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Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Let’s talk bats.

These much maligned winged mammals have long been typecast in horror flicks and nighttime terrors, but the truth is, bats are an integral part of the world’s ecosystem, and indeed, are important in our own backyards. According to the Department of Natural Resources websites, there are around 12 species of bat in Illinois and Missouri; including three species on the endangered species list.

This Little Brown Bat is suffering from White Nose Syndrome.

Each individual bat in the state can eat up to 3,000 bugs in a single night. Thanks to just the gray bats in Missouri and Illinois, there are 1,080 TONS of flying insects that are not bugging you all summer long. All of the bats in the area are insectivorous, and this massive bug buffet is our best defense against dangerous mosquito populations and diseases they carry, like West Nile Virus. Bats are also important pollinators, and with decline in honeybee populations, they become more important in that respect each year.

But something is killing our bats. White Nosed Bat Syndrome was first documented in 2006 in Albany, New York. There, cavers began to notice bats acting strangely, some dead or dying, and many with a strange white fungus around their muzzles. Since the fungus has been discovered, there has been an unprecedented spread of the disease. The cold-loving fungus appears to grow on the bats in the winter and disrupts normal hibernation. The bats awaken too early or too often and exhaust their fat stores and essentially starve to death. In some hibernating populations, the mortality rate is more than 90 percent. The bulk of the cases of WNBS have been in New York and Tennessee, however, the epidemic appears to be spreading and has been seen in nearly all of the Eastern Seaboard and into the Midwest, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio.

It is believed that the primary spread of the disease is among the bats themselves, however, people who go caving (also called spelunking) may unknowingly spread the fungus between populations on their boots or equipment. Though the fungus itself does not pose a threat to humans, bats are so crucial to our ecosystem that the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state authorities closed most caves on public land in all of the affected states in 2009, and the closures are still in effect this year. The closures do not affect privately owned caves, however, the DNR urges landowners to be aware of the problem and report any dead bats found on their properties.

So, as outdoor enthusiasts, what can we do to help?  Besides abiding by the closures recommended by the DNR, outdoorsmen (and women) should always be aware of the possible contaminates found on their clothes, equipment and boots. The White Nosed Bat Syndrome, along with fish and game related diseases and invasive and the spread of non-native plant and insect species can largely be avoided if we take some basic precautions. These include: Wash all boots and equipment when traveling between different ecosystems, states, bodies of water, etc. This can be as simple as wiping the bottom of your boots with a bleach and water solution. A bleach solution also works well to clean waders and fishing equipment. Also, don’t move wood or plant products. Bugs and disease can easily hitch a ride on firewood or plants and a new ecosystem may not have the ability to fight off a foreign invader. And never, never, never move plants or animals from one place to another. Ever. The best advice is to use common sense. The cleaner you are when you’re in the great outdoors, the better. As the saying goes, “Take only memories (or photographs), leave only footprints.”

For more: www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome

Original Post from April 26, 2011

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If you think of the Mississippi River Flyway as a super-highway for migratory birds, then right now it’s the morning rush hour.

I was feeling a little under the weather this weekend, so a low-key adventure was just what the doctor ordered this Sunday.  Some girlfriends and I grabbed our cameras and a pair of binoculars, loaded up the Camry and took to the road for some amazing bird watching.

According to the Audubon website, up to half of North America’s migrating waterfowl and many shore birds use the Mississippi Flyway to navigate between their winter haunts and their summer digs.  It’s not hard to see why birds choose this route. As the ice pack breaks its hold on the river, the fish and other food sources become abundant.  Also, the river is such an easy marker of North and South for the birds to follow, that it’s like a natural GPS.

The tri-state area is something of a cross roads of the birds this time of year, and it’s not uncommon to see mixed groups of birds sitting out on the water.  Sunday we came across a particularly odd “flock” of canvas backed ducks, mallards, seagulls and white pelicans.

Our driving route gave us the best views of birds I could have asked for.  We started on the Quincy riverfront and headed north on Bonansinga Drive.  We then took a left by Bear Creek (W County Road 1550) and a right up County Road 423 E (this is the first right you see after Bear Creek. Quincy natives will know this as the “Bottom Road.”  The road takes you all the way to Warsaw where I can confidently guarantee Canadian Geese sitting along the riverfront.  From there, we headed towards the Keokuk Bridge — stopping briefly on the Illinois side by the boat launch for some bald eagle watching, and then we headed over the bridge to the Keokuk riverfront.

Your bird viewing will be different depending on the time of day and your luck, but we saw the following birds all on one Sunday (estimates of numbers where applicable):

– Bald Eagles (12) – Blue Heron (1) – Red Tailed Hawks (10) – Canvas Back Ducks – Mallard Ducks – Golden Eye Ducks – White Pelican Flock – Turkey Vultures (the biggest flock I’ve ever seen. 100+) – Wild Turkey (1…what was he doing out there?!) – Killdeer (2) – Canadian Geese – Assorted year-round birds including Common Grackle, Cardinals, Robins, Sparrows, Doves, Seagulls

Original Post March 8, 2011

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