Archive for the ‘Wildlife Habitat’ Category

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.

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.

Leave Some Dead Trees Standing to Help Wildlife

Monday, June 28th, 2010

STANDING dead trees may appear to be useless eyesores, but a wildlife biologist says actually they are important components of wildlife habitat and frequently in short supply…

“That ugly snag may provide a secure home for many kinds of animals and a virtual smorgasbord of insect food,” said Laurel Barnhill, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Downy, hairy, red-bellied, pileated and red-headed woodpeckers all feed heavily on wood-boring larvae of beetles and other insects and invertebrates found in snags.”

Woodpeckers are also the primary excavators of nesting cavities in snags, Barnhill said. These cavities are later used by other species. Bluebirds, wrens, titmice, Crested Flycatchers, chickadees, nuthatches, Barred Owls, Screech Owls and kestrels all depend on cavities for successful nesting.

Mammals such as bats, squirrels, Flying Squirrels and Raccoons also use cavities in snag trees. A single snag tree may contain many cavities useful to several different species, as well as providing a food supply.

“The value of snags to both wildlife and people are countless,” Barnhill said. “Many snag-dependent species control insects and pests, and birds of prey prefer the vantage point snags afford for hunting rodents. The woodpecker’s diet is filled with many insects that can be harmful to our interests.”

There are two kinds of snags, according to Barnhill. A “hard” snag may be only partially dead, with many limbs remaining and sound wood. This kind of snag will be beneficial for many years. A “soft” snag is more decayed, with no limbs left and advanced heart rot. Wildlife species make use of both kinds of snags, but larger snags have more value.

In woodlots, at least four to five snags per acre should be maintained, according to Barnhill. Snags left in open areas over water will also provide hunting perches for flycatchers, bluebirds, hawks and kingfishers. Osprey may nest in large snags near open water.

“Snags may not appear very attractive, but their value to wildlife is clear,” said Barnhill. “Wildlife enthusiasts should take a second look at dead or dying trees on their property and include snags in their wildlife management or landscaping plans.” –AP

Landscaping For Wildlife Equals Year-Round Food

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Gail Reynolds
EVERTON, MO--Mel and Millie Funk enjoy looking out on their side yard in rural Everton to watch the wildlife feeding on the treats the Funks put out for them.

“We put out rock salt for the deer, chicken feed for the Wild Turkeys, black oil sunflower seeds and finch food (nyjer) for the birds and cracked corn for whoever else comes along,” said Mel Funk.

Funk said the yard and picnic table adjacent to their home is visited by a host of different birds and a variety of wildlife. The Funks purchase the food they set out for the wild visitors who drop for a bite to eat; however, others interested in providing a plateful of natural culinary treats for wildlife can “naturescape” their yards with a selection of native plants.

“Setting out food for wildlife is great for them, especially in the winter,” said Kim Banner, a naturalist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “However, if you make your backyard or your landscaping friendlier for wildlife, you won’t have that much of a problem attracting animals and insects.”

“Naturescaping”—landscaping with wildlife in mind—helps produces a natural year-round food supply for the wild critters in your neighborhood, according to Banner: “Wildlife are just like people. They have the same needs as we do—food, water and shelter.”

The key to creating a wildlife-friendly habitat in your outdoors space is to landscape with plants that are native to your area, said Barbara Lucks, Missouri Master Naturalist and immediate past-president of Master Gardeners of Greene County. “We have a challenging growing environment in southwest Missouri,” said Lucks. “The soil is not the best and the weather is unpredictable at best.

“So if you have native plants that have managed to adapt to our environment and can withstand the hot/dry, floods, ice and up-and-down winter weather we experience here— insects and wildlife are dependent upon these hardy varieties because they will always be there. But, you can’t just ignore your yard and hope the right plants spring up on their own.”

“One of the things people can do is educate themselves on the kinds of native plants that are particular to the kind of wildlife they want to attract,” Banner said. And there are many readily available resources and upcoming events to tap into.

Get a jump start on naturescaping by visiting the web site of GrowNative, a joint program of the MDC and Missouri Department of Agriculture, at www.grownative.org; also stop by the MDC Web site at www.mdc.mo.gov/landown/backyard.htm.

If you live outside Missouri, go to WindStar Wildlife Institute at www.windstar.org and click on the ‘Knowledge Center” where you will find nearly 600 articles on how to improve your wildlife habitat.  Also you can go to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at www.wildflower.org and click on ‘Explore the Native Plant Information Network’.

These sites have information on which plants are required to create appropriate habitat for a variety of wildlife, butterflies and other beneficial insects; landscaping plans with recommended plants placed appropriately; resources on where you can purchase these plants locally and more. Also check with your state Cooperative Extension’s web site.–News-Leader

Tips On Planning Your Wildlife Habitat

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Walter Scott
BLOOMFIELD, IA–On a recent trip to the lake, I noticed a Canada Goose in a tree. It is not common to see geese in trees, except at our place.

A large branch extends from a dead tree in the water. For several years, a goose has nested in this tree. I would imagine it is ideal habitat after she learned that geese can land in trees. Her nest is well off the water, and a Raccoon or other predator would have to swim to get to the base of her tree. I would not want to be the one to climb the tree with an angry mother goose protecting the first branch.

When we built the lake, I wanted to remove all the standing timber that would be flooded, but I was encouraged to leave them for the wildlife. I never thought a standing tree in the lake would be habitat for a goose, but nature has a way of adapting. Anything we can do to provide wildlife habitat will be used. Sometimes it will not be used in the way we planned, but it will be used.

Our Wood Duck house raised two groups of bluebirds. The Wood Ducks had to go find a tree. If a person takes the time to learn about the preferences of the species they are trying to attract, habitat improvement becomes easy.

Bluebirds like a box or tree cavity. They do not want a perch on the outside and they prefer an open area such as a pasture or lawn to hunt for bugs and let the babies fly. Quail and pheasants like heavy grass or dense brush in which to nest.

A property looks much neater with trimmed fencerows, but more gamebirds will be attracted if they are not. Both species like to have short grass or an open area near the nesting site where the young can get away from heavy morning dew.

A baby quail is tiny and looks somewhat like a bumblebee with stilts. They need to get warm and dry shortly after leaving the nest. They also need to stay near heavy cover to avoid predation by hawks. Pheasant chicks are about the same size as a baby chicken and they can maneuver through more heavy cover than a quail, but still need a place to get dry.

We can do both species a big favor by being a bit less compulsive about weeds in the fences. A brush pile or downed tree will provide cover for a Wild Turkey to nest and raise her brood. Turkeys like to nest in the timber or near the edge. The eggs are laid in a shallow depression lined with leaves and feathers. When the hen is not on the eggs, she will cover the nest with leaves and small sticks so it is well camouflaged.

When we cut firewood in the winter, we stack the brush and usually burn the pile to keep from freezing to death when we take a break or to use the brush pile to cook a hotdog. We leave a few piles, and probably should leave more for nesting areas. When we have hauled out the firewood and stacked the brush, the remaining clearing is a perfect place for the young turkey poults to forage.

I have discovered it is not difficult to provide habitat for deer. Standing timber and a food source is all that is required. Last year, I planted several thousand trees, many of them various pine species, in order to expand our habitat. Deer consider small pine trees to be a food source rather than habitat in which to live. One year later, I have not found any survivors among the pine trees. They might have to be replaced with oak trees and the deer can eat the acorns in a few years.

You can plan your habitat, but it will not always work out as planned. — West Central Tribune

‘Tis the Season ‘ To Go To the Nature Shop

Monday, June 28th, 2010

MOST OF US want to buy “special” holiday gifts for those family members and friends that have an interest in wildlife and the environment.

All of us seem to be busier than ever before and have limited time to spend on finding special gifts for special people.  That’s where WindStar Wildlife Institute can make your task easier.  Our staff has selected more than 300 specific items that we think our fellow conservationists will like and posted them in our Nature Shop. Here’s a quick look at some of them:

* Take your or your gift recipent’s interest in wildlife and native plants to new heights and achieve professional level expertise with WindStar’s computer-based courses that will certify individuals as Wildlife Habitat Naturalists or National Master Naturalists.
* Next we have six membership categories in WindStar Wildlife Institute which range from $30 to $500. Since WindStar is a national, non-profit  conservation organization, your membership gifts and donations are tax deductable. And, every penny goes towards our environmental education programs.
* Many of us are familiar with Michael Smith’s wonderful Mad Bluebird photograph. Now you can purchase a variety of different sized prints and framed or just matted.  Or, check out our selection of Mad Bluebird productsOnly WindStar has men’s and women’s watches with the colorful bluebird on the face. And, they are only $29.95. Other items are mugs, travel cups, garden flags, coasters, trays, magnets and memo pads.
* Plus, we have additional wildlife photographs by Michael Smith and Tim Flanigan, who also offers Giclée Canvas prints that are signed and numbered limited editions.

Or, perhaps you might find something on Scott Shalaway’s holiday list.This year he selects two great gadgets and a short shelf of books:

1. If 2008 is the year you plan to learn bird songs, your timing couldn’t be better. The iFlyer SongBird Scanning Wand ($99.95, www.identiflyer.com), made by the same company that makes the BirdSong Identiflier, consists of an optical scanner in a pen-sized Wand and a small spiral bound booklet containing the images of 206 birds and 10 frogs. Next to each image is a bar code. Scan the bar code with the Wand, and the voice of the illustrated species plays. It’s slick, simple, and it works. The Wand also comes with self-adhesive labels printed with each of the species’ bar code. It takes just a few minutes to apply each label next to the corresponding bird in your favorite field guide, and that book becomes a powerful audio learning system. If you use several different field guides, extra labels are available.

2. Another option for learning bird songs is the birdJam
(www.birdjam.com), an electronic encyclopedia of North American bird songs on an Apple iPod. With just a little practice, you can access any North American bird in less than 15 seconds. It took me about 20 minutes to master the technique. The play lists are from the “Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CDs, Eastern and Western Regions,” and are organized by habitat or family. With earbuds or a small hand-held speaker, it works as well in the field as in the office. The price of a fully loaded birdJam iPod is $299.00, but if you already have an iPod and the Stokes CDs, you only need to purchase the birdJam software ($59.00 for eastern North America).

For those long winter nights, here are some great new books birders and nature lovers will enjoy:

3.  “The Birds of Peru” by Thomas S. Schulenberg, Douglas F. Stotz, Daniel F. Lane, John P. O’Neill and Theodore P. Parker III ($49.50, Princeton Field Guides). I probably won’t get to Peru and neither will many local birders, but this new release is a great book to leaf through and dream. Peru is home to some wonderful birds and interesting habitats, and this is a beautifully written and well-illustrated addition to any serious birder’s collection.

4.  “Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the State of our Planet”
by Seymour Garte ($24.95, 2007, Amacom) is a refreshing look at some of the progress we’ve made in protecting the environment. Garte is Professor of Environmental and Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh and calls upon more than 30 years of experience to tell his story.

5. “Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk” by Jeffrey Wells ($35.00, 2007, Princeton University Press) examines the distribution, ecology, threats and conservation needs of 100 species from across the continent. Wells is senior scientist at the Boreal Songbird Initiative (www.borealbirds.org). This book is more for serious conservationists than casual birders……

6. “No Way Home: The Decline of the World’s Great Animal Migrations”
by David Wilcove ($24.95, 2007, Island Press) considers the mysteries and wonder of animal migrations around the word. The focus is how destructive environmental changes, from climate change to urban sprawl, endanger migratory species. This is a great book for anyone, especially students, with a developing conservation ethic.

7. “Ivorybill Hunters: The Search for the Proof in a Flooded Wilderness” by Geoffrey Hill ($24.95, 2007, Oxford University Press) is the latest book examining the status of the ivory-billed woodpecker. This time the location is the panhandle of Florida, where Hill and his students have made multiple observations in difficult-to-navigate river bottoms. Among the most fascinating parts of the story is how Hill dealt with the skepticism his findings unleashed.

8. “Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds” ($29.95, 2006, Houghton Mifflin) is a long overdue effort that complements every birder’s favorite field guide to birds. Each of 691 accounts offers detailed descriptions of the bird’s status, distribution, habitat, migration, appearance, behavior, flight and voice. I get the feeling Dunne tells us everything he knows about each bird.

Knowledge of Wildlife Inspires Photographer

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By John McCoy
MARK SHOCK’S job keeps him close to nature. His hobby lets him reach out and capture it.

Shock manages wildlife for the state Division of Natural Resources. In his spare time, the 55-year-old Grantsville resident takes award-winning photographs of the animals he manages.

“I’ve been into wildlife photography for quite a while, but I wasn’t serious about it until recently,” Shock said. He started taking pictures during sightseeing trips with wife, Linda.

“We’d pick a place on the map and just travel to it to see what was there,” he said. “We always seemed to take a lot of pictures on those trips. As the years went along, I got more interested in photography.”

Shock knows animal behavior better than most photographers. He’d better. His work requires him to trap turkeys, band geese, relocate rogue bears and perform other wildlife-related tasks throughout the state’s northwestern counties. Four or five years ago, he decided to take advantage of that knowledge.

“It struck me that I should try to do more wildlife photography,” he said.

He did. He discovered a lot of the process was out of his control.

“It’s extremely time-consuming,” he said. “You have wait and wait for animals to come to you. The light changes constantly, and the animals never seem to want to sit still.”

Shock began to carry a camera on trips afield for the DNR. He soon learned, however, that his duties didn’t allow much time for picture taking.

“It’s hard to mix photography with work,” he said. “Just when you think you’re about to get something really good, you have to go do something else. Most of my wildlife photography is on my own time.”

He photographs everything from deer to rattlesnakes. He’s particularly fond of birds, mainly because they present so many challenges.

“Songbirds are hardest to photograph because they’re quick, and they move around so much,” he said. “Turkeys are tough, too, because they’re so wary. They’ll spook at the least sound or movement.”

Shock switched from film cameras to digital in 2001, and instantly became more able to capture difficult subjects.

“With film, I ended up throwing out a lot of slides and negatives with blurred images on them,” he said. “Sometimes I’d shoot two or three rolls of film just to get one or two decent frames.”

The dim light penetrating the forest canopy forced Shock to use shutter speeds too slow to capture quick-moving subjects on film.

“Digital was just what the doctor ordered,” he said. “If some of the shots were blurred, I could just delete them off the memory card. There was no film to buy, and there was no film-processing cost.”

Shock’s Canon D60 digital camera cost substantially more than his film cameras, but it freed him up to trip the shutter as often as he wanted.

“That’s the beauty of digital,” he said. “If you shoot 50 or 60 shots and don’t like any of them, you can just dump them from the memory card. You also don’t mind risking an extra shot or two, because with digital it’s not going to cost additional money.”

With a few clicks of a computer mouse, Shock could review, edit and store all the images he liked. His portfolio quickly grew. People who saw his images liked them, but he never tried to sell them or have them published.

“I just did it for my own personal satisfaction,” he said. Then in September, his DNR bosses sent him to a National Wildlife Society meeting in Calgary, Canada.

“They had a photo contest, and I decided to enter it,” he said. He submitted photos in five of the contest’s seven categories. The results surprised him.

In three of the categories, he won “people’s choice” awards, given to the photos conference attendees liked best. In the portion of the contest judged by professional photographers, he took two seconds and a third. The three people’s choice awards meant most to him, he said. “I never dreamed I’d get anything like that,” he added.

Shock doesn’t plan to exploit the recognition he received. “I like to donate my photos to the DNR’s wildlife magazine, but that’s about it,” he said. “Linda says I should think about selling pictures to offset the equipment expense, but that would take a lot of time. I have a lot of other things I’d rather do.”

Taking photos, for instance.

“That’s about it,” he said. “I don’t do this for the money.” –Charleston Gazette

To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs

Monday, June 28th, 2010

OXFORD, PA--Doug Tallamy and his wife, Cindy, built their house seven years ago in the middle of 10 acres of former hayfields.

But, they don’t sit inside much. Most of their spare time is spent cutting Oriental bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle out of cherry and oak trees. They saw down thickets of autumn olive and multiflora rose and paint the cut stems with an herbicide that goes down into the roots and kills them.

The land was so thick with multiflora rose that they couldn’t walk, so Tallamy cut paths with hand loppers. They work with handsaws, not a chain saw. And they paint on the herbicide, rather than spraying it, because they don’t want to damage the treasures below: under those thorny rose bushes might be seedlings of black oak, Florida dogwood, black gum or arrowwood viburnum, which, if protected from deer, could flourish in the cleared space.

A meadow cleared of autumn olive can resprout with goldenrod, joe-pye weed, milkweed, black-eyed Susans and many other natives crucial to wildlife. It’s hard work, but the Tallamys love being outside. And they share a vision, an imperative, really, that Tallamy lays out in a book, “Bringing Nature Home” (Timber Press, $27.95), published in November.

They are struggling to plant the native species that are needed for insects and animals to flourish. As exotic ornamentals leap the garden fence and out-compete the native plants, many creatures are starving to death because they did not evolve with the exotics and simply can’t eat them.

“I’m not trying to recreate the ancient ecosystem,” said Tallamy, who is chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, in Newark, DE, 15 miles southeast of here. “That is gone. I’m trying to create biodiversity.”

He pointed to a row of white pines he and his wife planted five years ago to screen out a half-mile racetrack and a 120-stall horse barn as big as a box store. “You wouldn’t have found white pines here back in the old days,” he said of the tree. “But a lot of things eat white pine, like sawflies.”

The white pine is an Appalachian native, and its natural range stops about 30 miles west of here, he said. But its wide use since Colonial times gradually expanded its range, allowing its associated insects to hitch a ride.

Last spring was too cold and wet for moth and butterfly larvae, he said, but the bluebirds nesting in a box in the meadow were desperate to feed their young. “They found the sawflies in those pines and raised the entire brood on them, flying back and forth, back and forth,” Tallamy said.

Many natives provide food for insects and birds, and so when young trees sprout in an inconvenient place—too close to the back door, or in front of a window—Tallamy delays pulling them out.

“I went to take this black cherry out and there were 13 Tiger Swallowtail larvae on it,” he said, standing by a sapling by the back steps.

He bent over yet another, even smaller black cherry that had sprouted between the stones of the front walkway. “Anybody else would pull this out, but see this?” he asked, pointing to a drab little remnant of a leaf that some young larva had fashioned into a winter home. “That’s a little hybernaculum for the red-spotted purple, which is a butterfly that people want in their gardens.”

Although gardeners might believe that when they plant a butterfly bush, native to China, they are helping butterflies, they are merely attracting the adults who sip the nectar. The plant cannot be eaten by the butterfly larvae.

Even a lowly fly maggot, which lives inside the hard round galls often seen on the stems of goldenrod, has an important place in the ecosystem. “Fly maggots are really high in proteins and fats, and chickadees love them,” Tallamy said. “We give chickadees seeds, but when they get one of those maggots, they can really make it through the cold winter night.”

So if you cut down the goldenrod, the wild black cherry, the milkweed and other natives, you eliminate the larvae, and starve the birds. This simple revelation about the food web—and it is an intricate web, not a chain—is the driving force in “Bringing Nature Home.”

The book evolved out of a set of principles that Tallamy jotted down at the request of students at the University of Delaware, and of gardeners attending his public lectures. They all wanted lists of plants: what attracted what, which was then eaten by what, and so on. So he began to map a food web for the suburban or urban backyard.

The typical garden might hold weeping cherries and rhododendrons, lilacs and crape myrtles. That is beautiful, perhaps, but it’s a barren wasteland to native insects and thus birds. Almost all North American birds other than seabirds—96 percent—feed their young with insects, which contain more protein than beef, he writes.

He cites the work of Michael Rosenzweig, an evolutionary biologist based at the University of Arizona, who has analyzed data from all over the world and found a one-to-one correspondence between habitat destruction and species loss. In Delaware, for instance, state ecologists say that 40 percent of all native plant species identified in 1966 are threatened or extinct; 41 percent of native birds that depend on forest cover are rare or absent.

So the message is loud and clear: gardeners could slow the rate of extinction by planting natives in their yards. In the northeast, a patch of violets will feed fritillary caterpillars. A patch of phlox could support eight species of butterflies. The buttonbush shrub, which has little white flowers, feeds 18 species of butterflies and moths; and blueberry bushes, which support 288 species of moths and butterflies, thrive in big pots on a terrace. (Appropriate species for other regions are listed by local native plant societies.)

You don’t have to cut down the lilacs, but they are doing nothing for the insects and birds. “It’s as if they were plastic,” Mr. Tallamy said. “They’re not hurting anything, except that they’re taking space away from something that could be productive.” –New York Times

Truth About Wildlife Myths

Monday, June 28th, 2010

THESE popular myths have been around forever, passed on from generation to generation. We are hoping that educating the next generation will ultimately result in a better co-existence between humans and wildlife.”

Myth # 1: Feeding bread to geese and ducks is a wonderful family activity.
Fact: Bread is bad for birds because it offers no nutritional value whatsoever. Severe health problems, including a debilitating condition called “Angel Wing” is caused by bread. Birds have actually starved to death on a diet of bread. Hand-feeding leads to dependency because ducklings and goslings won’t learn how to find native foods on their own, and some birds become aggressive about being fed – all of which leads to a tragic outcome.

Myth # 2: If you find a fawn alone, she has been orphaned.
Fact: It is actually very common to see fawns alone because the mother will “park” her babies in one place and only visit two to three times a day to avoid attracting predators. Until the fawn is four weeks old, you will rarely see the mother. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage and lying still for protection during this vulnerable period.

Myth # 3: If you touch a baby bird the parents will abandon him.
Fact: Birds have a limited sense of smell, but are strongly bonded to their chicks. They will not abandon them if handled by humans. The best thing humans can do if a baby bird falls from its nest is to put him right back in it. The parents will return to feed them. Watch carefully: They will feed their chicks several times an hour, from dawn ’til dusk.

Myth # 4: If you see a Raccoon during the day, he must be rabid.
Fact: Raccoons are opportunistic and will appear whenever food is around. Although they are normally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see Raccoons during the day when pet food is out-side, especially in spring and summer when mom Raccoons have high energy demands due to nursing their young cubs. Only if the animal is acting disoriented or sick, such as circling, staggering, or screeching–in addition to being seen by day–should a local animal control officer be contacted.

Myth # 5: If you get close to a skunk, you’ll get sprayed.
Fact: It is actually extremely difficult for a person to get sprayed by a skunk. These animals only spray to defend them-selves, such as when a dog runs up and grabs them. But because they cannot “reload” very fast, skunks do not waste their odiferous weapon. Instead, they will stamp their front feet as a warning to get you to back off.

Myth # 6: Bats get tangled up in your hair if they fly near you.
Fact: The last place a bat wants to be is in your hair! They navigate using a complex sonar-like system called echolocation which allows them to “see” their world with fine precision. The misconception about bats flying in hair is based on a bat’s swooping flight patterns when they get trapped in a confined space, like a house. Bats have a long wingspan; the reason they swoop is not to fly into your hair, but to stay airborne.

Myth # 7: Cats belong outdoors and it is not fair to keep them inside the house.
Fact: Letting cats roam outside subjects them to perils of the outdoor world, particularly being hit by cars. Indoor cats live a healthier and longer life. Outdoor cats, even well-fed ones, spend much time mangling and killing wildlife like ground-nesting baby rabbits, chipmunks and baby birds that have not yet learned to fly. Wildlife and cats are at risk when people let their cats out.

Myth # 8: Opossums are vicious and rabid.
Fact:
Opossums are resistant to rabies most likely due to their low body temperature. Opossums are also harmless, benign creatures that can hardly defend themselves. Their hissing, teeth-baring, and drooling is not a sign of rabies but rather a bluff to scare off potential predators. When their “I’m scary” act doesn’t work, they play dead.

Myth # 9: Canada Geese stick around because they forgot how to migrate.
Fact:
Geese that live in one place year-round do so through no fault of their own. They are descendants of captive-bred geese introduced by wildlife agencies over 50 years ago to create “opportunities” for hunters. Geese were also released by people who thought they would simply look nice on their ponds. As a result, transplanted geese never learned to migrate from their parents, and thrive in our suburban landscapes.

Laura Simon, Field Dir.
HSUS

Improving Backyard Habitat Pays Off

Monday, June 28th, 2010

CAMERON, TX–A local homeowner with a talent for landscaping and love of wildlife has garden beds that attract many varieties of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Many habitat enthusiasts have turned their yards and other garden spaces into enticing wildlife habitats.

Ronald McWilliams, a member of the Little River Basin Master Gardeners, has been working on his property for more than two years. He has designed a landscape placing plants, flower beds and trees where they can best take advantage of the hours of sun and shade. In addition to flower beds, he has installed a running waterfall, goldfish pond and bird baths as well as outdoor seating areas. He says he has seen many varieties of birds, including owls that like to play in the water.

Any habitat enthusiast can create a backyard habitat and learn the rewards of “gardening for wildlife.” And you can have your property certified as a wildlife habitat by providing the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover and places to raise young. It must also employ sustainable gardening practices.

Habitat restoration is critical in urban and suburban settings where commercial and residential development encroaches on natural wildlife areas. In addition to providing for wildlife, certified habitat conserve our natural resources by reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizer, pesticides or irrigation water, which ultimately protects the air, soil and water throughout our communities. More information about how you can get your property certified is available from WindStar Wildlife Institute, wildlife@windstar.org

Creating habitats not only helps wildlife, it can help reduce global warming pollution and save money as well. Burning fossil fuels to heat and cool our homes and maintain our laws releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.

Replacing lawns with strategically located trees and other native vegetation can insulate our homes from heat, cold and wind, reducing our heating and cooling needs and thus our carbon dioxide emissions. And, unlike, wildlife-friendly native plants don’t need constant maintenance from gas guzzling lawns mowers or fertilizers that required fossil fuels to manufacture.

On top of this, plants actually absorb carbon dioxide, helping to further reduce the amount in the atmosphere. All of this add up to increased wildlife habitat, reduction in excessive carbon dioxide that causes global warming and reduced energy bills for homeowners.

Habitats can produce other financial rewards for homeowners. Realtors will promote the certified status of homes for sale because they see it as an added selling feature. It’s an attractive element to many potential home buyers looking to share their landscapes with Mother Nature. Potential homeowners who are attracted to a house with a certified habitat are also more likely to maintain the habitat once they take ownership.

Each of us can make our own piece of the earth a healthy, green space that helps restore the ecological balance.”

You can certify your property in WindStar Wildlife Institute’s American Wildlife Habitat Registry. Every applicant receives a special membership to the WindStar Wildlife Institute, including subscriptions to WindStar’s Wildlife Gardening Weekly e-magazine and the American Wildlife Blog. If your property is approved as a wildlife habitat, you can purchase an outdoor sign designating your yard or garden as wildlife-friendly. Call 800-324-9044 for an application or email wildlife@windstar.org

WindStar Wildlife Institute also exclusively offers two home-study courses that certifiy individuals as a “Wildlife Habitat Naturalist” or “National Master Naturalist”.  Details are available at www.windstar.org or by calling 800-324-9044.

Want to be Closer To Nature?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

WOULD YOU like to look out of your kitchen window and see a squirrel coming down a tree looking for food?

What about seeing a young doe with two fawns playing in the woods at the rear of your yard? Would you like to see a hummingbird up close and personal while you are enjoying your morning breakfast?

All of this, and much more, could be yours with a little thought and planning.

Consider your backyard from an animal’s point of view. To survive, all wildlife need food, water, cover and places to raise their young.

Take a nature walk and study your property. Make notes:

  • Have you provided enough plants with fruits, nuts, seeds and colorful flowers?
  • Is there a mix of evergreen and deciduous (will lose it’s leaves in the fall) vegetation for variety?
  • Do you maintain a source of clean water for birds?
  • Is there an area that you could stop mowing and let grow wild?
  • Do trees, shrubs and ground cover provide sufficient cover for animals?
  • Consider attaching nesting boxes, flowering vines or feeders to fence posts and buildings.
  • Is your soil fertile enough too support new plantings?
  • Is there an area that could be converted into a wetland garden.

Sit quietly and observe passing wildlife. Animals will show you where your backyard wildlife habitat site can begin. Just look, and then get to work.

Creating your successful backyard wildlife habitat will make you part naturalist, landscaper and wildlife manager. To sustain a healthy, varied animal population, be sure to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Suet spoils at 70 degrees. Nuts turn rancid in heat, so only use them for food in winter.
  • Dangerous fungi contaminate wet bird seed. Store it in a dry place, away from squirrels.
  • Keep the ground clean under feeders. Rake away seed hulls. Rotate feeders on a regular basis.
  • Remember to keep water features filled and free from ice.
  • Don’t use electric fences to control deer; they kill hummingbirds.
  • Just say no to pesticides in your garden. Chemicals can poison the wildlife you worked so hard to attract. Use companion planting and biological controls instead.


Warmer Yellowstone Shifting Environmental Balance

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jim Robbins
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WY— The grassy sweep of the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of this park is famous for its wildlife, especially its vast herds of elk and bison and the wolves that hunt them.

But while walking across the Lamar last fall, Robert L. Crabtree, chief scientist with the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in Bozeman, MT pointed out a cascade of ecological changes under way. The number of Grizzly Bears and gophers in the valley has increased, Dr. Crabtree said, an increase supported by the spread of an invasive plant from the Mediterranean that a warming climate benefits.

“It’s the early stages of a new ecosystem,” he said, “one that hasn’t been seen here before.”

The plant, Canada thistle, provides food for grizzlies in more than one way but may also be squeezing out native plants that cannot compete.

Canada thistle first appeared in North America several hundred years ago and has been present in Yellowstone at least since the 19th century, Dr. Crabtree said. Because of its extensive root system, the plant defies spraying, and park officials have largely abandoned efforts to control it. Warming temperatures have helped its fortunes.

Areas along the Lamar River that were once marshy have dried out because of a drought that began around 2000. As the ground becomes drier, the thistle invades. Dr. Crabtree theorizes that its range in the valley has doubled since 1989, when he started research on the ecosystem here.

Enter the Pocket Gopher, a half-pound dynamo that tunnels into the ground near the surface. The gophers love the abundant, starchy roots of the plant and burrow beneath it to harvest the tubers. What they do not eat they stockpile under plants or rocks.

The expansion of Pocket Gophers and thistle is not gradual, Dr. Crabtree said, but a rapid positive-feedback loop. As the gophers tunnel, they churn surface soil and create a perfect habitat for more thistle. In other words, the rodents help spread the plant. And more plants, in turn, lead to more pocket gophers.

“The Pocket Gophers are unconsciously farming their own food source,” said Dr. Crabtree. Their numbers here have tripled since the late 1980s, he said.

For their part, Grizzly Bears have discovered the gophers’ caches and raid them. As a result, the Lamar Valley is pockmarked with holes where grizzlies have clawed up bundles of roots. Bears also devour gophers and their pups.

Dr. Crabtree thinks the bears started feeding in earnest on the new food source in 2004—a poor year for another bear staple, the white bark pine nut. Now, he adds, they seem to be eating the gophers and roots more routinely.

Tom Oliff, chief scientist for Yellowstone, confirms that the growing season for the park has expanded 20 days a year since the mid-1990s, which may explain the spread of Canada thistle. Mr. Oliff said the park reduced control efforts because evidence showed that the plant ebbed and flowed and that the range would probably shrink on its own.

About the idea a new ecosystem, Mr. Oliff said: “It’s an interesting hypothesis. Is it true? That’s a good question.”

Charles C. Schwartz, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, said his agency had no way to tell whether there were more bears in the valley. “I think what he’s seeing is real,” Dr. Schwartz said of Dr. Crabtree. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see individuals shift and take advantage of an abundant food supply.”

Whether the changes last over the long haul, he said, is another question. As climate change alters ecosystems, Dr. Crabtree said, “the winners are going to be the adaptive foragers, like grizzlies that eat everything from ants to Moose, and the losers are going to be specialized species that can’t adapt.”

He said one specialized declining species was the Long-tailed Weasel. It feeds primarily on voles, which are also declining. The changes in the Lamar Valley might point to a new approach for invasive species, which are overwhelming many natural systems. “Invasives are the single biggest threat to biodiversity,” Dr. Crabtree said.

As budgets for controlling invasive species shrink, he suggested a triage. “If you are going to give up on a species,” he said, “it’s best to give up on one that has ecological value.” –New York Times

West Virginian Provides 32 Bird Feeders

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Trish Rudder
BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV–Joseph Gentile has always been interested in nature. While growing up in Michigan, his mother taught him to take care of wildlife.

“One of my earliest chores was filling the bird feeders,” he said.

Since moving to Morgan County in 1990, he has provided a refuge for wildlife on his property, but did not meet all the certified wildlife criteria until this year. (WindStar requires food, water, cover and space to raise a family to qualify)

His two-acre property attracts a large variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife including deer, opossum, raccoons, squirrels and a couple of varieties of nonpoisonous snakes.

“It’s not just bird feeders and bird houses,” he said.

He had to cut out chemicals for weeding and feeding, and he does more composting for fertilizer. He also added a log pile to shelter larger mammals and brush piles to night shelter wild birds.

Gentile provides 32 bird feeders as well as roosting pockets and nesting cavities for birds. A small water pool is available for drinking and bird bathing, and a few salt licks are around for the deer.

He said he refills the feeders about every three days. Blue Jays get a mix of corn and safflower seeds in their feeder, and they don’t bother the other bird feeders, he said. Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals are attracted to a mixture of sunflower and safflower seeds.

Gentile said he has seen or heard 58 species of birds, and the feeders and shelters can be viewed from many areas inside his home.

“I’ve always wanted to record my surroundings,” he said, and Gentile has kept a nature journal since 1990.

He listed rainfall and snowfall amounts, daily weather high and low temperatures, wildflowers, and the arrival and departure of different varieties of birds. His journal shows the hummingbirds arrived on April 27 in 1991 and on April 24 this year.

“It’s good, convenient record-keeping,” he said, and it’s all by hand.

He does not use a computer, does not watch television. He likes radio, news magazines and “lots of books.” Gentile is making his own hiking map of the Eidolon Nature Preserve in Great Cacapon, WV. .–Herald-Mail

How To Create Attractive Wildlife Habitats

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, UVM
THERE ARE MANY reasons your landscape should be attractive to wildlife. By meeting the four main needs of wildlife —food, water, shelter, and space— you can have a wildlife-friendly yard and even have it certified as such.

Reasons you should consider this in your landscaping, if you aren’t already, include:

• It’s fun attracting birds, butterflies, hummingbirds and similar to your yard and watching them. This is also relaxing, a great stress reliever, a good hobby;

• It makes your yard more attractive, often with less pests, when landscaping for all seasons and with a diversity of plants;

• Habitat restoration is especially critical in developed areas, where natural habitats have been destroyed;

• Earth-friendly and least toxic practices such as reducing chemicals and conserving water helps improve soil, air, and water quality.

To help wildlife, whether you apply for WindStar Wildlife Institute habitat certification or not, the application form serves as a great checklist. For food, plants are the best source, with feeders a good supplement. Encourage a natural diversity of creatures, creating a healthy ecosystem on your landscape. Realize that some creatures will become food for others.

For food, consider plants that provide seeds, berries, nectar, nuts, fruits, sap, or pollen. You might have several feeder types for birds and others with various feeding preferences. These include tube, suet, platform, squirrel, butterfly and hummingbird feeders.

Wildlife need a clean source of water for both drinking and bathing. You can provide this from birdbaths, along a stream or lake, a seasonal pond, a water garden, or a wetland. Even a small puddling area is useful for butterflies. If using a heated birdbath to provide water during winter, place a screen just below the surface to prevent birds from bathing during winter. In very cold weather birds have been known to bathe, then freeze when they fly away.

Wildlife need cover, places to find shelter from adverse weather and protection from predators. This can be provided by a wooded area, bramble patch, ground covers, log piles, roosting boxes, dense shrubs or thickets, evergreens, a rock wall or pile, a meadow, or burrows. Similar areas provide places for wildlife to court, mate, and to raise their young.

The foundations of habitats for all wildlife are the plant communities. To appeal to a diversity of wildlife, a diversity of habitats is best. Evaluate your landscape for this, and try to have at least some evergreen trees and shrubs along with deciduous ones (those that lose their leaves in winter). Add some vines, wildflowers, grasses and grass-like plants (upright with thin leaves), aquatic plants if a small pond or water feature, and ferns. Plants that are native to your region are best.

In addition to these plants and other elements of the landscape, how you manage these also is important. Earth-friendly gardening practices are best for the environment of you and your wildlife, and are sustainable—they endure with the least maintenance. Sustainable gardening practices for water conservation include vegetative buffer zones around ponds and water features, rain gardens, rain barrels to capture water from the roof, drip or soaker hoses, reducing lawn areas, mulching, and reducing or eliminating chemical use. Several of these, in addition to composting, also conserve soil.

One area of great interest is the control of invasive, often exotic or non-native, species. Check your local state lists (usually available on the internet) to see what species of plants are invasive. Remove any from your garden, and make sure not to plant any. Add more native plants. Monitor nesting boxes and clean yearly to make sure birds haven’t brought in seeds from invasive plants.

Once you have some of the plants, landscape elements, and practices underway, consider having your yard certified. This is a quick and simple self-process you can do online or with a form through the mail. You’ll then get much more information about wildlife and their habitats, can get a certificate and even buy a sign acknowledging your efforts, and just may inspire others to do their part for wildlife and the environment. To find out more about how you can certify your property as a wildlife habitat, go to WindStar Wildlife Institute –County Courier

What Do I Do If I Find A Baby Bird?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

1. If the baby is in immediate danger (in a road or near a predator), move it to a higher branch or other cover as close as possible to where you first found it. Confine cats and dogs.

2. Withdraw to a good distance and simply watch the bird, preferably through binoculars. Allow the parents, if they are present, to attend the baby. Don’t immediately assume it’s not being cared for, even if an hour passes without seeing a parent arrive.

3. Look and listen for others of its species. Constant contact calls given by fledglings serve to keep their parents apprised of their whereabouts.

4. If you see an adult of its species nearby, especially one carrying food, you may assume that it will be fed and cared for.

5. If several hours pass and you do not see an adult tending the baby, walk the area around it, looking and listening for other fledglings giving the same calls. It’s probable that this one has just become separated, and it may need to be carried over to join the rest. Head for the thickest nearby cover: Parent birds lead their young toward cover soon after fledging.

6. Resist the temptation to carry out a friendly abduction. A baby bird’s best chance for survival is always with its own parents. Plus, removing a fledgling is illegal unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. Playing a recording of the bird’s song can be a good way to summon the parents. Note where the first answer comes from and try to locate the family there. Be quite careful when doing this, though, and never overdo it–there is always the risk of disturbing other birds in the vicinity during nesting season.

7. If you are sure the parent birds are nowhere to be found, it’s time to contact a wildlife rehabilitator. State environmental departments, local wildlife officers, nature centers, some bird-feeding and supply stores, and some veterinarians keep lists of people to call.

Click here to see The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory. You will be able to locate a rehabber near you.