Sunday, February 20, 2011

When does one species become more important than another?

The spotted owl.

Steeped in controversy and the bane of northwest loggers. Is the continuation of this species (subspecies) more important than other similar species?

Fish and wildlife may think so.

If the spotted owl isn't able to compete, do we "thin out" its competitors? Is that right?

The ever-controversial northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1990, but despite the best efforts of lawmakers and conservationists the bird's population numbers continue to dwindle. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has a radical plan to help the raptor: kill some of the barred owls (S. varia) that are outcompeting their spotted cousins for food and habitat.

Spotted owls became notorious following several decades, starting in the 1980s, of back-and-forth lawsuits as environmentalists tried to end logging in the Pacific Northwest's old-growth forests, the habitat the owls depend on for their nests and food. Logging on federal land was banned in 1991, and since then logging in Oregon alone has declined 95 percent, from 4.9 billion board feet of timber in 1988 to just 240 million board feet in 2009, according to The Oregonian. But even with less of its habitat being destroyed the spotted owl population has yet to bounce back.

Aside from its shrinking habitat, the major threat now, according to the FWS, is the growing number of barred owls in the area. These birds are more aggressive, can live in any type of forest, and eat more types of food than spotted owls, making them more adaptable to the current Pacific Northwest landscape.

According to the FWS's latest draft recovery plan for the spotted owl: "Limited experimental evidence, correlational studies and copious anecdotal information all strongly suggest barred owls compete with spotted owls for nesting sites, roosting sites and food—and possibly predate spotted owls. The threat posed by barred owls to spotted owl recovery is better understood now than when the spotted owl was listed. Because the abundance of barred owls continues to increase, the effectiveness in addressing this threat depends on action as soon as possible."

The recovery plan doesn't spell it out how it would control the barred owl population, but The Oregonian reports that "over the next year, in three or more study areas from Washington [State] to northern California, they might kill 1,200 to 1,500 barred owls."

We have barred owls all over on the east coast. They are a handsome species - but... does their commonality make them less important?

Just something to think about. You can read more here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Coyotes get big

whenever I get the chance I like to spend time with my parents in upstate New York. My brother has a farm out there and we like to get out and walk the land when we have the opportunity.

A new thing that we need to consider now - crossbreeds.

Bigger than coyotes but smaller than wolves, their howl is high-pitched and their diet includes deer and small rodents. They are "coywolves" (pronounced "coy," as in playful, "wolves"), and they are flourishing in the northeastern U.S., according to a study published today in Biology Letters.

Although coyote–wolf breeding has been reported in Ontario, where coyotes started migrating from the Great Plains in the 1920s, this study provides the first evidence of coywolves—also known as coydogs or eastern coyotes—in the Northeast. And even though they are more coyote (Canis latrans) than wolf (gray wolves are Canis lupus, and red wolves are Canis rufus), the expansion of these hybrids into western New York State marks the return of wolves to the Empire State.

"It's kind of interesting that we drove this species from the area and it sort of came back in another form," says Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum in Albany and first author on the study.

Read the rest here....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hunting with a sharp shin

Cold, windy, and crappy describes the weather over the last few weeks. I have been sequestered in my house working on the "honey-do" list.

The harris hawks are together, spending time in and around the nest. I am missing my outside time with the birds (dogs too for that matter).

I was thankful when I got a text from Johnathan asking if I wanted to go hunting with him when he passed through town.


Packed my stuff so that I could change after school and meet him at the fields.

When school let out, it was raining and the wind had picked up.

We decided to give it a try anyway.

We pulled down a muddy track, splashing through puddles and spinning tires (still so glad I bought the Jeep). The fields were plowed a few months back and the was pooling on the short vegetation that grew there. Rain spit from the lead sky.

I don't have much (any) experience with sharp shins and my experience hunting with any small birds are minimal. This little guy was like a rocket, wet feathers and all.

We wandered through the grass, pushing small birds in front of us, Johnathan holding "Lady" up on his fist. A bird would flush, and like a rocket, she would explode after it.

After we pushed them through the grass, we tried our luck along a small, mowed ditch.

Little sparrows bail, the hawk screams after them, and they would dump back into the weeds. It was exciting to watch. I have to admit, it was amazing how well those little birds can hide in any bit of vegetation, and then never flush.

I forgot my camera, but soon the bird was too wet and heavy to fly well. No kills for the day, but a good time nonetheless.

Here is a video of Johnathan's bird catching quail front he deep grass.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Good Day

Both hawks are out in the weathering area eating their fill of squirrely, meaty, goodness. Gonzo has kept his talon, though it is canted at a slightly off angle.

So without a back up bird in the wings, I am forced to find other ways to spend the waning days of hunting season.

My duck hunt plans fell through - maybe I could still go out and snag myself a pig, I did get my first real gun, after all.

Instead - We took last Sunday to load the family on one of the local ferries and chug our way over to Knotts Island.

It is a little out of the way place that happens to be the home of some decent little vineyards.

It also has some great wide open fields, and prime rabbit spots. I have never actually hunted here, but I might need to come over and scout out some prime spots.

Additionally, it looks like a great place to trap migrating falcons.

Something to think about.

Anyway. It was a perfect blustery, sunny day. We spent the afternoon inside, cozied up by a fire, catching something other than game.

I think I might need a vine yard. If you would like to donate money towards this cause, please contact me via the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

a little weirdness

Meet the Piglet Squid....

This squid has always got a smile on its face! The skin pigmentation of this little deep water squid gives it a huge grin, while the tentacles seem to form a mass of curly 'hair', combining to give it an almost cartoon appearance.

Copyright © Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Gary Florin

The Piglet squid, Helicocranchia pfefferi, is roughly the size of a small avocado, and is common in the deep water of virtually all oceans, living at depths of around 100m/320ft.

Its common name comes from its habit of filling up with water and the unique location of its syphon, with a wild-looking tuft of eight arms and two tentacles.