Grizzly – Autumn Preparation

By Carolyn and Dave Hanks – Joint Effort

        Snow flurries hit her face.
	Turning, she raises and sniffs the air.
	She senses the change.
	Leaving the berries upon which she was feeding,
	She keeps moving upwards.
	Instinctively she knows that time is short.
	She must start preparing.

	Keeping close to the forested cover,
	She moves toward the White-Bark Pines at the very top.
	Would there be nuts upon which to finish her feasting?
	Not aware of her inter-relationship
	With the Red Squirrel -
	Who drops the cones and caches the nuts for her to raid.
	She moves ever upward,
	Sensing that they will be there.
	Winter is coming but summer and fall had been rich for feasting.
	Her coat glistens and the fat rolls
	Gently beneath her fur.

	Sleep is a problem now.
	She fights an increasing drowsiness.
	Time is not yet quite right
	For her to enter the den.
	That upward sloping hole -
	Dug on a north slope,
	Up on the tree line beneath the roots of a fir.
	It will take a major storm to put her there.
	One that will cover her footprints,
	And leave the landscape buried,
	Her little haven well hidden
	And insulated by the snow until spring.
	It is there that she
	Will bring forth the new cubs.
	A new generation to face the world.
	But still,
	Time is not yet quite right.
	Now she must fight on -
	Fight this impending torpor - and feast,
	That things might be right for the new generation.
	The new hope for her species.


Searching to satisfy an insatiable hunger

Rocky Mountain High

by Dave Hanks

This title is taken from a John Denver song of a few years back. It is reminiscent of the privileges we have to be able to live “out here” – especially if you value nature and the great outdoors. And we have a lot of special places that one can go to enjoy without making a major excursion across the continent. Some are fairly close to home. I will name a few.

The Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, Boise City Parks, and Market Lake at Roberts; are all good sites to observe waterfowl, non-game swimming birds, and kingfishers. The Centennial Marsh, west of Fairfield, is a favorite spot of ours. Besides the species listed above, there are many wading birds, and a large kestrel population. While there, we also make the short junket east to Silver Creek and the Hayspur fish hatchery at Picabo. All these sites have a nice assortment of water-related species. The Camas Refuge by Hamer, Idaho, not only has the water birds, but we have seen Moose, Elk, Porcupine, Muskrat, Pronghorn, and other mammals there.

Good assortments of forest species are right here in Cassia and Twin Falls Counties: (i.e.) Rock Creek, City of Rocks, Lake Cleveland, and North Heglar Canyon – one of our most productive spots for photos. The Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana is relatively close and has good Moose and Pronghorn populations, along with song birds at the Lakeview Campground. It is also the site for the restoration of the Trumpeter Swan.

We have benefited greatly from lesser known wild spots and wildlife refuges. But of course, Yellowstone and other national parks are well known and visited, The National Bison Range, just northwest of Missoula, Montana, is a place we rank very high. It’s a longer drive to get there, but the rewards are great: Bison, Pronghorn, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, White-Tailed and Mule Deer, Coyote, Black Bear, and an assortment of birds are all there.

I grew up on a farm and have always been a “country boy” at heart. At various times in my life I’ve been called, by some, “a country hick”. Not too complimentary at the time, but I’ve grown to appreciate that fact. Yes I am a country “hick”.

Bison Coming down the drive over the mountain on the National Bison Range

Coming down the drive over the mountain on the National Bison Range


Nothing creates more excitement than a bear sighting. This highly unpredictable animal requires a large territory to meet its needs. You can travel miles and miles and not see any in areas you would expect them to be – only to return home “skunked”.

Some years ago, we took a Grizzly seminar (taught by a Steve Mealey and many other bear experts of the Rocky Mountains) at the Yellowstone Institute in the Lamar Valley. Mr. Mealey’s research covered two years. He collected much bear evidence and information, but never encountered a Grizzly in that two year period. The seminar triggered my desire to photograph bears. We found them in Alaska’s Denali Park; Alberta’s Waterton, Banff, and Jasper Parks; and along the roadsides in northern British Columbia and the Yukon. Once on an Indian reservation just southeast of Glacier Park, I enquired of an elderly Indian lady where I might locate bears. Her response was: “BEARS ARE WHERE THEY FIND YOU!”

Yellowstone Park has been good to us in this respect. We have journeyed there often – mostly looking for bears. I love to look at them and watch their actions – and most of all to photograph them. When asked, in the game of what animal you’d rather be, I always answered: “a Grizzly”. I also view with amusement, the wild antics of the park rangers when trying to disperse a “Bear Jam” – to no avail. However, people have been educated about bear danger and stay on the roadsides rather than approach closer. They are determined to see bears, and I can’t blame them.

Recently a Grizzly found me – right on a park road. The ranger was already there and was yelling at me to move our truck away. I ignored him the best I could to try to get some photos (I should have persevered a few moments longer), but finally gave in to his wild gyrations. Bears do strange things to folks!

Grizzly in the road

Bison: Remnants from Massive Herds of Yesteryear

The American Bison is not a buffalo. True buffalo are found in Africa and Asia. Bison, like cattle, are bovines. Incidentally cow (or bull) is not a species – they are genders. Bison can breed with our domestic cattle to produce a hybrid. Also, like cattle, they have four stomachs and chew their cud. Bison are the largest North American land animal and parallel our cattle in weight – bulls up to a ton and cows up to eleven hundred pounds.

Bison live on the prairie and on open, mountainous grasslands. They are most active in the early morning or evening (crepuscular), and even on moonlit nights. Mid-day usually finds them resting and cud chewing. This herd-type ungulate (hooves) has deceptive speed. A seemingly slow moving group always surprises me. They can be here and then gone in an amazing short period of time. Adults are a dark brown, but calves are a very attractive light, reddish-brown. At two to three months of age, the young switch to the darker adult color.

Depressions full of dust or mud are used as wallows. The wallowing helps shed hair and fight parasites. Bulls will do more wallowing at rutting time. Shaggy heads and shoulders are adapted to use as snow plows to reach winter feed or to face into blizzards. When faced with predators, calves and cows will move to the center of the herd – or when stampeding, in front with bulls at the rear for protection.

We have experienced Bison in Custer Park of South Dakota, Teddy Roosevelt Park of North Dakota, Canada’s Northwest Territories, and of course Yellowstone National Park. But, we find the National Bison Range, north of Missoula, Montana, to be the most interesting. The range borders the Flathead River. An Indian, by the name of Walking Coyote, hid four calves by the river during the age of the great Bison slaughter – thus the nucleus of this herd. The Bison in this park are managed to keep their range from being overgrazed. Each calf is branded a number according to its year of birth. In October, cowboys from surrounding communities drive the Bison into corrals where they are sorted, calves vaccinated, and an auction is held to dispose of the surplus.

American Bison

A massive front end – a formidable presentation to natural challenges

Pika: A small, haystack building. rabbit

A Pika (also known as a Cony) could be mistaken for a large mouse or a baby rabbit. Actually it is a rabbit – a small short-eared one – a rock rabbit. These are fascinating little “guys”. They live on talus slopes, rocky banks, or steep boulder strewn hillsides at elevations between 8,000 to 13,500 feet. This very vocal rodent makes small squeaky noises, or noises that sound like a bleat of a goat, as they scurry over their rocky habitat.

The Pika is a small (6 3/8”) mammal that has dug its den deep inside the rocks. It mates in early spring and has 2 to 6 offspring per litter and usually has two litters a year. It doesn’t hibernate. Therefore, the gathering of a supply of winter food is necessary. The greenery in close proximity to the den is either eaten on the spot or gathered and spread on the rocks to dry. Like a farmer, the dried vegetation is gathered into the den and piled in little haystacks. These haystacks may have as much as a bushel of grasses, mosses, herbs, etc. stored in them.

Much time is spent sunning on a favorite rock which also serves as a lookout for their main predator – the Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine). The weasel’s slender body allows it to follow into the Pika’s tunnels. It has been observed that Pikas will take turns leading a weasel on a chase. When one starts to tire, another will cross between chaser and fleer. This is done until the predator decides to hunt for easier prey.

These little rock rabbits are extremely cute and lovable. We have seen them in the Colorado Rockies, Yellowstone Park, Central Idaho, Craters of the Moon, and Alaska to name a few sites. On a June trip to Denali Park, my wife and I had driven into the park as far as vehicles are permitted. We started hiking and I proposed to “go this way, we might see a Pika”. Within 15 yards on the trail – sure enough, they were all around us – how exciting!

Wherever there are high elevation talus slopes with vegetation close by, you have a good chance to find them. Just look very carefully and listen – perhaps you’ll get lucky.

A Pika Amid the lichen covered rocks

Amid the lichen covered rocks

Goss’s Rule and the Canines of Yellowstone

GOSS’S RULE states: “When two species share the same habitat, and also share the same niche, the dominant species will push its competition out.” This is classic between coyote, fox, and wolf. Yellowstone Park provides a situation where this rule is very noticeable. Before the introduction of wolves, there were many coyotes and fewer fox. Since their introduction, wolves have expanded greatly, coyote numbers have decreased, and the Red Fox population has increased.

It stands to reason that size plays a big role in the dominance of these three canines. Wolves, especially when hunting in family packs (usually 4 to 7), can bring down larger prey than coyotes – hunting alone or even cooperatively. Also, bigger groups contribute to a species ability to dominate, and larger canine will kill the smaller ones when they catch them. I have witnessed wolves chasing coyotes that were brazen enough to approach a carcass fed upon by wolves. I have seen coyotes escape, but also observed one that was unlucky. Because the Red Fox feeds mainly on smaller mammals and birds, it is not as competitive to the wolf as is the coyote – which has an expanded diet.

Gray wolves look like large German Shepard dogs. Coyotes are somewhat smaller, lighter in coloration, and have a more pointed face. The Red Fox is considerably smaller, with a slender body, reddish tinge to its fur, and with a white tail tip.

Vegetation eaters, when their populations increase, have the ability to destroy their own habitat. Thus, predators keep these populations in balance. Predators are also breeding selection factors for prey species. They weed out the weak, the diseased, and the old (who no longer reproduce but still eat). Nature’s ways sound cruel, but they are necessary to keep herbivore numbers at the maximum that the habitat can withstand

A Gray Wolf: Top dog in the predator hierarchy

A Gray Wolf: Top dog in the predator hierarchy