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A Talk on the Wild Side.

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

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

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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. 

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Let's Go Outside! Featured Refuge Events for the Week of December 12th

Is holiday shopping, cooking, and preparing making you say "Bah-Humbug" more than "Happy Holidays!"?  Take a break from all the running around and head outside to get a breath of fresh air. Even though the temperature is dropping there are still things to do and see.

Here are some of the events happening at refuges across the country this week, some in the spirit of the season.  Check out this link for more events happening in December on our refuges.

As always, make sure you head over to the Refuge System's homepage and use their searchable map to find events at a Wildlife Refuge near you.

Let's go outside!

SnowshoeingGuests snowshoe at Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in the Mountain-Praire Region, Photo: Jennifer Jewett

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What's a National Wildlife Refuge?

As someone who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I’m occasionally asked about what a National Wildlife Refuge is.  My first response is always, "well, it's sort of like a park, but different."

That is, of course, true, but I always want to give more of an explanation.  So, without further adieu, here it is:

Within the Department of the Interior, you’ll find both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – which manages national wildlife refuges -- and National Park Service – which manages national parks.  Both work toward preservation of our natural world, but, there are differences.

Arctic Refuge AlaskaThinking on a mountain at Arctic Refuge in Alaska Photo: Steve Chase/USFWS

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Photo Tour: More Scenes from Fall

Can you believe we're nearly to the end of November?  Migrations are well underway, colorful leaves are dropping, and snow may even be starting to fall where you are.

But before we make the transition into winter, we'd like to take you on another fall photo tour. What's your favorite thing about fall?

The colors?  

The smells?  

The sounds of ducks over head or leaves crunching underfoot?

Whatever it may be, we hope these images alerts your senses and you can get away for just a moment.  Enjoy!

Orange leaves on a blue skySycamore Tree on the Phelan Island Unit on Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge Photo: Justine Belson/USFWS

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Apps for the Outdoors: 5 Ways to use Mobile and Social Media in Nature

Go online or head outside; these used to be mutually exclusive activities. 

Not any more. 

Smartphones like iPhones, Androids, or Blackberries are everywhere. In fact, the Nielson research firm now estimates that 40 percent of mobile users in the U.S. are using smartphones.  One of the coolest features of smartphones are apps, or applications, that you can use with your phone.

With the rise of social media and the mobile web, there are a ton of ways to use your smartphone to engage with nature and the outdoors. Here's our top 5 in no particular order:

    A visitor on iNature Trail at J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR in Florida. (Chelle Koster Walton)

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