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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Wisdom Returns to Midway Atoll and…She’s Expecting

   Wisdom and her eggWisdom, identified by her red, plastic auxiliary band on her right leg (Z333) incubates her egg. Photo by Kristina McOmber/Kupu Conservation Leadership Program & USFWS

Wisdom, the world's oldest known, breeding wild bird, has returned to her home on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial – and the Laysan albatross, at least 66 years old, has already laid an egg.

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Wisdom photos and videos

The Right Seed in the Right Place at the Right Time

   Pale purple cornflowers, white false indigo and prairie sage bloom at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.Pale purple cornflowers, white false indigo and prairie sage bloom at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. Photo by Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS

It’s not an accident that pale purple cornflowers, white false indigo and prairie sage bloom in the spring and summer at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.  For decades, refuge biologists have paid careful attention to collecting and planting the right native seeds to recreate native prairie.

The National Seed Strategy is doing the same thing on a national level, with the National Wildlife Refuge System leading the way for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  You can read many of the details in this week’s online feature from the Refuge System here.

The National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration is designed to encourage more effective, resilient habitat restoration.  The strategy was issued in 2015 by the Plant Conservation Alliance, a coalition of 12 federal partners and more than 300 private organizations, companies, tribes, and state and local governments.  The strategy provides a coordinated approach to ensure that genetically appropriate seed reserves are available when and where they are needed to restore healthy plant communities and sustainable ecosystems. 

   Before and after at Montezuma RefugeThese photos show the same marsh at Montezuma Refuge five years apart. On the left, the dominant plant is cattail. The photo on the right shows water plantain interspersed with cattail. Photos by USFWS

In other words, it aims to ensure that the right seed is available in the right place at the right time.  

Over the next year, a seed assessment will be conducted on all federal lands that provide or use native seeds, including refuges.  The assessment will identify the types and quantities of seed each site needs for its restoration projects.  Many national wildlife refuges – including Neal Smith Refuge - have already been figuring out what seeds they need and how to grow, collect and store these seeds even before there was a national strategy.  Their experiences will help other refuges and partners just beginning the process. 

In one of the largest aerial seeding efforts in an American salt marsh, grass seed from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank was used to restore salt marsh at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware after Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, in 2012, more than 2 million acres of sagebrush habitat burned in four western states. Restoration of burned sagebrush is one of the most important land management issues federal land managers and private landowners face today (See what’s involved in this three-minute video here.)

   Girls gathering seedSome refuges host family events or school field trips when volunteers collect seeds. Here two schoolgirls gather native prairie seed in Wisconsin at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Photo by Paula Ogden-Muse/USFWS 

Well-trained volunteers and interns are key to collecting seed on many refuges. Many refuges have regular seed-collecting events and training programs geared to empowering volunteers to help enhance our public lands. 

You can further the goals of the National Seed Strategy by volunteering to collect locally native seed, paying attention to the source of seeds you use at home, learning more about how your community manages its natural areas and encouraging local organizations to become Plant Conservation Alliance Cooperators.

If You Build It, They Will Come: Bitter Creek Refuge Creates Habitat for Giant Kangaroo Rat

   giant kangaroo ratHabitat improvements on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge leads to first capture of a giant kangaroo rat. Photo by Larry Saslaw/CSU Stanislaus

This fall, a giant kangaroo rat was captured on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California, the first-ever sighting of the species on Bitter Creek. The brief encounter with the elusive giant kangaroo rat did not happen by chance. It was the result of years of planning and a couple of strategic partnerships to provide habitat enhancements for giant kangaroo rat and San Joaquin kit fox population. While there have not been any sightings of the giant kangaroo rat since September, it seems like both the giant kangaroo rat and San Joaquin kit fox will either become regular visitors or make Bitter Creek their new home in the near future.

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A New Beginning: Puerto Rican Parrots Reintroduced into Maricao Commonwealth Forest

Puerto Rican Parrot in flightA Puerto Rican parrot in flight. Photo by Jan Paul Zegarra/USFWS

Maricao Commonwealth Forest in the west-central mountain region of Puerto Rico welcomed home a onetime resident last week. The Puerto Rican parrot, the only native parrot left in the United States, was once abundant, but through the years, deforestation, predation, diseases and poaching caused the population to crash. A captive-breeding program and other recovery efforts have helped the population to more than 500 birds. Maricao Commonwealth Forest marks the third wild locations for the parrot.

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Sixth-Graders Learn About Migratory Birds’ ‘Superpowers’ at Salton Sea

Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Migratory Bird DaySixth-graders get into bird watching. Photo by Kyle Christensen/Wildlands Conservancy

Joanna Gilkeson, External Affairs, Pacific Southwest Region, tells us about a sixth-grade trip to Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Surrounded by desert, mountains and farm fields, Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is a much-welcomed oasis for migratory birds passing through the heart of southeastern California. In November, the refuge hosted nearly 100 Sixth-Graders to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty (MBT).

Felicia Sirchia and Peter Sanzenbacher, Service biologists, are passionate about connecting young people with the outdoors. The two led the charge to invite the local sixth-graders to the refuge, many of whom had never visited the area, despite its proximity to their community. “Many of these students are underserved when it comes to experiencing nature. We wanted to teach them tangible outdoor skills – how to use binoculars and scopes and how to identify migratory birds,” says Sanzenbacher.

The day began with discussions about bird migration and the everyday challenges birds face, warming the students up to the idea of wildlife. The sixth-graders participated in an interactive game where they “transformed” into birds so they could learn about and experience the different challenges migratory birds face along their long journeys, including predators and storms. Then the students learned about the “superpowers” of migratory birds, those special physical and behavioral adaptations that allow them to migrate great distances between their breeding and overwintering areas.

Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Migratory Bird DayService fish and wildlife biologist Gjon Hazard helps new birders.Photo by Kyle Christensen/Wildlands Conservancy

The sixth-graders were finally introduced to the basics of bird identification, both sight and sound, and learned how to use binoculars and scopes to test out their new skills and identify the spectacular birds of the Salton Sea. “Over the course of the day, we saw the students become more confident in their birding abilities, and seek out the awesome diversity of wildlife in their backyard,” Sirchia says. “It was great to see the students become empowered.”

Chris Schoneman, project leader at the refuge, believes that this event can be expanded upon. “It was a terrific example of how we can provide our communities with an even better nature experience when we combine our talents within FWS and our volunteers and refuge Friends groups. Even though the MBT Centennial was the celebration this year, we hope to continue this experience with our local schools into future years."

Thanks to the staff, volunteers and Friends who helped make the event possible. And thanks to the sixth-graders and teachers of Bill E. Young Middle School in Calipatria, California, for their energy and enthusiasm.

A Nose Ring Helps Researchers Studying Importance of Wetlands

   nasal marked duckThe individual in the picture was banded as a duckling in 2008 and subsequently recaptured and nasal marked in 2011. The nasal marker does not affect adult female survival, and the female’s bill is not punctured. There is no septum between the holes in the bill of a duck, so the small pin that holds the two discs on simply slides right through. Photo by USFWS

Visitors to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge may be treated to a rather strange sight during future visits: a duck with a nose ring.

Say what?

That’s right. Researchers are conducting a long-term demographic study of female lesser scaup at the refuge, which supports one of the highest recorded densities of nesting lesser scaup in North America.

The nasal marker, applied in 2011, allows the duck to be easily identified at a distance if she returns to the study site, providing researchers with valuable survival data.

Why go to all this trouble, you might ask?

Across the 11 states of the arid Intermountain West, wetlands are very scarce resources, comprising less than 2 percent of the total area. And nearly 90 percent of wetlands in the region occur on just 10 percent of the land area. If you are a duck in search of water, pickings are slim and far apart.

Researchers know that this female and other ducks across the region need wetland connections. But what this study revealed is the critical importance of female pre-breeding body condition on if, and when, she nests. The earlier she can nest, the more likely she is to successfully fledge young.

The study also demonstrated the cost of that success can be high. When local wetland conditions are good, many females nest successfully and female survival during the breeding season increases. The unfortunate result of this success comes the following winter – female survival during non-breeding seasons is lowest after a breeding season with good wetland conditions. Conversely, during dry breeding seasons, when many hens choose not to nest, survival during the following non-breeding season is higher.

The relationship is likely a result of females investing significant amounts of energy raising a brood in good wetland conditions. They end the breeding season in poor body condition — just when they need to molt feathers and build fat reserves for fall migration, both costly annual events. When females begin these activities late in the breeding season, and in poor body condition, researchers believe it is more difficult for them to prepare for the fall migration, which has a direct and negative impact on their survival rates. 

So, what can we do?

Maintaining, improving and restoring wetland connections for when females start heading back south is one of the most important activities we can take. These birds use state and federally managed ‘semi-permanent’ wetlands (i.e., those with open water throughout the growing season in most years) across the Intermountain West as gas stations to ”top off” their tanks during migration, allowing them to rest and recover from their travels. These publicly owned and managed wetlands comprise more than 60 percent of semi-permanent wetlands in the region, creating the connections migratory birds need to travel between breeding and wintering grounds.
Quality management of these wetlands provides the fuel for migration and keeps these linkages intact, so the cycle can repeat itself next year.

And it all begins with data derived from a duck’s nose ornament – ain’t wildlife conservation grand!

Brian Allen, Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, Mountain-Prairie Region; Jeff Knetter, Idaho Department of Fish and Game; Josh Vest, Intermountain West Joint Venture; Jeff Warren, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Mountain-Prairie Region

Wilderness! There’s Nothing Like It

   Oregon Islands Haystack RockHaystack Rock is designated as wilderness for seabirds and marine mammals at Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can view it from the coast. Photo by Roy W. Lowe/USFWS

Among conserved public lands and waters, wilderness is a category unto itself. It is land and water designated by Congress for special protection under the Wilderness Act of 1964. Designated wilderness is untrammeled … primeval … natural.

   Fort Niobrara Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska offers visitors an opportunity to canoe, kayak or tube through designated wilderness. Photo by Nebraska Tourism

As this week’s National Wildlife Refuge System photo essay, Wilderness! There’s Nothing Like It, explains, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

 Sunday Lakes   The natural resources of the land now known as the Togiak Wilderness area at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska have sustained Eskimo and Alaska Native people for millennia. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

In the United States, there are 765 designated wilderness areas comprising about 109 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 20 million acres of designated wilderness in the Refuge System. There are 75 wilderness areas on 63 units of the Refuge System in 26 states.

“It’s a cliché, but I find that designated wilderness is different from other public lands in a similar way that a church is different from other buildings,” says Jennifer Johnston, a graduate student who has worked in wilderness areas. “To a much greater degree than other public lands, wilderness requires restraint: voluntary limitations on what you can and cannot do.”

   Bitter Lake NM-Inkpot sinkholeInkpot Sinkhole offers a glimpse into the Roswell Artesian Aquifer under the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge wilderness in southeastern New Mexico. Photo by Jeff Howland/USFWS

Wilderness! There’s Nothing Like It is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly online stories that use photos to highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday. The stories are archived here.

Conservation Law Enforcement Officer Helps More Than Manatees

florida manatee cow and calf   Florida manatee cow and calf. Photo by Keith Ramos/USFWS

The manatee is one of the world’s natural treasures, and people visit Florida every year to see these imperiled animals.

As Manatee Awareness Month wraps up, let’s not forget those who protect these animals and often go far beyond manatee conservation.

Andy Berrey is a Conservation Law Enforcement Officer, or CLEO, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His primary job is enforcing Manatee Protection Zones in Florida, which provide Endangered Species Act protections to manatees

Because the largest cause of human-related manatee mortality in Florida is watercraft collisions, his job is key to manatee conservation.

But speeding boats can be dangerous to more than manatees, and last month, it wasn’t just manatees that benefitted from his patrol in the Harbor Branch Slow Speed Zone.

CLEO Berrey, Federal Wildlife Officer Anibal Vasquez of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and a Coast Guard officer rescued a woman who had been knocked out of her kayak by a large and dangerous wake caused by several large vessels violating Protection Zone speed restrictions. CLEO Berrey remembers that the woman was “out of breath, fatigued and wearing an oversized life vest that was unzipped.”

The rescuers took the woman to a nearby island where her family was waiting for her. The woman said she was sure she could not have made it to the island or out of that dire situation without the lifesaving skills of these officers.

And yes, the officers also had a chat with the large vessels that were causing the problems.

CLEO Berrey says one of the best parts of his job is “seeing tangible results because of our efforts.” Not much more tangible than a life saved.

Matt Trott, External Affairs, Headquarters

Wild Facts About Wild Turkeys

   wild turkeys wichita mtns nwrWild tom (male) turkeys parade with fanned tail feathers at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. A tom is also known as a gobbler. Photo by Larry Smith, Flickr Creative Commons

What more is there to know about those funny birds that help define Thanksgiving?

You’d be surprised. Odds are turkeys are even wilder than you thought. 

Amuse your holiday guests with some offbeat turkey trivia presented by the National Wildlife Refuge System. 

Then, when you’re ready to walk off your feast, consider pointing your feet toward some scenic outdoor spots where you might see the native game birds in the wild. Some of the best of those turkey-hangout spots: national wildlife refuges, dedicated to conserving habitat for America’s wildlife. Refuges are closer than you think.  In the same photo feature, we tell you just where to look.

   wild turkey minn valley nwrA wild turkey folds its iridescent feathers, mimicking the look of abstract art, at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Copyright Mike Williams

Test yourself. Here’s a sample Q from the story: 

How can you tell a turkey’s sex and age?

  1. By the number of its tail feathers.
  2. By the shape of its droppings.
  3. By the length of its wattle.

And the answer is….. B. Yes, the droppings have it. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. No kidding. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.  

How about places to maybe catch a glimpse of turkeys at large? 

If you thought you had to live in the Northeast or Midwest to see turkeys in the wild, think again.  Here, for example, are two spots with turkeys galore:

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

To boost your chances of seeing turkeys, drop your car speed to a crawl. “Turkeys are sensitive to the movement of vehicles,” says ranger David Moody. Or get out and walk, slowly. Turkeys like the open terrain of the longleaf pine sandhill ecosystem along the Florida National Scenic Trail, almost 50 miles of which go through the refuge.

   wild turkeys texasA pair of wild Rio Grande turkeys — a tom (left) and a hen — have eyes for each other at Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by  Robert Burton/USFWS

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge , New Mexico

Hundreds of Rio Grande turkeys hang out here. The North and South Auto Tour Loops are good places to spot some. Other good spots: along the Rio Viejo Trail, the John Taylor Memorial Trail or the bike trail on the east side service road of the Low Flow Conveyance Channel.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your feast and our online story — one of a series of photo features that highlight the wildlife and recreation at national wildlife refuges. A new story is posted on the Refuge System home page each Wednesday.

Read the story at https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/WildFacts.html

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Thanksgiving: Brought to You By Pollination

Thanksgiving is almost here and before we know it, we will be gathered around the dinner table surrounded by friends, family and neighbors, sharing what we are all most thankful for. While we usually take the time to be thankful for our loved ones, how many of us take the time to thank the small critters who have a big role in our lives?  

Bumblebee pollinating flowerPhoto by USDA

Take a Moment to Thank a Pollinator

When you pass the cranberry sauce down the table or are waiting to dig into the delicious feast, take a moment to notice just how much of our Thanksgiving foods are the product of successful pollination. Hard-working animals like hummingbirds, bats, bees and butterflies pollinate more than 75 percent of our flowering plants and nearly 75 percent of our crops. What better way to share this powerful message with others than by cooking and eating, something we all love!

Thanksgiving pie Photo by Nate Pesce at Forte Meade

Everything including the pumpkin pie, the onions and celery in the stuffing, broccoli and cauliflower, the rub on the turkey, even the glaze on the cornbread is the product of pollination. This doesn’t even count the dozens of spices we use or the after-dinner coffee!

Ways to Thank a Pollinator:

  1. Create a pollinator garden

  2. Reduce pesticides wherever possible

  3. Join citizen science efforts around pollinators

  4. Learn more about work to save the monarch

What is Pollination, Really?

Pollination involves the movement of pollen from one plant to another when animals travel from flower to flower. This pollen transfer allows most of our fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds to develop and grow. Without this process, many plants would not produce food for humans and wildlife alike.

The monarch butterfly, a well-known pollinator species, serves as an indicator of our environment’s health. Its population is declining, which means other pollinators and their habitats are, too, but all is not lost -- you probably won’t have to do without blueberries (another food requiring pollinators). The charismatic monarch may be the answer. Because they rely on habitat throughout the United States during their magnificent migration to Mexico each fall, conservation for monarchs protects other pollinators like bees, bats, moths and flies.

Monarch Butterfly and Bumble Bee on Swamp MilkweedPhoto by Jim Hudgins / USFWS

With preparations for Thanksgiving well underway, take a moment to thank a pollinator this season. The video below shows how different our Thanksgiving would look if it were not for these powerful critters. To help support monarch and pollinator populations, plant flowers that are native to your area and reduce your use of pesticides! Learn how you can help save the monarch and other pollinators.

Happy Thanksgiving! We’re thankful for you!

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