Thursday, December 31, 2009

Standing Broom Only

I'm both embarrassed for and angry at my former hometown TV station, because the world is laughing. Buzzfeed has a list of the 15 funniest local TV news stories of 2009, one of which features WSFA TV 12 News (Montgomery) breaking a story about the universal laws of physics being violated in a soon-to-open consignment shop (needing publicity, no doubt) in Prattville, Alabama. Apparently it's been going around on the interwebs for a while, but I just saw it for the first time. This is not journalism; it's an insult to the intelligence of the viewers (and the onscreen caption, "Standing on it's [sic] own" only makes it worse). This is just a broom with the bristle ends cut flat, so it's standing on end just as a two-by-four might. The center of gravity is low, making the lean of the lightweight handle seem odd. Did it even occur to reporter Bryan Henry to pick up the phone and call a physics professor, or maybe even try it with a similar broom from Wal-Mart? No, that might ruin the story. The problem is, many gullible people will view this and actually believe something supernatural is going on. The store owner even says the "holy spirit" might be involved. Why do these news outlets treat such oddball stories with credulity? What do you suppose they would do if they saw one of these on a slow news day?

In the follow-up banter with the anchors, Bryan Henry actually claimed he felt something like "a magnetic pull." Isn't gravity something like that, Bryan? Senior anchor Bob Howell, whom I've met, is a veteran journalist, and knows what is and isn't newsworthy, but he just chuckled. Co-anchor Valorie Lawson was somewhat skeptical, however, and for that I give her credit. Oh, for more skepticism in our public airwaves. With some modifications this piece could still have been aired, but as an entertaining learning experience.

And the phenomenon spreads! Here's another newscast (South Haven, MN) that reported the same thing (but with three brooms). At least this station followed up its original piece with an interview with a local university physicist (if WSFA did, I can't find it). But then they just had to follow him with a psychic, and it's downright irresponsible to "balance" science with woo-woo.


Happy (and Skeptical) New Year.

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

-George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bat Heaven

Click image for detail

I didn't think I'd be posting again so soon on bats, but this is a really neat cave I was in yesterday and the day before. It's in Monroe County, Alabama on a 4,000 acre private tract for which I'm doing the conservation easement baseline documentation. The owner casually mentioned there was a cave there, and upon investigation I was pleasantly surprised by its character and contents. I can find no documentation of it (although NSS has another one recorded from elsewhere on the same property), and I suspect it's "new to science," as they say. Local lore says it was once a hiding place for both Indians and Confederate soldiers, and that it contains a lost cache of gold coins guarded by rattlesnakes "as big around as your neck," but no evidence of any of these was seen. The bats visible on the ceiling appear to be Myotis austroriparius, and this is likely a maternity cave for the species. Eric Spadgenske and I conservatively estimated 2,000 animals, but that could be off significantly. I went back in yesterday to get this photo, catching the light as it was reflecting off the small stream to the ceiling. Although bats and caves are often associated with the dark underworld, a friend I shared this with said it looked like "bat heaven," and I have to agree!

As for the lost gold, next time I'm bringing one of these gadgets...

And one final note: I love palindromes. I actually own this book. My daughter is named AVA (and was born in 2002). Well, last time I failed to talk about entering a cave with Eric (mentioned above) and Eva Kristofik (also of USFWS), but you see them briefly in the video. How on earth I failed to remember my all-time favorite at that particular moment I'll never know. But here it is:


It would have been so cool if I'd said it at the time, pocketknife in hand, poised menacingly over a bat. See, I would actually be asking a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent named Eva about the legality of stabbing bats right there on the cave wall. Not that I'd ever have done it, of course. But I missed that opportunity and I fear it will never again come up again in regular conversation without seeming somehow contrived. Oh well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bat Sampling

Two nights ago I had the privilege of observing/assisting with part of a statewide bat inventory project at a cave less than 20 miles from my home. Keith Hudson, bat expert and one of ADCNR's Nongame Wildlife Program biologists, was directing (that's Keith's voice in this video), and other ADCNR and USFWS biologists were there as well. I'm not mentioning the cave by name because it's on private property, but it's one of the largest and most significant bat caves in Alabama's Coastal Plain. Keith was hoping to get four or five species, but we found just two. Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius) is the most abundant, and was all we caught in the harp trap. We caught a few hundred, but there had to be many thousands of them in all, although we did not attempt even a ballpark estimate. Eastern pipistrelles (Pipistrellus subflavus) were also present in fair numbers, seen clinging to the cave wall well after most of the other bats had emerged.

The Austbat harp trap Keith uses is an amazing thing. Set up at the cave entrance (or exit, from the bats' perspective), it intercepts emerging bats after dusk, gently plopping them down into a collecting bag. Clear plastic flaps hang down on the inside of the bag, keeping them from crawling out. Incidentally, all bats were released following species ID and determination of sex and reproductive status.

This cave is in an area known as the Lime Hills, a physiographic province just south of and adjacent to the Red Hills. I've been there several times over the years, and it's really a special place. Not only is it perhaps the most important maternity cave in the state for southeastern myotis bats, it is the southernmost known occurrence for pickerel frogs (Rana palustris) in Alabama, and botanists recognize it as one of the southernmost localities for red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).

Monday, October 5, 2009

RCW Translocation Time Again

Here's what I'll be doing again later this month. This ADCNR video is from the 2007 translocation of 7 endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers from Ft. Benning GA to Enon Plantation near Hurtsboro AL. That was the first time this was ever done on private lands in Alabama, and it's been a huge success. This year we're moving 12. A couple of weeks ago a team of 17 people installed 57 artificial cavity inserts in just a day and a half to get ready for the move.

Without the generosity, support, and conservation ethic of the landowner, Cam Lanier III, obviously this could never happen. Some of the funding is Mr. Lanier's contribution, with the rest in the form of a federal grant through the Alabama Forest Resources Center. Eric Spadgenske (USFWS) is featured, and he's really the brains behind the operation. Also featured is Mark Sasser of ADCNR. I'm in the video, too, but kind of as an "extra" in a couple of scenes. (That's me grabbing the end of the net at the beginning, and installing an insert later on.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

This could be really, really bad.

This August 2 story on introduced Amazonian apple snails from the Mobile Register is chilling. Let's hope it's not too late to stop them this year.
"When wildlife officials realized that baseball-sized Amazonian snails had colonized the main pond in Mobile's Langan Park last year, their worst case scenario involved the giant gastropods escaping into Three Mile Creek.

Now, a year later, that's exactly what's happened."

I have a bad feeling about this. News

Monday, September 14, 2009

E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center

On Saturday Sept. 12 I attended the grand opening of the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center on Nokuse Plantation near Freeport, FL. A wonderful and much-needed educational facility for the area's youth. The exhibits, classrooms, and long nature trail are first-class. MC Davis and crew have done a fantastic job of putting this place together. It was a treat to meet and hear E.O. Wilson again, as well as a number of good friends. At one point some of us were standing around talking and we realized that we had a mini-convention of south Alabama-north Florida nature bloggers. Here's a photo by Matt Aresco of yours truly (left) alongside Margaret Gunzburger (Life in the Piney Woods) and Dave Steen (Living Alongside Wildlife). Much more cool stuff on the Wilson Center is on Margaret's blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ecopassage Again

Matt Aresco in the Lake Jackson culvert.

Fair coverage in today's New York Times.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our National Woodpecker

I'm vacationing with my wife and daughter in Washington DC. Yesterday morning, as we exited the new Capitol Visitor Center and walked south toward Independence Avenue, I heard the familiar cackle of a pileated woodpecker. Tourist camera in hand, I managed to get this (cropped) photo as it flew from a massive post oak.

I then turned about 180 degrees to take this photo, just to put the scene in context.

Now, I don't know how many acres of pileated woodpecker habitat exist on the National Mall, but I've walked most of it, and it's really not that much. It's hard to imagine more than a pair or two living there. I was quite surprised to see the bird, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. The area is basically a park, and there are a lot of old deciduous trees, but it's a very urban "forest," interspersed with museums, monuments, and open spaces. Still, had I been tasked last week with driving 900 miles to obtain evidence of a pileated woodpecker in my first hour of exploring the National Mall, I'd have probably said it couldn't be done.

I suppose there's a list of the birds of the Mall, but I haven't found one. The pileated is listed as "common" in nearby Rock Creek Park, a protected area. I'm fairly certain the presence of such a conspicuous bird at the Mall is already known. But reflecting back on my unsuccessful searches for the larger ivory-billed woodpecker down in Florida's Choctawhatchee, where people I know swear they've seen ivorybills, I wonder how long it would take for a team of experts to confirm my DC pileated sighting. Probably not very long, I'll grant you. If the tables were turned and it was the pileated whose existence was in doubt, would a photo of the same quality and resolution as mine be acceptable as evidence? No. Sadly, no photos or video even as good as this exists for the ivorybill. I remain hopeful, but I'm not nearly as optimistic as I once was.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Red Hills Stream

This is from an outing last week in the north Monroe County (Alabama) Red Hills with Bill Finch (pictured above) of The Nature Conservancy, Jodie Smithem of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USFWS volunteer Garrett Lloyd. Bill showed us this tributary to Beaver Creek that has cut a 30-foot sheer bank into the Eocene-age Tallahatta/Hatchetigbee sedimentary deposits, exposing large rounded boulder-like concretions. Some are still protruding from the bank, and others are in the stream bed. The vertical bank supports a diversity of ferns, liverworts, mosses, and both local species of Hydrangea. The following clip contains three still images and a brief video of this gorgeous spot.

Dancing Insects

I'm not sure if these are scale insects or aphids. Would love to hear from an expert on this [UPDATE: I did. See below]. Last week, exploring Red Hills salamander habitat with TNC and USFWS people, we ran across this sight. NOTE: The date on the opening title is wrong; it should say 2009, not 2007.

The rattling sound is from the autofocus on my Canon camera, which is really a still camera but with a video option.

UPDATE, 7/14/09: Thanks to entomologist Charles Ray at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Auburn for identifying these as the Beech Blight Aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator). They range from Maine to Florida, and are found on American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). Charles provided this helpful link (pdf) from Massachusetts. A quote:
"it will raise the posterior end of its body and sway when it is disturbed. This action produces a dance-like effect that occurs throughout the colony. This phenomenon has led some to refer to this species as the 'Boogie-Woogie Aphid.' It is a unique experience to see hundreds, if not thousands, of these perform this defensive, yet highly entertaining, behavior."

Saturday, July 11, 2009


A new conservation organization has been formed in Alabama, dedicated solely to amphibians and reptiles. The national organization, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), has been around for a decade now (I attended the organizational meeting in Atlanta back in '99 and have been involved ever since). PARC has been a great success and has spawned regional chapters including Southeast PARC (SE PARC). There are so far only a few state chapters, and I'm proud that Alabama now has one. Main credit for the existence of ALAPARC ( goes to Dave Steen and Sean Graham at Auburn, who really took the initiative in pulling it together. There's an ALAPARC blog over at Several conservation initiatives are in the works, and we're having our first "annual" meeting November 7-8 at the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center near Andalusia. Registration information will soon be distributed to a pretty long email address list as well as posted to the ALAPARC website. Plan to come if you can.

Speaking of the website, it just went up today and is obviously very much "under construction." We are in need of an experienced and motivated webmaster who's willing to volunteer just a little time here and there to make it both attractive and current. Any takers? Let me know at

Thanks to Nathan Burkett for creating the logo. Now, who can ID the turtle silhouette to species? Hint: it's an appropriate symbol for the state.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

If it'd been a snake...

I like timber rattlesnakes. As a zoology grad student I had one that had been "fixed" so it couldn't inject venom, but it had its fangs, and could have certainly delivered a painful bite. But it had a nice enough personality, and you could handle it like a corn snake. I'm convinced that many timber rattlers I've encountered in the woods could be gently picked up barehanded, assuming of course that they haven't first coiled in alarm/defense. But I would never try it, of course.

This amazing video shows a young black bear nearly stepping on a very large timber rattlesnake, oblivious to the danger at its feet. Only when retracing its steps does it finally see the snake, and its reaction is much the same as mine would be! It makes me wonder how often I've come close to snakes like this one without ever knowing it. The thought might be unsettling, but on the other hand, the snakes' behavior is somewhat comforting.

The people who made this video had been watching the snake for several days. From the context of other videos, it appears to be near a corn feeder that has attracted a variety of wildlife, including rodents. Go to their website for further webcam documentation of this impressive but unlucky snake striking at and missing an adult bear (self defense) plus a gray squirrel and a chipmunk (feeding attempts).

Note: If you're ever around such a grain feeder that's in use during the warm season, watch your step--they really are snake magnets, and don't count on every rattlesnake being so magnanimous!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Florida Protects Freshwater Turtles

Kudos to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for voting today to enact the strictest ban in the country on freshwater turtle harvesting. As Asian demand for turtle meat has skyrocketed (and Asian turtle populations have crashed as a result), the industry has turned to the Southeastern US. With the market shut down in Florida, other southeastern states can expect increased pressure. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee continue to allow unlimited commercial take of all sizes and ages of most species of native turtles, using unlimited quantities of lethal hoopnets and box traps in public and private waters. In the Southeast, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and now Florida have prohibited commercial take of wild freshwater turtles.

In a follow-up to yesterday's Florida turtle news item, here's a screen shot from the website of Fox News' Hannity's America:

Sean says,

"But our personal favorite is the "eco-passage" being created in Florida that will allow turtles to pass under the highway safely. It will only cost you $3.4 million.

The Florida Department of Transportation defend this project on the grounds that, "A lot of turtles are quite large. They get hit by a car and they turn into flying objects."

I'm not so sure. If you live in the world of Mario Kart, maybe that's a scenario worth planning for. But I think those of us in the real world can save our money for more realistic dangers."

This is quote mining, and it's as far as you can get from fair and balanced. There is a wealth of information out there on the ecopassage, as well as documentation of accidents related to turtles (including one that flipped through a windshield), but Hannity seizes on the "flying turtle" thing and milks it for all he can.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Southeastern Turtles as Political Football

Tonight it's a safe bet Sean Hannity will utter the phrase, "Turtle Tunnel." My good friend Matt Aresco, who worked hard last year to protect endangered Alabama Red-bellied turtles on the Mobile Causeway, has suddenly found himself in the latest news cycle as a result of today's report by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla) questioning 100 projects being funded by the stimulus package. Matt's "turtle tunnel" in Florida is featured way up at #5!

For a decade, Matt and other volunteers have maintained a temporary fence along Lake Jackson that keeps thousands of turtles and other wildlife from crossing US Highway 27 near Tallahassee, directing them to large culverts that already exist beneath the road, but a permanent solution has been greatly needed, not only for the turtles but for public safety.
Last November, through Matt's tireless efforts, the local regional transportation planning agency unanimously voted to prioritize the proposed Lake Jackson Ecopassage, making it eligible for Transportation Enhancement funds. Later, funds from the stimulus package were directed toward the project.

This looked like a win-win, for turtles, conservationists, motorists, and people needing work. But because it's been re-branded by its detractors as just a "13-foot turtle tunnel," it's a perfect target for politicians who care more about votes than facts. It's all over the news today.
My Google search of "Aresco" and "Coburn" just turned up 162 news items, mostly neutral or unfavorable. But Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post gets it right:

"Why did the turtle cross the road?" read the pithy report Coburn issued today. "To get to the other side of the stimulus money."

The Lake Jackson wildlife "ecopassage" got the notoriety being Item No. 5 in Coburn's list of 100 foolish uses for stimulus money.

But it's too bad nobody from his office bothered to talk to Matthew Aresco first.

"It's an easy target," Aresco said. "But when you understand the project and what's at stake, you would support it."

So true. The column goes on describe the real problems of large turtles on a heavily traveled roadway, and then says:

There's a simple and relatively cheap solution: a low wall on the side of the road that funnels the lake creatures to three culverts under the roadway for safe crossing.

Aresco's crusade for this has resulted in a not-for-profit group with a Web site (, a grant of land from a donor and widespread support from the local community and the state Department of Transportation, which has endorsed the $3.4 million project.

Yet, Coburn's report has painted the project as a fly-by-night government boondoggle, claiming that a temporary fabric fence Aresco put there adequately "saves a lot of our four-legged friends."

Aresco doesn't think so.

"They don't understand the project," he said. "They just put it down without knowing anything about it."

Hang in there, Matt.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Natural Communities Book

I'm co-editing with Debbie Folkerts and Eric Soehren a book on all the major natural community types of Alabama, from the mountains to the beach. Longleaf pine forests, isolated wetlands, granite outcrops, Red Hills ravines, pitcher plant bogs, Black Belt prairies, etc. etc. We're involving a number of state and regional experts as contributors, and we'll have roughly a 1-year turnaround on chapter completion. Watch this space for more info on this exciting and worthwhile project. We've got a Facebook group and a blog, if you want to follow more closely.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No time to blog

Busy field season. But here's a cool graphic generated by feeding the URL of this blog into

Monday, April 27, 2009

Woodpecker Season

Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), Coosa County, Alabama, May 2007.
Photo by M. Bailey

I'm monitoring red-cockaded woodpeckers ("RCWs") for the tenth consecutive season this spring. Last week I found several nests in Coosa County (near Nick Sharp's coral snake discovery) and one in Chilton county, Alabama. Today I'm headed to Bullock County to remove some flying squirrels from cavities the birds need for nesting and roosting. The RCW has been listed as endangered since 1973 primarily due to habitat loss. Historically found from New Jersey to Texas, its range is now greatly restricted, and about 20,000 birds remain in 11 southern states. More than 90 percent are on public lands such as national forests and military reservations, and these populations are for the most part stable or increasing. Most populations on private lands are decreasing due to lack of proper management and isolation from other populations. In Alabama, the formerly widespread RCW survives today only on four National Forest districts, one area near Lake Mitchell north of Montgomery, and one private holding near Hurtsboro. More on RCWs later; time to hit the road...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just in case...

...your time circuits re-set themselves and you end up in a far distant past with no plutonium in sight:
I love this kind of stuff. Mark Twain could have really put this to use in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," and I guess he did, to a limited degree...

(via The Rogues' Gallery)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coosa Coral

Eastern Coral Snake, Coosa County, Alabama. 20 April 2009. Photo by M. Bailey

UPDATE, June 29: Thanks to Thomas Spencer for featuring this story in the Birmingham News today. One minor correction is in order: the article leaves the impression that this is the first coral snake in Alabama in over 40 years, which isn't the case. They are still seen very infrequently in some parts of southern Alabama--the special significance of this find was the fact that the snake was found in a part of the state where they have not been seen in a very long time and were thought possibly extirpated.

The eastern or—as some now insist on calling it—“harlequin” coral snake, Micrurus fulvius, is among the most beautiful and least frequently encountered snakes in Alabama. (And deadliest, I suppose I should add.) I have found only one in the wild, in Florida, near the margin of a flatwoods pond. A few years earlier a coral snake was found by some Auburn herpetology students on a field trip I led at Eglin Air Force Base. Dave Steen tells me he found a road-killed one down at Eglin just this past weekend. Before Monday, I would tell you that if I were ever to see a coral snake in Alabama I would expect it to be somewhere near my home in south Alabama where there are a few historic occurrences. I tend to think of coral snakes as a Coastal Plain species, and I have long wondered about those very few reports (one each) from three counties above the Fall Line: Coosa, Bibb, and Talladega. Those reports are now over 40 years old, and there are two “coral snake mimics” out there that are commoner and often cause confusion resulting in erroneous reports. The one specimen in the Auburn University Vertebrate Museum that is attributed to Coosa County bears no specific locality data, and is therefore questionable. So, I suppose I have been something of an agnostic regarding the existence of coral snakes anywhere in Alabama north of the Black Belt. Until Monday.

I was driving from Andalusia to Shorter to meet Eric Soehren, with whom I’m co-editing a book on natural communities of Alabama. Later we were to drive to Auburn to meet with Debbie Folkerts, our other co-editor. I was still a few miles south of Montgomery when Eric called with the big news that Nick Sharp and Josh Landrum (his co-workers at ADCNR State Lands Division) had just gotten a CORAL SNAKE at one of the red-cockaded woodpecker sites that was recently acquired by Forever Wild. I was very familiar with this area of natural longleaf pine north of the Hatchet Creek arm of Mitchell Lake about an hour north of Montgomery, having monitored that woodpecker population for several years before the state acquired it. I’d seen a pigmy rattlesnake and an eastern coachwhip in that area before, and while coral snakes had crossed my mind, one had never crossed my trail the way Nick’s did. It happened fairly early in the morning, which is when Dr. Bob Mount says most Alabama specimens have been encountered. Nick gingerly scooped it into his backpack and called Eric, who was taking the day off to work on the book. Eric and I had nowhere to be until 4:00, so we decided to chuck the book for a while and run up to see and photograph the snake, so we planned to meet in Montgomery to ride together. Then I got the idea that we really ought to get a tissue sample for future DNA study, since we’d be releasing the snake rather than collecting it as a voucher. I called Jimmy Stiles, who had more experience than me in collecting snake tissue, and he advised a small clip off the tail tip. But what to preserve the tissue in? Eric and I ended up meeting at an ABC store and buying a small bottle of Bacardi 151 (75 % alcohol) rum, which had enough ethanol in it to do the trick.

We finally got to the scene and saw the snake, and after much back-slapping and picture taking, we realized what a deadly combination we had: a coral snake, a bottle of rum, and Josh’s pistol (he’s an enforcement officer). We decided we’d best be extra careful before clipping that tail (Nick had that honor). It was a great April day for all of us, especially Nick. And now whenever anybody questions whether coral snakes can be found in Alabama’s Piedmont or Ridge and Valley, I know what I’ll tell them. And I’m going to start looking harder for them myself.

ADDENDUM (4/22): This morning I shared a few images of this snake and its habitat with a group of conservationists in Montgomery, and Chris Oberholster (director, TNC of Alabama) told me how this sort of find was not that unusual when a large block of natural habitat is preserved. Sometimes it takes years for the cryptic and/or secretive rare species harbored by a tract of land to be revealed, and it doesn't always make sense to insist that "something rare" be known to justify a conservation acquisition. Protect the big, healthy tracts and you can fill in the rare species later as they turn up. Kudos to Forever Wild for preserving this 9,746 acre priceless piece of Coosa County.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dave Steen's Cool Blog

How have I missed this one? Dave Steen, an Auburn Ph.D. candidate, has started a fantastic blog over at Living Alongside Wildlife. It's a series of essays on wildlife (mostly herps) that are also appearing in some local newspapers. Dave says,
My goals for this blog are to A) help others appreciate and better know wildlife species that tend to have a bad reputation and B) make my research accessible to a general audience.
He's had it running since last month, but I just discovered it this morning.
Whoever reads this should definitely check it out. I thoroughly enjoyed the siren-hunting adventure at what must be the legendary (among Alabama herpetologists) Hutto Pond. I'm in a motel in the Tennessee Valley this morning and have no time to read more, but what I've seen is impressive. Looking forward to reading the whole thing, and to future posts.

Great job, Dave!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vanishing Frogs

Gopher Frog, Escambia County, Alabama

Last night's PBS Nature film, Frogs: The Thin Green Line by Allison Argo (she directs as well as narrates) was stunning, both in cinematography and content. The segment on Karen Lips' research on total frog extirpation in portions of Panama was especially chilling, as the same chytrid fungus may already be having some effect in our region as well. There's a great segment on reintroducing gopher frogs to a Nature Conservancy preserve in Georgia, and my friend John Jensen is featured, along with others. Last September the filmmaker and I had planned to meet at a former gopher frog breeding site in Shelby County, Alabama to show how development has hit frogs hard in some areas, but our schedules didn't work out. After last night's program, it was comforting to raise the window and hear a 6-species chorus of Barking Treefrogs, Green Treefrogs, Gray Treefrogs, Northern Cricket Frogs, Spring Peepers, and Bronze Frogs. If you missed it, you can watch the entire program here.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

High Fences Can Kill

You can view this video of this injured, dying deer. (Not suitable for some.)

Recently I was driving along a boundary of a large, well-managed property in east Alabama when a group of 4-5 deer raced across the road in front of me. Several ran straight into a new high fence built by the adjacent landowner. This 8-month-old buck was severely injured and was dead within minutes. These deer were on the outside, following their traditional escape route to cover. I have also seen a doe inside a high fence enclosure injure her face by repeatedly leaping into a fence, seemingly not understanding that it was impenetrable.

These so-called "high fence operations" are cropping up all over the landscape, and should never, in my opinion, have been permitted by state conservation agencies. Wealthy landowners who want to manage trophy bucks love them, but the practice is viewed by many hunters as unethical, it puts publicly-owned wildlife into private control, and, as seen here, it can kill wildlife.

The Wildlife Society's position statement on high fence ungulate enclosures can be found here (pdf).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sheer Idiocy

This kind of thinking from our elected leaders scares the crap out of me.

More of the same here.

Translation: the Earth will end when God decides it ends, so damn the torpedoes and drill baby drill.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Since it's Sunday...

...I'll give the devil his due.

Thanks to Mike for sending this one, taken yesterday in Double Springs, Alabama. Yes, it's genuine, and not one of those fake church signs (like the bottom image here). More of these real signs to be posted here another time.

About 120 miles east of Double Springs is Section, Alabama, the hometown of the Louvin Brothers, who released this 1960 album:

And along I-65 just north of Prattville, AL this sign (on the property of WS Newell) has long warned passers-by:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ivorybill Photo Hoax

Anybody can do this.

For the past couple of weeks there's been some buzz on certain blogs about a blurry "possible" ivorybill woodpecker color photo taken in 2007 by Steve Sheridan (the image above is not it.) All links to that photo are now down, as far as I can tell. It was supposedly reviewed by a team of 20 experts for 18 months, and apparently nobody concluded (or even seriously suspected?) it was faked. There were elements to it that I thought looked odd, but of course hindsight is 20-20, and I was certainly intrigued, and I really hoped it was legitimate. Well, the cat's out of the bag, and apparently Sheridan has confessed. I hope (OK, even suspect) there are still ivorybills out there, but this kind of behavior from an individual previously regarded as a serious searcher only lessens hopes. An anonymous commenter to a recent Ivorybills LiVE! blog post (before the hoax was revealed) pretty much echoes my feelings on this:
"Perhaps some people enjoyed this exercise, but I found it discouraging. I believe the IBWO is out there because my BS-detector told me to trust some of the strangers who said they saw it. This search has been a big preoccupation of mine for years. However, a developing parallel between this and Bigfoot (which I don't believe exists) is a sub-culture that includes expert ambiguous evidence analysts on the internet with a never-ending supply of ambiguous “evidence” to analyze. It's creepy, and it makes me wonder if I'm really a chump for spending the time, money and energy I have on this search."
Sheridan will forever be remembered by ivorybill buffs as a fraud. The last putative color photo of the bird seriously put forward was taken in Louisiana by Fielding Lewis in 1971, and can be viewed here (.pdf). Lewis was accused by some of faking this photo, but he maintained until his dying day that it was legitimate.

ADDENDUM: Sheridan has apologized here, but the damage is done. Now what will happen if/when someone comes forth with "good" photo evidence? Forget about still photos. Even a National Geographic documentary-quality video of adult ivorybills feeding young at the nest cavity will be doubted by some, because a skilled CGI tech can realistically simulate anything these days. Look at this:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Burn Video

Just posted this video of yesterday's burn and some from this morning:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Burn Day

Fire at Gator Pond

Today was a special day here at Gator Pond. Keith Tassin, Brian Martin, and five top-notch seasonal TNC burn crew members were here to conduct a prescribed burn. Smoke was in the air a little after 10:00 AM while a north wind pushed smoke well away from the adjacent Conecuh National Forest Open Pond Campground, as prescribed in the burn plan. By 11:30 the wind unexpectedly switched and was coming out of the south, meaning we were starting to "smoke 'em out," so the burn was stopped early. Rules are rules, and we got about halfway done. But there's a good firebreak in place and I think with some help from a few local friends (you guys know who you are) we should still be able to get the rest burned this year. Huge thanks to Keith, Brian, and crew for the great work, and to Randy Roach (USFWS retired) and Traci George (ADCNR) for helping arrange this through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, through which we both participate and benefit. Below are some more pics.

"Your safe place is in the pond." Yes, I heard Keith say it.

Maidencane on fire, with Gator Pond seven feet lower than normal. Click for detail.

Five of the crew holding the line. Karan said they looked like Ghostbusters.

Wind shift! Tassin & crew were glad we had an interior road for a back-up firebreak

Where did all this longleaf come from? Hope it's OK!

Smoky sunset. Click for more detail.

Maggie the Fire Dog

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lifting Tin

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Black Racer

Ten minutes ago I walked out into the brisk morning air (38 degrees at 9:30 AM) and lifted a couple of pieces of roofing tin I put out for snakes. Cold as it is, the sun was out, and a couple of snakes had emerged from the underground network of rodent burrows to enjoy the warmth. The black racer was no surprise, but it was a real treat to see this young-of-the-year eastern diamondback rattlesnake. The same piece of tin with the racer had both a coachwhip and a corn snake under it last week. Late winter is a good time to be a herpetologist in the South.

03 03 09

Happy Square Root Day. Next one (04 04 16) will be seven years, one month, and one day from now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Worst. Pun. Ever.

By which I mean best.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nellie Pond

Click for full size image

Surrounded by frequently burned longleaf pine and turkey oak sandhill, Nellie Pond is one of the gems of Conecuh National Forest. I can remember when this isolated, semi-permanent, and naturally fishless pond was full of bluegill, shellcracker, and bass, and its shallows teemed with millions of mosquitofish. Fortunately for the amphibians, it dries completely every few years, frustrating the locals who have traditionally kept it stocked with fish that don't belong in such a place. I first found gopher frogs here in the late 1980s, making it one of the few breeding sites in Alabama for that rare species. The pond (actually a complex of three ponds that merge at high water) also supports tiger salamanders, ornate chorus frogs, barking treefrogs, alligators, chicken turtles, and banded water snakes, to name a few. I took this vertical panoramic photo yesterday for possible use in a gopher frog exhibit at a prominent regional aquarium. This shows what Nellie Pond and its surroundings look like when the winter-breeding amphibians are there.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Harpersville Motel

Mike writes,
"I have a theory that one of the producers at ABC News has recently watched the movie "My Cousin Vinny." You be the judge. Look at the two photos. One is from a scene in the movie, the other is from the news report about the pilot that is accused of trying to fake his death. He jumped out of a plane near Harpersville; I'm sure you've heard the story. The reporter is standing outside the Harpersville Motel where the pilot stayed after parachuting out of the plane.

I think they are trying to portray the State of Alabama as primitive and backward, just like in the movie."

General Putnam Motel from My Cousin Vinny

Harpersville Motel

I don't know. It's certainly not flattering (gotta love that COLOR TV sign), but it really is where the police took the pilot before they knew he was wanted. The motel in My Cousin Vinny is in Putnam County, Georgia, where the movie was filmed. And it sure looks a lot better from the front than the Harpersville Motel!

The trailer for the 1992 film:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Element Discovered

I just received this interesting news item in an email:

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Purple Martin Gourds

I've been meaning for years to put up martin gourds before the birds arrive here in late January, but I never seem to get around to it in time. This year is different. My friend Jamie Hill, founder of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, shipped me some of his specially designed supergourds, and today they're swinging in the breeze down by Gator Pond. I recently learned from the PMCA literature that I didn't need to be in such a rush, as the first arriving birds are not "scouts," as I'd always heard, but migrating adults that are not likely looking for new nesting sites. What I want to attract are the homesteading subadults from last year's crop, which may arrive weeks after the first older martins pass through. So, I'll keep the gourds closed for a while to keep out nest competitors, probably opening them up in mid February or so. More on our success (or failure) later...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

First snake of the year

And a coachwhip, to really start things off right! It's tee-shirt weather around here on this January 4th (mid-seventies), and I thought I'd take a look under the roofing tin to see if any snakes had come up for the warmth. This usually is pointless in January, but of the five pieces of metal I lifted, two had young coachwhip snakes. I generally see black racers under these, and that's what I would have expected, but you never can tell.

I've scattered 10 of these pieces of metal roofing across our property.

Note the rodent burrow the snake uses...

A youngster, probably not quite 3 feet long, and looking a bit roughed up.
Click for a better view.

And here's what it looked like down at the pond around 8:00 this morning:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year

Presenting my one and only (so far) YouTube video, now Benny Hillified.

(At the bottom, you can plug in any YouTube URL and get the same Yakity Sax soundtrack.)

Hat tip to cyberthrush.