Hawk and Eagle day

My neighbor called the other night.  They own a horse camp for teenagers.  The kids were doing volunteer work, stacking timber in piles that the forest service had recently cut down for a fire break alongside their property when they found a young red-tailed hawk on the ground.  The hawk was large yet too young to have yet fledged and was starving.  Probably the FS had inadvertently cut down the nesting tree.

My neighbor called me because I volunteer at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West in the Draper Lab and know the person who runs a bird rescue program called Ironside Bird Rescue.  The young red-tailed was in bad shape, holding its head under its wing.  But my neighbor was able to feed it some elk meat and brought the bird over to my house that evening in a large box.  Since I was going to work in the morning, I brought the bird to Ironside.  Susan Ahalt of Ironside took the bird inside–weighed it, handed the Red-Tailed to me so she could find some food.  The bird was so weak it didn’t even struggle.  But Susan found it three mice which she cut up and the Red-tailed gulped them down.

At the Rescue center

At the Rescue center

Susan said that if the bird survives, then she will first test whether it can feed itself on it’s own.  If it can, then she will release it back in Sunlight area where it was found.

The young Red-tailed

The young Red-tailed

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

I had to rush off because today was a great field trip with the Draper lab folks.  Chuck Preston, museum curator, has been conducting a five year Golden Eagle study, locating nest sites and documenting how many chicks are produced and what food they are eating.  Today we were off to band a young fledgling.

The museum purchased a drone and we were going to try it out.  The drone sounds like a hive of bees. Unlike a regular model airplane, the drone has a GPS, can hover, has a camera that sends back real-time film to a laptop, and essentially looks and acts like something from ‘Back to the Future’ movie. We were going to use the drone to try and scare the young bird off the nest and onto the ground where it could be banded.

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out.

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out. You can see the camera eye down below

Since there were several of us there, we all got into positions on the cliff near the nest in order to track where the bird might fly.  The young fledgling can’t fly far, and will invariably fly downward, but it could go up to a mile or two off before landing.

I hiked up to the cliff edges and could see the drone hovering above the nest.  Apparently, it didn’t bother the bird in the least.  Meanwhile, mom was flying around high overhead wondering what all these people were doing near her baby.  In good years the parents will have two young.  In lean years only one chick or they won’t nest at all.

Finally, our intern Nat hiked to the nest and the bird flew down about a quarter of a mile downwind.  This was a feisty male and certainly didn’t like being handled, a good sign he was in excellent condition.  But Chuck is an expert handler and brought the bird into the shade.  He measured and weighed the chick, then banded it’s leg.

Weighing the bird

Weighing the bird

Measuring

Measuring

Banding the bird

Banding the bird

He released it as close to the nest as he could, knowing it would climb it’s way back in, but in a few days would be off on its own.

What a great day for raptors!

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

Speak for Wolves

I just returned from 2 nights and 2 days of a Speak for Wolves event in Gardiner, MT, the first one of its kind.  The event was a great success, with some very prominent speakers and filmmakers in the field of conservation.

The event at Arch Park.  YNP historic arch in background

The event at Arch Park. YNP historic arch in background

Friday night I saw Bob Landis’ new film ‘She-Wolf’ which is now on sale in the Park.  She-Wolf is the interesting and unique story of wolf 832f , better known as the Lamar Valley’s famous ’06 who was shot and killed in the very first Wyoming wolf hunt.  Bob answered questions at the end of the film.

This story is extremely personal to me as not only had I watched ’06 many times up close and personal in the Lamar Valley, but after her death in late December 2012, the entire Lamar pack (minus the remaining alpha male) spent the winter in my valley.  During that winter of 2013 I had the opportunity to watch the pack behind my house many times as well as track them.  With the death of their alpha female, they seemed at a loss of how to kill elk, even though there were thousands all around them, and they mainly killed deer.  In the spring they all dispersed–which is a typical disruption when pack members are killed.

'06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

’06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

On Saturday there were speakers such as Nathan Varley who runs a wolf watching business in Gardiner with his wife.  He spoke of how these last several years of wolf hunting around the Park boundaries has made his business even harder.  His yearly gross revenue of over 1/2 million dollars brings a lot of business to the Park and surrounding communities. People come from all over the world to see wolves as the best place for viewing them in the wild is Yellowstone.  But some of the viewable packs are gone.  Lamar Valley used to be the premier place for wolf watching, but now has only two wolves that are rare to see.

Louisa Wilcox of Center for Biological Diversity spoke of some of the knotty politics.  Appropriately enough, thunder and lightning cut her talk short.  Public lands ranching and trapping demonstrations–one of the main ways wolves are killed in Montana and Idaho–completed the day’s activities.

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Saturday night was film night.  Two short films on Wildlife Services (Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife) and how they indiscriminately are killing wildlife were shown.  Then Camilla Fox, Director of Project Coyote, presented a film on how Marin County (my old alma mater) ranchers have done away with Wildlife Services and implemented a program of natural protections.  These include guard dogs, better fencing and llamas.  The county has saved over $60 million dollars plus most ranchers have seen either no predation or very little predation by coyotes.  All this and the biggest plus is they are no longer poisoning wildlife.  Instead, the coyotes are doing their job of controlling the rodents around the ranches.

Dr. Robert Crabtree, who has done all the major research in the Park on coyotes, was present for the panel discussion afterwards, as well as George Wuerthner, Western Watersheds Project Oregon Director and author.

Sunday’s event included a wonderful talk and ceremony by Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Tribe.  Here’s a short clip of Jimmy giving a prayer in Blackfeet.

Doug Peacock gave a great talk about the plight of the grizzly bear, who the USF&W and the states are just itching to delist in 2015, and how that might impact the numbers of the Great Bear.

All in all it was a great event with talks from dedicated individuals who are working hard to make a difference in our treatment and perception of wildlife and wildlands.

Since I traveled through the Park to and from Gardiner, here are a few of the wildlife shots I took on my journey.

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Muskrat photo finally!

Muskrat photo finally!

Great Horned baby with mouse

Great Horned baby with mouse

Bison and baby

Western Painted Turtles

A few weeks ago I went to one of the local pet stores for some dog treats, and saw three turtles in a large bin outside.  Two of the turtles were non-natives, but one was a Western Painted, native to all parts of the west as far north as Canada.  Western Painteds hibernate in winter by burying into the mud.  I couldn’t resist, paid the $30 and brought what I think is a female turtle home.

The pet store owner told me this turtle is about 10 months old and from Denver.  I had just finished a water project, and it seemed auspicious to put my new turtle in our restored marshy riparian area.  It’s a good habitat with continuous water, sun, as well as willows.

Bringing the turtle home to the redeveloped spring

Bringing the turtle home to the redeveloped spring

 

I looked for the turtle every day, but soon, after about a week, the turtle had disappeared.  I worried.  Had a predator gotten it?  I know little about Western Painted Turtles so I started reading up.  Yes, Hawks predate on them, but that seemed unlikely given the plethora of ground squirrels and other rodents around.  Besides, my turtle was well camouflaged. There are no dogs around and very few raccoons.  I wondered what was going on.  But five days later I had my answer.

Nearby my home is a forest that harbors seven springs.  It is a swampy place that was logged about seven years ago because most of the old spruce were dead from beetle kill. Between my home where the turtle resided and this forest is a large meadow.  My neighbor who lives about 1/4 mile away in this forest called to say the turtle was in her yard in the stream by her home.  I figured out that the turtle had followed the watercourse till it ended, then took a hard right across the meadow and through the woods.

I retrieved the turtle and brought him back to my marsh, amazed how far she had traveled in so short a time.  But only five days later the kids at the horse camp across the street knocked on my door carrying the turtle to say she had once again wandered far away–this time in the opposite direction, crossing the road and exploring their large horse pasture.

Western Painted turtle release

Western Painted turtle release

This wanderer needed a decent home and some confinement.  I wondered if turtles, like cats, need to spend their first few weeks confined to adjust to a new home.  I read that they sometimes try to return to where they were born.  Could this turtle be going east towards Denver?

So today I took the turtle into the swamp former forest and found it a nice stream that had lots of mud and vegetation as well as sun (Western turtles spend a lot of time sunning themselves).  I created a ‘fence’ of chicken wire and I plan to purchase two more turtles as company.

Creating a habitat area with a chicken wire fence

Creating a habitat area with a chicken wire fence where the stream comes through

These turtles are native.  And these turtles will overwinter.  I have a lot to learn about them.  The next two I get will be a male and a female but they won’t be sexually mature for many years.  One thing I have learned though–my turtle is not only an explorer, but a survivor.  She has been doing fine on her own for the last month despite all her wanderings.

Western Painted Turtles are beautiful and native to the West

What the Lamar Valley has to offer in May

A cloudy, snowy, cold Mother’s Day.  I like to head into the park on Mother’s Day and try to see babies.  I’m so close to the Lamar Valley, just one hour to the Buffalo Ranch, that I usually don’t get much further, and don’t need too.  All photos below are from today.

A few Mother’s Days ago there was so much activity in the valley–wolves on wolves competing with bears, coyotes and bison babies, you-name-it.  Today was a different Mother’s Day.  The Lamar activity has calmed down in general.  With few wolves, there is just less activity.  But spring is always an excellent time to see bears and today was no exception.

I saw a total of 5 grizzlies in the Lamar–a mom with 2 yearlings, and two boars. Grizzly The boars had a brief face off for a few tense moments, but the bigger one just went his way.  Bighorn sheep rams stood by the roadside; a coyote was on a bison calf carcass, and the bison babies and moms were all along the road.  I watched a wonderful scene of a young frisky bison calf jump around, then come back and nuzzle his mom.  The mom and him butted and rubbed their heads, then he was off romping again.Bison and nursing calf

What strikes a person traveling through the Park is how many people LOVE to visit this area, and some many times a year.  I spoke with a fellow who travels here at least 4 times a year from Rhode Island.  He comes in winter to Jackson to photograph elk on the refuge.  Then he returns for the antler auction, trying to match up his photos with a matched set of antlers (75% goes to the Refuge, 25% to the local boy scout troop who do the collecting of the antlers).  He comes other times just for wildlife watching.  Many of the people I spoke with come out every May, staying outside the Park at the gateway communities.  Some people come from as far away as England.  Some have even bought second homes here.  And what are people looking for when they come–they all want to watch predators!  “I want to see a bear” one person told me.  They’d like to see wolves, bears, foxes.  It’s easy to see elk, bison, and antelope.  But predators are exciting for people to watch.Bison babies

And the predator that is now obviously ‘missing’ in the Lamar viewing experience is the wolf.  Although there is a pair there who have pups, two grown wolves are hard to spot, as compared to over a dozen in the pack just a few years ago.

From where I sit in my valley, the wolf hunt has hit the Lamar hard as these wolves travel back and forth in the winter time following the migratory Lamar elk herd outside the Park.  The Wyoming Game and Fish has proposed an increase in the 2014 wolf hunt numbers.  Most areas would have an increased quota–my area 2 would be increased from 4 last year to 5 this fall.  In 2013 5 wolves were killed, one above the quota.  There is a confirmed pack of 6 wolves here.  Why is the quota most of the adult pack?

Please take a look at this sane proposal below from Brushback Guide Services.  They propose Tourist and Science zones next to the Park with either 1. no harvests, depredation only or 2. extremely low quotas with a buffer of 10-15 miles around the Park, thereby tightening the areas or 3. very limited shortened seasons in these special zones.

This proposal would protect the tourist economy as well as balance with those who want to hunt wolves.  A continued increase in the wolf hunt will only have continuous impacts on the Park and the wolf population and pack structures in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Wolves, and all predators, should be appreciated for their necessary impacts on ecosystems.  They are needed in the ‘web’.  They manage the meso-predators, they foster healthy landscapes, they provide food for other large predators such as bears, and for thousands of years ungulates have been evolutionarily healthier because of their presence.  Ram

Yet the reality today is economics and dollars drive the argument and the management policies.  So here is what Brushback Guide Services proposes that I think works.  Proposal #1 is what I prefer:

Proposal 1- Science & Tourism Units

Units that are important to wildlife viewing would be considered “Science & Tourism Units” to allow scientists a chance to keep ongoing wolf studies without having so many wolves taken mid-life before their full potential data is reached. The other purpose for these units is tourism. Tour companies can show people wolves in areas where they are not hunted better than areas where they are hunted. These units have good road systems for tourism and border national parks for ongoing studies. Scientifically, these units allow us to know how to manage wolves in areas where they do get hunted because we know how it should be when they are not hunted or very limited hunting is allowed.

Proposal: Science & Tourism Units- Unit 2, 6, 8, & 9
Depredation only OR extremely low quotas of 1 or 2 wolves
Depredation only is preferred in “Science & Tourism Units”.

Proposal 2- Cut Units In Half Along Park Borders

Give units bordering the national parks an approximate 15-20 mile “wolf hunt free zone”. Delegate these by nearest large landmark such as creeks. For example: Creek No Name is 15 miles from east side of Grand Teton National Park border, hunters can hunt the east side, but not the west side of No Name Creek. Another option would be to START the hunt unit 15-20 miles away from the park designated by large, easy to use and not mistake landmarks/roads.

Proposal: Start wolf hunt units 15-20 miles from park border
Keep original quotas as Game & Fish has designated
Park wolves will be less affected helping science and tourism.
Depredation still in place.

Proposal 3- Keep The Current Plan/Units, Lower Quotas & Shorter Season

I’m going to focus again on national park border units. This approach gives “Science & Tourism” people a chance to have a better experience by showing and recording wolves. This will also allow hunters a chance to hunt units away from the national park keeping hunters happy. Quotas that would have less impact to us would look like this:

Unit 1- 3 Wolves October 1- December 31st

Unit 2- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 3- 7 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 4- 4 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 5- 6 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 6- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 7- 1 Wolf October 1st- December 31st

Unit 8- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 9- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 10- 3 wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 11- 2 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 12- 1 Wolf October 15th- December 31st

 

Please get your comments into Wyoming Game and Fish regarding the proposed hunt by May 30th.  

The Park NE Entrance Opens

Although the official opening date for highway 212 from Pilot to Cooke City is next saturday May 10th, the plow crews have been hard at work and as of today the NE entrance to Yellowstone is open!

Following the Plow to Yellowstone

Following the plow to Yellowstone

 

I took the chance, drove the road, and saw the plows were completing their finishing touches on the remaining slush by Fox Creek bridge.  It’s still mostly winter up there, with Pilot and Index covered in snow and the Clark’s Fork River barely muddy.

While Cooke City has plenty of snow, the Lamar is lower and so open, yet the green up has barely begun there. Tourists drive in from the Mammoth side, then turn around, yet a few passed me leaving the Park’s NE entrance towards Cody.

 

 

Cooke City today, looking towards the NE entrance

Cooke City today, looking towards the NE entrance

I’d left late since I didn’t know if the road was passable, so I just spent some time in the Lamar.  Here are a few sightings.

Grizzly

Sandhill cranes

Pronghorn

 

Coyote

Coyote

As of December 2013, the wolf count in the Park was 95.  Yet there were only 2 Lamar Canyons.  So seeing a wolf in the Lamar is pretty slim right now.  Who knows how many pups might show up this spring.  With an increased hunting quota being suggest by Wyoming Game and Fish for fall 2014, it’s likely that the Lamar pack will continue to stay small.  This pack tends to follow the fall elk migration eastward outside the Park.  Park wolves that are used to people are easy targets for hunters, whereas the wolves that have been through two hunts so far are rightfully scared of humans.  To me it makes good sense to create a buffer zone around the Park, or at least drastically reduce the quota in areas outside the Park where wolves tend to migrate or overlap in their territory.  Here is the link to comment on the proposed hunt increases for this fall.  Deadline for comments is May 30th.

Shed hunting

It’s that time of the year again–’horn hunting’ season.  People do it for fun and for profit.  These ‘hunters’ are seeking deer, elk, and even moose sheds, which are not really ‘horns’ at all.  Horns are found in the bovine family, are a two-part structure, and are worn for the life of the animal.  The exception being the Pronghorn, which does shed them every year.  Horns are a two-part structure, with an interior of bone and a sheath of a type of hair follicle material, akin to your fingernails. So animals like sheep, bison, or cattle have horns for life.

Bison have horns

Bison have horns

Antlers, on the other hand, are also true bone but are shed each year and then regrown.  As the male adult animal ages, the antler gets bigger and wider.

Deer with emerging antlers--in velvet

Deer with emerging antlers–in velvet

When I first arrived in Wyoming, I knew the difference between antlers and horns and couldn’t figure out why everyone called this amusement ‘horn hunting’.  It was just wrong.  People who know the difference, like scientists, will usually refer to it as ‘shed hunting’.  But I’ve come to accept it and I suppose the h-h sound was adopted because it just slides off your tongue better.

Antlers are becoming big business and that’s why people go after them.  I personally saw a small 6 point elk antler in a California window with a $250 price tag.  Antlers are cut up and sold for dog chews, buttons, door handles,key chains, made into furniture, used as table centerpieces, or whatever art pieces you can think of.  But what’s really driving the market is the Asian desire for aphrodisiacs.  Although I think Viagra is cheaper and actually effective, the myth in the Far East is that antlers, ground up into a powder, will make a man virile.  I suppose people will believe anything as well as pay for it.

 

DSCN3686_2

This deer has a dropped tine, probably a genetic anomaly

DSCN1036

Last year I took all the old, broken, antlers that had been lying around my property when I purchased it.  I’d thrown them into a pile in the yard.  They were white and almost powdery from age, but a small loaded pick-up truck fetched over $250! New, browner, bigger antlers can get up to $10 pound.

So far this season, I’ve found about 10 deer antlers.  I don’t ‘hunt’ them.  I prefer to be gifted–’shed gifting’.  I’m hiking around and there is a ‘present ‘ on the ground of a nice antler.  It’s a nice surprise.  And sometimes I leave them.  I enjoy making things out of antlers, but most of the people I’ve talked to say they just throw them in their garage, and now have a garage full of them.

Antlers provide calcium for small critters like mice, porcupines, and even coyotes will chew on them.  People ‘hunting’ them in early spring can ‘push’ the elk and deer at a critical time when they are still stressed from the winter and don’t yet have the benefits of a full green-up.  Sometimes I wonder if all this antler collecting isn’t robbing some of the smaller animals of valuable nutrients, as well as what shed antlers put back into the soil.

Just a last note.  If you are out shed hunting, carry your bear spray as grizzlies are out now.  Here is a great article touting the efficacy of bear spray vs. guns.   Bear spray had a 92% efficacy with the other 7% being minor, non-hospitalized injuries and all bears lived.  Guns on the other hand had only a 67% efficacy with a 100% fatality for the bear.

And one last note:  it is highly illegal to pick up and take home sheds from Yellowstone National Park.  You will be fined and probably barred for life from the Park if you attempt to take antlers home.

Some tipi rings

The Bighorn Basin holds plenty of old secrets.  Prospectors, miners, strike-it-rich schemes. But what stirs my imagination most are Indian signs.

The history of the white man here is short and meager, a mere 150 years or so.  Wyoming only became a state in 1890.  The Bannock war of 1878 was the last Indian war around here.  Truly that wasn’t so long ago.

And although Lewis and Clark came through here 200 years ago, Native peoples have been living here for over 10,000 years, with the population rising and falling with the climate.  I went to an interesting talk last summer given by an archaeologist who had a unique way of assessing population correlated with temperature.  The time period known as the Altithermal, around 5,000 to 8,500 years ago, saw the fewest people living around the basin.  The Altithermal was a dry hot period and many of the native peoples moved higher, into the mountains, to survive.  Interestingly, the Altithermal termperatures in the Big Horn Basin are approximately the temperatures we have today, as our own temperatures are rising.

So when I was hiking around the desert last week and ran into some tipi rings, I couldn’t help  imagining what these peoples might have been doing and how they were living.

You can see the ring of rocks embedded in the dirt

You can see the ring of rocks embedded in the dirt

Another view

Tipi Ring

The rocks were used to hold down the tipi skirt.  Used over and over again, this location contained four visible rings, high on a hill.  Water was far below, although we did find a dry spring along the other side of the hill and closer to the rings.  My friend thought this was a hunting camp, since it was small and near in a prominent landmark.  And he might be right because the location was perfect for watching game, especially antelope and deer that might pass through.

Just outside of Cody there are a large amount of tipi rings above the Shoshone River.  You can tell they are more recent, say 150 years, as the rocks are not very embedded in the dirt.  The Crow used to winter down along the river and use the hot springs.  The hot springs is now on private land.

Another view of several rings outside Cody

Several rings outside Cody

 

It’s such a nice gift to run into these ancient signs.  They should be left untouched as they are part of our story and the story of the Land.

Rock circle big enough to sit in

A vision quest site I found

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