Monday, January 19, 2015

Red Bow

While taking the photos of the boat in the last post at low tide, we were treated to a rainbow. But not your usual multicolor bow. This bow was monochromatic.

It was a red bow (albeit a partial bow).


A red bow forms when the sun is very low on the horizon. The Earth's atmosphere scatters out the other colors, starting with long wavelengths at the blue end of the spectrum (thus the reason for the blue sky). As the sun sets the light travels through more of the atmosphere to reach us and increasing longer wavelengths are scattered out. We usually see this as reddish-pink clouds at sunrise and sunset. But sometimes you get lucky. And you get a red bow.


Another clue to the lowness of the sun is that the bow is almost vertical at the base. A rainbow is a ring centered on the anti-solar point. From our usual vantage point on the Earth's surface, part of that ring is below the horizon ( a full ring can be seen from a vantage point high enough above the surface). The closer the sun is to the horizon the higher the anti-solar point and thus more of the bow is above the horizon.



The last clue to the altitude of the sun is the blurriness of the trees and water. It was getting dark when I took these shots, necessitating long exposures, in which time the water flowed and the branches moved with breeze.

This is the only red bow I've seen. Which is not surprising as first you need a rainbow, then you need a low sun with a clear horizon. A not all that common combination.

Look, Up In The Sky ...

The view from my office a few days ago.

Sundog

Cloud Rays
I enjoy those days where the sky changes quickly. But too often the camera is not at hand, and the image is missed, the moment passed. I was lucky to get these.

But someone really needs to clean my windows.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bison

The iconic Yellowstone beast.


And we saw plenty. Some close,


... some far (one as a magpie perch).


These images are all from the second day of our Winter Wildlife Expedition adventure, the same day as we saw the wolves.


And while wolves have only recently been reintroduced to the park, bison have had a continuous presence there. Albeit a sometime tenuous one.


Today there are some 4900 bison in the park. An apparently too successful comeback (more on that below).


The first national park, Yellowstone was so designated by an act of congress in 1872. But in politics all to reminiscent of today, funding was not always provided. And development pressure was a threat even then, with the locals none to pleased that they could no longer treat the park as their private game preserve.


Poaching was rampant in the early years. And as the bison headed toward extinction a profitable one. A bison head, suitable for mounting, could bring a poacher $1000, a very nice sum in the 1890's. And the punishment for poaching? Confiscation of the poachers belongings and an escort out of the park, where the poacher was free to go (usually right back into the park).

In 1894 the Magazine Forest and Stream ran a series of stories by Emerson Hough, about his winter trek through the park, including the capture of the notorious poacher Ed Howell (these have recently been collected and published as Rough Trip Through Yellowstone). The outcry from this led to the passing of the "Lacey Act of 1894" which made poaching a crime in Yellowstone with real punishment. John Lacey was a republican (!) congressmen and he later introduced what would become known as the Lacey Act in 1900, which extended the prohibition of trade in illegally obtained animals and plants beyond just Yellowstone.

At the time of the 1894 law there were estimated to be fewer than 100 bison in the park. At the animal's nadir there were only 23.


Lacey's laws were clearly a success. And as a result there is a self sustaining bison herd in Yellowstone. A not so welcome change is that republicans are no longer the champions of conservation. Rather the exact opposite.


Something that hasn't changed is that politics often trumps good policy. Our parks are still underfunded. And park bison are still being killed. Although no longer by poachers. Now it is by park personnel.

The issue is a complicated one. And I've not done an in-depth analysis by any means. But on the surface it appears to be pandering to the interests of ranchers, who make political contributions, over that of the bison, who don't.


Migratory creatures, part of the herd leaves the park in search of food in winter. This has the ranchers upset because of the disease brucellosis. And while it is known that elk can transmit the disease to cattle there are no known cases of bison to cattle transmission (the disease can go the other way, from cattle to bison, which seems to be how the bison were infected in the first place). From the NPS Yellowstone web site:

"To date, no documented transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to cattle has occurred ..."

Yet it is the bison that are killed.

If the ranchers are so worried then perhaps their cattle shouldn't be allowed to graze on public land?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Like a Good Neighbor ...

Bison Jam! A common Yellowstone winter scene.


The bison have figured out that it is much easier to walk on the road than plow through the snow. And they go at their own pace, caring little about the cars.

Well, most of the time.

Danielle, our guide and driver, explained that bison generally don't mind cars, except when they follow too long and too closely. The best way to deal with a bison jam she told us, was to follow at a respectable distance until the animals moved to the side of the road. Once there is room to pass it should be done so quickly with all of the vehicles passing as a group.

If everyone goes by quickly it seems like one event to the beasts, done before they have a chance to fret. But if a car should linger they grow nervous, worried they are being stalked.


Alas, the car in the image above did not go quickly when the chance arose. The bison got nervous. One bison slammed into another. And in turn that bison slammed into the car. Thus the dent in the passenger side door.


And hair hanging from the mirror.

The bison appeared to be fine.

The folks in the car? Here's hoping they have good insurance.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today ...

That wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park. On this date in 1995 fourteen wolves were released into the park. Wolves that had been born in Canada, because those wolves new how to hunt elk. And there were elk in Yellowstone.

And on December 26th this past year I was privileged to see their descendants.

Five Wolf Pups

There are five wolves in the above image (as always click to bigafy any image). This was the first view I had of them.

These wolves are of the Lamar Valley Pack. And these five, plus one other, are pups, all born this year.

Two Wolves Approaching Two Bison

The pups were all on the north side of the road while mom and dad were on the south side. Left to themselves the pups wandered about. Above they are approaching a pair of bison, which don't think much of the pups, barely noticing them.

Four Wolves Head Off, But One, on the Right, Stays

The pups are not yet accomplished hunters, and even if they were are no real threat to a healthy adult bison, let alone two. And it didn't take much for the bison to send them on their way.

Curiously, the bison followed the wolves up the hill.

Howling
Even though wolves were rather far away, their howling came through loud and clear. The pups would call and mom and dad would respond. It was below zero that morning, but none of us minded. It was magical.

After a while the pups settled down, a morning nap perhaps? And we continued on our way through the park. We had signed up for the Winter Wildlife Expedition, run by the Yellowstone Association, and were on our second of three days exploring the park.

We passed by again on the way back, there's only one road open in winter, and we got the chance to see mom and dad.

Mom (note the radio collar)
We learned from the Wolf Watchers, an informal group of hobbyists who provide day to day surveillance of the packs, that mom and dad had gone after an elk. Unsuccessfully as it turned out. But the chase took them across the road. And the pups were reluctant to cross.

Dad
Mom was looking for a place to cross the road, wandering along the river. Eventually we saw her cross and head up the hill to gather the pups. It was very cool to see the pups run out of the woods to greet mom.

Dad was busy investigating an old kill, chasing off the ravens. But whatever it was didn't hold his interest for long, and it was back to the forest edge for him.

~~~~~~~~~~

Twenty years ago there were no wolves in Yellowstone. And very few anywhere in the lower forty-eight US states. Now gray wolves live in ten states, and one was recently spotted in California. And wolves are no longer on the endangered species list.

That last bit is both encouraging and troubling. Encouraging as a success story in bringing back a species. Troubling as it is now permissible to hunt wolves. As long as the wolves are within the boundaries of the park they are safe. But the wolves know nothing of human political boundaries. And once they leave they are targets.

Sadly, the same fear and ignorance that almost led to their demise is still prevalent throughout the western US. Thus the future for wolves is far from certain. But there are a number of ways you can help. One way is to pressure our political leaders to protect these creatures. Another is to adopt a wolf. And while you don't actually get to keep the wolf (I know, right?) you will be able to see them when you visit. And if you're lucky hear them howl their thanks. And that's pretty cool.





Sunday, January 11, 2015

As Promised ...

... Here's the rest of the map.



What did you think "more to come" meant?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Guess Where ...

... we went for Christmas.


Hint, check the inscriptions on the gate.

Here's another hint:


Right there in the middle of this snippet of Robert C. Reamer's map of the United States.

More to come ...