Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

Walking with Worland wildlife


November 1, 2016

I like to take walks from my home at Sixth and Culbertson to Worland’s River View Memorial Gardens. It’s a pleasant trek, with great views of the Big Horns, and I like to commune with my relatives buried in the cemetery (my grandmother, three aunts, two uncles, father and mother are all up there). But probably the most interesting aspect of the walk is how much wildlife I see.

The other day I came out of my house and noticed movement on the roof. It was a squirrel and as I watched it took a run from the roof to a flimsy branch. When the squirrel hit that branch it started oscillating severely and I thought the little animal would surely lose its footing. But as the branch bobbed up and down, the squirrel just ran right through it and reached a much more substantial branch. What an athlete!

When I leave my home I frequently see cottontail rabbits, creatures that are prey to dogs, cats and raptors. Raptors thrive in the woods the town has created. I’ve heard and seen great horned owls and on two or three occasions I’ve found small piles of bird feathers, apparently, relics of attacks by a predator. My best guess is that these feathers constitute the last remains of a dove attacked by either the sharp-shinned hawk or the Cooper’s hawk. The sharp-shinned hawk, the Cooper’s hawk and the goshawk are all in the accipiter family of hawks. They are virtually identical in appearance but the sharp-shinned hawk isn’t much bigger than a robin, the Cooper’s hawk is a crow-size bird, and the goshawk is a large hawk. It’s as if an automobile manufacturer made each of these similar hawks, but in classes of ascending size.

The real action comes, however, when I walk across the Big Horn River. I’ve seen gatherings of huge carp – I’d guess between five and 15 pounds – and numerous water birds. There are many species of ducks, of course, as well as geese and great blue herons. The geese won’t let you walk closer than a couple hundred yards before taking off and, surprisingly, that’s also true of the herons, although herons will let you walk somewhat closer before powering off in a huff (while simultaneously letting cars come within 50 yards or so). That’s surprising because herons aren’t hunted. I can understand the geese being wary because they’re a game bird, but I don’t understand why herons are timid regarding people on foot and yet not bothered by vehicles.

The critters I see the most around the bridges over the Big Horn River are deer, especially around the radio station property, where I frequently see a small herd (eight or nine). I’ve never seen a mountain lion along the river, nor even signs of a lion, but I believe they come through occasionally, simply because where there are deer, lions follow.

After leaving the river area, I walk up the hill along the West River Road and then go to the cemetery. East of the cemetery I sometimes see flocks of turkey vultures, rising with the thermals. The cemetery itself features great horned owls. For a couple of years a pair nested in the cemetery trees and you could watch the young ones near the nest and then hopping further and further from the nest. Inevitably, they’d fly off and the nest would be abandoned.

But the creature you see most here is the pronghorn antelope. A couple of weeks ago I was walking from my grandmother’s grave to my mother’s. I became vaguely aware of movement to my right and when I focused I saw an antelope fawn not 30 feet from me matching my stride. The little animal was not alarmed by my presence, but was not going to let me get any closer, either. And soon young miss (or mister) antelope joined a number of other antelope. They were a bit skittish, but still weren’t acting as you would normally expect wild creatures to act. Eventually, though, when about 20 antelope had joined together, they decided to pick up the pace and move away from me. I see antelope at the cemetery frequently, but sometimes not at all. I think the herd leaves the cemetery when it is occupied by too many people, but is comfortable, and even beds down, when there only two or three persons about.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is mostly retired. He is the author of several books.


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