The Pond is a Flight School

This is my seventh year watching Gander raise goslings.  The first six years, it was Goose and Gander, but she was frail last year, and didn’t make it back.  This year, it was Gander and Sweet Young Thing . . . plus four of his older descendants and their mates.

In the past, Gander has made solid efforts at training his goslings in formation flying – starting with water landings from the dock before they could fly.  Eventually, the formations tighten up – but this year is different.  First he trained this year’s goslings, then one hatch at a time he has been incorporating the grand-goslings into the flight.  It’s a small pond for 40 geese to land simultaneously.  He started ground landings when I mowed the hay – and it looked like raking the hay just added another training complication for his flight school.

The youngest hatch are still on the pond – but I expect most of the geese will be gone by the end of the month, living on larger lakes, and then there will be the last landing and overnighter of fall, as the young geese make the final imprint that will lead them back to the pond next year.  Most won’t return, but some will return with their mates to raise their own hatches – returning in pairs where they left flying formations.

There are seven little coots on the pond – they will probably make it . . . though the parental coots are about as far removed from Gander’s family responsibility as can be.  This year has been good for coots.  The Cinnamon Teal has four little birds following her.

The blue heron has perched on the top of a Ponderosa pine – and I think the heron is the source of the small perch I see in the canal.  I think the perch in Rattlebone lay eggs in the grass along the shore, the scales on the heron legs attach a couple of fish eggs, they’re dropped in the pond . . . and most of the time the tiny perch becomes a snack for the little diving ducks.  Someday, there will again be fish in the pond – life finds a way.  When they do, the aeration will make their lives a little more secure in the winter.  The pond really does have too much shallow water.

The multitude of geese increase the algae production – too much natural fertilization.  Last Fall I noticed a goldfish – I don’t believe the birds helped it along.  I figure someone decided the pond looked like a home for it – since I haven’t noticed any carp in the pond, I think that was an introduction that failed . . . or possibly a single large goldfish is working the algae.  If so, that fish has its work cut out for it.

The last couple of years, the fluctuation between high and low water seems to be more than the resident muskrats could handle – but others will hike in and make the pond their own one day.  Life finds a way.  The crayfish are there – and I should probably set up some traps for the mini-lobsters.

I think I get to pay the taxes on the pond, and do the maintenance to keep it going – but the owners are the frogs, the birds, the missing muskrats, the barely established fish that might, or might not, make it.

The salamanders from the shoreline, the voles along the edge, swimming like their larger relatives the muskrats as they evade the small predators – the least weasels. The red winged blackbirds do their best to protect all nesting birds from eagles and ravens.  The nighthawks have hatched and are learning to fly and catch insects on the wing.

Thoreau had Walden as a young man – my two acres of pond provide an old man a lot to watch.


In Case You Missed It

It’s that time of the year again- time to watch for frog eggs, listen for sandhill cranes, examine thatch ants and watch for salamanders.

Game Camera: Sandhill Cranes

Perhaps you’ve heard the distinctive call of the sandhill cranes recently? -Patches We’re actually in at the very south edge of the breeding range for Sandhill Cranes. They’re not particularly picky eaters- they’ll eat snakes, frogs, insects, seeds… Often, we’ll see them in the spring, hunting frogs in shallow water.

Frog Eggs and Toad Eggs

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and soon the pond will be full of little frogs. As it turns out, frog eggs and toad eggs are different, and far easier to tell apart than the tadpoles. Frog eggs typically form nice clumps. -this years batch are particularly muddy. Toad eggs, however, will generally be in…

Thatch Ants

Our mound-building ants in this part of the country are Western Thatching Ants, Formica obscuripes.These ants are rather special because they generally have multiple active queens in a single colony – the young queens often help out and reproduce at home, instead of founding their own new colonies…

Usually I don’t see Salamanders

We seem to have made a good location great for salamanders – ours are long-toed salamanders.  Despite being in a near-perfect location for salamanders, most of the time we don’t see them.  The information is online- and the field guide does a pretty good job explaining why we see them rarely.  They’re classified as “mole”…

Community, Wildlife

Piebald Deer

A few years ago, we had a small piebald whitetail buck on the place.  He grew large enough to have spikes, then wandered off and didn’t return.  There can be a lot of reasons for a small buck deer not to return – wolves, coyotes, cougars and even human hunters – but one of my students from TSJC kept reminding me that the piebald coloring pattern is often associated with health problems

Our little guy didn’t show health problems – but he was pretty much isolated.  I suspect he was rejected by some of the tough old does for looking different –

Spot was never a particularly friendly little deer – but it was fun to have him where we were able to watch him. 

Community, Wildlife

Feral Kittens

I glanced out the window this morning to see five feral kittens examining my woodshed.  I carried the first load to the deck this past week, so for the first time, the woodshed is accessible.  It makes a dry place, sheltered from the wind and rain, where the five will probably cuddle together and shelter – being close to the house, it includes the safety of being in a spot safer from coyotes and cougars.  From a survival concept, they’re making a good choice.

I knew they were there.  I’ve watched their mother, in person and on game cams, as she has hunted in the trees and fields around the house for several years.  This long, hot, dry summer seems to have what she has needed to successfully raise a litter this year.  Now comes the winter – and the half-grown cats are exploring for options they may need in a season they have never experienced.

In general, I like cats – and these little ferals demonstrate their species’ self-domesticating behaviors.  While the wooded area is showing fewer squirrels, the hayfield and edges of the pond are a smorgasbord of mice, voles and frogs that have also moved into a niche where human habitation has made their existence easier.  The ferals, preying on the nuisance rodents, may well improve my life.  Still, my experience with domestic cats, living indoors and moving into a lap to purr and be petted, makes me feel that these ferals are missing an important part of a cat’s life.

I understand how the cuteness motivates people to feed the ferals. I’m a grownup.  I won’t do it.  But I’m tempted to put a couple of cardboard boxes in the woodshed.

Community, Wildlife

A Reminder of My Best Week of Work

I let the little dogs out and heard an elk bugling in the distance.  At first I thought “This is too early.” but as the sound continued, my mind went back over 30 years, to the finest week of work I have ever enjoyed.

It was in the late 80’s, and I was working for Cadastral – and the task was to relocate and mark the survey monuments on the mining claims in the ten lakes basin. It was a simple job, with notes from 75 years before (or more) copied, ready to be retraced with a hand-held compass – mining claims are small, a bit over 20 acres, and you don’t need super-precise equipment to find the old corners.

It was a fine September – much like this one – in a place where I will not return.  One monument was a post, just over the divide, overlooking the Tobacco Plains and Koocanusa.  The location was carved, scribed onto the post, and I restacked the rocks around it . . . rocks my predecessor had left stacked that had been moved during 80 seasons of snow, wind and ice.  The next guy may have to replace the post – I was happy just to put things as they were originally.

Along one of the trails, I found the hole chiseled into rock that marked the corner – filled with needles and dust from the preceding 80 years.  I painted the rock around the hole with red paint, then moved to a nearby rock face and established a point, a distance and bearing that will let the man or woman who follows a half-century from now find the point easier.  For now, hikers walk by the corner and the notes on the rock face undisturbed and uncaring.  Someday, another surveyor will find the points and think, as I did, “Those old guys did good work.”

The challenges of making coffee and oatmeal with a small morning fire, with only the light pot and bowl that fit in the backpack.  It isn’t a place or task that I shall return to – the feet don’t allow it anymore.  But I was there, hearing the elk bugle as I worked that week, enjoying the coffee, blessing the ease that instant oatmeal made in cooking breakfast.  The memories are enough – and I appreciate the bull elk’s bugling to bring them back in detail.

Community, Wildlife

Montana Moves to Control Burgeoning Wolf Population

The Reintroduction of Wolves into Montana has been very successful, from only about 60 in the state in the 1990’s to estimates of over a thousand today. The State Government has recently passed a law to reduce the wolf population.

Here’s Dean Weingarten’s writing on the topic:

On 20 August, 2021, the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission voted to follow the intent of bill SB315, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte, on 30 April, 2021. SB314 was passed with the goal of reducing the wolf population while maintaining a minimum of 15 breeding pairs or 300 wolves in Montana. The 15 breeding pairs or 300 wolves are mandated to keep the wolf in Montana from being re-listed as an endangered species by the Federal government.

Re-listing would remove management of the wolf population from state control. The bill passed 62 to 35 in the House, 29 to 20 in the Senate, and was signed by Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on 30 April, 2021. From ktvq.com:

After a public comment period that drew more than 26,000 comments, the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission at its August 20 meeting adopted several changes to the 2021/2022 wolf hunting and trapping regulations.

Changes include eliminating quotas, increasing the number of wolf trapping and hunting licenses allowed for individual hunters, extending wolf trapping seasons, and the allowance of snares for trapping wolves.

Here is a summation of the rule changes, from a transcript of the Commission adoption of Wolf Harvest rules for 2021-2022.

There is no quota for the number of wolves to be harvested. A review of the harvest by the Fish & Wildlife Commission is required when 450 wolves are reported as taken. Another review will be triggered whenever an additional 50 wolves are harvested.

Wolf trappers are allowed a total of 10 wolves for the season. Wolf hunters have to buy a license for each wolf taken, with a limit of 10 licenses per hunter. There are limitations on what type of snares can be used. Spring powered snares are allowed on private land, but not on public land. Limitations on the snares used are designed to prevent the death of non-target species. Night hunting for wolves, with artificial lights and/or night vision devices, is allowed on private land.

When wolves are harvested, the harvest is required to be reported to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) within 24 hours. A review of the harvest will be triggered if a grizzly bear or lynx is captured in a snare or trap.

In most parts of Montana, the wolf season will start on the first Monday after Thanksgiving to March 15. FWP is given the authority to delay the season start in those districts designated as Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones, but the season cannot be delayed later than 15 December, when most bears are expected to be denned up and hibernating. Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones are a small part of the state.

From 2012 to 2019 the average annual wolf harvest in Montana was 242 wolves. In 2020, the harvest was 328 wolves. The wolf population in Montana has been estimated at 1200 wolves.

The foremost wolf expert in the field, David Mech, suggested 50% of wolves over 5-10 months old need to be harvested each year to keep a stable population. Others suggested the number could be as low as 30%. From Wolf population dynamics (state of the art) p. 184:

Mech (1970, 63-64) suggested that over 50% of the wolves over 5-10 months old must be killed each year to control a wolf population, basing his estimate on Rausch’s (1967) age structure data on over 4,000 harvested Alaskan wolves. Because these wolves were killed in fall and winter, the 50% kill figure would have been in addition to natural mortality from birth to 5-10 months of age. Keith (1983) reevaluated the proposed 50% kill figure by assembling data from several field studies. He concluded that the figure should be less than 30%, including a precautionary hedge. However, the data he used (Keith 1983, table 8) included populations that may have been stationary when 41% were taken, and declining populations with a 58%-70% take. These data do not conflict with the 50% figure.

The Commission adopted the changes on a 3 to 2 vote. Elections have consequences. From mtpr.org:

Pat Byorth voted against the proposal. Byorth is the only commissioner who is a holdover appointee from former Gov. Steve Bullock; the rest of the commission was appointed by Gov. Greg Gianforte. Byorth said the new measures run at odds to long-established hunting ethics and fair chase in Montana.

If the commission is to follow the law, they need to reduce the wolf population. A harvest of 450 wolves would be a step in the right direction. To reach a harvest of 450 wolves, the commission loosened some of the many restrictions on wolf hunting and trapping.

Whether the removal of those restrictions will be enough to reach the minimum goal of 450 wolves harvested will become known in the 2021-22 wolf season.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board reached a similar conclusion to the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission in 2021. The Wisconsin Board increased the wolf harvest goal in to 300, in an attempt to reduce the burgeoning number of wolves in the state.

Grey wolves migrated from northern Alaska to what is now Canada, the lower 48 states, and South America about 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. The migration of man to the same area may have happened that late. There are persistent archeological indications man may have preceded the wolf by thousands of years.

As long as the grey wolf has existed in most of Alaska, Canada, the lower 48 states and South America, they have been in competition with man for prey. Before the grey wolf became established, the dire wolf, the sabre toothed tiger, and the short faced bear became extinct. Many think man was the cause of that extinction.

©2021 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included. http://gunwatch.blogspot.com/2021/09/montana-moves-to-control-burgeoning.html

A Science for Everyone, Wildlife

No Climax Species When Climate Changes

Half a century ago, I was exposed to the concept of a climax species – and I really liked the idea that there would be a single identifiable species of tree (or grass) that would indicate all I need to know about the climate, the environment.

I thought of the dominance of ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass on the Tobacco Plains, versus the dominant Douglas Fir/Western Larch around Trego – and the 4-inch difference between the annual precipitation that shows up with 400’ difference in elevation and a quarter degree of latitude. 

Somewhere over that half-century, I gradually came to realize that climate, like weather, changes.  A glance at the drumlins north of Eureka provides evidence of the retreating glaciers.  The old shorelines of glacial lake Missoula show that things have changed.  In southern Colorado, the same annual precipitation that supports Douglas Fir forest in Trego supports pinon pine and rubber rabbitbrush.  Entrepreneur.com explains that George Church, Ph.D.  is working on genetically recovering the Wooly Mammoth – 

The reason is this: One of the greatest threats to the earth is the melting of the arctic permafrost and its massive release of the greenhouse gasses that are stored safely in its freeze. When the herds of woolly mammoth and other animals vanished, that area became covered with a forest that keeps the earth warmer. Church is betting on the idea that a resurrected population of the mammoths, if let loose in the arctic, would chomp and stomp down the bush and trees, exposing the earth to subzero temperatures and allowing the tundra’s original grasslands to grow back. That ecosystem, maintained by the large creatures, would then effectively sequester carbon, rather than allowing it back into the atmosphere.”

Author: Liz Brody, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/384478

Dr. Church has partnered with Texan Ben Lamm to fund this project – Lamm says it will take six to eight years to get the baby mammoths on the ground.  I had mammoth bones and teeth at the TSJC museum, along with bison antiquus from Folsom – so I have a decent idea how big the critters are.  Church is from Harvard – Boston – close to sea level.  Lamm is from Texas – a state that doesn’t have a lot of experience with continental glaciation.

I suspect your view of climate change is related to your location.  I live at 3,000 feet elevation.  A rising sea level isn’t much of a concern.  At just shy of the 49th parallel, a bit of global warming doesn’t threaten me as much as it does Texas, or Boston harbor.

Still, I’m not certain this is all that good an idea.  I don’t particularly want the glaciers back . . . and bears in the apple trees are enough of a nuisance.  I don’t know what it would take to fence out a wooly mammoth.


Bears know that the apples are ready…

It’s time to pick apples – at least according to the local wildlife. This weekend, we happened upon an adult black bear and her cubs munching on the apples down by the Trego railroad crossing in the wee morning hours.

Bears aren’t too picky about ripeness. Like many mammals, they’re attracted to the smell of fermentation – (the smell indicates a fruit has the highest calorie content it’s going to get). As apples get ripe (and then overripe) they become even better bear attractants.

Can bears become inebriated? Certainly! Glacier Park had a number of incidents back in the 80’s. Several railroad spills released thousands of tons of barley and corn. Buried by cleanup efforts, much of the grain fermented anaerobically, producing high volumes of alcohol. Upon emerging in the spring, bears promptly dug up the fermented mash, wish predictable consequences.

While unattended grain can ferment well, fruit left to its own devices rarely produces enough alcohol to have an effect on large mammals. Bears may be in your apple trees in the near future, but at least you won’t have to worry about them being drunk and disorderly. Not from that, anyway.