Monday, March 29, 2010

New Blog

I found a new blog just recently. I don't remember what series of links of this and that led me there. But it is a blog about hunting and the outdoors by a, as he puts it, "Vegan turned hunter."

It definitely gives him a slightly different take on the matter - and I like the way he writes.

One recent post starts something like this:

‘Gone killing

Hunters and anglers, writes Marc Bekoff in Animals Matter, “often like to hang signs that say ‘Gone Fishin’’ or ‘Gone Huntin’.’ But what these slogans really mean is ‘Gone killing.’”

When I opposed hunting, I would—like Bekoff—have objected to the euphemisms. Even catch-and-release fishing, with its professed intent not to kill, often does.

Now that I hunt, though, what strikes me is simply that “gone killing” is a terribly inaccurate description of my experiences in the woods.

When I hunt deer, the creatures I see most often are small woodland birds, usually chickadees. If I’m lucky, a pileated woodpecker might land on a nearby tree trunk with a thwack, or a pair of ruffed grouse might scurry by in the brush. Typically, the biggest mammal I see is a red squirrel, hopping past or pausing to scold me.

Hunters do hope to kill now and then. Yet many of us go years without doing so. I recall talking with a man who was out in the woods, hunting with his son. He said he hadn’t shot a deer in over twenty years. He seemed perfectly content just being out there.

He goes on from there and gives a great description of what a day in the woods is really like for most of us.

If you get a chance, slide over there. His writing is good and, I would think, you will approve of the subject matter

Peregrine Falcon Acting Pretty Cocky Since Being Taken Off Endangered Species List

A coworker of mine sent me this article today at work. I have to say - I can see where the reporter was coming from. I have to warn the delicate - there is some off language in this report.

WASHINGTON—Only a few short years after being removed from the endangered species list, the American peregrine falcon—once considered a creature of nobility and grace—has transformed into an "unappreciative jerk," wildlife experts reported Monday.

According to workers at the Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting falcons around the world, the predatory bird has exhibited a complete change in attitude since its resurgence. Animal advocates have reportedly observed the falcon flaunting its magnificent 3.5-foot wingspan, nesting arrogantly atop nearby cliffs, and generally acting like "king shit" wherever it goes.

"For decades, the peregrine falcon faced a very real and very serious threat," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director Rowan Gould said. "There was a time when many of us feared we would never see this majestic creature again, when we did everything in our power to ensure that this marvel of nature would be around for generations to come."

Added Gould, "If only we'd known then what cocky little pricks they'd turn out to be."

In recent months, the peregrine falcon has continued to infuriate environmentalists by reclaiming its habitat without so much as a simple thank you, frequently and loudly mating in everyone's face, and hunting prey off the coast of Maine as though it were "master of the fucking skies."

To continue reading - go here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Python season

Earlier this month the Florida newspaper heralded that python season was now open!

Python hunting season begins today

March 08, 2010|

Time to put those snake-stalking skills to work. State wildlife officials have created a special python hunting season to try to stop the spread of the nonnative snakes throughout the Everglades and the hunting begins today.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says anyone with a hunting license who pays a $26 permit fee can kill the reptiles from today to April 17 on state-managed lands around the Everglades in South Florida.

The season is open for Burmese and Indian pythons, African rock pythons, green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards.

You see, Pythons are a nonnative - invasive - species. Florida does not want dangerous nonnatives in their state. it is perfectly reasonable. The animals can be dangerous, the newspaper articles (and fish and wildlife)sensationalize the dangers, so some action must be taken.

What is an invasive?

Invasive species tend to be highly competitive, highly adaptive and highly successful at reproducing. The lack of natural predators that normally keep an invasive species population in check is a key factor in a particular species' success, which in turn is devastating to the ecosystem that they come to inhabit. Many of the invasive species that have become common problems for people or the environment were introduced by way of ships. Unwittingly to humans, these species hitched a ride on the bottom of ships, in cargo or in ballast water. Some invasive species were introduced by explorers and travelers as pets or garden plants, or for other purposes such as pest control.

Usually they are accidents. Sometimes they are brought here on purpose, with the best of intentions and things get out of hand. The nutria is one example. It was brought here for its pelts. The beaver was getting rarer and rarer, and a new animal was needed for the fur trade. viola - nutria. Now they are destroying miles and miles of swampland as they move across the us.

There is a hunting season on nutria - year round - to help control the population but is that the way we normally deal with invasives? No. Unfortunately, the US has a split personality when it comes to critters.

If it is cute - we let them be.

It is easy to demonize snakes and reptiles, they are scaly and they don't blink. So how do we react to mammals that don't belong? No one really likes nutria, after all.

The top invasive mammal pests worldwide are rats, mice, cats, dogs, cattle, burros, horses, goats, hedgehogs, foxes, gray squirrels, coypus, pigs, possums, rabbits, deer, weasels, mink, and the mongoose.

Although they are considered invasive pests when feral in the wild, many of the top invasive mammals in the world lead a double life, as they are also desirable as pets and valuable as agricultural livestock. For example, cats, dogs, and rabbits are favored domestic pets and companions, but can be both a nuisance and a menace to ecosystems when turned loose in the wild. Similarly, horses and burros are used as pets and livestock, but in the wild they can damage ecosystems and deprive other species of food and water.

So can we act like Florida and open up a hunting season on these animals? Or is it just animals that are really dangerous to humans, like snakes.

Then get rid of the bees - they cause more deaths yearly than any other animal. What about horses? cows? These animals hurt more people than all of the snakes, lizards, and spiders in the country, combined.

What about damage done to ecosystems? Well then cats top the lists on that one.

Cats come in many colors, but they are not very green.

Fluffy, it turns out, is a serious threat to birds and other wildlife. But especially birds, which are in steep decline, according to a recent State of the Birds survey, which lists among factors predation by non-native animals and house pets (mostly cats).

They already want to hunt cats in some states.

Well What about horses? They fit into the ecosystem, don't they?

The growing herd is killing the natural beach environment, scientists say. The animals munch marsh grass, depriving birds of vital hiding places. They chew up beach plants, weakening sand dunes that protect the island. They trample delicate vegetation and, sometimes, birds' eggs.

With concern increasing over the horses' effect on the island, Assateague Island National Seashore is testing a contraceptive injection …

Hey, that is just up the road from me. We should have a horse hunting season. After all, they hurt the ecosystem, and horse meat is eaten all over the world.

We need to face the facts. Invasive, nonnative species are here. Some of the biggest catalysts for evolutionary change (a force that has been with us since the beginning of time) is a shift in the environment, predation, and prey. Nonnative species are going to be part of this.

Each animals true impact needs to be evaluated separately using the best science, not a knee jerk reaction to the way an animal looks, or moves. Emotion has no place in discussions like this. Policy makers cannot be swayed by this organization or that organization that want to enact legislation because some animals are cute and some aren't.

I would love to be able to hunt cats. They are everywhere. But I would need to bring in my own and he wouldn't like that. He definitely has an impact on the local ecosystems. But I can already hunt nutria. Is that because they are not pet worthy?

I don't have answers - just thoughts. Think about the double standard. Should we be hunting pythons in Florida? Horses in Virginia? Nutria in Louisiana? Red fox, donkey, sparrow, starling, wild pig?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who needs hawks?

Gettin' out

It seems that spring is here. The plum tree out back is in bloom and my youngest has started his garden. Bees will be getting here the second week in April - so not much longer.

I got the opportunity to get Gordon out for a stroll through the dunes today. The temperature had dropped from 74 yesterday to 40 with the wind blowing at 30 mph. Wind chill brings it down to close to freezing.

I took the kids to soccer and then headed up into the dunes in search of fox or raccoon. I wanted to get the smell in Gordon's nose. Gordon stayed close, investigating nearby. We meandered through the sand hills following game trails and looking for places where fox may lie up. We found a few promising spots that seemed to delight the dog's nose, but no live animals.

We headed off the dune and into an area where the forest was being swallowed by the sand. A great horned owl flushed in front of us and cruised low across the ponds below us.

The birds were out in force. Little black jobs jumping from branch to branch as the dog sniffed down below. This area looked great for squirrels except for the water. There were large green pools tenuously connected by narrow land bridges. A red shouldered hawk screamed at us from the trees.

It was a good walk - I am needing some excuses to get out into the woods this time of year.

Friday, March 26, 2010

spotting hawks

With me traveling so much lately, I've been seeing birds everywhere. Soccer fields are surprisingly good spots to see hawks. I've seen coopers, merlins, red tails, osprey, bald eagles, and sharp shins - all in the last two weeks. Here is a repost on how to spot hawks from around this time last year.

.......I went to my training today, and met up with a friend of mine from work. He knows I'm a falconer and is fascinated by the birds. His first question for me as I sat at the table was whether I had seen any birds. I ticked off the eagles, the red tails, kestrels, etc. He nodded his head, and then let me know he hadn't seen a single bird.

One of the things I've come to realize is that most people live their lives half asleep. They are so busy worrying about what comes next, that they don't realize what's happening right now. On a perfect day to view hawks, with a nice long drive, it is almost impossible not to see them. You just have to look.

When you become a falconer, one of the first things you learn when you become an apprentice is how to spot hawks. It's a side effect of America's falconry system. Apprentice falconers are required to trap their first bird out of the wild. Therefore, it is important for the new falconer to learn the new hawk's habits and needs. You look for ducks on water because they find the things they need there. Hawks too need certain things.

I took some pictures with my point and click on the way home, I hope they help.

First off, we'll focus on red tailed hawks. They are common and easy to see. They sit up tall and they are large. Their chest is broad and white and has a distinct belly band.

Now, what does a red tail hawk need? Large tracts of land from which to hunt. An easily accessible perch. A broad view of the surrounding countryside.

Good place to look? On the side of the road. Start by looking at that tree close to home. You know the one, it sits away from the other trees. Maybe it's off by itself. Look in the top of that tree. Now as you drive down the road, there are hundreds of those trees. Peek at them as you drive, way near the top. Look for a large black shape near the top, sitting up.

Not there? Check the power lines, tops of poles. The higher the better. Remember, we are looking for a commanding view.

Flat land? What about those billboards. Maybe on top, maybe on the rail. Look real close, remember they are big.

(look next to the one)

Those big black birds circling way up in the sky? Forget 'em, they are vultures. Sometimes a peregrine will sneak in there and circle with them, or a merlin, but that is getting pretty advanced.

Keep your eyes open, they are there, if you know where to look.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are Yorkshire terriers really terriers?

You be the judge.

Eagles, Osprey, & Soccer

I've spent the last few weeks traveling; field trips, training, and soccer tournaments. I've been seeing lots of raptors. On a short two hour trip on a school bus to the fourth grader's field trip at Somerset plantation - I saw two pairs of raptors in the act of - um - procreation. Actually caught them in the act. It got me all excited for my own harris hawks to get busy.

Then I spent the rest of my time at soccer tournaments. One thing I have come to realize is that osprey are alive and well in this area. It seems that many of the Virginia soccer fields are built with large power transmission lines running near by. I find myself watching both soccer and osprey.

At one point, this particular pair was being repeatedly harassed by an immature bald eagle. he would swoop in, seemingly after the chicks, and both parents would leave the nest to gang up on him and drive him off.

It was cool to watch.

After seeing so much mating action all weekend, I returned home, rushed down to the hawk's cage, peeked into the nest and found.....

nothing. Crap.
Oh well - can't rush it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I wonder how he feels about peregrines

Anybody, I mean anybody, can love birds.
Read it all here.

"Mike Tyson and Animal Planet? They don't seem to go together, do they?" said Tyson. According to the N.Y. Post, the former heavyweight champ owns "a few hundred birds" at lofts in New Jersey and Brooklyn.

The Birdman of Boxing will be racing pigeons on his new Animal Planet show, "Taking on Tyson."

Stopping the Inevitable

I do blog about pythons sometimes. For many people they make great pets - but the secret is to be informed and responsible. This is true for any pet that can potentially harm its owner - Hawks included.

I stole this video from Terrierman 'cause I thought it was hilarious.

I'd like a new hand please

The potential here is astounding to me. Can you imagine the repercussions of being able to grow/ regenerate a lost limb or tissue.

It's science fiction - until now.
ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2010) — A quest that began over a decade ago with a chance observation has reached a milestone: the identification of a gene that may regulate regeneration in mammals. The absence of this single gene, called p21, confers a healing potential in mice long thought to have been lost through evolution and reserved for creatures like flatworms, sponges, and some species of salamander.

"Much like a newt that has lost a limb, these mice will replace missing or damaged tissue with healthy tissue that lacks any sign of scarring," said the project's lead scientist Ellen Heber-Katz, Ph.D., a professor in Wistar's Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis program. "While we are just beginning to understand the repercussions of these findings, perhaps, one day we'll be able to accelerate healing in humans by temporarily inactivating the p21 gene."
Wow - something to think about. Where is this going? Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the nightstand

I'm studying for a big "teacher thing" and my bookshelf is fairly bare of anything real intersting, but I just finished a great book.

The Old Man and the Boy was given to me by an older coworker. I don't know that he hunts, but he does appreciate good humor and wisdom.

What a great book. It is not an "on the edge of your seat" thriller. It is a story about hunting and the ties between a boy and his grandfather. Its a series of poignant, nostalgic stories. It is about how information, manners, and southern tradition is passed through generations.

It is written about a different time and must be taken in context. Women are treated differently than today, but the men's manners are better.

Amazon writes:
This classic captures the endearing relationship between a man and his grandson as they fish and hunt the lakes and woods of North Carolina. All the while the Old Man acts as teacher and guide, passing on his wisdom and life experiences to the boy, who listens in rapt fascination.

If you hunt - especially if you hunt on the east coast - read this book. If you are a son, a grandson, or a father who thinks passing on a tradition of outdoor field sports is important - read this book.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Filling time until next falconry season

This was my sons Christmas present. He put a couple of coats of paint on it, and we ordered bees. And we're just waiting for them to arrive.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fat birds

For the last week or so I have been feeding the hawks up and getting them fat. Their main food has been (believe it or not) squirrel. The main point is I want them to have plenty to eat, and never be hungry.

Apparently, food gets them in the mood. We'll see. I fed them both a whole chicken the other day and Tess continues to eat and eat.

When both birds were full, I found Gonzo checking out the nest and Tess was exploring his side of the cage.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something will happen soon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fighting obesity the all natural way

There has been much talk about how fat Americans are and what we should do about it. It seems obvious to me, stop eating so much. But, I realize that is a lot to ask. Nature has a way with dealing with animals that are too fat - predators.

ScienceDaily (Jan. 21, 2010) — Some Canadian shorebirds have had to get fit or die trying. Research published in the open access journal BMC Ecology has found that the average Pacific dunlin has lost weight and spends more time in flight as a response to the increased threat of predation from their arch-enemy, the peregrine falcon.

Fortunately for the falcon, the outlawing of the highly toxic chemical fertilizer DDT in the 1970s has led to an increase in their population. Bad luck though for Pacific dunlins, which once enjoyed lazy winter afternoons roosting in relative safety on the shore of the Fraser River estuary in British Columbia.

Drawing on a pool of data spanning four decades, a team of ecologists led by Ronald Ydenberg from Simon Fraser University has found that the dunlins have had to adapt their behavior -- and their diets -- in order to survive. Ydenberg says, "In the past, dunlins stored up fat reserves in the autumn months so that they could survive the harsh Canadian winters when food is short. What we're seeing now, however, with the increase in numbers of peregrine falcons, is that the dunlins have to consider the energy trade-off between preparing for starvation and being able to escape quickly."

So how does this relate to us, as Americans? Simple - outlaw guns and we need more top level predators to weed out the fat and lazy.

Hunting season

Squirrel season for me ends at the end of February. With spring it becomes harder and harder to find legal game to hunt. If I could keep the birds out and car hawk, we could hunt sparrows and starlings from the car, but they are being fed up in hopes that they will be struck with the mood for romance. I'll be opening their cages to provide them access to each other in the next couple of days.

In Florida (for good or bad), they have opened up the season on a new game species: Python.

Florida has set March 8 through April 17 as a special python-hunting season in an attempt to control several species of invasive reptiles, which are wreaking havoc on the south Florida ecosystem.

Species to be targeted include Indian and Burmese pythons (Python molurus and P.m. bivittatus ), African rock pythons (P. sebae ), green anacondas (Eunectes murinus ) and Nile monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus ).

The animals have all been labeled " reptiles of concern " by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It hopes the hunt will help control the eight-meter-long Burmese python, in particular, which has spread out of control throughout the state with populations growing into the thousands since the snakes first escaped from cages[?? FROM THE ZOO?; PET SHOPS?] during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The whole article is from Scientific American.

Yes, wild pythons in Florida have bee talked about quite a bit lately. But much of the science in estimating their numbers is shaky, so how big a problem they are is debatable.

I lived on the edges of the everglades when I was younger. We even had a good size python living in my house while I was there. It wasn't mine, but we had it for a couple of months. I can see how pythons could be successful in that environment. Those Muscovy ducks are everywhere.
If they want to open a hunting season - great! I have no problem with that - as long as the hunters can accurately identify what they are killing. Way too often I see people indiscriminately killing snakes, simply because they are snakes, with no idea what species they are.

Good luck to Florida - any you guys who live down there - let me know how it turns out.