A bird in the hand equals two in the bush

By Dave Hanks 

Tiny little claws grasp and tickle my fingers. It’s a BLACK- CAPPED CHICKADEE – a small bird that is named for its call and black cap. If you are in the woods you hear the call “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, it is unmistakably this bird.

We have two Chickadee species in Cassia County: the Black-Capped and the Mountain. The Mountain Chickadee is told from the Black-Capped by a white eyebrow stripe and is the more common in our county. Both prefer higher elevation woodlands of both deciduous and coniferous trees. They usually forage in the lower branches where they are often seen feeding by hanging upside down. When not nesting, they gather in huge flocks. They are insectivorous but will come to feeders containing seed.

As you can see, they can also be lured onto ones hand, perch on your camera, or even alight on your head. Following a Chickadee call can lead you to other species, which they tend to feed in a group with; such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, and kinglets. They may even lead you to owls that are sitting on their daytime roosts. These frisky fellows are a favorite winter visitor to bird feeding stations.




The Chukar: A favorable introduction

by Dave Hanks

This national bird of PAKISTAN can, also, be found in the Mediterranean Islands, Turkey, Iran, Eastern Russia, China, Nepal, and now the United States. Most introductions to the USA have been detrimental, but not this bird. It has become established in the rocky grasslands and canyons of the western USA.

The Chukar’s name resembles its call – a rapid series of “chuck – chuck – chuck – chuck” and a shrill “whitoo” when alarmed. This partridge is a plump 14 inches long, has a white face that is encircled with a black ring that runs through the eyes and down to its throat, light grayish-brown back, buff belly, and Rufous streaking on its sides. It is a striking, multicolored bird that leaves no question as to its identity.

I have had acquaintances tell me that it was their favorite upland game bird to hunt. The Chukar is not only fun to hunt, but is good eating – even considered of gourmet quality. These characteristics have prompted the breeding of this species on game bird farms, thereby keeping a viable wild population. It is very easy to keep and breed in captivity.

Whenever you find yourself in the rocky canyons of Nevada, Utah, or South-West Idaho, look for this bird.


A member of the pheasant family

The Rise and fall of Wildlife Populations

by Dave Hanks

There are only a few wildlife species whose populations fluctuate at regular intervals. The Lemming cycle peaks at four years. Ruffed Grouse increase for four to six years and then decrease at the same rate. The relationship between Lynx and Snowshoe Hare is fairly constant – the cats increase as the hares become more abundant and they in turn reverse the cycle.

However, the fluctuations of most species depend on the weather and food supplies. It is very important to each species that population numbers stay in balance with the available food sources. HIGHLINING is when trees are missing limbs as far up the tree as animals can reach. This is a sure sign of too many individuals utilizing the resources. If this continues, the area may become permanently damaged and unable to support the number that it once did. The Elk population in Yellowstone Park was putting the park’s vegetation in serious straits – hence, the introduction of the wolf. Whether that was a good or bad decision, remains to be seen.

There are more young born each year than the environment can possibly support. Just think of the implications of the following: two rats and their offspring would yield 350 million in 3 years, trout lay hundreds of eggs, and rattlesnakes have 15 to 20 young each year. Even an elephant would raise 6 offspring over a 75 year period, and even that would put undue stress on the available resources.

The cruel fact is that most offspring either die or are food sources for predators. Cottontails lose 80 % of their population each year. If they all lived into the winter, none would survive to greet the new spring. Not only does crowding damage the vegetation, it damages the health of the animals.

Natural predators are a must to increase the vigor of both the habitat and the prey. Where predators are absent, controlled hunting is a necessity.

The adaptable Coyote – A major predator on rodents

Critical Minimums and Extinction

by Dave Hanks

Maintaining the diversity of life-forms on the earth is extremely important! The loss of habitat (favorable living space) is the major reason a species becomes extinct. Also, over hunting or poaching can be especially devastating on large animals like elephants, rhinos, etc. The introduction, by man, of a new predator to an area can be very harmful because the prey species haven’t had the chance to adapt to the new enemy. Predators that have naturalized in an area are not a problem. They even help their prey species maintain their numbers at optimum levels by weeding out old or diseased, unproductive members, and thus reduce the stress on the food supplies. I know this sounds unfeeling, but this is how the natural world works.

In existing habitats it is necessary to maintain a species’ CRITICAL MINIMUM. Nothing lives forever, so reproduction is necessary to keep a population viable. Rodents have a low critical minimum, which means that only a few surviving individuals can easily repopulate an area because they can reproduce fast, often, and with big litters. Large, slow reproducers have a high critical minimum. Disease, predation, and old age will always reduce the numbers in a population; and if not enough young are born each year to off-set those losses, extinction is assured even if a few individuals still exist.

Pictured is a NORTHERN FOX SQUIRREL whose low critical minimum keeps this species abundant – especially in our yard!

Also pictured is a mother GRIZZLY and her cub at an Alaskan water hole (Ursines at a snow-melt pond in June). She matures late sexually – has a cub or twins only about every 4 or 5 years which means only about 5 or 6 sets in her lifetime, and not all make it to adulthood. Her species minimum is therefore high.

THIS EARTH: Some Thoughts

Van Gogh stated that the creation was a study – a roughed-in sketch. Perhaps that is one reason that his art looks roughed-in. But his view doesn’t seem to be true! The earth is supremely & meticulously put-together; abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine.

While observing the intricacy of form, nothing seems to be ridiculous. The variety of form itself and the multiplicity of forms is mind “boggling”! It seems that anything goes. Form follows function, and function is nature’s only aesthetic consideration. Freedom is the earth’s water and weather, the world’s nourishment freely given, its soil and sap. It definitely has pizzazz!

But only ten percent of the earth’s life forms are still here. Were some forms made with extinction in mind? Created as test models so to speak, to be refined as the adaptation process progresses?

Also, the globe (viewed from afar) may appear smooth but it is anything but smooth. It is jagged and rough. Anything less would be frightfully dull and also very non-utilitarian. Texture is extremely important – both for beauty and for function. The looping, rough inside, nature of intestines is not only necessary for nutrient absorption, but creates more area in a limited space to facilitate the process. Good fishing streams operate on this same principle; and we all would die of thirst if watersheds were smooth and even. In fact there would be no watersheds. .

The tremendous diversity in the earth, points out how important variety is. Why would anyone want to minimize it?

Form and function are important for our physical well-being.

Beauty is important for our mental and emotional well-being.

(Dave Hanks)

The beauty and diversity of REVELSTOKE Park, B.C

The beauty and diversity of REVELSTOKE Park, B.C

Taiga: “Land of the Little sticks”

Taiga is Boreal forest, or in Russian perspective – “the land of the little sticks”. It is so called because the tree growth is stunted and skinny. Permafrost prohibits deep root development and trees usually only grow to around 15 to 20 feet tall. This Biome is the largest in the world – covering the northern areas of Canada, Russia, and Europe. The major trees in the Taiga are Black and White Spruce.

This Biome is characterized by many forest fires, but the trees recover quickly and re-growth is fast. Summers are warm, rainy (12 to 30 inches), and temperatures stay around 70 degrees because of the continual daylight. Winters, however, are another story. They are dark, snowy, and very cold. At this time temperatures range between 30 to 65 degrees below zero.

Taiga animals either migrate south or hibernate. Only a few withstand the harsh winter conditions. Caribou come south, from the Tundra, to winter amid the trees and to get some protection from the wind. Lynx, Snowshoe Hare, Wolverine, and fox are some other species that withstand the weather. Grizzlies and Black Bears are snuggly ensconced in their hibernation sanctuaries.

Summer invites many species of birds to nest, reproduce, and use the continual summer daylight to give them more time to hunt the food for the never satisfied appetites of their young.

We have experienced the vastness of this part of the world on four different occasions when we were in the Yukon Territory. Once we traveled 900 miles north on a dirt road and into the Arctic Circle. The broad expanse of the landscape makes one realize just how insignificant one is!

Black Spruce amid the wet – permafrost causes poor drainage

Aransas Wildlife Preserve: A National Treasure

The semi-darkness slides gently into daybreak. The day is new, fresh, and with that early morning coolness that hints of warmth latter on. My wife and I greet this sun-up with excited anticipation. Southern Texas is a long way from home, but the distance has not dissuaded us. One advantage of early rising is the glorious feeling of having the world to one’s self. This day is no different, as we are the only ones on the refuge. The gate opened early, and we were waiting to take advantage of the situation.

But now, the park is ours alone. White-Tailed Deer are everywhere. They still feel secure because the darkness has just recently lifted. They graze the meadows beside the road, and being surprised by our sudden appearance, dissolve into cover as we pass. Bird calls break the stillness and their flitting from bush to bush catches our attention. From the brush, a pair of ears sticks up. I hit the brakes. A female Peccary is foraging with her litter of babies. Unlike their mother, who is dark and solid colored, they have stripes running the length of their backs. Now that we have detected them, the pigs dash for the wooded areas. Around a bend, appears an animal whose hips undulate in a most ungraceful gait. It is a Raccoon. He sees us and takes refuge in a water pipe. The waiting game for a photo begins – but I finally get one.

The gentle meadows and woods of Aransas are bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Most species of shorebirds find a home here, especially the endangered Whooping Crane, for which the refuge was set aside. A boat trip is necessary to see them at a shorter distance. They are in groups of three.

Upon leaving the park, there is still one more major treat – ALLIGATORS. A pair has chosen this moment to come ashore to bask in the mid-day sun. What grand, primitive, animals! Their hides are heavy and dark and somehow don’t seem totally real. They have jaws that can open “a mile” to reveal formidable teeth. They are content, however, to allow me to get close-up pictures.

This day, long looked forward to, is memorable – and this place, is one of contentment and inner joy!

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers