Posts

Showing posts from April, 2012

In the Food Chain

Image
How do you compare the Appalachians to the Rockies? In describing the Appalachians, you often hear words like bucolic, pastoral, rolling, comfortable, beautiful, peaceful. What about the Rockies? Striking, grandiose, intimidating, spectacular, sublime. At some level, one of the biggest instinctual differences between the two landscapes is what lurks within them. In Vermont, and most of the East, there is nothing wandering around the woods that will kill you. Out here, there are several options to choose from.
Here’s a mountain lion track, just a few hours old, crossing my path on a big ridge jutting into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The cougar biologists here say that there are only about 14 mountain lions in the Tetons and surrounding national forests. That’s well over a million acres, which is a lot of space, but a female needs over 100 square miles to roam in, and a male needs five times that space! I realize how lucky I am to have stumbled across the footprints of such a ra…

Make Way for Buffalo

Image
The bigger male bison weigh 2,000 lbs. My car is 3,000 pounds, and about the same dimensions. Perhaps they are aware of this fact, since they have no qualms about occupying the road. And sometimes it seems like the biggest bison don’t even cross the road. They mosey into both lanes of traffic and just stand there for minutes. Here, “bison jam” is an acceptable reason to be late to work. So while I waiting for 100 bison to get out of the way, I thought I’d take a couple photos and ponder this unusual animal.




Bison are about as winter-specialized as those groomer rigs at ski resorts. They appear awfully front-heavy, and you wonder if their back legs will come off the ground every time they put their head down. They have evolved to be nature’s snowplows.  All this forward power helps them muscle through the snow, and their huge heads can easily sweep aside 3 ft of snow to expose the grass and sedge beneath. And under all that snow, the dead and dormant grasses have about the same nutrit…

Cascades

Image
In Ecology we talk about a sterile yet captivating concept called the Trophic Cascade. It is really just an imposing term that describes fancy food webs. Energy enters our atmosphere as sunlight and gets converted into many different forms by the time it winds up as a handful of wet dirt. In a textbook, this ultimately gets boiled down into calories of energy being fractionally converted from one stage of life to the next (using words like primary autotrophs, first-order heterotrophs, second-order heterotrophs, etc.). At best, you are already bored reading this paragraph. At worst, you were affronted by the scientific jargon and dismissed the whole thing as abstract and heady. 
The reality is that things happen in our world that cannot be fully absorbed by the naked eye, and scientists happen to be in the business of figuring out these things. Trouble is, scientists generally describe findings in exacting, sterile, and valueless terminology. This jargon is necessary to properly documen…

Return

Image
I am back in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park, working on a bird tracking project. This will run until May, at which point I’ll switch to another new, exciting job that I will tell you all about when the time comes. I spent a while today thinking about how I can make this blog more exciting for the both of us. The Tetons are now a familiar place for me, so I don’t get as much satisfaction posting pictures of the same scenery over and over again, pretty as it may be. I am also fully aware that many of you want to see more and more pictures of the Tetons and its wildlife, and I promise not to disappoint.


A couple notes on the trajectory of this blog: While I will continue to use this as an occasional sounding board for my own opinions and your thoughts, I will be transitioning away from the travelogue motif, and into new styles of posting. I started this as a way to keep a multimedia journal of my travels, and as a way for you to know where I am. I find that traveling …