Idaho Birdwatching

Nothing says “El Hefe” like a displaying male wild turkey! Both the mail and female California Quail display that distinctive head feather; larger in the mails. Beautiful magpies have developed an unwarranted bad reputation in many parts of the world. Swainson’s Hawks are great migrators that return to our area in the spring; this one appears to be a younger bird. You’d expect to find the Great Horned Owl in a tree instead of the side of a cliff – but not in Idaho.

 

Open areas are a great place for wildlife observation and photography and Idaho has some of the best. Without all those pesky trees and other vegetation in the way you can get some nice, clear uninterrupted shots – and get them at eye level too – often a rare opportunity when dealing with our avian friends. This was the case in the above example of the wild turkey. I had just entered the visitors center at the Deer Flats Wildlife Refuge outside of Boise last week when I noticed several large birds moving around outside. Surprised at the color and size of the animals I asked one of the curators there if these were truly wild turkeys. I was assured that they were indeed wild turkeys. The birds had shown up unexpectedly about a month ago and kept returning. I immediately raced back out to my car, grabbed my camera, and prowled up to the back of the building where the big guy posed for some excellent shots. On two other wildlife parks outside of Boise, the names of both I have forgotten, I took these pictures of a Great Horned Owl burrowed into a rocky cliff and a family of Magpies. Magpies are members of the corvid family and have a surprisingly large range. I’ve seen them in Alaska, throughout the Northwest, Korea, and Central Asia. But when you get into taking photographs of wildlife you soon learn that you never know when a prime opportunity will present itself. I had been trying to get good photos of California Quail for some time. They are common birds and relatively at ease around humans but the ones I encountered in the wild were difficult to approach. Then one day on the ID National Guard Airfield at Gowen Field this flock allowed me to snap several nice shots. Shortly afterward I was zooming along the highway outside of that same place when this Swainson’s hawk caught my attention. I pulled over and clicked away as the bird sat calmly by. Great opportunities pop up in unlikely places so keep that camera handy.

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Hanako the Elephant

After hearing the sad news from the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma about this elephant’s foot cancer I decided to post this article I wrote for American Animal Trainer Magazine almost 20 years ago. There are some very interesting observations about Hanako from her keeper in those days:

THE POINT DEFIANCE ZOO – CONVERSION TO PROTECTED CONTACT AND HANDLING PROBLEM ELEPHANTS

John M. Regan

            The Port Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, is a compact, beautiful zoo located within Point Defiance Park.  Jutting out into Puget Sound, the park overlooks a uniquely beautiful scene of wonderful cliffs, tall pines, and waterfront scenery.  In 1992 the zoo underwent completed a major renovation allowing it to increase its animal collection.  The elephant population was included in this increase, and with it came the decision to switch to protected contact training.  In October I had the opportunity to visit the zoo and spoke to veteran trainer/keepers, Sally Joseph and Craig Wilcox.  With over fifty years of training experience between them, Sally and Craig shared some valuable training tips about converting to PC and handling problem elephants.

            Like its unique location, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium has some unique training challenges concerning their elephants. Not surprisingly, space is at a premium. The park contains a respectable variety of animals within its 27 acres and this does not leave big tracts for large species.  The outdoor enclosure for the elephants is about one and a half acres and the indoor stalls, while beautifully designed, do not have large amounts of room either.  But these physical problems are minor considerations compared to the challenges presented by its three female Asian elephants.

Sally Joseph, who has been with the Point Defiance park since 1993, introduced me to the herd.  Sally’s expertise with elephants began in 1972 with the Baby Zoo Inc. in Oakland.  Since that time Sally has worked elephants in zoos and circuses throughout the country, including fifteen years on the road with her own elephant.  She is direct and blunt, and a full convert to the protected contact system.  Since Sally has had a full range of experience with full and protected methods her comments were particularly insightful.

I’m sure anyone familiar with elephants knows how individual their personalities are.  They can be congenial, aggressive, bright, not so bright, etc.  But the elephants at Point Defiance are an exceptionally diverse lot.  The herd consists of Cindy, Hanako, and Suki.  Although a small elephant population by some standards, each presents separate and peculiar problems that provide a real test for protected contact training and the skill of the keepers.

Cindy, who has now been in protected contact for about nine years, was originally purchased from a small casino in Nevada.  Until she was about two years old Cindy was used for entertainment at various enterprises such as grocery store openings.  She soon out grew these pursuits and was sold to Point Defiance.  For the next twenty years she was raised by herself in a relatively confined area until the zoo renovated in 1992.

Continue reading Hanako the Elephant

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Tribute to a Wonderful Dog – Megan Regan Aug 2003 – March 2018

In light of my heritage and upbringing ST Patrick’s Day is normally one of the happiest days of the year for me – but not this year. Saturday morning I had to take our beautiful dog, Megan, to the vet and have her put to sleep. I spent the rest of the day digging her grave and burying her. I did not feel at all like celebrating. Megan was our first golden retriever and exemplified all of the endearing qualities of that breed for almost 15 years. My retirement from the Army led to a more stable and relaxed life, and as a result this beautiful animal was more a part of our life than any other animal before. We’ve had several other dogs and cats and grew very close to all the zoo animals we worked with; I’ve even had to put down a number of animals myself in previous jobs, but nothing hit as hard as parting with Megan. She was the first thing we saw in the morning and the last at night. Our long walks, scenic drives, and evenings by the fireplace will never be the same. She absolutely loved to chase sticks, dig for moles, and go for a swim. But most of all she loved being with us. She grew up with our granddaughter and made her life special. She was there when we worked out in our home gym. She was there when I shot darts. She was there when we watched television. She was there when we walked around our property. She always followed us around when we did yardwork. She met me as soon as I came home from work and in the evening we always went out for one last walk before bedtime. Settling her into the ground and covering her up with rocks and dirt was hard on this old soldier and I am not ashamed to admit it. It is hard to describe how much we miss that beautiful canine but I am sure there are many of you out there who understand. I buried Megan with a stick so she’ll have something to do while she waits for us in heaven.

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Wildlife Under the Microscope!

Thanks to a Christmas gift from my wife I recently rediscovered the joy of a childhood hobby. I could go on and on, but I’ll cut it short and put it to you this way – if you don’t have a microscope go out and get one right away! You will not regret it. You and your children will be instantly delighted and fascinated by the exotic world that exists just out of our sight. Scoop up a tiny bit of pond water, put a few drops on a slide, and focus your lens. It is truly like peering into a strange new world populated by a host of unique creatures. We tend to think of microscopic animals as mindless bacteria or “germs” that simply exist in blobs of stagnant water. But when you see these myriad shapes spinning around, stretching, squirming, flashing like bullets and going about their lives amidst a jungle forest of algae you’ll have a different opinion. There are predators in this microscopic forest searching for prey. You’ll see internal organs pulsating in transparent bodies, flashing antenna, tiny clawed feet, dark black eyes, shapes that change like magic. It is a show like nothing else on earth! And that is not all. Although the wonderfully strange animal life is the main attraction the myriad geometric shapes and color of the plant life is a worthy show as well. Some of these shapes are so odd they look like computer generated cartoons instead of actual living organisms. So don’t delay – get your microscope today.

Pictured here are a few of the common microscopic species that inhabit pond water. What appears to be staring back at you with a pair haunting black eyes is a water flea. This is actually a crustacean; in this case likely Daphnia pulex. Not readily apparent in this photo but very visible under the microscope are the large waving antenna used for locomotion and feeding. Then we have a single eyed crustacean very appropriately called a cyclopoid copepod, Macrocyclops aldibus. Next up in the microbial pond water population is a midge fly larvae of the Chironomdiae family. From the research I have done this one appears to be a non-biting midge, distinguished by the pair of antenna jutting out from the animal’s head. I have not yet identified the tiny creatures swarming around it but they are very numerous and very fast moving.

NW Moss – From Big to Really Small

Playing around a bit with my cameras and brand new Christmas microscope. In this case a species of moss common here in the great Northwest, Racomitrium heterostichum. As I get handier with microphotography you’ll see more and more from the animal kingdom. By the way, for those people interested in the very interesting moss and lichen species of our NW climate there are several unique sites and organizations devoted to this very unique study. I highly recommend “Northwest Lichenologists.”

Zoo Review – Alaska Zoo

When else to visit the Alaska Zoo but in winter? This is a beautiful park and even more so when covered in snow but dress warmly. I strolled around in temperatures that hovered about 15 degrees and the cold penetrated quickly. The benefit, however, is the chance to see just how adapted these arctic animals are to frigid temperatures. Although my hands, feet, and ears were freezing most of the animals seemed completely unaffected. Stretched out full length and soundly sleeping a Polar bear and Amur tiger looked completely content. One of the zoo’s polar bears may even be pregnant, by the way. Sika black tailed deer sat unmoving in the snow while Caribou and Bactrian camels munched down on whatever food they could find. Several Musk Ox ambled about nonchalantly. Joining them in pre-historic appearance is the enormous Tibetan Yak. An impressive pack of Gray wolves paced restlessly in their spacious enclosure as a nearby wolverine bounced back and forth in an almost comic manner. Also active was an incredibly beautiful Canadian lynx. Orphaned bear cubs wrestled and played in the snow like children. A huge bull moose sat quietly and appeared bored with the whole thing. The only animal that even appeared cold was a charming white alpaca curled up in its den. Several species of eagles and owls did not look terribly pleased with the weather, but then again happy expressions are not their forte any time of year. Yet cold as it may be for us humans during a winter visit to the Alaska Zoo you ought to try it for that is when these arctic wonders come to life. And don’t worry. The zoo has a comfy coffee shop that’ll warm you right up – and the cookies are delicious.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Afghanistan                                                In a Toads’ Eye

Kenai Peninsula Drive

The next time you happen to be in or around Anchorage, AK be sure to take a drive along the Seward Highway bordering the Kenai Peninsula. Winter, summer, spring or fall you are bound to see some spectacular scenery and equally spectacular wildlife. it was pretty icy during my most recent trip with lots of beautiful ice flows glowing in the setting sun. Steep cliffs border the road on one side but take a closer look and you just might catch a glimpse of dall sheep high up in their pinnacle homes. Cold weather or warm the Beluga whales are out and about but you’ll get the best views during the summer months when the females are out with their calves. If, however, you are not fortunate enough to catch a sighting of these wonderful animals, just keep driving. Pretty soon you’ll reach a small town called Portage where musk ox and a wide variety of other Arctic animals live year round in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Mud Swallow

No, this is not a lair for some Halloween haunted house, even though it does look pretty spooky. As I was returning to my hotel after visiting the World Center for Birds of Prey outside of Boise, ID I noticed a bridge along the highway that crossed over a large dry creek. Always on the lookout for bat habitats I immediately pulled over, grabbed my camera, and headed down under the bridge. Although I did not find any chiropteras hanging about the underpass I did see something just as intriguing. At first I thought I was seeing an elaborate display of mud dawber wasps. On closer inspection, however, these were obviously not wasp nests. To begin with there were no wasps in sight and the wide entrances to these unique structures did not seem appropriate for these insects. Wasp nests do not contain feathers either and these muddy structures had plenty. Unfortunately, none of the feathered inhabitants were present during my visit. A bit of quick research later revealed the identity of the mysterious builders – “Mud Swallows.” More properly called Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica, they build these unique nests out of mud reinforced with grass and feathers. I understand their industrious construction efforts can even be quite a nuisance in some places. I am thoroughly familiar with the Purple Martins that come to nest in our eves every spring but these Barn Swallow nests were a first for me. In fact, the gentlemen who lived right across the street from the bridge had never seen them either; he was pretty surprised when I showed him the pictures. So the next time you happen to near an underpass or bridge don’t hesitate to climb down and take a look. You never know what you’ll find!

What Happened to This Snake??

Note the parallel marking on the head scales. I had not noticed these before.

I stumbled across an odd phenomenon today while out walking my dog. On the other side of the fence bordering our landscaped backyard from the rest of the property (a necessary precaution as we are surrounded by forest, coyotes, and hungry herbivores) I spied a small garter snake coiled near a large rock. This in itself was not unusual despite the fact that we had just been through a day and a half of raucous rain storms but it was a bit cool and the sight of one of my favorite wildlife representatives was welcome. I would have simply smiled and walked on but something about the serpent’s head caught my attention; it seemed to be swollen or something. I picked the snake up. It reacted sluggishly. Odd, but not entirely. Upon inspection, however, I noted something I had never seen before – nearly all of the reptile’s entire lower jaw was missing. Outside of that the serpent appeared completely healthy as is evident from the photos. There are no wounds along its entire body on the top or bottom scales, and the animal appears healthy. I am mystified as to what happened to this snake. An unfortunate encounter with some rodent perhaps? The little guy is in my care now and I will do the best I can to nurse it back to health. I’m sure Snake City Simon would approve. If you have any clue or have seen something similar please write me: reganjm@northwestwildlifeonline.com

HOOAH

JACK

Tree Shapes

Why Do Trees Do What They Do?

A few examples of odd tree shapes. Some trees bend out over a hiking trail while others prefer to stay straight. An extreme example of bending is found on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park. No idea what caused this. Then we have this example of branch “explosion.” Was it a result of the top of the tree being trimmed? If so, what provoked huge right angle limbs to jut out of this tree in the park near Cannon Beach Oregon? And talk about long term relationships – check out this Douglas-fir/Cedar couple. And here’s a unique example of triplets. A huge Douglas-fir split into a pair of enormous trees joined together at the trunk with an oak tree. Why?

Ever since I read the book about the secret life of trees I’ve become more and more aware of these very large and very obvious organisms. Living in the Northwest the first and most difficult thing to ignore about our trees is their size. Douglas-firs, Cedars, Hemlocks, and even our maples are huge. Growing to over 300 feet high with trunks of 10 feet in diameter or more, and life spans lasting hundreds of years, the Douglas-fir (hyphenated in scientific literature because it not actually a fir tree) is our size giant. The tallest Douglas-fir on record in the Olympic forest is 326 feet high. Not far behind is a Sitka Spruce at 305 feet and a Western Hemlock at 241 feet. That’s a lot of lumber! Astonishing to look at indeed, and knowing that the tree built itself to this gigantism by pulling molecules out of dirt adds to the astonishment. But their shape can be just as intriguing. Most of the coniferous species seem to grow with the vertical determination of a fired missile. Looking at them you’d swear you could place a carpenter’s level alongside the trunk and the bubble would be perfectly centered. Then there are some that twist and bend in bizarre angles. While most seem to prefer a solo life keeping some distance between themselves and their neighbors, some bloom like twins and triplets, and even keep company with other trees species. This is not confined only to the coniferous species, of course. I’m sure that within every tree species on earth there are examples of odd, even weird, morphological individuality. The question is why?

References:

Oregon Forest Resources Institute

Article by Arthur Lee Jacobson