Friday, April 30, 2010

Rare Bird Alert: Hooded Crane Spotted Near Carey

Avid birders: If you're looking for a weekend outing in Idaho, you may want to head to Carey to add a new bird to your life list.

Last week, a group of Blaine County birders including regular Silver Creek volunteers Poo Wright-Pulliam and Jean Seymour spotted a hooded crane--native to Siberia and Japan--at the Carey Lake Wildlife Management Area.

There are only a handful of records of the species being sighted in North America.

Sandhill cranes nest in southcentral Idaho and are quite easy to see at this time of year. The hooded crane appears to be living with the sandhills.

I am sure many birders will be around Carey this weekend. It's a beautiful time of year in southcentral Idaho. Even if you don't see the crane, there is excellent birding at Silver Creek and on the Camas Prairie.

Read the full story in the Idaho Mountain Express.

Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Collaborative Conservation

Collaborative conservation--working together with communities, agencies, businesses, landowners, sportsmen, farmers, loggers and individuals like you--has been a fundamental principle of The Nature Conservancy's work for nearly 60 years.

Robyn Miller, our Inland Northwest conservation manager, literally lives and breathes collaborative conservation, most recently in her work with the Clearwater Basin Collaborative.

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC) is a coalition of conservationists, recreationists, the Nez Perce Tribe and representatives from the forest products industry, working together to forge solutions including a comprehensive legislative package to address forest health, rural economies and recreational interests.

Yesterday, Robyn testified about the importance of collaboratives like the CBC to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

She did an excellent job conveying the importance of private working lands and working together to protect Idaho's special places.

Watch her testimony. Her remarks begin at time stamp 53:00.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pikas in a Warming World

On a mountain hike this summer, you might see a little fur-ball darting amongst rocky slopes. Chances are, it's a pika--a relative of rabbits and hares, with short legs and rounded ears. There are thirty species around the world, all associated with high mountain habitats. For many hikers, they're a favorite animal, one of those critters that makes you smile when you see them.

They've also become one of the Idaho animals most associated with climate change.

Pikas, after all, thrive in cool, rocky mountain climates. As lower elevations warm, pikas are cut off from reaching new habitat areas; essentially, they become stranded on habitat "islands."

When species are confined to small areas, they become much more threatened by lack of genetic variation, disease, fire, predators and other factors.

Is the pika doomed as the world warms?

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the American pika under the Endangered Species Act. It noted that, while some pika populations may disappear at lower elevations, climate change would not pose a risk to long-term survival of the species.

The agency's report also suggested that pikas may be able to adapt to warmer conditions.

Is that possible for an animal so tied to cool temperatures.

Interestingly, a population of pikas at Craters of the Moon National Monument suggests that perhaps pikas can adapt. Unlike many pika habitats, Craters is often hot and dry.

There, pikas become inactive during the heat of the day, seeking shelter in lava tubes and crevasses. They breed and thrive in the expansive monument.

This population still raises more questions than answers. How long did it take for pikas to adapt to the lava fields? Can they find similar shade on a mountain top? Will warmer mountain habitats become home to predators that more effectively hunt pikas?

It is difficult to know. Probably the most important lesson here is the need for large, intact habitats. In large protected areas, species have room to adapt and move. In small patches, species often disappear. As the world warms, now more than ever we need protected, connected natural areas--for pikas and for so many other wildlife species. --Matt Miller

Photo by Justin Johnsen under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Camas Prairie

The Camas Prairie--the flat area located around Fairfield, east of Mountain Home--is wet, marshy and full of standing water this spring.

That means excellent birding opportunities. Cinammon teal, canvasbacks, scaup and many other waterfowl species can be seen in many of the wetland areas. Long-billed curlews, sandhill cranes and avocets are also easily seen.

Elk, pronghorn, coyotes, badgers and Columbia ground squirrels can often be found in drier areas.

While much of the abundant bird life can be seen from Highway 20--which crosses the area--Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Centennial Marsh is an excellent place to see larger flocks of shorebirds and waterfowl.

In a few weeks, when more snow melts, the area will be covered in wildflowers, a beautiful spring sight.

It's a nice road trip and is easily combined with a visit to The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve.

Photo by Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Silver Creek in Spring

Colleague Rob Crowley, associate director of philanthropy for the Conservancy, took these photos on a trip last week to Silver Creek Preserve.
Spring is a beautiful time to visit the preserve. Snow still highlights the surrounding mountains, and you'll hear a raucous chorus of marsh wrens, yell0w-headed blackbirds and sandhill cranes. Mule deer, elk and even moose are visible in the fields. Large flocks of waterfowl rest in the wetlands.
While fishing season is still over a month away, you can still hike, canoe, bird, photograph or just enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Silver Creek is open every day of the year, but you must sign in at the visitor center before visiting. There's no admission charge, but please consider donating to enable The Nature Conservancy to continue to protect places like Silver Creek.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Live Bird Cams

Live bird cams--where you can watch a nesting bird right from your computer--have become very popular. They allow many folks to see the "secret life" of the birds around them, and follow along with the daily drama that happens in bird nests.

Want to check some out? Here are three nesting birds to follow this spring:

Boise Peregrine Cam - The recovery of peregrine falcons is one of conservation's most remarkable success stories. Many cities, including Boise, now have nesting peregrines in their downtowns. I can look out my window and see the birds on a nearby building. You can too. The Peregrine Fund's web cam gives you a view into their nest. The adult birds are there now, but no eggs have been laid yet.

Deer Flat Refuge Osprey Cam - The Friends of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge--located near Nampa, Idaho--offer a view at an osprey nest this year. Ospreys are always fun to watch, especially when they bring large fish back to the nest.

Channel Islands Bald Eagle Cam - One of the most popular bird cams is on The Nature Conservancy's active conservation project on Santa Cruz Island off the California coast. The Conservancy's web site offers regular news updates on the eagles, and you can also check out commentary on the Conservancy blog Cool Green Science.

Baby eagle photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Monday, April 12, 2010

April: Idaho Nature Calendar

Dubois Grouse Days - April 16 & 17 (Dubois). Grouse Days, in its 8th year, offers a great chance to see strutting sage grouse, one of Idaho's incredible natural spectacles. Dubois, located in eastern Idaho, is near some of the best sage grouse populations in the west. The event includes tours to see grouse on their leks (strutting grounds), including a visit to The Nature Conservancy's Crooked Creek Preserve (pictured above). Support a local community, enjoy educational presentations and see plenty of grouse.

Silver Creek enhancement plan public meetings - April 22 and 24 (Picabo Store) and April 26 (Nature Conservancy's Hailey Office). There's still time to provide your input for the Silver Creek enhancement plan, a comprehensive effort to improve fish and wildlife habitat in the Silver Creek watershed. The first meetings have been held, gathering thoughts from landowners, anglers, guides, birders and others regarding where habitat projects can have the most effect. Silver Creek has been a conservation success due to community involvement. With your help, we can make the creek even better.

Ignite Boise 4 - 6:30 pm April 22 (Egyptian Theater, Boise). Five minutes, twenty slides. What would you say? That's the premise of Ignite Boise, which has participants present with the added challenge of an automated timer. This installment is on Earth Day, with plenty of environmental-themed topics. Join an enthusiastic crowd for Boise's best ideas. (While it's officially sold out, you can always get a seat by showing up at 6:30 pm the night of the event. It's free).
Crooked Creek Preserve photo by Bob Griffith.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Cold Weather and Invasive Species

What's the most effective way to control invasive species? In Florida at least, the answer might be "cold weather."

As reported in the Seattle Times, a cold snap that brought temperatures in the 3o's and 40's had profound impacts on South Florida's non-native fauna: Thousands of non-native fish went belly up, iguanas dropped out of trees and the much-feared pythons were found dead.

(Unfortunately, the frigid temperatures also killed as many as five percent of the native manatees in Florida as well).

Certainly, the cold did not kill all the invasive critters, and over time, populations could become more adapted to cold weather. However, hopefull this puts to rest some of the wilder and more sensational predictions; watch some cable programs, and it has sounded as if pythons would soon be eating children in Central Park.

More importantly, the invasive species die-off raises interesting questions for conservationists. For instance, when are invasive species merely a localized threat? (Certainly continued efforts will be needed to locate pythons in South Florida, but we don't have to worry about them in Idaho).

When will natural factors quickly control populations, reducing the need for costly control measures? What species won't have much effect at all?

Will feral hogs in Idaho remain confined to the Bruneau Valley, or will they spread throughout the state? What invasive species pose the biggest threats to our state?

In a global society, new introductions of plants and animals are inevitable. Currently, many conservationists assume all non-native species are bad. But that is neither strategic nor cost effective. Hopefully, research can help determine where control efforts can have the most effect, and best protect native species and their habitats.

Thanks to writer Steve Bodio's blog for the tip on this story.

Photo: Python and alligator in South Florida, by the National Park Service.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Where Have All The Naturalists Gone?

Do old-fashioned naturalists still have a place in the conservation movement? Does field knowledge still matter as we solve increasingly complex environmental problems?

I suspect many readers of this blog are amateur and professional naturalists--birders, wildlife watchers, observant sportsmen, field biologists, wildlife photographers and those with similar interests.

I think some in the conservation movement have been a bit too quick to dismiss naturalists' contributions in protecting wildlife and wild places, for nature and people. And I believe field skills still matter. Read my blog at The Nature Conservancy's Cool Green Science to read more, and add your own opinions. --Matt Miller

Prairie chicken photo by Bob Griffith.