Yesterday, the Federal government acted to remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Although we do love to watch for grizzlies on Togwotee Pass from the safety of our cars, the thought of grizzly population control is not anathema to some of us who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, love to hike in the woods, and don’t want to carry a weapon that probably wouldn’t stop a grizzly anyway.
There are some places I just won’t hike at all, ceding them to hypothetical bears. I go for places with long sight-lines. I always take bear spray. I sing, I talk, I try not to hike alone. I don’t crash off into the woods. I look for bear sign. One reason I love to snowshoe is that I don’t even have to think about bears.
Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people come out this way; we know that. What I didn’t understand before is that living side by side with wildlife entails a certain degree of compromise and, now and again, sadness.
Although I once worried about grizzlies trying to crash through our back door, I’ve never actually seen one nearby (although I know others have). Where we live, we are more likely to spot moose through binoculars or elk through the telescope.
A few months ago, we heard and then saw a lone wolf near the aspen grove. Yesterday we were startled to see a scruffy coyote loping behind the garage. We watched him trot along the trail beside the buck and rail fence, until he spotted a ground squirrel and raced off to grab some lunch.
The dog and I have been compromising about where to hike for months–and not just for fear of bears. We still can’t walk into our go-to small patch of woods. The latest moose is gone; she seems to have lost her calf when it ventured into the rushing floodwaters. But now a doe is over there with twin fawns, making it eminently clear that she does not want us around just now.
She leaped about and ran back and forth past us. Don’t mess with a mother doe: She’ll kick you with hard, pointy hooves. We went home by another route.
Most of the wildlife we watch close-up are birds. “Our” robin demands no compromise. Nested, as always, right above where I store my garden tools, she watches me warily whenever I pull out the trowel. But she doesn’t even budge.
The beautiful hummingbirds hover outside the dining room window in early June and stare directly in at us, as if to demand their own dinner.
So we boil up the syrupy water, get out the ladder, and hang their feeder. Our reward is to watch these tiny creatures ever-so-briefly at rest, as they sip from the little wells in the base.
A few years ago we had the delight of watching some bluebirds slowly build a nest in the crook of our gable, just outside the bedroom window, and then swoop back and forth for weeks to feed the hatchlings. We could hear the young birds chirping as we woke up in the morning, bringing to mind all the thoughts you’d expect from an empty-nester.
One weekend late in summer, we left to camp at Turpin Meadows, and returned on Sunday to the scene of a terrorist attack. Just outside the back door were the bloodied corpses of five fledgling bluebirds, already cold. This struck us like a personal tragedy, after all the effort and care we had witnessed to raise these young ones to independence. A neighbor suggested that a magpie must have attacked as they left the nest.
It nearly broke my heart to watch the beautiful mother swoop down to her dead fledglings with something in her mouth. We plugged that hole in the gable so birds could never use it again.
Meanwhile, this bird house sat unused on a post in our back yard for the past decade. We’ve never been in Dubois year-round before, and never took time to make it nest-worthy.
Inspired by the birth of the Dubois bluebird project, we decided to follow instructions for cleaning out a birdhouse. We opened it up, cleared out the old filthy nest mess, cleaned it with bleach, rinsed it well, left it for several days to air out, and closed it up again. Before leaving for a month in Arizona, we watched the bluebirds house-hunting all over the property.
When we returned, I was delighted to see birds hovering about the nest and going into the hole. Then someone informed us that they couldn’t be bluebirds; more likely sparrows. Bluebirds don’t like houses with a perch.
But bluebirds were still flitting around, so they must have nested somewhere. We couldn’t ignore the pair that were obviously keeping surveillance on our driveway. Every time we came out the front door we’d see them, perching on the zip line or, often, just sitting in the bare gravel looking warily in the general direction of the front porch. (You can just barely make out the gray female inside the black circle in this blurry shot from my cellphone.)
Two days ago, after parking the SUV when returning from a hike, I stepped out of the car to a flurry of wings. Looking back from the porch, I saw the female dive under the car. I slid beneath the car to take a look, and she swept out past me. I’ve seen her go under there several times since then.
We took the pickup to Arizona, and left the SUV in the driveway. We think they’ve chosen to nest in a space above the spare tire, which hangs horizontally beside the two rear tires. How many rides have those eggs taken since we returned, and did they survive?
We’re told it takes about a month for bluebird eggs to hatch, mature, and fledge. Then the birds abandon the nest.
Oh, well. We have other vehicles to drive.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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