As you may guess, it’s hard to avoid the general subplot of politics in this presidential election year.

Nevertheless, it’s worth a try.

Instead, I’ve been wondering about skunks. No, no — no connection, I promise. It was a day last week that seemed like a March day, and it occurred to me that no one had mentioned seeing or smelling a skunk for a long time.

There are. Not many. One wonders whether that’s a reflection of skunk population or whether observers simply want to forget some black and white carcass (or flattened smudge) on the road as soon as possible. Travel enough miles on highways and a person can become inured to the oh-so-many animal casualties of vehicular collisions. Often, the victim’s identity can’t even be guessed at. Not so for skunks; their fragrance lingers.

As it turns out, there haven’t been many skunk sightings made to Nature Mapping in the last two years. Not enough data to allow any conclusion about their population. Now that March looms, skunks should get more active. Please report them, dead or alive.

In our region, we have striped skunk. A familiar black-and-white animal one recognizes on sight and by reputation, even if one hasn’t ever seen one in the outdoors. About 21 to 30 inches long with a 7- to 10-inch tail. Black body with a narrow white stripe on the forehead, broad white stripes along the sides pointing to the neck to form a V. Tail bushy with white markings. Striped skunks are usually seen not far from water in open woodlands and brush areas. Chiefly nocturnal. At night, in your headlights, their eyes have an amber glow.

In “A Pocket Guide to Wildlife of Yellowstone & Jackson Hole,” I state that striped skunks are common and increasing. Still true?

I’m also curious about the current population of porcupines. Anecdotally, porcupines were pretty scarce just a few years ago but may be recovering slowly. I didn’t get around to querying the Nature Mapping database (through its wizard, Megan Smith, at 739-0968, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation), so I have to depend on anecdotal information on porcupines.

Having records of animal and bird sightings takes the guesswork out of any evaluation about occurrences and other specific items.

Coincidentally, on Friday, Chuck Schneebeck saw two porcupines alongside a Snake River dike and took some pictures of one. Chuck noticed that one of the porcupines was infested by “hundreds of engorged ticks” Check the photo in this column. Ticks. Hundreds. Jeepers.

Field Notes: Nothing beats viewing wildlife in person. Not a smartphone. Not even a documentary. Hundreds upon hundreds of people going on Highway 89 past the National Elk Refuge on Friday stopped to see what had attracted all the other people and their long lenses. Stopped and stayed as long as they could.

For it was quite a sight. An age-old predator-prey confrontation between a mature deer and a lone wolf. All within 150 yards, on a ridge on the north end of East Gros Ventre Butte. Facing each other in a standoff that must end, one way or another.

Sure, a wolf sighting is coveted, is special. Nevertheless, the interest and excitement shown by the onlookers was a visible example of their interest in wildlife. We locals like to say we stay in Jackson Hole primarily for the wildlife. That was on display last Friday and on the weekend.

Shameless plug: The lives of all our wildlife — great or small, charismatic or obscure, common or rare — are often extraordinary. The function of Nature Mapping Jackson Hole is to learn more about them so that we-who-are-in-control can and will let them survive and thrive.

Bob and Jackie Skaggs wrote reporting another incident in which surviving magpies exhibited recognition of and reaction to the death of one of their own kind. Most provocative. Getting to be quite a number of such recognitions by birds.

Magpies are courting, some pairs repairing nests. Ravens are paired off, as are many bald and golden eagles. Spring may not be in the air, but it’s on the horizon. Rosy finches are building larger flocks. Evening grosbeaks are showing up here and there. Some waxwings are seen (Claudia Gillette). Robins are as close as Star Valley. Dippers are more vocal and visible. Red-winged blackbirds — and two cowbirds — in Wilson (Bernie McHugh and Frances Clark). All in all, prepare for more winter. We’re in the mountains, man.

Reminder: Moose Day 2012 is scheduled for Saturday. If you’re interested in participating as a trained citizen scientist, contact Megan Smith, Nature Mapping project coordinator, at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, 739-0968. The plan is to count moose in your assigned area between 7 a.m. and noon and to meet for lunch afterward at Betty Rock. GPS units are available for you to borrow.

Imperative: Slow down ... save lives. Maybe yours.

 © Bert Raynes 2011

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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