Sunday, June 22, 2014

Friday Roundup: The Week's Wildlife Links (June 20th, 2014)

I know I'm late. Thanks for noticing.

Want to know the difference between animal rights and wildlife conservation? Learn more about feral cats.

One-ton man-eating crocodile caught in Uganda, at least that's what the article says.

In wolf news: Saskatchewan is making it easier to kill them. For the first time in 89 years, a wolf appears in Iowa-is shot dead. In Europe, wolf spotted in Holland for first time in a century. If wolves come back elsewhere in the States, what will happen to the foxes and coyotes? Wandering Oregon wolf OR-7 may have found a companion. Watch Game of Thrones and ever wondered what Dire Wolves really were? Wonder no more.

Now to bears: Oil-soaked Grizzly found wandering around Banff. In Kootenay, a mother Black Bear overcomes a road-hurdle to help a cub. Sometimes, a short video clip is all that is needed to make you rethink our relationship with wildlife. Check out this casual Grizzly. People are starting to talk about reintroducing Grizzlies to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Hunters after Black Bears in Idaho kill a Grizzly by mistake.

Meanwhile, up north Grizzlies are wandering closer and closer to Polar Bears and some concerning hybrids are starting to show upA warming climate is bad news for Polar Bears. What will they eat? Apparently, more starfish.

Students raise trout in the classroom-end up feeding them to bears.

Bears and wolves converge to feast on dead whale.

Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed each year by ivory poachers in Africa. Tens of thousands. Iconic and famous elephants are starting to fall. Civil war invades an elephant sanctuary in the Central African Republic. Mountain Bull, legendary Kenyan elephant, found dead. Shortly afterwards, Satao is found dead too. Another tribute to Satao here.

No, Lovebugs were not created by scientists.

Living alongside lions in Kenya. Living with other wildlife can be challenging too. Chimpanzees are raiding farms in Rwanda. How technology can help reduce conflict with livestock-raiding Snow Leopards and how rapid response teams in Costa Rica are helping farmers dealing with Jaguars killing their pets and livestock.

Whooping Cranes are hatching in Wisconsin.

Northern Elephant Seals are making a comeback in a big way.

Rediscovering vanished snakes.

Despite poaching, rhinos in India are up.

Have you seen any dead cicadas lately? You can help out on some cool citizen science.

Sure, Africa has some impressive wildlife migrations, like these zebra traveling from Namibia to Botswana. But wildlife migrations happen in the States too, check out these Mule Deer.

Heron eats rabbit.

Large-scale habitat restoration in Tampa, Florida.

World's oldest Orca (103 years!) spotted off B.C.

Some invertebrates, like cockroaches, care after their young. Some even nurse them, kind of...fascinating stuff.

What's wrong with the moose of New England?

Traditionalists and technology collide in the bird-watching world.

The toxic brew in our yards.

Did I miss something interesting? Let me know below.


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Readers Write In: We Were Trying to Enjoy The River But What's Up With All These Snakes? ---Guest Post---

While camping this week end in the Pigeon River country, mid-Michigan we encountered many snakes in the Pigeon River while the kids were swimming? We have been swimming there for many years and never seen a snake? It appeared to be a mating ritual? The water is very cold. The holiday was a week early and that may explain why we have missed this before. We were all amazed and wondered where we could find information. I googled it but it never mentioned any thing about mating habits? They were marked like rattlesnakes. We just couldn't place them in such cold water?



    It sounds like your family was enjoying a wonderful camping trip! One of my favorite pastimes is floating down Michigan rivers and observing wildlife along the way. I know you didn't ask me, but I will tell you in my opinion there is not a more relaxing or enjoyable thing to do on a warm sunny day. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of exploring the Pigeon River yet, but it is on my list of rivers to make time for. There are too many miles of great paddling here in Michigan for one persons's lifetime. That being said, I spend enough hours on the water, and I have more than a slight interest in reptiles and amphibians, so I figure I should be able to try and help out by answering a few of your questions!

Baby Northern Watersnake
    Snakes can be tricky beasts for sure. Even though they are fairly common along Michigan rivers, they can be hard to see. They are secretive and very well camouflaged. If you don't look for them, you often don't see them! They are not the evil creatures people often take them for. They will usually remain motionless as you go by, or quickly flee the area. Both scenarios may occur without most people knowing the snake was ever in the area. I can't tell you how many times I am out looking for reptiles, and other people in a populated place are very surprised to find out there are snakes right in the area. 

    If you know a little about snakes and their habits, they can be easier to find. The spring is probably the best time of the year to try and observe them. It sounds like your day was one of those rare days where certain factors aligned, making for ideal conditions for snakes to be out and active. I don't need to remind you what a long and rough winter we had up here in the north. Our spring was very delayed because of this, and vegetation had a much later start than normal. The snakes were likely taking advantage of one of our first warm and sunny days after the long winter. They tend to be be active for longer periods of time basking, foraging for food and mating. The lower levels of vegetation might have made it easier for your family to notice them as well.

Northern Watersnake
    The snakes your family saw were most likely Northern Watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) They are very common along and in our Michigan Rivers and are not deterred at all by the cold water. They spend much of their time basking along river banks, in over hanging bushes and shrubs, or on fallen trees and logs in the water. You may also find them hunting and swimming in the shallows. Sometimes, you may have already spooked the snake and you first noticed them swimming away in an effort to seek refuge in the water. Their diet consists of fish, frogs and insects and they pose no risk to your family. If grabbed or handled though, they will bite in defense, and often release foul smelling feces from their anal vent. It may go without saying, but catching a water snake by hand is rarely an enjoyable experience for both parties involved.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
    Northern Watersnakes are variable in pattern, but tend to have a drab brown or grey base coloration with darker bands criss-crossing along their backs. They can grow to be quite sizeable, maybe even a few feet in length, and their pattern will often fade as they age. They are one of the most common Michigan snakes confused for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus). The two species do have similar colors and patterns. The biggest giveaway is the presence or lack of a rattle at the end of the tail, but familiarizing yourself with the different species patterns and habits also makes it pretty easy to tell them apart. Massasaugas are common in wetlands, fens, wet prairies and even sometimes woods along our Michigan rivers, but will rarely actually be found swimming in a larger river such as the Pigeon. To my knowledge, they are common along the Pigeon River.

Northern Watersnake
    Finally, you mentioned that they appeared to have been mating. Similar to humans, some species of snakes also partake in intricate and confusing mating rituals. Garter snakes and water snakes (but not Cottonmouths) are well known to form "mating balls". Typically a female or two will be basking and she will attract the attention of a number of males. The snakes end up intertwined and almost "balled up" for a significant amount of time. The males will fight for position and the ability to mate with the females. This may sound very similar to you, as it is often also seen on a Friday or Saturday night right here in the metro Detroit area! I haven't personally seen this in water snakes, but it is well documented in the literature. If you search google for "Northern Watersnake mating ball",  there are a number of good Youtube videos showing this.

    Your family obviously has a wonderful interest in nature and the outdoors. If you would like more information regarding reptiles and amphibians in Michigan there are a number of wonderful local resources available to you. My favorite books would have to include, The Amphibians and Reptiles of Michigan, by J. Alan HolmanAmphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region, by James H. Harding, and the more general Peterson Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Many of the local parks with nature centers have knowledgable naturalists who often hold "herp" programs which provide you a controlled opportunity to often search for these animals on guided hikes. Lastly, there are a number of excellent reptile and amphibian enthusiasts, researchers and photographers in Michigan who are active on the web with blogs, photography websites and even twitterfeeds. Finally, if you do get more interested, I would encourage you to try and take pictures of your finds and contribute them to the Michigan Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. It is great effort to document observations of reptiles and amphibians all over the state to try and learn more about their occurrences. It also provides a chance for the casual citizen scientist to contribute their observations.

As always, if you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

About the Author, Jason Folt

I grew up in the midwest, splitting time between Ohio and Michigan, and I have not been able to leave. I fell in love with the southeastern Ohio hills, and now the northern Michigan rivers. As my night job I am an emergency physician who practices in the metropolitan Detroit area, and I am involved in the training of medical students and residents. My interests lie in airway management, envenomations and medical photography. By day, I enjoy spending my time outdoors when possible, searching for opportunities to photograph wildlife. I am a herp generalist, but in Michigan I find myself spending most of my free time searching for turtles.  I travel with my kayak when I can and am always trying to explore new sections of rivers looking for wood turtles. I keep observational herp records which are contributed to state officials, and I try to volunteer with formal surveys when invited. I also enjoy diving, and recently entered the world of underwater photography.

I try to share my various outdoor adventures on my blog, I also spend a little time on twitter: @jasonfolt. Feel free to connect with me at any time!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Readers Write In: This Snake Bit Me, What is it? And More...

1) This picture of what I think is either mating green snakes or yellow rat snakes was taken on the deck of our beach cottage on Seabrook Island, SC. Thought you'd find the "intertwined" snakes interesting. Can you identify and confirm this is a mating ritual?

Vincent S.
ok, South Carolina

2) Wondering what kind of snake this is. It was found in Springfield, Il. We have a built-in pool in the back yard and a wooded back lot behind our house. We put the snake out in the field and it came back twice. He was placed probably 40 feet from where we found him. Should we be concerned?

Steven D.
Springfield, Illinois


3) Could you help to identify the attached snake? We had a friend just bit by this one.


Mark A.
Cullman, Alabama

4) What kind of snake is this?


Readers: What Are These Snakes?

Snake Identification Post Ground Rules

-Guesses are welcome and encouraged. Don't worry if you're not an expert, wrong guesses allow us to talk about how to distinguish between the various species and that's why I run these posts.

-If you can't explain why you think a snake is a particular species, go ahead and just say what you think it is. But otherwise please do let us all know how you identified the animal. If you're wrong, we can explain why. If you're right, this helps everyone learn how to identify snakes, which is the goal of these posts.

-You can safely assume that I know what kind of snake is in the picture, I run these posts because they are outreach opportunities. Please don't send me private e-mails with your guesses, include them below.

-Remember, the person that sent me the picture is probably reading your comments. Although it is frustrating to know that many of these snakes have been killed, these people do want to learn more about them. More snake knowledge will lead to fewer snakes being killed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Readers Write In: What to do about the Duck Nest in my Window? --Guest Post--

    When David got the following question last week, he asked around on Twitter for a bird person to tackle it and I ended up offering my services:


A wild duck (mallard?) has made a nest in our window flower box and is sitting on 4 eggs. We’re very concerned that if/when the ducklings hatch they will simply die because next to our window ledge, about 2 feet lower, is a flat asphalt roof. It has some standing water on it (currently a couple of inches), but that’s it. The roof also gets really hot in the summer (and then the water usually dries up). There is no other place to go from the roof, without flying.

What would be the most humane thing to do? Remove/destroy the eggs?  Or “see what happens”?

Zintis M.
Montclair, NJ

    While it's true that Mallards usually nest at ground level, exceptions definitely exist – a quick Google search yielded lots of stories of Mallards nesting on roofs, and years ago I stumbled across one in a more natural environment that had built a nest in a hollow tree (the photo I got of it isn't great quality but gives you the idea).
    Another North American duck, the Wood Duck, always nests in hollow trees (or in nest boxes provided by people). Every single Wood Duck begins its life with a flying leap from its arboreal nest to the forest floor. This clip from the BBC's Planet Earth spectacularly documents this behavior in the Wood Duck's Asian cousin, the Mandarin Duck.

    So, I emailed Zintis back to ask how high the roof in question is, thinking that if it was just a single story off the ground, the ducks might be fine where they were. He replied as follows:

The roof is between 15 and 18 feet off the ground, but there’s only concrete below, a very active parking lot. (The middle of a city.) There’s a small, seasonal stream a few blocks away (again all encased in cement), and I don’t know of any other nearby stream/pond. The other challenge of course is that this is the middle of a city with active streets.

    All in all this does sound like a hazardous situation for a group of ducklings, despite the relatively low height of the roof. Based on this additional information, I advised Zintis that his best bet would be to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator and see if they would be willing to relocate the birds (assuming the cranky landlord would allow it); I was able to determine from the website of the New Jersey Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators that a rehabber one county from over him works with waterfowl. He spoke to them and they said that at this point, with the mother Mallard already sitting on a full clutch of eggs, the best thing to do is just wait and see what happens. Everyone, keep your fingers crossed.

If you are ever concerned about the health or safety of a wild animal you've found, just type “[your state here] wildlife rehabilitators” into Google and you should be able to find a list of licensed rehabbers in your area. 

    Although (as in this case) there's not always an easy answer about the best way to help, or if human intervention is even necessary, every wildlife rehabilitator I've met loves to help animals and is happy to advise concerned members of the public.

    Have you ever found birds nesting in an unusual or unfortunate place? Did you do anything about it? If so, what? Let us know in the comments!

Rebecca Deatsman is a naturalist and educator currently based out of Walla Walla, Washington. She blogs about natural history at Rebecca in the Woods and can be found on Twitter as @rdeatsman.