Archive for the ‘Wildlife Habitat’ Category

Early Breeders Get A Jump On Nesting Season

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
AT 5 a.m. Thursday, the thermometer on the porch registered 3 degrees F. A fresh blanket of snow covered the ground; it crunched under my boots as I enjoyed a brief, brisk pre-dawn walk in the woods. The moon, which had been fully eclipsed by the Earth just hours earlier, had wandered across to the western sky. Winter’s grip on Feb. 21 was firm; spring seemed a distant promise.

But for some animals, the breeding season has already begun. “Photoperiod,” the interval in a 24-hour span when a plant or animal is exposed to light, is a more important and reliable environmental cue than temperature.

Male Gray and Fox squirrels, for example, began to vie for mates in late December, soon after days began getting longer. With occasional breaks for food and rest, males chase females for about two weeks. Eventually the female accepts the overtures of the most persistent male. Mating occurs in January.

Squirrel gestation is surprisingly long. Litters of two to five kits (average three) are born in a tree cavity lined with leaves about 45 days after mating. Most squirrel litters are born in mid-March. Another series of chases ensues in early June and leads to a second litter in July or early August.

Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles also get a jump on spring. Female Great Horns lay the first of two or three eggs in late January or early February. Three days later she lays another. If food is abundant, she may lay a third egg. Though the eggs are laid at three-day intervals, incubation begins immediately with the first egg. This is why we sometimes see photographs of owlets of several sizes in the same nest. The eldest sibling in a brood of three may be six days older than the youngest.

Incubation continues for 26 to 35 days; the first egg laid is the first to hatch. Because Great Horned owls nest so early, the nest often gets covered with a blanket of snow. Snow may also blanket the incubating parent, but its soft downy feathers keep the eggs warm and dry. Nestling Horned Owls grow rapidly, but they remain in the nest for more than two months. That’s one reason the nesting season begins so early. Another is that by the time the young owls fledge, there are new litters of rodents and rabbits to hunt.

Bald Eagles follow a similar pattern. Just last week I received a press release from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reporting that several pairs of Ohio eagles had begun to incubate their clutches. The first pair began incubating on Jan. 28. This clutch is expected to hatch around March 5. Young eagles remain in the nest for up to 90 days–again an early start is necessary to give young eagles sufficient time to perfect hunting skills by summer’s end.

Among the more surprising early nesters are two members of the jay family. Gray Jays inhabit the transcontinental boreal forest and Rocky Mountains. These bold jays frequent camp grounds and store food throughout the year. In late summer and fall, they cache perishable foods such as fruits and bits of carrion. When they begin nesting in late winter while the ground is still snow covered, they have a stockpile of relatively fresh food. Climate change has begun taking a toll on gray jay populations. Unusually warm fall temperatures in some locations cause these food caches to rot, and by late winter supplies have spoiled.

Another Rocky Mountain early nester, Clark’s Nutcracker, caches thousands of pine seeds each fall, usually on south-facing slopes. These slopes thaw first in late winter, enabling nutcrackers to have a dependable food supply when they begin nesting in late February.

Surprisingly, early breeding isn’t limited to warm-blooded creatures. As rising temperatures melt vernal woodland pools, Wood Frogs will emerge from hibernation and gather around the edges, where males will sing to attract females to mate. And a week or so later, spring peepers will do the same.

So don’t be fooled by falling snow and frigid temperatures. For some wildlife, spring has already sprung.–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Wildlife On New Pocket Change

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
POLLS remind us repeatedly that a majority of Americans favors policies that protect the environment. To see evidence of this concern, look no further than your pocket change.

Since 1999, the U.S. Mint has issued billions of new quarters that honor the 50 states. They have been released in the order that states entered the Union. To date, 43 state quarters have been issued. Wyoming’s quarter will be released in September. Utah follows later this year, and the last five quarters (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii) will be minted in 2008.

Each state was responsible for developing its own design. Most states (30 of 50) chose a theme that highlighted their natural heritage. Given the opportunity to design a coin that would promote the state to hundreds of millions of Americans and foreign tourists, 60 percent of the states chose a design that featured wildlife or scenic vistas. The rest selected designs that highlighted historical or cultural themes.

The Mint’s State Commemorative Quarters Program has been a smashing success. According to the U.S. Mint, the number of quarters produced for each state range from as few as 448,800,000 for Maine to more than 1.5 billion for Virginia. Many people, including me, collect them, and some even hoard them. It’s the designs that make the state quarters so desirable. Collecting state quarters is a great way to introduce kids to U.S. history, culture, and our natural heritage.

If you haven’t begun collecting the state quarters, here’s what you’ve missed. Of the 50 state quarters (seven remain to be issued), 30 highlight natural features, 19 depict cultural accomplishments, and 17 focus on history. The total exceeds 50 because several quarters feature more than one theme. Louisiana’s quarter, for example, depicts a brown pelican (nature), the Louisiana Purchase (history), and a trumpet with musical notes (culture).

Of the 30 quarters that focus on natural heritage, eight feature birds and 11 others depict animals that include bison, wild mustangs, domestic horses and cows, salmon and a brown bear. That means 38 percent of the state quarters feature wildlife.

Cultural icons featured on 19 quarters include a cowboy on a bucking bronco (Wyoming), Mount Rushmore (South Dakota), cheese (Wisconsin), bridges (West Virginia, Rhode Island), vehicles (Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Utah), and buildings (Maryland, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Maine).

History dominates eight of the first 13 state quarters, including the first three. Delaware features patriot Caesar Rodney making an historic horseback ride. Pennsylvania depicts the statue named Commonwealth, which has topped the state capitol dome since 1905. And New Jersey commemorates Washington crossing the Delaware River into Trenton. Other notable historical quarters include Massachusetts (a minuteman), Ohio (aviation), Illinois (young Abe Lincoln) and Nebraska (ox-drawn covered wagon).

My nominees for best state quarters follow. Let me know if you agree or disagree.

Best natural heritage design: Arizona (desert cacti, Grand Canyon; to come in 2008), California (John Muir, condor, Half Dome), Oregon (Crater Lake).

Best wildlife design: North Dakota (bison), Nevada (wild mustangs), Alaska (brown bear; to be issued late next year).

Best bird design: Oklahoma (scissor-tailed flycatcher; to be issued in early 2008), Minnesota (loon), Idaho (peregrine falcon).

Best historical design: Utah (two locomotives meet at the completion of the …..transcontinental railroad), Missouri (Lewis and Clark).

Best cultural design: Wisconsin (cheese, corn, cow), Tennessee (three musical instruments), Indiana (Indy race car).

Special mention: Alabama’s quarter depicts an image of Helen Keller with her name in English and reduced-size braille. This makes the Alabama quarter the first circulating U.S. coin to feature braille.

Thanks to the success of the state quarter program, the U.S. Mint began this year honoring U.S presidents on dollar coins. Each year four presidents will be featured annually: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson are now in circulation.

And don’t overlook the lowly nickel. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, nickels have been issued that feature a new Jefferson portrait, a new buffalo design, and Lewis and Clark’s westward journey.

So next time you throw change on the dresser, check out any recently minted coins for hard evidence of how much Americans value our natural, historical, and cultural heritages.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see all the state quarter designs, visit

Wildlife Photographer Shares Secrets of Trade

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Alan D. Carey
A COMMON misconception among the uninitiated is that professional wildlife photographers spend most of their time stalking through the woods decked out in camouflage like so many photo-Rambos, clicking away at whatever species of animals or birds happen into their view finders.

I stalk occasionally, but it’s usually futile—wild animals have such keen senses that attempting to approach them generally nets nothing better than blurred shots of the south ends of northbound critters.

A far more productive technique—and one used extensively by professionals—is to concentrate on just one species at a time, learning all you can about both the animal and its home turf, then putting yourself in the right place at the right time and letting your quarry come to you.

Hide and Peek
One of the most effective (and comfortable) ways to photograph wildlife at close range is to hide yourself in a blind. The trick to successful blind shooting is to set up in a location where your quarry is almost certain to appear—such as near a den, nest, water hole or feeding area.

Although some excellent commercial blinds are available (and an inexpensive camouflaged dome tent can be pressed into service), I prefer to roll my own. With a lot of help from my wife and her sewing machine, I’ve accumulated a closetful of homespun blinds over the years, each one unique and suited to a specific photographic need.

There are a number of important variables to consider in deciding where to place your blind. Foremost among them is the welfare of the animals you’re working with. As a rule of thumb, if your presence seems to be altering the normal behavior of your subjects, you’re too close.

If, for example, you erect a blind near a nest of hatchling birds and the parents fail to return to care for their chicks, then you should move the blind farther back; if that doesn’t ease the parents’ worries, disassemble the blind and abandon the area. To avoid problems like this when photographing nesting birds or denning mammals, locate your blind quite a distance away. Then, over a period of several days, gradually move it closer, thus allowing your subjects time to become accustomed to its presence.

You’ll quickly learn that the willingness of wildlife to tolerate the intrusion of a blind varies considerably from one species to another, and even among individuals of the same species. I’m reminded of the time several summers ago when I was shooting on a wildlife refuge in north central Montana.

With the assistance of the refuge manager, I had erected a blind on an island right at the edge of a colony of nesting white pelicans. Even though the blind was out in the open, the adult birds returned to their chicks as soon as I ducked inside. The pelicans generally ignored me—at times wandering as near as 10 ft.—for the seven hours I remained there photographing them.

Now contrast that experience with the time I erected the same blind, again in the open, 80 feet from a deer carcass on which a pair of bald eagles had been feeding. I waited there for eight hours, but the circling eagles kept their distance, refusing to come in. Of course, as soon as I took the blind down and left, the big raptors returned to their feast.

If you’re afraid of bad weather or can’t drag yourself from bed before dawn, your photo success will suffer.

When positioning a blind, keep in mind not only the angle of the sun, but wind direction as well. For instance, if I wanted to photograph a den of coyotes with direct front lighting, I would set up a blind east of the den to capitalize on the morning sun. And since the prevailing morning winds in this part of the country blow from the west, my scent would be carried away from the coyotes. (You’ll come to appreciate the predatory nose the first time the breeze shifts and you watch a previously relaxed bear, wolf, coyote, fox or cat lift its head, glance around nervously, then beat a fleet retreat.)

Another important consideration when siting a blind is assuring an unobstructed view. Few things are more frustrating to a wildlife photographer than waiting long hours in a blind for a particular animal to show itself, then—just as it steps out in the open, bathed in soft afternoon light—finding that your camera’s view of its head is blocked by a patch of tall grass you’d failed to notice when you set up.

Blind Mobility
An alternative to sitting for hours in a blind is to sit for hours in a vehicle. An automobile serves as a blind that—though generally restricted to roadways—provides comfort, mobility, wraparound visibility and the means to approach many species of wild animals and birds without alarming them.

Pheasants, for example, are extremely nervous birds that never hesitate to fly the proverbial coop at the first sign of human approach. But they will frequently allow a vehicle to pull right up alongside them. Consequently, I’ve photographed nearly every pheasant in my files from the comfort of my pickup. Some animals, such as mule deer, occasionally will even allow you to climb out of your vehicle to film them—as long as you don’t move too far in their direction or make any sudden movements.

Obviously, tripods aren’t designed to be used in vehicles, but I’ve found two alternative camera-support systems that are. One is a commercial unit that clamps to the top edge of a side window. This lightweight, compact device performs surprisingly well, allowing me to pan smoothly on moving subjects. I also use a large beanbag of my wife’s manufacture. With the window rolled all the way down, I drape the bag over the sill, then nestle my camera and lens into this portable pillow.

Lens Logic
Many novices are surprised to learn that professional wildlife photographers don’t generally run around the boonies with footlong 800 mm lenses, filming their subjects at incredible ranges. Fact is, the largest lens most pros own is a 600 mm. My largest is a 400 mm (eight power)—on which I occasionally use a 1.4 teleconverter to increase the focal length to 560 mm (roughly 11 power). But my breadand-butter lens is the 400 mm.

One good reason that pros rarely use lenses over 600 mm is the size of the monsters: Not only is a long lens cumbersome to handle, but it magnifies even the slightest movement, producing “soft,” or blurred, photos. Of course, you could compensate for movement with a fast shutter speed…except that monster lenses also have excessive appetites for light. And since the best wildlife photo opportunities often present themselves in weak light, you’re obliged to compensate for a fast shutter speed by using high-speed film—which produces grainy pictures.

As you can see, there’s no easy way out of this big-lens pickle . . . except to opt for a 400 mm or smaller lens and depend on skill rather than technology to bag the shots you’re after.

Support Your Local Lens
The rule of thumb for hand-holding a camera is to attempt it only when composition and light conditions permit using a shutter speed that’s approximately equal to the focal length of the lens. In other words, you should chance hand-holding a 400 mm lens only when you can use a shutter speed of at least 1/400 second. Likewise, a 135 mm lens would require a shutter speed of at least 1/125, and so on.

I shoot nothing but slides. For one thing, slide film costs less to use than print film—especially if you purchase it in quantity from discount mail-order houses, complete with prepaid, mail-in processing. Another advantage of slides is that they can be projected onto a screen, making for a much more dramatic and enjoyable presentation of your photographic trophies than skimpy little prints. And if you want prints, they can be made from slides almost as easily as from color negs, giving you the best of both worlds. But the single most important reason I shoot slides is that few magazines—the professional photographer’s primary customers—will accept anything else.

Wildlife photography demands all of the skills of an expert hunter, plus good camera technique.

I must confess that I’ve been somewhat narrow-minded in my selection of film in the past, having shot almost exclusively with Kodachrome 64 for several years now. Kodachrome 25 is also an excellent film, but its extremely slow speed renders it too inflexible for wildlife photography. I prefer Kodachrome over other films for its rich color and exceptionally fine grain. I have, on rare occasion, shot Ektachrome 200—and have always been disappointed. Ektachrome is grainy and produces a bluish cast; its advantage is that it can be processed overnight by most local photo labs, while Kodachrome must be sent to a Kodak lab, requiring at least a week for processing and return.

Another film that can be processed locally is Fujichrome, available in ASAs of 50, 100, and 400. Fujichrome is a fine-grained film with excellent color, especially the yellows. A relative newcomer, Fuji holds its own with Kodachrome in every way, and I’ll undoubtedly use it more in the future.

Wildlife Is Where You Find It
I’m often asked by prospective wildlife photographers where they should go to find photogenic subjects. The most popular place—in the lower 48, at least—is Yellowstone National Park, but its extreme popularity is precisely its problem. (That dramatic elk shot loses some of its drama if there’s another photographer in the background.) The best place to start is in your own back yard, or perhaps at a local park.

It’s a lot cheaper and less frustrating to discover that a new piece of equipment isn’t working properly in your own back yard than in a national park half a continent away. Only after you’ve built confidence in your gear and yourself should you consider tripping off to some faraway wildlife sanctuary.

When you do go, national parks are always good bets—if you can arrange your trip for a season when the wildlife is out in force but the tourists aren’t. Better than national parks, in most cases, are wildlife refuges. There are over 400 national refuges in the lower 48 and Alaska, many of them located within weekend striking distance of major metropolitan areas.

Waterfowl is the main attraction on most of these refuges, but there’s always a host of other interesting critters in such places as well. Depending on the refuge, you may see anything from elk and black bear to bald eagles and whooping cranes. Less dramatic but just as challenging to photograph are songbirds and small mammals such as raccoons, muskrats, porcupines and beavers.

A Potpourri of Professional Tips

Wildlife photography is a form of hunting; to get good photos you must become a skilled predator. When circumstance requires you to make an open approach to a wild animal or bird, don’t charge straight toward it or make direct eye contact. Instead, employ a trick known to wolves and other large predators for millennia: Amble casually toward the subject in a zigzag fashion, appearing to look in another direction while using your peripheral vision to keep track of your quarry.

]This way, the animal may assume that you’re just passing by and present no threat. (This technique works especially well in national parks and on refuges where animals have become somewhat inured to the presence of humans.) You’re not likely to get good pictures if you can’t drag yourself out of bed before daylight in order to be where you need to be, when you need to be there.

The primary reason for doing the early-bird act is that wild animals are most visible during the earliest hours of morning, simply because they’re still on the move—feeding, hunting and drifting from feeding to bedding areas. A second reason for getting out early is light. The warm tones of low-angle light are always superior to the harsh glare and deep shadows of midday; photos of wildlife taken at the edges of day seem to glow and almost leap out at the viewer.

Late afternoon is also a good bet—but I’ve found that on warm days animals rarely start moving until right at sunset when the air begins to cool, leaving you with little light and minimal shooting time.

Don’t forgo getting out just because the weather is lousy. Some of the most dramatic pictures in my files were taken on stormy days when I would much rather have been sitting at home with a cup of something hot and a good magazine. When the weather is bleak, wild animals seem to stay active through more of the day. Also, on cloudy days the light is softer, with less contrast. I love to shoot in the fog or during snowstorms because of the variety of moods that can be created.

Stormy weather lends pictures more feeling and expression. Sometimes, as when shooting wildlife that’s running or flying, it’s all you can do just to keep your quarry in the view finder and in focus. But when an animal is stand ing patiently in one of those gorgeous settings that all wildlife photographers dream about, you certainly don’t want to blow the opportunity because your exposure is off: The answer is bracketing.

To bracket, simply shoot a frame at whatever f-stop your light meter indicates, then rotate the aperture a half stop at a time, shooting as you go, until you’ve bracketed a full stop to either side of the meter setting, for a total of five shots. This procedure gobbles film, but it also assures at least one properly exposed photo from each series.

A motor drive is a gadget that mounts to a 35 mm camera body and automatically advances the film at a machine-gun rate of five frames per second. This allows the photographer to concentrate on fastmoving subjects and focus without having to reach up and advance the film by hand. Motor drives also greatly facilitate rapid bracketing. As you might expect, though, they don’t come cheap. A less expensive alternative is the autowinder, a device that performs the same chores as a motor drive, but not quite as fast (usually around two frames per second).

(Caution: It’s easy to become addicted to these rapid-fire gadgets, but try to keep in mind that even the handiest of accessories are just that—accessories; in no way are they requisite for bagging award-winning photos.)

The Rewards
Wildlife photography is, to borrow an expression from an old song, a many-splendored thing. In addition to the obvious lure of capturing fleeting images on film for the enjoyment of yourself and others—and maybe even picking up a few bucks and some public recognition of your work in the process—there’s the excitement and chal lenge of getting close enough to various wild creatures to make telling shots.

Then there’s the healthy enjoyment of vigorous days spent afield—and, perhaps best of all, the rare privilege of observing firsthand something of the secretive lives of our fellow earthlings.--American Country

EDITOR’S NOTE– Alan D. Carey’s wildlife photographs have appeared on the covers and in the pages of American Photographer, Field & Stream, International Wildlife, National Wildlife, National Geographic World, Outdoor Life, Smithsonian and a great many others. Alan’s books include In the Path of the Grizzly and (with Gary Turbak) America’s Great Cats—available for $11.95 each from your local bookstore, or $13.70 postpaid from Northland Press, P.O. Box N, Flagstaff, AZ 86002.

Dueling Species

Monday, June 28th, 2010

THERE ARE horror stories all around the world of species being introduced into areas where they didn’t evolve along with the ecosystem.

These include everything from insects to fish to mammals. The most common scenario for destruction is when these invasive species can thrive in their new homes–at the expense of the indigenous plant and/or animal populations.

From Kudzu, to Mute Swans, to Zebra Mussels, to the Northern Snakehead Fish, there are numerous examples of the folly of trying to fool Mother Nature. But in some cases, Mother Nature is being put to use in a fighting-fire-with-fire way to help control or eradicate a destructive introduced species. Such is the case with an invasive plant that is wreaking havoc in Maryland.

A recent story by the Capital News Service examined how the state is using one foreign species in an effort to control another. In this case, the culprit is a native Asian vine that was introduced in Maryland decades ago. The nickname given to this vine is indicative of the problem it poses.

Commonly referred to as Mile-A-Minute weed, this vine forms masses that grow over native plants, blocking the sunlight and eventually killing them. John Peter Thompson of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee says that Mile-A-Minute vine “is almost a poster child as to why we should be concerned about invasive species.”

What’s the fire that will be used to fight this fire? A tiny, vine-eating weevil also from, you guessed it, Asia. The Chinese weevil with the ferocious name of Rhinoncomimus was among a number of insects that were tested in the search for an anti-Mile-A-Minute weapon. The danger in this approach, of course, is that the cure may be worse than the disease–in the form of some unintended consequences of its own.

That possibility was not lost on researchers trying to put the brakes on the Mile-A-Minute vine’s spread in Maryland. The key in this case was that the Chinese weevil was the only insect among the nearly 50 tested that could not live without the weed. That’s a magic match. It will eat and kill the weed, but needs it to survive. No weed, no weevils either.

Testing the weevil’s mettle fighting the interloping weed started a couple of years ago, and scientists are proceeding cautiously. They are studying not only the weevil’s effectiveness against the weed, but also keeping a sharp eye on the little bugger to ensure it doesn’t have secret ambitions of its own. So far, researchers are optimistic about what they’re seeing, but acknowledge that it will take years to know for sure if this little bit of biological warfare will work.

“I’ve seen the damage,” said Rachel Cliche, an invasive species specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Once (the weevils) multiply I think they are going to do a number on (the weed). But it’s a long shot that they would get rid of Mile-A-Minute weed.”

Maybe they can’t, but even if the weevils could slow it down to, say, a mile an hour, that would really help. –Frederick News Post

Wildlife Played Key Role In Growing Up

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Simon Otto
CHEBOYGAN, MI–Many times people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoy my writings. I appreciate all of the comments. I tell them that’s the way my thinking goes most of the time. Sometimes I am just riding along and something will come to me and it brings back something from long ago.

I write the way I feel, and that is a good feeling. Even now as I write this, I know it will make people feel good. I usually sit back and look out the window that faces the river and I can see all sorts of birds flying to and fro to the feeder we have on our deck. It is they, the birds, that encourage me to write.

When I was growing up, I would sit on our back porch and watch the wildlife that I could see, that being Muskrats swimming back and forth, or once in a while a couple of otters. Or a mother duck with her new brood, swimming proudly by showing the world her new family. This she did for as long as I can remember.

Across the river was an old apple tree, its fruits long gone, but still a haven for a Kingfisher. I would sit for hours, watching her catch small minnows for her fledglings. That Kingfisher was there every summer.

I would see the waters swirling and see the minnows all jumping out of the water. Brother pike was their enemy. Every so often I would see a bass jump for an insect that mistakenly flew too close to the water and was gobbled up by the bass.

My clan brother, Shekeh (turtle), was out pulling herself on the logs that were part of a tree that once grew there. Eventually there would be many turtles sunning themselves there. Once in a while there would be a big Snapping Turtle and its head was about six inches through. Grandfather once told me it probably could fill a washtub.

Every so often I would see a crane lazily flying by, its long legs stretched out behind it and it made a loud squawking noise. It had a nest upriver among the cattails. It blended in perfectly. It was a perfect place for a nest. There were a lot of Leopard Frogs living in the tall swamp grass. Once in a while you could hear a loon with its wailing call. They lived just a little way up the river, not too far, because you could hear the wailing at night. I haven’t heard one wailing for a long time.

Lots of herbs were growing along the riverside. Grandfather would go pick some, and I was eager to go, because it seemed he always told me something new and it was usually about medications that he never showed me before. It was a treasure trove of herbs, which non-Indians called weeds. There were lots of wildlife just at our back door, and we lived in town. It was the poor part of town–poor in money but rich in wildlife and medicines.

I was just a kid, and really didn’t realize the value of money. Just a few cents once in a while filled the satisfaction of this Indian boy who was raised on the wisdom of his grandfather and parents, and what riches they were.

With that I say, walk in peace.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Simon Otto is a well-known Petoskey Native American storyteller. He only has to catch a glimpse of the hills just north of Little Traverse Bay, MI and he tells the tale of his youth. Otto has written several books on Native American stories and culture since the 1970s and has been a speaker at many venues.

Doc Takes Up Wildlife Photography To Offset Tragedy

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Mike Baird
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX–Long before neurologist Juan Ernesto Bahamon draped a stethoscope around his collar, he toted a camera around his neck.

But now he has returned to his initial love, as a part-time, world-class wildlife photographer, to offset the tragedy in his work.

“After holding the hands of people in desperate health with brain tumors, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, I go to nature to shift gears and see not everything is sad in life,” said Bahamon, 48, who was born in Colombia but has practiced in the Coastal Bend for 19 years.

Camouflaging himself and sprawling on beaches to shoot wildlife recently earned him recognition in Nature’s Best Photography magazine, a national quarterly publication dedicated to showcasing nature through a camera lens.

Bahamon spied an American oystercatcher in November hobbling on the Padre Balli Park shoreline, its left foot wound in fishing line with a lure half the length of the bird’s red beak dragging in the sand.

“I wanted to show how carelessness with fishing lines can affect wildlife,” Bahamon said. To get the shot, he used his vehicle as a blind, then tried to get closer on foot to photograph and catch the bird.

“The bird was very skittish,” he said, adding that he couldn’t catch it. “The fishing line was wrapped so tight, I was afraid it might lose the leg.”

Photographers from 27 countries submitted more than 12,000 images to the annual Nature’s Best Photography Awards competition. Bahamon’s ensnared bird photo is one of 131 images featured in the magazine’s fall edition. It’s one of six photos honored in the Environmental Issues section.

The lobby, hallways and his office walls at Medical Doctors Building on Alameda Street are lined with photos Bohamon has taken, and medical colleagues have come to know him as the “Bird Doctor” for his many cover photos on Coastal Bend Medicine Magazine, a professional magazine for doctors.

Bahamon recently placed first in the H-E-B South Texas Christmas Snow Miracle Photo Contest and third in the Digital Coastal Bend Wildlife Photo Contest for a photo taken at his home of a gecko with its mouth open and tongue out.

“He puts his whole heart into it and has the patience to get that perfect shot,” said Michelle Horine, executive director of the local wildlife photo contest.

Earlier this month, Bahamon tromped deep into the rain forest of Costa Rica with 150 pounds of equipment, hoping to snare a shot of the male snowcap hummingbird. He recently published a hummingbird calendar, and said the snowcap is the only one he hasn’t photographed. –Corpus Christi Caller Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see more of Bahamon’s images and featured photos from the hummingbird calendar, visit http://www.birdsofcorpuschristi

Wildlife Rehabilitator Explains How To Give Critters A Hand

Monday, June 28th, 2010

AFTER almost 10 years of saving the lives of baby squirrels, raccoons, bunnies, and other creatures, wildlife rehabilitator Alison Cuff has some stories to tell.

What most people don’t know is that it doesn’t take expensive training or advanced degrees to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Anyone can do it by studying for a test given by your state’s division of wildlife.

Ideally, Ms. Cuff said, a wanna-be should apprentice with an established rehabilitator to get the experience they’ll need.

Why do it? Isn’t the death of a wild animal part of the natural cycle? Ms. Cuff said she gets asked that question often, especially since wildlife rehabilitators aren’t paid for their good works with needy critters.

“Obviously, we can’t save them all. But to me, every creature’s life is just as important. They deserve a chance,” she said, adding that her efforts are an act of “pure love. I believe it’s our responsibility as humans to take care of creatures that have no human voice.”

One particular squirrel stands out in Ms. Cuff’s memory. She named him Stinky. He was found as a baby crawling around a parking lot where the mother was probably hit by a car. Nobody gave him much of a chance for survival, Ms. Cuff said.

“He was a hard luck case,” Ms. Cuff recalled. “His eyes were open but he was not weaned yet. He was so skinny he was nothing but bones. His tail had no fur. He had fleas. He was dehydrated. To top it off, he hated the (baby) formula.”

Stinky spent 14 weeks with Ms. Cuff before being released. Even at that time, she said, “He had the worst looking tail of any squirrel in the world.”

Today, Stinky occasionally visits Ms. Cuff’s yard to raid the birdfeeder and brings his brood with him. “Now, he’s got a really great tail,” she remarked.

Though saving a squirrel may not seem monumental to some, Ms. Cuff said that every creature matters in the web of life. Others who believe as she does are working to form a wildlife rehabilitator’s network where rehabilitators can link up or be found by someone needing their services.

People can help rehabilitation efforts even if they don’t want to become licensed to handle wild animals themselves. From donating formula, to purchasing inexpensive fleece for bedding, to building backyard cages or donating unwanted dog pens, and chauffeuring already caged animals from one facility to the other, there are plenty of “simple and small ways to help that really make a difference,” she said.

Do You Rake ‘Em Or Leave Them?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Rob Kasper
THE LEAVES FALL and we rake them. Why?

I pondered this autumnal question last weekend as I picked up a rake and took an initial pass at the backyard. What would happen, I wondered, if I let the leaves lie?

The grass would probably die, smothered by the leaves. But in my case, with a rowhouse backyard and our kids grown and mostly gone, grass does not matter much. The neighbors might disapprove. But more than likely only if the leaves took flight, and jumped property lines.

I also wondered whether I could break the leaf-raking habit. Not raking the leaves would be unconventional conduct, something that ran counter to years of backyard ritual. Besides, raking leaves does have a certain breezy appeal. It is what men wearing plaid shirts do on fall afternoons. It gets us out of the house, into the reasonably fresh air and getting some pretty good exercise.

I had just read a list of ergonomic tips on how to rake correctly. The list told me how I should stand with my feet wide apart. How I should place one hand near the top of the rake handle and the other hand three-quarters of the way down the handle. It told me how I should change sides every 10 minutes or so, raking right-handed for a while, then left-handed. I wanted to give these tips a try.

Moreover, the lure of buying a new tool was strong. In addition to the leaf blowers and mulchers, an array of new leaf rakes had caught my eye. There was a $30 number with a pivoting head that supposedly made leaf raking easier on your back. Then there was the $31 Rittenhouse Deluxe Grounds Rake with “music grade spring wire tines” that grab every leaf. This tool promised to give the raker that rare state of “single pass efficiency,” meaning you only have to rake a spot once. I was shooting for “single pass efficiency” in every aspect of my life.

Nonetheless, I was curious about what might happen if I broke tradition, tried something new, let nature take care of the leaves. I do feel sheepish in the spring when I buy bags of humus, which is basically decomposed leaves, and add them to the soil.

So back in my office a few days later, I phoned around looking for someone in authority who could say something positive about fallen leaves. I found one. Marilyn Mause is a wildlife biologist who oversees the Wild Acres Program for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This program offers advice to Marylanders on how to make their yards more inviting to wildlife. (Its Web address is

Mause spoke carefully during our interview. She did not want to be depicted as someone who was railing against raking leaves. She recognized that there are many factors that compel people to rake. Those included preserving a fine-looking lawn, having a patch of grass for the kids to play on, and keeping the neighbors as well as the neighborhood association off your back.

Yet, she said, letting fallen leaves stay on the ground, becoming what Mause called “leaf litter,” could have beneficial effects. Some of them, such as slowing down runoff, are big-picture environmental benefits. Leaf litter, she explained, absorbs rainfall. That cuts down runoff, which leads to soil erosion, which is one of the causes of sedimentation in the Chesapeake Bay.

Other benefits are more apparent, she said. Over time the fallen leaves become a duff layer, organic matter in various stages of decomposition, which enriches the soil, she said. Native plants spring up in it. Ferns and Virginia Bluebells are among the native plants that had sprouted in the leaf litter on a piece of property in Frederick County that Mause has not raked.

Salamanders and shrews are also fond of leaf litter, Mause told me. Moreover, she said, some songbirds use the fallen leaves to make nests in nearby trees. I am not sure where I stand on attracting salamanders and shrews. But I do like the idea of welcoming some warblers.

Yet I can’t stop raking leaves. The task is too ingrained a habit, too strong a seasonal rhythm for me to abandon. But after listening to Mause, I am thinking of exempting a corner of the backyard, over by the holly tree, from my usual leaf-raking routine.

The leaf litter on that patch of ground might slow runoff a bit and attract nesting warblers. Moreover, it gives me an excuse to avoid a nasty task. I never liked raking those holly leaves. Their sharp edges hurt my fingers. — Baltimore Sun

Wildlife Workers Track And Kill Pythons In Everglades

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Madeline Baró Diaz
WILDLIFE workers have removed 142 Burmese Pythons from Everglades National Park this year.

On Monday, they sent one back.

The python had a radio transmitter implanted to help scientists track and eliminate the nonnative species that is multiplying in the Everglades. The big reptiles compete with the park’s native species for food, feeding on birds, small mammals and other creatures, Everglades wildlife biologist Skip Snow said.

The snake, one of seven fitted with the tracking devices, is part of an effort by scientists with Everglades National Park, the South Florida Water Management District and other agencies to collect data about Burmese Pythons in the wild. Typically, when the snakes are captured they are killed.

The snakes, which are usually spotted along the main entrance road to Everglades National Park and in the surrounding areas, are native to Southeast Asia. They can grow to more than 20 ft. long and in captivity have lived more than 20 years, Snow said

Park officials say the pythons first made their way into the Everglades when pet owners who no longer wanted them released them into the wild or when the reptiles escaped out of inadequate cages.

While other nonnative snakes have been found in the Everglades, researchers believe the Burmese Python is the only one that is breeding there. Last year, 92 Burmese Pythons were removed from the park, Everglades National Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

“This is a species that is not native to this habitat and it is proliferating,” she said. –Sun-Sentinel

Despite Reputations, Most Spiders Harmless

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Kathy Reshetiloff
I SPENT five months hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Vermont.

During that time I, of course, camped out in the woods and fields along the way. An injury forced me to leave the trail in August. My house had been pretty much closed up during that time so when I returned home I wasn’t prepared for what awaited for me.

Spiders! Everywhere. On the deck. In the house. In the shed. In the compost bin. Even in my car. I saw more spiders that first day at home than I had seen on my entire hike along the trail.

As silly as it is, I have to admit that I am a bit of an arachnophobe. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to the small ones. I usually leave them alone or just pluck them away if I don’t want them in a particular place (like my steering wheel). It’s just the big ones, like the Wolf Spider I found in my compost bin, that make my skin crawl.

But despite my irrational fears, I left most of the spiders alone. Most spiders are shy and harmless to people. Like many other types of wildlife, they will not bite you unless they are trapped or held.

And of course, spiders feed on many kinds of insects. They are important in controlling many pest insects in gardens or, in my case, house.

Plus, they’re pretty interesting animals. Spiders are not insects but belong to a closely related group called arachnids. Spiders have eight legs and lack wings and antennae. They have two body parts: a cephalothorax which is a head fused with a thorax and an abdomen. Most spiders have eight eyes. Young spiders, called spiderlings, resemble adults except for their smaller size and coloration. Males are usually smaller than females.

Some make webs; others, such as Wolf Spiders, actively pursue their prey. There are many families of spiders, all of which are predators. They feed on a wide range of prey including insects and other spiders

All have a pair of clawlike fangs through which venom can be ejected to immobilize their prey. Because spiders can only ingest liquids, digestive fluids are either injected or regurgitated into the prey.

The tip of of a spider’s abdomen has silk-spinning glands. The silk is secreted as a liquid that hardens on contact with air. Different types and textures of silk may be used to construct snares or webs, egg sacs, drag lines and ballooning threads. Some spiders use web snares to trap prey.

Spiders lay eggs in a silken egg sac, often ball-shaped and hidden in the web or carried by the female. One female may produce as many as 3,000 eggs in a series of several sacs. Eggs may hatch a few weeks later or the following spring.

Spiders mature in one year. For a spider to grow, it must molt (shed its skin), usually four to 12 times. Most spiders live either one to two seasons. Spiders may overwinter as eggs, spiderlings in the egg sac, immature spiders living outside the egg sac or as adults

Here are a few of the most common spiders one might encounter:

* Cobweb Spiders are common household spiders that enter homes and build irregular webs in areas where insects fly or rest, usually in the corners of rooms or windows. When they are active, the web remains relatively inconspicuous, but when these spiders leave a web or die, the web becomes covered with dust and is easily seen. Cleaning or dusting in these areas is usually sufficient to control these spiders. (Well now I know why I have so many webs in my house!)

* Yellow House Spiders are small, about 1/4 inches long, and move rapidly. They may be found in all rooms of a house. The spiders enter homes in early fall and are active for several months weaving small white webs in confined spaces where they spend the winter. In the spring, they usually emerge from their webs and make their way outside.

* Wolf Spiders are active hunters and do not construct webs. Some can be fairly large and have a frightening appearance. They will not attack people unless they are handled or confined. The bite is not dangerous but can be very sharp. Wolf Spiders come indoors most frequently in the fall and are usually found in basements. Exclusion is the best way to keep them outdoors.

* The Black and Yellow Garden Spider is one of the area’s most common garden spiders. It makes a circular, flat, wheellike web in shrubs and other tall outdoor plants. These elaborate and beautiful webs often become more obvious in the late summer and early autumn months. They have poor vision and locate the prey by feeling the vibration and tension of the threads in their web as insects are trapped. Despite their size, these spiders are not dangerous, but can bite if handled.

* Black Widow Spiders, while not often found indoors, are common. The female is about a half-inch long, jet black with a bright red hourglass shape on the belly. This red mark is easily seen because she hangs upside down in the web. This poisonous spider is more dangerous to children than adults. The Black Widow is not aggressive. It will, however, bite instinctively when touched or pressed. Anyone who is bitten should go to a doctor immediately for treatment. It is most often found in basement window wells, beneath benches or porches, in garages and sheds, and woodpiles. To control this spider, wear gloves and carefully remove all materials where it might hide. This spider can be cleaned out of an area simply by knocking the webs, spiders and round, tan egg sacs down with a stick and crushing them under foot. Household insect sprays will kill the spiders when hit directly.

Not everyone can live with even the most harmless arachnids in their home. But killing them should be avoided, if possible.

Spiders enter homes through screens, around windows, doors and cracks. Maintaining tight-fitting screens, using weather stripping and sealing cracks can help to prevent a spider’s entry into a home.

To discourage spiders near a home, remove any items piled or stacked near the house such as trash, lumber, bricks, leaves, flower pots and any other objects that provide homes for spiders.

Regular dusting and vacuuming also helps to controls those already in a home. (Yeah, I know.)  –Bay Journal

Wolf Howls Scare Tenderfoot Foresters

Monday, June 28th, 2010

KETCHUM, ID– Snicker if you will. But the two Forest Service employees evacuated by helicopter from a woodlands work site in the Sawtooth Wilderness last month after hearing wolves genuinely feared for their lives.

If their fright was real, their safety and well-being were never really in doubt. This is becoming a common problem in Western states where the migration of urbanites to rural and woodland areas is exposing inexperienced and uninformed newcomers to encounters with authentic wildlife, with emphasis on wild.

The obvious needs to be said: Humans in new surroundings must learn the ways of wildlife and thus understand how to avoid encounters that can be frightening and potentially dangerous.

Several things need to be understood:

First, most wildlife normally encountered in and near populated areas are instinctively fearful of humans and will avoid encounters.

Second, humans have been displacing wildlife as new housing takes over wildlife habitat. Since wildlife tends to return to familiar places, the sight of bears, fox, elk, deer, raccoons, and even moose is common.

Third, humans unwisely encourage encounters by feeding wild animals, which lessens their fear of humans and is likely to lead them to remain close to human food sources. Feeding small predators, such as foxes, can lure larger predators. And, putting garbage cans out the night before pick-up is an invitation to bears to rummage for pre-hibernation vittles.

Among the true anecdotes about local bears is the one that learned how to open house doors and refrigerators and helped himself to cheese and ice cream.

The experience of the two frightened Forest Service workers illustrates just how an understanding of wolves would’ve helped relieve their fears. Several experts pointed out that the sound of wolf howls in mountain areas can sound like they’re coming from all directions because of echoes, not because of a huge pack of animals. Wolves also are fixated on prey when hunting wildlife, such as elk, and will ignore humans.

With this somewhat embarrassing episode behind it, the Forest Service says it plans a review of training out-of-area personnel on what to expect in the backcountry and how to act. This type of orientation would be beneficial for every resident and visitor.

The Forest Service and outdoors groups should devise and make available an inexpensive brochure outlining habits and habitat of various wildlife and do’s and don’ts when they’re encountered.

The outdoors is a lot more enjoyable when there’s no fear attached to a stroll in the mountains.–Idaho Mountain Express

Woody Vines Can Be Friends Or Foes

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
WOODY VINES often seem more like animals than plants. Initially they grow slowly, but after a few years they can invade and overwhelm.

For years I’ve encouraged and then controlled several woody vines, and there’s one I try to keep far from the house.

Five species, all natives, take the late summer stage. The leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) are just beginning to turn red on tree trunks, fence posts and old buildings. American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) will soon turn yellow, but its bright orange fruits will be more conspicuous. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) and grape vines (Vitis spp.) lack vibrant fall colors, but are easy to notice as they carpet the canopies of small trees and shrubs.

My interest in woody vines began 20 years ago when I planted several sprigs of trumpet creeper. Its orange, trumpet-shaped flower is a source of nectar, and hummingbirds love it. For four years I nurtured these plants, waiting patiently for the first blossoms. Finally, after five years, they bloomed.

The first five years were devoted primarily to root growth, which eventually allowed it to grow rapidly and aggressively. Without minimal control, trumpet creeper can cover a small building in just a few years. But the nectar-bearing blooms that appear in late June and July are well worth the inconvenience.

Trumpet creeper climbs rapidly on wood, stone, and brick and reaches heights of 30 ft. or more. Its compound leaves range from three to 12 inches and consist of seven to 11 toothed leaflets. Its orange flowers yield four- to eight-inch pods which dry and split to release many small winged seeds.

Virginia creeper doesn’t need an invitation to invade backyards. Dozens of birds love its small dark blue berries, which suggest miniature grapes, and its seeds are spread via bird droppings. Its flowers are small, green and inconspicuous, but its compound leaves typically consist of five leaflets arising from a central point. Occasionally leaves may have only three leaflets making it easy to confuse with poison ivy (“leaflets three, let it be”).

American bittersweet is a popular decoration for fall table settings. In the fall its seeds are inside orange capsules and covered by a bright red fleshy outer skin. Its leaves turn yellow in the fall and are two- to five-inches long with wavy teeth. Bittersweet flowers in May and June, but the blossoms are green, inconspicuous, and dieocious (that is, male and female flowers occur on separate plants).

Grape vines climb high and aggressively over small trees and shrubs. Grasping tendrils extend from the stems to give the vine a firm grip on its anchor. Grape leaves are heart-shaped and can reach nine inches long. Grapes can be sweet or sour depending on the species, but all are favorite foods of dozens of birds and mammals.

The mats of grape vines that cover stands of small trees provide excellent nesting cover for birds such as cardinals, song sparrows and catbirds. Furthermore, grape vine bark sheds in long strips and makes great nesting material.

The final woody vine on this list is also beneficial to wildlife. The itchy rash that results from contact with poison ivy, however, can be a problem. As a boy, I was extremely allergic to poison ivy and missed school several times with my eyes swelled shut. Fortunately many people, including me, lose their sensitivity to the oil produced by poison ivy — urushiol — as they get older. This irritating oil is present in all plant parts all year long, and it can remain active on dead plant parts for up to five years. Burning or weed-whacking poison ivy can release molecules of urushiol into the air.

Poison ivy and its leaves are highly variable. The plant grows as a vine, a shrub or even a small tree, and its leaves can be round, oval or elongate with smooth or toothed margins. Older stems and climbing forms are covered with fine aerial rootlets. Poison ivy is a chameleon, but its compound leaves are shiny and almost always consist of three leaflets. People should avoid poison ivy at all costs, but dozens of birds eat its small white fruits.–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Create A Diverse Eco-system In Your Backyard

Monday, June 28th, 2010

WHAT’S  THE KEY to turning your yard into a refuge for wildlife? Each animal prefers a certain kind of habitat, whether it’s high in the tree canopy or deep in blackberry brambles. By providing a variety of landscape “niches”—different plant heights and topography—you will attract a variety of wildlife.

Allow a section of grass to remain unmowed, serving as a protected corridor for still-active frogs, snakes, mice, and insects.

Leaf litter under trees shelters insects and spiders in winter. They, in turn, attract ground-foraging birds, such as juncos, sparrows, and towhees.

Leave a few cornstalks standing because they offer shelter for foraging birds and field mice.

Trees such as pines, firs, spruces, junipers, and cedars provide important roosting and nesting sites for many birds. Game birds and small animals seek shelter under the trees’ low-hanging branches.

The caterpillars of many skipper butterflies feed on switchgrass and big bluestem, and they overwinter in leaf nests on the plants.

If you have space in your yard, reserve a corner for a thicket-forming plant, such as a snowberry, red-osier dogwood, sprawling rose, or willow. Or plant a hedgerow, an impenetrable living fence of thorny shrubs and vines. It will provide safe travel, shelter, nesting sites, and food, all in one. If you can, include currants, huckleberries, elderberries, hawthorns, roses, black haw, crabapples, blackberries, and native (not invasive Japanese) honeysuckles, and such evergreens as junipers or pines. Put plants close together so they can grow into a tangle.

Dead trees
Always prune for safety, but don’t cut down a dying tree or snag if it does not pose a threat. It may attract cavity-nesting birds and bark beetles that form tunnels in the wood. Drill holes in the trunk and fill them with suet to attract woodpeckers. A sap-producing stump or tree, such as a birch, has its own fan club: sapsuckers, anglewing butterflies, and many small insects, including ants. Hummingbirds that arrive before flowers are in bloom look for holes made in trees by sapsuckers. The hummingbirds eat the insects that have been attracted to the sap in the holes.

Serve a Homegrown Feast
If you have room for a few trees or shrubs that produce berries, your yard will be an avian haven. Try to include chokeberries, hackberries, highbush cranberries, sumacs, inkberries, snowberries, and winterberries. Their fruits soften and become less tart during months of harsh weather. High in carbohydrates, they can be lifesavers when there is nothing else left for birds to eat.

Hawthorn, crabapple and willow produce nectar that feeds native bees and flies that appear in late winter or early spring.

Your fingers may itch to cut back globe thistles, coneflowers, milkweeds, and other spent perennials, but these plants are still useful to a number of insects and birds. Remove just enough seeds to replant next year; then leave the rest for the birds. Seeds that aren’t eaten might be used for nesting material, such as the downy fluff of a milkweed. In your vegetable garden, let broccoli, carrots, fennel, and parsley got to seed for goldfinches and chickadees to eat.

Don’t forget treats

  • High-calorie suet is vital to keeping birds warm in winter. Just wrap a fist-sized chunk of suet into a red plastic mesh onion bag, then hang it on a sturdy limb of a small tree or shrub.
  • Expand the menu by setting out chopped nuts, doughnuts, raisins, and fresh orange and apple halves.
  • Treat creatures to a bit of home cooking by making muffins, bread and other snacks with nutritious additions like sunflower seeds and nuts.
  • Put out cracked corn for squirrels, deer and other wildlife.
    –Organic Gardening

Best Trees for Birds

Hemlocks, hollies, junipers, and pines are also fabulous evergreens for birds.

Balsam Fir Abies balsamea
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, including grosbeaks and robins; chickadees, juncos, jays, nuthatches, and other birds eat the seeds.

Blue Spruce Picea pungens
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, especially grackles and house finches.

Box huckleberry Gaylussacia brachycera
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, especially sparrows, towhees, and thrushes; catbirds, jays, thrushes, and waxwings eat the fruit.

Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Attracts nesting and roosting birds.

Japanese Yew Taxus cuspidata
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, especially doves and chipping sparrows; fruits are eaten by mocking birds, robins, and sparrows.

Norway Spruce Picea abies
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, especially grackles and house finches.

Rhododendrons Rhododendron spp.
Attracts nesting and roosting birds, and hummingbirds when flowering.

(Adapted from Attracting Birds to Your Backyard)

You Can Compensate For Wildlife Habitat Loss

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Dean Fosdick
McLEANSVILLE, NC–Gary Carter is cashing in on the natural look. By converting his 3-acre property into wildlife habitat, he turns camera-carrying visitors into paying customers while beefing up his own photo stocks.

Not a bad return for providing food, water, shelter and a place for a colorful array of birds, butterflies and animals to raise their young. Many are visible year-round from his backyard windows in this fast-growing section of west-central North Carolina.

Carter and his wife, Janice, get advice from a former classmate who suggests the appropriate blooms, fruit and nut trees along with berry-producing shrubs to enrich the many photo setups.

Want images of bluebirds? Aim at that split-rail fence framed by the flowering dogwoods. Hope to record the action of some woodpeckers and nuthatches? Pre-focus on that standing dead oak a few yards away.

Looking for cardinals, jays, Mourning Doves and juncos? Swing your camera toward that ground-level fountain spilling over into a shallow pool. Wild Turkeys? Work from a camouflage photo blind set in the corner of an adjacent woodlot. While you’re at it, keep an eye on the brush piles if its images of rabbits, opossums and Raccoons that you want.

Whatever your landscape theme, design is just as important as the plants you select. And you can make over your yard in whole or part in one year or a dozen.

“It gives me a place to photograph birds because I don’t get to as many locations as others do,” says Carter, a nature photographer. “Farmland and good hunting land is disappearing in the area I’m in,” Carter says. “This plant-enriched layout gives us a chance to view wildlife close by and it gives them a place for shelter.”

There is a growing interest for people to add habitat and compensate for habitat loss in their communities. It’s the first step in environmental stewardship. If anything has changed over the years, it’s the emphasis on choosing native plants over exotics for wildlife habitat.  Native plants require less water, less fertilizer, less pesticides and generally less care.

Connie Toops, a freelance writer, photographer and lecturer (also instructor in WindStar’s Wildlife Habitat Naturalist certification program) from Marshall, NC, uses wildlife as the focus for her lifestyle and career. “This kind of landscaping can give you a great deal of personal enjoyment,” says Toops, who with her husband, Pat, a retired wildlife biologist, offers up her 128-acre mountainside “teaching farm” as a pastoral setting for nature photography and wildlife habitat workshops.

“Pay attention to which flowering plants attract the most butterflies when you’re walking around nurseries and garden centers,” Toops says. “Host plants should have flat tops. That makes them easier to land on. You also should select something with a sweet nectar. Butterflies like nectars even sweeter than what hummingbirds do.”

Stick a few bamboo stakes next to your flowerbeds if you like having dragonflies around. “That gives them a place to sit,” she says.

Water fixtures are magnets to wildlife. Birds like moving water and prefer shallow pools for drinking or bathing. –NC Times

Couple Plays Host To Roadrunner Pair

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Judith K. McGinnis
WICHITA FALLS, TX–It’s a picture Norman Rockwell would have surely illustrated, had he only grown up in Texas.

During the icy days of winter, nearly newlyweds Newman and Bernice Young had their neighbors over for dinner and being affable hosts, the invitation remained open. The neighbors have not yet reciprocated but that’s OK with Newman and Bernice. The mated pair of Greater Roadrunners that live on their acreage west of Wichita Falls think of snakes and lizards as a real delicacy and the Youngs would just as soon have chicken.

Cooked chicken. The roadrunners like it raw.

“The first time I saw the female, she was roosting in the feeder tray over there,” said Bernice, “She’s nested in our neighbor’s shed right now so we don’t see her as often.”

What began as a form of foul weather aid has turned into a unique relationship for the two couples. The Youngs enjoy spending time outdoors and had occasionally noticed the pair of Greater Roadrunners—geococcyx californianus—passing through. Once they began feeding mealworms and uncooked chicken, however, the pair became regular and sometimes persistent visitors.

“If they come and we’re not outside, they’ll hop up on the windowsill and tap the glass for us to feed them,” said Newman, a retired school superintendent. “If we’re out here on the deck or patio they’ll walk right up to us. It’s something to see.”

With such familiarity it didn’t take long for the birds to get names. The female is Beep Beep. The male is Beep Bop. When Newman Young calls him, it’s “Beep Bop baby.”

Despite the reputation Warner Brothers’ famous cartoon Roadrunner had for being elusive, Texas Master Naturalist Terry McKee said that along with Wild Turkeys, roadrunners will return again and again to a place where they’re fed.

“If you feed them they’ll kind of demand it,” she said. “Roadrunners aren’t uncommon in this area. There’s a thriving population in Tanglewood right now, and folks see them around Clinics (of North Texas on east Midwestern Parkway). You just don’t think about them coming around the house.”

“Newman knew there were birds and wildlife around here but he was always taking care of the house, the practical things, you know,” said Bernice of the country home Young built in 1973. “Our family had always gone camping and we enjoyed bird watching. Now he’s just as fascinated as I am.”

“If we’d have been inside on a computer, we’d never have gotten to see this,” Bernice said, watching Newman toss Beep Bop a piece of chicken. “These moments only come once in a while and you need to stop and take them in.”–Times Record News

Zookeepers Must Develop Ways To Communicate With Wildlife

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By April Middleton
SALINA, KS— Baby-Baby the potbellied pig loves to have her tummy rubbed. She’s never said as much in words, but Debbie Zerbe, a volunteer keeper at Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, a zoo near Salina, doesn’t need words to know. And Baby-Baby knows by the tone in Debbie’s voice when Debbie greets her that she is willing to rub.

Pokemon, one of three Sugar Gliders at the Salina-area zoo, was sick not long ago. He couldn’t tell Debbie he was sick, but she knew.

“We knew by the way he was acting,” said Zerbe, who has been a volunteer keeper at the zoo for about 2 1/2 years. “They can’t tell you when something isn’t going well. They have to show it by their behavior, what they are or aren’t eating and by what comes out the other end.”

Tohlo, one of the zoo’s four chimpanzees, missed Nicole Covington when she left for nine days to go to Mexico. He didn’t say so, but he sulked while she was gone. And he celebrated when Covington returned.

“We, as keepers, do find ways to communicate with the animals we care for,” said Vickie Musselman, head keeper at Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, six miles west of Salina.

That communication helps to ensure the animals are cared for not only physically, with food and safe enclosures, but also stimulated intellectually. It also builds strong relationships between the animals and the keepers. Covington said she and partner Christine Ashcroft talk to all the primates they care for.

“They understand about three-fourths of what we say, so I’ll talk to them just like you would a person,” Covington said. When it’s time for them to eat, she’ll holler at the chimpanzees, “Hey boys, it’s supper time.” The animals come running most of the time.

Sometimes, Shudak, the smart but introverted Chimpanzee the keepers sometimes call “the Einstein of the group,” will play games and take his time coming in. Sometimes, none of the animals want to do something they are asked. And make no mistake, the keepers say, everything the keepers ask of the animals are requests, because they can’t be made to do anything.

“Just like you talk to them like you would a person, you also give them space just like you would a person,” Covington said. “Usually, if they don’t come in, they have a good reason.”

Megan Vohs said trust is an important part of the relationship she has with the carnivores, including the cats and bears. Soon, though, Vohs and her partner, Kelsey Nogel, will have to break a bit of that trust. The keepers have been training some of the cats to press a hip against the cage at the keepers’ requests.

The training will allow the keepers to give the animals an injection without having to involve the veterinarian, which can be more stressful to the animals. The training, which has been successful with the carnivores and other animals at the zoo, has been done with a stick.

“We’ll be breaking some of that trust when we give (Charlie, a Cougar) an injection,” Vohs said. “The hope is that we have built up enough trust in the trust bank that it won’t take long to get back to where we were.”

As the keepers work to get the animals to trust them, they in return extend the same trust to the animals.

“It is definitely a relationship just like you would have with a person one that’s built on honesty, trust and love,” Covington said. “You have to listen to them. Everything depends on if we can understand their communication, more so, I think, than if they can understand ours.”

Some of that communication is vocal. The Chimpanzees, for example, have lots of vocalizations. Their keepers can recognize and even understand what some of them mean. They will do a Bronx cheer, also called a raspberry, as an attention-getter or a prelude to a display.

Often, a Bronx cheer from Tohlo is followed by him “tearing across the room and throwing a barrel,” Covington said. “Chimpanzees have 32 different vocalizations just pertaining to food. So not only are they saying ‘We are having fruit,’ but they are saying ‘We are having grapes.'”

The animals at the zoo, though, also communicate in ways that are less vocal and require more attention for the keepers to pick up on.

“Our jobs are to do things like make sure they have fresh food, fresh water and to clean their enclosures, whether that be sweeping or cleaning a lot of poop a lot,” Zerbe said. “It also means getting to know your animals and their behaviors so you can recognize when something is a little off.”

Zerbe said some of the things she watches for from the animals she tends to, which include everything from goats to reptiles to insects, is an animal that is spending time in places it doesn’t normally do, wanting to spend more time indoors than normal and not wanting to get up at all. You can’t get to know those things without becoming attached, she said.

“They do kind of become like your kids in a way,” Zerbe said. “It’s amazing how even a 450-pound Aldabra (a giant tortoise) can become your best friend and wants a massage when you come in,” she said.

But she and the rest of the keepers have lots of best friends. Most won’t profess a favorite animal, for fear that the others would hear. But, Covington said, just like you would with humans, there are certain animals you relate to more.

“Tohlo (the chimp) and I always say our eyes met across a crowded enclosure,” she said. “We have a very close relationship. He’s my guy.”

Her partner, Christine Ashcroft, tends to be closest to Ollie, the child of the zoo’s four chimpanzees. Susan Russell, the camel keeper at the zoo, said she doesn’t have favorites, either.

“They all have their own personality, and I love them each for what makes them unique.”–Fort Mill Times

Couple Has Difficult Time Leaving Wildlife

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Karla S.

I HAVE LIVED in the same house now for about 15 years, and my husband and I are getting ready to move away next year.

We’ll be accomplishing a long-anticipated dream of moving to Maine, but there are quite a few things I’ll miss about this place, and most of them have four legs or wear feathers.  As we’ve told our prospective house buyers, nearly everything here has a name, and many of them have a story to go with it.

When we first moved here, we didn’t see any birds or wildlife at all.  I started gardening our second year here, and I began to notice a few birds, a lizard, and the occasional preying mantis.  I decided to work my garden as naturally as possible hoping not to kill the few bits of wildlife I’d manage to find.

After a couple years had passed, they began to come around.  I saw woodpeckers of all shapes and sizes, flocks of goldfinches bathing in the waterfall and small pond I’d created, and my favorite–the titmice who insisted on building their nest in the “L” of a downspout, even though the wind rushed through there and blew all the babies out.

All of a sudden, there were more lizards, a whole battalion of chameleons around the porch.  The best day ever was when the hummingbird feeder finally attracted a crowd.  It used to hang right outside my window and every day I was treated to the aerial acrobatics of four male hummingbirds each trying to defend the feeder against the interlopers.  What a show.

Time passed, and in the way things seem to happen here, the crowd grew.  We had two does that would circle the property daily, and they’d have their fawns here each spring.  A big flock of crows moved in down the hill.  I know some people don’t like them, but there were a pair which would walk up the driveway together each day.  They’d come up to the house, turn around and go back, just like two friends on a daily walk.

And me, in the middle of it all…well, I’d go about my business, but I always made it a point to say hello to any I saw, and to leave treats for them, especially at Christmas.  After a while they began to know me, and to expect me at certain times.  I think they began to understand that I was in charge of the bird feeders as well.

Toward the end of our stay here, the relationship has grown.  Our big tomcat got curious about the deer, and made friends with one of the fawns.  It was amazing to see the mother waiting down the driveway, the fawn standing up closer staring at the house, and my old boy tearing down there to join them.  I watched them stroll slowly through the woods.  He’s gone now, but the descendents of the fawn continue to circle the property daily.

The lizards are really everywhere now, including tiny new ones wobbly with their oversized heads.  I’ve named them all Louie, except for a very large one who has visited my porch year after year.  He’s Mr. Louis.  The birds clearly understand who I am and that my purpose in life is to take care of the bird feeders.  When the seed runs out,  I can almost hear them out there talking.  “Go tell the lady it’s empty.”  “YOU go tell the lady it’s empty!”  In the end, it’s always a chickadee who comes to my office window to catch my attention.  Are they the most industrious, or is it that they’re lowest in the pecking order?

The hummingbirds are the best at giving me orders.  I’d gotten used to having one hover at the window, looking for me when their feeder was dry, but I didn’t know they considered me responsible to fix every possible problem they might have.  I was summoned outside for a refill once, only to find that this was not the problem.  One of the lizards had climbed up onto the feeder and was happily drinking the nectar.  The hummingbirds decided this was something I could help them with, I guess.

I didn’t mean to ramble on for so long, but you store up a lot of memories over 15 years in a place like this.  As I’ve been sorting through all our things and doing some packing, I’ve found many photos of happy times in this place, and decided I’d eventually try to scrapbook the great years we’ve spent here.  The only problem is that, while I have many photos of family and friends, pets, and happy holidays, I have very few of our wild friends.  Those moments just seemed to happen so spontaneously and quickly, it wasn’t possible.  It would be very nice to win the Duncraft essay contest and have the BirdCam at our new place, so I could document our new wildlife adventures, but the most important thing I’d do is to capture some last photos of the gang here before we have to leave in the spring.  There will be a big hole in the memory book without them.

Karla S.
Ball Grand, GA
Co-winner of Duncraft’s Essay Contest

Corridors Help Animals Flee From Climate Change

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Brandon Keim
TO HELP ANIMALS survive climate change, setting aside nature reserves isn’t enough: to flee habitats made inhospitable by shifting climes, they also need “corridors” between wilderness areas.

Groups around the world are working to establish these wildlife highways, with varying degrees of success. In North America, the Wildlands Project is pushing for a huge “Yellowstone-to-Yukon” wildlife corridor. In Central America, conservationists are slowly and sporadically working on the Meso-American Biological Corridor.

The dream: A monkey should be able to go up a tree in Panama and not have to climb down until it reaches Mexico. The grand vision of the IUCN is an uninterrupted connection between Argentina and Alaska along the hemisphere’s western mountain ranges.

The corridor idea is relatively new: conservationists once thought that preserves were enough. But groups of animals isolated from their species become genetically homogeneous, and don’t develop the diversity necessary to adapt to threats — especially that of climate change.

Corridors, say scientists, allow genes to mix–and beyond being a good idea environmentally, these sound like fun for people. Monkeys aren’t the only creatures that might like to follow the trees from Panama to Mexico.

Copperhead Bites Man

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Andrea Eilenberger POHATCONG TWP, NJ–Two weeks ago, Terry Garvey stood in his backyard just before 11 p.m. He was holding on to an ice scraper that he used to pin down the head of a long, brown and black-spotted snake. He bent down slightly, just enough to take a closer look at the wriggling reptile, but it was too far. The snake’s head flicked up and its fangs sunk into Garvey’s left index finger. “It had just enough room to strike out and bite me,” he said. The encounter with the venomous Copperhead landed Garvey, 63, in the hospital for three days. He spent two days in the intensive care unit as physicians monitored his condition. It also has New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife officials monitoring other Copperheads on and around the Warren Glen property. The home is near the now-closed FiberMark paper plant. Garvey’s son Thomas has caught several Copperheads in recent weeks on the property, which is surrounded by wooded areas. He caught three the night his father was bitten and another three the next night. Some of them appear to be slithering out of a brush pile about 100 yards from the property, Terry Garvey said. Linda Garvey, Terry’s wife, said state officials are considering the possibility female Copperheads are nesting near the property and might have laid eggs. State officials captured and marked several Copperheads before moving them farther off the property, she said. Garvey said his fingertip still feels numb and heavy, but doctors say it will return to normal over time. After he was bitten, Garvey’s hand started bleeding profusely. His arm, from his fingertip to just below his shoulder, started to swell. “My whole hand swelled up like a softball,” he said. He was taken to Warren Hospital where doctors told the family the hospital didn’t have the anti-venom serum he needed. Linda Garvey sat frightened and frustrated in the hospital as doctors scrambled to locate the serum. Her husband’s blood pressure was spiking and he started sweating profusely, she said. “I couldn’t believe it,” Linda Garvey said. “I thought, here there are six or seven Copperheads in my backyard and here we are.” He was then taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill, the nearest hospital carrying the serum. Garvey said it was about three hours before he was given the medicine. The Garveys keep a close eye on the ground when they walk in and out of their home, cautious to avoid the venomous snake. They warn their neighbors, especially those with small children, to do the same. “They’re getting too close,” Linda Garvey said. –Express-Times

Conservation By the Numbers Part 2

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Part 2 of 2

By Scott Shalaway
RECENTLY I wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 National Survey of
Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation concluded that 87.5 million American anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers spent more than $122 billion in 2006 on wildlife-related recreation.

The total number of participants, 113.6 million, exceeded the number of anglers, hunters and watchers because there is a fair amount of crossover among the various groups of wildlife enthusiasts.For example, many anglers hunt and vice versa; 52 percent of 30 million anglers also call themselves “watchers,” and 57 percent of 12.5 million hunters also watch. Conversely, of the 71.1 million watchers, 22 percent also enjoy fishing and 10 percent hunt.

A close examination of the 69 tables and dozens of charts and graphs in the survey reveals a great deal about all three groups:

ANGLERS: Of the 30 million anglers 75 percent are male, 62 percent are 35 to 64 years
old, and 52 percent have had some post-secondary education.

Fishing is popular with people from all economic walks of life: 42 percent have annual household incomes under $30,000; 37 percent have household incomes above $75,000. Anglers spent $42.1 billion, or about $1,407 per person in 2006. Trip-related expenses accounted for 42 percent of the cost of fishing; equipment accounted for 44 percent. The remaining 14 percent included  purchases of licenses, stamps, books, magazines, membership dues and contributions to organizations.

The number of anglers targeting various species varied widely. Freshwater anglers (85.6 percent) targeted largemouth and smallmouth bass (10 million anglers), followed by panfish (7.5 million anglers), catfish (7 million) and trout (6.8 million). Saltwater favorites were flounder and halibut (2.1 million anglers), r ed drum (1.8 million), weak fish (1.5 million) and striped bass (1.4 million).

HUNTERS: Of the 12.5 million hunters 91 percent are male, 63 percent are 35 to 64 years old, and 47 percent have had some post-secondary education. Hunting equipment is relatively expensive, so only 15 percent of hunters have household incomes under $30,000.

Hunters spent $22.9 billion, or about $1,832 per person. Travel-related expenses accounted for 29 percent of hunting costs; equipment accounted for 47 percent. The remaining 24 percent included purchases of licenses, stamps, books, magazines, membership dues, and contributions to organizations.

A large majority of hunters (85.6 percent) pursue big game species, mostly deer; 38.4 percent hunt rabbits, squirrels and upland game birds; and just 18.4 percent hunt migratory birds including doves and waterfowl.

WATCHERS: In 2006, 71.1 million wildlife watchers (that’s nearly a third of the U.S. population age 16 years and older) spent $45.7 billion. That’s about $643 per person.Watching is by far the most popular form of wildlife-associated recreation for several reasons:.

• It’s inexpensive.
A good pair of binoculars and a few field guides are all that’s really needed.

Watchers can watch anywhere at anytime. And it’s most often done in the backyard.

• It doesn’t involve killing the resource, which many watchers find objectionable.

For these reasons, watching appeals to a broader segment of society. Fifty-four percent are female, 60 percent have had some post-secondary education, and all age groups are approximately evenly represented. Seventeen percent of watchers are 16 to 34 years old; 20 percent are 35 to 44, 24 percent are 45 to 54, 19 percent are 55 to 64, and 20 percent are 65 and older.

Not surprisingly, most watchers (67 percent) are birders, and 95.3 percent concentrate their activities around the home. Most watchers (75 percent) feed wild birds in the backyard, and 27 percent feed other wildlife as well.

Travel-related costs to watch wildlife totaled $12.8 billion, and equipment costs came to $32.7 billion. Equipment expenses included $2.7 billion for commercially packaged wild bird food, $1.2 billion for other types of wildlife food, $3.7 billion for photographic equipment, $790 million for feeders, nest boxes and bird baths, $656 million for optics, and the balance for other types of gear, books, magazines, memberships and contributions.

If you fish, hunt, and/or watch wildlife, you’re a part of this snapshot of wildlife-related recreation in 2006. Does it ring true? –Pittsburgh Post Gazette