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Burnaby Crows by Magalie L’Abbé

When crows pick a town to roost in, locals tend to react badly. They think it’s spooky, worry about guano and try to do ridiculous things to drive them off–like shoot them. But one Canadian city sees it another way. Burnaby, BC, loves its crow roost. Thousands of crows have been sleeping together in the seaside town east of Vancouver since at least the 1970s.

“If you go around dusk they cover the sky,” says Kelsey Downey, marketing coordinator for Tourism Burnaby. “I used to go to school right in the area and it’s a pretty amazing site.”

The crows fly eastward over the city at dusk. They’re more concentrated in the winter. And they tend to be seen most around Willingdon Avenue, which is an exit off Highway 1. Downey recommends checking out Still Creek Drive, which runs next to the highway.

Burnaby sticks up for their crows. Kirsten Starcher, who writes the blog Crows to Burnaby [which is really more about arts than crows] is just one of the residents who fretted when a Costco displaced one of the big roost sites in 2006 about how it would impact their crows. “It was sad to lose it,” one crow fan told the Vancouver Sun at the time. Another protested on YouTube.

About 500 students each painted their own model crow for an art project Along the Flight Path, that fixed the crows to a fence.  A Vancouver tourism site boasted that the Northwestern Crow was the most conspicuous local bird and that Burnaby had “easily the most amazing gathering in the province.” Crows.net says the Burnaby is “one of the most renowned crow roosts.” It’s great to see a town that appreciates its wildlife.

Where to Go to See Weird Birds or Unusual Bird Events
Where to See Animals Out West


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Gray whale from Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center

A lone gray whale showed up in the Mediterranean Sea this week. Biologists are baffled. Gray whales haven’t been seen on this side of the Atlantic for centuries. Is this bad news–just a lone whale hundreds of miles off track? Or good news–a lone explorer, trying out a new migration oute–or, really, an ancient one?

The Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center verified it as definitely a gray whale. Biologist are betting on the lone lost soul explanation. NOAA’s Phillip Clapham of  told Discovery that either “there has been a relict population in the North Atlantic that no one has noticed (virtually impossible), or (more likely) that this whale came down through the ice-free Northwest Passage and is now hopelessly lost.”

I’d like to think there’s a third possibility: the whale is forging a new route. Maybe in response to the whaling pressure it still faces in Asia. Migration routes aren’t stagnant. Animal populations are constantly changing, usually led by a lone male branching out looking for a mate. Marine biologists used to think the manatees that migrate up the east coast were lost, so they’d catch them and haul them down to Florida. Now they realize it’s just what they do.

There used to be four populations of gray whales, Jim Darling notes. Two–the ones one the east and west shores of the North Atlantic–are dead.

Two populations survive–on the east and west of the Pacific. The one that hugs the North American coast has been protected since 1947 and now is about 20,000. They thrive, delighting whale watchers with their friendly overtures towards boaters. Gray whales used to roam Florida to New England. Imagine the kind of animal tourism attraction we’re missing. Right in Florida we’d probably have the same magical, close-up whale watching experience people now trek to Baja to get.

The Asian population is anemic–only 100 to 200. Even though nobody is supposed to be hunting it. And no one is sure if the two populations touch.

Where to Go to See Whales

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Mommy Squirrel BegsMickey, the sweet black squirrel with a malocclusion, had an intruder this weekend. A wild squirrel we call Mommy Squirrel bust into the apartment and got Mickey so agitated that for the first time in three months she bothered to escape from her cage and climb a brick wall.

Mickey normally doesn’t like to go out of her house. She comes out to eat, go to the bathroom, harumph around to complain if I haven’t adequately stocked her with avocado. She only climbs the bars if she’s agitated.

Mommy Squirrel lives nearby. Like last year, she is nursing and hungry enough to make a pest of herself. She is both pushy and picky. If she mere peanuts, apples and bananas are offered on the window sill, she’ll put her paws to the window. Where’s my chestnut? Or even a walnut will do.

Saturday I was painting and had the window open. I walk into the office to find Mommy on my desk chair and Mickey climbing the wall. I’m not sure which of these ladies upset the other. I’d like to think Mickey, enraged at yet another encroachment on her home ownership, came out to drive intruder Mommy Squirrel away.

I shooed Mommy outside, then guided Mickey back to her house. Once Mommy was out, she headed back that way anyway. The only solution I can think of is just to leave plenty of nuts outside for Mommy, who is having a tough time this year because her ne’er-do-well sons from last year have claimed my bountiful window sill as their turf and try to chase her away.  

Mickey eats breakfast 
Where to Go to See Special Squirrels
Plenty of Wildlife Lives in NYC. Found Out Where

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How does the Deepwater Horizon oil spill compare to the historical monster of Exxon Valdez, by which we judge all oil disasters? How long will this go on?

We went back to the records of Valdez to look at its size and what we might lay ahead.

  •  In the Valdez spill Scientific American reports that 2,000 sea otters, 302 harbor seals and about 250,000 seabirds died in the first few days. So far we have only 2 birds in care that I know of.
  •  Rescuers retrieved a total of 36,471 carcasses and captured 1,630 live birds, the IBRRC reports.
  • The Valdez spill was March 24, 1989. The last wildlife rehab center closed September 6 of that year. The Deepwater Horizon spill was on April 22, 2009. By that measure, rehabbers will be on the scene until early October.
  • By the 10th day of the Valdez oil spill, rescuers were finding 180 oiled birds per square mile, the Coast Guard reported.
  • The oil spread so far in Prince William Sound that rescuers had to set up four wildlife care centers. They’ve already set up three down south. There are Oiled Bird Rescue Centers in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, Theodore, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.
  • How long will it take the wildlife to recover? Here’s the really scary part. They’re still digging up oil in Valdez and some species are still recovering.
Where to Go to See Wildlife
Where to Go See Wildlife Down South

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 A sweet sorta-rescue played out on Facebook this week: Kenny, a Florida goat spared from the butcher himself, reached out to save a Colorado goat in need. It all started as a joke, says Karen Matyjasik, who raises goats in Central Florida. But next Thursday a baby goat with nowhere to go will fly cross-country to start a new life, all thanks to Kenny’s Facebook fans.

Karen says Kenny, a boer goat, was her son’s FFA project last fall, but was so charismatic her friend Mary Ann got all attached. Mary Ann started a facebook page called Kenny the Social Climbing Goat, reasoning that celebrities don’t get slaughtered. When FFA ended, they tutored him in wagon-pulling so he’d have another job. He collected admirers, like Dillie the Deer. He would shamelessly ask for fans: “There is a STUFFED BEAR out there with 1012 friends . What am I Chopped Liver?”

Then another friend and goat herder wrote about trying to find homes for her aging father’s goats, in particular a baby with no mother. “This one showed up with no momma started sucking a little off this one, a little off this one,” but no mother goat claimed her, Karen says.

Mary Ann and Karen, in the voice of Kenny, started pining for the goat they called Orphan Annie. She got Kenny to pose for a picture in front of the computer by sprinkling it with his favorite treat, Lucky Charms. “As a joke we said she could come and live on our farm,” Karen says.  “It then took on a life of its own”

Kenny’s fans–now over 400–tried to figure something out.  Denver’s NBC TV station KKCO reported the story. “Everybody was trying to get Annie to Florida,” she says. They found that Southwest wouldn’t take her, but Continental would; chipped in for the ticket; and russled up a ride to the airport.

Annie is set to arrive in Florida next Thursday. Karen will see if one of her mother goats will adopt her as a daughter. Karen is not trying to exaggerate the heroism of the cause. “It’s really not a super rescue,” she says. While most of her goats go to FFA students and some get to become pets or milk producers, some do go to slaughter. “I can’t deny it,” she says. “in order for me to keep Kenny and other goats, some of them have to be sold and some of them have to be sold for that.”

Meanwhile, though, she treats them well, dotes on them, really. And if Kenny finds another animal in need, he’ll jump to the rescue again.

Where to Go to See Wildlife
Visit Your Local Farm Sanctuary
Read our Profile of
 Dillie the Deer

Dillie the Deer Maligned as Dangerous

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One peculiar thing about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so far: hardly any wildlife covered in oil. The lack of  oiled birds has mystified rescuers and exasperated the media. TV networks are clamoring for images, showing clip files and giving the impression that tons of animals are showing up hurt. That’s not so–at least not yet.

Mike Ziccardi, a vet and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network,  says on the OWCN blog that he got into a spat with “a fairly irate reporter from a major national news outlet” who demanded video access to the necropsy (animal autopsy) of some sea turtles. The network were desperate for dead turtle images even though the turtles didn’t show initial signs of oiling and, as Ziccardi pointed out, were in found in a time and place typical of stranded turtles. (The other big threat to turtles is shrimp boats, Wallace Nichols from Grupo Tortuguero points out.)

Keith Olbmermann started a broadcast this week in ominous tone about “as dead jellyfish begin to wash up on the Mississippi coast.” Dead jellyfish might be the one bright spot of the oil spill, given that the Gulf Dead Zone has caused a plague of jellyfish in the gulf.

A brown pelican is only second bird to be treated. Photo by IBRRC

Apparently California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger so expected oiled wildlife images that he dreamed some up. He just announced that he was withdrawing support for drilling off California’s shores: “I see on TV, the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem,” he said at a press conference.

Both Schwartzenegger’s descion and the lack of injured animals is fantastic, of course. Right now, nearly two weeks into what may be the worst oil spill in U.S. history, exactly two birds are in treatment. There’s a northern gannet and this brown pelican. They’re going to be media stars, these two.

Ziccardi is mystified by the lack of oiled animals. By this time in an oil spill, he says, “wildlife field operations are in full swing, the largest number of animals are being (or have been) collected, and facilities are bustling with activity.” He doesn’t know what to make of this lack of animal injury: “Normally I would be overjoyed at this lack of overt animal impact. No, overjoyed is a significant understatement … but is this lull what we should expect in the days to come, or is the Sword of Damocles really about to come crashing down?”

That’s a question all of us are asking. We’ve been told that the oil spill was on the verge of hitting the shore since last Friday morning. I’m thrilled it hasn’t fouled beaches, wetlands and wildlife, but how is it not? Where is the oil going?

Ziccardi wonders if the oil dispersant chemicals are keeping the oil from the surface–where it would do the most damage to birds and marine mammals–but leaving it in the water where it will do long-term, hidden damage. Especially to clam beds. He uses my favorite word of the oil spill: BIOMAGNIFY. That means basically get eaten by the bottom of the food chain, concentrate there, then work their way up the food chain.  Kind of like mercury.

Where to Go to See Wildlife
Where to Go See Wildlife Down South

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brooklyn babiesGot three more baby squirrels yesterday. More victims of a squirrel mother’s inappropriate urban housing choices. A very sweet family in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, discovered them in squatting in their air conditioner vent. The mother squirrel bit the man, grabbed one of her four babies and ran off. Renee, the human mother of the house sat up all night with worry, leaving the squirrels wrapped for warmth but available for the mother to take. Squirrel mom returned, but didn’t take the babies.

I’m full up with squirrels, so my fellow rehabber friend Vicki is coming to the rescue and taking them tonight. They’re all boys, all healthy, still with their eyes closed. One is a screamer.

Brooklyn BabyThe adolescent squirrels were highly interested in the new arrivals. Or at least the formula-filled syringe I was feeding them with.

Flying Squirrel
Flying Squirrel! Grover jumps around the cage while Baby Ruth plays with a paper towel.

Mickey, meanwhile, showed absolutely no interest. She did harumph around the cage–her signal that she has noticed that I have come into the room yet not delivered her food yet. I had been thinking Mickey was nearing ready to get released back to the Queens community garden where she lived before, with the possibility of recatching her if we needed to trim her teeth. She’s definitely got two top teeth back, but they’re crooked. But the Horvaths–way more experienced and licensed rehabbers than I–think she won’t make it and offered her a permanent home with the other animals they’ve rescued.

Mickey eats breakfastMore than her malocclusion issue, they don’t think she’s “wild up enough.” There’s something just off about her. She’s never tried to bite me. I’ve clipped her teeth, bathed her, pulled her out of her house, tried to get her to take care of orphans. I deserved to be bitten. She doesn’t take an interest in her grooming or housekeeping like a proper squirrel. Even the adolescents are already stuffing their box with papertowels. I hope for Mickey’s sake there’s something I’ve missed that they can do. Meanwhile, she’s really lucky to get the offer.
Where to Go to See Unusual Squirrels

Read where Mickey came from

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