Tag Archives: wildlife viewing

Bats, Caves, and White-Nose Syndrome

Weird! Cool! Bats!

Weird! Cool! Bats! [Image: www.nature.org/]

Bats are awesome. They are a crucial part of insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal within their environments. They’re adorable, they help mitigate mosquito populations, and they have suffered huge, tragic population losses over the last 10 years because of a fungus that is incredibly spreadable, Pseudogeomyces destructans (Pd).

Over six million bats have died because of white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is caused when Pd is present in a cave where bats are hibernating. The hibernating bats are understandably awoken by the discomfort of having a fungus growing on their faces, but being awake prematurely is terribly costly in terms of energy. The bat is supposed to be sleeping the winter away because its food sources are limited or nonexistent, and it will likely starve or die in pursuit of food in weather and temperatures they aren’t built to withstand.

Poor bat.

I don’t think any of us would get a good night’s rest with that kind of thing going on. [Image: www.whitenosesyndrome.org/]

All this to say: While WNS is spread mostly between bat neighbors, humans can contribute to the problem if explorers delve into a cave where Pd spores are present, and then without proper precautions, wear the same gear to an uninfected location. That is, even though human transmission is neither the primary mode of transmission between bat populations, nor very common, precautionary measures are a critical aspect of protecting a very important species, especially when we haven’t entirely figured out how to combat it.

Snack!

Dinner on the fly. [Image: www.scienceinseconds.com/]

If you’re an avid spelunker or cave explorer, especially on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, you’ve probably already read up on the appropriate decontamination protocol for your subterranean equipment. But for those of you who are new to the activity, it’s best to think of white-nose syndrome as an invasive species. One should endeavor to avoid contact with an area where the fungus has been documented, and certainly contact with bats, regardless of the confirmed presence of the fungus or not.

Here at Pocket Ranger®, we support the noble spirit of subterranean exploration! It’s a great way to stay active in the year’s hottest months and is a fun and enriching way of experiencing an inverse of our lives above ground. But with the deadly proliferation of white-nose syndrome in American bat populations, there are responsibilities that cave explorers must recognize. Hopefully we all keep them in mind as we spelunk our way out of the oppressive summer heat.

Life After Chernobyl: Wildlife Thrives

30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, wildlife thrives in the radioactive zone.

The Chernobyl disaster was a wildly catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. The accident occurred on Tuesday, April 26, 1986 and has since then been categorized as the worst nuclear disaster in history. It was also classified as a level seven, which is the maximum classification in the International Nuclear Event Scale.

chernobyl

The Chernobyl nuclear plant after the disaster. The catastrophe involved more than 500,000 workers, left 31 dead, cost approximately 18 billion rubles, and led to massive radioactive contamination that contributed to long-term effects, such as cancer. [Image: www.nytimes.com/]

The catastrophe was such that the city of Pripyat where the Chernobyl power plant was located was completely evacuated of all residents. It is now an abandoned city and is considered part of the 30-km Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation (also known as the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” the “30 Kilometer Zone,” or “The Zone”).

Since then—with the exception of other structural collapses, contamination-limiting projects, and spontaneous fires in the vicinity—the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has been devoid of people. But 30 years after the disaster, in an area devoid of human occupancy, wildlife activity is seen to thrive.

bison herd in chernobyl

A bison herd near the abandoned village of Dronki, Belarus. [Image: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

While there may have been some immediate effects in wildlife, nature has since reclaimed the area. Moose, deer, European bison, hares, foxes, wild boars, and grey wolves are only a few of the animals that are thriving in the radioactive zone. Perhaps one of the greatest questions is: How are wildlife surviving in such a highly radioactive area?

chernobyl horse

The wild Przewalski’s horse (other common names include the Dzungarian horse, the Asian Wild horse, Mongolian wild horse, takhi, or the Przewalski’s wild horse) is an endangered species and extinct in the wild, but was introduced to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. After the introduction, the species rapidly thrived and grew to up to 200 individuals from only a dozen until they were reduced to 30–40 individuals as of 2011 due to poachers. [Image: Genya Savilov/AFP–Getty Images]

The answer may lie in different genetic makeups and some less contaminated areas of the seclusion zone. But the genetic effects are still evident in the Chernobyl animals. Many of the grey wolves, for instance, have cataracts in their eyes, and some birds have smaller brains. Though there are no other easily identifiable direct genetic consequences of just how much the radiation is affecting the animals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in terms of genetic damage and injury, the animals are, for all intents and purposes, indeed thriving in a zone where humans have been removed.

With the exception of the occasional illegal hunting that occurs in the Exclusion Zone, wildlife’s numbers have been increasing impressively. The grey wolves’ numbers in Chernobyl are estimated to be more than that of the numbers present in Yosemite and are seven times bigger than the official Ukraine nature reserves.

Wildlife’s flourishing numbers are a testament to the damage that humans can do to them. Abandoned farms and hollowed-out hotels have given way to overgrown weeds and thick shrubs that are now prime for new animal homes. Because of this, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is now considered one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in Europe. It is an important reminder of the extent of human influence and just how much we can affect wildlife’s populations.

With that, we leave you a video of an ingenuous Chernobyl fox making a sandwich. Sure shows how much they’re flourishing!

How To Care For Wildlife in Winter

Winter is undeniably making its way toward us this season. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up its frigid pace, various wildlife are preparing themselves for the winter fright. By this time, many creatures have long started their winter survival methods, such as migration, hibernation, or camouflaging to more easily adapt to the harsh temperature drops. As part of such a great ecosystem, many of us may be tempted to help these animals survive the winter wilderness. However, it is important to be aware of the proper ways to care for these creatures if we come across one in need. Below are some tips for how to care for wildlife this winter.

1. Be Mindful with What You Feed Them

Many of us will want to provide some food to precious wildlife, and we can’t blame you! The winter freezes everything in sight, and food is especially scarce during this time. However, there are some animals that are better off not fed. Perhaps the best example of this are deer. During winter, deer undergo physiological changes to acclimate, and their diet becomes more protein-based. This means that the bacteria that was previously present in their gut during spring and summer is now replaced with bacteria best for digesting high protein-based nutrients in fall and winter.

Deer eating in winter

Deer eating in winter. [Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/]

In fact, there have been multiple cases where deer have died due to a complication in the digestive tract when they were given food that was not appropriate to their current living situation. Deer may starve even when their stomachs are full of food due to bacteria incompatibility in their gut. Therefore it is most appropriate to be mindful of what we feed these creatures. The best route? Don’t feed them at all.

However, if you do choose to, here are some guidelines you must follow:

  • Stick to natural browse plants such as: woody plants (dogwood, honeysuckle, red cedar, oaks); winter forbs (sedges); winter crops (wheat, clover, rye grass); and winter fruits (coralberry, sumac seedheads).
  • DON’T FEED: hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, or cabbage/lettuce trimmings.
  • Protect feed from moisture.
  • Carefully select deer formulation in pellet form.

If you require more information on how to minimize impacts of deer-feeding during winter, Maine’s government offers a good article on the topic.

2. Leave Water Outside

Because freezing temperatures tend to leave ice instead of liquid, it is even more crucial to leave water outside for wildlife species. Birds, for instance, would benefit from water left outside for them to drink during winter. One can purchase a small heating rod that would prevent water from icing over—this equipment can easily be purchased in your local garden stores.

Alternatively you can invest in an artificial pond or birdbath and keep the water ice-free. It will most definitely be a welcome warmth for these friendly neighbors!

Bird in winter

Bird drinking water in winter. [Image: http://blog.wbu.com/]

3. Winter Garden Wilderness 

If you have a backyard, you can help provide a temporary solace by letting your backyard or garden, whichever is more applicable, run wild this winter. Let dead leaves, grass, and twigs pile up in a designated corner so wildlife can make a home out of this during the following winter months. Birds can also use the twigs for their nests!

compost garden

Garden compost. [Image: http://www.bobsmarket.com/]

4. Be Informed

While some wildlife is better off not fed, you can in fact provide food for some creatures. For instance, hanging feeders containing seed blends, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are great for birds! Hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds make for happy squirrels while cheese, boiled potatoes, and bread scraps during dusk are a great comfort for foxes. But quantity and mindfulness is key. Leaving too much can make them dependent and can cause a nuisance on you instead. Being ill-informed can prove fatal to their health.

squirrel and bird in hanging seed feeder

Bird and squirrel hanging on a seed feeder. [Image: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/]

Remember that while helping wildlife is great, it’s also a huge responsibility. Being informed and mindful makes you a more helpful neighbor for wildlife this winter!

Check your Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for more information on habitat and usual wildlife behavior, available in Google Play and the Apple Store.

Find Elk Roaming in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This post is contributed by Justin Fricke of The Weekend Warrior

Forget the stigma and stereotyping you’ve heard about where to see elk roaming and grazing in wide open fields. Unless you’ve heard that you can see them on the east coast in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because that’s true. We usually associate elk with western states like Wyoming and Montana, but elk are also indigenous to eastern states like North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

For centuries, elk roamed and grazed the southern Appalachian Mountain valleys. There were once thousands of elk on the east coast, until settlers came through and over-hunted them, pushing the animals out of their natural habitat. It’s believed that the last elks were shot in North Carolina in the 1700s and in the 1800s in Tennessee. Centuries went by before elk would roam the southern Appalachian Mountains again.

Part of the National Park Service’s goal is to reintegrate indigenous animals and plants that have been extradited from the areas in the past. Fast forward to 2001 when the National Park Service reintroduced 25 elk to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then another 27 the next year. Now the herds are doing well, and the park visitors love to see them graze when they come.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sign

Image Credit: Justin Fricke

You need to be at the right part of the park at the right time of the day and year. Cataloochee Valley is where they hang out, and you’ll need to take exit 20 of I-40 in North Carolina. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road and hang on for the 11-mile ride through the mountains to get to the gate of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drive safe, and plan for it to take 45 minutes from the exit to the park entrance.

Keep your eyes peeled because the herd could be anywhere—you just have to find them. Most of the time, they’re grazing in a big field surrounded by a wooded area at the back of the park. Follow the one and only road all the way back and set up your viewing area. Sometimes the herd is grazing in a field just off the side of the road.

Elk grazing at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Image Credit: Justin Fricke

You might want to bring a blanket, chairs, binoculars, and a camera to see them. If you’re into photography, bring a lens that’s at least 200mm since the elk are usually far away in the field. Be sure to keep your distance, staying at least 50 yards from the elk all the time. They are wild animals after all.

Your best chance at seeing some elk in Cataloochee Valley is in the spring and fall months. Get to the park early and enjoy the park, hiking and exploring the trails and learning the history. Or get to the park late to do the same. Then turn your attention to looking for some elk. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to view them.

Two elk at Smoky Mountain National Park

Image Credit: Justin Fricke

Featured: Yellowstone National Park

This month’s featured park is none other than Yellowstone National Park, a sprawling 2.2 million acres of natural geothermal bedspread based in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and certain parts of Idaho and Montana.

This vast ecological center is seated on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, a massive supervolcano stretching between 35–45 miles. Not to worry, though; the last recorded eruption was approximately 70,000 years ago, and our technology has since improved so that you’re highly unlikely to be caught in the fireworks so to speak.

Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is dazzling in the summer. [Image: http://www.hdwallpaperscool.com/]

While there are various debates on where the park attained its name, the two outstanding theories are that it may be named after the Yellowstone River from the Minnetaree Indian name Mi tse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River). However, based on common lore, there is also the possibility that the name was derived from the yellow rock surrounding the area. French trappers came and called the river “Roche Jaune” (Yellow Rock) which, when later translated, was what stuck with travelers and led it to be referred to as “Yellowstone.”

Ferdinand V. Hayden primarily headed the expedition, discovery, and the park’s eventual designation as a protected natural area. It was a slippery discovery that lasted an approximate 30 years before it stepped past the label of myths and folklore. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant officially signed what was considered The Act of Dedication that protected the park’s area from settlement and occupancy. Since then, the park has been successfully conserved for almost two centuries and is the leading (and arguably most important) geothermal resource in the entire world.

If you’re planning to visit Yellowstone National Park this fall or coming winter, here are some activities and views that you can enjoy while at this wonderful, breathtaking area.

Geothermal Glory

Yellowstone is well known for its geothermal and hydrothermal system and its many geysers that can be found within the park. A study in 2011 estimated the park to have approximately 1,200 geysers with about 400 of them active annually. Impressively, the park is estimated to contain 10,000 geothermal features, meaning that 2/3 of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone.

One of its most famous geysers is Old Faithful, which erupts at a rate of 45–120 minutes.

oldfaithful

Old Faithful erupting in the sunset. [Image: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.org/]

Aside from Old Faithful, other famous geysers in the park include Castle Geyser, Lion Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and the Norris Geyser Basin. You can visit the park at any point throughout the fall and winter to witness these amazing spectacles.

Wildlife Viewing

Because the park’s ecosystem is one of the most primitive and well-preserved on Earth, it makes for a suitable environment to house a diverse population of wildlife. All across its mountains and acres of space, various mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish can be found dwelling within this natural ecospace.

Among the mammals that can be found in Yellowstone are coyotes, wolves, the largest purebred bison herd in the Americas, and antelope. Bears are also commonly encountered in Yellowstone, so it is highly advised to read up on safety methods before visiting. Coming near or disturbing the animals is not advised, and visitors are recommended to stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and 25 yards away from any other mammals in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone wolves howling. [Image url: http://enchantedseashells.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/us-national-parks-yellowstone-wolf-quest-2-wolves.jpg?w=584&h=304]

Yellowstone wolves howling. [Image: http://enchantedseashells.files.wordpress.com/]

The park is also home to 311 species of birds, including bald eagles, ravens, and even whooping cranes (though the recorded sightings of those are rare). One can also spot harlequins, ducks, ospreys, and peregrine falcons.

Fishing is allowed in Yellowstone, and 18 species of fish can be found here, including lake trout, cutthroat trout, and mountain whitefish. Be sure to check the Rules & Regulations as well as the seasons and bag limits if you wish to go fishing in this reservoir.

Reptiles can be found within the park, including about six types of snakes such as the rubber boa, wandering garter snake, and the prairie rattlesnake. And additionally, amphibians can be found on the park grounds as well. Boreal chorus frogs, boreal toads, and blotched tiger salamanders are only three examples of what can be found within Yellowstone.

Early Winter in Yellowstone

Now that winter is coming, Yellowstone is probably the first park to trudge deep into the season. With its wonderfully arched slopes and miles upon miles of trails, Yellowstone is premium for winter adventuring. Tons of snow piles on top of the surroundings so that the whole scene is a gorgeous blanket of white surrounded by pine trees adorned in silver. It’s particularly beautiful when the setting or rising sun’s soft shades of red, purple, orange, and yellow hug the skies. These same colors illuminate the blanket of snow, truly making for a breathtaking sight.

Winter in Yellowstone [Image url: http://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/scenics/winterscenes/Images/10029.jpg]

Winter in Yellowstone. [Image: http://www.nps.gov/]

Meanwhile hot springs decorated with tufts of snow erupt in their usual frequency, providing a sense of heat. Coyotes, wolves, bison, and bears trudge through the snow and leave behind paw prints on the winter grounds.

Despite the cold freeze, Yellowstone is a marvelous place for various winter activities, offering miles of perfect, snow-filled trails for skiers and commercially-guided snowmobile tours. Other opportunities include winter ranger programs, guided ski and snowshoe tours, and cross-country skiing.

If you wish to visit Yellowstone, check out the following links to help guide you in your adventure!

And as always, let us help you! The Pocket Ranger® National Park Passport Guide features a comprehensive guide of Yellowstone National Park. Find us in Apple Store and Google Play, and go adventuring today!

Fighting for the Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater Sage-Grouse.

Image: http://www.wyofile.com/

On September 22nd, it was decided that the greater sage-grouse will not be protected under the Endangered Species Act. This news comes as a delight to ranchers, big industry leaders, and some conservationists while other environmentalists think this decision isn’t doing all it can for the sage-grouse.

These birds call eleven Western sagebrushes (the Sagebrush Sea, approximately 165 million acres) their home and are not keen to human development. They depend on the sagebrush for food, especially in the winter, and conservation of the sage-grouse would benefit many other species that also rely on the sagebrush for survival. Watching their unique mating ritual is a treat for visitors as well, one that shows the sage-grouse strutting and fanning their tail feathers about theatrically.

Greater sage-grouse doing mating dance.

A greater sage-grouse showing off his feathers and dancing in an attempt to woe some females. [Image: http://naturemappingfoundation.org/]

As development continues out West, the greater sage-grouse suffer and have been steadily declining for decades. In 2010, their populations were low enough that they should have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, however, the federal government claimed to have other priorities that led to it not being added. Some environmental groups believe this was done out of economic pressure from the oil, gas, mining, and agriculture industries.

The greater sage-grouse avoided being added to the list again due to heavily managed land-use plans by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which ensure that public and private land will be protected and improved with the greater sage-grouse in mind. Again, however, there is a split on opinions with this ruling. Some environmental groups are saying that the ruling isn’t strict enough while big industries affected by these limitations are saying they’re too harsh. In the end, these big companies face less constricting restraints than what they would have had to endure if the bird had been listed as endangered.

Greater sage-grouse mid-flight.

Image: http://www.natgeocreative.com/

In the meantime, both sides are threatening litigation to either reduce the limitations or have the sage-grouse be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The sage-grouse’s eligibility for being listed as an endangered species will be reevaluated in five years, in which time its population will hopefully start to grow regardless of what happens in court.