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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Documentary Looks at Duck Stamp Contest

Think you have what it takes to craft a beautiful 7x10-inch piece of waterfowl art? Oh yeah, it has to also work on a canvas of less than three inches square. Winning the annual Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art contest sponsored by the government, is not for the faint of heart.

James Hautman sure has what it takes. He just won the 2016 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest and his painting of Canada geese will be made into the 2017-2018 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp.”

He’s won five times. So has his brother Joseph, whose art appears on the 2016-2017 Federal Duck Stamp. Brother Robert has also won several times.

If you want to get an inside look at the contest, documentary The Million Dollar Duck airs tonight at 9 pm ET on Animal Planet. The film, which won the Audience and Jury awards for Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival, features cameos by several Fish and Wildlife Service folks.

Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly

 2 monarchs on a tree branchFor decades, many hundreds of millions of monarchs flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer after wintering in Mexico. Their population has decreased by as much as 90 percent in recent years. Photo by AnnMarie Krmpotich/USFWS

The monarch butterfly is a treasured North American species – and an amazing creature. But monarchs are in trouble. And you can help.

RELATED: Am I Going to be a Monarch Dad or Brother?

This week’s National Wildlife Refuge System feature story, Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly,  looks at the monarch butterfly’s amazing migration route, generational life cycle, biology and metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.

 lifecycleOver a period of 28 to 38 days, a monarch completes its life cycle from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult. USFWS photos by Courtney Celley, Tina Shaw and Joanna Gilkeson

The story touches on why monarch butterflies are in trouble and how you can join many thousands of Americans in efforts to save them.

The story also includes links to a video or two that might entertain or amaze you or your children.

 2 monarchs on a flowering plant against the skyMonarch butterflies at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Photo by Keenan Adams/USFWS

“Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly” 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 story is posted on the Refuge System homepage each Wednesday.

Am I Going to be a Monarch Dad or Brother?

  Monarch caterpillar on milkweedA monarch caterpillar on a gnarly milkweed plant.

When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, in the same area I live now, I remember seeing butterflies regularly. But until my employer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, started focusing on the plight of monarchs and other pollinators, I hadn’t realized I had not seen a butterfly around the yard recently, although I had noticed other losses -- bats, bees, birds that aren’t sparrows. 

I went right out and bought some seeds for some milkweed, the only plants monarch caterpillars eat. The seeds didn’t grow. 

RELATED: North America's Butterfly

My mom, who lives next door and is an infinitely better gardener than I, bought me four butterfly weed plants and planted them in a box with good soil. This type of milkweed did great but alas, no butterflies. 

This spring, mom and I got six swamp milkweed plants, and each took three. 

  milkweedMy milkweed, which is now spreading seeds.

Along with the returning butterfly weed, my milkweed looks awesome. It has grown, produced lots of leaves, even a few flowers. Mom didn’t have such good luck. Two of her milkweed plants died; the other was all dry and scrawny. 

Still, we had a butterfly or two, even a monarch. And milkweed helps other pollinators, too. 

  milkweedMom's milkweed.

Take a guess where we saw the first monarch caterpillar (the one in the top photo). That’s right. A female monarch chose to lay one of her eggs on one of my mom’s pathetic plants. 

Mom actually removed the stalk from her caterpillar-bearing plant, cut off a few stalks from one of my plants, with its tasty leaves, and brought them onto her porch because it didn’t look like the caterpillar would have enough leaves on her sad-looking plant. 

  Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
The caterpillar that got my hopes up.

I figured I’d be a monarch sibling at best. Until a few days later! 

I was out playing with my dog when mom came over and looked at my little plot. There was a big caterpillar on my milkweed. And he was big. It looked like he’d already eaten several leaves. 

Grow, little guy, grow, then turn yourself into a beautiful butterfly, I thought. But then, a few hours later, he was gone. Vanished, to who knows where? Did he just go somewhere we can’t see? Did he become a late-morning snack for something? Did our efforts to “grow” butterflies actually amount to something for the monarch in the end? 

Hard to say, and we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we’ll keep growing milkweed and hoping he’s OK. Parenthood is stressful.


Matt Trott, External Affairs

Partnering with Google Cultural Institute Brings Endangered Species to Life

  Karner blue butterfly/African elephant/Hawaiian monk seal From left to right, photo credits in parentheses: Karner blue butterfly (Joel Trick/USFWS), African elephant (Michelle Gadd/USFWS), Hawaiian monk seal at Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (James Watt).

If you believe that everyone should have access to the world’s cultural and natural history in this digital age, then check out the Google Cultural Institute where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presents more than 90 striking images and fascinating wildlife stories and facts. Our treasure trove of endangered species materials came to life online September 13 as a part of the Google Cultural Institute’s Natural History Collection.

The Google Cultural Institute started in 2011 with the goal of partnering with organizations to bring the world’s cultural heritage online. Millions of items, including photos and video, are online.

Google’s new Natural History Collection includes an exhibit dedicated to the stories of threatened and endangered species from around the globe. Our contribution paints a picture of the threats facing plants and animals around the world, while also highlighting the inspiring conservation work that is helping some of them recover.  Users will discover stories of unknown and lesser-known species, learn about the magnificent places where one can find these plants and animals, and be inspired to conserve our shared natural treasures. People can experience the California condor, manatee, leatherback sea turtle and red knot, and we will continue to expand the online exhibit.

This exhibit offers people new access to the diversity and fragility of nature, giving them compelling reasons to work on behalf of conservation for the world’s natural resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works collaboratively with partners to conserve the most imperiled species facing a suite of unrelenting challenges: Habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and an expanding worldwide human population are all stressing the natural environment at an unprecedented rate. People from all around the globe will have to work together to address these issues. We hope that this inventive platform and particular exhibit will enlighten, engage, and inspire more people to protect the unique natural history that surrounds us all.

Feeding Time at Maine's Goosefare Brook

 Juvenile common tern on the sand with beak open  A juvenile common tern begs for food. Photo by Brian Harris/USFWS

Plover intern Meaghan Lyon and plover technician Katrina Amaral got an eyeful of bird behavior one day and they tell us about it.

The mouth of Goosefare Brook opens to the Atlantic Sea at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge owns a large section of salt marsh that Goosefare Brook flows through on its way to the sea. Refuge staff also monitors the adjacent beach and dune habitat for nesting piping plovers. Beyond plovers, shorebirds and seabirds of all types frequent this area, and that was especially true one late July morning. Herring gulls, ringed-billed gulls, common terns, least terns and piping plovers could be found along the river’s edge, indulging in breakfast treats or relaxing in the early sunshine.

The gulls mostly stared at their webbed feet, tilting their heads sideways as the seawater dripped from their bills. The terns flew in sporadic circles around each other, calling noisily with every slight motion. Every so often, a tern would make a sharp turn downward, plunging into the flowing water and popping to the surface and into flight again in a single motion. The piping plovers fed along the intertidal area, poking and prodding their blunt bills into the sand.

Many of these birds were accompanied by juveniles. The young gulls foraged for themselves, while the newly fledged tern chicks begged incessantly on the sandy shore. With their mouths hanging open, they called and waited for their parents to bring in fish. The piping plover chicks – hatched only two weeks earlier - foraged independently, observed by their parents. They would briefly pause to practice their flight, running along the sand and flapping their downy wings like maniacs.     

 Goosefare Brook Goosefare Brook. Photo by Katrina Amaral/USFWS

Mornings like this one illuminate the differences in bird feeding behaviors and highlight differences in adaptations of shore- and seabirds. It is especially important during this time of year to understand the importance of this feeding behavior. Many species are fueling up in preparation for the migration season.

Gulls move relatively short distances and are a common sight year-round in the Gulf of Maine, but some banded piping plovers whose nests have been monitored by refuge staff have been observed wintering down in South Carolina and the Bahamas.

Terns are longer-distance migrants, traveling down to South America for the winter. Some common terns observed on refuge beaches sport orange flags, indicating that they were banded in Argentina. During the summer, refuge staff saw a large number of migrating terns, including 22 individually banded roseate terns and a juvenile Forster’s tern (an uncommon species for the area).

Staff also participated in the International Shorebird Survey, which provides important data on stopover sites for migratory shorebirds.

This year marks the Centennial of the First Migratory Treaty, which was the first international agreement in American history to protect migratory birds wherever they live, breed and rest. Thanks to people like the staff at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the first 100 years of the treaty have been a success. Here’s to many, many more.

A History of the Federal Duck Stamp

  Canada geese paintingCanada geese by James Hautman

On Saturday, we named Minnesota artist James Hautman the winner of the 2016 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. The painting will be made into the 2017-2018 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp,” which will go on sale in late June 2017.

The win is his fifth, tying him with his brother Joseph, whose art appears on the 2016-2017 Federal Duck Stamp. Brother Robert placed third. Rebekah Knight of Missouri, who previously won the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest, placed second.

The Federal Duck Stamp is the nation’s oldest and most successful waterfowl/bird conservation effort.  For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes directly to purchase vital habitat or acquire conservation easements for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, more than 5.7 million acres have been acquired using Federal Duck Stamp revenues. More than 300 national wildlife refuges were created or have been expanded using Federal Duck Stamp dollars. At least one refuge in nearly every state has benefitted from Duck Stamp dollars.

Read about the history behind the stamp

Crawfish or Crayfish?

  crayfish Lagniappe crawfish. Photo by Susan Adams/U.S. Forest Service

Crawfish vs Crayfish:  What’s the difference anyway?  An expert once said you study crayfish, and you eat crawfish.  So we'll refer to them as crayfish in this story.  

Of the nearly 500 species of crayfish found in the world, approximately 350 are found in the United States, that’s nearly 70 percent of the world’s crayfish fauna - most of which is concentrated in the Southeast. Crayfish can be found in a variety of habitats from streams, lakes, and rivers, to springs, swamps and even underground caves. Crayfish that live entirely underground are referred to as troglobitic species. Lacking the benefits of the sun, troglobitic species lack any external pigmentation and tend to be white (mostly translucent) and blind. Although the ecological benefits of crayfish are vastly unknown, we do know that they serve as the primary food source for numerous fish and bird species as well as most mammals that forage around water.  They tend to be very hardy animals that can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions.  

Alabama may very well harbor the greatest diversity of crayfishes in the country. Currently, there are an estimated 93 different species (and growing annually) reported within Alabama, which slightly exceeds Georgia and Tennessee.  In fact, the first statewide inventory was completed in 2006, and identified an astounding 85 species. 

Learn more about what our Alabama Ecological Service Field Office is doing to build partnerships and conserve aquatic species in the state: http://bit.ly/2c7ZY4L 

How to Count, ID Waterfowl When You’re Flying

aerial observer website

Ever try to identify or count ducks when looking down at them while flying in a plane at 100 mph?  If you’re a biologist who’s conducted aerial waterfowl surveys, you know how tough it is.  Although wildlife managers routinely conduct aerial waterbird surveys to measure status, no comprehensive training tools have existed to improve species identification and establish quantifiable standards for aerial observers.  Until now.

Two products are now available to help in training aerial observers – a field guide, using still photos, and a website that employs high-definition video, still photos and interactive testing features. 

The field guide, Aerial Observers Guide to North American Waterfowl, is intended more for in-flight use to help improve skills in waterfowl identification.  It covers all species of North American waterfowl highlighting distinguishing characteristics and flight patterns. 

The website includes online training and testing tools for species identification and counting that simulate the visual experience of aerial surveys.  To obtain the videos for this training, Service biologist Tim Bowman worked with videographers to acquire geographically comprehensive aerial footage of waterfowl species throughout North America.  Video footage was obtained using an ultra-stabilized camera system mounted on the nose of a helicopter (the  same technology used in the Planet Earth series).  

Taken together, these two components represent a user-friendly program to help standardize training for species identification and flock estimation.   It’s a creative solution to a decades-old challenge for aerial observers and is intended to promote more reliable and defensible aerial survey data. 

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.

Service Special Agents Work Resembles an Action Movie

  AssetsMillions in gold, jewelry, cash and wildlife products were seized during Operation Crash. Photo by USFWS

 An average looking man walks into a Los Angeles, California, bank safe deposit vault carrying a black backpack. What the bank employees cannot see is that he opens a bank box filled with cash, jewelry, and gold bars. He stuffs several stacks of cash into the backpack, casually walks out from the bank, and gets into a waiting taxi that drives him to the airport. He boards a plane and flies to Kansas City, Missouri. He exits the Kansas City airport, jumps into a waiting car that drives one circle around the airport, and takes him back to the entrance of the airport. The man gets out from the car leaving his backpack filled with cash on the backseat. He reenters the airport and boards a plane for Los Angeles. The cash in the backpack will be used to purchase an illegal rhinoceros horn.

The action above sounds like it was taken from a movie script, but this was an actual case investigated special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What that wildlife trafficker did not realize was that he was being watched and followed by undercover special agents working an investigation that was part of Operation Crash.

Operation Crash was created to catch, and send to prosecution, wildlife traffickers who were dealing in illegal rhino horn and elephant ivory products. Thanks to the operation, the Service has made 42 arrests, 30 convictions, and 27 wildlife traffickers have been sentenced in federal court. Those sentenced are serving a cumulative 34 years of prison and almost $7.5 million have been paid in fines and restitution. With support from other federal agencies, Service special agents have also seized more than $75 million in rhino horns and elephant ivory.

Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement, Ed Grace and the Operation Crash team, were nominated in the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement category of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, which highlight the best work of our country’s dedicated public servants. Previous “Sammie” winners include those who created medical advances and drug therapies to help paralyzed veterans; a global vaccination campaign; and the creation of an aerial sensor system to identify and destroy improvised explosive devices.

Everyone with a Facebook account can vote for the People’s Choice honoree … until this Friday, September 9, 2016 at 11:59 pm. You may vote daily, but only one vote per day. Please send this blog to your friends, family, and to those who care about protecting wildlife.

Click here to vote

From a First Hike to Helping First Nations, Darcey Pursues Career in Conservation

  Darcey Evans

Darcey Evans has always been passionate about the environment. Growing up, long weekend hikes with her dog first sparked her interest in conservation. Today, she is working with the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) as a Tribal Climate Change Management Intern for the summer and is looking forward to pursuing a lifelong career in the fields of conservation and climate change.

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