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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Reasons to Celebrate: The Refuge System's 109th Birthday

How do you mark a 109th birthday?  

In style.  

All the more so when the honoree is an American icon, respected the world-over as a conservation force and national treasure.   

Ducks in Flight, ChincoteagueDucks take off at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: Steve Hillebrand

The birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 14, 1903, ensured that our children and our children’s children will inherit an America that still has natural spaces and the wild creatures.


Photo Tour: Refuge Skies

What do we miss when we're looking down?  This photo tour is here to answer that question.  Enjoy these views of refuge skies, and if you'd like to see even more, head over to Flickr for the full set!

Snow Geese in FlightSnow geese and Ross' geese in flight at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California.  Photo: USFWS


Love All Around: Nature's Courtship Rituals

It’s just about Valentine’s Day! Looking to show your sweetie just how much you love him or her? Take a cue from wildlife, who often put on fascinating shows species put on to attract a mate. These colorful, noisy rituals can be seen firsthand at many national wildlife refuges.

Take the male Attwater’s praire chicken. He’ll dance a jig and make a “booming” sound by filling orange air sacks on the sides of his neck. The spectacle can be seen in March and April at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Its annual festival is April 8-9.

If you want some help converting the chicken's moves to human form, wildlife biologist Laurie Gonzales can help:

Or maybe you aren't a prairie chicken at heart. To the north, you can find the American woodcock, whose night “sky dance” can be seen in places like Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont or Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. The dance, which renowned author and conservationist Aldo Leopold loved, begins with a series of sharp “peent” sounds, until the bird suddenly flies up, twittering, in a widening spiral, floats briefly, and dives zigzag back to earth. 

Maybe you’re more of a greater sage-grouse. Every year, they gather in March and April on leks, or breeding grounds, where males gather to strut their stuff hoping to attract the attention of females.  The early-morning ritual involves popping and bubbling noises that can be heard hundreds of yards away. With their pointed tail feathers erect, and their white breast feathers accentuated by air sacs, they create a spectacular mating display.

Or how about the grey tree frog that inflates its vocal pouch to balloon-like proportions and sounds a melodic trill? University of Missouri researchers discovered the male can calibrate his love song to attract a mate with matching chromosomes! If you’re hoping to hear the song, head to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, or Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas in early April.

And then there are the horseshoe crabs, which come ashore in the thousands to spawn in May and June. The male horseshoe crab crowds along the water line, vying for arriving females. When the time is right, he will grab onto a mate and ride ashore. The female will dig a hole in the sand to deposit her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. Some great spots to check this out: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Horseshoe Crabs MatingMispillion Harbor, Deleware Photo: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Looking Back: William L. Finley

Dramatic photography, captivating lectures, memorable movie scripts and magazine articles – William L. Finley used them all to convince the American public that it was time to give birds a home of their own.

Finley/Bohlman Slide of PelicansAn American White Pelican just before take-off at its nest site in Malheur Lake, 1908. Handpainted glass slide by Finley and Bohlman.


Wisdom, Dr. Sylvia Earle, And a New Addition to Midway Atoll

In December, we brought you the story of Wisdom.  She's the over 60 year-old Laysan Abatross that returned to Midway Atoll to incubate an egg.

Albatross at MidwayA Laysan Albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Photo:Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

But Wisdom's return isn't the only cool thing happening at Midway these days.  Dr. Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of NOAA, recently visted and met Wisdom, and also got to meet a very special newly-hatched chick.


Photo Tour: Relating to Snow

Each week, the National Wildlife Refuge System puts together a slideshow on flickr for people to see some amazing shots of wildlife from across the country.  Check it out here!

Can you guess what all these images have in common?  

Okay, it's not that hard if you read the blog title.  They all have to do with snow - from snowfalls to animals with "snow" in their names!

What's your favorite thing related to snow? 

Snowy OwlThis snowy owl sits adjacent to Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon.  Photo: Roy W. Lowe/USFWS


Ring in 2012 with these Babies!

The New Year Baby has been featured in many cartoons over the course of our history, symbolizing the birth of a new year.  It's a time for new beginnings, resolutions, and an attitude of 'out with the old and in with the new.'  

At Open Spaces, we want to take part in the tradition with a nature twist.  We couldn't think of a better way to ring in 2012 than with these adorable baby animals.

And when it comes to resolutions, let us all resolve in 2012 to do all we can to protect baby animals everywhere and the wild places they call home.

Polar Bear Cubs

Do you know the names for baby animals?  Many of them are easy to guess, like these polar bears, which are called cubs.  See how well you do with the rest!


Looking Back: Elizabeth "Betty" Losey

Every so often it's good to look into the past to revisit the people who got us where we are today. Looking Back is a new series on the people who helped shape the National Wildlife Refuge System. The series is based on "A Look Back," a regular column written by Karen Leggett, from the Refuge System Branch of Communications, which appears in each issue of the Refuge Update newsletter.

In 1947, Elizabeth “Betty” Losey – fresh from the University of Michigan with a master of science degree in wildlife management and conservation – said she couldn’t get a job with the Michigan State Game Division because no one wanted a woman out in the field overnight. 

Fortunately, a fellow Michigan graduate offered her a job. 


Photo Tour: The Weather Outside

Snow can be beautiful - especially when flakes are slowly falling from the sky, covering us in a soft white blanket.  It's a time to curl up on the sofa, maybe a fire crackling in the background, and sip on something warm.  Let us take you on a snow-filled tour, including some cute critters and some great scenery.  

Cardinal in SnowA Cardinal sits on a Pine tree branch in New Jersy.  Photo: Laura Perlick


Protecting the Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie

Tallgrass prairie once blanketed more than 170 million acres from Texas to Canada. Today, just four percent of the United States’ original tallgrass prairie habitat remains.

So, what happened to it all?

Most of the habitat was converted to farmland in the 19th century to feed Americans.  But during this expansion, the Flint Hills of Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma was left untouched.  It’s geology made it unsuitable for farming, with its shallow soil and limestone. 

Since that time, ranchers have worked the Flint Hills landscape in a way that has preserved the prairie.  In the springtime, the Flint Hills is nothing but lush, green, vibrant grass far as the eye can see. People on nighttime flights have mistaken tallgrass prairie for a large, wavy body of water!

The Flint Hills wildflowers in bloomWildflowers in bloom in the Flint Hill Legacy Conservation Area, which was authorized by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2010 and established as a Refuge System unit in eastern Kansas last September. Photo: Greg Kramos/USFWS


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