Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Tips On Caring For Pond

Monday, June 28th, 2010

BALANCE your pond ecologically! A balanced pond is a beautiful, stable environment that requires minimal human attention and the serenity that you desire. Here are the top questions Richard Koogle, Director of Operations, Lilypons, says he is asked:

How many plants should I have?
For ponds that are less than 100 sq. ft., 60 to 70% of the surface should be covered with waterlilies, floating-leaf bogs or floating plants. Allowing for the fact that your plants will multiply every one to three years, this would equate to about 2 plants per every 40 sq. ft. To calculate sq. ft., multiply your pond’s width by the length. For ponds that are over 100 sq. ft., only 40 to 50% coverage is required, which would equate to approximately 2 plants per every 50 sq. ft. Lotuses and vertical bog plants provide a dramatic visual effect and should be stocked as desired.

How many scavengers and submerged plants should I have?
Submerged plants and snails should be stocked at a rate of 1 per sq.ft. for ponds under 100 sq ft. Stock 1 per 2 sq. ft. for ponds over 100 sq. ft.

How many fish should I have?
Stock goldfish at the rate of 1″ of fish per 5 gallons of water. Stock Koi at the rate of 1/2″ per 5 gallons of water. Koi make growing submerged plants, certain waterlilies and bog plants difficult, if not impossible to grow. This is why ponds with even one Koi require supplemental filtration to achieve balance. Ponds with goldfish may need additional filtration as well, though a properly stocked pond will need less. Remember, pond fish grow and may reproduce rapidly, so always plan for the future when considering filtration.

Should I line the bottom of my water garden with gravel or other materials?
The answer is simply “No”. Gravel will certainly provide more surface area for growing beneficial bacteria, but as time passes (a few seasons in cold climates–less than one season in warmer climates), naturally occurring organic debris builds up and works down into the gravel, preventing water circulation through the gravel.

This eventually leads to extreme difficulty in cleaning; we have found thorough cleaning impossible without complete removal of the gravel. A water garden without a gravel bottom is more aesthetically pleasing since the colorful flowers and fish contrast much better against the dark backdrop of a black liner than lightly hued gravel or stone.

Leave Some Dead Trees Standing to Help Wildlife

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landscaping For Wildlife Equals Year-Round Food

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get a jump start on naturescaping by visiting the web site of GrowNative, a joint program of the MDC and Missouri Department of Agriculture, at; also stop by the MDC Web site at

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

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

Tips On Planning Your Wildlife Habitat

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Tis the Season ‘ To Go To the Nature Shop

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge of Wildlife Inspires Photographer

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking photos, for instance.

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

To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invasion of the Creepy-Crawlies

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
ONE OF MY earliest memories as a boy is getting ready for a bath and finding a two-inch long hundred-legger in the tub. My reaction was to catch it and put it in a jar, but mom grabbed some tissue paper, squished it, and flushed it down the toilet.

If she had just scooped it out of the tub and let it roam the house, we would have been better off. Centipedes (2,500 species worldwide) are predators that eat all kinds of household pests. Common house centipedes, the species that appears in bath tubs or on the kitchen floor, eat all kinds of household insect pests, including cockroaches. Giant tropical centipedes, which may measure more than 6 inches long, sometimes eat small lizards and mice.

A more recent memory of a many-legged creature dates back only a few years. It was a particularly wet September, and screams from our dirt-floor basement caught my attention. I expected to find a long shed snake skin hanging from the rafters, because this happens once or twice each summer and I try to remove them before anyone else notices. But when I got down to the cellar, I immediately saw the source of the terror. OK, it wasn’t terror or even fear — it was disgust.

On the damp floor in several spots lay masses of small dark “worms.” My wife was clear: “I don’t care what they are, and I don’t even want to know. Just get rid of them. NOW!”

Linda didn’t even stick around for my interesting explanation. I’d never seen an invasion of house millipedes. There were thousands of them, and home invasions during wet fall or spring weather are not uncommon, especially in older homes with unfinished cellars.

Millipedes (10,000 species) are harmless vegetarians that typically stay in dark, damp places. They eat rotting organic matter and usually remain under rocks, logs or leaf litter. During wet periods in fall and spring, they sometimes make sudden mass migrations and occasionally find their way into cellars that are less than tightly sealed. When conditions dry up, they curl into a tight ball and die.

I knew better than to let nature take its course. That might put the basement freezer off limits for days. So I grabbed the vacuum and collected thousands of the home invaders in a matter of minutes. Sanity was quickly restored.

Centipedes and millipedes are common backyard and even household invertebrates. They are arthropods, invertebrates that have “jointed legs,” and are related to insects, spiders and crustaceans.

The centipede body consists of a head with chewing mouth parts and a single pair of long antenna, and a long, flat, slender lower body consisting of a variable number of segments, each bearing one pair of legs. Though centipede literally means “hundred legs,” the actual number varies from as few as 30 to as many as more than 300.

Centipedes hunt at night for earthworms and small insects. They subdue their prey with venom injected from a pair of pincer-like fangs that are actually modified legs on the first body segment behind the head. The only way a person might be bitten is to grab and hold a centipede, and even then the bite, if it even breaks the skin, might resemble a modest bee sting.

A millipede’s body is similar to a centipede–a head with chewing mouthparts and one pair of short antenna and a many-segmented lower body. Most millipedes are cylindrical and are often called worms. Each body segment bears a pair of legs, but a hard shield of fingernail-like material covers every two segments so it appears that each body segment has two pairs of legs. Though the name millipede suggest they have a thousand legs, some have as few as 80 and others as many as 650.

Millipedes do not bite, but if handled, they may release a fluid that can irritate the skin.

Bottom line: centipedes and millipedes are harmless invertebrates that occasionally venture indoors, but rarely warrant chemical control. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Invader Hydrilla Might Be A Savior

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Tom Pelton
ON THE POTOMAC RIVER--An underwater jungle thrives beneath Nancy Rybicki’s boat, with orange fish and exotic snails living among mounds of green hydrilla and flowering stargrass.

Rybicki, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, plunges in a rake and drags up four species of aquatic plants from the water beside George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.

“Look at all the diversity–it’s good for the fish, good for the birds,” she says, fingering strands as lush as a mermaid’s hair.

More than two decades ago, headlines screamed of dire threats to the Potomac River from hydrilla, a fast-growing Asian plant that began spreading across the United States in the 1980s after being dumped from an aquarium into a Florida river. “Area Governments Unite to Battle Monster Hydrilla,” one 1984 story shouted. “Army to Use Herbicide on Area Hydrilla,” another reported.

The rafts of hydrilla tangled boat propellers and worried elected officials, who saw a hairy green blob creeping across what’s called “the nation’s river.” Local and federal governments tried poisoning the weeds, then attacked them with machines like floating lawn mowers.

But instead of smothering the river’s plants and fish, the invasive species helped the river by stabilizing the bottom, producing oxygen, slowing currents and allowing native plants to grow, said Rybicki, who has been studying the waterway for three decades.

Despite its monstrous appearance, hydrilla has been growing in harmony with other plants and providing food for birds, said Rybicki, a hydrologist and biologist. The surprisingly positive role of the alien species provides a cautionary tale for communities across the U.S. that rush to spray pesticides on invaders instead of first studying them, Rybicki says.

Aliens hardy enough to jump continents are often tough enough to survive in environments too polluted for native fish and plants, she says.

“We should still be cautious about exotic species–but it’s more complex than to just say exotics are all damaging to the environment,” Rybicki said. “We have not seen the exotics displace the native species here on the Potomac River, which is what was feared.”

Canada Geese, Canvasback Ducks, Scaup, Mergansers and other native waterfowl declined on the Potomac River from 1959 to 1982, but then increased significantly starting in the 1980s as hydrilla and other exotic plants spread, according to a study that Rybicki and a partner published in May in the journal of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography.

Back in the 1970s, the Potomac River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay, was nearly dead and its bottom bare mud in many places. The river’s rebound was caused by improved sewage filtration at the nearby Blue Plains Waste Treatment Plant, as well as a ban on phosphorus in laundry detergent. The clearer water allowed the growth of hydrilla and other plants, which in turn helped birds and fish.

Despite the improvements, the river remains polluted from Washington’s storm-water drains, as well as from upstream coal mines and farms. A report last week by Potomac Riverkeeper, an environmental group, highlighted continuing problems with fish kills and deformed bass having both male and female sexual organs.

The fish and plants in the Potomac today don’t look anything like they did when George Washington lived in Mount Vernon, atop his stately bluff over the waterway.

During a recent trip to inspect the river, Rybicki idles her 17-foot motor boat into the shadow of the mansion’s white-pillared porch. Grassy hillsides dotted with sheep roll down from the plantation to the riverbank, where geese sit atop a stone wall. A mat of hydrilla and other plants float out into the river, topped by neon-green algae.

“That bright-green appearance scares the public,” says Rybicki. “They look at it, and they say, ‘What is that?’  But it’s not bad. It’s good. We want to increase aquatic vegetation like this, because it’s like a nursery for fish and crabs.”

Her propeller snags as she motors over a dense forest of both exotic and native plants. Barbed wire-like strands of hydrilla, and feathery tufts of watermilfoil (both plants from Asia) grow beside the ribbony leaves of wild celery and yellow blossoms of stargrass (both native).

In a valley between the leafy masses swims an orange koi, about a foot long. This Asian fish is now reproducing in the Potomac, probably because someone dumped them from an aquarium.

Nestled in the hydrilla is an Asian clam, called corbicula, that is also probably helping the river by filtering the water, Rybicki says. Bobbing on the surface is a snail shell, about an inch and a half long, with a swirling brown pattern like that of chocolate soft-serve ice cream. This is another exotic species, an Apple Snail, now common in the river, she notes.

Overhead flaps a Great Blue Heron, and in a tree on the riverbank perches a Bald Eagle. Both are native species whose numbers are growing in a world of aliens.

Rybicki fires up her engine, speeding off across the choppy green waters. Puffy clouds mound up into a blue sky as helicopters thump overhead and traffic roars by on the George Washington Parkway. In a cove called Dyke Marsh beside the highway, a thick blanket of hydrilla makes the Potomac River look a bit like the Sargasso Sea, a section of the Atlantic Ocean notorious as a graveyard for ships.

“It’s not unhealthy for the ecosystem–the plants are making oxygen,” she says.

As the arched spans of the Wilson Bridge rise in the distance, she points out clumps of brownish watermilfoil weeds just below the surface. In smaller water bodies, Asian weeds like these can cause serious problems, because they can stretch from edge to edge, smothering everything. For example, in Texas, the Rio Grande narrows to such a trickle during droughts that hydrilla blankets it, occasionally drowning migrants trying to swim across from Mexico. Texas has joined Virginia, Florida and other states in releasing giant Chinese carp (another exotic species) to devour the weeds.

But the Potomac River is different. It’s a mile wide below Washington, and too broad and powerful to be overwhelmed by the plants, Rybicki said. The hydrilla, a freshwater plant, didn’t spread downstream into the lower Chesapeake Bay, because that’s too salty.

Back on shore at the Belle Haven Marina in Fairfax County, veteran fisherman Charles Bauserman said the once-dreaded hydrilla has proved a boon. As he climbs out of his rowboat near a bed of the weeds, he says he caught at least 15 white perch that morning.

“It helps with all the fish, because they got a place to hide,” said Bauserman, 70. “But those weeds will sure mess up a motor if it gets caught in your propeller.” –Baltimore Sun

Truth About Wildlife Myths

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Simon, Field Dir.

Improving Backyard Habitat Pays Off

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfolding of Natural Events Signals Spring

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
ON MONDAY, when I pulled into the driveway, I spooked a Rose-breasted Grosbeak from my feeders. As it sailed behind the garage, I stopped to get a better look.

In flight, its jet black head, back and wings contrasted with a pure white belly, rump and prominent wing patches. Even the huge, pale pink bill stood out. But not until the bird perched facing me could I see the scarlet triangular bib. Wow! Some birds require exclamation points; the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is one of them.

The female, on the other hand, suggests an oversized, nondescript sparrow with a big bill, though she does wear a dark mask across her eyes.

In the days since that first male arrived, several more have returned, and they sing enthusiastically every morning. The song is series of musical phrases, reminiscent of a robin’s song, but faster. I like the description of the grosbeak song as a “robin in a hurry.”

As I’ve been enjoying the grosbeaks for the last several days, I realized that they were right on schedule. Not that they returned on a particular date, but that they arrived within a natural sequence of events.

Spring truly kicked off for me on April 20 when the melodious, flute-like Wood Thrush song welcomed the sunrise. The return of the Wood Thrush signaled that the next few weeks would be busy. Over the next eight days a parade of migrants returned. The highlight came on Saturday morning, April 26.

As I took a brief walk that morning, nearly a dozen new bird songs assaulted my ears. Warblers of all stripes–Kentucky, Hooded, Blue-winged, Northern Parula, Yellow, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers–sang from the edge of the woods. A Scarlet Tanager perched high in a silver maple in the yard. And Yellow-throated Vireo sang from across the road. Birders call this a “fallout.” I suspect the previous night’s light rain drove the birds out of the sky.

Since then the grosbeaks, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, White-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, American Redstarts and Indigo Buntings have also returned. I’m still waiting on Yellow-breasted Chats and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

The only surprise this year is the absence of hummingbirds. I’ve had feeders up for three weeks and various Internet sites that track hummer migration (for example, indicate that these little jewels returned as far north as Canada a week ago. So I’ll be patient.

Birds are not the only life forms that appear at predictable times. Wildflowers and trees bloom in sequence, and with just a little experience anyone can monitor spring’s progress just by watching fields and roadsides. In early March, bright yellow coltsfeet flowered along country roads. They are easily confused with dandelions, but they follow a few weeks later.

By mid-April, spring beauties dotted the forest floor, and I looked for Virginia bluebells and ramps. About a week after the first bluebell flowers, I looked for trilliums and trout lilies. And when the trilliums bloomed, I started searching the ground beneath dead elm and apple trees for the mother lode–morel mushrooms. Some years there are dozens, some years none, and rarely there are hundreds. I don’t know that anyone has solved the mystery of morel productivity, so it remains one of springtime’s greatest gifts.

Tracking spring is as simple as keeping a field notebook. Or just designate one calendar for recording natural events. In just a few years you’ll have a handle on nature’s heartbeat, and you’ll know when to expect certain sights and sounds.

For example, I knew to expect the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks this week because last week mayapples and jacks-in-the-pulpit broke through the soil, and apple, redbuds, pipevine and dogwoods were blooming. There’s no cause and effect, it’s just an association.

Monitoring seasonal changes is the science of phenology. To learn more and be part of a citizen science project tracking plant phenology, visit –Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Want to be Closer To Nature?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illinois Extension Future Is Up In Air

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Alma Gaul
LIVING IN IOWA, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to Illinois politics.

I’m listening now, though.

Because of what’s called a “budget impasse” in Springfield, projects and institutions all over the state are facing a shortfall of already-promised funds—for construction, schools, prisons, social service agencies and Extension.

“Extension” is of particular interest to me because these are the people who put on the gardening, ecology and birding classes I write about. They also organize the popular Nursery School at the i wireless Center, the Master Gardener program and the pioneering Master Naturalist program that teaches people how to be better stewards of the Earth and to pass that awareness on to others.

I call the Extension experts when I have questions, and they give me reliable, unbiased answers.

We don’t always think about the Extension Service because it operates somewhat in the background, but it is a conduit for all kinds of programs and services in our community that are offered for free or at little cost.

In addition to gardening, there’s 4-H (very big), family nutrition programs (also very big) and farm information, etc.

Extension services developed years ago as part of the federal land-grant university system. The government granted each state some land that could be sold to finance a college, and the colleges were to make sure that their knowledge and expertise got in the hands of regular people through programs that were an “extension” of the campus.

Thus Iowa State University in Ames and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana oversee a network of offices throughout their respective states.

Money to run them comes from federal and state governments and from county taxpayers if they have approved referendums, as Rock Island County did some 12 years ago. (Scott County did, too, but we’re talking only Illinois here.)

Because Illinois legislators can’t agree on a budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is threatening to withhold an estimated $18 million for Extension statewide. In Rock Island County, that means a shortfall of $240,000 in already-promised funds, and director Michael Woods is compiling a list of proposed cuts to submit to his boss by May 1. That is the deadline Extension set for a statewide plan to deal with the crisis.

So far, Woods and his 32-person staff are looking at small things — making fewer copies, no bottled water, reduced travel, maybe a cheaper building — in hopes that, by cutting a little here and there, they won’t have to cut staff and, therefore, programs.

What’s discouraging about this is I always thought that if people knew the severity of a problem they would do something to fix it. I think the lawmakers in Springfield know — their constituents certainly have been telling them — but still the impasse continues.

Late last week, Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, called for Blagojevich to resign. The governor’s spokeswoman responded by saying that “state capitols are known for being full of hot air.”

Hot air? The citizens of Illinois deserve better.--Quad-City Times

How To Raise Your Child To Be A Naturalist

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By David Roberts
SEATTLE, WA--In 1967, E.O. Wilson coauthored the book that founded island biogeography, a new field of scientific study. He could have retired then with a distinguished record. (E.O. Wilson photo by Jim Harrison)

Instead, in the ensuing four decades, he’s gone on to discover hundreds of new species, generate major advances in entomology, win the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzers, found yet another field of scientific study (sociobiology), and build bridges both between sciences and out of science to the humanities, with popular books like Biophilia (about innate love of nature) and Consilience (about the unity of knowledge). He’s also won a number of teaching awards over his more than 40 years at Harvard.

When I met him in the lobby of his hotel in Seattle, the 76-year-old Wilson had just come from two straight hours of speaking and answering questions before another group. Mere mortals might have pled exhaustion or begged off for a few minutes rest, but a few sips of coffee later, he was holding forth with characteristic wit, energy, and erudition. He is so gentlemanly and avuncular that the intern who transcribed this interview returned it with the note,
“I want him to be my grandfather.”

In his latest book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, he turns that gentle, respectful attention to a Southern Baptist pastor, pleading for help in the fight to preserve what’s left of living nature. The book is an elegant description of the depth and variety of the living world, and warning it’s being lost and destroyed. But I wasn’t clear what about it was supposed to appeal to a religious sensibility.

Wilson says “there are three books in that short volume. The first is a description of the present status of biology, and the direction I think it’s going to be taking. Book two is a manual for how to teach and promote biology, and how to raise your child as a naturalist.

“That’s based on 41 years of experience as a professor at Harvard. The part about raising a naturalist–citizen science–was meant to point to something broader: how to get people back to natural history, to the living world. To show that the mapping of biodiversity and ecology is, like astronomy, something citizens can do–actually add to the corpus of scientific knowledge.

“The third book is the one to the religious community. By addressing them specifically it says that we need help, that the small group of people who have that knowledge [of biodiversity], who are devoted to saving the creation, badly need help. They’re a very small percentage of the population.

“It seems to me the huge religious community might consider giving of themselves, and joining in a common effort that puts aside differences in worldview, postponing whatever culture war develops out of those, because religion and science are the two most powerful social forces in the world. That was why I addressed the Southern Baptist pastor: to get their attention, and in a very sincere, respectful way, ask for their help.”

One of the central themes in your work, and particularly this book, is joy at the amazing complexity and specificity of life.

“Its ability to surprise and delight.”

But, part of the appeal of the religious worldview is the simplicity it offers, the shelter from complexity and ambiguity. Will your message of complexity reach that audience?

“It’ll reach part of it, because people have an innate attraction to nature. They delight in going into nature and finding surprising things, and in a healthful, calming environment. They may not have the true naturalist’s devotion to studying complexity and being surprised and delighted and proud at making discoveries–all the things that make a real obsessive naturalist like myself. But they can appreciate nature. It’s natural to them, and it’s almost universal. Relatively few are so cramped in their thinking, so closed in, that they would not appreciate that spiritual side of [nature].”

In 2000, in reference back to your 1992 book The Diversity of Life, you said, “The facts are clearly and well laid out. … Eight years later people are still presenting in public flawed paradigms (perhaps deliberately) to excuse their gluttonous behavior, which is crushing the planetary life-support systems.” Now it’s 2006. Do you ever despair?

“It was a higher mountain to climb than we estimated when we saw it on the horizon. But I’m an optimist. Life is all about struggling and overcoming. In this case it’s not an enemy to defeat; it’s a people to persuade. The goal is transcendent, and worth all the effort. I think we’ll do it.” –Grist Magazine

Warmer Yellowstone Shifting Environmental Balance

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Keep Your Dog From Being Bitten By Snakes

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM
PICCOLO is a Springer Spaniel living in south Florida and was bitten by what was believed to be a Pygmy Rattlesnake.  He was in intense pain from his snake bites but withstood
his affliction and accepted his treatment with remarkable bravery.

Poisonous snakes and dogs:  We are all familiar with situations where a dog happens to bite another dog or even a human.  These occurrences are always scary.  For me, the most heart-stimulating bite cases are the ones where the headline might read “Dog Bites Vet”.  So no matter who you are… man or animal… the effects of a venomous snake bite can be extremely painful and disfiguring.  Venomous snakes kill many dogs, cats and people every year.

Did you know that each year in the United States, over one million animal-bite wounds are reported? Dogs and cats inflict the vast majority.  On occasion the tables get turned on our canine friends though, and without warning they are recoiling from the pain inflicted by sharp, poison-injecting fangs.  Caught off guard, it is a moment you will never forget if you and your dog encounter a poisonous snake while simply taking a pleasant walk in the outdoors.

Snakebites are a fact of life for dogs and humans in a wide area of North America. Venomous snakes bite about 8,000 people annually in the USA, but according to most estimates, only 12 to 15 of these bites are fatal.

You won’t find details on the numbers of dogs bitten, or killed, by venomous snakes, though.  I asked Michael Schaer, DVM, Professor of Veterinary Internal Medicine at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, about the numbers of dogs bitten or killed by snakes in the USA.

He responded  “I don’t believe we have a valid source of information on the actual numbers of dogs bitten or killed by snakes annually in the United States because there is no central data resource for this.”  In his 22 years as the lead clinician handling snake bites at the veterinary school, Dr. Schaer estimates about a 20 percent fatality rate for dogs bitten by the Eastern Diamondback and the Eastern Coral Snakes.

Although there surely are isolated areas of the United States where venomous snakes are not plentiful, their range spreads all across the country with only Alaska and Hawaii reporting no species of the poisonous kind. Many cases of snakebite occur in dogs that are “just visiting” a part of the country where poisonous snakes are plentiful.  It has happened that dog owners who reside in an area devoid of poisonous snakes are shocked into reality when visiting an area where venomous snakes reside!

Types of Poisonous Snakes
The United States has 15 species of rattlesnakes; two kinds of Water Moccasins, the Copperhead and Cottonmouth; and two kinds of Coral Snakes.

Fortunately, if your dog happens to be bitten by a poisonous snake the odds are in favor of a complete recovery.  The degree of damage inflicted by a venomous snake is determined by a wide variety of variables.  The age and species of snake, the intensity and depth of the fang penetration, the amount of venom injected, the location of the bite, and the size of the dog are just a few of the variables.

In general, snakes want to be left alone. But along comes an inquisitive dog probing every mysterious hole in the ground, sniffing under downed logs, slogging along the riverbank, and digging up leafy patches on the forest floor… and a lightening strike of the serpentine kind may be the result!

What should you do in the event a snake bites your dog?
First, let me tell you what not to do.  Do not take out your pocketknife and cut Xs over the fang marks!  Do not attempt to suck venom through those X marks.  Do not grab the snake in a fit of anger and attempt to choke it to death.  You may be bitten yourself.

Please Do…

  • Look the dog over carefully for fang marks, noting that there may be more than one bite wound.
  • If bitten on a leg, wrap a constricting band on the affected limb snugly at a level just above the bite wound (on the body side of the wound).  This band could be fashioned of a shirtsleeve or other fabric and should be snug but not excessively tight.  The compression around the limb will slow the spread of the venom.  The dog may lose the limb but that is better than losing his life.
  • Start your journey to the nearest animal hospital while trying to keep the dog as quiet as possible.

How To Prevent Snake Bites

  • While out walking, controlling your dog with a leash may be your best safety device.
  • Do not allow your dog to explore holes in the ground or dig under logs, flat rocks or planks.
  • Stay on open paths where there is an opportunity for snakes to be visible.
  • Keep nighttime walks to a minimum; rattlers are nocturnal most of the year.
  • If you hear a rattlesnake, keep your dog at your side until you locate the snake; then move away.
  • Off-trail hiking with an unleashed dog may stir up a snake and you may be as likely a victim as your dog.
  • If your dog seems unusually curious about “something” hidden in the grass, back off immediately until you know what it is.

What Is Venom?
Venom is a toxic fluid created in specialized oral glands related to salivary glands, and the toxic component is composed of an array of complex proteins. Every snake’s venom contains more than one toxin, and in combination the toxins have a more potent effect than the sum of their individual effects.  Most of the toxic effects are due to the enzymes in the venom and there have been about twenty-five enzymes discovered so far. Venoms are of two types, either neurotoxic (affecting the nervous system) or hemotoxic (affecting the blood and vessels).  The venom of many snakes contain both neurotoxic and hemotoxic components.

What Does Venom Do?
Venomous snakebites cause severe pain, cell death, numbness, diminished function and, occasionally, loss of a limb. Snake venoms inflict local effects such as inflammation, damage to blood vessel lining, clotting defects and localized tissue destruction. Some venom can also cause neurotoxicity and interfere with nerve transmission resulting in paralysis.

What Is Antivenin?
Antivenin is a serum that is commercially produced to neutralize the effects of the injected venom.  At special laboratories healthy horses are injected with increasing amounts of selected snake venom (non-fatal, of course), gradually challenging the horse to make more antibodies.  To obtain these antibodies, a small amount of blood is later removed from the horse and the protein antibodies are separated out and purified.  A specific antibody is produced for each type of snake. According the Dr. Schaer the newer antivenins are ovine derived and very expensive at $1500 per 2 vials.  Severe envenomations might require as many as 10 vials.

Snake Bite Kits
Should dog owners carry antivenin kits with them routinely while outside with their dogs?  Probably not says Dr. Schaer. “An antivenin kit probably wouldn’t be that practical because of expense, routes of administration and other important reasons.”  Most antivenin products are targeted for a particular species of snake and may have no effect on the snake that bites your dog.  Antivenin may not have a long shelf life and due to expense, most animal hospitals so not keep a supply on hand.

Vigilance and keeping control of your dog when walking in areas inhabited by poisonous snakes will be your best deterrent to a snake encounter.  It’s not a bad idea to memorize your veterinarian’s emergency phone number, too! –Dog World        

Try to identify the snake by taking note of its size, color patterns and the presence or absence of a rattle at the end of the tail.

West Virginian Provides 32 Bird Feeders

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Create Attractive Wildlife Habitats

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Children Lost the Right To Roam In Four Generations

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By David Derbyshire
WHEN George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.

It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr. Thomas’s eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom. He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home. Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.

The contrast between Edward and George’s childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.

The report says the change in attitudes is reflected in four generations of the Thomas family in Sheffield. The oldest member, George, was allowed to roam for six miles from home unaccompanied when he was eight.His home was tiny and crowded and he spent most of his time outside, playing games and making dens.

Mr Thomas, who went on to become a carpenter, has never lost some of the habits picked up as a child and, aged 88, is still a keen walker.

His son-in-law, Jack Hattersley, 63, was also given freedom to roam.
He was aged eight in 1950, and was allowed to walk for about one mile on his own to the local woods. Again, he walked to school and never travelled by car.

By 1979, when his daughter Vicky Grant was eight, there were signs that children’s independence was being eroded.

“I was able to go out quite freely–I’d ride my bike around the estate, play with friends in the park and walk to the swimming pool and to school,” said Mrs Grant, 36.

“There was a lot less traffic then and families had only one car. People didn’t make all these short journeys.”

Today, her son Edward spends little time on his own outside his garden in their quiet suburban street. She takes him by car to school to ensure she gets to her part-time job as a medical librarian on time. While he enjoys piano lessons, cubs, skiing lessons, regular holidays and the trampoline, slide and climbing frame in the garden, his mother is concerned he may be missing out.

She said: “He can go out in the crescent but he doesn’t tend to go out because the other children don’t. We put a bike in the car and go off to the country where we can all cycle together. “It’s not just about time. Traffic is an important consideration, as is the fear of abduction, but I’m not sure whether that’s real or perceived.”

She added: “Over four generations our family is poles apart in terms of affluence. But I’m not sure our lives are any richer.”

The report’s author, Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England and the organiser of a conference on nature and health on Monday, believes children’s long-term mental health is at risk. He has compiled evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, parks or gardens.

Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, he says. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress.

“If children haven’t had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress,” he said. “Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment. They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens.”

The report, published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, also found that children’s behaviour and school work improve if their playground has grassy areas, ponds and trees.

It also found evidence that hospital patients need fewer painkillers after surgery if they have views of nature from their bed. —-London Daily Mail

Here’s several comments from readers:
“Has no body yet seen the correlation with there being less children out and about and more paedophiles on the loose? Logic would tell us the opposite should be true. In nature, the more abundant the game the more common will be the predator. Does this not lead to a conclusion that there’s more hysteria and misinformation around than common sense?”–James, West of England

“When I was a kid in London in the fifties and sixties my parents let me buy a Red Rover and with a mate from Edgware Station and roam all over London on a Saturday; west end, docklands, city and even south London. Nothing was out of bounds and we never came to any harm. Its a real shame that today’s children don’t have that level of freedom to explore on their own”.–Geoff C, Cambridge, UK