Here’s a photo I took in March of three twisted swans at Summer Lake in Central Oregon. The northern shovelers surrounding them seem to be doing some contortions of their own. Can you find a raptor hiding in the background taking it all in?
The three swans have bands on their necks. I saw them there last fall and turned in my sighting to find out where they came from. I found out the young birds were banded in the spring of 2017 at Summer Lake so they haven’t strayed far from where they hatched.
This area hosts thousands of snow geese at certain times of the year. Summer Lake Wildlife Area is open to hunting so in order to avoid confusion, they have this sign posted for hunters. From a distance, snow geese and swans can be hard to tell apart.
Do you want to learn more about trumpeter swans? See my post Swan Song to learn about the conservation success story associated with this beautiful bird.
I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”
“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.
At this time of year, mule deer are migrating and breeding in Central Oregon. Your best chances of seeing this nighttime-feeding deer are in the early hours of the morning or in the late evening. On a chilly November morning, High Desert Museum Curator of Wildlife, Jon Nelson, led a group of people eager to learn more about mule deer.
Mule Deer in the West
The mule deer is uniquely adapted to the environment of the American West. In the spring and summer they browse on plants in mountainous areas. As winter approaches, mule deer pack on the calories and move to lower elevations. Deer in the Cascades migrate eastwards and have to navigate their way past Highway 97. Underpasses help large numbers of deer make that journey. As the deer continue eastwards, hundreds can be seen in the area between Silver Lake and Fort Rock during fall and winter months.
In Central Oregon, deer feed mainly on bitterbrush, Idaho fescue grass, and sagebrush. They are not as dependent on the availability of water since they get much of what they need from their diet. On the field trip, Sand Spring was one of the few water sources we saw. It’s fenced to keep cattle out but the deer, as you probably know, can easily clear most fences if they want to get a drink.
Should you feed deer in your yard? No. If deer eat food provided by humans, it can have devastating effects. Their gut has evolved to process certain foods. If they eat other foods, it can kill the good bacteria in their stomachs. This can cause illness or even death. Certain diseases are spread to other deer via their saliva so you may not want to give them salt licks either.
Mule deer can often be found in ecotones, edge habitats between two plant communities. They can also find their preferred food plants in areas that are becoming re-established, including those affected by fires and clear-cutting. Deer seek out certain areas using behavioral thermal regulation. For example, they bed down on south and east facing slopes where it tends to be warmer.
Sometimes Nature gives you a special and unexpected gift. In the excitement of the moment, you click a few pictures and later find out they were not your best. Since it was such a special moment, you can’t manage to delete them. Here are a couple pictures from my archives of a caribou herd near Creston, British Columbia, Canada.
At the time, there were few records of this herd and I was pretty excited to see them. My photos helped biologists learn more about the herd. The endangered South Selkirk subpopulation of southern mountain caribou, Rangifer tarandus caribou, currently numbers only about 12 animals. Here’s a link to a recent article about them: America’s Gray Ghosts: The Disappearing Caribou
Caribou and reindeer are the same species so I thought it only appropriate to share these photos today. It was a magical moment when I saw them and I hope you find your own magical moments in the upcoming year.
Have they been “playing God” at Whychus Creek near Sisters, Oregon? I have witnessed the destruction of habitat before but never the restoration on such a huge scale. I went to the Whychus Canyon Preserve recently with the Deschutes Land Trust on a tour of the project. They and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, with the support of several other agencies and nonprofits, started to do field work on rehabilitating six miles of the creek in 2016. It is an enormous undertaking and it’s expected to take around seven years to complete.
Restoration in progress
Whychus Creek is a 41-mile long waterway that has its origin in the Cascade Mountains. It flows through the city of Sisters, forested, and agricultural lands to eventually enter the Deschutes River. Historically, it provided prime habitat for spawning, rearing, and migration of redband trout, spring Chinook, and summer steelhead. Continue reading →
Our National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday this week. I thought it appropriate to share pictures of our parks as works of art – with each framed and matted. Our 59 parks represent diverse and beautiful places and the Park Service works within a framework that helps to protect them. Hope that my “gallery” inspires you to visit some of them soon.
I have only been to 14 National Parks. How many have you been to? Do you have any photos to share of our parks as works of art?
Here’s a picture of bison in Yellowstone National Park. Happy 4th of July from our new national mammal in the U.S., the bison. Their scientific name is Bison bison bison. If only all scientific names were that easy!
Bison are a conservation success story. Due to over-hunting in the late 1800’s, their population was down to a few hundred animals. As a result of the conservation strategies employed by President Theodore Roosevelt and like-minded individuals, the bison were able to make a dramatic comeback.
Here’s a link to a U.S. Department of the Interior page that has 15 interesting facts about them – Bison
His twittering voice kept leading me on through the wilderness. It seemed like every time I raised my binoculars to my eyes, he would make a quick getaway.
I followed him on winding trails bordered by bubbling and spouting geysers. He flitted through pine forests doused by thunderstorms. Gusts of wind kept pushing him just out of my reach.
Finally, finally, I came eye to eye with the mysterious beast. A Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni. This pint-sized songbird perched in the tree and stared at me as if he was shouting, “Ollie, Ollie in come free!” Our game of hide and seek was over and he stayed in plain sight on his home base.
The tree clung to the side of a cliff overlooking Tower Fall. The little bird had lead me to an important spot in Yellowstone National Park.
It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with the phrase “swan song” that means “final appearance.”
A species on the brink
At one time the population of the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, was thought to be down to fewer than 70 birds. They were just steps away from their swan song. The birds were overhunted and their feathers were used to adorn hats and make writing quills while their skins were used to make powder puffs. They were also hunted for their meat and eggs.
In 1932, the last known remnants of the population lived near Yellowstone National Park. Their swan song was imminent.
Most people think of habitats classified as sagebrush steppe as looking flat and boring – something you have to drive through to get somewhere else. I was pleasantly surprised to see the following article this morning about some of the animals we will lose if that habitat is lost. Ten animals that will disappear with the sagebrush
Can you find the magpie photobombing one of the pictures in the article?
I have seen all of the animals mentioned in the article except the pygmy rabbit. Many years ago I was in their home range near Ephrata, WA and saw some droppings and burrows but that was about it. After I moved away, a captive breeding program successfully reintroduced them in the region.