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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Rare Bird Sighting at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

You’re looking at what may prove to be the rarest bird seen this year on Sanibel Island, Florida. The masked booby is a large, 32-inch, sea bird which is found in the Pacific Ocean and in offshore waters of the Caribbean. This masked booby was seen and photographed by France Paulsen on J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, this past week. 

Masked Booby
Masked Booby by France Paulsen

The bird was seen on the beach about a half mile west of the Tarpon Bay beach access on Sanibel Island. The masked booby is rarely spotted in the U.S (with a few breeding in Dry Tortugas, Florida) but can be spotted at sea off the Atlantic states. 

Masked Booby - Spotted at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Masked Booby by France Paulsen

Many are speculating that rough weather and the recent storms are what's causing some rare birds like this one to visit the refuge. While this may be true, no matter the season there is always something to watch and observe. 

"Even though it's hot here at the refuge, there's always something to see. Try to plan your visit around low tide for optimal wildlife viewing. Even though the bird population is diminished comparative to their numbers in the winter, we are seeing manatees mating and dolphins jumping!"

 --Toni Westland, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Ranger

Read more about the masked booby sighting here by France Paulsen. 

Three Cheers for the Amazing Asian Vulture

 Asian vulture
Vultures gather for a meal. Photo by Himalayan Nature



In 2012, we funded the establishment of a vulture restaurant in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in Nepal. 

Vulture restaurants don’t serve vulture, they serve carcasses to vultures, and they are an important way to help recover vultures – in Asia, IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, classifies four species as Critically Endangered. 

This is largely due to a drug given to livestock.

 In Asian countries, people give diclofenac, a drug similar to aspirin or ibuprofen, to livestock to ease arthritic pain.

But vultures are hyper-sensitive to diclofenac. When they feed on livestock carcasses that had received the drug when they were alive, vultures die. And vulture population numbers have tumbled drastically since the drug came into use. 

IUCN says that the white-rumped vulture was at one time called “possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world,” adding that its overall population “almost certainly numbered several million individuals.” But since the mid-1990s, IUCN says, “it has suffered a catastrophic decline (over 99%) across the Indian subcontinent,” and IUCN puts the total population now at less than 15,000.

Similar declines have also hit the long-billed vulture, the slender-billed vulture and the red-headed vulture.

There is good news. Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan have passed laws to eliminate veterinary use of diclofenac, although it remains easily available in many areas, and diclofenac meant for humans is often given to animals.

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Another Century of Limitless Opportunities

We are dedicated to helping develop a new generation of conservation professionals – one that reflects the increasing diversity of America itself. And our partnership with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., will help us engage more Americans in a meaningful way. Dr. Mario Brown, International Coordinator of Sigma Beta Clubs, the fraternity’s youth auxiliary, talked about the partnership, which turned 1 in April, in the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News.

tree planting

The Service and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., plant trees to commemorate their partnership at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans. Photo by Tom MacKenzie/USFWS

On May 19, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took an important step in our partnership to engage urban youth in outdoor recreation and STEM education, that is, learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  

We established a local relationship at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans that will stand as the model for increasing our broader partnership efforts.

With a model in place, let’s now challenge ourselves to  put it to good use.

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Reintroduction of Florida Semaphore Cactus to Florida Keys

semaphore cactus

David Bender is the type of guy who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty. In fact, he wants to—as long as plants are involved, particularly those that are threatened or endangered.

In May 2014, Bender, a botanist with our South Florida Ecological Services Office, traveled to Crocodile Lake and Key Deer National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys with co-workers Anthony Sowers and Brian Powell to plant 350 Florida semaphore cacti.

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What a Honeymoon!

 Ceciliz and Salvadori
Ceciliz and Salvadori

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska shared an awesome photo and story on their Facebook page recently. This is Ceciliz and Salvadori from Argentina. They are on their honeymoon.

This young couple drove their car from Argentina! They're touring Alaska and then plan to drive back to Argentina.

That’s a lot of driving. But what an amazing trip!

Where are You in the Food Chain?

Predator or Prey

Some of our folks developed a fun Buzzfeed quiz to see where you stand.

Take the Quiz

Transportation Planning Program Helps Keep Things Running

Johnson Canyon Mitigation site
California goldfields at the Johnson Canyon mitigation site. Photo by Sally Brown/USFWS

We work hard with partners to identify ways to avoid impacts to sensitive habitats and species. When damage can’t be avoided, conservation of another area can sometimes offset the impacts. Biologists with our Transportation Planning Program work with state Departments of Transportation and other agencies to make sure the nation’s roads work for people as well as the environment.

At the Johnson Canyon mitigation site on Otay Mesa in California, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) restored and conserved more than 50 acres of predominantly vernal pool habitat to offset impacts resulting from the construction of State Route 125 in San Diego. 

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The Awesome Urban Wildlife Conservation Program

 Service biologist Brian Collins
Service biologist Brian Collins counts the number of elegant tern eggs at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo by Ian Shire


Outside Online recently called our Urban Wildlife Conservation Program “the Best Outdoor Initiative You’ve Never Heard Of.” We agree it is awesome! The magazine also prepared a photo gallery to show some of these urban refuges and the amazing opportunities they offer.

Take a look

Weather Channel Highlights Refuges

 Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

As you might expect, National Wildlife Refuges pop up frequently in the Weather Channel’s photo gallery of “Incredible Places to See Wildlife in Every State.”

Take a look

Students Get Muddy For Rhode Island Marsh Restoration

 Zoe Clougher
Zoe Clougher, of Rogers High School, lends a hand in strengthening Sachuest marsh through the spartina grass plug planting project. Credit: Scott Dickison

This summer, a small group of high school students strengthened the Sachuest salt marsh in Rhode Island, planting more than 175 native grass plugs along the wetlands of the Maidford River. This Hurricane Sandy funded resilience project at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, in partnership with Save the Bay, aims to expand, cover and recolonize an area on the marsh that has been bare since the mid 2000s.

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