Snakes in a Drain at NETWC

turtle crossingBlack racer snakes are rare in Vermont, so when highway construction was going to introduce drains with holes big enough for the snakes to fall into, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife asked for a fix. Drain covers with smaller holes were not possible. So the Vermont Agency of Transportation fashioned snake-sized ladders and attached them to the drains. It turns out that black racers are excellent climbers, so it is expected that the snakes will rescue themselves if they fall into the drain.  A poster on the unusual solution was presented at the Northeastern Transportation and Wildlife Conference, being held this week (Sept. 21 – 24) in Burlington, Vermont.

In other news from the conference: Now that fish and wildlife departments and transportation agencies are getting along so well together, what is the next step? Bringing urban and land-use planning into the fold. This will be trickier, because while transportation and wildlife function on the state level, planning happens at the local level. In Vermont, several speakers noted, just two percent of all development was subject to state review. (And Vermont has a strong state-level development law.)

Seeing Is Believing At NETWC

Richard TT FormanThe Northeastern Transportation and Wildlife Conference is taking place in Burlington, Vermont this week (Sept. 21 – 24). The technology of the hour is the game camera. It’s cheap, it’s non-invasive, and it’s cheap. One presenter confessed that there were probably better tools for his project — radio collaring, for example — but that it was better to have some data for his project now than waiting around for funding for better technology.

The next step is to become more adept at using game cameras. In that same presentation, there was a problem with smaller animals not being picked up by the cameras. At least one of the conversations after the session was about how to better place and aim the cameras to pick up all the species included in the study (which can be difficult if it includes both weasels and moose).

Another aspect touched on by a poster from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, is processing all those photos. This poster suggested using software that lets analysts pick descriptions from a pull-down menus to standardize the interpretations for better data crunching.

Photo: You never know who you will meet at a conference. Harvard researcher Richard T.T. Forman, known as the “father of road ecology,” was one of the NETWC attendees. Here, he adds his thoughts on a documentary that he appeared in as an expert.

Good News for Vermont’s Bats

little brown bat with white nose syndrome on cave wallAs the second state struck by white nose syndrome in bats, good news for Vermont’s bats is good news for all hibernating bats in North America. An Associated Press story reports that scientists are interpreting results of a winter-long study of bat movements in New England’s largest bat hibernation site as showing a sharp reduction in the number of bats felled by white nose syndrome.

The scientists tagged over 400 bats, and found that only eight left their hibernation cave early. Only 192 bats left the cave at their normal time, but the scientists say they think those other 200 or so bats hibernated in another cave, as opposed to dieing somewhere deep in the cave out of reach of their tracking antenna.

Read the whole Associated Press story here.
Scroll down for some background on the study and other interesting white nose syndrome info, here.

Photo: Little brown bat with white nose syndrome. Courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation


Snowy Owls Return

Snowy owl at Port Mahon - photo by Chris Bennett-DNRECIt’s another snowy owl year. The last time a snowy owl influx made news was the winter of 2011/2012. Not so long ago.

Read this blog post from the Vermont Center for Ecological Studies,
this blog post from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, featuring eBird data,
or this press release from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Photo: Great snowy owl at Port Mahon – November 29, 2013. Photo: Chris Bennett/DNREC

More Rattlesnake Fungus

vt rattlesnake studyNashville Public Radio reports that two timber rattlesnakes with heads deformed from a fungus have been found in Tennessee. It’s unclear who the wildlife biologists who are reporting the fungus are (state? university?), but the story quotes Ed Carter, head of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and TWRA biologist Brian Flock.

Read the Nashville Public Radio story here.
A condensed version of the story was distributed by the Associated Press. Read it on the WBIR website, here.

The rattlesnake fungus has devastated the rattlesnake population in neighboring New Hampshire, so the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife isn’t waiting around to find out what’s going on with its own rattlesnakes, which are only found in one area in the western part of the state.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department rattlesnake project leader Doug Blodgett says in a department press release that lesions have been found in rattlesnakes last year and in several other species of snakes in the state.

Read the Vermont Fish and Wildlife press release here.

Photo: Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist Doug Blodgett carefully examines a timber rattlesnake icheck it for signs of snake fungal disease. Photo by Tom Rogers, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

NY, Vt. WNS Bats Winter in Maine

bat bunker wnsThirty bats from New York and Vermont, some of which were visibly infected with white nose syndrome (WNS), were moved to a specially-prepared military bunker in Maine to spend the winter. Nine bats survived, a higher percentage than would have been expected if they had been left in the wild. Those bats were returned to the locations where they were found.

“We learned a lot from this experiment,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife bat project leader Scott Darling in a department press release. “These bats were visibly infected before being placed in the bunker, so we wouldn’t have expected many of them to survive in their natural cave environment.”

Read the Vermont Fish and Wildlife press release here.
Read the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast’s blog here — with many wonderful photos. (Scroll down a bit to get to the main story about the bunker and WNS.)
Read a guest post on the USFWS white nose syndrome blog from the assistant manager at the National Wildlife Refuge where the bats wintered here. (With the same photos, and a link to a Flicker page.)Read an article from the Rutland (Vermont) Herald here. (But be warned that its articles go behind a paywall in a week, sometimes sooner.)

And in related news, here’s a report from the Barre/Montpelier Times-Argus and Rutland Herald, about further WNS research in Vermont this winter. (It may also disappear behind a paywall.)

Photo: The bunker door at the Aroostok National Wildlife Refuge in late March. by Steve Agius, courtesy USFWS

Lynx and Bobcat in Northeast

There are lynx sightings in Vermont and a new bobcat management plan in New York.

In New York, the bobcat management plan offers a road map for managing the species over the next five years. Bobcat numbers in the state are up, the report says:

All indications, including harvest trends, suggest that bobcats have increased in abundance here and in surrounding states, and observations have become more common in recent years. Based on analysis of harvest data, we estimate New York’s bobcat population to be approximately 5,000 animals in areas where regulated hunting and trapping seasons have been in place since the 1970s. Estimates are not available for populations expanding into western and central New York.

Because of this, the plan includes opening some new areas of the state to bobcat hunting and changing the bobcat hunting season in other areas for the sake of consistency. The report also mentions investigating the possibility of reestablishing bobcats on Long Island, in the urban southeast corner of the state.

Find a link to the management plan and a short description of it on the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s website, on the bobcat page, here.

In Vermont, it’s the rural northwest corner of the state that is seeing an increase of lynx sightings, according to the blog of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Ecological Services.

A total of eight lynx track intercepts were recorded during two survey efforts in February and March. The track patterns and genetic analysis indicated three to five distinct individuals, some of which were traveling together.

The animals traveling together were likely a mother and her young, the blog says, which suggests a breeding population in the area.

Read the entire blog post, here.

Photo: Lynx track, courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Vermont Eagle Population Soars

Vermont has long lagged behind the other New England states in bald eagle populations. Even when bald eagle populations in neighboring states recovered to the point where they had dozens of nesting pairs, Vermont was still not home to eagles that were successfully raising young.

That changed in 2008, when a single pair fledged a single chick. In 2009, the state did its best to help a second breeding eagle pair that lost their nest when the tree it was in fell down. Now, just four years after that first eagle fledged, 23 eagles were fledged in 15 Vermont nests this year, reports the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read the Vermont Fish and Wildlife press release, here.
Read Vermont’s bald eagle recovery plan, here.

Unsolved Mystery: Frog Abnormalities

On an August day 17 years ago, eight Minnesota junior high school students on a field trip caught 22 frogs in a farm pond. At least half of the frogs had some abnormality, mostly in their hind legs. The conscientious teacher reported the group’s finding to the state. Dutiful state scientists surveyed wetlands across Minnesota and found at least one hotspot of frog abnormality in every county in the state.

What have we learned about frog abnormalities in the last 17 years? Quite a bit, actually. There appear to be several causes, and sometimes the causes pile up to create a high rate of abnormalities. The causes also seem to vary by region.

Here’s a comprehensive overview of the situation in Minnesota from Minnesota Public Radio. You can read or listen, here.

Vermont also experienced a high rate of frog abnormalities back in 1995, but the interpretation there is a bit different than it is in Minnesota.

Read this article from The Outside Story, a syndicated nature column, about frog abnormalities in Vermont, which includes a nod to the lack of abnormalities in New Hampshire. Read it here.

Are you finding abnormal frogs? A fantastic resource for state biologists evaluating frog abnormalities is the Field Guide to Malformations of Frogs and Toads (with Radiographic Interpretations) by Carol Meteyer of the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

Find the 20-page PDF here, including lots of photos and x-rays (aka radiographs).

Photo: Frog with abnormality, by David Hoppe, courtesy of US Geological Survey