Nature News from GYE #46

January 9, 2023

Trumpeter Swan, photo by Chris Piehler

Why do we feel such peace in the natural world? Have you ever stopped to think about that?

“For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free”.

In a previous edition of this newsletter, I quoted Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of the Wild Things. That is the last line of the poem. Perhaps this begins to answer the question about nature in our lives.
Recently, I spent the week over Christmas with a group of Yellowstone travelers. Ecosystems like this continue to delight and inspire people of all ages, from many corners of the world. All bring with them vast life experiences to share and add to a collective idea of the wild. Most return home with new layers of understanding and wonder. Every trip is different.
You’ll see photos below from that week, along with others from this early winter in Montana.

This first photo is a Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ram we encountered north of the town of Gardiner. The “northern range” refers to the Lamar River drainage and beyond the confluence with the Yellowstone River all the way north into the Paradise Valley. Lots of species travel with the seasons following old migration corridors in this northern range. This time of year, many species are found outside the Yellowstone boundaries to the north where less snow accumulates on the ground and it’s easier to find food.

Photo by Chris Piehler


Photo by Chris Piehler
Photo by Chris Piehler

The combination of steam (or any humidity in the air) and cold air forms fantastical ice and snow crystallization on vegetation. This Lodgepole Pine has collected supercooled moisture to form rime ice on the needles. Subsequently teeny snowflakes fall onto this rime and form this frosty appearance.

Coyotes in this area seem to be much larger and sometimes will be mistaken for wolves. Outer Guard hairs grow long with extra layers of undercoats to adapt to colder winter temperatures..

The fact is they have to work hard for a meal in the deep snow, often times listening to movements of the many species that thrive in the “subnivean” layer, deep below the surface of the snow. Ultimately a powerful pounce launches them into the cold to capture (sometimes with success) a meal.

This photo is a bit of a mystery. I considered asking YOU to guess what it is!
Someone mentioned it looks like an oyster bed, but we don’t find those in this area!

It was taken in a hotspring runoff channel and shows one of a myriad of microbial mats that form and thrive in these extreme conditions.

Photo by Leslie

Photo by Chris Piehler

Bull elk have come into the winter just after the “rut” is behind them. They are nutritionally depleted because of the energy it takes to compete with other bulls and keep their harems intact. Bull elk that have been challenging each other all fall come back together and hang out in groups of males throughout the winter. They keep their antlers during this time to help defend them against predators. The antlers drop in spring when an ample supply of new vegetation provides the nutrients they need to grow a new set. New antler growth begins as soon as they drop the previous years antlers. Females carry the calves all winter and give birth to the young late May or June.

What can I say? Below, I am sharing a photo of the beauty of fresh snow as it gathers on the trees. Lots of debate has occurred recently about the idea that Inuit people of the north have a myriad of names for snow in different stages. In their language, snow is not just snow. It is seen in different forms, and a few different words exist. Nutaryuk is ‘fresh snow’, and Qali is snow that collects in trees as this magical scene.

( I don’t think a name exists for snow that piles up in your driveway or on your roof and takes ALL DAY to remove! )

photo by Leslie
River Otters on the Lamar River by Chris Piehler

River Otters are not rare, but it’s not common to catch a glimpse of these entertaining mammals. Otters are supremely adapted to living in cold winters. . The mammals have a uniquely thick, protective fur to help them keep warm while swimming in cold waters. They have short legs, webbed feet for faster swimming, and a long, narrow body and flattened head for streamlined movement in the water. They can close their ears and nose to allow them to stay underwater up to 5 minutes. Otters move from water hole to water hole looking for fish. River Otters are social animals, unlike other members of the weasel family, and, at times, seem to be frolicking together and sliding along the ice and snow as if on a toboggan ride! No wonder a group of otters is referred to as “a romp”

Before I finish this, I want to share just a few other photos from a day out on snowshoes yesterday and a ski today.

Notice all the tracks visible . The first is, of course looking back at the my snowshoe tracks and the Lionshead Range to the west.

This beautiful swan is swimming in a creek wheretracks show that otters and coyotes and bobcats have been close to the banks hunting.

Across the open meadow, one can see evidence of other life traveling in this same drainage.

A treasure about being out in winter is finding evidence, like what you see above, of “others” that have been here before us. Above are some fresh porcupine tracks a friend and I saw today on a ski. We followed the tracks (fresh enough to see the claw marks in the snow) to the base of this tree and here was evidence of something nibbling on the tree. Then….Mike said, “there he is!” The big ol’ Porcupine was high in the tree resting.

Good 2023 to all of you.

Leslie

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