Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An ode to the poor, wet little elk

A poem from my friend and faithful reader Wendy:

"Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,[...]"

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Much thanks for sharing Wendy!!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Before and After



Comment from my father:
"How is it that you are able to be "silently dismayed" for being unable to witness "ecology in action" while, on the other hand, you lable the injured hapless prey as "the poor little lonely, terrified, and wet calf"?? I think there is a soft-hearted human inside the researcher's green refrigerator suit."

Tis true...I am not a completely heartless ecologist.  It is hard to see the life taken away from an innocent, young grazing animal that never hurt a soul.  Seeing the aftermath is much easier than watching the wolves take the calf.  But if its going to happen anyways....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Escape Artist

“Oh no!  Go go go go!!  Get away!  Yaayy!”  I wondered what the wolves thought about being cheered and jeered at by the crowds of people who had lined up along the road to watch the wolves’ attempt at obtaining elk calf victuals.  Most of the onlookers were pulling for the calf.  I was silently dismayed when the calf was able to repeatedly escape the ravenous jaws.  I cannot but help being excited for ecology in action.

Prior to my arrival to the scene, the wolves had shunted several elk away from the main herd.  The small group had taken safety in the waters of the Madison River, a place deep enough for the elk to stand but forcing the wolves to swim.  The river’s current would simply push the wolves downstream, preventing them from gaining any sort of advantage on the hapless elk.  At some point, the wolves wandered away, probably to catch their breath and take a break, during which time the elk were able to get out of the water and make a run for it to the main herd.  But somehow a calf was left behind, and the wolves came back for another try. 

The wolves belonged to Canyon pack, with only three wolves; the same three wolves my mother, Mary Youderian, and I observed on a carcass earlier this season in Norris Geyser Basin.  The tri-canid clan is a wonderful sight; the black alpha male commanding a beautiful white female and a large gray male.  The energetic gray made repeated attempts at the lone calf, but the calf, even in utter terror, held her position in the deeper water.  Several swimming attempts by the gray were fruitless, as the rivers current would push him away.  I had found it a bit odd that the pack wasn’t working together.  The gray was actively jumping down from the snowy bank into the water, then jumping out, and running along the bank, trying to get the calf to make a mistake.  The white female helped a little, but it took her a while to get excited about it; at first she was hesitant to even put her paws in the water.  The black alpha mostly just looked on.  Maybe he knew the futility of trying, for the calf had the upper hand in the situation, simply because it remained in the water. 

Finally, all three wolves jumped into action, running along the bank, getting in and out of the water as the horrified calf swam downstream, then upstream, then downstream.  The gray dropped off the bank and disappeared into the water where we could see neither him nor the elk.  Seconds later, a shriek pierced the air; the calf had screamed as the gray had latched onto its leg.  But the calf still got away.  The wolves continued at it, until they apparently were too dog-tired.  Eventually, they left the calf for good, hoofed it into the trees and bedded down, where they remained for the rest of the day.  It took the calf about an hour to mentally recover, after which she finally came out of the water and headed downstream.  Her left rear leg had a red gash where the wolf had chomped down. 

The calf got away this time...

(Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera on hand when all the events above unfolded, and, also unfortunately, all the pictures I was able to take when I did get my camera were not very good...but here are a few)

The "white" female

the black alpha male (looks like a black log)

the gray male

and the poor little lonely, terrified, and wet calf (with leg injury)

Thursday, January 21, 2010 on a supervolcano...

At exactly 11:16 PM last night, Yellowstone sent out a reminder to those terrestrial-bound creatures treading upon her soil (this includes me), that there is much more to the park than pretty, puffing, spewing geysers and elusive wolves stealing through the trees after elk.  I happened to be asleep at the time, but no matter, she awoke me without care or consideration.  "What the? the bed is shaking...wait...(now that I'm more awake)...the entire house is shaking!"  Only a short few seconds past, and the tremor was over.  In my dreamy state of mind, I laid my head back on my pillow, muttered "awesome" to myself, and immediately went back to sleep.

This was actually not the first reminder that Yellowstone has issued forth from her bowels.  In fact, one occurred 15 minutes earlier, but I was dead to the world.  Actually, the past three days have held several earthquakes over 3.0 magnitude.  The one that awoke me was the largest, with a magnitude of 3.8.  Click here to see more!  

These clusters of earthquake activity are considered entirely normal for Yellowstone.  It is to be expected, since it is a volcano.

Special Map

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shotgun Photos: A Smattering of Experiences

The paucity of recent posts has caused me much chagrin, but circumstances and events in Yellowstone have prevented me from making any contributions to my blog lately.  The occurrences of late have been unremitting and much so that I don't even know where to begin.  So, instead of extended use of words, I will let the photos from the past two weeks speak mostly for themselves.

**DISCLAIMER:  Several photos contained in this post may not be suitable for the eyes of children or those who are ultra-sensitive to scenes of dead things.  Parental and personal discretion is advised to prevent possible nightmares or mental scarring.**

On the trail of the wolf...

The fish dropped by a Bald Eagle directly in front of Megan as she zipped by on her snowmobile.

Places the wolves take you...

Goose killsite

"Perty cold out dis marnin..."

Killed by wolves #1: The death of a calf...

My good friend Jon committing himself to good data collection...

Coyote: killed by wolf or other coyote?  Necropsy results suggest coyote.

Believe it or not: The tracks of a golden eagle attempting to fly away but unable.  Why?  Too much food in the belly!  We watched him try to fly away from us, but was so gorged, he landed in the river, swam across, crawled up the bank on the otherside, and stood on a log to dry out.

A very content Jon after tracking wolves on snowshoes...

Black eyes and nose on a fur of white; hidden in the snow, you are quite a sight!
An ermine curiously peeks from his snowy tunnel system.

Killed by wolves #2: the death of a cow elk...

Who am I?

Can you see me?

Killed by wolves #3: one less calf elk

Killed by wolves #4: one less cow elk

A run-in with wolves. A mortal wound?

Scarring from a tree branch?  or wolves?

My dear friend Madeline listening intently for the 'beep beep beep' of nearby wolves.

Old Faithful Geyser...During Madeline's visit, my first time seeing the eruption since the beginning of the season...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Purple Mountain and a Blue Moon

Purple Mountain has been calling to me, beckoning that I climb to its top before the end of the season.  And several nights ago, I undertook answering its summon.  The light emanating from the nearly full, blue moon was dimmed by the thin cloud cover, but I could still see well enough to forgo headlight use.  The world was black and white; no other colors existed.  The climb seemed endless, but even as I slogged on and my skis bogged down in stashes of powder, I was enjoying every minute.  I had already passed several wolf tracks cutting across the trail, causing much suspicion and eyeing of black blobs in the trees, but I soon relaxed my fears, something I am learning to do pretty effectively.  The summit was imminent; I could tell by the tree-top horizon line above me and the deepening of the snow. 

Forcing my skis through deep drifts and wandering about in deep thoughts, I kicked hard at my skis to release them from the crusty and powdery snow, when suddenly…a flash in my peripheral.  A small object had jetted through the air from behind me, and landed in the lodgepole pine tree in front of me to my left.  I immediately thought “owl!” This was terribly exciting.  Without taking my eyes off the tree, I fumbled for my headlamp and then fumbled for the on switch.  I pointed the pale blue light of my headlamp at the owl sitting on a branch.  The stick-like owl remained the stick that it was.  I scanned the tree more thoroughly, and was pleased to find a furry tail hanging from the bark.  The tail belonged to none other than the flying squirrel.  It clung frozen to the tree, eyeing me suspiciously.  I stood frozen, eyeing it curiously.  At that very moment, I decided that the flying squirrel is my favorite mammal.  With a small step closer, I frightened it further up the tree.  Another step closer and it made a mighty leap from the tree.  I could see its pure white underbelly as it flared its “wings” out.   Kamikaze-like, the flying squirrel careened through the air; moments later I heard it smack into another tree, out of sight.  Two or three times that night, I perceived that the squirrel was following me, but was never able to see it again.  I have had one other similar experience with a flying squirrel while mountain biking at night in the Bozeman area.  Nearly the same thing happened; I had stopped after hearing my buddy Jon eat it on an invisible stump behind me.  Just as I turned my head around to see the damage done to Jon, a flying squirrel banked right in front of me and landed on a tree next to me.  I now believe that these squirrels, out of pure curiosity, will purposefully fly and land next to you just to check you out.  (By the way, Jon wrecked pretty good, but was ok as I surmised from his smile; even though it is deadly, we love night mountain biking).  I made it to the top of Purple Mountain, and then made some sloppy but great tele turns down the slope on my cross country skis, only getting a face full of snow every few meters.  How many flying squirrels leapt into the air after me on my descent?

To my readers:  Has anyone else had a flying squirrel experience?  I would love to hear (!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year In Yellowstone

Wishing everyone a new year that was even better than the last.  Here's a photo of our new years celebration.  Pretty exciting eh?  You probably wish you were there.

(Mary Ann [seasonal biologist for the park] with Simon on the left, Megan [my coworker] with phone on the right)

On the first day of the new year, my cousin Debbie DeVoe came to visit.  She suited up in the big green refrigerator suit (which kept her nice and toasty), and we zipped into the park, counting trumpeter swans, listening for collared wolves, admiring elk, and chasing coyotes around Old Faithful.  She treated me to a large hamburger, which I haven't had in quite a while.  We both had a blast, and it was great to see her before she heads back to Nairobi.  Thanks Debbie!

(That's Debbie in the green refrigerator suite)