This is the baby season, a time when wildlife numbers reach their peak for the year.
As soon as the snow retreats, the woods, the marshes and the sagebrush habitats begin to stretch and yawn, working muscles dormant over a long winter. It doesn’t take long though, for the collective metabolism to begin to burn like a forest fire as the season of warmth and plenty is brief and the race is on to create the next generation.
By late spring and early summer, the fruits of labors started as long ago as the previous summer can be readily seen. For large mammals, bison calves, red as sunrise, and bear cubs, born in January, but just emerging from the dens with mama, start the show in May.
Bison and bears are soon followed by elk and moose calves and then pronghorn and deer fawns. Ungulate mothers hide their young early in the season, before they develop the strength and stamina to keep up and outrun predators. Those days are past now, and young fawns and calves accompany moms like miniature shadows.
This timing is critically important. Elk or other ungulates that breed in the second estrus cycle in the fall give birth later than their cohorts. The offspring produced are often condemned from the start. They just run out of time to grow and are unprepared when winter comes.
The young of many small mammals are leaving dens to explore this new and wonderful world. Half-grown marmots and raccoons, skunks and foxes, uneducated in the ways of vehicles, risk death alongside highways and byways. Road killed wildlife numbers skyrocket when youngsters leave home for the first time.
The time of plenty is here. Winter will sort out the unfit, predators will continue the evolutionary dance by removing the slow and unwary, and accidents will indiscriminately batter populations, but right now, there are more wild animals of all types than at any other time of year.
Many birds are on a slightly different schedule than mammals. Some, like Canada geese, were tending broods when bison calves were still too wobbly-legged to stand. The amazingly cute-ugly American coot chicks, along with eared grebe chicks, were just hatching the last week of June.
While most waterfowl broods are fledged long before now, some birds are just beginning on the road to biological success (passing on DNA to the next generation). Goldfinches, for instance, wait until the thistle blossoms form in early July before starting their families. This way, there is a primary food source, thistle seeds, available when they need to feed their brood.
The race to produce young has peaked by now, but the process lasts until fall with some animals. Many species of mammals (rabbits example) have several broods during the summer months, creating a second or even third litter. Some bird species, such as robins, may also create several families in a season.
Hen pheasants, however, only successfully raise one brood each year. If a nest or brood is lost though, they may re-nest three and even four times until their brood is grown and on their own.
Raising babies in a mad rush may seem like a disastrous approach and for humans it would be. In nature though, mothers must battle the clock and get youngsters to a stage where they can survive migration or winter and thus carry the genetic line forward.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho