Archive for the ‘Aquatic’ Category

How To Attract Wildlife To Your Property

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Wildlife conservationists have known for years that wildlife populations are dependent on four major factors in their habitat – food, cover, water, and space. If you have an acreage, a farm, a yard, or an apartment balcony, you can usually provide at least two of these elements on your property — food and water. It then becomes important that wildlife have access to cover and space in nearby areas in order to survive.

One of the secrets in creating a successful habitat is to provide a variation within each of the four areas. Different wildlife need different combinations of elements. Having a variety in your habitat means the difference between seeing 200 or just 10 different species. Let’s examine each of the habitat elements.

Food is one of the primary necessities of wildlife. Every species has its own food needs. Often, this changes as the species ages. Food includes the nutritional part of the diet as well as supplements such as salt. Also, many birds require grit or gravel for grinding up food in their gizzards.

Some wildlife eat a variety of foods and others eat only a few different kinds. These include fruit and berries, grain and seeds, nectar, nuts (mast), browse plants such as twigs and buds, plus forage and aquatic plants.

Fruits and berries are rich in vitamins and carbohydrates and are usually available in the summer and fall. These include elderberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, mulberries, and apples. Some varieties, such as mountain ash and holly, have berries that stay on the bush or tree and are available to wildlife in the winter.

One of the most popular berries for birds is elderberries. Fifty-one different bird species eat them. Other favorites are sunflowers, preferred by 46 species, and flowering dogwood, favored by 45 bird species. Fruits are also eaten by many different kinds of mammals, including squirrel, fox, deer, bear, skunk, and opossum.

Nuts are really fruits with a dry, hard exterior shell and contain fats and proteins. Acorns from oak trees are most widely available along with pecans, beechnuts, and walnuts. Squirrels and chipmunks prefer hickory nuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts, and butternuts.

Grains and seeds constitute the major food of many species of wildlife. They mature in the summer and fall but some can be found throughout the year. Seeds of conifers (evergreens) are also a good source of food.

Weeds probably contribute the most to food sources as they are so abundant and many times are favored by wildlife (not property owners) over more attractive yard plants. A good example is pigweed. It can contain nearly 100,000 seeds per plant! Other favorite weeds are ragweed, smartweed, dock, and crabgrass.

Grains raised by farmers, such as oats, wheat, barley, rye, corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans provide abundant food. In recent years, whitetail deer, which have thrived despite urbanization, cause millions of dollars of crop losses for farmers, especially to corn, soybean, and hay fields.

In Maryland the whitetail deer population has increased from 20,000 in 1981 to over 350,000 currently. Other states show similar increases.

Vegetative parts of plants are sought by rodents, browsing and grazing mammals, and some game birds. Deer, antelope, and rabbits are especially fond of alfalfa and clover hays. Also, we must not forget aquatic plants such as wild rice, widgeon grass, pond weeds, and wild celery. They are a favorite of ducks, geese, muskrats, beaver, moose, and sometimes deer.

The roots, bulbs, and tubers of plants which are underground are consumed by moles, gophers, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, and muskrats.

And nectar from plants is sought by hummingbirds, moths, and bees. Plants that successfully attract nectar feeders include trumpet honeysuckle vine, butterfly bush, cardinal bush, paintbrush, bee balm, petunias, and morning glory.

Wildlife will often use an abundant food source almost exclusively when it becomes available. Good examples are nuts and fruits. Squirrels and Blue Jays store acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts for later use. Deer and bears develop a thick layer of fat by feeding on acorns.

Insects are another vital food source, especially for songbirds, quail, and pheasants. If you use insecticides to kill pests on your property, be careful and use with restraint.

Providing a variety of foods is probably the most important part of your wildlife habitat. Selection can be made for a diversity of food types for plants that mature at different times or for those that retain their fruits well into winter.

If you can not plant trees or shrubs on your property, establish a year-round feeding and watering station and offer your wildlife sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and perhaps some grains such as millet or grain sorghum.

Weather impacts mightily on food sources for wildlife. Early heavy spring rains and early frosts can curtail food production. An early snow can cover all the fruit and seeds that have fallen to the ground. Sleet and ice storms make it impossible for wildlife to find food.

Plant species also vary in production from one year to another. Sometimes acorns or walnuts are almost non-existent and in other years there is an abundant crop.

Cover is right behind food in importance. It is needed for wildlife to survive and to have protection from weather and predators. Cover is critically important for nesting and raising of young. It is also necessary when wildlife sleeps or rests.

Cover provides protection through concealment and impenetrability to predators. And cover provides protection from rain, snow, sleet, wind, heat, and cold. Many plants provide both cover and food.

There are many different kinds of cover. It can be trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, rock piles, brush piles, field crops such as corn, grain sorghum and soybeans, cut banks, hollow trees, bird nesting boxes, burrows, bridges, abandoned buildings, fence rows, and hedgerows.

It is important for cover to be close to food and water. The more exposed wildlife is, the higher the mortality rate from predators. Hedgerows are one of the most valuable types of cover, as they also provide food in a protected environment. Common hedgerow plants that establish themselves naturally are dogwood, honeysuckle, red bud, wild cherry, and, unfortunately for the property owner, poison ivy.


Water is also essential for wildlife. They must have it to survive. Usually a pond or stream serves the purpose, along with rain collected in the hollows at the base of tree limbs or puddles left after a rain.

Plants also provide water. Rabbits and rodents obtain it by eating leaves. Mammals sometimes get it from dew on grass. And a large source comes from fruits and all types of berries which have a high water content.

One of your biggest challenges is to preserve and manage the water in your habitat where it exists and, if absent, add new sources such as ponds, fountains, or baths. Many hours of enjoyment can result from watching songbirds take a bath in your pond or bird bath.

Each wildlife species has specific needs as far as territory or amount of space to roam in and to breed. A ruffed grouse or quail pair needs about 10 acres while others, such as wild turkey, may need 100 acres of woodland

Wood ducks and purple martins do not defend territory around their nests. But, bluebirds need at least 300 feet between nesting boxes and about five acres for each pair.

The first three habitat requirements — food, cover, and water–can be manipulated by man but space may be more difficult.

Increasing a species variety can be achieved by providing a mixture of habitats with plants, trees, and shrubs in various stages of development.

An example of species variety is when you want to attract all types of songbirds because you like to watch them eat at bird feeders located near your house. This is possible by providing different kinds of seed such as thistle, sunflower, or peanut.

Or, if you have an acreage or farm, maybe you want to increase the number of pheasant or quail on your property because you like to hunt.

In order to attract the birds, you might plant a few rows of corn, grain sorghum, or millet on your property, next to fence rows or hedgerows, and not harvest the grain in the fall so it can be eaten over the cold winter months by wildlife. Make sure you also have adequate water and cover available.

You should know the needs of each species you want to attract. The result can be a stable and varied wildlife population. To attract a specific species, you’ll need to manipulate vegetation so that the cover, food, and water are less limiting for that species. If the species you want to attract requires a variety of habitat needs, you’ll also be able to plan for that.

Foreign Invaders Threaten Gardens, Woods

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Jim Minick
ALIEN INVASIVES don’t fly into your backyard from Neptune, nor do they have three eyes or beam hostages up into their UFOs. But sometimes they do strike fear into the hearts of those who recognize them. Or they should.

Alien invasives, those in our backyards, woods, and waterways, are non-native plants, animals and insects that get a root-, claw-, or foothold on our land. They may appear innocuous, but in reality they prove harmful to human health, the environment, and our economy. By some estimates, invasives cost the United States over $100 billion a year.

Yet every spring, the annual crop of gardening catalogs arrives full of photographs inviting us to buy these plants. You can purchase Russian olive shrubs, mimosa trees or even bittersweet, a vine that scales trees and smothers them. One catalog boasts that it “produces sunny yellow seed pods that give way to bright red, decorative berries.” The songbirds and floral industry “love” this “attractive plant, and so will you!” All yours, two for $7.99.

Every time I see bittersweet I remember a friend who labored years to eradicate it from his farm. He cut trees, burned vines, and sweated to restore his land. Ironically, my friend’s work was funded by government grants. The paradox here is that prevention — stopping these species from entering our country — is cheaper and easier than eradication. A recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences verifies this.

Researchers analyzed Australia’s policies regarding invasive plants. They found a screening program that prevents entry of unwanted invasives and paid for itself in 10 years while protecting that country’s environment and saving its economy millions of dollars. As David Lodge, a co-author, commented, “Screening is the next step in improving U.S. policy.”

The savings often come from avoiding the expensive measures to eliminate pests. In 2003, for example, federal and state agencies spent more than $14 million to slow the spread of the gypsy moths in a 10-state area that included much of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Yet, the United States has no invasive-plant screening program. Hence, I can buy that bittersweet if I want, regardless of the consequences.

Why all the worry? Because they can spread quickly and have few predators, these invaders can wreck an ecosystem. Take garlic mustard, a biennial herb now found throughout the mid-Atlantic. Garlic mustard has two unique qualities: it tolerates shade and it kills soil fungi.

This translates into an ability to spread into mature forests and create profound changes. Scientists discovered that the fungi that garlic mustard kills are essential to dominant hardwoods like maple and ash. Seedlings from these trees did not grow where garlic mustard established itself. So what will these forests look like in 50 years when no seedlings exist to replace canopy trees as they die?

Or take the nutria, a muskrat-like mammal imported from South America around 1900 for its fur, which never became popular. The nutria escaped, produced as prolifically as rabbits, and are now found along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic seaboard, and in the Pacific Northwest. They have decimated thousands of acres of mid-Atlantic marshland. In a single Maryland county, experts estimate nutria destroyed more than 7,000 acres of salt marsh in the last 40 years.

Or consider the hemlock wooly adelgid, a tiny aphid-like insect from Japan that has already killed thousands of hemlock trees in the mid-Atlantic. These miniscule creatures suck the life out of 80-foot trees. Once struck, the hemlock usually dies within five years.

We already lost the chestnut tree to a foreign blight; what will happen to our cool mountain streams once the evergreen hemlock also disappears?
Though invasives have forever altered many ecosystems, we humans can save what’s left. For starters, Congress must create an effective screening program,like Australia’s, that outlaws the sale of invasive plants and animals.

Until Congress does this, people can educate themselves and others, eradicate these invaders from their property, and stop buying these plants. Likewise, citizens can urge their state legislators to enact restrictions. For example, Massachusetts has outlawed barberry and burning bush.

One last solution: eat a few of these foreigners. Joe Franke, author of “The Invasive Species Cookbook,” claims that “it’s time to put all of those grumbling stomachs … to work in a way that benefits biodiversity conservation.” Franke provides recipes for hundreds of ways to do your ecological duty while filling your bellies for free.

As Franke claims, “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.”

Maybe it’s time. –-The Capital

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Minick teaches English at Radford University, writes a column for the Roanoke Times New River Current and is author of “Finding a Clear Path,” a book of essays.

Couple Shares Care-Taking Career

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Jenna Nielsen
WEIMAR, CA--Gabe and Barbie Kerschner don’t have the average household pets in their backyard.

A walk through the couple’s Weimar compound will reveal Mountain Lions, baboons, a kangaroo, 100-pound python and even a Beaver. The animals, which the couple love and care for as pets, find a temporary home at their ranch and nonprofit wildlife rescue center, Wild Things, Inc. The couple also names the animals, provides them with shelter and feeds them.

“We do get really attached–you can’t help it,” Gabe Kerschner said during an interview this week. “There are also a lot of stress-related issues that come along with the job. It is bittersweet because in a sense you are keeping the animals in the very place you don’t think they should be, but the alternative is much worse.”

First opened in 1987, Wild Things has become the home to injured wild animals or animals that individuals have tried to keep as illegal pets.

The Kerschners also travel to schools all over Northern California and parts of Nevada to educate hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren each year with a message of conservation and appreciation for natural wonders.

“Our hope is that by sharing these animals with the future generations and by hearing their stories, students will gain a greater appreciation for the natural environment and will be more likely to have an environmental conscience and make decisions that will benefit the Earth,” Gabe Kerschner said.

Barbie Kerschner shares her husband’s enthusiasm.

“It is really nice to be able to visit the kids in Auburn but the experiences for inner city children are just tremendous – a lot of these children have never seen a raccoon or an eagle fly over head,” Barbie Kerschner said.

Most of the animals come to Wild Things through the California Department of Fish and Game or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are housed at Wild Things until a better facility becomes available.

Barbie Kerschner, whose early ambitions were to train whales at Sea World, said she and her husband decided to pursue Wild Things after their studying exotic animal training and management in college.

“We saw the school getting inundated with calls from people who had wild animals in need of a home,” Barbie Kerschner said. “We coupled that with our want to share the animals with children and it just went from there.”

Though taking care of their “pets” is a rewarding experience in itself, the couple agrees the best part of their job is sharing the animals with children.

“What good are these animals here if we don’t share nature’s wonders with children?” Barbie Kerschner said. “Sharing the animals with the children is just an incredible experience.”-– Auburn Journal

Backyard Pond Losing Fish? Try Looking To the Skies

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Scott Shalway
IF YOU HAVE a fish pond in the backyard, sooner or later you will have a problem. Your fish will disappear and you will be upset.

The culprits could be Raccoons, mink or Snapping Turtles, but more likely fish-eating birds are to blame. Great Blue Herons, Green Herons and Belted Kingfishers raid even small, hand-dug backyard water features that are the pride and joy of many homeowners. Eventually, it becomes clear that a pond without protection is simply a sushi bar for birds…

Protecting small ponds from piscivorous birds is relatively easy. One solution is to place netting over the pond to physically exclude the birds. A better and simpler option is to provide underwater cover for the fish. Add a few eight-inch concrete blocks or several lengths of six-inch PVC pipe. When danger threatens, the fish can quickly retreat inside these structures.

On the other hand, fish-eating birds might be welcomed at farm ponds, streams and lakes. I often get mail from readers who are thrilled when a Bald Eagle, Osprey or Kingfisher dines on their property. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Most small backyard fish ponds are built for the fish. If the pond had a sign and birds could read, the sign might read, “Birds keep out.” Bigger ponds, streams and lakes are typically viewed as natural systems where predators are welcomed.

Larger ponds and lakes attract occasional bald eagles, ospreys and great blue herons. Each is primarily a fish eater. But many other water birds include fish as a part of their normal diet. Loons, grebes and even ducks make short migratory stops on ponds and lakes and eat small fish.

Mergansers (Common, Hooded and Red-breasted), in fact, are ducks specially adapted to eat fish. Their bills are long and narrow with serrated edges, a perfect tool for grasping and holding slippery fish.

On big lakes and rivers, Double-crested Cormorants dive and fish for extended periods of time. When not fishing, cormorants are often seen sunning themselves with wings extended.

Along smaller streams and river banks, a less familiar bird can often be seen foraging among the rocks for aquatic invertebrates and small fish. The Spotted Sandpiper looks out of place along wooded waterways, but it nests in shallow scrapes under shrub or next to fallen logs. Spotties are easy to recognize by their spotted breast and the way they bob their rear end up and down as they walk along the shore.

Wooded streams are also home to a peculiar warbler with an identity crisis. It looks like a thrush, eats like a trout and walks like a spotted sandpiper, bobbing its tail up and down. As Louisiana waterthrushes forage along the edges of streams, they flip fallen leaves in search of aquatic invertebrates and small fish. When males sing, they fly to an elevated perch so they can be heard above the roar of flowing water.

My favorite fish-eating birds require a major trip to see and enjoy. Boobies, gannets and Brown Pelicans are sea birds that fish by plunge-diving. From as high as 60 ft. above the water, they fold their wings and plunge into the water like speeding bullets.

Finally, on the few occasions I’ve spent time along cold, swift streams in the Rocky Mountains, I’ve always found time to watch dippers. These odd birds, sometimes called Water Ouzels, actually forage underwater. Whether wading, walking on the bottom or “flying” through the water like penguins, dippers eat all kinds of aquatic insects, snails, fish eggs and small fish.

The dipper’s nesting habits are equally fascinating. They build large mossy domes behind waterfalls or under bridges, where stream spray keeps the nest damp. The one nest I found many years ago was on a massive boulder in the middle of a small, raging river.

The female incubates four or five eggs for up to 17 days. The extended incubation period is probably due to the chilling effect of the stream spray. When young dippers fledge at about 24 days, they can swim and dive almost immediately. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Animal Expert Loves Work Of Capturing ‘Problem Wildlife’

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Dave Carey
BALTIMORE, MD–Have an owl stuck in the chimney? A squirrel nest in the attic? For Tom Scollins, dealing with those critters is just another day at the office.

Animal control specialist Scollins started TS Wildlife Control more than seven years ago to break away from the rut of his 9-5 job. A former reptile keeper at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in zoology, Scollins specializes in “humane solutions for problem wildlife,” taking trapped or injured animals out of houses or problematic locations.

“Well, I’ve always worked with wildlife one way or another,” said Scollins, a 33-year-old resident of Rogers Forge. “I reached a point in my life where I wanted to be my own boss, and there certainly is a need for [animal control] in the area.”

Whether it’s a snake, bat, bird, groundhog, opossum, raccoon, skunk, snake or squirrel, Scollins has an answer. Running TS Wildlife Control by himself as a 24-7 operation, there is no rhyme or reason to when calls for taking care of unwelcome visitors will come in. When on the job, however, Scollins prides himself on never killing or harming the animal that he is working with. Glue boards or kill traps are detested methods of capture, and euthanasia is only utilized when absolutely necessary on unreleasable animals.

“He’s one of the leading people in working with wildlife in Maryland and working humanely with the wildlife,” said Frank Branchini, executive director of the Humane Society of Baltimore County. “There aren’t a lot of people that work with wildlife that handly it respectfully, and he really stands out in that regard.”

To Scollins, handling each job calmly and with professionalism is a key to his service. Last week, Scollins pulled a barn owl out of a chimney in Randallstown. His cool demeanor and handling of the situation impressed his clients.

“It was pretty amazing because the owl was pretty good size,” said Dante Howard, the 31-year-old in whose chimney the owl was residing. “He was very careful with the owl, and he was so cool with it that it made me cool to be around it.”

While he’ll never make the big bucks as a wildlife control expert, Scollins, who is earning about $45,000 a year, said he loves every day of his job.

“I enjoy the unpredictability. Some days not a lot is going on, other days I’m running ragged.”