So, A Condor, A Raven And A Duck Walk into this Bar…..

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Or Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I know what you’re thinking, Ravens can’t talk or a least if they do they can’t tell jokes, but I think you’re wrong my friend. Too many times when I’ve been out in the field I’ve heard this kind of strangled, snorting sound, like someone wanting to caw out loud but struggles to contain it until they just can’t help themselves and they caw all over the place. The reason they try to hold back is they always want to appear cool. Being cool is everything to a raven. If ravens were people they’d all want to be Steve McQueen. One exception to this rule is when they’re in a roost and forming an “unkindness” of ravens, bet you didn’t know that’s what a bunch of ravens is called, I didn’t either until I spoke to our resident Birdologist, Dr. Lemuel Beakston, who we are glad to report is back on staff on a part time basis, and he confirmed it. But all bets are off when the ravens form an ‘unkindness’ at the roost and let their feathers down and just act goofy. According to Dr. Beakston that’s what all that noise is when you hear them all gathered together, they’re telling jokes, making sarcastic remarks about crows, their dumb third cousins, and generally making fools of themselves until they fall off their perches. That type of behavior is difficult to observe in the wild unless you spend a lot of time in the field, which we do. As has been mentioned before we bring you the most up to date information on wildlife activities and behaviors that can be found on the interweb so that you, our readers, have the most complete knowledge of the natural world possible. It is a free service we provide here at the Worldwide Headquarters of our Media Empire and we’re glad to do it. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

ManySheep

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One of the things you notice about petroglyphs after you see a few of them is their sameness. This is not a bad thing, but there seems to have been an accepted way for their artists to portray the subject matter regardless of the geographical location. That has always seemed odd to me. Did they have an art school where young stone drawing artists were sent to learn the proper way to draw Bighorn Sheep and then returned home to their tribe to chronicle the information in the proscribed way ? The subjects are all approximately the same physical size on the rock, you never see close-ups of a Bighorn sheep’s head for instance or any variation for that matter, yet these images may be several hundred miles apart, a really significant distance when you consider they walked everywhere and a ten mile jaunt would be huge distance to travel for the average inhabitant to make unless they were relocating. It might be the origin of a guild system where the resident artist took a young apprentice under their tutelage and soundly drilled the basics into them so there wouldn’t be any variation and the information from the image would then be available to anyone seeing it. None of this three-legged sheep with one horn business to confuse the viewer. But even if this happened why didn’t different schools of art develop. That would be a natural condition. One guy who drew the legs a little longer than his teacher so that eventually you would have the long legged Bighorn school of art group and then a form of regional art, but this never seemed to have happened. I know that in Japan the art of Ukiyo-e or wood block printing was taught in this way, a guild system, and the young students were shown the proper way to draw just one line that would be the start of a face or hand, no deviation, do it exactly as shown or you ran the risk of getting your rice bowl broken and you heaved out into the street. Unfortunately I don’t have the answers but I think it’s high time we perfected this time travel thing so that we could go back and get some of these mysteries solved. Deep thoughts, I know, and its a Monday too. In the meantime, questions or not, I can enjoy the beauty of these ancient images for what they are, and share them with you.

This is Just Embarrassing

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Great Blue Herons are trained fisherman. From as soon as they can wade they’re out there watching, studying, learning, generally getting this whole fish hunting thing down. They are supposed to be super sleuth-y and hyper-vigilant in their surroundings so it is a shock to see how degraded their educational system has become when you observe how inadequately this new generation of Herons has been educated. I lay it at the feet of all those who brought New Math into the school system. That’s right, those damned hippies. We reap what we sow people. We need to get this right. This fish was deliberately insulting because it felt absolutely no fear. No fear at all.

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 Here it is waving it’s tail at the Heron in a deliberate provocation knowing it was perfectly safe.

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 Not once but twice this fish jumped completely out of the water and into the air just as high as it could. The air is not a fishes natural environment. It doesn’t belong there. To enter into the Heron’s world with impunity like this is a direct challenge to everything Herons hold to be true, yet it causes no reaction at all from this Heron. None.

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Baffled by this behavior I went to check with both our staff birdologist and our fishologist, then I remembered that I had canned them during the last down turn. Sequestration is causing us a lot of problems. However Captain Colorado our  janitor I mean, building maintenance technician here at the World Headquarters of our Media Empire, has been filling in for them until we can do some rehires. After studying the pictures and considering this unusual behavior he came to the following conclusion. “This just ain’t right” he said nodding slowly. When pressed further for a more concise opinion he said “Yeah, that is some weird stuff boy-o.” Captain Colorado doesn’t say a lot but he means every word he says. Note to self: Look hard at rehires.

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 Even the fish got disgusted and returned to the water probably to boast to all it’s fish friends about how it ‘owned’ this poor but pathetic loser. The Heron continued on having all the appearances of an expert fish catcher yet totally oblivious to it’s surroundings. Apparently this one was missed during the “Leave no Great Blue Heron Behind” program we had recently. It still had not caught anything to eat several hours later when I left, so this may be a self correcting problem if it does not get it’s act together. I’m sorry to say that it did not seem bright enough even to be ashamed, a sad commentary indeed on the state of Great Blue Herons everywhere. With this kind of education I can not see a bright future for this individual. So, I guess the moral here as I see it is, ‘Stay in school and pay attention’ or go hungry. Don’t be a self correcting problem.

The Navigator

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If you have ever wondered how those bull elk with their huge antlers navigate through the dense woods in the mountains where they live here’s a small example. The antlers on these big boys can grow to some truly incredible sizes, spanning 48 inches or more and growing to a length of four feet. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds. Imagine walking around with a 40 pound bag of dog food on your head and you get an idea as to why these guys tend to get grumpy in the fall. Well, we know there are other reasons too, but this has got to be right up there.

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Taking a look at this thicket of dense shrubs, small trees, larger trees, deadfalls, snags and everything else that makes up prime elk habitat, you wonder why would he even want to go in there.

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But there is no way to tell what is going on in an animal’s mind and we can only watch and wonder.

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The grass being greener in the middle of the woods he starts into the stand of trees, slowly moving forward with his head down, so preoccupied with getting as much of that new fresh grass in his stomach that he soon finds his antlers under a deadfall.

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I neglected to mention that those antlers are covered in a soft downy velvet that has a blood flow just under the surface to maintain the growing process and are very sensitive. These fellows takes a great deal of care not to bang into things or damage those antlers in any way. Now if that were one of us with our 40 pound bag of dog food strapped to our head but having it sticking out two feet on either side and connected to our central nervous system we would be ‘freaking out’.  Not this guy though, he knows to a millimeter where the ends of those antlers are and he slowly but carefully maneuvers them down and around that snag without the slightest hesitation. His neck muscles have to be incredibly strong to be able to constantly control the tilt and angle of that heavy load day in and day out until he drops them in mid-winter.

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Having conquered that little obstacle he heads off into the dense forest. If you watch elk at all you will often see them running through terrain like this. They will tip their antlers back laying them along their flanks and just bust through those trees. Of course they usually do that when the velvet is off and the antlers have hardened to the point where they can withstand everything a bull elk does, from digging into the ground to throw clumps of grass and debris into the air to show how tough he is, to actually proving it by smashing into another bull his size, crashing their antlers together, hoping to vanquish his foe and thereby capture the ladies.

Got Spring ?

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We’ve had snow and the accompanying cold weather all through April and it has the feeling that spring is still along way away. It is virtually sacrilegious to speak ill of the snow and it’s moisture here in the west, especially since we’ve been in a drought and were worried where our water was going to come from. And of course the staff here at the World Headquarters of our Media Empire would never do such a thing, fearing to not only anger the gods but our neighbors in the realm, I mean neighborhood as well. It hasn’t been too long ago that one saw torch-light and heard cries of “There he is. Get a rope!” echoing through the valleys. It is just that after a long winter facing the trek up and down the icy goat trail that leads to the headquarters you begin to long for a little spring, a little moist, damp, high moisture content, spring. To that end we have set the scientific members of our staff, the snowologists, the NOAA guys that have joined us because it was just getting too boring going down to the south pole all the time, Captain Colorado our janitor, excuse me, building maintenance technician, who reads a lot, and several others to develop a new weather phenomenon that I can’t tell you anything about because it is really, really secret. I can tell you though that it has to do with creating 70 degree snow. Oh man, did I just say that out loud. Listen if you heard that you can’t tell anyone. We are way ahead of the Russians on this and getting to the patent office first is crucial to our funding here at the World Headquarters of our Media Empire so keep it to yourself. In light of the important, I would say crucial work, being done here, I think it is only fair that we ask you to pitch in, if you can’t send money then at least help us with some of our developmental problems, for instance we are having some difficulty with the whole melting thing, so your input could be critical. OK then, to answer the unasked question, what does that have to do with today’s picture? Well, everything. meadowlarks are the harbingers of spring, they need to get to work here. They can’t do that if they are feathers deep in cold snow. We need to get this spring thing on the road. So give us a hand, we need you and America needs you!

Ring of Bright Otters

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They’re not rare, they’re not even uncommon, but they are elusive. There are people who have been going to Yellowstone for years that have never seen them and then there are those first timers who casually say , “Oh yeah we’ve seen them every day this week, want to see a picture”. It just goes to show you that life is unfair and it’s often unkind. Otters is what we’re talking about. Otters here, otters there, Otters everywhere, just not where you are when you want to take their picture. I was one of the fortunate because I was lucky enough to find them floating and fishing their way down the Madison river one afternoon and they stayed in a stretch of the river known as the log jam near seven mile bridge for several hours. That’s where I got hooked. From that point on Otters have been one of the big three for me whenever I’m in the park. This particular bunch happened to be up at the north end of Lake Yellowstone in Pelican creek near Indian pond and were headed back out into the lake. There were several den holes in the bank along the creek and they had been resting in one getting ready for as much chaos and mayhem as they could pack into the rest of the day. As you no doubt know each otter contains all the energy in eleven five-year olds who have been fed all the sugar they could gag down and then compressed into a long sleek supple body created solely for mischief. Fun to watch but don’t get involved.

Little Gate on the Prairie

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Much of the time spent photographing the high plains area in Northern Colorado is spent on shooting the ‘Big’ stuff, things like the mountain ranges from a plains viewpoint or huge sweeping vistas of rolling hills and grasslands, but like any other place you’ve been to, the details are what give it it’s personality. That personality is more often than not created by the folks that live here and a lot of that personality is highlighted by the ingenuity and common sense details that they have established. This little gate for instance is located quite some distance from any habitation and appears to have been put there so one can cross the fence without ripping the bottom out of their jeans. Straddling the fence, holding the top wire down, keeping the barbs out of your hands, trying to maintain some dignity while you teeter back and forth if your legs are too short or worse, you get the barb stuck in the seam of your pants and you can’t let the wire go because it took too much pressure to hold it down so you could swing your leg over, and now you’re stuck, all of these things are eliminated by this simple little gate. So is crawling under the bottom wire, our rattlesnakes prefer that you use the gate also. The by-product of this useful bit of convenience is a very cool bit of western charm. There must have been ladies living near here, and as they have the same type of difficulty crossing fences that fellows do, but not liking to look undignified even more than the menfolk, they may be a bit quicker on suggesting solutions to some of the smaller inconveniences we deal with out here. However it came to be here there is no denying the extra character it imparts to an already character saturated western scene.