate professor, and university liaison for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology-Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, A Short History of the Logan River, Wild About Utah, November 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/short-history-of-logan-river/

Leavitt, Shauna, The Ecology in and around the Logan River, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-ecology-in-and-around-the-logan-river/

Williams, Edmond J, Geomorphic Features and History of the Lower Part of Logan Canyon, Utah, Thesis, MS Science 2964, Donald R. Olsen Chair, Department of Geology, Utah State University,

James P. Evans, James P. McCalpinl, David C. Holmes, Geologic Map of the Logan 7.5′ Quadrangle, Cache County, Utah, Department of Geology, Utah State University, Utah Geological Survey, Utah Department of Natural Resources, 1996, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-96-1.pdf

Hylland, Rebecca, What are Igneous, Sedimentary & Metamorphic Rocks?, Glad You Asked, Utah Geological Survey, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/glad-you-asked/igneous-sedimentary-metamorphic-rocks/

The Ecology in and around the Logan River

Belted Kingfisher Ceryl alcyon Courtesy US FWS, C Schlawe, Photographer
Belted Kingfisher
Ceryl alcyon
Courtesy US FWS,
C Schlawe, Photographer
Logan River ecology is about connections between highlands and lowlands, water and land, life in and around the river and resources that support that life.

The river begins in southeastern Idaho and runs 53.5 miles to its confluence with the Cutler Reservoir in Utah’s Cache Valley. The river transitions from mountain riparian, characterized by low growing willows and coniferous trees, to the valley’s lowland riparian where it’s dominated by a variety of shrubs, cottonwoods, and willow trees. Both wildlife and plants change along this elevational gradient giving the Logan River greater ecological diversity than might be found over hundreds of miles of a flatland river.

Rivers move water. They also transport sediments and nutrients that drop out of the water wherever the current slows, for example on floodplains during spring floods. This is why floodplains, or riparian zones, have such productive soils.

The rich soils and water available on the floodplain support a wide diversity of plants. These plants in turn provide underlying layers for insects, nesting sites for birds, and water-cooling shade that harbors the heat sensitive cutthroat trout. Plants also drop their leaves into the river providing food and nutrients to aquatic insects.

One insect found in the Logan River is the mayfly, a graceful macroinvertebrate with unique upright wings and a delicate silhouette. The female adult drops her eggs on the river’s surface which then fall to the river’s bottom. The nymphs hatch within a few days or weeks. They spend the next year moving along the river’s bottom hiding among vegetation, rocks, and fallen leaves. After a year, nymphs swim to the surface and molt into duns which fly to nearby riparian vegetation. After a couple hours duns shed their skins and become brightly colored adult mayflies called spinners.

Male spinners form a swarm over the water to attract females who fly into the swarm. Pairs mate in flight; after mating the female flies down to the river to deposit her eggs, and dies shortly thereafter.

A large number of mayflies do not complete their life cycle as they are eaten by fish, spiders, bats and birds.

Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah’s state fish, subsist largely on aquatic insects including mayflies. Feared to be extinct in the 1970s, biologists searched the state for Bonneville cutthroat trout and when a population was found in the Logan River, wildlife managers and USU scientists teamed together to ensure the cutthroat population became and remained robust.

American Dipper Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
American Dipper
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Hundreds of bird species eat aquatic insects; one bird, however, specializes in eating aquatic insects under water. The American Dipper, walks on the bottom of Logan River using its wings like a submarine’s diving planes to keep it from bobbing to the surface. Walking along the river bed, the dipper turns over small rocks and sunken sticks to uncover and eat insect nymphs.

Other riparian birds, like the belted kingfisher, are fish-eaters. This handsome, crested, steel blue bird can be seen perched in the trees next to the Logan River eying fish beneath the surface. At times, kingfishers will hover directly above the water announcing their presence with a loud, rattling call. At the right time, the kingfisher dives headlong into the river using its long, sharp beak like a tweezers to catch small fish.

Rivers, like the Logan, and their riparian zones, support some of the richest biological diversity in the West. They are forceful and ever-changing, but provide all that life needs to survive and thrive in a compact area. These are dynamic ribbons of green and blue that connect land to water, plants to animals, and humans to nature.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright ©
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by: Frank Howe, Wildland Resources, Assoc. Prof. (State Cooperator), Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Geologic Map of the Logan 7.5′ Quadrangle, Cache County, Utah, Utah Geological Survey, 1996, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-96-1.pdf

Williams, Stewart J. Lake Bonneville: Geology of Southern Cache Valley, Utah, Geological Survey Professional Paper 257-C, US Department of the Interior, 1962, https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/0257c/report.pdf

Biek, Bob; Willis, Grant; Ehler, Buck; Utah’s Glacial Geology, Utah Geological Survey, September 2010, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/utahs-glacial-geology/

Hylland, Rebecca, What are Igneous, Sedimentary & Metamorphic Rocks?, Glad You Asked, Utah Geological Survey, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/glad-you-asked/igneous-sedimentary-metamorphic-rocks/