Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

More People Flocking To the Great Outdoors

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
WILDLIFE-RELATED recreation continues to grow in the U.S., but the dynamics of the activity is changing significantly.

According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service every five years, the number of adults (age 16 and older) participating in some form of wildlife-related recreation jumped nearly 13 percent from 77 million in 1996 to 87 million in 2006.

But who is doing what? It’s changing, thanks to modern culture and society. In 1996, 51 percent of wildlife-related recreationists said they were hunters and anglers, and an overlapping 82 percent said they were wildlife watchers. In 2006, the proportion of hunters and anglers dropped to 39 percent, while watchers remained steady at 81 percent. Clearly the number of anglers and hunters is declining, while the number of watchers is stable. People enjoy and appreciate wildlife, but in today’s society more enjoy watching wildlife than consuming it.

At a glance, these trends might seem like bad news for the hunting and fishing business, but hunters and anglers have deep pockets. Despite being a declining minority, they spend 50 percent more ($61 billion) than watchers ($40 billion). But then guns, ammunition and fishing gear are more expensive than binoculars, field guides and hiking boots. And remember, it is license fees, leases on State Game Lands and federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear that pay for wildlife management in Pennsylvania. As long as sportspersons continue to foot the bill, wildlife agencies will survive.

But watchers have deep pockets, too. Whether in the backyard or on the road, watchers spend billions on optics, feeders, food, books and travel. Nationally, more than a thousand wild bird stores, nature centers, museum shops and many more garden centers cater to watchers. Watching wildlife is a big and growing business.

Though many small businesses prosper within the arena of wildlife watching, one man in Mexico, Missouri, has risen to the top of the industry through a combination of business savvy and hard work. Mel Toellner worked in sales and management for Purina for 23 years, but got hooked on birds as a young man at an Audubon camp in Wisconsin.

I first met Toellner at a trade show about 12 years ago, shortly after he had opened Songbird Station, an independent wild bird store in Columbia, MO. He followed a dream that allowed him to spend more time with his family. It didn’t take Toellner long to conclude that servicing retailers nationwide would be more profitable than operating a single retail store. So he expanded into the distribution business in 1995.

Today Gold Crest Distributing (www.goldcrestdistributing.com) employs 40 people and serves more than 2,300 retailers across the U.S. and Canada. Sales this year will approach $17 million. He handles virtually every product a wild bird store might want to carry — feeders, food, optics, nest boxes, water features, books — more than 7,000 products in all.

“Because I have my own retail store,” Toellner said, “I have a feel for the products wild bird stores need, and my goal is to meet that need. And I treat my customers the way I want to be treated. For example, we strive to ship all orders the same day they are received, and we succeed 99 percent of the time. The rest go out the next day.”

With the success of the distribution business, Toellner’s entrepreneurial sense kicked in. He began to purchase the rights to selected products and manufacture them himself. Gold Crest now makes and markets about 200 products, everything from bottle brushes and seed scoops to the All-Weather Feeder I mentioned in a recent column. All are made within a 30-mile radius of Gold Crest headquarters, and many are assembled and packaged by workers at a nearby sheltered workshop.

Gold Crest is just one example of a business that thrives on the public’s enjoyment of wild birds and other wildlife. And I doubt Toellner will be surprised to learn that, according to the aforementioned 2006 National Survey, 95 percent of the 67.6 million adult American categorized as watchers do so at home in their own backyards. That’s an impressive customer base. —Pittsburgh Post Gazette

State’s Wildflowers Rise To New Role

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Rachael Jackson
A NEW GRANT is helping a budding industry in Florida take root. The $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay for new equipment and marketing for wildflower growers, who are currently harvesting and cleaning tiny seeds as they build their young industry.

Growers are also combating an irony that has long haunted Florida: Despite the state’s name, derived from the Spanish word for “flower,” most of the wildflower seeds sold and planted here are imported from Texas and other states.

Now, with rising gas prices and shrinking water supplies, wildflowers provide a low-impact alternative for landscaping lawns. State transportation officials are gunning for the locally produced seeds to replace grass along highways–mowing is expensive.

Where do most seeds come from?

Seeds sold in most retail stores and planted along highways usually come from Texas, California, New England and states that have large-scale production. Texas in particular is a major supplier because former first lady Lady Bird Johnson helped found a national wildflower research center there in 1982.

Why do we need seeds grown in Florida?
“It’s not only buying native, but it’s buying native that’s adapted to our climate,” says Jeff Norcini, wildflower expert at the University of Florida. A black-eyed Susan seed harvested in Colorado, for example, will not fare as well as the same species of black-eyed Susan harvested in Florida. In Florida’s climate, it may not reseed itself well.

Is the state trying to put more wildflowers along roadways?

For years the state has planted wildflowers along highways, but they usually don’t grow back so they’re replanted annually. Now the focus is on getting wildflowers to reseed themselves–something locally produced seeds help with–and preserving existing stands along the roadways. Areas with flowers require less mowing and can save money–it costs about $250 to mow a mile of highway. Jeff Caster, landscape architect for the state Department of Transportation, said his goal is for most roadsides to be “managed meadows.”

Who are the local growers?
About 70 miles from Orlando, two growers are producing seeds in Crescent City. Both are longtime fern farmers but started supplemental flower operations because of stiff competition in the fern market from Central America. In the Panhandle, tobacco farmers have also used wildflower-growing as a way to diversify.

How do you harvest seeds?
J.R. Newbold, one of the Crescent City farmers and president of a growers cooperative, is still figuring out the most efficient methods. Right now, his employees hit the flowers with a broom, sending the little pellets onto a ground cover. They sweep them up with shovels, sift away the dirt and twigs, and send them away for cleaning. Newbold said he tried to use a homemade vacuum device to suck up the seeds, but it was difficult to maneuver. He also found that his crop of phlox, a pink and purple flower, was limited this year–he thinks that’s because he harvested too much seed the year before.

What about those Florida wildflower license plates?

Since they debuted in 2000, nearly 120,000 plates have been sold, generating almost $1.8 million for wildflower research, education and planting.

Is it possible to replace all the grass in a yard with wildflowers?
Yes, but very few people have done it. Norcini has a wildflower lawn and says he waters it a handful of times during the year, rarely mows and never uses fertilizer. He does weed it once every few weeks, but said that some people don’t get it, even when the lawn is in full bloom. “A couple times a year somebody comes by and says, ‘Can I mow your weeds?’ ” he said.

How can I get locally produced seeds?

Go to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center to find a supplier near you.
http://www.wildflower.org/suppliers/

Monitor Wildlife From Their Porch

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Gerry Rising
AT THEIR invitation, I recently visited Matt and Lora Hayden at their country home south of Colden, NY. I appreciated the opportunity the trip gave me to get away from the oppressive heat of my neighborhood. As I drove south into the higher elevation and along tree-lined roads, I was able to turn my car’s air conditioner off and open its windows; the temperature must have dropped a dozen degrees.

The Haydens live, as Lora described it, as simply as possible. Twenty- five years ago, they resurrected an abandoned trailer on their three acres and over the years have turned that trailer and yard into a haven of quiet, solitude and wonderful wildlife.

A brief shower developed just as I arrived so we sat inside where the only difference from my own suburban home was that the rooms were on a smaller scale. This made for a kind of intimacy that I found very satisfying.

But then the rain stopped and we went outside to sit on their porch. And here is where the advantage of this home kicked in. The Haydens really do live in the forest with big trees on all sides and only a small clearing opened for their bird feeders.

Originally, they told me, their property was clear pasture. The previous owners had spent hours mowing and as a result had little to observe. Now the forest has encroached on a much smaller meadow and their yard teems with wildlife.

Matt shared his lists of mammals and birds with me. Most of his mammals we have in Amherst: skunk, raccoon, chipmunk, deer, red squirrel and rabbit. But he also has woodchuck, bats, fox, coyote, opossum, weasel and mink.

We also shared part of the creatures on his bird list. He has many of our usual suburban birds, but he also has rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, wood pewees, red-eyed vireos, hermit thrushes and veerys, pileated woodpeckers, red-breasted nuthatches, indigo buntings, wild turkeys, grouse and woodcocks. And they find seven warbler species in their yard regularly: blue-winged, hooded, magnolia, yellow-rumped and black-throated green warblers, as well
as yellow-throats and ovenbirds. A Boy Scout could record just about enough species to get a bird study merit badge without moving from this porch.

Why all this wildlife?
Of course the Haydens have feeders, but they also have water dripping over rocks where the birds can drink and bathe. Matt claims that the birds much prefer this to drinking the recirculated water that we don’t like either. And the Haydens largely leave habitat alone. They, like I, consider expansive lawns ugly monocultures. Matt calls them green deserts. Instead, they have extensive berry patches and fruit trees, as well as grapes and nectar plants. They also leave dead trees where birds continue to find insects while woodpeckers and chickadees drill holes for homes.

The Haydens spend winter months in Titusville, FL, where their home is near the Kennedy Space Center. There they are active members of Space Coast Audubon and lead field trips on the sanctuary adjoining their property. In Florida, Lora went on to explain, they have accomplished similar results with only a tenth of an acre. By replacing their lawn with native plants, they have gained an impressive list of visiting birds. And they have gained something else as well — privacy.

The Haydens are fortunate to have their summer home surrounded by additional forest. They have slyly encouraged this by giving new neighbors bird books and indicating to them the advantages of leaving the forest undisturbed. It was clear as I drove along their road that they have been successful. Other homes were larger but remained in this bucolic setting.

Is all this wildlife a problem when they are not home?
“Our major problem is mice,” Matt said. “But a big help has been Ssssylvia, a 4-ft. rat snake that has taken up residence under our home.”

Matt and Lora are both biologists and explain that it is imperative not to poison rodents, as that poison will make its way up the food chain, killing the owls, foxes and weasels that feed on the carrion. Instead they use sonic pest repellents with fairly good results. And of course there’s always Ssssylvia on patrol!– Buffalo News

Strange Creatures Discovered

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
THE E-MAIL was short and anonymous. The writer had found a strange creature on a lawn chair. The subject line read, “Help with creature.” That’s really what caught my eye.

The only description was that the creature was, “The size of a silver dollar and covered with little hairs.” Fortunately the e-mailer had also attached a digital photo.

When I saw the photo, I immediately experienced a flash of recognition. It wasn’t something I’ve seen often, but it was vaguely familiar. At first glance, it looked like a small peach-colored fuzzy octopus. Several sets of long and short arms protruded from the side of the body.

For a moment, I was stumped. Then I decided it might be some sort of odd caterpillar. So I grabbed “Caterpillars of Eastern North America” by David Wagner (2005, Princeton University Press). Amazingly, the mystery critter was one of the first species illustrated. It was a “Monkey Slug” caterpillar of the Hag Moth (Family Limacodidae).

Wagner describes slug caterpillars in general as “more fantasy than reality.” And he says the Monkey Slug, “may be North America’s strangest caterpillar. It looks more like the cast skin of a Tarantula than it does a caterpillar.”

Most species of slug caterpillars occur in the tropics, so this comparison has some biological merit. While some slugs are ordinary and dull, others are lobed, spiny, and/or quite colorful. From above, it’s difficult to tell these masses of protoplasm are even caterpillars. Their legs are hidden by their broad body and when examined from below, they have suckers instead of prolegs on their abdominal segments. Consequently they glide, rather than crawl, when in motion.

The Spun Glass Slug is another oddball. Its internal organs are visible as a long dark stripe running the length of the body. Knobs arising from each body segment are armed with stinging spines. Another half dozen species bear stinging spines and intriguing colors, but the most formidable is the Saddleback Caterpillar. The lime green saddle on a brown body and clumps of fearsome-looking spines make this species easy to recognize, but don’t pick it up. Wagner compares its sting to stinging nettle in both intensity and duration.

So, beware of spiny caterpillars. Those spines can pack a wallop. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by cute, furry caterpillars. Larvae of some flannel moths (Family Megalopygidae) appear harmless, but their soft outer hairy coat conceals many stinging spines. The caterpillars of the two hairiest species remind me of a tiny Cousin Itt from the Adam’s Family.

Another e-mailer this week asked an interesting question about spiders:

Joe Hoesch of Pittsburgh came upon a huge spider in a country store. “This thing had long legs, a large head and a huge round body,” Hoesch wrote. “I coaxed it into a coffee cup and headed outside to release it. In the sunlight, I noticed that the big round body turned out to be dozens of young spiders hanging on for dear life. Is that the biggest spider in this part of the state and is carrying young piggyback normal?”

Wolf Spiders (Family Lycosidae) are among the largest spiders in the East, and capable of sending even macho football players into hysterics. They are active predators, and females typically live for several years. Though they can bite, they are harmless compared to Black Widows and Brown Recluses.

Female Wolf Spiders lay dozens of eggs at a time, which they wrap in a ball of silk and carry until they hatch. At that time the spiderlings escape the egg sac and climb up the females legs and gather on her back, where they live for several weeks until they are big enough to hunt on their own.

I remember the first time I encountered a “pregnant” Wolf Spider. A friend was trying to kill the spider and when attacked with a stick, scores of tiny spiders scurried off in all directions. It’s an image I’ll never forget, and I can only imagine how someone afraid of spiders would react at the sight of one huge spider exploding into a cascade of tiny spiderlings. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Monarch’s Migration Miraculous

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
IT’S BEEN a banner year for hummingbirds and butterflies on the ridge.

I’ve written about hummingbirds several times, so suffice to say that the clouds of nectar sippers I described earlier in the summer have become thunderheads of hummingbirds. They’re draining the nectar feeders twice a day.

Butterfly numbers have shown a similar pattern this summer. Tiger Swallowtails, fritillaries and skippers have decorated the yard since June. In July, Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars emerged en masse. Over the course of four weeks, they consumed half the biomass of the volleyball-sized pipevine leaves.

For the past two weeks, the black fleshy caterpillars, distinguished by red dots and fleshy appendages, have been on the move in search of safe havens to form the chrysalises that will get them through the winter. But it’s Monarch Butterflies that have really captured my attention.

Though I received many reports of Monarchs and their caterpillars as early as June, I didn’t see one until mid July. Since then, however, their numbers have mushroomed. I’ve found caterpillars of all sizes on milkweed plants, and adults have become so common I’ve seen them splattered on auto grilles and windshields.

Though everyone can appreciate colorful butterflies dancing through a bed of flowers, it is the miraculous monarch migration that grabs my attention as summer winds down. Like many birds which commute between temperate zones and the tropics, colorful orange and black monarchs migrate south for the winter.

Mark-and-recapture studies have revealed that Monarchs travel as far as 1,800 miles in just four months. They move only by day at a leisurely pace of 5 to 18 miles per hour.

Not only do Monarchs travel great distances, they do so with unerring accuracy. Year after year, they return to the same winter areas, even the same fir trees in just a handful of isolated mountaintops in Mexico.

What makes the Monarch migration even more amazing is that each butterfly makes the trip just once. The Monarchs that fly to Mexico are from the last brood of the summer, usually hatched in late August or early September.

On the winter grounds Monarchs congregate on fir tree trunks by the millions, where they rest and burn little of their fat reserves. By mid- March, they still have plenty of stored energy for the return trip north. Mating occurs before the journey north begins, and females lay eggs on milkweed plants as they make the return trip.

After reaching northern Mexico, the wintering butterflies, which have lived as long as eight months, die. But the eggs they leave behind ensures the next generation. This new brood continues northward, laying eggs as it goes until three or four generations later adult Monarchs reach the northern limits of milkweed distribution.

Individuals from these summer broods live only three to five weeks, just long enough to reproduce. Unlike the final summer brood, which devotes most of its energy to migration, spring and early summer broods invest their energy in reproduction.

Due to their complex natural history, several generations of Monarchs separate those that leave the winter roost from those that head south in the fall. Yet somehow, inexperienced Monarchs return to their ancestors’ traditional wintering areas.

Dr. O.R. “Chip” Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch, said monarchs, “use fall’s shorter days and cooler nights to know when to migrate, and they use the sun as a compass to navigate.”

Furthermore, Taylor reports that, “strong magnets disorient Monarchs, so it’s likely they also use the earth’s geo-magnetic forces to navigate.”

Monarch caterpillars and adults enjoy one unusual measure of protection. They are distasteful to vertebrate predators because they are what they eat, milkweed, which is toxic to most animals. Though Monarchs are unaffected by the toxin, they incorporate the poison into their own body tissues. The poison is retained through metamorphosis so even adults have high concentrations of the toxins. (Pipevine leaves confer a similar advantage to Pipevine Swallowtails.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about monarchs, contact Monarch Watch at 1-888-TAGGING or visit www.monarchwatch.org.

Monarch Madness At National Wildlife Refuges

Monday, June 28th, 2010


PEOPLE start calling the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida as early as August to find out when the Monarch Butterflies are coming. Monarchs, after all, are a species of wonder. On the Gulf coast of Florida, 25 miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks Refuge is the last stop for thousands of migrating Monarchs before they fly out over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Every year on the fourth Saturday of October, St. Marks Refuge has its annual Butterfly Festival. Refuge Ranger Robin Will says that somehow the tired butterflies “just know” to drop down and feed on salt bushes, which bloom about the time they arrive in mid to late October. They wait there for the wind to shift offshore and carry them toward Mexico.

Every fall, the brilliant orange and black butterflies travel thousands of miles from where they first emerged from cocoons to a handful of overwintering sites in Central Mexico. Beginning as far north as Canada, the Monarch’s long journey captures people’s imaginations.

St. Marks Refuge’s daylong festival offers demonstrations of butterfly tagging, a tent filled with live butterflies, guided butterfly walks, butterfly talks, butterfly crafts for children and van tours to where butterflies are feeding. All of that is in addition to the refuge’s usual attractions. St. Marks Refuge covers 43 miles of Florida coastline, encompassing a variety of habitats that provide food and shelter for a large number of migratory birds. Fishing is allowed year-round, and there are over 85 miles of marked trails. Will said there were more monarchs on the refuge during the 2006 festival than she has seen in 20 years. In the two days before the festival, volunteers tagged 2,000 butterflies.

St. Marks Refuge isn’t the only national wildlife refuge on the migration trail of the Monarch. Here are some others:

Virginia
In 1999, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge had 100,000 monarchs in one night, remembers Refuge Manager Susan Rice. She says the butterflies filled the air and virtually dripped off of trees. But Monarchs are subject to huge swings in population. Each year, the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory, working at the refuge, conducts a count that records how “fat” the Monarch is, the condition of its wings and its gender. Then the butterfly is tagged.

The tagging operation runs during Monarch season, from mid-September to late October, and is open to the public. Butterflies are also a big part of the annual Birding Festival, scheduled for October 5-7, 2007, and coordinated with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce. During the three-day event, the refuge and nearby Kiptopeke State Park offer butterfly walks along their butterfly trails and gardens.

The 1,157-acre Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge is open every day during daylight hours. At the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, the refuge is an important stopover for migratory birds. The refuge does not charge an entrance fee. For more information, call 757-331-2760, or visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/easternshore/

Texas
In late September/early October thousands of Monarchs a day flutter through the prairies and oak Savannahs of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Sometimes, Refuge Manager Deborah Holle says, the butterflies “are on a mission, up high and flying through,” increasing the challenge of butterfly tagging activities that take place on the refuge at the height of butterfly migration season. If the Monarchs can be reached, they are tagged with tiny stickers. Holle says about seven of the butterflies tagged at Balcones Canyonlands Refuge have been found in Southern Mexico.

Butterfly tagging is just one activity offered during Balcones Canyonlands two-day National Wildlife Refuge Week celebration October 13-14, 2007, at Doeskin Ranch. (http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/balcones/events.htm) Butterfly walks and talks are also available, as are presentations on native garden plants, including those that attract butterflies. Balcones Canyonlands also offers butterfly walks during its Songbird Festival in the spring.

Where the Great Plains and the Gulf coast meet, Balcones Canyonlands Refuge is made up of limestone hills and spring-fed canyons, habitat for plants and animals that live nowhere else. The refuge charges no fees. For more information, call 512-339-9432, or visit http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/balcones/index.htm

Kansas
Toward evening, the best areas for viewing Monarchs at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas are sheltered places that are cool and damp. During the day, look for them in the wildflower areas. Here, in the central Kansas wetlands, Monarchs tend to appear through mid-September.

The season reaches its peak when the refuge is turned over to “Monarch Mania” during the third Saturday in September. A guest lecturer discusses such topics as butterfly gardening or the varieties of butterflies found in Kansas. Then everybody gets the chance to tag monarchs. Refuge Manager Dave Hilley says Monarch Mania is one of the refuge’s most popular events, especially for children and their families.

Hilley says the butterflies tend to come through the refuge in waves. Some years, he says, the butterflies are up too high to be caught for tagging. Other years, it’s possible to catch multiple Monarchs with one wave of the net. Wildflowers bloom in profusion throughout Quivira Refuge, attracting butterflies. But the interpretive trail extension, dedicated to butterfly viewing may be the best bet for Monarch spotting. For more information call 620-486-2393, or visit http://www.fws.gov/quivira/

Iowa
Nancy Gilbertson, manager of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, is expecting a good year for Monarchs. She says the numbers of butterflies have been increasing since a big freeze in Mexico a few years ago. Neal Smith Refuge is a great place to see them.

Near Prairie City, Iowa, the refuge is in the midst of one of the nation’s largest tallgrass prairie restoration projects. More than 3, 000 acres have been planted with native plants, many of which are attractive to Monarchs. Monarchs can be seen along the Tallgrass Trail and along the sides of roads in the refuge. Or, Gilbertson says, they can be viewed by just sitting still.

Retired Drake University Professor Robert Woodward counts Monarchs at the refuge every year. In a little more than three hours on September 20, 2006, he counted 432 Monarchs among the refuge’s sawtooth sunflowers. He had thought the migration was ending, but as the day warmed, Monarchs began to emerge from the tall bluestem grasses where they had sheltered for the night.

Neal Smith Refuge held its first Monarch Madness Day in 2006. Ninety people tagged 250 Monarchs during the day; almost 500 were tagged over the season. Since then five tags have been returned from El Rosario, Mexico. The event will be held annually on the second Tuesday each September. For more information, call 515-994-3400, or visit http://www.tallgrass.org

Summer Reading For Birders

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
IF YOU ARE looking for some new reading material for this summer, I’ve got six titles to recommend, all about birds.

The best new field guide is intended for kids, but I think it’s perfect for anyone of any age just getting into birds. “The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America” by Bill Thompson III (2008, Houghton Mifflin) covers 200 species, includes 300 color photos and 200 black and white drawings by Julie Zickefoose.

Thompson is the editor of BirdWatcher’s Digest, so he knows birds, but he sought the advice of his daughter’s elementary school classmates to write and design a book for kids. It includes everything you’d expect in a beginner’s field guide (identification tips, range maps, preferred habitats and voice descriptions) and more. Each account includes a “Wow! Burst,” an interesting bit of information about each species that makes them all the more memorable. This book will become the standard field guide for all beginning birders.

“The Backyard Birdsong Guide: A Guide to Listening” by Donald Kroodsma (2008, Chronicle Books) is a beautifully illustrated companion to Thompson’s book. It covers 75 species, but focuses on voice rather than visual identification. This is possible because attached to the back cover of the book is a digital audio player. Push a button, and hear a bird sing. Kroodsma is North America’s dean of bird song study, so readers can be confident they are learning from the master.

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Wildlife Federation are battling for best new comprehensive bird field guide. “Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America” by Ted Floyd (2008, HarperCollins) and “National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America” by Edward S. Brinkley (2007, Sterling Publishing Co.) are excellent references complete with hundreds of range maps. But at more than 500 pages each, they’re a bit too heavy to be true “field” guides. More than 2,000 color photos in each book insure that most accounts include multiple images that cover males, females, juveniles and some behaviors. These books are for experienced birders who demand the details included. I give the nod to Floyd’s book because it includes a DVD with 578 digital songs and calls of 138 bird species.

“Flights Against the Sunset: Stories that Reunited a Mother and Son” by Kenn Kaufman (2008, Houghton Mifflin) is a collection of 19 essays by one of the best birders in the world. After devoting most of his adult life to watching and studying birds on every continent, Kaufman returns to his Kansas home to visit his ailing mother. The essays recount his efforts to explain his passion to his elderly mother. In return, he learns his mother still has a few lessons for him.

“Falcon Fever: A Falconer in the Twenty-first Century” by Tim Gallagher (2008, Houghton Mifflin) is another poignant, introspective volume by a birder who made headlines all around the world just a few years ago. Gallagher is editor of Living Bird, the magazine published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but he is better known as one of the few people who have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker.

“Falcon Fever” details Gallagher’s life-long passion and obsession with raptors. The tale begins when a 12-year-old boy discovers an ancient text, “On the Art of Hunting with Birds” by legendary falconer Frederick II, a 13th century Holy Roman Emperor. It is truly amazing to learn how an obscure book helped shape the life of a 20th century boy.

Gallagher trained his first bird when he was just 14 years old. Through the good, the bad and the ugliness of a challenging family life, falconry played a stabilizing role. As an adult, the obsession continues. At home in Ithaca, N.Y., he flies Macduff, his beloved peregrine falcon, every day weather permits.–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Monarch Butterfly Migration A Miracle

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
WHEN THE SUBJECT of migration comes up, most people imagine birds winging their way north or south.

But Monarch Butterflies make an equally impressive journey to the mountains of central Mexico each year.

This is shaping up to be a great Monarch season–I’ve seen more of these familiar butterflies this summer than I have in years, and I’ve gotten similar reports from many readers.

Western Monarchs winter along the southern California coast, while those east of the Rockies migrate to the Gulf Coast or central Mexico. Mark and recapture studies have shown that Monarchs travel as far as 1,800 miles in just four months. They move only by day at a leisurely pace of 5 to 18 mph.

Much of what we know about Monarch migration comes from a University of Kansas citizen science program called Monarch Watch. Participants can purchase self-adhesive tags to place of the hind wings of captured Monarchs. During the winter, in Mexico help biologists understand the complexities of Monarch migration.

Not only do Monarchs travel great distances, they do so with unerring accuracy. Year after year they return to the same winter areas, even the same trees. So reliable are these migratory aggregations that they have become major tourist attractions in Mexico and southern California.

What makes the Monarch migration even more amazing is that each butterfly makes the trip only once. Monarchs that leave the wintering grounds lay eggs on their way north, then die. Consequently, several generations of Monarchs separate those that return in the spring from those that head south in the fall. Yet somehow each fall, inexperienced Monarchs return to their ancestors’ traditional wintering areas. Some researchers suggest that genetic olfactory cues could provide the guidance system.

On the winter grounds, Monarchs are sluggish and inactive. They congregate on tree trunks by the tens of millions. During the winter, Monarchs consume very little of their fat reserves.

When February rolls around, they still have plenty of stored energy for the trip north. Mating occurs before migration begins and females lay eggs as they move northward. This insures a new generation of Monarchs into northern Mexico and south Texas. Subsequent generations lay eggs as they work their way northward until monarchs return as far north as Canada.

Monarchs occur throughout temperate North America. Their life cycle is a textbook example of complete insect metamorphosis. Females lay clusters of pinhead-sized eggs on the undersides of leaves of milkweed plants. In three to 12 days the eggs hatch.

Tiny, ravenous caterpillars emerge. Bold black, white, and yellow rings encircle the body and identify the fleshy larval stage. Within 14 days they devour enough milkweed leaves to weigh more than 2,000 times their hatching weight.

Each caterpillar then finds a protected perch and molts into a cocoon-like pupal case called a chrysalis. In the next two to three weeks, the contents of the pale-green, gold-flecked chrysalis transforms from a lowly caterpillar into the beautiful burnt-orange and black adult butterfly. This entire process can be observed by placing caterpillars and a supply of fresh milkweed leaves in a large jar or terrarium.

Beautiful as they may be, however, most Monarch larva and adults taste terrible to anything that eats them. In laboratory experiments, blue jays vomit within minutes of eating a Monarch because monarchs are what they eat.

Many species of milkweed are highly toxic. Though Monarchs are unaffected by the toxin, they incorporate the poison into their own body tissues. The poison is retained through metamorphosis so even adults have high concentrations of the foul tasting chemicals.

Curiously, the toxin is more highly concentrated in the wings and exoskeleton than in the body. Thus, a predator that nips even a piece of wing discovers that Monarchs are distasteful. As an added protection, a Monarch’s abdomen — and that of many other distasteful species — is tough and leathery, difficult for a predator to bite.

These adaptations enable predators to learn that Monarchs taste badly without necessarily killing the butterfly. This also explains why we often see Monarchs with badly battered wings — battle scars from the ongoing struggle between predator and prey. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Sunflower Seeds and Cowpeas Useful For Wildlife

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Joe Mosby
SUMMER is just starting, officially, and there is time to make some plantings to attract and benefit wildlife.

You may have land of your own, you may rent or lease hunting rights somewhere or you may be friendly with a farmer or other landowner. Consider planting some sunflowers and some cowpeas.

The category cowpeas covers many varieties, some of which we better know as black-eyed peas. Sunflowers come in many varieties also, and the black oil type that bird feeding enthusiasts buy is a favorite. Striped sunflowers are popular too, and these produce larger seed than the black oil type.

Sunflowers and cowpeas are useful to all sorts of critters–birds of many varieties, deer, turkey and other animals. Doves go for sunflower seed much more than they do for cowpeas. Quail eat both but may prefer cowpeas. A benefit is that they both are easy to grow and can tolerate harsh summers and drought.

Sunflowers and cowpeas can even be grown together, mixed and planted along the edges of crop fields and in wildlife openings, also called food plots. Sunflowers grow tall, and cowpeas can take shady conditions, so they can do all right underneath the sunflowers.

For small plantings, tilling the ground is followed by broadcast planting ? scattering the seed by hand. Then the seed is raked into the loose soil. Rain is needed to bring the plants up, and if you can reach the site with a hose, that helps.

Larger plantings, like around the edges of crop fields, can be done with tractors, planters and harrows. Disk the ground, put the seed in with the planter then cover it with a pass of a harrow.

When the sunflowers and the cowpeas sprout, they need little attention. Competition from grass and weeds is always a possibility. You may consider using row planting instead of broadcasting so a tiller or cultivator can work between the rows to knock back weeds.

Once the sunflowers and cowpeas are well-established, weeds aren’t so much of a problem. If there is occasional, even spotty rain later in the summer, the plantings should do well by fall. Sunflowers, however, may not have time to produce seed by early September. The seeds will be available for doves a little later in the fall.

If you have crops or if you are working with a farmer, planting sunflowers and cowpeas around the edges of soybean, corn or other fields may be a help in keeping deer and other wildlife from hitting the crops so hard.

Seeds for planting are available at farm and agricultural supply outlets. You may consider more than one variety of both sunflowers and cowpeas. The latter are found in purple hull, crowder, red ripper and other varieties–all useful to wildlife.

The black oil sunflower seeds aren’t useful for snacking by humans, but the larger striped seeds are. Cowpeas are a different story. If the wildlife doesn’t eat all of them, go out and pick a sack full, shell them and enjoy a tasty supper.–Arkansas News Bureau

EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer.

Mapping Wildlife Diseases May Help Prevent Spread

Monday, June 28th, 2010

MADISON, WI–Tracking wildlife disease outbreaks around the world is now possible with another online map that shows where threats to the health of wild animals, domestic animals, and people are occurring.

The Global Wildlife Disease News Map, developed jointly by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, was introduced publicly today at: http://wildlifedisease.nbii.gov Updated daily, the map displays pushpins marking stories of wildlife diseases such as West Nile virus, avian influenza, chronic wasting disease, and monkeypox.

Users can browse the latest reports of diseases and other health conditions, such as pesticide and lead poisoning, by geographic location. Filters focus on different disease types, affected species, countries, and dates.

The map is a product of the Wildlife Disease Information Node, a five-year-old collaboration between UW-Madison and two federal agencies, the National Wildlife Health Center and the National Biological Information Infrastructure, that are part of the USGS. The Wildlife Disease Information Node, WDIN, is housed within the university’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the USGS.

“If you click on the name of a particular disease, it takes you to our main website and does a quick search of everything that we have on that topic,” says Cris Marsh, a librarian who oversees news services for the Wildlife Disease Information Node.

State and federal wildlife managers, animal disease specialists, veterinarians, medical professionals, educators, and private citizens will all find the new map useful for monitoring wildlife disease, says Marsh. Produced by WDIN staffer Megan Hines, the map is the latest addition to a suite of tools aimed at keeping users abreast of wildlife disease news.

Ultimately, the Wildlife Disease Information Node seeks to provide a comprehensive on-line wildlife disease information warehouse, according to project leader Josh Dein, a veterinarian with the Madison-based USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

“People who collect data about wildlife diseases don’t currently have an established communication network, which is something we’re working to improve,” says Dein. “But just seeing what’s attracting attention in the news gives us a much better picture of what’s out there than we’ve ever had before.”

The Wildlife Disease Information Node collaborates with a wide variety of public and private entities to gather and provide access to important wildlife disease data. Because of the global significance of these diseases, WDIN encourages others to become involved with the project.

“The more information we can link,” says Marsh, “the more robust our service becomes.”

Another strong service is ProMED-mail – the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, which also maps wildlife diseases. This Internet-based reporting system is dedicated to rapid global dissemination of information on outbreaks of infectious diseases and acute exposures to toxins that affect human health, including those in animals and in plants grown for food or animal feed.

Editor Larry Madoff says, “We cover the animal and human infectious disease world–-which in the wake of avian flu and SARS, we now recognize is imperative if we are to understand and slow the spread of diseases jumping from animals to humans.”

“Each day I and about 30 other scientists receive dozens of e-mailed reports of mysterious outbreaks sent in from experts and amateur disease watchers throughout the world,” he says. “We scan newspapers and health department alerts, government reports and other information sources worldwide for inklings that an infectious disease, perhaps not yet reported widely, is threatening animal, human or food crop health.”

There are more than 40 diseases in existence today that were unknown a generation ago, and about 1,100 epidemic events verified by the World Health Organization in the past five years, Madoff says.–ENS

EDITOR’S NOTE: ProMED-mail is online at: www.promedmail.org
The ProMED-mail Health Map is found at: http://www.healthmap.org/promed

The Delicious Surprise of A Wildlife Sighting

Monday, June 28th, 2010


By Tom Stienstra
OFF TO THE LEFT, I saw a flash of movement. But when I turned for a closer look, it was gone.

My dogs, Pooch and Buddy, were oblivious. They zig-zagged across the field, tracing a scent, and then headed to bramble. It was a thicket of wild blackberry bines, high grass and low brush. Three California Quail rocketed out and sailed 125 yards to take refuge in another thicket.

Then again, off to the left, there was another flash of movement. I homed in. About 70 yards away, on the edge of a meadow, a fox was sticking his head up from the inside of a large tree stump, like a periscope on a submarine. Apparently, the fox had been hiding in the stump, waiting as a trap for a ground squirrel, quail or songbird.

Even from a distance, I could see the fox lock eyes with mine. A moment later, it scurried out of the stump. It ran straight down the side of the stump and into high grass. A few seconds later, it was as if the fox had vanished. The dogs never even had a clue.

Wildlife sightings can capture the best of the outdoors. Like poker, fishing and golf, rewards are provided on the “intermittent reinforcement schedule,” just often enough to keep you thinking something good will happen soon.

Now can be the best time of year to see wildlife. In the foothills, spring is giving way to early summer, and in the high country, spring is just arriving. With fresh vegetation at a peak, young animals and birds are hatching their newborn, and all the critters have plenty to eat.

You can increase your chance of wildlife sightings by venturing to places with excellent habitat, like Yellowstone National Park. But even then, the most thrilling moment is usually an accident, a surprise episode while taking part in an adventure. Here are a few of my most memorable:

The Skunk
On warm coastal evening near Pescadero, CA I was hiking with my pal, Jeff Patty, and our dogs, Kaya and Rebel. Our route was roughly from Pigeon Point to Bean Hollow across privately owned ranchland (the owner had given us permission). It was a still, warm evening, and the ocean looked like a carpet that extended to forever. The sunset was breathtaking.

But we were running late, it turned dark and a full moon provided the only light for the last hour. Suddenly, Kaya and Rebel were on point with a skunk. Kaya, a lovable mutt who was mainly brown, grabbed the skunk and started shaking it. Rebel, a lovable mutt who was mainly black, moved in to help and got hit with a blast right between the eyes.

Kaya kept shaking the skunk and the skunk kept blasting away, and most of it seemed to nail Rebel, the agitated bystander. The cloud of fumes was so dense you could taste the oil. Despite every treatment possible, Rebel was later declared a federal toxic site.

The Two Lovebirds
At my pal Jim McDaniel’s house at Miramar, CA in Half Moon Bay, two doves were perched on a railing, the male coo-cooing away, trying to win the love of his dreams. In a flash, a Red-tailed Hawk arrived in a stunning plunge, nabbed the male dove and flew off. Meanwhile, the female sat there as if nothing happened. Jim still says there was a lesson there.

Dogfight at Iron Canyon
At Iron Canyon Reservoir in Shasta County, CA we were having a sensational night trout fishing in my old green canoe when we noticed a giant Osprey nest with chicks perched on top of an old dead tree. Then an hour before sunset, a Bald Eagle showed up, a full adult, with a bright white head, glistening black wings and a 7-foot wingspan.

The eagle swooped overhead in a 45-degree power curve and dropped in for the kill. A lone adult Osprey blasted off the nest to defend the chicks. They collided right over our heads in a maelstrom of squawks and feathers. Out of nowhere, another Osprey arrived like an F-16, dropped down in a power dive and rammed the eagle. It looked as if the eagle might get knocked out of the sky.

Both Ospreys pierced the air with their screams and pursued in full attack. The eagle folded its wings and plummeted straight down for 100 ft., just over the lake, then surged off at full speed. One of the Ospreys followed by 100 yards, but then broke off and returned to the nest.

Don’t Look In That Hole
Buddy, our rapscallion golden retriever, was out hiking with me across the foothills of Mount Eddy west of Mount Shasta. In a high meadow, he found what appeared to be an innocent-looking hole.

Curious to a fault and often fixated on ground squirrels, Buddy put his head in the hole. In the next second, that dog somehow sprung up 4 ft. into the air and 6 ft. backward. He would have won the gold medal at the doggy Olympics.

Back at the hole, peering over the edge, a Badger, wildlife’s fiercest defender, growled with teeth bared, ready to defend his turf. Now get this: The same thing had happened with Rebel nearly 25 years earlier.

The Grizzly Charge
In Alaska on the Moraine River, I had just caught and released my life-best Rainbow Trout on a fly rod, an 11-pounder, after a sensational stalk, hook-up and 30-minute fight. Suddenly, I felt that terrible yet familiar “presence,” looked up and saw a 9-foot Grizzly Bear looking down at me from the high bluff above the river. He instantly charged straight down the bluff, hit the water like a Volkswagen being dropped from a helicopter, and came straight for me.

“So, this is how it will end,” I remember thinking. I was thigh deep in water, and instinctively moved away and up river. The bear hit some deep water, which slowed him down, and I was able to get a little separation. When he reached my fishing spot, the griz went berserk, spinning, grunting and splashing the water with his giant paws. I kept moving off.

The bear stopped and again looked at me: “Get the message, pal.” It was like he was saying, “This is my fishing spot, not yours.” Yep, all yours.

If you spend enough time out there, you’ll have wildlife encounters. Now is the best time of year for them.–San Francisco Chronicle

The Life of A Wildlife Artist

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Brad Dokken
KARLSTAD, MN–There’s a scene in the movie “Fargo,” the offbeat, distinctly Minnesota tale of a kidnap scheme gone awry, in which the wildlife artist husband of fictional Brainerd Police Chief Marge Gunderson laments the fact that he finished behind one of the Hautman brothers in a postage stamp contest.

Instead of gracing the 29-cent stamp, Norm Gunderson’s second-place mallard painting was relegated to the 3-cent stamp.

“Hautman’s blue-winged teal got the 29 cent,” Norm laments to Marge. “People don’t much use the 3 cent.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Marge replies. “Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.”

The dialogue might be fictional but the Hautmans are very real. The Minnesota brothers–James, Robert and Joe–have established themselves among the top wildlife artists in the country, and each has won the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp contest, in addition to numerous state competitions.

Nick Reitzel knows firsthand how good the Hautmans are, and how difficult they are to top in stamp competitions. “For Minnesota, it always comes back to the Hautmans,” said Reitzel, a Karlstad artist who’s putting this northwestern Minnesota community on the map with his finishes in state fish and wildlife stamp competitions. “There’s a few guys that are just really hard to compete with. It’s really just a handful, too, but those three brothers … they always edge me out.”

Well, not quite always. Reitzel, 50, recently won the 2008 Minnesota Pheasant Stamp contest. His painting of pheasants in a snowy setting was selected by a panel of judges as the top work among 14 entries.

There’s no financial reward for winning the stamp contest, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but artists retain the rights to market their paintings. The 2008 pheasant stamp with Reitzel’s winning entry will be for sale in March. The DNR uses proceeds from the stamps, required to hunt or fish the respective species, for habitat enhancement efforts.

As a professional artist, Reitzel says the stamp competitions are a good way to gain recognition. He also won the 2002 Pheasant Stamp contest, and in 2001, took first place in Minnesota’s Trout and Salmon Stamp and Wild Turkey Stamp competitions. He placed second in the 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Pheasant Stamp contests, finishing behind Joe Hautman–there’s that name again–in 2006.

Reitzel said he spent about 60 hours on his latest winning pheasant stamp, a process that included rough sketches, a more detailed drawing and eventually, the final painting. Contest rules limit the artists to a particular bird or fish, but at the same time, Reitzel says, the restrictions imposed by the competitions often force him to be more innovative.

“I always try to put something in (the painting) that I personally like,” he said. “It’s usually the background.” Sometimes, Reitzel says, the inspiration for a background setting reflects a moment he experienced decades earlier. The way the light reflected on a stand of trees, for example, or a particular moment afield with his dad, who was an avid hunter.

“These things are bouncing around in my head for years,” Reitzel said. “Sometimes, I actually write them down and file them. But some of my best ideas are impressions I got when I was a kid, and if they’re not too naive, I can use them for a more sophisticated picture.”

After finishing second to a Hautman last year, winning this year’s pheasant stamp contest was gratifying, Reitzel says; but it’s just a step in getting the work produced into a limited edition print and available for sale. Artists, after all, have to sell their work to survive.

“What I’m trying to do is become strictly a print artist,” Reitzel said. “That would be the most enjoyable lifestyle.”

Meantime, Reitzel says, he’s on a roll. He lives sparsely in his small Karlstad, MN home, without a telephone or other luxuries, but at the same time, the lifestyle allows him to concentrate on work without interruption.

“These next few years I might be putting out some of my best work,” he said. “I’m looking forward to just the productivity of what I’m going to be doing.”

In terms of wildlife art, does that mean, “Look out Hautmans?”

“Hopefully,” Reitzel said. –Bemidji Pioneer

Making Landowners An Offer They Can’t Refuse

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
WILDLIFE agencies and organizations solve problems by manipulating habitat, animal populations and people.

For example, we manage endangered species by providing and protecting habitat. If we could protect sufficient habitat for all species, wildlife conservation would be easy.

But in the real world, people and wildlife compete for habitat. We farm land, cut forests, mine minerals, dam rivers and develop land for housing, industry and tourism. Sometimes these actions take place in prime wildlife habitat. It is the job of conservationists to minimize these conflicts, and too often we fail.

If we could refrain from developing coastal zones and flood plains, damage from storms like Katrina would be minimal. If we avoided fire prone areas, disasters such as the recent southern California fires would not occur. But for a variety of reasons, we choose to develop disaster prone areas. At some point, land planners need to look to the future and consider the consequences of their actions.

A story in the November-December 2007 issue of “BirdWatcher’s Digest” got me thinking about land development. Kenn Kaufmann writes of a threat to Madera Canyon in southern Arizona. Madera Canyon is known to birders far and wide as a place to see specialty species such as Elegant Trogans, Elf Owls, Painted Redstarts and 15 species of hummingbirds.

Many Mexican species stray north into the zone. I attended graduate school in Arizona, so I know the area fairly well. It remains high on my list of favorite birding destinations.

Madera Canyon, part of the Coronado National Forest, is nestled in the northern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. These mountains, like others in southern Arizona, rise high above the desert floor to form lush, isolated “islands” of ecological wonder. Madera Canyon is one of many such canyons found among these desert sky islands, but it’s the most studied and most accessible. It is a priceless resource.

Kaufman’s article focuses on a threat to the mouth of Madera Canyon. The approach traverses desert grasslands, home to Cassin’s, Boteri’s and Rufous-winged Sparrows. Just a mile from the canyon, 1,189 privately owned acres of desert grassland is being pursued by a developer who wants to build a 280-unit housing development.

Putting aside the “wisdom” of placing a housing project in the midst of a fire-prone desert grassland (in light of the recent California fires), these grasslands are an integral part of the entire landscape and warrant protection. But no one would deny the land owner the right to sell his private property for top dollar. That is the reward for acquiring it and protecting it.

What we need for land owners is an alternative to selling out to commercial interests. What we need are “godfathers of conservation”–wealthy individuals who can make the owner of quality habitat “an offer he can’t refuse.” These godfathers would be individuals who see the value of protecting critical habitats in perpetuity. In return, these benefactors would be revered as heroes by the conservation communities they help, and enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference.

Years ago, this suggestion might have seemed naive, but not today. In 2005, marketwatch.com reported that there were more than eight million millionaires in the U.S. And according to forbes.com, this year for the first time, the 400 richest people in America are all billionaires.

Public funds to purchase critical habitat are possible, but typically the financial wheels at governmental agencies turn slowly. For example, Pima County, AZ, might be persuaded to buy the parcel of desert grasslands Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said on Oct. 13 that she was prepared to introduce legislation that would extend the boundary of the Coronado National Forest to include these desert grasslands.

But private transactions are easier. All that’s required are willing sellers and cash. I can’t imagine a willing seller who would prefer seeing a piece of property turned into a housing or industrial development if they could get the same price to preserve the land in its natural state in perpetuity.

A corps of “godfathers of conservation” is a step in that direction. Parcels of endangered habitat await cooperative efforts by private and public forces in every state. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about Madera Canyon and efforts to protect it, visit www.friendsofmaderacanyon.org.

Make Your Wildlife Tree Part Of The Garden

Monday, June 28th, 2010

ARE YOU thinking of cutting that dead or dying tree down around your house because of the danger it presents?

Before you remove all existence of a tree that plays an important role in wildlife ecology, consider having a “wildlife tree” because of the value to birds and other creatures. Your backyard can create a forest ecosystem. In our mountains dead trees have always provided food, safe nesting sites and shelter to many forms of life. With our area rapidly expanding these habitats are and will be decreasing but our encroachment can be minimized.

When a tree is injured insects and fungi appear and wildlife species are attracted. All of the species help carry on the long process of decomposition. This becomes part of the cycle of life dependent on one another as we all are.

Over 85 species of North American birds use tree cavities. These cavities are in short supply due to land clearing, timber management and cordwood cutting. Insectivorous birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds, etc. who use these cavities are beneficial in helping to control unwanted insect pests. Since the birds do so much for us we could feel good these cold wintry days about providing a nesting cavity.

If your dead tree has heavy branches that would target your house or play area cut some or all of the branches and leave the trunk. Topping the trunk might also be necessary. However the trunk has little value as a nest site if it is only 5 or 6 ft high. Keep as high as safety allows. A standing dead tree can last for several decades. The larger the diameter of a tree the greater the number of species you attract.

Recently EMC informed me they had to cut down 4 trees in our front yard to protect the power line. I had always had our trees cut leaving a big tall woodpecker house, I called it, and requested that they leave it as high as they could. They willingly left about 15 feet. I was impressed that I didn’t have to plead with them not to cut the tree down to the ground. Apparently, they know the value.

I have since learned biologist have a term, snags, which they call the dead or dying standing tree and it is a nationwide effort to save. Biologist are also calling logs the “hot spots” of the forest ecosystem. Those same logs which are piled up and burned as your house is being built could have provided shelter for wildlife as well as returning valuable nutrients to the soil in the rotting process. In fact, trees “are” the future soil for the mountains to produce the future specialty plants we all admire and cannot seem to emulate. Those dead logs are teeming with insects and fungi.

We were fortunate our builder did not have a bon fire for cut trees. Living on a slope we were able to terrace on either side of the house using those limbs and logs. It has been the answer to slowing down soil erosion during hard rains. If you are building, ask your builder to strew logs about rather than piling in a big heap. You will also find some interesting natural wood sculptures nature has provided that would look great in the garden. Then when nature adds a coating of mosses or mushrooms it becomes breathtaking.

Because of our geology rocks give added beauty to our surroundings. These “ancient rocks” sometimes covered with lichen, mosses and sometimes even miraculously resurrection ferns, as the picture shows, give us appreciation for the natural world.

Nature has done such a good job of management. Now as we contemplate our view of what our garden should be like we walk very softly. It is a delicate balance and we are the stewards. –Union Sentenial

The Ospreys Are Coming Back

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jennifer Keats Curtis
EVERY YEAR, just around St. Patrick’s Day, the Osprey, one of the most recognized birds on the Chesapeake Bay, makes its way back to our area.

Though the brown and white birds are often mistaken for eagles, the Osprey is smaller, its black bracelets (marks on its wrists), and crook in its wing as it flies clearly distinguishes it from other birds of prey, explains U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologist Pete McGowan.

Sadly, in the early 1970’s, Ospreys, also known as Fish Hawks since they dine nearly exclusively on fish,  were nearly wiped out by the pesticide DDT. Fortunately, the birds have made a comeback since the pesticide was banned. Today, they are found on all continents except Antarctica, proudly perching on the sides of their huge nests of jumbled sticks. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Chesapeake, where the abundance of Osprey has led to the Bay being called the “Osprey Garden.” However, trash clearly poses a threat to the well-being of these magnificent birds.

McGowan, who has been studying Osprey for years with colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, believes that half, or more, of all Osprey nests on the Bay and surrounding rivers contain fishing line or similar cordage material. He encourages people to properly dispose of their fishing gear and debris and offers the following tips:

Safely stow or throw away any unused fishing line, tackle, and other trash so that birds and other animals will not become entangled in these materials. “Potential for entanglement is high,” notes McGowan, “And often causes injury or death.”

Recycle monofilament line when feasible. If fishing line is to be discarded, take it home and cut it into small pieces first; then dispose of it in a trashcan.

Do not throw any plastic—or pieces of plastic—into the water. If you find fishing line, balloon ribbon, kite string, rope, plastic, or other debris that may harm wildlife, dispose of it properly.–Bay Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month, a new children’s book honoring McGowan’s contribution to the osprey launched. Osprey Adventure (Cornell Maritime Press, 2008) is the heartwarming tale of how a boy and his biologist father save an Osprey. Written by Jennifer Keats Curtis and illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey, the book is based on McGowan’s work. Curtis, whose previous books include the ASPCA finalist Turtles In My Sandbox and MCTELA award winner Oshus and Shelly Save the Bay, helped McGowan perform a survey of nests on the Chester River andChesapeake Bay as part of her research. She says about half of the nests they viewed contained dangerous cordage. Osprey Adventure is available in bookstores and online. With “props” in hand, Curtis regularly visits area preschools and elementary schools to talk to children about Bay animals, Bay heroes, and what they can do to help them.

Loggers Invade Monarch Butterfly Haven

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Andrew C. Revkin
ILLEGAL LOGGERS have chopped their way deep into unique forest reserves in a mountain range in central Mexico where millions of monarch butterflies from eastern North America roost for the winter, according to researchers who posted satellite photographs of the area on a NASA Web site last week.

Forests of oyamel fir trees in Michoacán and Mexico States have for thousands of years been a winter haven for the resplendent orange and black butterflies, the most famous “charismatic megafauna” of the insect world, said Lincoln P. Brower, a professor emeritus of biology at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, who has studied the butterflies and their shrinking winter habitat for decades.

The images, posted online at earthobservatory.nasa.gov, show fresh clear-cutting in an area that held large butterfly colonies last year, as seen in aerial surveys, said Daniel Slayback, a geographer based at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, who has been tracking the butterfly wintering grounds with Dr. Brower. The images were taken by the commercial Ikonos satellite for the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, a group with which Dr. Brower is associated.

“There are a number of sawmills around the area that are busy eating away at the forest,” Dr. Slayback said. “These are organized groups that go in armed sometimes. This is wholesale clear-cutting.”

The photographs show that cutting is taking place inside a protected “core zone” established by presidential decree in November 2000, according to the NASA Web page.

The migration of the butterflies, and their choice of this region as a winter habitat, remains a mystery, although the forests are thought to offer the right balance of coolness and humidity to keep them alive through the winter without their exhausting fat reserves. Each March, they return north. –-New York Times

Threats to Bumblebees Fly Under Radar

Monday, June 28th, 2010

GRANTS PASS, OR--Looking high and low, Robbin Thorp can no longer find a species of bumblebee that just five years ago was plentiful in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon.

Thorp, an emeritus professor of entomology from the University of California at Davis, found one solitary worker last year along a remote mountain trail in the Siskiyou Mountains, but hasn’t been able to locate any this year.

He fears that the species–Franklin’s bumblebee–has gone extinct before anyone could even propose it for the endangered species list. To make matters worse, two other bumblebee species –one on the East coast, one on the West–have gone from common to rare.

Amid the uproar over global warming and mysterious disappearances of honeybee colonies, concern over the plight of the lowly bumblebee has been confined to scientists laboring in obscurity.

But if bumblebees were to disappear, farmers and entomologists warn, the consequences would be huge, especially coming on top of the problems with honeybees, which are active at different times and on different crop species.

Bumblebees are responsible for pollinating an estimated 15 percent of all the crops grown in the U.S., worth $3 billion, particularly those raised in greenhouses. Those include tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.

Demand is growing as honeybees decline. In the wild, birds and bears depend on bumblebees for berries and fruits.

There is no smoking gun yet, but a recent National Academy of Sciences report on the status of pollinators around the world blames a combination of habitat lost to housing developments and intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebee hives.

”We have been naive,” said Neal Williams, assistant professor of biology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. ”We haven’t been diligent the way we need to be.”

The threat has bumblebee advocates lobbying Congress to allocate more money for research and to create incentives for farmers to leave uncultivated land for habitat. They also want farmers to grow more flowering plants that native bees feed on.

”We are smart enough to deal with this,” said Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership. ”There is hope.”

Companies in Europe, Israel and Canada adapted bumblebees to commercial use in the early 1990s, and they are now standard in greenhouses raising tomatoes and peppers.

Demand is growing as supplies of honeybees decline, especially for field crops such as blueberries, cranberries, watermelon, squash, and raspberries, said Holly Burroughs, general manager for production for the U.S. branch of Koppert Biological Systems Inc., a Netherlands company that sells most of the commercial bumblebees in the U.S.

One new customer is Tony Davis of Quail Run Farm in Grants Pass. He has long depended on volunteer bumblebees to fertilize the squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant he grows outdoors for sale in growers’ markets. When he started growing strawberries in greenhouses this year to get a jump on the competition, he bought commercial bumblebee hives to fertilize them.

”Without bumblebees, I would be out of business. I don’t think I could hand-pollinate all these plants,” he said.

Scientists hoping to pinpoint the cause of the nation’s honeybee decline recently identified a previously unknown virus, but stress that parasitic mites, pesticides and poor nutrition all remain suspects.

Unlike honeybees, which came to North America with the European colonists of the 17th century, bumblebees are natives. They collect pollen and nectar to feed to their young, but make very little honey.

A huge problem facing scientists is how ”appallingly little we know about our pollinating resources,” said University of Illinois entomology Prof. May Berenbaum, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, worries that on top of pesticides and narrowing habitats, disease could be the last straw for many of the bee species.

”It definitely could all come crashing down,” he said.–AP

Listen To Spectacular Predawn Chorus

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
IF YOU HAVE ever wondered why birders start their days well before dawn, it’s because that’s when birds begin their day.

Last summer I reported that, on July 24-26, I rose at 4 a.m. to monitor the midsummer dawn chorus. I recorded the first bird song at 5:53 a.m., a cardinal, and subjectively concluded that the chorus peaked from 5:34 to 6:07, eight minutes before the sun rose at 6:15. Since then, I’ve been anxious to repeat the experiment during the nesting season. As expected, the spring concert began earlier.

On May 9-10, I again rose at 4 a.m. and began listening intently. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, astronomical twilight began at 4:27 a.m. That’s when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon and begins to illuminate the eastern sky.

At 4:58, I heard the first unidentifiable, distant voices in woods. At 5:05, a neighbor’s rooster crowed. The first cardinal sang at 5:06, followed by a Song Sparrow at 5:11. The birds had begun to awaken.

At 5:15, I noted that several cardinals were singing every few seconds. They were soon joined by Great-crested Flycatchers (5:17), robins and Wood Thrushes (5:18) and Scarlet Tanagers (5:26). At this point, I described the chorus as, “continuous, just brief moments between songs.”

More species quickly chimed in: Gray Catbird (5:28), Eastern Towhee (5:32), Eastern Phoebe (5:33), Carolina Chickadee (5:34), Carolina Wren (5:35) and Mourning Dove (5:40). At 5:44, the horizon was clearly defined, marking the onset of civil twilight.

At 5:47, a turkey gobbled, and I wrote, “It’s now hard to pick out individual songs. The birds are all singing on top of each other.”

I was hearing the crescendo of the morning chorus. The frenzied cacophony would continue for 18 minutes as the following birds joined in: House Wren (5:51), Tennessee Warbler (5:52, and at this moment, the day’s first hummingbird arrived for breakfast), Yellow Warbler (5:54), Brown-headed Cowbird (5:55), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (5:56),Tufted Titmouse and Blue-winged Warbler (6:02), Downy Woodpecker (6:03), Eastern Bluebird (6:04) and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (6:05).

From 5:47 to 6:05, every bird listed so far sang repeatedly and insistently. Cardinals, towhees, phoebes and Carolina Wrens sang loudest. At any given moment, I could hear three or four individuals of these dominant species. I struggled to ignore them so I could hear the others. At 6:06, eight minutes before sunrise, the intensity of the morning chorus began to fade. More voices were yet to come, but picking out individual songs began to get easier.

At 6:07, I heard a Chipping Sparrow, a crow, a Common Yellowthroat and, at 6:11, a White-eyed Vireo. The sun rose at 6:14 and eventually the sleepy-heads joined in: Baltimore Oriole (6:17), indigo Bunting (6:25), Field Sparrow (6:28) and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (6:34). Most birds continue to sing until midmorning, but the chorus peaks early.

Though human ears might have difficulty identifying the individual members of a chorus consisting of dozens of singers, the birds do not. Each responds only to its own species’ songs. Males interpret another male’s song as a territorial keep-out signal, while females hear the same song as an invitation to bond and mate.

And the “noise” created during the peak of the predawn chorus is no doubt as confusing to predators as it is to birders. Screech Owls, for example, which actively hunt for song birds at dawn and dusk, surely have trouble locking in on the sound of one potential prey item when many are singing at once.

Birders, especially beginners, assume that getting in the field at dawn is necessary for the best experience. As I found last summer and again last week, however, the peak of the morning chorus is already over at dawn. To hear the springtime, limited engagement of the most spectacular choir on the planet, get to the woods at least an hour before dawn.

And even if you can’t identify all the bird songs you hear, anyone can recognize that there are many voices in the choir. With time and experience, you’ll recognize the orioles, towhees, and robins in the dawn chorus as easily as the flutes and violins in an orchestra. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Lewnes Named First National Master Naturalist

Monday, June 28th, 2010

PORT REPUBLIC, MD--Jack Lewnes, a retiree who works on
weekends at the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary, earned
WindStar Wildlife Institute’s highest certification–National Master
Naturalist.

In addition to his innovative habitat improvement projects on his own
acreage, Jack was cited for his work with youth and graduate students
at the sanctuary. He is a supporter of the “No Child Left Inside”
movement that is rapidly growing across America after Richard Louv
published his book two years ago entitled Last Child in the
Woods–Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.


Jack was certified as a WindStar Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in
1997.  He is a veteran birdwatcher, boater and outdoorsman. Currently
he writes for WindStar’s Wildlife Garden Weekly e-magazine and the
American Wildlife Blog. And, he often can be found in his new kayak
exploring wildlife habitat in eastern Maryland.

If you love to feed, photograph or observe wildlife and want to know
more about them, you, too, can register for WindStar’s Wildlife Habitat
Naturalist homestudy course. After successful completion, you may
register for the new, advanced course–Certified National Master
Naturalist. 

“The overall mission of these programs is to develop a corps of
well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach and service
dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources, including
wildlife and wildlife habitat, on their properties and within their
communities,” says Tom Patrick, President.

“We want students to inventory the elements and components of their
wildlife habitat, learn more about forest and wildlife management,
decide what to add and create a plan for making it happen,” says
Patrick.  “They can then replicate this effort for others such as friends,
relatives and neighbors.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 66 million
people 16 years old and older—31 percent of all Americans—fed,
photographed and observed wildlife in 2001 and spent $40 billion on
these activities.

“These courses can help people develop their personal and
professional environmental skills in order to creatively tackle natural
resource challenges,” says Patrick. “And, they can do it at their own
pace and time.”

The advanced course is divided into two parts—The Woods In Your
Backyard
and the Wildlife In Your Backyard. Two of the DVD videos
used in the course—“How Birds Eat” and “Insect Defense”—were
created by Dr. Ron Goor, creator of the Smithsonian’s Insect Zoo, the
first live insect zoo in the U.S.

Special sections are devoted to: Plants, Ornithology, Entomology,
Herpetology, Mammalogy and Teaching Others About Nature. 
Individuals will learn how to manage their land, map it, and assess why
they purchased the land and what they hope to get out of it.  Plus,
subjects like tree identification, forest and wildlife management, water
resources, best plants for wildlife, creating wildflower meadows, lists of
native plant nurseries and contractors, recreation, aesthetic appeal and
ways to improve each will be covered.

WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit, conservation
organization whose mission and solution to the loss of native plants and
wildlife habitat focuses on effectively teaching wildlife habitat
improvement practices through proven methods such as “neighbor
helping neighbor” and “education through demonstration”.

The Institute publishes two free periodicals–  “Wildlife Garden Weekly”,
an e-Magazine and the “American Wildlife Blog.” An award-winning
website provides a wealth of information for gardeners and wildlife
enthusiasts. 

Also, the Institute certifies residential, commercial and rural wildlife
habitats in its American Wildlife Habitat Registry™ program.  Institute
headquarters is located at 10072 Vista Ct., Myersville, MD 21773
in an earth-sheltered, passive solar structure with grass roof.

Individuals can obtain additional information on both e-learning courses
and register for the courses by going to the website (www.windstar.org)
or by calling 800-324-9044.

Thwack On Head Enough To Restore Peace To One’s Soul

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Michael Burke
WE SAT on the front porch chatting idly, watching the nearby Nanticoke River drift by. Conversation touched on the war in Iraq and other troubles haunting the world.

The day was bright, but the talk had an ominous undertone. We were interrupted by a loud “thwack” followed a few moments later by a second and then a third. After a brief pause, we heard it again. The sound was coming from high up a tree near the end of the driveway. A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) was looking for dinner.

Pileateds are crow-size birds, 17 inches from beak to tail.

They love carpenter ants and will excavate large rectangular holes in trees in search of the insects. These big woodpeckers use their long necks for leverage as they rear back and let go with a powerful thwack each time their chisel-like bill is sent hammering into a tree.

When the bird has opened a cavity, it will probe the hole with its tongue, extracting ants or other insects in a remarkably efficient fashion. The tongues of woodpeckers are extraordinary. They are barbed at the end and sticky, both effective adaptations for catching insect prey. Their tongues can also be quite long—up to 5 inches in some species.

To accommodate that unwieldy length, they have evolved some rather elegant, albeit bizarre, anatomy. For the Pileated, that barbed tip is just the working end of a series of structures (called the hyoid apparatus) that extends back through the mouth, wraps all the way behind the skull, over the top of the head, down across the forehead, and eventually anchors at the base of the big bird’s nose. When a Pileated sticks out its tongue, its entire head is in on the action. In the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), the tongue extends behind the skull and then loops around the right eyeball.

When looking at a Pileated Woodpecker, one can’t help but be impressed with its size and dramatic red crest. They are our largest woodpeckers except for the recently rediscovered ivory-billed—assuming those accounts are accurate.

The Pileateds are primarily black birds, with white throats and matching stripes that start on the face and extend down those long necks. They also show extensive white under their wings, as well as a white flash on the top.

Females, like the one we saw at the end of the driveway, have a big red crest. In males that crest is even more impressive, as it stretches across the forward to the base of the bill. Males also have a patch of red feathers on each cheek that birders typically refer to as a mustache.

Pileated Woodpeckers generally form mating pairs. Both sexes help to build the nest, which is a cavity in a large tree. Fittingly, wood chips serve as the base for the eggs, which take two weeks to hatch. The birds take another month before they fledge. Mating pairs typically produce two broods each year.

The large woodpeckers inhabit the entire eastern United States and Canada. Their range reaches across Canada to the Pacific and down again into the U.S. Northwest. They are year-round residents, although they will roam far from their resident territory during the nonbreeding season. Pileated Woodpeckers numbers are increasing across their range, largely because of the spread of second-growth forest in areas that had previously been logged or farmed.

The big trees lining this section of the Nanticoke on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are prime habitat. The bird we spotted was just the closest of several flying over the wide river or along its wooded shoreline that we saw that weekend.

When the big female began hammering away, I was up out of my seat with binoculars in hand. We prowled around the tree for several minutes until the woodpecker finally showed herself. As we retreated to the porch minutes later, she let out one of those harsh, wild staccato calls the birds use to communicate with one another.

Pileateds are no backyard birds. They need big, mature trees and plenty of them to meet their habitat needs. This section of the Nanticoke had seen little development. Large tracts just upstream were permanently protected through various purchases and easements. The biggest property downstream was privately owned, but it is largely managed for habitat purposes. This wasn’t quite the wilderness, but it still had a primitive feel to it.

The despair for the world that had been haunting us had slipped away. The Pileated’s broad wings lifted her in a graceful flight over the water, carrying the weight of the bird as well as my world-weary cares. We were, in the words of the poet Wendell Berry, in “the peace of wild things.”— Bay Journal