Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

‘Tis the Season for Ticks

School is out and winter has FINALLY seemed to release its grip on Ohio. During the summer break many families flock to the outdoors to recreate. In addition, many outdoor summer camps are underway. However, before releasing children and family members back into the woods, be sure to take a few health and safety precautions against ticks.

Tick ID
Tick abundance is often localized in pockets and different areas of Ohio are home to different species of ticks, some of which may carry diseases. To learn more about ticks in Ohio, how to identify ticks and what to do if you find a tick, visit the Species and Habitats page on the Division of Wildlife’s website: www.wildohio.gov

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Rise of the Machines

If nature teaches us anything it is that there must always be a balance in everything. Day follows night; winter and summer balance each other; the relationship between predators and prey are always fluctuating but must always be in balance. The lives of today’s youth are inundated with electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and video game consoles to name a few. In contrast, today’s youth are less connected with nature and spend less time outside than any previous generation. The term nature deficit disorder has been coined and many books and articles have been written about it. So if nature is correct, how do we find a balance?

Father and Son Playing IpadSo the solution is, just as nature shows us, to balance and perhaps merge the two together. Today’s tablets and smartphones can play a vital role in introducing today’s youth to the outdoors. Tablets and their applications are excellent for recording data from field experiments and studies. Their custom applications make data sharing and transfer much more efficient than logs created with a pencil.

As a society we are surrounded by technology from ATM machines handing us our money, to price check scanners at the supermarket, to self-checkout lines at the store. Even the concept of a store has changed with the popularity of online purchasing. Technology is so embedded in our daily lives that eliminating it from our children’s world would likely do more harm than good. 

On the other hand, reams of paper have been used to document the adverse effects today’s youth experience from their lack of interaction with nature. The fact that you are reading this article indicates that you are probably aware of this as well. So giving in to the machines is not a viable option either.

Smartphones and their abundant apps can also help introduce youth to the outdoors. There are a number of uses for smartphones outdoors, one of the best being as a field guide. A single phone can contain every field guide you will need, right in your pocket, and instantly provide you with information at your fingertip. 

However, taking students outside is not always possible, at least not all day and every day. There are ways to utilize technology to help teach about nature in the classroom as well. A technology teacher from St. Peter’s Elementary School in Upper Sandusky tries to incorporate the other teachers’ lessons into her technology class. When the third grade class was learning about habitats and adaptations, Mrs. Dilley used a popular iPad app called PicCollage to merge the two subjects. PicCollage is an iPad app used to create picture collages which can be shared or sent electronically, similar to an electronic postcard. She had the students search for photos about habitats and adaptations on the web and use them to develop an electronic picture collage. To accomplish this, the students first had to understand what they were learning in science class before they could develop a collage. It required them to merge two different subjects to develop a project.

Ultimately, there is nothing inherently bad about technology. When applied properly, technology can enhance your student’s experiences with nature. These are just a few ideas on how to balance, or integrate, technology and nature. Of course there are hundreds of ways to integrate education and nature. A great resource and report on Kids and Technology and Nature can be found online from the National Wildlife Federation.

If you would like to share an idea of how you have incorporated wildlife into your teaching, please send it to outdoor.education@dnr.state.oh.us  If we post it on the blog, we will send you a token of our appreciation. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Swan Song

From John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay, Ohio

There are two species of swans native to Ohio, the tundra swan and the trumpeter swan.  Trumpeter swans are the larger of the two, both of which are native species of the United States. Although tundra swans do migrate through Ohio in the spring and fall, the trumpeter is the only native species that nests in Ohio. The adult trumpeter has snow white plumage with a black bill and feet. The young birds, or cygnets, are a sooty gray color with a pinkish colored bill and feet. The bill of a trumpeter swan may also have a red border on the lower jaw that gives the bird the appearance of wearing lipstick. The name trumpeter comes from the bird’s song, described as a resonant, deep and loud, trumpet-like call. In contrast, tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, have a much higher pitched call than trumpeter swans.
trumpeter swans and cygnets
photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
tundra swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society

By 1900, trumpeter swans were extirpated from most of their historic range, including Ohio. In 1996, the Division of Wildlife began working on a project, in partnership with the Mississippi Flyway Council, the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, The Wilds and Ducks Unlimited, to restore trumpeter swans to Ohio. The reintroduction plan called for the release of 150 trumpeter swans in selected Ohio wetlands with a goal of at least 15 breeding pairs by 2006. This unique reintroduction was initiated to restore diversity to Ohio’s fauna and to promote wildlife enjoyment opportunities on Division of Wildlife managed wetland areas.

Today, trumpeter swans are classified as “Threatened” in Ohio and can be found in only 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties with 28 breeding pairs calling Ohio home in 2013. The Division of Wildlife’s trumpeter swan management goal is to increase its range within Ohio from the current 13 counties to 15 counties and to increase the number of breeding pairs from 28 pairs to 40 pairs within the state by 2020.

However, the chorus is not all radiant for the trumpeter swans. Another swan, ironically named the mute swan, is attempting to silence trumpeter swans in Ohio and neighboring states.
mute swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
Mute swans are native to Eurasia and were introduced into North America during the late 1800s as decorative waterfowl. They have now established feral populations throughout North America from escaped and released birds. Mute swans were first recorded in Ohio in 1911 at Silver Lake in Akron where they were wing-clipped annually until 1934 when the birds were allowed to fly away. Mute swans are now an exotic, invasive species that threaten to displace native wetland wildlife.

Mute swans are sedentary birds that typically only migrate short distances when dictated by severe weather. Because of this, mute swans typically establish nesting territories 3 weeks earlier than trumpeter swans. Mute swans will aggressively defend their nesting territories against other native wildlife, including trumpeter swans. With only about 100,000 acres of marsh existing in Ohio, competition for limited habitat has the potential to negatively impact the success of the trumpeter swan restoration program.

In addition, mute swans feed almost exclusively on aquatic vegetation (up to 8 pounds per day!) In high densities, mute swan populations can severely reduce food availability for native waterfowl, uproot wetland plants and even destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.

Mute swans can be identified by their orange bill with a black knob at the base. Mute swans also hold their necks in an S-curve when on the water, unlike trumpeter and tundra swans. Despite their name, these birds are not actually soundless. They can make a variety of hisses, bugles and other sounds.
Photo courtesy of the Trumpeter Swan Society

Regionally, the populations of mute swans have begun to grow exponentially. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports that, in the last 10 years the number of mute swans has nearly tripled. Without management of mute swan populations, long-term detrimental impacts may occur to Ohio’s wetland habitats and native species like trumpeter swans.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do I need a permit for that?

By guest writer, Melissa Moser, Permit Coordinator, Ohio Division of Wildlife

Inspiring a child to enjoy and respect wildlife is an important endeavor. Wildlife education continues throughout our lives as we build upon our childhood experiences. Many of us have good intentions when we decide to use a wild animal, either alive or dead, to teach another person an important lesson. What you may not have considered, is how that animal is protected in the state of Ohio.
box turtle

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s mission is to conserve and improve fish and wildlife resources and their habitats for sustainable use and appreciation by all. We are tasked with holding in trust the wild animals of the state for the benefit of all Ohioans. Wild animals, as defined by ORC 1531.01, include mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, wild birds, wild quadrupeds and all other wild mammals except domestic deer. This means that these animals may not be taken, collected, or possessed unless you have specific permission to do so. Further restrictions apply to certain species of reptiles and amphibians and to those species considered endangered. 

Because wildlife education is so important, the Division has developed a permit that allows qualified people to possess and use wild animals for educational purposes.  A qualified person must represent an educational institution, public agency (SWCD, Metro Parks, etc.), educational or conservation organization, or licensed rehabilitator. The permit is a mechanism to allow educators to possess Ohio native wild animals, conduct monitoring projects, and may be used for both live and dead specimens. Possession of migratory birds or their parts requires both an Ohio Division of Wildlife permit and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Permit.

Keep in mind, you may use animals that are legally acquired without an education permit. These include fish, minnows, crawfish, and hellgrammites obtained using legal methods (rod,
minnow traps or small seine) with a fishing license. Legally acquired hides, skulls and bones of game species and legally acquired feathers and parts of game birds may also be used without an additional permit. 

To obtain an Education Permit, you must fill out an application (DNR 8953) and submit a payment of $25/year. The permit cycle runs through March 15th annually. All Education Permit holders are required to submit an annual report of their activities. This includes an inventory of the animals they have in their possession as well as a summary of what activities they have used their permit for over the course of the past year. To get a copy of the application or if you have questions, feel free to contact the Permit Coordinator, Melissa Moser at melissa.moser@dnr.state.oh.us or 1-800-WILDLIFE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Wildlife Adaptations

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay, Ohio

Red fox with mouse
This year, winter in Ohio has been a bit extreme, at least when compared to the last couple of years. Talk of the record high snowfalls and record low temperatures have been at the forefront of many conversations for nearly one and a half months now. We at the Division of Wildlife are no exception, and we have been receiving quite a few calls from concerned people about the fate of their favorite wildlife species. So, what about our native wildlife that have been exposed to this weather? Surprisingly, for the most part, they are just fine. It is easy to personify, or bestow human traits, onto wildlife, particularly species we are fond of. However, it is important to remember that native species of wildlife are well adapted to deal with winter conditions.  And, although this year has been extreme when compared to the last several years, these adaptations have developed over thousands of years and thousands of winters, many more harsh than this year. These adaptations can be classified into two groups: structural or behavioral.

Structural adaptations are physical traits, handed down through genetics that help an animal better survive in its environment. In the case of winter conditions, an obvious example for most mammal species is the pelage, or their covering of hair or fur. In fall, most mammals in Ohio replace their thinner summer coats with a dense winter coat, which is why fur bearer trapping seasons are scheduled for late fall and into winter. These thick coats are comprised of two layers, an inner dense undercoat which traps air and provides warmth, and an outer layer of guard hairs to repel water, protect the undercoat, and provide camouflage.

Have you ever noticed that the northern members of a species seem to be a bit larger than their southern counterparts, even though they are the same species? It has to do with how their bodies deal with heat. In the south, where summers are very hot, bodies need to remove heat in order to protect vital organs. In the north, the opposite is required; heat needs to be retained during the cold months. So how does size help? Think of a cube. For every one additional increase of surface, the volume increases three fold. So the larger and stouter northern animals have more mass relative to surface area to protect internal organs. Likewise, the thinner and lanky southern versions have a larger surface area in relation to their volumes to help dissipate heat.

Striped Skunk
Behavioral adaptations are ways an animal acts and reacts to changes in its environment that help it better survive. Some of these behaviors are ingrained while others are learned. Hibernation is behavioral adaptation that is ingrained in some species. These species have no choice whether or not they hibernate. Hibernation is a state of inactivity with low body temperature, slow breath and heart rate, and very low metabolic rate. In Ohio, groundhogs are one of the few mammals that enter into a true state of hibernation. Other species, like skunks and raccoons enter a lesser form of hibernation called torpor. Animals in a state of torpor do not enter into as “deep” of a sleep, therefore their breath and heart rate, and metabolisms are reduced much less than in hibernation. Often, these animals will “sleep” during periods of severe weather and emerge once the weather breaks.

Other behavioral adaptations are learned. Humans, for example, have learned to build shelters which have enabled them to live in climates in which they would otherwise not be physically adapted to survive. Just like Eskimos, many species of wildlife, particularly game birds like ruffed grouse and pheasants, rely on snow for insulation and to protect them from the harsh winds. When woodlots and fence rows are removed, the wind driven snow moves on rather than forming snowdrifts along the fences, leaving these species susceptible to the elements.

Some species have adapted other ways to cope with unfavorable weather. Many species of birds choose to avoid the cold altogether and fly to areas where food is abundant. Migration is an adaptation to capitalize on the seasonally abundant food sources as they occur in different regions of the world.

Bobwhite quail
Still, there are some native species, which are not very tolerant of Ohio’s weather patterns. Often, these species are better adapted to other regions of the country and the edges of their home ranges spill into Ohio. These are called edge species.  The Northern bobwhite quail is one example of an edge species in Ohio. The numbers of Northern bobwhites in Ohio are subject to dramatic fluctuations due to winter weather conditions. Their populations often increase during mild winters, while prolonged snow cover and below normal temperatures may decimate quail populations in other years. On the other hand, Ohio is at the southern edge of the snowshoe hare’s range. Ohio’s relatively “mild” winters mean that the species was probably never abundant here and historically snowshoe hares were likely confined to the “Snow Belt” region in the extreme northeast corner of Ohio.

In the end, every species has adapted unique ways to help them survive in their environment. For Ohio’s wildlife, that includes winters just like the one we are experiencing this year. Although, to some these conditions may seem unbearable, most all of the native wildlife species are well adapted to these conditions. For more information about a particular species that interests you, visit the Species Guide Index at wildohio.com.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Take Them Outside! In Winter?

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two

Tired of winter already? Short days and long nights combined with children who have been cooped up inside too long can tax even the most patient person. Looking for a way to reduce the stress? Send them outside!

OK, that should have read, “TAKE them outside.” Cold weather is no reason to put your outdoor experiences and education on hold. You cannot catch a cold simply by being outside. That is an old myth. Colds are brought on by viruses, not temperature.  

Going for an afternoon walk is very relaxing, not to mention healthy. Even a 15 minute walk can do wonders for the mind and body. When there is snow cover, spend some time solving a “snow mystery.” Look for wildlife tracks and spend a few moments following them, trying to figure who made them and what they were doing. You might be surprised at what you find. Many species of wildlife live secretly among us. Some are nocturnal while others operate covertly when we aren’t looking.

What about doing something for the birds? Here is how to make some snow art that will benefit birds too. How about making a snowman that wildlife will enjoy too? Use nuts, raisins, vegetables and fruit, in addition to bird seed, to decorate your snow friend.

Many nature centers hold programs throughout the winter months. Check out their websites for details. These are great ways to get out of the house and reconnect with nature.

Perhaps the most important element in creating an enjoyable winter outdoor experience is proper attire. Unless it is bitterly cold, most winter days can easily be enjoyed if you are properly dressed. Be sure everyone has warm boots, hats, gloves and scarves to protect faces, in addition to winter coats. By dressing in layers you will be better able to adjust your temperature. Also, remember to stay hydrated. Occasionally take breaks to warm up and there is no reason why you have to remain cooped up inside this winter.