Monday, December 27, 2010

A Tribute to Sandhill Cranes in Tennessee

This post contains a lovely tribute to the eastern population of Greater Sandhill cranes that migrates through my home state of Tennessee.  The slideshow was created by talented members of the Riverwalk Bird Club in southeast Tennessee and features images of sandhill cranes arriving, landing, foraging and departing the Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge near Dayton, TN.  Foraging right along with the sandhill cranes, you will also see endangered Whooping cranes that mingle with sandhills at this refuge.

A special 'thank you' to Charles Dean, Bret Douglas, and Cynthia and Jimmy Wilkerson for their beautiful photography!

In recent years the refuge has been a major staging area and the midway point for migrating sandhill cranes who are funneled through the state as the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways come together through Tennessee.  Cranes are attracted to the wide-open confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers which form shallows, safe roosting sites for cranes.  Both sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes must roost in shallow water to find safety from nocturnal predators.  The planting of corn and wheat at the refuge for overwintering waterfowl and other species has provided a place where cranes can forage and rest before continuing on their migration.  In recent years, the weather has been hospitable and food plentiful enough, that many cranes have also wintered over in the refuge area.  This has been a divergence from the population's historical migration pattern.  
Sandhill fly-in at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, TN.  Watercolor by Vickie Henderson.

To read more about this hunt proposal visit the following links:

Sandhill Crane Hunting in TN?  Multiple factors say NO and Sandhill Family Life

Julie Zickefoose's discussion on 10,000 Birds:  Sandhill Cranes: Game Birds? and
Shooting Sandhills in Tennessee

TN Ornithological Society's information and position on the proposed sandhill crane hunt and TN Ornithological Society's letter to the Commission

Gary Louck of Greenback, TN--blog post, Cranes in Peril--gives his own position on the hunt proposal and includes other letters written to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission

Stephen Lyn Bales, author of Ghost Birds:  Sandhill Hunting in Tennessee?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yellowfin Madtom--A Heart-Warming Fish Story!

Here's a conservation story that will warm your heart, a story about a minnow-size fish that not only came back from extinction, but now thrives in freshwater streams in the southeast. Not an easy journey to be sure. But this fish had some big help--years of hard work and dedication on the part of two biologists, JR Shute and Pat Rakes.  
A nocturnal species that looks and acts like a miniature catfish, the Yellowfin Madtom has typical catfish spines and whiskers (barbels), and a potent sting if you should come in contact with one of those spines.  But even more impressive, the little fish has personality! The male of the species digs a nest cavity near a rock slab to invite a female to deposit her eggs.  After spawning, the male then spends the next four weeks hiding under that rock slab guarding the nest, even taking the eggs into his mouth from time to time to clean away silt. All of this, without eating any food for himself during the entire period.    
Pat Rakes (left) and JR Shute were interviewed by American Public Media earlier this month.  Click this link to hear them talk about the survival of this little madtom, what went wrong with its world, and how they're trying to help fix it.  (Scroll down the linked page to find the audio controls.)    

Below, JR's video showing the release of Yellowfin Madtoms.  Not only does Conservation Fisheries raise rare and endangered fish in captivity to help save and restock species, their work contributes important information about water quality.  When a native species cannot survive in its fresh water stream, that tells us a lot.  Once the stream is cleaned up enough to support these tiny, native fish again, we know our water is in better shape for everyone.  
In addition to this month's NPR interview, the work of Conservation Fisheries has appeared in National Geographic (April 2010, see link below).  And the Yellowfin Madtom image you see below is the artistic work of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, published here with his permission.  The comeback tale of this small, freshwater fish is one of the many rare species featured in his latest book, Rare, Portraits of America's Endangered Species. 
Listen to Joel's message below.  There is something each of us can do everyday to help our earth and all its species.  
Links and resources:
Located in my home town, Knoxville, TN, visit the fish and staff at Conservation Fisheries, see some of the many native fish they are helping.
Also enjoy their feature article in National Geographic--Silent Streams
Visit Joel Sartore Photography to see his latest book and don't miss his delightful video on rare species.
To read about other intriguing survival stories on this blog see the El Segundo Blue butterfly, the endangered Whooping Crane and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wild Turkey, Bare Feet and Snow Flakes

It snowed in east Tennessee this afternoon, and its still snowing as I write.
I looked out at the sunflower feeder around 4:00 pm and decided to top it off before it got any colder.  No fuss--just a quick trip out the door.  Even though I knew it was cold (23 degrees F), I left my feet sock-less in canoe shoes, slipped into a fleece jacket and grabbed the seed.  I finished topping off the feeder, added a chunk of suet to the basket, turned toward the door, and came face-to-face with a parade of turkeys coming around the corner of the house.
"Ah, look who's here,"  I said.  They didn't react, just continued on their path. We've met before, but I don't normally speak and I expected that to give them a start.  It didn't. And that made everything grand--fluffy, puffed up turkeys hanging around the yard in falling snow.
I stepped back inside to get my camera, and no, I didn't bother to put on coat or socks.  I just wanted to catch up with them before they left.  I'm laughing as I recall this.  I did catch up.  I just strolled over closer to the edge of the woods where I knew they would eventually go.  Still standing on the patio surface, I took snaps in the dim light, thinking they would, any minute now, disappear down the hill, into the woods.  But no, not today. They stopped to forage and even doubled back in my direction!
Okay, so I'm delighted.  But I'm starting to not feel my toes and fingers.  Its now registering with me that its a lot colder than yesterday, and too cold to be bare footed. Ugh.  What a predicament!   All's well with the birds but not so well with me. So I leave my guests, go back inside to tug on socks, shoes, a warm jacket and mittens, and come back to try again.
And they still didn't mind my presence.  What a treat!  I love these guys.  They are so expressive, the fluffed up feathers, scratching in the grass, sending snow flurrying up in thick puffs.  And they didn't retreat, sulk away, or take flight. Charmed me to my bones. I like to think they like me. But my guess is, they don't think I'm anything to hurry-up about.
After all, I do the same thing every time we meet--open the door, keep my polite distance, and make tiny clicking noises.  How scary can that be?
Related links:
Visit my other wild turkey posts on this blog and see more fun sketching turkeys at Vickie's Sketchbook.
Also visit Marsha Davis' article on Quirky Turkey Facts.  Interesting stuff about how the gizzard works and then it gets very weird!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #120 at Bird to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly--A Story of Survival

'Wow' was all I could say when I heard about this little butterfly.  And then I read it's story.  

Named for the El Segundo coastal dunes along California's Santa Monica Bay in which it lives, the El Segundo blue butterfly--Euphilotes battoides allym--survived in three fragmented habitats a few years ago, the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) preserve, the Chevron El Segundo Refinery preserve, and in Malaga Cove on the Palos Verdes Pennisula.  Now due to more than thirty years of native plant restorative efforts and research, it also is occurring on dune preserves in Rodondo and Torrence.

A specialist species measuring less than an inch in size, it spends its entire life cycle in and around one plant, the Seacliff Buckwheat, also called Coast or Dune Buckwheat--Eriogonum parvifolium--and the life of the butterfly itself only lasts a few days.  It nectars on the buckwheat flower, mates, lays its eggs in the blossoms; its larvae eat the flowers and its pupae are formed at the base of the plant, emerging the next season, late June through July, as adult butterflies to start the cycle all over again.

Below, Travis Longcore describes the complex story of this butterfly's survival.  

And for an amazing and awe inspiring look at the timing and interconnected relationships in nature, view the video below.  This one tells the story of the symbiotic relationship between this butterfly species and ants, as well as, the very specialist nature of this butterfly.  Its adult emergence is perfectly timed with the blooming of its sole host plant, the Seacliff Buckwheat.  
As you read about and hear this story, you can't help but notice the human error, development without stewardship, and in turn, the human effort and historical timing that saved this species from extinction.  The endangered species act went into effect just as the disappearance of this butterfly was being noticed in the early 70's.  As a result, it was one of the first butterflies to be listed and protected.  Thirty years later, with the efforts of many dedicated people from all walks of life who organized themselves into action, this butterfly has gone from a scattered remnant population of only 500 to a population that is now flourishing, only because its native habitat is diligently being preserved and restored.

I love these come-back stories, ones that insure us we can make a difference.  And then I wonder how many species go unnoticed, and question why we can't incorporate preservation as a way of life--before a species is endangered.  My greatest hope is that we, the human species around the world, will evolve into that wisdom.  And soon!

Related Links:
Visit my sketches and the story of how I discovered this butterfly at A Restaurant, an Endangered Butterfly and a Life Bird at Vickie's Sketchbook.
Summary of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly's conservation history.  More about the butterfly's life history
The conservation efforts at Chevron's El Segundo Refinery. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I AND THE BIRD #139 Hosted by "From the Faraway, Nearby"

NBR - National Birding Radio - Most Popular Birding Stories of the Year

For those of you familiar with Timothy Ryan's blog,  From the Faraway, Nearby, it will come as no surprise to you that his theme as host for "I And The Bird" blog carnival #139 contains the same imaginative creativity that is characteristic of his beautiful images and sensitive commentary on travel, people, culture and our natural world.

This edition's theme is a take-off on National Public Radio and, fittingly, begins with an award-winning post from NPR commentator, Julie Zickefoose.  Along with her, you will find "best story awards" presented to some of my all-time blogging favorites and I am honored to find myself among them with the award presented below.

Best in Conservation

Sandhill Crane photo by Charlie Corbell

An Intimate View of Family Life

"Noted watercolor artist, writer, photographer and outspoken crane conservationist Vickie Henderson was the reader's favorite in Conservation with her in-depth reporting and intimate look at Sandhill crane behavior and her public opposition to Tennessee's proposal to hunt the bird along its fly-away.  Vickie reports that a Sandhill Crane hunt proposal in Tennessee is now in its final stages and inviting public comment.   She offers that if the hunt proposal is passed, Tennessee will be the first state in US history to initiate a hunting season for Sandhill Cranes in the east and reveals that other states are lined up to follow.  Vickie is the author and illustrator of The Craniac Kids - Whooping Crane Activity Book.  She is currently the Featured Bird Blogger of the Week at Birding"

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Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, California--2015

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014

Bird-banding at Seven Islands State Birding Park--2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Bird-banding at Seven Islands

Bird-banding at Seven Islands
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill!--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane banners and son, John--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014

The Incredible Muir Woods near Stinson Beach, CA--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
Photo courtesy of Bob King

For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham