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A Talk on the Wild Side.

California Condor Egg Hatches on Camera


Hey, eagle chicks, make way for a California condor!

A California condor egg hatched in the wild Monday, and for the first time in history, anyone with an Internet connection can watch it. And a live streaming video from a cliffside nest at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California, will capture the young condor's journey to adulthood.

Interested? Condor biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Santa Barbara Zoo will answer questions about the condor nest from the public during an online livestream video chat hosted by Cornell Lab of Ornithology on April 14 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET. 

“We’re eager and excited to not only be able to share this experience with the world, but also open up the opportunity for more people to learn about California condors, what makes them such remarkable birds, and draw attention to the very real threats they face in the wild,” says Joseph Brandt, one of our condor biologists.

The egg was incubated as part of the California Condor Recovery Program’s captive breeding effort at Los Angeles Zoo and replaced the California condor #111 and California condor #509 pair’s wild-laid egg that went missing in March. Biologists quickly mobilized to replace the missing egg with a dummy egg to ensure the male and female continued to incubate at the nest. On April 2, the captive-bred egg was placed into the nest. The soon-to-be condor parents, 22-year-old female condor, California condor #111 and her seven-year-old mate, California condor #509, have been courting since fall of 2014, and hatched their first wild chick together in April 2015. Sadly, the pair’s first chick died from lead poisoning, a harsh reality of the man-made threat condors continue to face in the wild.  

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Washington Post coverage

Great Horned Owls Weathering the Storm

great horned owlPhoto by Courtney Celley/USFWS

Public Affairs Specialists Tina Shaw and Courtney Celley, from our Midwest Region, show us an urban great horned owl nest that has overcome the odds!

Even though we may not see them often, great horned owls are quite common across nearly all of North America and much of South America. These owls can be found in remote forests, but they can also thrive in urban areas and city parks. We recently discovered a nest in a busy Minneapolis park, and it turns out there’s quite a backstory.

In early March, a storm had knocked down the nest and chicks were discovered on the ground. This is a common occurrence for great horned owls because they reuse nests built by other species and don’t make any improvements before moving in.

As with most species, great horned owl parents will continue to care for their young on the ground, feeding them and protecting them as much as they can. Normally, the best thing you can do if you find baby birds on the ground is to not interfere with Mother Nature; she will take care of them. But because this nest was in a busy park filled with people and domestic animals, staff at the University of Minnesota Raptor Center decided to assist.

The first step to protecting these young owls was to create a sturdy nest structure that could withstand strong storms. The nest also had to be big enough to provide enough room for the quickly growing owlets. Volunteers trained in nest creation assisted by building a new, reinforced platform. Next, the platform was placed high in a large white pine to protect the owls from the potential dangers of living in such a high traffic area. The tree provides cover, allowing people passing by to view the owls from a safe and respectable distance.

Today, the owlets seem to be doing quite well, and mom has been keeping a close eye on them. They’ve been practicing flapping and strengthening their wings. Soon enough, these young owls will be venturing out onto nearby branches as they start to explore the world just outside their nest. Thanks to the Raptor Center for making this nest a success!

Note: The location of this nest is no secret to the local community. On a nice day, it’s hard to miss the crowds watching these young owls through binoculars and camera lenses. This is a great opportunity for people of all ages to get interested in birding and enjoy nature. Since these owls draw such a crowd, and have already experienced several traumas, we’ve decided not to publish the location of this nest. If you live in Minneapolis, get out to your local parks and explore. Walk or bike the paths, and enjoy the fresh air. You just might stumble upon this nest!

If you’re specifically looking for birding opportunities, we recommend visiting the Bloomington Visitor Center at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Here you’ll have the opportunity to see many different bird species and learn about local wildlife. Bald eagles and great horned owls have been spotted nesting in the area in recent years, so you could even discover a nest. The refuge is free and can be easily accessed by public transportation.

The Geese are Coming! The Geese are Coming!

geese
Photo by Keith Frankki/USFWS


Public Affairs Specialist
Ryan Moehring and Biologist Kristine Askerooth, both in our Mountain-Prairie Region, tell us about an amazing event that happened recently at Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge in southeast North Dakota. 

Warm spring temperatures may not have sprung everywhere just yet, but spring is definitely springing.

Just ask the geese. 

More than 750,000 of these migratory birds began arriving at Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge in southeast North Dakota on March 10. The flock consisted primarily of snow geese, although some blue geese were sprinkled in.  

The birds stayed on Lake Tewaukon for several days, enjoying the only open water in the area. As other lakes and ponds in the area became free of ice, the numbers at Tewaukon dropped -- some days there were 300,000, other days just 50,000. (Editor’s note: Even 50,000 birds in one area seems pretty stunning to me.)

geese
Photo by Keith Frankki/USFWS

The birds visited Tewaukon on their way to their Arctic breeding grounds.

Hundreds of people flocked (pun intended) to the refuge to witness this spectacular wildlife show! The sound of that many geese is deafening, and it is impossible to imagine unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. Anglers standing side-by-side on the shore told our refuge staff that when the geese would take off or land in large numbers it was impossible to hear each other speak.

This year’s count is the second highest number of snow geese ever recorded on Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge. The highest count occurred in the spring of 1992 when once again Lake Tewaukon was the only open water around and more than 800,000 snow geese piled into the open water.

Filling Urban Minds with a Sense of Wonder

 Director Dan Ashe and Refuge Chief Cynthia Martinez with SCA interns
Director Dan Ashe and Refuge Chief Cynthia Martinez with Student Conservation Association interns at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Pennsylvania. Photo by USFWS | More Photos


It has been a busy few weeks for our Urban Wildlife Conservation Program.

Valle de Oro Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White with students in the Isleta Pueblo Language Program.
Valle de Oro Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White with students in the Isleta Pueblo Language Program. Photo by USFWS | More Photos


Last week, we  learned that Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had won $1 million in additional annual funding to engage urban communities and youth in conservation and outdoor recreation.

Today, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, became our latest “Million Dollar Refuge.”

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The Stories Told by Manatee Scars

Red Hot Poker the ManateeEach scar on a manatee tells a story, and enabled a USGS biologist to identify this individual manatee as a lady nicknamed "Red Hot Poker." Photo by Joyce Kleen, USFWS.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex’s Facebook page recently received a lot 
of interest when they posted a story of a female manatee completely covered in scars. The 
manatee known as “Red Hot Poker” has a history of visiting Crystal River dating back to 
1979! Cathy Beck is a wildlife biologist at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who was able 
to identify Red Hot Poker from her scars. This method of scar cataloging has been used 
for over three decades to estimate adult manatee survival and reproductive rates, and to 
study their life history.

We caught up with Cathy to learn more. 

How does scar cataloging help you keep track of manatees?
We’re able to identify some manatees by the scars and mutilations they've acquired 
during their lives, primarily from non-lethal encounters with boats. We use these unique 
features to identify and then "follow" these manatees through resightings using 
photographic documentation. Each photographic record includes date, location, and 
other details of the sighting, which allows us to document the manatee's habitat use and 
preference of a specific site, movements, reproductive status, etc. The collective records 
of these individual manatees (our sample from the population) allow us to estimate 
annual survival and reproduction for the Florida manatee population.  
 
What can we learn from their scars?
In addition to enabling individual identification, we sometimes can determine when, 
where, and how a manatee acquired its scars. For example, with fresh scars we can 
sometimes determine if it was hit by a boat, and if so, what part of the boat - propeller or 
hull, or type of boat. Manatees also may be scarred after exposure to very cold 
temperatures, and these features become evident during cold winters.

Scars on Red Hot Poker the ManateeManatees live an average of 40 years in the wild, making this lady very old. From her scars it would seem Red Hot Poker is certainly a survivor. Photo by Joyce Kleen, USFWS.

Do we know why the "Red Hot Poker Manatee" has so many scars?
Her age is most likely a major factor, but her numerous scars may also be due to her use 
of habitats that vary by season. During summer, manatees that have wintered at Crystal 
River move out onto the sea grass beds along the Gulf of Mexico. They may encounter 
more boat traffic during the summer, and are using areas that do not have boat speed 
regulations. Manatees often continue to acquire new features throughout their lives, i.e., 
they are repeatedly struck by boats leaving a permanent feature that we are able to use for 
identification.    
 
What else do we know about her life?
CR125, nicknamed Red Hot Poker, was first documented in November 1979 at Crystal 
River. She is not our oldest known, and still living, manatee, but she is one of the earliest 
manatees that we photo-documented. We know that she is over 36-years-old (she was an 
adult in 1979), and has had many encounters with boats through the years. We have 
documented CR125 at Crystal River nearly every winter since her first sighting in 1979. In fact, unlike some other manatees, she has never been sighted elsewhere! She's also 
been documented with 11 calves from 1981-2010.  

Do the majority of manatees have scars? 
By the time they are adults, many, maybe most, manatees have at least one permanent 
identifying mark, primarily a scar or mutilation from being hit by a boat. In clear waters 
like Crystal River, the evidence of repeated strikes is especially apparent.

Is this a threat to their health??
It depends on the severity of the boat encounter. Since many manatees have a large 
number of scars from different encounters, it appears that some individuals are okay, but 
others may not be. We currently are analyzing the data in an effort to determine if 
acquisition of these features does (or doesn't) have an affect on long-term survival and/or 
reproduction.

 

-- Katherine Taylor, Digital Content Specialist, Southeast Region

5 Fascinating Facts about the Desert Tortoise

Betsy Painter, working in our Ecological Services Program, tells us about desert tortoises.

 Desert tortoise Photo by Beth Jackson/USFWS

From March 21 to April 4, we are highlighting the western state of Utah and its geographical charm and the impressive restoration efforts going on there in the field, like the Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project in the City of West Jordan. Now we put a spotlight on an animal in Utah listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Natural totem pole-shaped rock spires, called hoodoos, and crimson-colored canyons are easily spotted throughout the deserts of Utah, while a smaller, mobile natural wonder exists that is less likely to be seen—the desert tortoise. Here are five fascinating facts to share with friends and family to help raise awareness for this federally threatened animal: 

 Desert tortoise Photo by Beth Jackson/USFWS

1. The desert tortoise is one of the most elusive inhabitants of Western deserts, spending up to 95 percent of its life underground. It’s not that it’s shy; it just prefers escaping the intense heat of summer and cold of winter.

 Desert tortoise Photo by Beth Jackson/USFWS 

2. This desert reptile uses its strong limbs and claws to dig underground burrows three to six feet deep, and there it camps out for most of its days. The majority of desert visitors will not see a tortoise. But if you plan a trip for early spring, and are patient, Mother Nature may grant you a rare sighting.

 Desert tortoise Photo by Roy C. Averill-Murray/USFWS 

3. The desert tortoise can completely withdraw its head and limbs within its shell, leaving only horny scales visible to predators. Male tortoises have large curved gular horns that protrude from their lower shells underneath their neck and head. They use these horns to combat other males, and for butting and nudging females during courtship —an  unconventional way to pursue a romantic interest, but it works! 

 Desert tortoise Photo by Roy C. Averill-Murray/USFWS 

4. Have you ever wondered what sound a tortoise makes? Its vocal ranges vary with a multitude of sounds, including hisses, grunts, pops, whoops, huhs, echs, bips, etc. These little desert rangers have a lot to say, and when “words” fail, head bobbing speaks loud and clear as a warning for combative behavior. 

 Desert tortoise Photo by Roy C. Averill-Murray/USFWS 

5. Finally, the desert tortoise has a large bladder capable of storing more than 40 percent of its body weight in water, urea, uric acid and nitrogenous wastes. A common defensive behavior when molested or handled is to empty the bladder, leaving the tortoise at a considerable disadvantage during dry periods. We don’t blame the little guys! Sometimes fear’s reflexes are unstoppable. It’s best not to handle a desert tortoise if you are fortunate enough to encounter one in the wild.

 Desert tortoise Photo by Roy C. Averill-Murray/USFWS

Where in the World is the Wintering Piping Plover? Part II

Great Lakes piping plover
The Great Lakes piping plover Of,RL:X,b seen at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan in 2015. She was spotted on the northern coast of Cuba in early 2016. Photo by Alice Van Zoeren

For the first time ever, a rare Great Lakes piping plover has been spotted spending the winter in Cuba. Typically Great Lakes piping plovers winter in tidal inlets along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, though a handful have been reported wintering in the Bahamas and also for the first time ever, in Cancun, Mexico, this winter.

HERstory: Tracy Diver

 Tracy Diver
Tracy Diver with a Razorback sucker. Photo by Eliza Gilbert/USFWS

March is Women’s History Month. We would like to recognize women in our ranks conserving our natural resources in the Fish and Wildlife Service. See others at www.flickr.com/groups/womeninscience/pool/.

A self-described “desert rat,” Tracy Diver is a fish biologist at the Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center (SNARRC) in Dexter, New Mexico.  Her specialty is genetics and she is fully immersed in research that she finds quite gratifying.

“My work with rare desert fishes is challenging and invigorating, and I am fortunate to work with so many people who wish to conserve our natural world,” says Diver. “Nearly every day is a good work day for me.”

Her work day may involve microscopes and statistical analyses; all with an eye to learn more about imperiled fishes found in the Southwest. She’s researched the genetic diversity of two small rare minnows, the Guzmán beautiful shiner and Yaqui beautiful shiner; studied the relationship of Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail to growth rates; and will soon research the reproductive ecology of humpback chub.

The most influential people in Diver’s life were her parents, both scientists. Her mother’s success in horticulture stands as an inspiration and a strong example to never give up. And toward that end, Diver says this for young women: “Pursue a career you are passionate about—and never give up on your goals.”

Learn more about the SNARRC here. www.fws.gov/southwest/fisheries/dexter/research.html

 

Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project: A Natural Work of Heart

 American beaver on a Jordan River wetland pond.  Credit: Karri Smith, Jordan River Migratory Bird Reserve
American beaver on a Jordan River wetland pond. Photo by Karri Smith/Jordan River Migratory Bird Reserve


Imagine you have taken a break from your busy work or school day in your city life to go for a stroll in a nearby natural landscape for fresh air. The city lights are gone and the foggy skies have cleared, and you’re stopped in your path by the sight of the Big Dipper over a willow tree or a kingfisher diving into a river and resurfacing with a fish in its beak. These kinds of moments bring wonder and appreciation for the natural world and refresh people for their important everyday work in the city.

Now imagine that this flourishing natural park space was once in rough shape from floods, pollution, erosion and non-native plant species invading the area, and you and your fellow community members were a part of volunteer efforts to commence the restoration of the habitat. This is the story of the Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project in Utah. It is taking the combined efforts of the Service’s Utah Field Office, federal and state agencies, the City of West Jordan, and community volunteers to bring vegetation and enhanced wildlife habitat out of dirt and a run-down environment for the satisfaction and enjoyment of the people and their wildlife neighbors. Find out how people came together to kick off this ambitious restoration project and how they will have the help of an unexpected partner—the American beaver: http://1.usa.gov/1Pnbd3A.

Rocket Scientist and Bear River Volunteer Bob Ebeling Dies

 Bob Ebeling
Al Trout and Bob Ebeling repair a water structure.

Kathi Stopher, the visitor services manager at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, remembers a wonderful member of the Bear River family who passed away March 21.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge has lost a great friend with Bob Ebeling's passing.  His legacy spans the generations: As a rocket booster engineer, conservationist, community organizer, fundraiser, and refuge Friend and volunteer for more than 27 years, Robert Venon Ebeling began a second career when walked into the office of Bear River Refuge Manager Al Trout and announced that “he was here to help" restore the 50 miles of dikes and 50 water-control structures that had been lost to the Great Salt Lake flooding, circa 1983-89. 

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