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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Curator's Corner: Apocalypse Now

  population counter 

We are obsessed with the apocalypse nowadays. All our television shows and movies, it seems, are about zombies, asteroids and invading aliens. I am no exception in my visions and obsession. In our museum, one of our displays about the future of conservation has a population counter. This digital counter goes up by three every second and reflects the current world population, factoring in deaths as well as births. When our electricity goes out, the population counter zeroes out. I have to look up the world population on the Internet and put that current number back in. I am sometimes tempted to just count me, my friends and family and enter that smaller number. Goodbye everyone else—I just officialized the apocalypse!

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

The Value of a Refuge – to My Students and Me

Western grebe swims with young on backLake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota is the site of inspiring scenes. Here, a Western grebe chick hitches a ride on the water. Story and photos by Kelly Preheim

From the moment I saw an iridescent white-faced ibis at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge six years ago, the refuge in southeastern South Dakota has been a great resource and an inspiration for me – personally and as a teacher.

The refuge has taught me about animal behavior – specifically bird behavior. As a kindergarten teacher, I have passed that knowledge on to my students by integrating birds into my curriculum.

I created a Chickadee Bird Club for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. At the weekly meetings, I show students photos of the birds and other animals I’ve seen at the refuge via my Flickr site. Once the students fall in love with birds, they begin to ask questions. They want to know more. By May, the students can identify hundreds of birds and bird songs, and they have a broader understanding of the natural world.

We’ve also visited the refuge, to go birding and observe bird banding. The students – and I – have enjoyed it very much. One of my goals is to inspire other teachers to integrate nature into their curriculum. 

  2 red fox kitsThese red fox kits are all eyes – and noses and ears – at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge.

Beyond teaching, Lake Andes is not only is a refuge for wildlife; it is also a refuge for me. It’s a great place to get away from the busy-ness of life. Being out in nature helps me remember that I’m part of something larger and purer. It leaves me content and happy.

It’s more than that, though. I report birds I identify at the refuge to the eBird Mobile app. In this way I am helping with citizen science, which is important to me. I also feel the need to share my love of nature with others, so I write a BirdTeach blog

snowy owl in front of water  Seeing 21 snowy owls in one day at the refuge was unbelievable. 

I’ve had dozens of awesome moments and experiences at the refuge. A few come immediately to mind.

I’ll never forget seeing 21 snowy owls in one day, during the winter 2011-12 irruption. 

One time, twin white-tailed deer fawns curiously and slowly walked up to me – so close I could almost touch them.

I’ve seen a few endangered whooping cranes, and thousands of sandhill cranes. 

One day I happened upon a sage thrasher, a bird I’d never seen in South Dakota before.

Then there were the shorebirds. The lake was low, and there were thousands of them for as far as I could see.

  2 Whooping cranesEndangered whooping cranes sometimes pass through Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge en route to and from their breeding grounds in Canada and their wintering grounds at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

My experiences at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge have been a valuable resource to my students and me. The refuge can be full of life and beauty, so take a some time to visit  a refuge near you.

Kelly Preheim has been an elementary teacher in South Dakota for 30 years.

Artist’s 'Big Foot' Project Highlights Human Impact on California’s Species in Peril

Beverly Mayeri with The Big Foot When you hear Bigfoot, your mind probably immediately calls to mind the mythical creature. Beverly Mayeri’s latest sculpture may change that. “The Big Foot” is a 68-inch tall photo collage of vulnerable species in California pasted onto a paper mache foot. The foot “suggests we are trampling on the earth like oversized giants,” she says.

Read More from our Pacific Southwest Region

Beverly Mayeri with "The Big Foot," her 68-inch tall photo collage. Photo by Steve Martarano/USFWS

Where Bird Biologist Give Wing to Their Wild Side

  puffin swimmingA puffin swimming at Seal Island NWR. Photo by LightHart via Flickr

If you are a birder, you’ll totally get this. In honor of National Wildlife Refuge Week, our Northeast Region asked two bird biologists their favorite National Wildlife Refuge to see birds. Of course, picking just one proved impossible! Read on to learn about some of the amazing experiences they have had while birding on America’s beautiful National Wildlife Refuges.

Northeast Region Blog

 

Great Fall Walks on National Wildlife Refuges

  person walks the the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at sunriseA little time alone in nature can soothe the soul. In Washington state, the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge provides stunning views of the estuary — and the many birds that use it. The trail has a viewing tower and two viewing platforms. “Fantastic,” says one Trip Advisor reviewer. Photo by Steve Russell

It’s easy to see why fall is a favorite season for walks and hikes at national wildlife refuges.

The air is crisp, the colors breathtaking, the trails as varied as refuge landscapes.

   red-winged blackbird eats ticks sitting on a deer's head. A red-winged blackbird eats ticks on a deer. Photo Courtesy of Naomi Ballard

And wildlife offer continual surprises.

This week’s photo story from the National Wildlife Refuge System will leave you eager to hit the trail. 

Not sure what refuge trails are nearby? Check out trail descriptions on the Refuge Trail Guide. More than 70 refuge trails are designated National Recreation Trails. Refuge trails also include several hundred miles of National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails

You live in the city? You’re in luck. Some refuge trails are surprisingly close by. At Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, 10 miles from downtown Denver, you can see bison from the one-mile Legacy Trail. At John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, a three-mile nature trail is right inside Philadelphia city limits. 

While you’re marveling at the sights along a refuge trail, you’ll also be doing your body good. 

Regular walks or hikes in nature promote good health – lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease, and boosting bone density. Your mood may be better, too. Don’t take our word for it. Read what WebMD has to say about how the health benefits of walking or hiking. 

  Family on hike at Tidelands Trail Join free guided walks at many refuges. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey is leading nightly sunset walks through Saturday for Refuge Week. On the West Coast, join the next monthly “Nature Walk for Health!” November 5 at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge along its Tidelands Trail (pictured). At Washington’s Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge, bird walks take place every Wednesday at 8 a.m. Photo by USFWS

 

You can hike alone or in a group. Many refuges host free guided walks. See our story for examples.

Read the story here. See you on the trail!

 

Susan Morse, National Wildlife Refuge System communications

Rare Encounter with a Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk OwlNorthern hawk owl in black cottonwoods in Alaska by Lisa Hupp, USFWS.

Northern hawk owls (Surnia ulula) are unusual hunters among their relatives. Instead of flying in twilight and darkness, they are active only in the daytime, using their keen sight to find small rodents up to half a mile away. As we waited in the bright October sunlight, a young hawk owl focused, hunched, and then silently swooped in a steep dive towards the grass before lifting suddenly to a nearby tree. No vole caught, but a new vantage gained.

The hunt for hawk owls...

We slowly stepped into the stand of cottonwood trees at the edge of the meadow. Our heads craned back, we walked carefully as leaves crunched under our boots. We looked down often to avoid the abundant piles of fresh bear scat dotting the ground. I had been to this patch of Kodiak’s forest several times before without luck, but today I felt hopeful.

Northern Hawk OwlNorthern hawk owl in black cottonwoods in Alaska by Lisa Hupp, USFWS.

Weaving in and out of the trees, we scanned the open branches and tops of dead snags. It was high noon, and our eyes searched for something slightly larger than a football silhouetted against the sun. As I turned away to head a different direction, I heard it: “I found one!” And there it was. Perched small and dark on a naked branch, with a long, sharp tail angled down and small yellow eyes glowing, a northern hawk owl swiveled its head looking for prey.

What’s in a name?

The daytime habits, hunting style, long tail and pointed wings of this singular owl are similar to those of hawks and falcons, earning it the name of hawk owl. Like a hawk, it may skim the ground in pursuit of prey, hover before a “pounce,” or capture prey from the air.

Northern Hawk OwlNorthern hawk owl by Lisa Hupp, USFWS.

Where to find them

A truly northern bird, the hawk owl is not migratory and lives in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Lucky viewers in the northern continental United States may occasionally see a nomadic hawk owl searching for more temperate climate and food.

A photographer’s dream

We watched as the owl surveyed the meadow, ignoring us completely. Tolerance of humans and banker’s hours made it possible for our small group of shutterbugs to snap away as the owl swiveled and preened. When a second owl swooped past the first to settle in a nearby tree, we could hardly believe our luck. Hundreds of photos later, we collapsed our tripods and headed back to the road.

I returned alone in the late afternoon, not quite ready to end the encounter after my previous failed attempts. Repeating the slow, neck-straining walk through the trees, I wondered if I could find them again on my own. With a sense of deja-vu, I finally spotted the silhouette high above me. Before I could even set up the camera, the second owl soared past the first. And then began a kind of hopscotch, as the two owls dove and rose again through the fall foliage around me. I forgot about taking pictures and just watched.

Northern Hawk OwlNorthern hawk owl by Lisa Hupp, USFWS.

-- Lisa Hupp, USFWS Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge

Badge Protector

  badge

Many years ago I traveled to Miami to speak with Christopher “Kip” Koss, the grandson of the great cartoonist and ex-director of the Service Jay N. “Ding” Darling. Kip generously donated a Deputy Game Warden badge to the museum. Ding had treasured the badge, which was awarded to him from the Service in appreciation of his tenure with us. I was so protective of that badge, that I didn’t want it out of my sight for the remainder of the trip. Actually, I couldn’t even let it out of my grasp!

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

Against the Odds: Wildlife Refuge Inspired Los Banos Student to Become a Biologist

Alex and his parents  Alex Alegria and his parents celebrate his graduation from Humboldt State University, in Arcata, California in May 2016. Photo by Kim Forrest/USFWS

The first time I met Alejandro “Alex” Alegria, the 15-year-old high school freshman arrived late and sweaty to our Youth Conservation Corps crew orientation. His brother had dropped him off at the front gate to our San Luis National Wildlife Refuge and drove away.  Our management office was then located in Los Banos, California. So, Alex ran the five miles around one of the tour routes looking for the office, eventually getting a ride 10 miles back to town, and managed to show up just 15 minutes late. This was not the first or last time Alex overcame great odds to achieve a goal.

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Diana Gu: From the Blue of an SCA Intern to 'Wearing Brown' of FWS

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Diana Gu on beach holding sea turtle hatchlingIn blue SCA garb and oversized nitrile gloves, Diana Gu holds the first excavated leatherback hatchling of the season.

Open Spaces is featuring posts by Student Conservation Association (SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.org. Today, former SCA intern and current wildlife technician Diana Gu checks in from Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

It’s 6:32 a.m. The itching around my ankles indicates that the sandflies arrived before the eastward sea winds could pick up and I’m generously applying mostly ineffective citronella to prepare for my morning nesting sea turtle survey. I drive my ATV loaded with nest marking stakes, flagging tape, a sledgehammer, GPS unit, measuring tape, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer and my hatchling bucket through a dark tunnel of seagrape groves. As I reach my start point at the south end of the refuge’s boundary on Jupiter Island, I look up at the pre-dawn sky and see the sun coyly creeping above the Atlantic. The water is calm and the sun is enormous, Lion King-esque, and sublime as it casts a warm lava glow on the gentle waves.  I breathe in the salty air and think to myself that sunrises have become a cliché for good reason—they are simply beautiful.

Brown pelicans at sunriseBrown pelicans fly over the water as the sun rises.

It’s still hard to believe that most of my work days really start like this. Nine months ago I arrived at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge as a SCA intern with a background primarily in botany, uncertain about my future, but determined to make the crossover to wildlife biology. Familiarizing myself straight away with protocols and guidelines from the state and our permit holder as well as the database was daunting to say the least. But after receiving training, attending workshops, and with the unflagging support and confidence of my boss and co-workers, I eventually felt at ease in the position.

Hobe Sound Refuge is small, and besides the refuge manager and a part-time fee collector, we depend completely on volunteers, interns and the nonprofit that runs our visitor center. When funding for a wildlife technician became  available and I was offered the position, there was no hesitation in accepting it. 

Diana Gu on beach digging in pitDiana Gu searches for a green turtle clutch to be inventoried for a Nest Productivity Assessment, this time in an FWS uniform!

Today, I’m “wearing brown” (as Christine, the refuge manager, would say) and leading sea turtle, shorebird and exotic species surveys on a barrier island. It is truly is an honor and privilege to work here. As one of my volunteers pointed out, I look like something in between an Asian Adventure Barbie and a cardboard box, but I finally graduated from intern to completely legit name tag-wearing, benefits-receiving, uniformed, hired employee!

leatherback turtle on beachA nesting leatherback spotted during a survey. Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species weighing up to 1,500 pounds.

It’s hard to imagine a job could be any better than this one. Every day feels a little surreal. My backyard is the Indian River Lagoon, the most biodiverse estuarine system in the Northern Hemisphere. People from all over the world flock to the island to their multimillion dollar vacation homes and reserve coveted spots on our sea turtle night walks months in advance. Whenever I have a long survey where there’s 90+ crawls to investigate and record, it’s 100 degrees out, a thunderstorm threatens, or I’m lying in a hole in the sand and on hour 2 of locating the clutch of a leatherback nest, I just remind myself that this is the life. Even on my worst days, I’d still rather be moments from a natural disaster or heat exhaustion than sitting through hours of monotonous meetings, working for the weekend, and wondering what life would be like as a field biologist.

sea turtle hatchlingThis green sea turtle hatchling found during an excavation for the Nest Productivity Assessment is ready for release.

The work we do is challenging but immeasurably rewarding. Our refuge has one of the longest data records for sea turtle nesting of any beach in the United States.  This year the Treasure Coast collectively produced record breaking nesting numbers thanks to decades of battling urban night glow, removal of beach debris, and of course continued research and public outreach. It’s an honor to be part of the process, and I wouldn’t have been able to do so without the opportunities, experience and mentorship the SCA and the refuge provided me.

Curator's Corner: Light on its Feet

  floating mountain lionHave you ever seen such a lovely mountain lion? It looks like he is floating on air.  Well, he is floating on air!  When an illegally taken animal is confiscated by our law enforcement folks, the mounting that it is perched on does not have to be surrendered. The perpetrator/criminal in this particular case decided to keep the log that this pretty kitty was lying on, just to be mean, our officers said. So I guess people who see him in our storage room might think that he is a new hovercraft species of puma or that he is resting on an invisible branch. In reality, he is just a reflection of resentful law breakers!

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

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