Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Southern Bugs Responsible For Deer Kill

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
WITH THE OPENING of the first deer hunting seasons just weeks away, news of white-tailed deer dying in two southwestern Pennsylvania counties has raised concern among both the hunting public and Game Commission biologists.

Since early August, more than 50 deer have died in Greene and Washington counties. Post-mortem studies are underway at Penn State University and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia. Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, says, “While we must wait for test results to confirm just what caused these deer to die, at this time, we suspect that the deer died of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), based on the field signs that we are seeing.”

The same thing is happening in Tennessee. Alan Peterson, a wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, has received reports of EHD from across the state during the past few weeks. Biologists at the University of Georgia confirmed EHD in Tennessee, and said the outbreak is affecting deer all over the southeastern United States. Perhaps weather plays a role.

EHD is a blood-borne viral disease transmitted to deer by a species of biting midge (a mosquito-like fly) that is common across the South. Because much of the South is in the midst of a three-year drought, water is scarce and many deer are forced to drink from the same water sources. That concentrates the deer so the midges can infect more individuals in one place.

Jerry Feaser, a Game Commission spokesman, suggests that these midges may have traveled to Pennsylvania on northbound weather fronts. He said these flies can’t survive Pennsylvania winters, so the disease should not persist in the state. The Game Commission also points out that EHD is not infectious to humans, though severely infected deer should not be eaten.

When deer are infected with EHD, they begin showing symptoms within seven days. Deer with milder infections develop a high fever and seek out water immediately. They often have pronounced swelling of the head, tongue, neck and eyelids and may have trouble breathing……

Fortunately, as many as two-thirds of the deer infected with the disease survive, and once they’ve had the disease they develop a natural immunity that keeps them from being infected again. And female deer that survive the disease often pass the immunity to their fawns through their milk.

The first occurrence and identification of EHD occurred in 1955 when several hundred white-tailed deer died in New Jersey and Michigan. Since then, outbreaks of EHD have occurred in white-tailed deer in many northern and Midwest states: South Dakota (1956), Michigan (1974, 2006), Nebraska (1976, 1981), Wyoming (1976), Kansas (1976), Missouri (1980), Wisconsin (2002) and in the same region of Pennsylvania (2002). Outbreaks occur almost annually in the southeastern states.

A common observation in outbreaks involving large numbers of deer is that they are single episodes which do not recur. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when outbreaks occur in the North, the disease is more virulent, and the death rate is higher. Apparently Southern deer populations are more genetically resistance to ERD.

The name epizootic hemorrhagic disease describes its primary symptoms. Hemorrhages vary in size. The most often affected organs are the heart, liver, spleen, kidney, lung and intestinal tract. Extensive hemorrhaging results from impaired blood-clotting ability and degeneration of blood vessel walls.

White-tailed Deer develop signs of illness suddenly. Initially, they lose their appetite and fear of man, grow progressively weaker, often salivate excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate, and finally become unconscious. Hemorrhage and lack of oxygen in the blood results in a blue appearance of the oral mucosa, so the disease is sometimes called “bluetongue.” Eight to 36 hours after the onset of observable symptoms, deer pass into a shock-like state, collapse and die.

State wildlife agencies rely on public vigilance to report dead or dying deer; otherwise outbreaks of EHD could go undetected.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dr. Cottrell reports that EHD is not related to Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological disease of deer that has made headlines the last few years.

Six of the Eight Bear Species at Risk of Extinction

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

MONTERREY, Mexico–Some of the world’s foremost bear experts have declared that six out of the world’s eight species of bears are threatened with extinction–but not the American Black Bear.

Among the eight species of bears, only the American Black Bear is secure throughout its range, which encompasses Canada, the United States and Mexico.

In a statement last week, as they wound up a meeting in Monterrey, the experts updated the status of the seven species of terrestrial bears.

Technically a marine mammal, the Polar Bear is distinct from the other seven terrestrial bears and has a different specialist group. In 2006, the Polar Bear was listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a global analysis of the conservation status of thousands of species, updated annually, with in depth analysis once every four years.

Bruce McLellan, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said: “An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continue to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favorable. It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation but success is slow.”

At 900,000 strong, there are more than twice as many American Black Bears than all the other species of bears combined. They are legally hunted in most parts of their range.

The only bear presently classed as Endangered is the Giant Panda. That status remains unchanged despite enormous efforts in China directed towards its conservation, including the establishment of nearly 60 panda reserves, a ban on logging, and widespread reforestation programs, said the bear scientists.

Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said, “Quite a bit is now known about the ecology of Giant Pandas and substantial work and expense has been aimed at trying to estimate total numbers of these animals. However, these estimates are imprecise and prone to significant error.”

“Even though some people have claimed that panda populations are on the rise, we still consider them Endangered because too much uncertainty exists to justify changing their status to Vulnerable,” he said. “It would be unwise to assume that in less than 10 years under the new habitat improvement policies in China that panda populations could have dramatically increased.”

The Vulnerable species include Asiatic Black Bears and Sloth Bears, both inhabitants of Asia, as well as Andean bears, also called Spectacled Bears, from the Andes Mountains of South America.

Sloth Bears live on the Indian subcontinent, where habitat loss has been severe although they have found sanctuary in reserves set up to protect tigers. The IUCN Bear Specialist Group said that this species might have disappeared entirely from Bangladesh during the past decade.

Brown Bears, the most widespread ursid, are not listed as threatened globally because large numbers still inhabit Russia, Canada, Alaska and some parts of Europe.

Still, very small, isolated, and highly vulnerable populations exist in southern Europe and central and southern Asia.

Several Brown Bear populations are protected under national or provincial laws. Grizzly Bears–Brown Bears living in interior North America–are considered Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act outside of Alaska.

The world’s smallest species of bear, the Sun Bear, Helarctos malayanus, has been newly classed as Vulnerable. The Sun Bear’s new status has been accepted for inclusion in the 2007 IUCN Red List.

The Sun Bear lives in mainland Southeast Asia, on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It was previously listed as Data Deficient, meaning that not enough was known about the species to give it a status on the IUCN Red List. –ENS

Signs Point To Protection of Wildlife

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Mary Ann Greier
LISBON, MA — Area landowners interested in habitat protection don’t have to wear their love of wildlife on their sleeves — they can post signs on their properties.

The Little Beaver Creek Land Foundation recently launched the Wildlife Santuary Sign Program aimed at helping landowners protect wildlife on their properties. The yellow signs with black type note that the area where the sign is posted is protected by law as a wildlife sanctuary and registered with the Little Beaver Creek Land Foundation, which is a non-profit entity.

“The wildlife sanctuary signs are more effective than the traditional no trespassing signs,” LBCLF Watershed Coordinator Lisa Butch explained. “We’re hoping to have people put them at different important spots on their land, such as entrances to the property or where they’re highly visible,” she said.

The signs cost $10 each, but property owners who have already agreed to take part have ordered more than one. Besides giving the message that they don’t want people trespassing on their land to hunt without permission, landowners using the signs can let people know that they’re interested in protecting the habitat and finding ways to enhance it.

Butch noted that participation in the program doesn’t give the land foundation any control over the property. If people are willing to post the signs, though, she said hopefully they’ll be willing to work with the land foundation to find the best way possible to manage the land.

The wildlife sign program was modeled after a similar project adopted by the Brooks Bird Club in Wheeling, WV. The late Nevada Laitsch, who lived in East Liverpool, was a member of the bird club and taught others in the area about birds with trips in the field. She was also a member of the Little Beaver Creek Land Foundation and passed on her knowledge of nature to others.

“This is something we’re kind of doing in memory of her,” Butch said.

Founded in 1993, the land foundation boasts the motto “Preservation and protection for future generations,” which can be accomplished through conservation easements, land acquisition and citizen education. –Salem News

Sights And Sounds Of The End Of Summer

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
EVENING FLIGHTS of chimney swifts swirling down to roost, nighthawks feeding by the lights at high school football games and nightly katydid choruses confirm the inevitable. Summer is fading fast.

The sun sets a few minutes after 8 p.m. this week, and in the morning the bedroom brightens at about 6:45 a.m. Ever shorter days send clear signals to migrating birds, hungry rodents and amorous deer — cooler, shorter days will only get cooler and shorter.

As I walked my favorite trails Wednesday, I noticed many other signs of the transition from summer to fall. Juvenile goldfinches have joined the adults on my finch feeders and some adult males have begun to lose their brilliant luster.

Among the most conspicuous changes in the landscape is the appearance of late summer wildflowers. Every patch of ground that escaped the mower’s blades this summer is covered with plants that reach well above my head.

Ironweed and Joe-Pye-weed attract dozens of tiger swallowtails, monarchs, fritillaries and skippers. A huge stand of nectar-bearing jewelweed along the road served my hummingbirds well while the family was on vacation earlier in the month. I’m sure my nectar feeders ran dry within two days of our departure, but when we returned, hummers returned to the replenished feeders within 30 minutes.

I’m already noticing fewer adult male hummingbirds, the ones with the ruby red throat. Adult males began to leave in mid August and, within another week, any males you see will be migrants from further north. Adult females and juveniles will linger for another week before heading south. But throughout September migrants from points north will continue to pass through and use nectar feeders. So, do not take nectar feeders down Labor Day.

Shorter days, not a dwindling food supply, trigger hummingbird migration. Plan to keep at least one feeder filled until the end of Sept. I never take my nectar feeders down until I go 10 days without seeing a hummer. That usually takes me into early October. And if you keep one feeder up until Thanksgiving, you just might see a Rufous Hummingbird, a western species that has been showing up throughout the east with increasing frequency in the fall.

Another sure sign of the end of summer are maturing pods of milkweeds. Keep an eye on them and when they split, collect seeds to plant next spring. Monarch butterflies will thank you by laying eggs on the spring growth.

As I walk the edge of the yard, I notice pokeweeds that tower two ft. above me. The productivity of this annual “weed” is remarkable. From a single seed grows an 8-ft. “wildflower” that bears hundreds, if not thousands, of succulent berries.

Fruit-eating birds, such as robins, bluebirds, catbirds and Brown Thrashers, disperse the seeds through their droppings, so there’s never a shortage of new growth. The stalks are just now beginning to droop under the weight of the ripening fruit. Only about a quarter of the berries have turned deep purple, so there will be an almost limitless supply of poke berries for the next six weeks. They usually keep flocks of notoriously nomadic cedar waxwings around the yard for at least a week.

The last blooms of summer are just beginning to appear in the hayfield. Goldenrod and asters add splashes of color to grasses just approaching maturity. And for the last two years, I’ve been watching several small patches of big bluestem, a tall grass prairie species typically found on the native prairies of the Midwest.

I picked up a few small bags of big bluestem seeds a few years ago and scattered them over some freshly mown spots. Much to my surprise, the big bluestem has thrived and spread. The tallest stems stand well over six ft. high.

Observing the predictable transitions from summer to fall can be a really learning experience. You’ve just got to know when and where to look. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Shy River Otters Are ‘Poster Pups’ for Conservation

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Julie Dunlap
WITH THE HELP of remote video cameras along two Pennsylvania rivers, researcher Sadie Stevens has spent hours filming the droll capers of wild River Otters. Her sleek subjects inhabit streams throughout Chesapeake country, but are so elusive that few have the opportunity to view them as she does.

Her window into otters’ secret lives reveals their well-known penchant for wrestling, rolling, sniffing, and sliding in mud and snow. Stevens has even grown fond of their “latrine dance,” a foot-pumping ritual performed while depositing scat. “Otters are great to watch,” she says.

Once, the Bay region teemed with otters. Two centuries ago, naturalist John James Audubon could count 46 of the “singular quadrupeds” on a single river in two hours. But unregulated trapping for their glossy brown fur swiftly exhausted otter populations across the continent.

Chesapeake marshes remained a refuge, but the weasel relatives, which average about two pups per litter, could not sustain the heavy harvest. Trapping pressures were compounded by the growing loss of wetland and riparian habitats, as well as water pollution from mining and industrial development.

By the 1980s, only remnant populations survived. In Pennsylvania, a small community of 350 persisted in the Pocono Mountains, isolated from their Bay-area brethren by cities and dams along the Susquehanna River.

But graduate student Tom Serfass, encouraged by water quality improvements in the area, thought that reintroduction was possible. He released four otters into Kettle Creek, a tributary of the west branch of the Susquehanna, in 1982. “We didn’t know if they were going to survive,” said Serfass, now a professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

Radio telemetry data from the released (and thriving) otters restored his confidence. The program grew quickly, ultimately releasing over 150 animals, including 40 captured from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Actual counts of the notoriously shy creatures are hard to come by—no researcher will venture a guess—but every Pennsylvania watershed now hosts River Otters, and populations are believed stable or growing in other Bay states.

The successful reintroduction has cast the curious, playful creatures in a new role as conservation icons. Otter releases came to symbolize river cleanup, says Serfass, because “folks in Pennsylvania realized otters’ appeal promotes conservation—not just of otters, but conservation of other species and associated habitats.”

He advocates more public education about otters in aquatic environments, especially for schoolchildren. The reason is simple, he states. “The River Otter is a very attractive face that can be put forth as a reason to conserve the bigger picture.” –Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Reproductive Rate Key To Small Game Populations

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
AFTER WEEKS of unseasonably warm temperatures, there’s finally a fall chill in the air. Cooler temperatures and falling leaves trigger distant memories.

When I turned 12, my father took me hunting for the first time. We had a bird dog, and on Saturday mornings we roamed nearby fields in search of ring-necked pheasants and cottontails. I learned gun safety and hunting strategy in pursuit of small game. October was the highlight of our hunting season.

Though hunting is on the decline, millions of hunters across the country still pursue pheasants, cottontails, squirrels and other small game species. The obvious question to a casual observer is, “how can these small animals sustain such relentless hunting pressure?”

The answer is “reproductive potential.” That’s the term biologists use to describe the high reproductive rate of these species.

Cottontails, for example, begin breeding in February unless winter’s grip in unusually firm. As birthing time approaches, the female digs a shallow hole in the ground. The female lines the nest with fur she plucks from her belly and covers the opening with grass, making it difficult to see from above. Nests usually are placed in stands of dense grasses, but sometimes cottontails even sink their nests into well-manicured lawns.

After a 30-day pregnancy, females give birth to four or five blind, naked young. Females nurse their brood only at dawn and dusk. They spend the rest of the day feeding or resting. After about a week in the nest, the young are fully furred, and their eyes and ears open. They leave the nest after 14 days. By the age of one month the young are weaned and independent.

Meanwhile, mom has been busy. She mates shortly after giving birth, so she’s pregnant with a second brood while nursing the first. A single female might breed four or five times in a year and produce up to 35 babies. The combination of large litter size, multiple broods, and rapid growth makes cottontails prolific breeders. That’s how they can sustain heavy losses to predators and hunters.

In fact, wildlife biologists treat hunters as just another predator when determining annual season lengths and harvest limits.

Squirrels (Red, Gray and Fox) produce litters of four or five pups twice a year while conditions are good, but forgo the summer litter when nut supplies are low. But by making more babies when food is abundant, squirrel populations are resilient and relatively stable.

That’s why each fall state wildlife agencies issue mast reports that estimate the anticipated production of nuts and berries. Biologists and hunters use these projections to determine when and where to hunt squirrels. And then there are the Ring-necked Pheasants I hunted as a kid in southeastern Pennsylvania. Today, they’re essentially gone.

Habitat loss due to clean farming techniques and pheasants’ inability to survive severe winters have decimated ring-neck populations from Michigan to Pennsylvania. Back-to-back killer winters in 1977 and 1978 devastated ring-neck numbers, and in 1993 the big March blizzard delivered another death blow.

Though there are pockets of breeding pheasants here and there, and many states still have token pheasant seasons, self-sustaining populations are few here in the east.

Pennsylvania propagates ring-necks on game farms. This fall the plan is to release 100,000 birds at a cost of more than $2.7 million for fiscal year 2006-2007, according to Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser. This includes the cost of operating four farms, personnel and fixed assets.

Though most wildlife biologists take a dim view of an expensive stocking program that yields few birds capable of surviving the winter and ultimately nesting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission serves the people that pay the bills. It explains propagating pheasants on its Web site thusly: “We raise pheasants because people like to hunt them.”

Though I gave up small game hunting more than 30 years ago, I still enjoy the cackle of a cock bird and the zig-zag escape of a speedy cottontail.

They bring back fond memories of a boy, his dad, and a favorite dog. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Refugee Raccoons Fill Wildlife Center

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Kristen Scatton
SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, PA—You could hear them outside, through walls.

Inside the Helping Hands Wildlife Center near here, 16 baby Raccoons screamed for their supper with an unrelenting series of shrill cries.

“Raccoons need a lot of attention,” Lynn Dierwechter, owner and operator of the nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facility, said while bottle-feeding one of the babies, nicknamed Smokey, as the others climbed the sides of their cages and screeched impatiently.

Each spring, baby Raccoons are separated from their mothers because of injury, death, or interference by well-meaning humans. Many of them end up at Helping Hands, one of nine rehabilitation centers in Pennsylvania licensed to care for rabies vector species—Raccoons, bats, foxes, coyotes, groundhogs and skunks.

“A lot of people just pick them up,” Dierwechter said. “People see them in the woods and automatically think they’re abandoned, or people see them out during the day and think they have rabies, but at this time of year mothers have their young and are foraging for food during the day.”

The Raccoons began arriving on May 3, and since then the group has grown to include 10 males and 6 females, all between 3- and 5-weeks-old. They came in individually and in whole litters, and some have come from as far away as Nazareth and Sinking Springs, PA. However, many animals spotted in the wild are not in any trouble, even if the mother is nowhere to be seen.

Dierwechter said there is no definitive rule on when a Raccoon needs human assistance, however “When you find them along the road, 95 percent of the time they’re in trouble. If they’re in the woods, it’s questionable.”

In that situation, it is better to check with the game commission or a veterinarian before capturing the animal and taking it to a shelter, according to Dierwechter. If the animal does need to be handled, Dierwechter advises people to use caution for their own sake and the animal’s.

“Don’t get bitten, don’t get scratched, wear gloves,” she said.

Educating the public on properly dealing with wild animals is only one goal of Helping Hands; the center also provides specialized care for all of the animals brought through its doors.

Regardless of how, when, or why the Raccoons ended up at Helping Hands, they all have one thing in common—they are very demanding.

“Before their eyes open we have to stimulate them, like a kitten or puppy,” Dierwechter said. “Every Raccoon gets a number, and we give them all their shots—distemper, rabies, worms. They need special caging and special formula, and they’re fed four times a day.”

Besides time, caring for Raccoons requires a lot of materials, including blankets, towels, kitten food and KMR formula, which all come in to the center through donations.

Dierwechter isn’t intimidated by the number of Raccoons calling her shelter home; she does have help from her family and volunteers, and she’s handled large numbers of animals before.

“I’ve had this many Raccoons before, but not this early,” she said, explaining that adult Raccoons may have mated earlier than usual due to the mild winter.

If 16 Raccoons weren’t enough, the center is also housing a crow, a pigeon, several geese and ducks and two young Red Foxes.

“They came in as infants. They’re about eight to 10 weeks old now,” Dierwechter said, surveying the two male foxes chasing each other in and around hollow logs in their enclosure. “They get very dangerous when they’re older. Before that happens, though, the foxes will be released back into the wild when they reach about 6- or 7-months-old.”

The Raccoons will be released as well, likely in early autumn.

“Everything we get here is released back into the wild,” said Dierwechter. According to her, the Raccoons will be weaned off formula within the next few weeks. In another three to five weeks, when they reach two months old, they will be moved outside to start re-acclimating them to the wild before being released in early autumn. The abundance of animals at the center is common, said Dierwechter, who is licensed to care for all types of wildlife.

Of all the animals Dierwechter has cared for since opening the center in 2001—including a frog, a snapping turtle and a turkey —Raccoons have a special place in her heart because they’re “the bandits of the wild,” she said with a laugh. “There’s nothing more mischievous than a Raccoon. That’s why they wear the mask.” –Republican & Herald

Raccoons Look Like Bandits For A Reason

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Gary Raham
WHAT WAS that masked creature that bolted away from the trashcan? If it had gray to brown fur, very hand-like black paws and a bushy, ringed tail, it could well have been a Raccoon.

If corn or other veggies go missing from the garden, and strange noises escape from the attic (and no thoughtless relatives are visiting at the moment), this, too, could imply that a Raccoon is at large in suburbia. Colorado Division of Wildlife warns that while baby Raccoons may look cute, they grow up into unmanageable adolescents that can be dangerous and unpredictable. And, unlike the human variety of hormone-spiked adolescent, Raccoons are illegal to own in Colorado.

Though Raccoons are partial to woodlands near a source of water where they can find housing in old logs, dead trees and rock shelters, they find that chimneys and attics provide a great substitute. Water squirts regularly out of the ground from nearby sprinklers, and they can get a discount on fresh produce in the garden and some pretty good, partially used stuff in trashcans that are not “coon-proofed.”

A female Raccoon looks for companionship between January and March, but then kicks the male out before giving birth to her litter of one to eight cubs. The male has little patience for fatherhood.

A vacant chimney or attic often seems like a secure nest for the eight weeks that the young are mostly helpless. During that time, cubs are quite vocal and emit an assortment of mews, purrs, wails, screeches and growls. Between seven and nine weeks, the cubs are running and climbing everywhere, so mom moves them to a real wetland and teaches them the hunting techniques that will set them up in the independent raccoon business the next spring. Raccoons enjoy a varied diet of crayfish, birds, small mammals, fish, eggs, insects, earthworms, frogs, berries, nuts and fruits–in addition to farm-grown corn and garden vegetables, of course.

An Audubon online resource in Massachusetts suggests harassment and access restriction as methods of Raccoon control. Make chimneys uncomfortable for Raccoons, for example, by stuffing an ammonia-soaked rag in the fireplace and playing loud music. They don’t specify whether the music needs to be Bach, heavy metal or rap. This resource also suggests that a bright light in the chimney will be annoying, although another source says coons could not care less about bright lights, but will bolt at the slightest sound and run from your B.O., should you place yourself upwind of them. Once mother raccoon has left the chimney, however, the astute homeowner can purchase an appropriate chimney cap from the local hardware store or board up any holes in the attic.

The same source recommends protecting gardens with a 4- to 6-ft.-high chicken wire fence erected on strips of 3-foot-wide chicken wire lying flat on the ground. Place the vertical fencing 2-1/2 ft. in from the outside edge of the horizontal chicken wire. This will leave 6 inches of flat fencing on the garden side. The fencing on the ground should discourage the Raccoons from digging beneath the vertical fence.

Some have credited Raccoons with cleanliness because they are often observed dipping their food in water, but the procedure may have more to do with softening the food. According to researcher Dorcas MacClintock, who wrote an oft-referenced book “A Natural History of Raccoons” (1981), Raccoons have a narrow gullet and have to chew their food well before swallowing–unlike less fastidious food-gulping carnivores.

Raccoons can give hunters and their dogs fits by jumping in the water or scooting along a tree branch for a while before hopping back to the ground. This serves to break the scent trail. They undoubtedly learned these techniques escaping from Bobcats, coyotes, wolves and other predators. Raccoons also have to be on the lookout for Great Horned Owls, hawks and eagles. And, although they have seriously outperformed cats, as one example, on intelligence tests, they still have trouble staying out of the way of traffic on highways.

Since Raccoons are mostly nocturnal, a suburbanite may never see anything more than their footprints in the garden, which look a bit like human handprints but are only about 2 inches across. Alternately, mysterious rasping noises may filter down from the attic–in which case a homeowner might sympathize with the Algonquin Indians who called the Raccoon “arakun,” a word that means “he scratches with his hands.” In any case, the Raccoon’s permanent black mask does little to hide the identity of this clever and sometimes charming neighborhood bandit. –North Forty News

Raccoon Battles Rehabilitator Mentally, Physically

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By James Orr, VA Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

ONE OF THE hardest things we have to do as wildlife rehabilitators is to decide when it is more human to euthanize a seriously injured animal than it is to see it suffer.

The decision is never easy. Sometimes it is much more difficult than others. As rescuers, we naturally like to do everything we can to help an animal survive. Human intervention will generally extend an injured animal’s life. However, that is not good if the poor creature is suffering and will likely die soon anyway.

Euthanasia can prevent days, even weeks of suffering by allowing the animal to painlessly go to sleep with an injection from a veterinarian. I recently had a Raccoon that must have had a guardian angel watching out for him by managing to postpone the euthanasia journey several times.

He is a full grown adult found barely conscious at the side of the road by a concerned citizen. They wrapped him in a blanket and dropped him off at the veterinarian hospital. Lucky, for them the Raccoon did not come out of shock on the way. An adult Raccoon can be extremely dangerous and having an injured one wake up in a closed car with people is the kind of thing Stephen King might think up for a horror story.

At first glance the Raccoon did not seem to have serious physical injuries although his head had some ugly abrasions. It was our hope that he simply had a concussion and road rash that would clear up with steroids and antibiotics.

Because of his large size we tried to limit our encounters with him, but it was obvious after a couple of days something was seriously wrong as he refused to eat or drink.

After a wrestling match that would have made Hulk Hogan proud, I managed to get him in a travel cage and returned to the veterinarian clinic. A second tag-team match took place in the surgery room (three humans against one mad Raccoon) trying to get him out of the travel cage and into an anesthesia gas chamber to relax him enough to examine safely. Even with large protective Kevlar gloves Raccoons can be a handful. They use their hand-like paws to grab hold of whatever they can reach making it extremely difficult to to get them in and out of anything.

Upon close examination of the Raccoons mouth (after the gas took effect) we discovered he was not eating because his tongue had been severed half way across it’s width as a result of the traffic accident. The portion above the cut was starting to decompose. Euthanasia was discussed, but Dr. Rogers thought she might be able to save some of his tongue. To save you the gruesome details let’s just say surgery was able to save half of his tongue. He ended up with a full length tongue half the width of other Raccoons. The question was, can he still lap water and will he start eating?

He went another full week without touching any food or drink I had to squirt Gatorade in his mouth with a turkey baster to keep him hydrated and I was concerned he was going to starve himself to death. I felt I had made the wrong decision trying to save him only to prolong his suffering. Euthanasia seemed the most humane solution.

An ice storm postponed the one-way trip to the vet. The Raccoon remained motionless most of the day but he made it very clear he did not like me, growling and hissing ferociously every time I got close to him. He also bit the baster at every opportunity. I started calling him Kujo.

About the same time the ice storm cleared he finally started to feed himself. At first he would only eat baby oatmeal. He left all other food untouched. I started putting nuts and fruit in his oatmeal and he ate them. He started drinking from a bowl so the badly chewed turkey baster was retired with honors.

Within a week he was eating everything and starting to get very active. This is when the fun began. He started by pushing his cage cleaning tray out onto the floor making huge messes of our “in-house treatment room”.

The next day not only was the tray pushed out, but he was gone! He had discovered the bottom of the cage had openings with the tray removed. All he had to do was slide his very large cage far enough off the edge of the table to climb out the bottom.

We searched for him all day without luck. We knew he had to be in the house. We hoped he had not gotten out of the treatment room but was simply hiding up in the ceiling joists.

Wherever he was hiding he made nightly raids to get food. I put a dish of his favorite oatmeal with bananas and nuts in a live trap. He ate the oatmeal without triggering the trap.

The third night I rigged ropes and pulleys to the pantry door. When he came down out of the ceiling to steal food the door would hopefully close behind him trapping him in the treatment room.

It worked, another wrestling match later he was back in the cage. I zip tied the tray retainer latch and even zip tied his cage to the table so he could not repeat the escape act. He did!

This time he figured out how to bend the steel barred door enough to squeeze out. When Cyndi came in the room that morning he was sitting on top of the cage above her head. He flew past her face and hid in a large box.

I felt like I was on a pro-wrestling circuit by now, but managed to get him in the cage once again. We could not release him in cold weather until he built up the fat he had lost while fasting.

I added all kinds of extra locking devices to his cage and finally succeeded in containing him. He did manage to reach out of his cage, grab a table cloth pulling everything on the nearby table over to his cage. The next morning he was in his cage but so was everything that use to be on the table.

They tell us in rehab classes the animals will tell you when they are ready to go. Need I say more?

Predators’ Effects On Wildlife To Be Studied

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Steve Pollick

FREE-RANGING cats and other predators of wild birds may come under increasing scrutiny–and perhaps some control–under a cooperative program that the American Bird Conservancy launched this month.

Dubbed Project Predator Watch, the effort is intended to engage bird watchers and other nature observers in investigating the impact of stray, feral, or otherwise unattended cats and other bird predators.

“Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats and other predators kill hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians each year,” stated George Fenwick, president of the ABC. The organization, based in Washington, DC, works to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.

“Any citizen can participate in Project Predator Watch and provide valuable information needed to conserve birds and other wildlife by clicking a few buttons on their computer,” Fenwick said.

The PredatorWatch survey can be found on-line at Participants are asked to provide information to be used by scientists and conservationists in the following areas:

• Helping to identify birds and other wildlife most likely affected by interactions with cats and other predators.

• Determining whether predator/wildlife interactions are affected by season or climate.

• Determining whether certain wildlife species, age or sex classes, are more vulnerable to predators.

Survey participants observing what is quaintly called “predator/wildlife interactions” can complete a short on-line survey through ABC’s Cats Indoors! Web site at

The Conservancy initiated the indoor-cat program in 1997 to educate cat owners, decision-makers, and the general public that cats, wildlife, and people all benefit when cats are kept inside, in an outdoors enclosure, or are trained to go outside on a harness and leash.

In related news, the ABC and the Wildlife Society report that nationwide, domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and more than a billion small animals annually.

“But cats are not ultimately responsible for killing native wildlife – pet owners are,” asserted Laurel Barnhill, bird conservation coordinator and wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Barnhill was responding to an ABC report on the impact of feral cats on bird species of concern in New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, and Hawaii.

The report, done under a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, analyzed the effects that cats are having on some of America’s most at-risk bird species in cat-predation hot spots. Among the species especially threatened by free-ranging felines are Florida scrub-jay, piping plover, and Hawaiian petrel. Other key targeted birds include painted bunting, least tern, and black rail.

A copy of the report can be seen at the Conservancy Web site.

The Wildlife Society, the professional association of wildlife biologists, has reaffirmed its position advocating the humane elimination of feral cat colonies because of their threat to wildlife.

Feral cats and free-ranging, or stray cats in fact are exotic species to North American wildlife and are one of the most widespread and serious threats to the integrity of native wildlife populations and natural ecosystems, according to Rickie Davis, a Clemson University professor and president of the South Carolina chapter of the society.

The society supports passage of ordinances that ban public feeding of cats, and supports educational programs and materials that call for pet cats to be kept indoors, in enclosures, or on a leash. The society’s positions on cats can be read on-line at

The related ABC report highlights the growing trends of so-called managed feral cat colonies that use trap-neuter-release techniques and their effects on birds, especially at state and globally important bird areas.

Commentary: This column long has been critical of permissive or careless cat owners who allow their pets to roam free and kill at will, or who stupidly dump excess cats in rural areas because they lack the guts to face reality and do the right thing and have them put down.

The cat problem is just as prevalent in Ohio and Michigan as it is elsewhere. Two thumbs up to the ABC and Wildlife Society for calling such public attention to an inexcusable problem that is easily remedied.

Zero tolerance with free-ranging cats is the answer. –Toledo Blade

Outdoor Cats Pose Risks To Public Health, Wildlife

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By William C. Skaer
THE ARTICLE about the trap, neuter and release of stray and feral cats,  though compelling, gave an incomplete story. Many people, including some of the well-meaning supporters of such programs, are unaware that there are some important implications to public health and wildlife from releasing cats back into the environment.

Mike Dryden of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University is one of the foremost veterinary specialists on parasitology, the study of parasites. He is a cat lover who has had a number of cats in his own home and runs a cat adoption program. Dryden estimates that more than 50 percent of all feral cats are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that infects many species of animals, including humans.

Dryden says between 25 and 40 percent of the human population in the United States have positive antibody titers to toxoplasmosis. Though most human infections are presumed to occur from eating poorly cooked meat, the largest documented outbreak of toxoplasmosis occurred from contaminated water.

The incidence in vegetarians is also not as low as would be expected if raw meat were the main source. The cat is the only definitive host in which the parasite reproduces and sheds its eggs, called oocysts, in the feces. It is important to understand that it is from the cat that all these infections originate.

Physicians have long recognized the importance of toxoplasmosis in infections acquired by the fetus while in the mother’s uterus (physicians recommend pregnant women not clean litter boxes) or in immunosuppressed individuals.

In an article in the journal Veterinary Parasitology, Milton McAllister, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Illinois, discussed the growing body of evidence that toxoplasmosis in humans may be involved in a variety of previously unrecognized syndromes in people. That article is available online at

McAllister, who is also a cat lover, discusses the fact that environmental contamination with Toxoplasma gondii oocysts extends even into the oceans, with many species of marine wildlife showing high blood titers to toxoplasmosis. This is most likely a result of coastal contamination with cat feces.

Additionally, songbird populations, many of which already are in precipitous decline because of habitat loss, are severely affected by feral and free-ranging cats.

Owners should be encouraged to keep cats indoors. As McAllister said, “It is perfectly safe for the individual owner to keep indoor cats, because the risk of obtaining toxoplasmosis from cats is almost entirely limited to cats that hunt and defecate outdoors.”

The long-term solution to the problem of feral and free-ranging cats is to address the root causes, which are abandoned, unwanted, unaltered, previously owned cats. To encourage sterilization of owned animals, strong animal control ordinances should include a significant differential license fee for unaltered cats, without penalizing responsible cat owners, legitimate breeders or show animals. That should be coupled with giving low-income pet owners easier access to lower-cost spaying and neutering.

Public education efforts could then address the importance to the pet, public and environment of keeping cats indoors and having them neutered or spayed.–Wichita Eagle

EDITOR’S NOTE: William C. Skaer is a Wichita veterinarian.

Opossums Are Oldest Surviving Mammal

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By James Orr
Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator

VAN BUREN, AR– I have worked with a number of opossums. I never really thought or cared much for them, after all they look like big rats. However, they are about as far from rats as you can get.

Opossums are the oldest surviving mammal, virtually unchanged for over 75 million years. They are the only mammals in North America other than humans that have opposing thumbs, although theirs are located on their rear legs.

Contrary to common opinion they are very intelligent, smarter than dogs–more the intellect of pigs. They are known for playing dead as a defense but in reality this is an involuntary action. They actually faint if they get scared or startled. This occurs as a result of an underdeveloped nervous system.

Because their body temperature is considerably lower than most other warm-blooded animals they do not get rabies. They are also largely immune to poisonous snakebites and have more than 50 teeth–more than any other land mammal.

Opossums are marsupials meaning they give birth to their young in a pouch like a kangaroo. As if that was not enough, they only mate once to give birth to two litters about six month apart. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me it happens.

My first encounter with opossums was about two years ago when I picked up four babies that were clinging to the carcass of their mother who had been hit by a car. Opossums ride outside the pouch on their mothers back after they grow hair but before their eyes open. Of the fou,r I was able to raise two to adulthood, “Bradley” and his sister “Baby”.

Infant opossums need formula every four hours so there was a lot of disrupted sleeping time for me. Every time the alarm clock went off at 4 a.m., I found myself questioning my commitment to helping wildlife. My resolve was quickly restored every time I picked up one of the little 2-oz. joeys. It sounds funny but they area actually very human like at this young age with pink skin, little fingers and heads seemingly too big for their body. They make all kings of little noises from crying to hissing and get quite animated at feeding time.

Once they are weaned, opossums eat almost anything; eggs, bugs, fish, veggies, fruit, meat, grass, etc. When young it is important that not more than 10 percent of their diet is protein or they can get a bone deformation. Purina Cat Chow is well suited for opossums, but they still need plenty of fruit and greens. They love grapes, chew them forever and then spit out the skin. It’s really funny to have so many teeth and eat virtually anything, yet refuse to eat a grape skin.

I once asked my neighbor George to assume opossum feeding chores when I went on vacation. Since they were paper-trained, I let them run loose in an empty guest cabin.

One day, Baby was missing and George looked everywhere convinced he had lost her. As a last resort, he opened a dresser drawer and she popped her head out like a Jack in the Box hissing at him and showing all 50 teeth. After his heart resumed beating he closed the drawer and left her some food. She lived in that drawer for many weeks. Opossums often hiss and show their teeth when scared, it is quite intimidating.

I was having trouble getting my opossums to eat enough vegetables. Like children they seem to prefer the least healthy foods so it is sometimes difficult to keep their diet balanced. I decided to give them a piece of pumpkin pie, after all it is mostly vegetable and the butter, flour and little bit of sugar would help balance all the meat they preferred to eat.

I put a piece of pie in their feeding area with all the other food and got Baby out of her drawer for a test feed. She slowly walked past the fish, cat food, fruit and yogurt and stopped at the pie–excitedly gobbling it up. She ate exactly half of it, stopped and went to wake up her brother who was sleeping in a box nearby.

“We got pie” she seemed to say and he scurried over to the food line and finished the other half of the pie she had left. I was really impressed with her courteous behavior sharing the pie. The next day I decided to reverse the experiment letting Bradley eat first. I wanted to see if he would save Baby half of the special treat. He ate the whole thing. What can I say, men are pigs.

Although I do not encourage keeping any wild animal as a pet, opossums probably make the best wild pet as they are smart, quiet and clean. Males even get agitated if they have unclean living quarters. They can be house trained and are not as destructive as squirrels or raccoons. Opossums do not bark, chatter, chirp or squeal, although the males will “click” like a sonar when trying to attract a female. Males will rub their scent on things. Of course they can and will bite if they get defensive. Fifty razor sharp teeth can leave a serious mark.

Arkansas law makes anyone taking a wild animal as a pet legally responsibly for that animal for the rest of its life. It cannot be released, sold, or given away. Even a licensed wildlife rehabilitator is not allowed to take it once it becomes a pet (most states won’t let you take a wild animal as a pet).

I moved Baby and Bradley to an outdoor enclosure to wild them up when the weather warmed and both were released to the wild that spring.

Next time you see an opossum give it a little extra respect. There are a lot more to them than meets the eye.–Press Argus-Courier

Odd Trio Makes A Backyard Visit

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
FLYING Squirrels, red bats and Rufous Hummingbirds might seem an odd trio of topics for early December, but this week each merits attention.

After years of suspicion, I’ve finally confirmed that Flying Squirrels visit my feeders at night. Several weeks ago I began hearing high pitched squeaks near the feeders after dark. I grabbed a flashlight and waited patiently.

Next time I heard the squeaks, I threw the light on the feeders. Two Flying Squirrels scurried from a nut feeder and jumped to the nearest tree. In the past, two weeks, I’ve seen these amazing little squirrels every night, and they seem to be getting more tolerant of me. I’m hoping that a steady supply of nuts and sunflower seeds will ease their fear of me.

Flying Squirrels, sometimes called fairy diddles, are common in deciduous woods but strictly nocturnal, so most people never see them. But they are quite social in the winter and sleep in tree cavities and nest boxes in groups of four to 12 individuals. When they emerge to forage after dark, they do so as a group, so if you see one at a feeder, you’ll probably see several.

And if you’re lucky enough to see a group of flyers, you’ll notice they do not fly. They glide from tree to tree courtesy of a flap of skin that runs from wrist to ankle on each side of the body. Upon takeoff, this skin balloons and permits a controlled glide. Most flights are short, 30 to 40 ft., but biologists have observed flights as long as 300 ft.

On Nov. 28, I observed another nocturnal mammal that took me by surprise. At 4:30 p.m., the thermometer had climbed to 67 degrees and the sky was already growing dim. That’s when I noticed a bright rusty “bird” fly across the yard. It was more orange than a Carolina Wren and seemed to lack a tail. It fluttered erratically and demonstrated impressive aerial acrobatics. On this unusually warm fall day, it was catching flying insects.

But it wasn’t a bird. It was an Eastern Red Bat. The male’s bright rusty pelage is distinctive. I watched for about 12 minutes as it fed on the wing. Then it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. It seemed late in the year for a bat to be active, but after some book work, I understood. Eastern Red Bats are migratory and found throughout the eastern U.S.

I suspected I had seen a bat from farther north that was still working its way south. The recent spell of warm weather activated flying insects and provided an abundant food supply.

Red bats differ from most other bats in several ways. They are solitary, roost in trees and they reproduce relatively quickly. By day, they roost singly among the leaves of deciduous trees. At night, they emerge and sweep the sky for flying insects. Because they migrate in September and October, I concluded that this one was just passing through. It will probably continue further south where extremely cold winter nights are unlikely.

Compared to most other bats, which give birth to just one or two pups per year, red bats are relatively prolific breeders. Females usually have three or four young per year, so their reproductive rate is twice or three times that of other bats.

Rufous Hummingbird news: An adult female Rufous Hummingbird has been visiting a feeder in Western Pennsylvania for several weeks and recently Bob Mulvihill and Felicity Newell of the Powdermill Avian Research Center captured the bird. To everyone’s surprise, it had already been banded–on Jan. 25, 2006, in Mississippi.

Adrienne Leppold, Powdermill’s bander-in-charge, describes this news as “a great recapture” because it helps confirm that some rufous hummers migrate east from their breeding grounds in the northwest, then wander south as winter approaches.

For a chance to see a late season hummer, keep a nectar feeder filled all winter long. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Nuisance Wildlife Specialist Always Gets His Pest

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Gary Corsair
THE VILLAGES, FL — Gary DePalma has pulled a rattlesnake out of a construction trailer, rescued ducks from chimneys, coaxed bats out of golf cart tunnels, and captured 986 armadillos—yep, he counted—but Lake County’s premier critter catcher still gets an occasional surprise.

“I’ve seen quite a bit, but I haven’t seen everything,” says DePalma, a 52-year-old Leesburg, FL resident who’s been a licensed wildlife nuisance specialist for nearly 11 years.

DePalma never knows what to expect when his phone rings—often in the middle of the night. He just knows that the person on the other end of the line probably views him as a last resort.

“I got a call from a hotel in Lake County. A nice hotel. They had flea problems,” he recalled.

Fleas? In a hotel? DePalma, part Sherlock Holmes, part Marlin Perkins, knew exactly which traps to bring.

“I took 35 raccoons out of that hotel,” he said. No more fleas.

DePalma specializes in small mammals (Raccoons, squirrels, Armadillos, Pocket Gophers, etc.), but doesn’t shy away from big critters.

“I caught 22 (wild) pigs out of Royal Highlands and another place,” he said. “I hadn’t done pigs until about three years ago, and I really didn’t want to, so I called another trapper and he told me, ‘Pigs are easy.’ He loaned me a trap, and now I do pigs.”

Many of DePalma’s resolutions are preserved in photo albums. Each photo comes with a story.

“This is when we took 25 cats out of one house,” he says as he points to photos of cages of cats stacked outside a house. “A kid brought a male and female home from college, never had them spayed, and a few years later, this what he had. A real mess.”

There’s clearly nothing glamorous about resolving wildlife conflicts, which is why there are thousands of critters in Lake County and only three licensed nuisance wildlife specialists.

“I love it, but it’s not steady,” DePalma said. “Nobody wants to see it through. The tough stuff, they back off from. If it was easy there would be a lot of guys doing it.”

Summertime is annoyingly slow. DePalma will be happier when the weather gets colder and warm-blooded critters start looking for places to get into. Like vacant houses.

“I do a lot of work for real estate companies,” he said. “A lot of times houses sit empty and animals get into them.”

And a lot of times the animals don’t want to leave, which brings an element of danger to the job. DePalma minimizes the risk by using common sense (“Don’t put your hands anywhere you can’t see”), using proper equipment (he has more than $7,000 invested in cages and traps of all shapes and sizes), and staying educated (through books, videos, seminars and training sessions). It isn’t a job for the timid.

“People ask me if I fear the animals,” he said. “I have an expression I always use; I say, ‘I fear God. I respect the animals.’”

Removing unwanted animals is only part of DePalma’s job. Whenever possible, he makes modifications or repairs to keep future intruders out. And then there’s disposal. Many of the animals DePalma catches must be euthanized, an eventuality some customers don’t like to consider.

“Some people get upset when they find out we have to euthanize an animal so I don’t talk about it much,” DePalma says. Most people DePalma helps are appreciative. “That’s my satisfaction; when someone says, ‘We want Gary DePalma,’” he says. The praise is nice, but it’s not his motivation.

“I always wanted to work outside. I love being outside. Hate being inside,” DePalma said. “I always wanted to work with animals or in forestry. I didn’t know how it would work out.”

“It” kind of found him.

“I was working as a landscaper, and they had cats they wanted to get rid of,” he recalled. “I told them, ‘You get the traps and I’ll do it.’” Then I got to thinking, ‘What if something else gets in the trap?’ A coon, or possum or something. So I looked into the legality and regulations regarding nuisance wildlife.”

Intrigued, DePalma obtained his nuisance wildlife permit, bought dozens of books on animals, took out liability insurance, and went into business.

“I made calls to all the pest-control companies and asked them, ‘Who does your animals?’ Most of them didn’t have anyone,” DePalma said. “Then I called the service-related people, people who worked on air conditioners and things like that. Most were pretty receptive.”

Through the years, DePalma has grappled with all kinds of pests — stinging insects, snakes, Armadillos, rats, bats, woodpeckers, Raccoons, squirrels, feral cats, Red Foxes, dogs, pigs, hawks and coyotes — but he’s never regretted his career choice.

“I was the first around here …and I stayed with it through the help of others,” he said. The most important “other” has been wife Debbie, who keeps the books and Gary’s schedule. The DePalmas stay with it through good times and bad.

“It’s sporadic. Things are really slow right now,” Gary says. But it’s a living. “People ask me, ‘Gary, how are you doing?’ And I always say, ‘Well, I’m eating every day now,’” he says. And, no, he’s not eating Armadillo.–Daily Sun

November Is For Preparing For Seasonal Change

Friday, June 25th, 2010

NOW IS THE TIME to prepare your feeders and garden for winter.  Here’s a few reminders.

At the feeder:

  • Sign up for Project FeederWatch and become a citizen scientist by counting the birds that come to your feeding station from November to April.
  • Learn more about birding by joining a bird club or signing up for a bird walk.
  • Birds need plenty of roosting places in winter. Don’t take down your bird houses; leave them up so the birds can use them as shelters in the cold.
  • Keep a good stock of bird seed in case of emergencies. You don’t want to get caught short when you need it most and the weather has gone bad. Consider storing more seed during the winter, or better yet, put a couple of bags in the trunk of your car for safe keeping. The extra weight will give you added traction when the roads are slick, and you’ll always have a ready supply on hand for your hungry winter visitors!
  • Put your posts in the ground before it freezes for your new bluebird houses. You’ll want them up in February when the ground will be too frozen.
  • Set up a submersible heater in your birdbath to keep water accessible thoughtout the winter.
  • In the garden:
  • Drain your hoses and put them away so that they won’t burst.
  • One of the most asked questions at this time of year is “when can I transplant my shrubs and trees?” This month and throughout the next several months will be good times to transplant trees and shrubs. At this time of the year, most ornamentals have entered into dormancy, and can be safely dug and replanted. The key to transplanting is to dig a large root ball (get as much of the root system as is possible). Equally important, is getting the plant back into the prepared soil as quickly as possible, to keep the roots from drying out. Large trees or shrubs should be staked to protect them from wind whipping during winter storms. Keep them staked until the roots have a chance to develop and anchor them.
  • Dig a hole now for a living Christmas tree.
  • Use chicken wire or hard plastic wrap around young trees to prevent deer feeding.
  • Shred your leaves; the smaller you can shred them the faster they will compost. Oak leaves take the longest to break down.
  • Mulch new perennials once the ground has frozen hard to prevent freezing and thawing. –Irvine Nature Center

Move to Iowa Ushers In A Walk On the Wild Side

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Elizabeth Havey
DES MOINES, IA--In 1997, we moved from Chicago to Des Moines. We were excited about the deck and our many oak trees. We got into the habit of opening our windows to the night air and falling asleep to the sounds of the woods–the chirps of crickets, the hum of insect mandibles chewing. Ah, the country, a little bit of heaven.

Think again. One night I was awakened by a piercing screech so intense I couldn’t sleep. I knew it would keep up until the owl had killed its prey or the neighbor’s cat could free itself from the local fox. Tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest, was alive and functioning just beyond my fence. But the point was I had a fence. I had my territory, and they had theirs, and we could just keep it that way.

Then my neighbors explained to me that the reason my hosta plants had morphed into razor-edged sticks was something called browsing – a word that meant the deer were enjoying a salad. This was all so new we spent the evening watching deer from my son’s tree fort. We counted the points on the buck’s rack and called the folks back in Chicago, bragging about our amazing wildlife.

Then there was the large doe finishing off my impatiens. I clapped my hands, shouted, picked up a stone and lobbed it at her. Inner-city deer. She kept on chewing.

The mythology of dealing with deer bloomed. “Put out bars of soap. Scatter human hair. Let your son relieve himself on your plants.” Whatever!

The gardening center had shelves of products. I read the labels. Apply frequently; apply when it’s not going to rain; apply and cover each frond of the plant. I had about 90 hostas. And this stuff wasn’t cheap. I bought something called Liquid Fence, which when applied leaves a stench that will keep the deer and your best friends away. But I sprayed. And I had my fence, right?

The deer were jumping my fence. And the rest of nature was just beginning to gear up. The word had gotten around in the critter community: We’ve got fresh meat living in the gray house. Go for broke.

There was scratching below our deck. Then I saw a creature scuttle to its new home – under that deck. I found a picture of my critter – a woodchuck. Go ahead, start singing the old rhyme. But like skunks, you don’t want one of these things living with you. They are more territorial then I was surely becoming. Oak trees, acorns – this woodchuck was set for life.

We arranged for a critter-catcher, who set up three traps. We caught two possum, two raccoons and the neighbor’s cat. Finally one afternoon, I saw the critter walk right into the trap. I was so excited I called my husband at work. I had gone over the edge. The critter-catcher wasn’t far behind. He brought a camera. “I’ve never caught one of these,” he told me happily. We were a pair.

Then at 2 a.m., there was the bat, fighting the circles of the ceiling fan above our bed. And me with a broom and a baseball cap and a towel – you use the towel to throw the bat to the ground. I was learning!

Now I’m definitely dreaming of a condo – no trees, no animals. But can I give up listening to the sounds of nature as I fall asleep?

A few nights ago: Bump, thunk! It’s 4 a.m., and something has just knocked over the bird bath. I’m awake. Is it deer in the hostas? I haven’t sprayed. A raccoon? My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles. He’s starting to crack, too. I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the yard below swarming with wildlife, every inch crawling with nature, vivid with its slither and instinct, its hunger and need.

In the morning, the lawn was full of squirrels and chipmunks. Even if the legal documents for our dwelling have the name HAVEY on it, we now know who truly owns the place.--Des Moines Register

Moose Seymour Often Outside Door

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Natasha Rasheed
PORTAGE, AK–There is almost 5 ft. of snow in Portage and while it makes for some gorgeous scenery, it also complicates things for caretakers at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

It’s a winter wonderland in Portage, with almost 5 ft. of snow; and that means fun for the animals, as well as lots of work for Kelly and Mike Miller. They live and work at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and that arrangement brings with it some unique moments, like Seymour Jr., a Moose who is always waiting just outside the front door.

“He came to us about mid-May, after his mom was killed at a construction site in Anchorage. So we’ve provided a permanent home for him, and since we bottle-raised him, he is pretty friendly,” said Kelly Miller, the educational director at the wildlife center.

The Millers share a special kinship with these animals, even if it means lots of work on a day like today.

“We go and make some trails for them, move some snow out of the way, so they have some room to move around in. When it snows this much, they kind of stay put,” said Kelly. But there are also dangers involved when it snows significant amounts.

“You still get nervous when you see these snow depths because this is as deep as you have ever seen it,” said Mike Miller.

Mike Miller says especially with bears, if the snow gets too high, bears and some other animals can simply climb over the fencing.

“We have dart guns and precautions and we could always lock the bears in a horse trailer if one got out,” said Mike.

That means the duo must diligently check up on all of the animals throughout the day, but some furry creatures seem to do better in the snow than others.

“The animals I worry about the least are the Wood Bison. They are so heavy and they don’t go into that soft snow. They get paranoid in deep snow — it’s like a kid being thrown into water without knowing how to swim,” said Mike.

Then there is the feeding. Mike Miller says it’s important for the animals to stay well fed, which ensures they won’t try to get out to find food.

Altogether, it makes for some long days in the deep snow, but the Millers don’t seem to mind. They get to spend their days with the animals that they love. –KTUU-TV

Mona Squires’ Backyard Is A Wildlife Haven

Friday, June 25th, 2010

BOULDER, CO--When Mona Squires moved here from Reno, NV 14 years ago, she bought a quarter-acre lot in a typical suburban subdivision.

“The lot had one tree and all lawn,” says Mona. “That had to change!” Growing up in Australia, Mona has always wanted to be a farmer. She moved to the United States in the 1960s, but, unfortunately, never had the opportunity to own land to farm. But she has made gardens wherever she has lived. “I feel like it is our responsibility to be stewards of the land wherever we are,” she says.

Not Your Typical Suburban Lot
Mona’s property stands out like a wilderness in her “spic and span” subdivision. She has planted many trees, such as cottonwood, linden, green ash, serviceberry and a honeyberry bush—a type of honeysuckle.

“I purchased the honeyberry (Lonicera kamchatika) a few years ago and it’s been growing great. I love the blueberry-like fruits as a wildlife food,” she says. “I used to eat them myself too, but I felt like I was pinching them from the robins, so I stopped,” she says.

Her goal is not to create the most beautiful manicured landscape, but to create a wildlife garden. “This is not a backyard garden, but a sanctuary garden,” says Mona. “I grow plants to invite birds and wildlife into my yard. I stopped growing vegetables because it didn’t fit the wildlife theme,” she says.

Beside planting trees for shade, adding shrubs for nesting and habitat, and making a fish pond, Mona has turned three-quarters of her lawn into a xeric landscape. (Xeric describes habitats or plants that require little water.)

“My kids think I’m losing it,” she laughs. While there is color in the yard with flowers, such as dianthus and petunias, most of the plants are natives, chosen for their drought tolerance, such as Apache plume shrub (Fallugia paradoxa) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis). She also has a small herb garden for herself (and the bees, of course), which is filled with culinary herbs, such as tarragon and mint.

Products That Help
Mona has some favorite products that have helped her create this beautiful habitat garden. “The Barley Balls have helped keep my pond clear of algae,” she says.

“I also like to compost. In fact I’m composting all the leaves in my yard,” she says. Mona took the University of Colorado Master Composter course a few years ago and decided to try some of the Super Hot compost starter. “It did make the compost start faster and finish sooner. I also use a compost aerator to keep everything mixed up and cooking,” says Mona.

Of course, she has products to attract wildlife to her sanctuary. “The roosting pockets are great places for sparrows and chickadees to hide and nest,” she says. She has them hanging in the trees so the small birds can find protection from Colorado’s sometimes severe weather.

Because getting around isn’t as easy as it used to be, Mona is always on the lookout for products that will help make her gardening chores a bit more comfortable. “The knee pads really help with all the bending I have to do,” she says.

Inspirational Garden
Mona’s landscape has inspired others in her neighborhood to grow more xeric plants, but she doesn’t consider herself an activist. “I’m humble and I like to lead by example,” she says. “I also like to bring the grandkids here to see all the wildlife,” she says.

“Preserving the earth is something we should pass on to future generations”, she says. Although Mona has never had the chance to be a true farmer, she has cultivated every inch of her small property, not just for her own enjoyment, but to encourage her neighbors and grandkids, and to provide a safe place for nature to thrive. –Gardener’s Supply

Matching Nature With Urban Population Growth

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Pat Brennan
UPPER NEWPORT BAY, CA– The payoff at the end of a winding walk along the marsh’s edge: a football-shaped nest, woven of grass, cupped in the branches of a cholla cactus.

The nest could stand as a symbol of success–so far, at least–for the Nature Reserve of Orange County, a 37,000-acre network of public and private land meant to be a permanent home for 39 native animal species.

The reserve marks its 10-year anniversary next month, one celebrated by Orange County scientists, conservationists and wildland managers, but likely to pass largely unnoticed by the public.

Even among those who use Orange County wilderness parks and open lands–many of them part of the reserve–the reserve’s existence is known only by a few.

The reserve grew out of the gnatcatcher wars of the early 1990s, when the federal listing of a small, gray songbird as a threatened species touched off a public policy crisis.

Much of the county was privately owned and ideally suited for lucrative development. And much of the same land was home to increasingly rare native species–with the California Gnatcatcher as their standard-bearer. It looked like landowners and activists would go head to head in a long and costly fight.

The reserve was a compromise: landowners, environmental activists, scientists and county planners sat down together to hammer out which parcels would be preserved and which developed.

In exchange for voluntarily setting aside some parcels for conservation, landowners would be granted streamlined approvals for developing other parcels, with less endangered-species red tape – a provision, known as “no surprises,” that is still being litigated by activists who oppose the idea.

The reserve–actually two clusters of land, one near Laguna Beach and one near the Cleveland National Forest–was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 1996. It includes state and county park land that had already been set aside for protection, as well as 21,000 acres of land donated by the Irvine Co.

But the big advance, reserve planners said, was in how the land would be protected: all under a single umbrella of management intended to foster native habitat throughout the reserve, protecting 39 animal species and their habitats.

Initially called the “Natural Communities Conservation Plan,” and one of many similar plans developed around the state and nation, the reserve later received its less cumbersome name: the Nature Reserve of Orange County.

A second reserve of about 133,000 acres was approved by county supervisors last month for southern Orange County, but still awaits state and federal approval.

The nests at Upper Newport Bay are those of 10 relocated Cactus Wrens, which haven’t been seen in the area for years. The wrens, whose population has crashed in the coastal portion of the Nature Reserve since the Laguna Beach fire of 1993, were brought from an area further inland that was slated for development.

After five months, most of the wrens seem to be doing fine and even thriving in their new home, though two of the young have vanished, said Nature Reserve ecologist Milan Mitrovich. They might have become meals for hawks.

The wren relocation is a sign of the maturing science that has grown out of the reserve, where researchers are constantly sampling, measuring and observing to gauge whether wildlife is being protected. –Orange County Register

Man Dedicated To Helping Injured Wildlife

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Gwyneth Hyndman
OAKHURST, CA–Eric Wolters almost never leaves home without a pair of thick gloves, a pet carrier, a first aid kit, two bird books and a teddy bear in the back of his truck.

From nine to five, Wolters is a pharmacy tech at Kaiser Permanente.  By night, Wolters is the first person the Oakhurst Area California Highway Patrol calls to the scene in road accidents involving wildlife that have a chance at survival. The calls are so frequent that he now keeps all the emergency supplies he would need–along with CA Fish and Game paperwork–within easy reach in the back of his vehicle. The large, soft teddy bear stays in one of the cages, where it is often the first companion to orphaned fawns.

“It’s my extracurricular activity,” says Wolters with a smile, who acts as the mountain team leader for FresnoWildlife Rehabilitation. It’s a wry way of explaining the phone ringing in the early hours of the morning, asking for him to come to the rescue of injured owls or young deer.

“I get one or two calls a week right now,” he says. “In April and May it’s more like one or two a day.” Spring is when the newborns are just making appearances, Wolters says, testing their wings so to speak.

“A lot of young raptors trying to learn how to fly,” he explains. First storms of the year, he adds, also generate calls when young birds get knocked out of their nests. Most wildlife is taken down to Fresno to recover, though sometimes Wolters will take them home to rehabilitate if he has room.

“We had a baby Barn Owl for awhile–it was the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen,” Wolters remembers, chuckling. The family had it for almost two months before re-releasing it. It’s very distinct call left a memorable impression on the whole household. “It was pretty much a scream,” Wolters says. “This thing screams and cats would go running.”

When releasing any wildlife in his care, Wolters sticks to the three-mile-radius rule: let the animal go within three miles of where it was originally found.

“We need to get it back to where it was from,” he says. That works for just about every animal, he added, with a wider radius for larger and more predatory animals such as mountain lions. Wolters also leaves a three-day window for bad weather. “We don’t release during storms,” he says.

Officer Nancy Kramer of the Oakhurst Area California Highway Patrol has seen Wolters on the scene several times when animals have been hit by vehicles. Two weeks ago, she watched Wolters remove an owl that was trapped in the grille of a pickup truck.

“He’s very gentle, but very knowledgable,” she says. “He really knows what he’s doing.”

Wolters has always had a strong sense of protectiveness with wild animals, an innate responsibility he has taken on since he was young. “It started as a kid,” Wolters says. “People would be out there throwing rocks at snakes and I was trying to pick them up.”

His daughter, Brianna, 16, has the same gift with animals and often accompanies him to pick up injured animals.

“She’s my partner,” Wolters says. “And it’s something we can do together. Brianna’s a great assistant.” Five years ago they attended a forum Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation had for volunteers and signed up immediately. Though the two had some basic information on vet care, Wolters says that it’s a live and learn job.

“It’s a lot of fine-tuning information,” he says. “Especially as you get more and more trips with the same injuries.”

Sometimes people do show up at Wolters’ work with an injured animal they’ve either found or had a collision with. He once accompanied a woman out to her car in the parking lot to see a young, injured deer she had hit and knocked unconscious. She had managed to get the deer into the car and seatbelt it in. By the time Wolters got to the car, the animal was just regaining consciousness.

“It was almost full grown,” remembers an alarmed Wolters. “I told her to get it out of there before it woke up completely. They’ll kill themselves trying to get free.”

Rhonda Reynolds, co-owner of Hoof n’ Paw veterinary clinic in Oakhurst says that occasionally they do have wild animals brought in, either by Wolters or people in the community.

“We get about six to eight deer a year brought in,” Reynolds says, adding that they will only operate if the animal has a chance of complete recovery.

The trauma of being handled by people and kept in a cage during the recovery period can be almost as damaging as physical injuries for wildlife unused to human contact. In many cases the clinic will opt not to put the animal through further trauma.

“If it’s not going to be completely functional out there then we will usually euthanize them,” Reynolds explains.

Especially for larger, full grown wildlife, rehabilitation sometimes isn’t possible; putting an animal down quickly is often the most humane option. This is, Wolters says, a consequence of a population encroaching on animal life.

“This is where it’s happening,” says Wolters of the Mountain Area. From the Kaiser parking lot, his hand sweeps over the views across the highway, where new buildings appear regularly on the landscape. “This is where you have to be conscious.” –Sierra Star