One Endangered Bird, Too Many Deer, and a Hungry Bear

I’m always on the lookout for wildlife stories and one good source is the “State-by-State” section of the USA Today, which I see a couple of times a month when I’m traveling.  The micro-stories cover all topics, but it’s a rare day that I don’t find at least one good animal story.

Here are the best ones I found last week, ranging from Hawaii to New Hampshire.

Hilo, Hawaii:  A dozen birds native to Hawaii will be released in November to end over a decade of extinction in the wild for the species.  The corvid is part of the crow family and will be reintroduced at a natural area reserve aviary, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. 8/30/16

The ‘alala or Hawaiian crow is threatened by a long list of things including habitat loss, feral animals, and overgrazing cattle according to my Audubon guide.  After the initial release, more will be scheduled in the coming years.  It’s a collaborative effort between the state, US Fish and Wildlife, and the San Diego Zoo.  Teaching the chicks to hide from predators in the forest is one of the methods they are employing to increase the crows’ odds of survival in the wild.  Here’s hoping the reintroduction is successful!

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

Prineville, Oregon:  Residents are using streamers, balloons, pinwheels and CDs hanging from trees to scare off the city’s abundant deer, officials said. 8/31/16

Augusta, Maine:  The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife  approved an increase in “any deer” hunting permits.  There will be more than 45,000 permits issued this year. 8/31/16

Different responses to the same problem—too many deer.   In Prineville citizens are not in agreement about the deer population that hangs out in their town.  Some like the hooved visitors; others are decorating their yards in an effort to scare them away.  The city council opted not to fine those who feed them, but do strongly advise against it.

In Maine more hunting permits will be issued this fall after last year’s mild winter led to more deer surviving.  Hunters can shoot “any deer”— males or females.

Goffstown, New Hampshire:  A man said he spotted a hungry black bear trying to run off with his bird feeder outside his home, WMUR-TV reported.  The animal dropped the feeder but later snacked on some seeds in Jason Alexander’s driveway. 8/31/16

Bear stories are my favorite and this one comes complete with a video.  I hope that Mr. Alexander puts his bird seed away until the hungry bears return to the mountains for the winter.

 

Feeding Bob – Feral Cats on the Big Island of Hawaii

Bob appeared on my lanai shortly after I arrived on the Big Island. I would have recognized him right away even if his picture didn’t show up every hour or so in my screen-saver photo rotation.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

He looked just the same as he did four years ago–short-legged and stocky, white chest and paws with gray tabby markings,  dark-rimmed green eyes, and a tipped left ear indicating he had been neutered.

Back then he traveled with a buddy, a large gray-and-black striped male.   Very shy, the neutered tabby would hang back a few feet while Bob stood at the screen door cajoling, wheedling, demanding. Once I put out food they would both eat. Bob was generous about sharing.

This time Bob came and went alone, stopping at my back door every few hours. I figured he was making the rounds to other cat-friendly lanais, but hoped he also had access to a regularly maintained feeding station. I fed him small portions of canned Little Friskies and a few cat treats. One morning he napped on the doormat while I sat outside drinking coffee and writing. He was friendly, but cautious, moving away if I came too close. He looked healthy, but had a cut on a front leg that seemed to be healing.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave, Bob showed up with not one, not two, but three friends. At first I was dismayed, not sure I had enough time to get in touch with one of my contacts to borrow traps, bait and capture the felines, and then arrange transport to and from a clinic for spay/neuter. I looked more closely. Every one of the cats had a tipped ear. Someone had already done the work.

All four took up residence on and around the lanai, napping on the chairs, alert to my every move. A few hours before my flight back to the Mainland I opened the last can of chicken cat food and emptied the bag of dairy-flavored treats. I wondered how long it would take them to figure out I wasn’t coming back.

Before each trip to Hawaii, I reassess how I feel about feral cats in a place with so many endangered birds.  So far, I haven’t come up with any better ideas than those I wrote about in a 2011 essay. Between visits I stay in touch with AdvoCATS Hawaii.  Over the last 15 years they have spayed/neutered almost 16,000 cats on the island. They were probably  responsible for fixing those that showed up on my lanai based on the emails we traded after I returned home.

It crosses my mind, just before I hit the publish button that maybe I shouldn’t share this post.  It seems a contradiction to be writing about efforts to save endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and, at the same time, about feral cats that threaten endangered birds in Hawaii.  But that’s the world I live in, really the world we all live in. Everything we do, whether consciously or not, impacts nature, the physical universe. That’s why I write this blog, not only as a way to recognize and appreciate that universe, but also as a way to puzzle out my place in it.

The Smell of Fall

 

 Photo Credit: J B Foster via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: J B Foster via Compfight cc


Autumn Fires
by Robert Louis Stevenson

In the other gardens
 And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
 See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
 And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
 Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
 Fires in the fall!

Fall arrived Tuesday, the day I was making my way home from a  trip to California and Hawaii. When I left New Mexico, ten days earlier, morning glories still ranged up and down the coyote fence and hummingbirds flitted around the sugar-water filled feeder.

Over three thousand miles away on the Big Island’s west coast the air was heavy and still on one of the last days of summer. The palm trees were quiet, not a whisper of a trade wind. Even the Pacific seemed subdued. At the beach a long, pale pod from a kiawe tree fell at my feet.

 Photo Credit: Shawn McCready via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shawn McCready via Compfight cc

Pecking in the grass, a kolea hunted for insects. Hawaiian school children keep an eye out for the arrival of the long-legged golden plovers, winter visitors from the Arctic–a sure sign of autumn in a place where signs of the changing seasons can seem subtle to visitors from the north.

Back in Santa Fe I know what to look for.  It’s still warm, almost hot, but the rabbitbrush has bloomed yellow and a canyon towhee scratches in the dirt looking for seeds. High up in the crown of a dark-green cottonwood I spot a patch of gold. And, in the evening air I catch a whiff of piñon smoke wafting from an adobe chimney.
 

Ansel Adams in Hawaii

 

I hope that my work will encourage self expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and creative excitement in the great world around us.
Ansel Adams
Image by Ansel Adams Courtesy of the National Archives

The Grand Tetons  by Ansel Adams
Courtesy of the National Archives

Craggy, wild, majestic.  Looking at an Ansel Adams photograph makes me want to unearth my hiking boots from the back of the spare-room closet and climb the nearest mountain.

I had no idea what to expect from his Hawaiian photos–taken in the 40s and 50s.  Of course, there were a few of volcanoes and crashing waves, but this was the one that I went back to look at more closely, to contemplate.   The figure of a man carved into a slab of rough lava rock, the indentation drifted full of kiawe leaves–entitled Petroglyph, outlined in kiawe leaves–represented to Adams the synthesis of the ancient and the new that he found in Hawaii.

The kiawe tree (Prosopis pallida), according to the U.S. Forest Service’s website, was introduced in 1828 by Father Bachelot, the first Catholic priest in Hawaii.  He started the tree from a seed carried with him from Paris and planted it near a church in Honolulu.  Within twelve years the offspring of his sprout had become the most common shade tree in the city and were quickly spreading to the other islands.  Today kiawe trees cover thousands of acres across Hawaii.  All  are descended from the priest’s original plant.

Kiawe tree at A-Bay By:  P. Nixon

Kiawe tree at A-Bay Beach
By: P. Nixon

Adams took his photo near Kawaihae on the west coast of the island of Hawaii less than 15 miles north of the Anaeho’omalu Beach where, today, this kiawe tree shelters a colony of cats.

The exhibit, Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams:  Pictures of Hawai’i, will be at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe through September 17th.

Sit Still and Pay Attention

The Big Island was in a dark and sulky mood when Dave and I  visited Hawaii in early March.  Waves pounded the Kohala Coast and a mix of storm clouds and vog from Kilauea obscured the sun.  The warnings were dire.  Sneaker waves and riptides made it dangerous to get close to the water.

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

It didn’t matter much; we had work to do, but on our last day the sky cleared and we walked the shoreline access to Anaeho’omalu Bay.   We hurried past the lava ponds eager to reach the rocky beach,  hoping to see a turtle or two, but there were none to be found.

No one knows why for sure, but Hawaiian green turtles come on shore (unlike many other sea turtles) to bask in the sun.  It may be as simple as the pleasure of a warm nap without the threat of being eaten by a tiger shark.

A well-situated piece of driftwood convinced us to stop hunting for turtles and sit down.  Mesmerized by the sunlight on the water it took a moment to realize  I was looking at  one of the two-hundred pound reptiles.  Slow and awkward on land, the turtle or honu, as it is called in Hawaiian, was graceful in the water. bobbing in the waves, occasionally extending its leathery neck above the surface to take a breath of air.

I expected it to disappear quickly, to swim away, but the big turtles don’t move fast, only about a mile per hour.  Once they find a good place to eat the sea grass and algae that make up the bulk of their diet, they tend to stay put.

 Photo Credit: mattk1979 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mattk1979 via Compfight cc

We sat and watched until the sun went down.

On the walk back we saw a handful of surfers legs astride their boards silhouetted against the darkening sky, hoping to catch one more big wave.

Hawaii: The Kiawe Tree

 Photo Credit: Rosa Say via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rosa Say via Compfight cc

Kiawe trees (Prosopis pallida) like this one on A-Bay Beach are a species of mesquite native to Ecuador and Peru.  Introduced to Hawaii in the 1800s they thrive on the hot and dry, leeward (western and southern) coasts of the islands. I hadn’t been able to identify a similar tree behind the beach until Charlotte filled me in on its name with this note, “very common here in Hawaii with sharp thorns that stick thru your slipper.”

This one is huge; its sprawling and twisted limbs provide shelter and a multitude of perches for the cats.

By P. Nixon

By P. Nixon

A few miles up the road bees pollinate a forest of kiawe trees and produce a white honey that is said to have a “delicate tropical flavor“.  Dave purchased a jar to bring home not knowing it was related to the beach trees.  We were looking forward to trying it on our morning toast along with a cup of Kona coffee, but the sweet paste didn’t pass the scrutiny of airport security and with no time to go back out to the counter to check it, it was confiscated.  Next time . . .

Hawaii: Crouching Heron, Basking Turtle

To get a glimpse of what the Kohala Coast might have looked like before man arrived with his myna birds and monkey pod trees, Dave and I walked towards the sea (makai, in Hawaiian) along the coastal access between the Hilton Hotel and A-Bay Beach.

The sun was getting low in the sky, but we paused to admire the anchialine ponds surrounded by jagged black lava rock and emerald green shrubs and grasses.  A black-crowned  night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax hoactili) crouched, perfectly still, over the smooth surface of the brackish pool intent on the tiny shrimp swimming there.  Similar to his cousin on the Mainland, this night-heron is indigenous to Hawaii, which means that unlike the house sparrows and saffron finches flitting around the shopping centers and golf courses, he came to the Islands on his own, without any assistance from humans.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

At the beach, a mix of small, sharp-edged lava rocks and smooth white coral, we found two large slabs of lava and settled in to watch the setting sun,  partially obscured by vog from Kilauea Volcano erupting further south on the island.

Dave noticed him first.  A Hawaiian green turtle (Chelonia mydas) just a few feet away from us was lumbering across the rocky beach.  After a few hours basking in the sun he was making his way back to the algae beds.

Photo Credit:  Dave Betzler

Photo Credit: Dave Betzler

We turned away from the sunset to watch him inch closer and closer to the water.  And then he was gone, into the waves, taking millions of years of secrets with him.

The Cats of Anaeho’omalu Bay Beach

Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay) Beach on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii has a half-mile stretch of salt and pepper sand and calm water, a great place to learn to stand on a paddle board, strap on a snorkel and fins, or bask in the sun.  It’s also home to a colony of feral cats that live behind the beach next to an ancient Hawaiian fish pond under the gnarled and twisted limbs of a tree that I have yet to identify.

Considered by some to be pests, threatening rare and endangered birds, feral cats are everywhere on the Big Island: cruising for table scraps at outdoor restaurants, snoozing under cars in hotel parking lots, grooming themselves on quiet lanais.   In 2011 I wrote a story about two tabbies that made daily visits to the back door of the condo where I was staying.

Many visitors to A-Bay don’t seem to notice the felines, although there’s usually at least one sunning on the lava rocks next to the parking lot near the sign posted by KARES, the local  nonprofit whose volunteers feed this colony.

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Last week when I visited a caregiver had recently set out food and fresh water so there were lots of cats around.   I counted about fifteen and many looked familiar to me from prior visits.  Most of them had tipped ears showing they had been spayed or neutered, keeping the population stable.  A blue-eyed Siamese watched me from his perch on a tree limb and a black and gray tiger-stripe jumped up on a lava-rock wall near where I was standing, close enough to touch.

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I was looking for a cat called Red.

I first noticed the orange tabby with one missing eye two or three years ago.  Charlotte, one of the volunteers who care for the colony, told me his story.

Red was in a nasty fight with a cat from a nearby colony. Charlotte was told about the brawl by a woman who heard the cats and then saw them separate.  Charlotte looked for Red for days, but he had disappeared.  When he finally showed up a couple of weeks later, he had  a bulging, infected eye, that looked like something out of a horror movie.

She tried to lure the wounded cat into a trap with food, but he eluded her. Finally, in desperation she made her move, getting close enough to grab him and  put him into a cat carrier.  A local veterinarian cared for him for several days and removed his injured eye. Charlotte and another volunteer shared the cost of the discounted fee for his surgery. (KARES is only able to pay for spay/neuter surgeries)

As I was about to walk away, Red showed up.  He looked healthy and contented and settled in to share a bowl of kibble with two other cats.  Charlotte says he’s friendly, but always gives her a wide berth.

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