Refuge Parenting

It takes a refuge to raise a child, it takes a parent to lead the way…

Canada geese chicks on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Numbers provide individual security and survival of the species.

Mother says let us all move together and leave no gosling behind. This scene is seen throughout Lower and Klamath National Wildlife Refuges in the spring and early summer. At times, several adults will be managing – herding – supervising – protecting upwards of twenty youngsters. Could this be a waterfowl day care center? Offspring from a family that sticks together has a better chance of advancing their species gene pool. Predators are every where watching for the distracted or ill. There are few second chances for those who don’t look, listen, communicate or follow their parent’s cues and natural instincts.

Coyote pack on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo By Anders Tomlinson.

This is most of coyote pack living in the refuge leased farm fields.

Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge lease out some of the land for farming. This helps generate income to handle maintenance costs and also provides food for the wildlife that reside here or visit on their migrations. This is last food stop for many birds heading north in the spring to raise children during the Arctic summer.

Many of the coyotes on the Refuges look more like well fed dogs than the stereotypical thin rib-showing coyote. It could be their winter coats that remain because on any given summer night it can approach freezing. My saddest recollection was coming out of the Lava Beds and on a bitter late fall afternoon. A cold abrasive wind was coming out of the north. I saw a coyote standing in a field. As I approach I was amazed it didn’t run away. Through my long lens I could see why, its front leg was broke. And I realized the pain the cold would have on the exposed bone, and the possible predators: bobcats, mountain lions, or bear that would see the lame wily coyote as a fresh meal. The chances of the distressed coyote making it through the night were slim. Nature does what nature does. There are no value judgement or moralities there is only the circle of survival.

Coyote pup on Tile Lake National Wildlife Refuge leased lands.  Photos by Anders Tomlinson.

And here, in the middle of farm land, there was a coyote den.

One of the farmer working up his fields in the lease lands alerted me to a coyote den next to a canal and farm road. In a couple of week farming will be in full swing and the coyotes, part of the pack above, would move their young somewhere else with less commotion. I visited the den several times over a couple of days. Here is a composite image of one of the pups, I never saw more than three outside at onetime. Only now did I realize that this pup had a bad right eye. I wonder if this pup, One Eye, made it to adulthood, injuries lessen the odds of surviving.

Western Grebe and chicks on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

How would you feel if you had a needy back seat driver 24 - 7?

No one said life would be easy. Largest of our grebes, the western grebe carries their babies on their backs once the youngsters are strong enough to leave the nest. The parents work together on the water to feed the young. Parenting is a challenging dimension to survival. Look at humans: they care for their young up to the late teens of longer. Their nests are complicated, large, and expensive to maintain. Danger is everywhere even for those for who are pay attention. Watch a school getting out in the afternoon: children have no eyes or ears as they text on their cell phones and listen to their ipods. They walk amongst vehicles near the school that weigh over a ton and are moving at 25 miles per hour or less, hopefully. There is a good chance the drivers of these large machines are also distracted by their cell phones, radios, conversations and moods. Anywhere, at any moment, adult predators that feed on children are lurking in the shadows anticipating an opportunity to attack. This behavior, contemporary human nature, wouldn’t cut on the Refuge or in the wild.

Mother grebe and chicks on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

There comes a time when enough is enough. And this is the time.

it is all about survival, instincts and tough love. There does come the tine the birds must leave the nest, the mammals venture out from their dens, and the young grebe has to get off the parent’s back. Now, it will spend its time swimming near a parent and learning what a western grebe does to survive. Another day in another’s life.

Mother and baby coot on Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Why would the common coot raise in the predator wilds a flamboyant chick.

Coots gets little respect from humans, “oh its just a coot”. There are so many in so many places that it is understandable we consider coots common and mundane. On the other hand they seem to be able to survive in any environments that has ponds or marshes and their abundant numbers surely has an impact on the food chain. They must be doing something that jives with nature’s way.

Here we have a mother coot and one of her three chicks at the water’s edge of a Walking Wetland in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The father is busy, off distracting possible predators from his offspring. Watching coot parents raise their young is inspirational, their dedication and sacrifice borders on heroic. Nature has as many questions as it does answers: why do the chicks have bright mandarin red head during their infancy? One would think natural selection would dictate camo chicks, not flashes of red seen in the reeds. I gained a tremendous respect for the American coot. Keep in mind, some day many of us will become “old coots”.

©2011 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

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