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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker Makes its Presence Known in Longleaf Pine Forest

 NRCS State Conservationist for South Carolina Ann English and FWS staff Joshua Winchell in the field at the Aiken Preserve, South Carolina. Credit Wayne Hubbard/UAOTV
Joshua Winchell and NRCS State Conservationist for South Carolina Ann English in the field at the Aiken Preserve in South Carolina. Photo by Wayne Hubbard/UAOTV


Joshua Winchell
, Designated Federal Officer and Coordinator for the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, recounts a recent visit along the Georgia and South Carolina border highlighting longleaf pine habitat restoration efforts.  

Rob laughed when I asked him if I’d be adding a red-cockaded woodpecker to my birding life list. “Josh, you know that when something is listed as endangered that means there’s not a whole lot of them around. So I wouldn’t count on seeing one today!” he said. I smiled along with others on the bus, but was just a wee bit disappointed at his answer. I’ve been an avid bird-watcher since high school, and the possibility of adding a new bird – and a famous one at that – to my life list was exciting. But Rob had just deflated my hopes. 

 FWS Wildlife Biologist Nancy Jordan, FWS Longleaf Coordinator Clay Ware (back to camera), and FWS Southeast Region Director Cynthia Dohner (in red-shirt and sunglasses) discuss red-cockaded woodpecker nest monitoring.  Credit Joshua Winchell/USFWS
FWS Wildlife Biologist Nancy Jordan, FWS Longleaf Coordinator Clay Ware (back to camera), and Southeast Region Director Cynthia Dohner (in red-shirt and sunglasses) discuss red-cockaded woodpecker nest monitoring. Photo by Joshua Winchell/USFWS


Rob was Robert Abernathy, president of the Longleaf Alliance, and he was helping lead a field trip along the Georgia and South Carolina border highlighting longleaf pine habitat restoration efforts. The field trip was organized by Rob, and longleaf pine recovery/restoration coordinators Clay Ware and Kyle Jones from the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service, respectively. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Director Cynthia Dohner was with us as well, and was providing insights on the habitat, associated wildlife species, the remarkable collection of federal, state, local and nongovernmental organization collaborators, and the private individuals who own land where much of the longleaf pine restoration was occurring. 

  Mature longleaf pine habitat, Aiken Gopher Tortoise Preserve South Carolina. Credit Joshua Winchell/USFWS
Mature longleaf pine habitat, Aiken Gopher Tortoise Preserve in South Carolina. Photo by Joshua Winchell/USFWS

Before European settlement, more than 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest blanketed the southeastern United States, but by the early 20th century, almost all of these forests had disappeared due to overexploitation, urbanization, or conversion to other forest types or land uses. Longleaf pine forests contain a stunning diversity of plants and animals, with more than 900 plant species that are found nowhere else in the world. It is also home to the red-cockaded woodpecker, bobwhite quail, indigo snake, gopher tortoise and many other imperiled species. In addition to providing quality habitat and recovery opportunities for these species, longleaf pine has a rich cultural history as an integral part of the southern landscape, is prized for its high quality wood, and is more resistant to insect infestation, disease and heavy winds. The native open-canopied longleaf pine forested systems, properly maintained with frequent, low-intensity fires, have also been shown to be very efficient water-users, which not only makes the system more resilient in the face of climate change, but also serves to improve both the water quantity and quality of the rivers and streams that meander through them.

The field trip was put together for members of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, a federal advisory group established by the Interior and Agriculture Secretaries to provide them guidance on a range of wildlife, habitat and outdoor recreation topics. The council was meeting in nearby Edgefield, South Carolina, later that week.The private landowners we visited on the field trip spoke with excitement about longleaf habitat on their properties, and appreciation of the support they’ve received from federal and state conservation bureau staff. One of the landowners, recently retired from the military, talked about his pride in restoring longleaf to his property and improving the land for his children and grandchildren. 

Along the way we also visited Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve, a South Carolina Wildlife Management Area that we were told encompassed more mature longleaf pine habitat. And, as its name implies, is home to a population of gopher tortoises (a species of conservation concern) and a range of other plants and animals associated with longleaf pine. 

At the preserve we were met by Nancy Jordan, a Service biologist from Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. Nancy led the group on a walk around the preserve, and spoke about the tortoise and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  Nancy spoke enthusiastically about the new wireless cameras attached to long poles that allowed for safer and more efficient monitoring of nest cavities, with only a slight acknowledgement that the old days of clambering up trees and peering into the nest might have been a bit more exciting. Nancy shifted the conversation to the use of artificial nest cavities in the trees to encourage the return of the red-cockaded woodpecker when, right on cue, one flew overhead and landed on the trunk of a mature longleaf pine not 30 feet away from us.

woodpecker
A red-cockaded woodpecker (NOT the one they saw at Aiken) with an insect perches near a nest in a tree cavity. Photo by USFWS


I saw the bird close up. I turned to Rob and laughed, mostly with delight and just a hint of something else. He smiled and started laughing along with joy, and the rest of the group joined right in.

 

Milkweed - For More Than Monarch Butterflies

Planting milkweed is a one of the many ways you can help the monarch butterfly. Milkweed is the sole host plant to the monarch butterfly's caterpillar, but keeping milkweed as part of our landscape is important to more than just monarch butterflies. Here some species that also use milkweed in various ways. 

What Feeds on Milkweed Nectar? 

Bees

  • Bumblebees (Bombus spp.)  - these are one of the few native social bees, although their colonies are much smaller than those of the non-native honeybee; and only the queen overwinters.
  • Carpenter bees - Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but the upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black
  • Yellow-faced beesHylaeus sp.
  • Plasterer bees, Colletes sp.
  • Sweat or Halictid (family name) bees – these are often bright metallic colors (e.g., iridescent green)
  • Leaf-cutting bees (Family name: Megachildae) – so called because they cut pieces of leaves to use in their nests

     

Bees on Common MilkweedBees on common milkweed by Courtney Celley, USFWS

Moths:

  • White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) – they hover while collecting nectar
  • Milkweed tiger or tussock moth (Euchaetias egle); their young also eat the leaves of milkweed plants

Butterflies:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail ( Pterourus glaucus)
  • Pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor
  • Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
  • Great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele)
  • American copper (Lycaena phloeas american)
  • Edward’s hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)

Great spangled fritillary on milkweed.Great spangled fritillary on milkweed by Dani Tinker 

Skippers:
Delaware skipper (Atrytone delaware)

Flies:
Syrphid or hover flies – they often look like bees or wasps and feed on the nectar. 

Beetles:
Long-horned beetles in the genus Typocerus  - these beetles have long antennae and an elongate body. 

Fly on MilkweedFly on milkweed by Dani Tinker


Feasting on Milkweed: 

In addition to feeding on nectar, the brightly colored large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus eats milkweed plant parts, including the seeds.

Young of the Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, which is closely related to the monarch, also eat milkweed plant parts.

Finally, you even find predatory insects, like assassin bugs (Zelus sp.), can be found looking for their next meal on milkweed plants.   

Marvelous Milkweed
As you can see, milkweed species serve as an important food source for a number of different animals. Plus, by letting milkweed grow, we can welcome these insects to the neighborhood. What insects do you see on your milkweed?

Night Fishing for Bass and Membership to “The Sundowner’s Club”

bass

For Dan Magneson, the assistant hatchery manager at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Jim Stafford’s 1973 hit “Swamp Witch” takes him back through the years to night fishing for largemouth bass in the farm ponds of southwest Iowa.

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Picky Eaters of the Animal Kingdom

You think your kids or friends are picky eaters? Wait until you read about the specialized diets of these species. Wild animal specialists rely on a particular food or habitat for survival. This strategy is wonderful when the food or habitat is abundant, but can be detrimental if those resources become scarce. This is why we do our best to ensure vulnerable species have the food and habitat they need to survive.

Everglade Snail Kite

The endangered Everglade snail kite's diet is almost exclusively made up of apple snails. As you can imagine, this makes the management of apple snail populations critical to the recovery efforts of snail kites in Florida.

Snail Kite A snail kite with an apple snail in his mouth. This photo, "Snail Kite" is copyright (c) 2016 Andy Morffew and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

Red Tree Vole

These highly specialized critters live in tops of old growth Douglas-fir trees. Their only source of food is Douglas-fir needles. The needles also provide water (in the form of dew) to the tiny critters. As a result, Douglas-fir trees play a major role in sustaining red tree vole populations.

Red Tree Vole A young (31 day old) red tree vole (Arborimus longicaudus) eating a Douglas fir needle. This photo, "Red Tree vole (Arborimus longicaudus)" is copyright (c) 2014 Michael Durham and made available with special permission.

Valley Elderberry Longhorned Beetle

Adult valley elderberry longhorned beetles eat the nectar, flowers, and leaves of elderberry bushes. Eggs are laid on elderberries, and larvae live inside the stems before emerging as adults.

Valley Elderberry Longhorned BeetleA male valley elderberry longhorned beetle on elderberry. Photo courtesy of Jon Katz and Joe Silveira, USFWS.

Black-footed Ferret

Black-footed ferrets are predators that depend on prairie dogs for more than 90% of the their diet. Loss of habitat and prey are two threats that have led black-footed ferrets to the endangered species list. 

Black-footed Ferret Chasing Prairie DogBlack-footed ferret chasing a prairie dog, which is the majority of the diet for a wild black-footed ferret. Photo by USFWS.

Graham's Crayfish Snake

As you may have guessed by their name, Graham's crayfish snakes feed primarily on freshly molted crayfish.  

Graham's Crayfish SnakeThis photo, "Regina grahamii : Graham's Crayfish Snake" is copyright (c) 2015 Douglas Mills and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Osprey

While most fish-eating birds of prey skim the surface, plucking fish from the water, osprey can submerge themselves completely to catch a fish. They will eat other foods, but fish make up about 99% of their diet.

Osprey with FishOsprey with rainbow trout at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge by Tom Koerner, USFWS.

Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Why is that? As it turns out, monarch larvae (caterpillars) feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed plants. Therefore, to save the monarch butterfly, we need to work together to plant milkweed!

MonarchMonarch caterpillar chomping on milkweed leaves in Minnesota by Brett Whaley.

Lepidophages

This is a group of fish species specialized to feed on scales they pluck from other fishes. Though it takes a great deal of energy to attack for scales, they're a nutritional food source.

Cyprinodon Desquamator

By Anthony Terceira (Seriously Fishy) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Red Crossbill

The unusual shape of a red crossbill's bill is adapted to get at seeds protected under the scales of pinecones (its primary food source). Crossbills are able to reach seeds that are not accessible to other species.

Red CrossbillThis photo, Red Crossbill is copyright (c) 2014 Jason Crotty and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Migratory Bird Conservation and #BirdYear a Focus at Recent North American Summit

State of the Birds Report Illustration by Misaki Ouchida


In May, conservation officials met in Ottawa, Canada for the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Canada/Mexico/US Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management. The Trilateral Committee serves as a method for collaboration between all three countries to conserve wildlife and landscapes together.

This year, the spotlight of the meeting shined on migratory birds. At a press event, the new State of North America's Birds Report 2016 was released. The report is the first-of-its-kind to take a look at the 1,154 bird species that live throughout North America and their conservation status. On the downside, the research indicated that one out of every three North American bird species faces a significant conservation threat. On the upside, however, the report does provide inspirational bird conservation success stories that show what can be accomplished to protect birds when threatened.

An official Letter of Intent was also signed by the three countries, which formalized the desire to continue collaborating and finding ways to protect migratory birds and their habitat. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain for the Protection of Migratory Birds. Likewise, this year is also the 80th anniversary of the Convention between the United States of America and the United Mexican States for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals. For these reasons, 2016 has been deemed the #BirdYear.


D. Ashe, Director-USFWS , Dr. Y. Aurora Alaniz Pasani, Advisor to the Undersecretary-SEMARNAT , and S. Milburn-Hopwood,  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister-CWS signing the Letter of Intent.
D. Ashe, Director-USFWS , Dr. Y. Aurora Alaniz Pasani, Advisor to the Undersecretary-SEMARNAT , and S. Milburn-Hopwood,  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister-CWS signing the Letter of Intent.  Photo: J. Duberstein / USFWS

Beyond migratory birds, a non-exhaustive list of some of the topics discussed throughout the four day annual meeting included:

  • Continuing efforts to protect Monarch butterflies, which were the focal point of last year’s Trilateral Committee Annual Meeting.

  • The plight of the vaquita (a small porpoise), considered to be the most endangered cetacean species in the world. Their population has declined rapidly because of bycatch and related illegal fishing for totoaba, a large fish. Totoaba are also threatened, and are sometimes caught solely for their swim bladders, which are illegally sold as an exclusive food item in parts of Asia. More broadly, law enforcement officials from all three countries discussed the broader challenge posed by wildlife trafficking, and what they are doing to combat its negative impacts.

  • Continuing efforts to build on the success stories and tackle the current challenges of California condor and Black-footed ferret population recoveries.

  • Initiatives to control and eliminate invasive alien species as they pose a critical threat to ecosystems and species conservation.

For more information about the Trilateral Committee please visit their website.

Northern Aplomado Falcon Now a Fixture in the Coastal Prairies of South Texas

Romeo Garcia  Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge biologist Romeo Garcia holds a 23-day old aplomado falcon nestling being prepared for banding. Photo by C. Perez/USFWS

Wildlife biologist Chris Perez shares some awesome news about the endangered northern Aplomado falcon.

Once considered common in its U.S. range, the northern Aplomado falcon declined rapidly after the 1930s and was considered extirpated in the United States by the late 1950s. The reason for their disappearance in South Texas is blamed on over-collection. At the time, egg collecting was a hobby much like stamp collecting; "oology" it was called. We protected it as an endangered species in 1986.

But even before that, our partners at The Peregrine Fund were hard at work on the restoration of the northern Aplomado falcon to South Texas. The Fund was working on captive breeding of the falcon and began experimental releases on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Texas, in 1985.

So far, more than 1,500 young Aplomado falcons have been released in South Texas.

Aplomado falcon  An Aplomado falcon in flight. Photo by Cal Sandfort, The Peregrine Fund

As a result of these efforts, this rare and attractive falcon has now been restored to its former South Texas range, and, according to Peregrine Fund biologists Paul Juergens and Brian Mutch, the 2016 nesting season has seen some of the highest territorial pairs and individual falcons to date. 

Along the South Texas coastal landscape, a total of 37 territorial pairs and 93 individual falcons were documented.  Numbers continue edging upward, bringing this endangered falcon closer to 60 self-sustaining pairs, the current goal to downlist the species to threatened, an impressive recovery from zero birds just 30-some years ago.

The Peregrine Fund continues to monitor the progress of recovery with assistance by our biologists.  Despite new threats to their coastal prairie habitat such as wind farms and other development, it is clear the northern Aplomado falcon is now firmly established within the South Texas coastal prairie.

Abandoned Landfill and Private Landowners Provide Hope for Pollinators

landfill afterOur Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program worked with the city of Burlington, Vermont, to convert an abandoned and grass-capped landfill into a blooming sea of flowers and plants that would attract a variety of pollinator species, including the declining monarch butterfly.

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Collaborative Conservation Pays Off for One of Idaho’s Rarest Plant Species

Pollinators are pivotal to increasing Packard’s milkvetch reproduction. Pollinators are pivotal to increasing Packard’s milkvetch reproduction. The increasing presence of native, pollinator-friendly plants is helping to improve the prospects for a species once considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Justin Fulkerson/Idaho Natural Heritage Program

An early diagnosis of the conservation challenge and a concerted focus of resources on the ground with willing partners can often avert acute conservation conditions and prevent a trip to the Endangered Species list.  Packard’s milkvetch, one of the rarest plants in Idaho, benefitted from such early  action.

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Reno FWO Botanist: Overcoming ‘Plant Blindness’ Crucial to Saving Sagebrush Sea

Sarah Kulpa, a US Fish and Wildlife Service botanist, works with native plants in the University of Nevada-Reno greenhouse complex. Credit: Dan Hottle/USFWS Sarah Kulpa, a US Fish and Wildlife Service botanist, works with native plants in the University of Nevada-Reno greenhouse complex. Credit: Dan Hottle/USFWS

Sarah Kulpa, a botanist and plant ecologist for our Reno Fish and Wildlife Office, is leading the charge to help scientists, landowners and other partners working on protecting sagebrush across Nevada’s portion of the Great Basin understand that successful conservation not only depends upon what’s happening on the ground, but also what’s in the ground.

Too often, the missing link is seeds from native plants.

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Summer Rocks on a National Wildlife Refuge

Grab the kids. Head out the door. Summer arrives today at 6:34 p.m. ET. , and here’s a way to start it right: Take your wiggly crew on a day trip to a national wildlife refuge.

Wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are full of amazing sights. And they’re closer than you think. If you live in a big city, chances are there’s a refuge within an hour’s drive

What can you and your clan do in summer on a wildlife refuge? Lots. Try these ideas for starters.

See the sights

 alligator snapping turtleAlligator snapping turtle, Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama. Photo by Garry Tucker/USFWS

National wildlife refuges and the wildlife they protect are an integral part of our American heritage.

Refuges are your public lands, protecting such species such as alligators, whooping cranes and sea turtles. You owe it to yourself to check them out. Here are some of the most popular refuges to see wildlife.

Snap great nature images

 Taylor’s checkerspot A Taylor’s checkerspot displays its distinctive wing pattern in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Photo by Aaron Barna 

Ever wanted to play Ansel Adams? Here’s your chance. At a refuge, you can find wonderful nature subjects galore. Pick up some nature photography tips from experts.

Go fish

 fishing The Service's Mindy Gautreaux and daughter Jordan show off their catch after Mindy gave Jordan a fishing lesson at a camp in Mississippi. Photo by Mindy Gautreaux/USFWS

Many wildlife refuges are great spots to land a big one – or give your kids a beginner’s lesson. Check out the Refuge System fishing guide.

Try birding

birderA youngster scans for birds at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Birding is always popular on refuges. Many refuges were established to protect habitat for migratory birds. If you don’t have binoculars, ask if you can borrow a pair at the refuge visitor station. Starting with big birds – such as cranes, herons, prairie chickens and storks – is a good idea for youngsters and first-timers.  Birding checklists and more.

Take a walk

hiking Participants in a “hike with a ranger” event pause at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, California. Photo by USFWS

You say you could use a little exercise?  Go for it. Take a walk in nature, enjoying the fresh air and the sights and colors around you. Go on a guided walk or venture out on your own-- sometimes it’ll just be you and the wildlife around you. Find a trail near you

Go for a paddle

Canoeing Canoe trail, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo by Berkley Bedell/USFWS

Summer is supposed to involve water, right? Find some awesome refuge water trails.

Take a scenic drive

See the wildlife without breaking a sweat. Many refuges have auto tour routes that let you see the sights from your vehicle. Find some great scenic refuge drives.

 

National wildlife refuges, and all the wildlife they protect, are an integral part of our American heritage. Any time is the right time to visit a refuge, and you won’t regret a summer visit.

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