Living with Wildlife at the Forest’s Edge

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Thump! That single bang of something smacking my window sat me straight up in bed. Four in the morning, I’d been sound asleep. Now my brain muzzily ran through the possibilities.

I don’t know why it latched onto “owl,” because my next thought was: “if an owl’s flown into the window in the middle of the night, there must be something wrong with it.” Or there’s something wrong with it now, after hitting the window so hard.

The bottom ledge of that window is over seven feet off the ground, so a deer was unlikely. Somewhat more awake, I fumbled for the light.

Bam! A second strike.

My fuzzy head was thinking it unlikely that the owl had knocked itself out, got up and flown into the same window twice. I wondered, with the force of it, that the glass hadn’t shattered.

I found the light switch, and reached for the window at the same time. Sliding the pane open, I saw the bird feeder mounted by the window swaying without a breeze. I looked down.

One big, black paw was clinging to the bottom windowsill by heavy claw tips. The sleek, furred face of a black bear looked up at me and our eyes met. Something wild stirred in my heart. My fingers were mere inches from her paw. I could nearly touch her ears. I had the strongest urge to reach out and stroke her fur.

A Disney upbringing is going to get me killed. My body had better sense than my brain, and slammed the window shut.

In the same breath, she dropped to all fours. Three loping strides, and she melted into the forest. Dark beast into black shadow. If it wasn’t for the swaying birdfeeder, you might not have believed she’d been there.

If the window was slightly lower, things could have turned out differently. Trying to give the newly arrived birds a break, I’d left the feeder out too late in the spring. With the weather warming, I should have known that the bears would be waking up soon.

Living on the edge of a national forest, the rules are a bit different than living in town. Pay attention to your surroundings – because of animals, not people. People are rare here. Animals are not. Watch where you put your feet. Give up going barefoot. There are often snakes or spiders hanging around the paths and their edges. Every summer someone makes the news stepping on a Copperhead in the middle of some campground at night. This ruins the evening for both the you and the snake.

You can have a compost bin, but don’t put food scraps in it. Doing that here will draw anything from the smallest deermouse to the largest bear. Don’t expect to use outdoor garbage cans. Don’t leave food in your car, even that fast food bag you meant to throw out.

Later that same year, in the heat of summer, I encountered the bear again. This time, on my way to the shed, I switched on the outside light. Movement caught my eye just before I opened the door.

Gorgeous as ever, there she stood about ten feet from my side door, right in the middle of the path. If I hadn’t looked, my dog would have been out the door in a flash. She’s small, so you can guess who probably would have won that encounter.

It’s quite possible to enjoy wildlife around your property and be safe. Just use your senses, and your common sense.…

Wildlife in Your Backyard: Baby Dove and Mother Dove

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I awoke one morning, surprised to see that there was a bird’s nest on my back porch. It wasn’t just any bird’s nest- it was a dove’s nest! The bird had chosen to make a nest sitting perched above my fusebox, about seven feet off the ground. I found this quite interesting. Here is the story…

Doves are beautiful birds. I don’t ge

nerally see many of them around Hagerstown, MD. More often I see sparrows, black crowes, cardinals, and the like. When I first saw the bird’s nest on my porch, I didn’t necessarily think it was a dove’s nest. Then, a couple of hours later, I saw the gray dove sitting in the nest. This is quite a treat, because usually birds of any type will want to keep their nests hidden, to ensure the safety of the eggs and the baby birds. If a dove is letting you see the nest, it must feel very comfortable in this location!

The doves on my porch were considered Mourning Doves. They have actually grown quite used to nesting in areas occupied by humans, so it isn’t that strange to find them on your porch or in a windowsill, or in a planter hanging on one of your trees in your backyard. The doves adapt well to these situations.

The interesting thing about mourning doves is that they usually mate for life. The two birds will stick together, and often both parents will watch over a nest. I personally only think I saw the mother dove on my porch, however. The mother dove showed up first in May, right before summer.

The dove at first was there on and off again, for a period of about a week. This nest had actually been used by some other birds in the past, other than doves, and so the dove was making it her own. She added about an inch all the way around in height to the nest, and then she was ready to have her egg.

Doves usually have two baby doves at one time, generally. Each spring, they will have up to six “hatches” of offspring, two in each hatch. It was literally impossible to be able to see the egg, though, because the mother dove stayed on the nest at all times. At least, every time I looked she was there. Whereas the previous bird who used this nest always flew away when I would come outside the back door, the dove stayed put. She wasn’t moving for anything.

In a couple of weeks, she seemed to get very fat. It isn’t because she was pregnant. It’s because she was positioning her body to cover the baby dove that had hatched to keep it protected from prey. After three weeks total, I saw the baby dove. It was smaller than the mother dove, but not by much. It was as if by the time the bird was able to show its face, it was already pretty big. I assume that there were two eggs initially, but that only one of them made it. Thus, for the next two weeks, both mother and baby stayed in the nest. Once or twice, I would see the baby bird alone, but not often. Finally, both mother and baby left, on to bigger pastures…

I didn’t see anymore of mother and baby dove, but generally the baby dove will live on the ground for a few days after leaving the nest. It has to gather its strength to be able to fly. The mother …

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park: A Don’t Miss Attraction in Central Pennsylvania

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Family owned and operated since 1965, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park has fascinated thousands of people each year with all the wonderful exotic animals and their wildlife safari. Located in Halifax PA, the park is home to many animals from all over the world. When you arrive, the one thing that stands out right from the very beginning, are the columns of deer antlers that mark the entrance to the park, and the large lake that you can fish from if you desire. The park has a very farm like appearance to it, with it’s dirt roads and buildings that resemble barns. You can stroll around the park and view the animals including Zebra, Gemsbok, Black Bears, Monkeys, Lemurs, Mountain Lions, Snow Leopards, Wallaby, Ostrich, Ducks, Prairie Dogs, Bobcats, Tortoises, Arctic Fox, and many, many more.

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park also offers a petting zoo, where you can feed the animals the park’s regulated diet food and crackers are sold to feed the animals for 25 cents. The petting zoo is open from 10am-6:30pm on weekends, and from 10am-5:30pm on weekdays. As a personal note, you may want to visit a camel in the back of the petting zoo area. You will have to make a mad dash past the goats, sheep, fawns, and deer, as they will come to nibble for some food. There is a camel in the one area to the right inside the petting zoo. This camel is incredibly friendly and loves to be petted. He is extremely gentle and seems to enjoy a good neck scratch. If I could speak camel, I would have swore he was asking me to take him home with me. There are a few other animals back there too, such as Llamas, and other camels as well. Admission to the petting zoo is included with your park admission.

Another excellent feature about this park is the reptile building. The reptile building is open Tuesday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. They have half hour presentations throughout the day for those who like to gain more information about the animals there. The animals vary from time to time, but you can find Pythons, Boa Constrictors, Anaconda, various other snakes, lizards, turtles, Argentine Horned Frog, even baby alligators. You will also find parrots such as the Cockatoos, and various kinds of Macaws. You can even see a Two-Toed Tree Sloth! Admission is $1 for ages 3 and up.

By far, the most exciting aspect of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is their safari tour. This tour takes you across 150 acres of land in a bus that has the top cut off of it. There is approximately 500 animals to view on this tour. Here you will find Buffalo, Yak, Texas Longhorn, Elk (some of the most magnificent), various types of deer, Barbado and Mouflon Sheep, Rhea, Emu, Scottish Highland Cattle, Watusi, and Llamas. You can see herds of animals grouped together doing what they would do naturally in the wild. These animals come right up to the bus, and some even step up onto the stairs, for some food from the driver. Truly amazing! You don’t realize how large these animals are until you have one standing within 2ft of you. Numerous tours are given throughout the day, each about 45 minutes in length. Tickets are sold at the refreshment stand located near the entrance to the park. The cost is $5 for adults and $4 for children, under 3 years old is free. This is such a great price for the amount of animals you get to see and …

Padre Island Wildlife

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The best show on North Padre Island isn’t in a night club, or in a playhouse, but rather right outside by a canal that’s part of Laguna Madre. I suppose that this is a relative opinion, as some people don’t care much for nature or the out-of-doors. However, for those of you who love watching nature, you may find this an amusing story and will perhaps be inspired to look for such comedy in your own backyard. Just this morning I stopped at the Whataburger on North Padre Island for breakfast. For those of you who don’t know, Whataburger is a fast food chain that’s primarily located in Texas, and was started in Corpus Christi. They have fairly good food, for a fast food chain, and if you’re looking to grab a quick meal while you’re vacationing on North Padre Island, then you might want to stop there.

So what does the Whataburger on the Island have to do with the best show on the Island? Well, right behind the Whataburger is a canal with some public spots to moor your boat. So, if you happen to be cruising around Laguna Madre and want to get a burger, you could come over and park your boat behind the Whataburger. And of course, where there’s water at the coast, especially with summer coming on, there’s wildlife. And wild it is. I parked behind the Whataburger this morning to eat a biscuit, and lo and behold there is this giant crane-like bird. He had to be at least three feet high and he had a really long neck. He was brown and tan in color, and his feathers were very smooth and neat. The immediacy of him was a little astonishing, he was only about five feet from my car when I first pulled up, although he did retreat a few feet in response to a two ton car pulling up so close to him. After shimmying a few feet away down the wall of the canal, he just sat there eyeing me, and attempting to look superior to all the other creatures. He seemed to be saying “I’m so much better than the rest of you.”

This superior attitude could have been in response to all of the rather mad seagulls that were flying around the canal. When I say mad, I mean stark raving crazy. Some of the seagulls were sitting on the dock posts, but never for very long. The reason being was because another seagull would dive bomb the one sitting on the post, forcing him to move quickly so that the kamikaze seagull could alight on the dock post instead. This happened more than a few times, with one of the seagulls (who apparently wasn’t paying very much attention) almost falling backwards off of the post and into the water. He managed to catch himself just before taking a dunk into the canal and flew away as if nothing had happened.

After some time, the seagulls got tired of kamikaze attacking each other and decided instead to pick on some small birds that were in the field beside the canal. A few of the seagulls flew over to the smaller birds and started chasing them all over the place, until finally the small birds gave up and left. There didn’t seem to be any reason for this, it wasn’t over food or at least it didn’t appear to be. As soon as the little birds left, the seagulls went back to sitting on the dock posts. It was as if they had just run the little birds …

National Wildlife Week

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Go outside and celebrate for National Wildlife Week April 21-29.

You can get a group of young people or families together and make a difference in your community, says the National Wildlife Federation.

Invite some friends to join in the National Wildlife Watch at nwf.org.

And to enjoy the beauty and wonder of spring all across America, tune in to the series launch of “Spring Watch USA” at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time April 21st on Animal Planet.

Visit the National Wildlife website listed above to download service projects and Watch information.

Take action then go back and tell them what you’ve done.

In other animal news, Dallas, TX recently okayed dogs on restaurant patios.

Following an 8-5 vote by the Dallas City Council, city food establishments may now apply for a local variance to current state laws that prohibit animals on restaurant premises.

“This is a terrific way to improve the quality of life and respond to greater diversity in our city,” said Council Member Angela Hunt at the time the decision was made.

“Animals are their children,” said Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia.

The council’s decision does not apply to cats or other house pets, Karen Rayzer, director of Dallas’ Environmental and Health Services Department told a reporter.

“According to Dallas’ ordinance, restaurants allowed to welcome dogs onto their patios must provide a separate entrance for outdoor patio, post signs that they are a ‘dog-friendly’ restaurant, install curtains separating the inside of a restaurant from its patio, prohibit dogs from going inside the restaurant and sitting or standing on outdoor tables or chairs, and from touching restaurant serving staff,” said writer Dave Levinthal. “Garcia, Hunt, and council members Gary Griffith, Pauline Medrano, Linda Koop, Steve Salazar, Ron Natinsky, and Ed Oakley voted to approve the ordinance.”

Mayor Pro Team Don Hill and Council Member James Fantroy were absent when the vote was taken.

In unrelated animal news, a fourth-grader gave her tooth fairy money to help establish a refuge for creatures.

“Abigail Blake loves animals and wants them to have a good home,” said writer Max Baker. “She donated $3 she received from the tooth fairy and a dollar in quarters she got from her grandmother to a special fund established to help buy land for Eagle Mountain Lake Park.”

Abigail, a fourth-grader at Daggett Montessori School in Fort Worth, TX, wrote to the Tarrant Regional Water District that she loved animals and donated money to save their habitat.

According to records, the water district has raised $14,499.75 from the public toward the estimated $9.6 million it needs to buy 400 acres from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.…

Visiting National Wildlife Refuges in Wyoming

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Visiting National Wildlife Refuges in Wyoming can give you a feeling of pride at being an American. The National Refuge program operates for the purpose of maintaining lands, not recreation, though recreation takes place there, and not for human beings though there are plenty who come and visit at Wyoming National Wildlife Refuges every year. The point of the National Wildlife Refuge is to insure that large parcels of land valuable as habitats for wildlife are maintained. It may be at the same time one of the most selfless and selfish acts coming out of Congress, for in some ways by saving wildlife we save a little bit of who we are as well.

 

National Elk Refuge, Jackson, Wyoming. Set aside as a large game refuge in 1912, the National Elk Refuge has successfully maintained a large herd of one of nature’s most imposing creatures, the elk. The refuge is managed is such a way as to provide a livable habitat for half of a herd of some 14,000 elk in an area just outside of the town of Jackson Wyoming and near Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s National Parks. The unique nature of this very special National Wildlife Refuge and the majesty of its main residents result each year in a visitors and seasonal hunters list that reaches 1 million people.

For visitors coming to visit the National Elk Refuge during the winter months is an experience not to be forgotten. According to the National Elk Refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/nationalelkrefuge the National Elk Refuge is special in several ways . First it is the largest single concentration of wintering elk anywhere in the world. When you visit this refuge you are seeing something very special indeed, 5,000 or more Elk in one area at one time. Second this is not just a refuge for Elk though that is the predominant herd. The refuge is also wintering area for a herd of almost 1,000 bison. Though these numbers don’t equal the size of herds that roamed this part of the country before settlement, a herd of 1,000 bison is very impressive to most human beings today. Third within the refuge there are many other forms of wildlife that are a treat to the eye and the spirit including big horn sheep, mule dear, wolves, coyotes and host of smaller animals.

Finally when you visit the National Elk Refuge you can’t help but leaving with a desire to take better care of all of our natural resources in the way that this refuge is being managed .

Horton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The State of Wyoming is so filled with beautiful landscape and extensive parklands that some of the smaller refuge areas can get by passed easily. Such is the case of Horton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. According to its website at http://www.fws.gov/refuges Horton Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established so that man could assist with the manipulation of water supply and grazing area to benefit migrating birds.

The location of this wildlife refuge is rather extraordinary in that it is found some 7,000 ft. above sea level. The refuge land area surrounds five natural lakes that give the area special value as a refuge For visitors the draw is always the wildlife. With large concentrations of water and high altitude the refuge has more than its share of raptors and waterfowl passing through on regular basis. There are also several prairie dog towns that allow visitors a chance to see the critters up close and personal and to photograph what they see

Like many National Wildlife Refuges, Horton Lake is open …

Wildlife of the Pothole Ponds

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This is my morning routine: sit at the front window, check my emails on the laptop, watch the chickadees and juncos and jays and robins flitting from the butterfly bush to the birdfeeders. And watch the numerous birds of my neighborhood cavort in the ponds in the middle of my street. Pothole ponds.

Potholes. Those gaping holes that bottom out your car, swallow unsuspecting bicyclists and delight young children. I love the potholes in our street. It’s hardly a street really – an expanse of gravel only two houses long, in a quiet neighborhood a block from the Willamette River in Oregon. A city park is across the street, fir trees rising to the sky. Every few years a windstorm brings down two or three of these giants, making the house shake with the impact of their falling.

The potholes are lakes right now – almost joined into one in several places. When the weather warms, they will empty, to be replaced with dust that will swirl up in clouds in late summer heat and wind. But for now, they are playgrounds to the smaller birds, and soon will be a place for the ducks to come float. I garden next to these street lakes, careful to move out of the way if an occasional car tries to zip through to quickly, spraying water in all directions.

I’ve lived here for eleven years now. I remember someone walking by on a summers day and saying to me, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they paved this street?” to which I uttered a shocked and vehement “NO!” – bringing a look of offended surprise to this person who would like our neighborhood to be more neat and orderly. It’s a messy neighborhood in a way, but not in the sense of garbage and discarded cars. Many front yards are gardens, or have a greenhouse plopped right in front. Around the corner is a house with numerous plant starts in pots out front and a sign that reads “Food Not Lawns”. People in this neighborhood know each other by name, share food and seeds and gardening ideas. I have an old apple tree out front, some variety that no one can identify. It makes apples that look beautiful – huge, red and shiny. But bite into one and….arghhh! The inside of these apples is pink and mushy and mealy. I’ve seen people sneak up to take an apple, only to bite it and discard it with a sour look on their face and in their mouth. By fall the front yard is covered with discarded apples with one bite taken out of them. Another year, a young couple came and asked if they could take the apples for their apple press to make cider. I said sure…I certainly wasn’t using them! I’ve gone to other houses in the neighborhood as well, offering to exchange homemade jam for being able to pick their plums.

Around the corner my landlord lives on another gravel street, this one longer, with potholes as well. At one point he moved a house onto one of the double lots. In doing the work to prepare for its installation, he also graded the street up and down in front, eradicating the potholes. He came out the next day to find the kids from one of the houses digging holes in the street that he had just graded. “But we LIKED the potholes!” was their explanation.

What’s not to like? You certainly have to go slow through them if driving, making the street much safer for cats and children. Occasionally you …

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge a Must-See

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The city of Savannah, GA is known for it’s haunted city tours, extravagant nightlife, and ubiquitous seafood restaurants, but no visit to this Coastal Georgia city would be complete without a quick drive through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

Located just outside the city on the border with South Carolina, the Savannah NWR is a 29,000 acre wildlife preserve spotlighting the diverse flora and fauna of the Coastal Empire.

Entering the Refuge from the East, visitors can embark on a 4 mile drive through the park on a winding gravel road that showcases the aquatic ecosystem of the region. All manner of aquatic birds are on display, from ducks and cormorants to seagulls and pelicans. As visitors drive down the paths, turtles can be seen popping up and down in the marsh. There are numerous opportunities to get out and walk along miles of trails that skirt the canals and impoundments that divide the park, and get as close to nature as you desire.

And of course, there are the alligators. Floating serenely though the ponds, basking on the shore, or even hunting the many birds on the water, alligators are the main attraction of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. On a warm and sunny day, it is not uncommon to see up to 50 alligators of various sizes on the 4 mile drive. Visitors are asked not to feed or harass the alligators, but simply enjoy seeing the ancient and majestic reptiles in the unbound habitat that they’ve lived in for millenia.

Best of all, this one of a kind nature experience is completely free! The Savannah NWR is open 7 days a week, year-round from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor’s Center, on the west end of the park, is open from 9-4:30 Monday through Saturday, and it features knowledgeable staff, restrooms, and displays highlighting the many wildlife opportunities the Refuge has to offer.

So when you make plans to visit the Coastal Empire, and you definitely should come enjoy the unique and diverse history of this region, be sure to budget a few hours to explore the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and observe the glory of nature in it’s purest form. 

 
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