Friday, November 25, 2011

Ducks & Geese: habitat basics

Most people know ducks and geese need water and wetland habitats to survive. That need was well illustrated in the 1980s, when a prolonged drought in the prairie pothole region cut duck populations by half. Fewer people think about the undisturbed grassland habitats ducks and geese need for nesting. Nevertheless, those upland grasslands in close proximity to wetlands are critical for waterfowl as well.
Much of the wetland habitat was destroyed in the last century with the draining of most of America’s wetlands. In the past 15 years, though, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other programs, landowners have restored thousands
of acres of wetlands and waterfowl populations have responded. Individual species have specific food and cover preferences, but included here is some general guidance on their habitat needs.

Food preferences. Ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl eat plants--mostly aquatic--and seeds and insects. Crop fields can draw thousands of waterfowl in the fall, to eat corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, barley and other cereal grains. A wide variety of aquatic plants and seeds eaten includes pondweed, smartweed, sedges, bulrushes, and wild millet.
Ducks can be grouped into two feeding types: dabbling and diving ducks. Dabbling ducks, including mallards, wood ducks and blue-winged teal, usually feed in shallow water by tipping up on the surface. Divers, including redheads and canvasbacks, feed by diving to the bottom of ponds and lakes to get submerged plants.
In early spring, hens eat insects for protein needed to produce eggs; their young also eat mostly insects and other small animals in their first three weeks of life.

Cover needs. Wetland types include prairie potholes, tundra wetlands, river backwaters, bays in large lakes, coastal wetlands, mountain wetlands and forest wetlands. Wetlands with about half their surface area covered by wetland plants are ideal for waterfowl broods. Idle grasslands, deferred pastures and haylands not mowed until after nesting, in July, are the upland habitat many waterfowl use to nest. Many species migrate southward, but some stay in winter if food and open water are available.

Did you
ducks normally fly at high
altitudes; some have been
spotted at 20,000 feet. Most
fly at night, at speeds of 40
to 60 miles an hour. Most people
think of migration as a
north-south phenomenon, but
there is nearly as much eastwest

Thursday, November 24, 2011

President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving – more 200 years after the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1621. However, holiday wasn’t declared an official national holiday until 1941.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Eastern Wild Turkeys: habitat basics

The wild turkey has made an amazing comeback in the United States. This wary game bird is a favorite of many hunters and wildlife watchers alike, and it’s doing well. Five wild turkey subspecies are found in the U.S. They include the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Florida and Gould’s wild turkey. Their habitats change with available plants in their region of the country, but are similar. Here’s what the Eastern wild turkey likes.

Food preferences. The diet is more than 80 percent plant food, with 10 to 20 percent primarily insects. Young poults eat insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects, salamanders, snails and small reptiles. Fruits of wild grape, dogwood and wild cherry are favorites. Turkeys also eat numerous seeds, including those of native grasses, sedges, trees and ferns.
Water. A source of open water is necessary to support a wild turkey population. They drink from spring seeps, streams, ponds, lakes and livestock watering facilities. It’s critical to have water as well as foraging, nesting, brood rearing and roosting cover all available near each other to support populations.
Nesting cover. Eastern wild turkeys nest on the ground in hardwood or mixed forest, usually at the base of sizable trees in dense understory cover. They may also nest under a brush pile, in thickets or under downed trees and branches. Preferred nest sites are near openings or on forest edges where newly hatched poults have access to insects after hatching.
Roosting cover. Wild turkeys roost overnight in trees to avoid predators. The exception is for hens with up to one-month old poults-- they roost on the ground in habitat similar to nesting habitat. Ideal roosting trees are mature, open-crowned trees with branches spaced 18 inches apart that run parallel to the ground, with trunk diameters at least 14 inches, locating within a half mile of a food source.
Brood rearing cover. Wild turkeys like open areas of grass, forb and legume mixtures for feeding. A forest opening of a half to three acres is a good siz, where poults can eat insects but also see and hide from predators.

Did you
In the early
1930s the wildturkey was on
the verge of extinction. But
today, thanks to wildlife
restoration programs and
willing landowners, the wild
turkey is abundant and thriving.
It’s found in every state
except Alaska.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anphibian Guests

Our wildlife specialist, Joe Lehman, has a permit for educational purposes. He has brought in two very interesting amphibians for us to display. Above is a Tiger Salamander. He is about 10 inches long. Below is a tree frog. He is comparable in size to a toad.

Stop by the office to see these creatures in person, and talk to Joe about their life histories and habitat requirements. Maybe you'll get to see them eat a cricket.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's That Bug?

Are you finding little black bugs with red lines, about ½ inch long, inside your house or outside on the foundations on sunny walls? Do you have an invasion of these insects nearly every spring and again in fall? If so, chances are you have a female box elder tree in your yard or nearby. Box elder bugs, as they are called, feed on the seeds and foliage of female trees, and to a lesser extent, on ash and maple. In fall, the bugs move to protected sites where they can overwinter, such as inside or under you house. Box elder bugs you find in spring are those which survived the winter, perhaps in your house, and will soon die of “old age”. In fall, you can probably expect another invasion of the next generation of box elder bugs.

Adult box elder bugs are elongate, 1/2 inch long insects with sucking mouthparts. They are mostly black with some red markings. There are three narrow red lines on the segment behind the head, one down the center and one on either side and a thin red inverted "V" about the middle of the back. The wingless immature or nymphal stage has a black head, antennae, and legs. The red abdomen has an orange-yellow stripe and spot down the center of the back.

The good news, is that they cause little or no damage to the trees, so tree protection is not needed. You already know the bad news, that the bugs are a nuisance. However, they will not reproduce in the house, nor will they feed on plants or furnishings indoors. They will soon die of old age. Inside the house, you can vacuum them up periodically, and those that escape will soon die off. Reduce the numbers that will enter your house in fall by caulking cracks, mending screens, and attaching "sweep strips" to the bottom of doors. These efforts will keep other insects out as well.

Monday, November 14, 2011

History of the Guernsey SWCD - After the Dust Bowl

Fall 1939:
Rain comes, finally bringing an end to the drought. During the next few years, with the coming of World War II, the country is pulled out of the Depression and the Plains once again become golden with wheat.
Ohio's attempt to secure enactment of the soil conservation district law in 1939 failed because of reluctant support of agricultural leadership in the state.

World conflicts were bringing our nation closer to war each passing month and intense pressures were developing on farmers to increase food production on the land they managed. The 94th General Assembly retained soil conservation on its agenda.

May 16: House Bill 646, which became the Ohio Soil Conservation District Enabling Act when it was signed by Governor John W. Bricker on June 5, 1941.

October 22: Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District was organized and was the 8th district to form in the state of Ohio.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Whitetail Deer: habitat basics

Whitetail deer are so plentiful these days in most parts of the country, it’s surprising to some people that they were decimated to the point of near-extinction by unrestricted hunting at the turn of the century.
Whitetails are found all over the North American continent, with populations in the millions. They survive in the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. They thrive in mixed farmlands, brushy areas and timber, and can survive the desolate cactus and thornbrush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico.
Most people love to spot whitetail deer, but overpopulations, especially near urbanizing areas, can cause problems. Whitetail deer can be destructive to crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants and gardens. They can also cause serious damage to forest vegetation from overbrowsing, and are a danger to motorists as they are commonly hit by autos.

Food preferences
. Deer eat a variety of plants, but in farmland areas, cultivated crops, including corn and soybeans, top the list. A major portion of the diet in the fall is waste grain after harvest. The most critical food need to deer is the fall and winter food supply, because they determine the reproductive success of the doe. In summer months, woody browse such as buckbrush, sumac, and oak is part of the diet. Various forbs and grasses are also part of the diet in the spring and summer. Fawns slowly shift from their mother’s milk to forbs and grasses as the summer continues.

Cover needs. Ideal whitetail habitat contains dense thickets for cover, and edges of timber and grass or crop for food. Areas with the largest amount of timber have the highest deer populations. Cold and heavy snow in northern regions cause deer to concentrate in protected areas such as heavy timber, conifer stands, brush, and shrub swamps. During the summer, deer can be found wherever food, water cover and solitude exist. In May and June, does seek seclusion for fawning in brushy fields, heavily vegetated stream bottomlands, forest edges, pastures, and grasslands. Green browse food plots of clovers and alfalfa, and diverse native grass and forb\ mixtures offer good fawning habitat.

Did you
A female
deer usually has one fawn as
her first born, but in subsequent
years usually has
twins. Whitetail deer are
good swimmers and often
enter rivers and lakes to
escape predators.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fun at the Night Hike

Bill Mays, retired from ODNR-Division of Wildlife, talks to the kids about the life history of the turkey. The kids also got to make a turkey call from a piece of slate, a dowel rod, and corn cob to take home with them. (notice the guy in the white hat? That's Myron, our volunteer of the year)
Here some of the kids are making pumpkins into turkeys to decorate their home for the coming holidays.
A close-up of the turkeys. They sure had a lot of fun coloring and cutting them out. Thanks to Cambridge Trading Post for donating the perfect pumpkins!

Then wildlife specialist Joe Lehman lead a hike through the woods in the gathering dusk to talk about what wildlife that inhabits the woods is doing at this time of year to prepare for winter. The kids had a chance to see and touch real animal pelts and skulls to get a close look at some of the physical features that make these animals perfectly suited for their life in the wild.

The evening ended with a weenie roast and toasted marshmallows over a fire, and lots of good conversation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ring-necked Pheasants: habitat basics

Want to see more pheasants on your land? Give them better habitat! Consider their food, cover and space needs.

Food preferences. Ring-necked pheasants rely most heavily on waste grain from crop fields, wild and cultivated grass and forb seeds, fruits, and leaves. Crop field seeds include corn, wheat, grain sorghum, barley, oats, and sunflowers. Non-grain seeds include legumes, ragweed, smartweed, and burdock. Hard and soft mast in the summer and fall diet include acorns, pine
seeds and wild berries. In their first five weeks after hatching, chicks eat insects almost exclusively.
Adults also eat insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and caterpillars through the spring and summer months. The foods pheasants eat supplies them with the water they need.
Nesting cover. Dense ground cover with good overhead growth is the key. Alfalfa, wheat stubble, cool season grasses, and
native and tame pastures work well. Grassy field corners and odd areas, shelterbelts, field borders and fencerows are also used.
Brood rearing cover. Pheasants want vegetation that is somewhat open near the ground for easy chick travel, with overhead concealment. Native bunch grasses like big and little bluestem, switchgrass, sideoats grama, wheat grasses and Indiangrass
offer this structure. Mixed cool season grasses with forbs and other vegetation that supports insects are also used.
Roosting, escape cover. Ringnecks roost in small trees and tall shrubs, or on the ground in weedy ditches, cattail swales,
brush heaps, and briar patches.
Winter cover. Weedy field borders and fencerows, dense, upright grasslands, abandoned farmsteads, cattail marshes, and
evergreen and hardwood windbreaks are good protection in winter.
Interspersion. A good mixture of differing habitat types, located next to one another, is part of the habitat package pheasants need. To attract pheasants and maintain their populations, offer foraging, nesting, brood-rearing, roosting, winter and escape cover in close proximity. A complex of corn, sorghum and small grain crop fields, unmowed haylands, native prairie grasses, unmowed field borders, windbreaks, and cattail marshes should do well.

Did you
The ringnecked
pheasant, native to
Manchuria, Korea, Japan,
and other Asian countries,
has one of the widest introduced
distributions among
birds on earth. People have
attempted to introduce it in
nearly 50 countries, on every
continent except Antarctica.