Saturday, March 31, 2012

WNS in Canada

The following is from the latest e-newsletter from Bat Conservation International
March 2012, Volume 10, Number 3
Bats in the News - WNS ‘endangers’ Canadian bats

White-nose Syndrome is killing Canadian bats in such catastrophic numbers that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is recommending an emergency order to add three bat species to the nation’s endangered species list, Postmedia News reports.

Tri-colored bat
© Bat Conservation International
The wildlife disease, discovered in a New York cave in 2006, is so deadly that it poses a “serious and imminent threat to the survival” of these bats, the committee of wildlife experts concluded after an emergency meeting, according to the nationwide news service. The species are the tri-colored bat, little brown myotis and northern myotis.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent would make the decision on listing the species as endangered.

“This is one of the biggest events in terms of a massive decline in a common mammal in such a short period of time ever recorded,” committee member Graham Forbes, of the University of New Brunswick, told Postmedia News. “This is dramatic.” WNS has battered bat populations in four Canadian provinces

In the United States, meanwhile, WNS has been confirmed for the first time in Alabama, the 18th state to be hit by the disease. The Geomyces destructans fungus that causes the disease has been found two other states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates that White-nose Syndrome has killed more than 5.7 million bats in North America. Mortality rates approaching 100 percent have been reported at some bat-hibernation sites.

The committee also warns that the impact of White-nose Syndrome will be felt far beyond bat caves, reporter Margaret Munro writes. “Bats provide tremendous value to the economy as natural pest control for farms and forests every year and may play an important role in helping to control insects that spread disease to people.”
U.S. researchers have estimated the bat die-off will cost North American agriculture $3.7 billion annually.
The committee says the fungus likely impacts many bat species, but it is hitting these three Canadian species especially hard. They all hibernate in caves or mines, which are cold and damp and hospitable to the WNS fungus.

The tri-colored bat is relatively rare, the committee said, but at one hibernation spot in Quebec their numbers dropped 94 per cent over two years. “The disease risk to the tri-colored bat is considered exceptionally high because it hibernates at temperatures considered optimal for the pathogen and for relatively long periods of time.”
The little brown myotis has been quite common, but the committee said recent population counts at infected hibernation sites in eastern Canada show declines of up to 99 percent within two years of exposure, Postmedia reports. In the United States, scientists have predicted local extinctions of little brown myotis within 15 years because of WNS.

Northern myotis is also facing disastrously high mortality rates.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fire at Work

We had another prescribed burn at work last weekend - the first of the year. Here are a couple videos I shot during the burn. This took place after 7 PM, so the low light made the flames stand out beautifully.


 Do you see it...there on Toby's toe?

 It's the first tick of the season!!!  AUGH!!!!!

This was taken about a week and a half ago.  I have since removed two ticks from his lips (about the only place he hasn't been treated with tick-proofing poisons), and one from my back.  Oh, and I had one crawl off me and up the book I was reading last Sunday afternoon.

>sigh<  "They" say it will be another big tick year since the winter (what winter?) was so mild.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Evening Walk Down the Road

It's been in the 80s this week already.  The woods are now flushed with green - mostly honeysuckles - and I think I saw some shadbushes (serviceberries) in bloom as well. 

As the sun sinks in the west and the evening starts to cool, Toby and I find it hard to resist longer walks.  Going down the road and around the corner, we have another lovely old barn, hard by a nice old orchard.

We met the owner of the orchard this evening, who was out walking her spaniel.  It seems, however, that she and her husband are slowly tearing out the apple trees.  What a pity - there are probably some old heritage varieties in there.  They bought the place 15 years ago and have no interest in maintaining the orchard.  Mostly it feeds the deer now.  I'd love to know what varieties are in there.

Our first snake of the season was sadly a roadkill.  It was a lovely large garter snake.  I am constantly amazed at the turquoise blue these snakes turn after death. I am curious as to why, so of course I did a search on-line.  As it turns out, it has to do with chemistry as well as physiology.  "After death, green snakes turn blue in dorsal coloration. Yellow and blue pigments in the skin fuse to produce the bright green color in the living snakes. After death, the yellow pigment breaks down very quickly, whereas the blue pigment is more stable and remains much longer. This is also why garter snakes, that have been dead for a while have blue dorsal and lateral stripes." (from  

I picked up my deceased friend and placed it gently in the grass by a tree.  

There were times in the Adirondacks when I bemoaned the lack of oak trees.  My life is more than making up for this former lack.  The historic landscape of this part of Michigan was largely oak savanna - lots of oak trees.  I am having to work at relearning my oaks - red vs white is easy enough, but then one must consider swamp white, burr, pin, chinquapin, black, fire, and more! One thing I do know - the oaks (I think these are the white oaks) are all gnarly and contorted in their growth pattern.  Silhouetted against the sky they make ideal spooky Hallowe'en trees!  There's something almost Seussian about them.

The forsythia are in full bloom - all within two days!

Last night I heard my first towhee of the season, and saw my first bat.  The woodcocks are in full display, and the killdeer are back.  I hear meadowlarks each morning and evening, too.  Gary thinks he heard a blue-grey gnatcatcher yesterday. 

Rumor has it we should put out our hummingbird feeders.  Not so much for the northward-bound ruby-throats, which are still in Tennessee, but for the possible wayward other species that just might show up!  I must give mine a good cleaning and make up some nectar.


I'm on fire.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It's Only Mid-March...

... and the farmers are out plowing...

...and the plants are sprouting...

... and I'm going to have to MOW...

... and we are taking our evening walk in a t-shirt...

... and the morning fog tells of a hot and humid day ahead ...

... and I'm already photographing spiderwebs covered in dew.

Sure, it's great to hear the dawn chorus, and to revel in the early morning warmth and the warm glow of the sunrise, but it's the middle of flippin' March! 

There was a tornado about 20 miles northeast of me two days ago.  Summer weather patterns were to blame.

Strange, strange weather.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bees - Endlessly Fascinating

As someone who grew up with a nearly paralytic fear of bees and all stinging insects in general, I find myself oddly drawn to these insects here in the latter part of my life.

At least as long as my associations with them are on my own terms.

Over the last few years I've become quite interested in native bees, and in fact next weekend I am attending a workshop on native bee ID (a program I've been trying to get someone to lead here at work).

Yesterday I received a postcard in the mail from Icarus Films, a company that is currently promoting one of its newest flicks:  The Strange Disappearance of the Bees, by Mark Daniels.

Here's a teaser clip from the documentary:

Then, while looking for more information about this movie, I came across THIS video clip about how it is bumble bees can fly (an on-going factoid among children and adults alike:  bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly):

The more I learn about bees, the more fascinating they become. I wonder, if honey bee colonies continue to decline, will native pollinators be able to fill in the gaping chasm they leave behind?

Bees and bats...rapid declines.  Causes coming to light.  And just in case you are wondering about the bats, WNS has just been confirmed in Alabama - the 18th and most southerly state to have its bats fall victim to this ravaging fungus.  

Dark days ahead.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sunny Day and the Bugs Come Out

Nearly 80 yesterday, and 77 the last time I checked today.  Unreal.  But it brought the early insects out to feed on the oozing sap from recently cut trees.

Here we have the Grey Comma nectaring away...

followed by some flies keeping the butterfly company.  I just love watching the different ways insects eat.

You can read more about this encounter over at my work blog: here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Evening Wander

How was Sunday in your neck of the woods?  It was balmy and sunny here.  I opened all the windows in the house and oh that fresh air smelled fine.  Laundry hung on the line was nearly dry within an hour!  It's good to have some warmth.

I knew that the latter part of the day, before the sun set, would be spent wandering with Toby in the nearby game area, so the rest of the day was spent getting chores done.  At 4:30 we headed out.

It's amazing to me, every year, just how quickly the trees respond to a little warm sunlight.  Admittedly, the lengthening daily photoperiod is also having its affect, but the warmth often seems to trigger things.  Even at a distance one can easily see the swollen buds on trees.

Upon closer inspection as we walked beneath this silver maple, I saw that not only were the buds swollen, but the flowers were blooming! 

Highway crews have also been out, with their branch-rending equipment.  Around here, instead of sending out crews to cut back the tangled roadside growth, they send out a single guy with a machine that just rips the living daylights out of trees, shrubs and saplings, leaving twisted, splintered, shredded devastation in its wake.  What an unsightly mess!

Spring is also a time of increased roadkill.  We found this pudgy skunk napping permanently along the roadside.  I am constantly amazed at the variety in the coloration of skunks.  While we all know that individuals (of any species) have their own traits, overall the species looks the same.  With skunks, however, the variation seems much more pronounced, perhaps because their coloration is so simple:  black and white.  And when you see an individual, like this one, where the white is extensive, it stands out, as would an individual whose white strips were very thin!  (Photographing a roadkilled skunk is not easily done with a dog in tow.)

I'm quite fond of skunks, which always seem to get a bad rap.  They are sweet animals, though.  Having cared for a baby skunk once, and meeting the pet skunk of a college friend, I've gotten to see them beyond their reputation.  They are nice animals, if aromatic.

About 3/4 mile from the house we reached our destination:  one of the gated entries into the Sharonville Game Area.

Here we are - a map of the whole area.  The Sharonville Game Area is essentially a state-maintained hunting area.  It's quite extensive.  I haven't spent much time exploring here for a couple reasons.  One, in the fall and winter there's a lot of hunting going on in there.  Two, in the summer, it's tick city!  And three, there are no trails (to speak of) for just walking.  But a couple weeks ago Toby and I did a very short wander in the section we revisited this evening, and I wanted to go back.

Here's an enlargement of the section we did - more or less in the middle of the map above.  The tan line marks the general direction of our wander this trip.  The red dot is our house.

I was glad to find this map because it confirmed what I suspected:  there are two ponds/lakes back in there, not just one!

So, off we went, across the field.  There was lots to see, like this old coyote scat.  Many nights we have heard the coyotes yipping and howling in the fields around us.  It's a wonderful long as it's in the distance.  I confess I get a little nervous when I think the sounds are getting close.

Looking north(-ish) across the field, there is a robust stand of brambles right before the tree line (which borders the first pond/lake).   It really is quite extensive.  I asked Gary if these brambles were considered "native" or "invasive," and he sort of implied they were a welcome part of the landscape because it is within these brambles that indigo buntings build their nests.  So, are they native?  I think so.

And in case you were wondering which brambly plant they are, they are blackberries.  Blackberries are easily identified by their square stems.  They also have palmately compound leaves, typically with five leaflets.  It's a bit early to see leaves, but the square stems were obvious.

It was quite warm in the sun.  Even though he blew his winter coat back in November/December, Toby was panting away to keep cool.

The first (and last) time we were here, a pair of sandhill cranes had staked out the rise of a small hill.  Today they were down on the other side.  Toby of course sounded the alarm, letting them know we were there.  Fortunately, I was able to quiet him down and we sat and watched the birds for a while.  Once silence fell, the birds calmed back down.

Pardon the bounciness in the video below.  I had the camera braced against my knees, but with the big lens, holding it still was impossible.  Another case made for schlepping a tripod around.

But, we couldn't sit around all evening, so eventually we stood.  The cranes, which by now were hidden in some tall grasses, finally decided that we were just too much for them, and they took off.

I'm sure they'll be back.  I think these ponds/lakes are roosting areas for cranes.  Last year we heard cranes in this direction every evening, and we would see them all flying in this direction as the sun set.

So, onward we went.  This is, I believe, the second body of water, labeled Tucker Lake on the map. 

Although the land is managed for wildlife (game animals), they don't really do much, or so it seems, to control invasive species.  There is a LOT of honeysuckle in these areas, and here we see it getting ready to leaf out.  These Asian honeysuckles were once touted as wonderful additions to the landscape because it was thought they were terrific sources of wildlife food.  Unfortunately, it isn't the best quality food for our native wildlife!  That would be native plants.  So, here we are, fifty years later, over-run with non-native shrubs that are pushing out the really beneficial plants.  I think getting these under control is going to require much more time and manpower than the state has available to commit.  Pity.  Maybe some day.

We were following a well-worn trail.  I don't know if it was a deer trail or a hunter trail, but it was very well-established.

Soon we were leaving the fields and entering a scrubby, brushy area, where we encountered a mess of "something" under some trees.  Was this a bait station?  It certainly didn't look like anything natural that I was familiar with.

A hole in the ground deserved a thorough sniffing. 

A pile of scat on the sand nearby suggested that coyotes were here, too.  The hole was too small to be a coyote den, but it could be an area the coyotes hunt. 

Suddenly the trial we were following split.  HM.  We were already heading further east than I really wanted to go (again, this was all new territory to me, and I didn't want to end up miles from home after dark).  So, we took the branch that headed downslope and northward.  I had a rough idea (hope) that this would come out (eventually) at the far side of Tucker Lake, which I had visited last spring in search of whip-poor-wills. 

Well, we walked.  And walked.  Thru tangled shrubs, across fields (field dog training sites, apparently), into a soggy bit of ground, and up two very steep slopes.  At the crest of the final big slope my hope proved sound:  here was the trail we had walked last spring.  Heading back down it, we soon came to the parking lot - hooray!  Now I knew where we were.

We came out on a dirt road - most of the roads here are dirt roads.  Thanks to the recent lack of rain it was in pretty good condition. 

I confess I was a little surprised to see this pool of water still covered in ice.  It is difficult to recall on sunny warm days when the chorus frogs are singing that a mere three to four days previously the snow was flying and it barely got above 20 degrees.

The back roads of this part of Michigan are dotted with all these lovely old farms.  The old barns are beautiful, even though most of them are in various stages of decay.  How I'd love to have one of these beauties on my land!

The old equipment is slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature. 

But can't you just picture a bunch of chicken walking around, pecking the ground, in front of these buildings?

We still had about a mile and a half to go before reaching home, so there wasn't a lot of time to dally.  While I really enjoyed our wander across acreage new to us, I was nervously watching the sun set.  At this intersection I knew we had 0.7 miles to go - a short jaunt.

When we got home, I discovered we'd been out about two and a half hours.  Not too bad.  We must've covered over three miles, thanks to our aimless wandering.  Somehow, though, it seemed more like five!  Both of us were ready for a good long drink of water.

On the way home we listened to a killdeer calling as it flew over the fields, and after dark, the woodcocks started peenting.  Spring is poised to spring.