What to Do During a Wildlife Collision

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, I reviewed what drivers can do to reduce the chances of having a wildlife vehicle collision.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.

Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. Reduce speed in wildlife zones. Drive defensibly and actively watch for wildlife, movement, or shining eyes on and beside the road. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife.

One deer means more deer. Deer travel in herds and if you see one, slow right down as there will be many more. Moose are less gregarious, so one moose may simply mean one moose but it is still suggestive that more moose are in the area. And cows are frequently with a calf.

What if a Wildlife Collision is Inevitable?

In certain situations, there is no real choice except to hit the wild animal. Diminish the impact if it is inevitable. If an accident with a deer, elk, or moose is inevitable, consider the following suggestions for lessening the impact.

If it appears impossible to avoid the animal, aim for the spot the animal came from, not where it is going. This may take you away from it and the animal is more likely to keep moving forward rather than backtracking. This will only work if there is one animal.

Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shift your line of eyesight to where you want to go, not at the animal. You tend to drive where you look―if you are looking at the animal, that is where the vehicle tends to go.

Try to skim rather than fully impact the animal. If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit.

Brake firmly and quickly, then look, and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle.

Take your foot off the brake as you impact.

The release of the brake causes a slight lift of the front end of the vehicle and reduces the chances of the animal coming through your windshield if your vehicle is tall enough.

If you’re heading into a collision, lean toward the door pillar. In the Mythbusters where they tested this, the center of the car was completely crushed in every impact but the triangle by the door pillar was intact in each accident. No guarantees are offered; you are far better off avoiding the collision.

What to do Following a Wildlife Collision?

This depends on the type and condition of the road, the amount of traffic, the type of animal, and the condition of the driver.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take care after a collision with a deer, elk, or moose.

Check passengers for injuries and treat accordingly. Even if there are no injuries, shock may occur fairly quickly. Try to reassure one another and if it is cold, put on warmer clothing immediately as shock or fear increases the inability to ward off cold. If it is winter, stay in the car for warmth.

There are some important steps to take after assessing if everyone is relatively unharmed.

Pull off the road if possible.

Turn on hazard lights and if you can, illuminate the animal with your head lights.

Use road flares or triangles if you have them.

Warn other drivers if there is a carcass on the road which poses a hazard.

You may choose to carefully approach the animal to determine if it is dead or injured. If it is injured, back off. An injured animal can be very dangerous; it may kick or gore you from fear and pain.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may choose to remove a dead animal from the road so that it does not present a hazard to other drivers. Quick removal prevents other animals from being attracted to the highway. Only attempt to remove the animal if you are 100 percent certain that it is dead, it is safe to do so, and you are physically capable of moving it.

Inspect your vehicle to see if it safe to continue driving.

Call the police immediately or flag down help. Remember that most insurance companies won’t pay for the damages you suffer from hitting a deer or a moose if you don’t file a police report.

Report vehicle damage to your insurance company.

Worth Pondering…

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor

Read More

How To Avoid A Wildlife Collision

Every year, deer, elk, and moose collisions are the cause of hundreds of thousands of vehicle accidents along North American roads.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colliding with these animals, particularly moose, is potentially fatal for driver and passengers and is likely to cause significant damage to your vehicle—and to the animals.

To avoid a collision, whether driving a car, truck, or recreational vehicle, be alert and know what to do if you come head-to-head with one.

It is important for motorists to have information about the factors that influence animal behavior. This will lead to an increased level of understanding about when, where, and why wildlife is most likely to be present near the road.

Animals are active 24 hours of the day, and all year round, but records kept by insurance and government agencies show that there are some peak times when wildlife vehicle collisions may be more likely and drivers should be especially alert.

Drivers need to be alert and cautious because moose are on the move, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Moose are more likely to be crossing roadways at this time of year, especially after dark or early in the morning as they move from wintering areas to spring feeding locations.

Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More moose are hit by motorists in the spring than at any other time of the year. There is another peak of activity in September and October, the breeding season for moose.

Moose are especially difficult to see at night because their fur is very dark, and they are so tall that their eyes are normally above most headlight beams, and therefore their eyes may not reflect the head lights.

“Motorists hit 64 moose on Vermont highways during 2014,” said Col. Jason Batchelder of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

“We are asking drivers to be especially careful and for people to enjoy watching moose from a distance. Moose can be unpredictable and dangerous if you get too close and they feel cornered or get irritated.”

Most literature suggests that dusk and dawn are traditionally times of high wildlife vehicle collisions. Light levels are low, and animals are active at these times.

Based in British Columbia, the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (WCPP) reports that 35-45 percent of all collisions with wildlife in British Columbia and Alberta occur between 7:00 p.m. and midnight with Fridays accounting for 15.8 percent of all collisions.

Deer are involved in approximately 80 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions. May and November have the highest rates of deer crashes.

Moose are involved in approximately 7 percent of all wildlife vehicle collisions. Due to the extremely large size of these animals, (a mature bull moose may weigh up to 1,200 pounds – 500 kg), there is a significant chance that a moose-vehicle collision will result in a human fatality.

Rocky Mountain Sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk are involved in approximately 3 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions.

Avoiding a Collision

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.

Watch for the Signs

Collisions occur most often in prime deer, elk, and moose habitat such as forested areas and waterways. Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. If you see a deer, elk, or moose crossing sign, be extra alert and slow down. These wild animals cross roads for a wide variety of reasons and at different times of the year. They cross the road randomly, as well as at their regular crossings.

Reduce Speed

Speed is a major factor in collisions. Wildlife experts have recommended 55mph/90 kph as a suitable speed for wildlife zones in good weather conditions, as it provides you with some reaction time to stop.

Drive Defensively

Actively watch for wildlife, movement, or shining eyes on and beside the road. Drivers should be cautious between dusk and dawn. Light levels are low, and animals are active.

Always be aware of the danger.

Observe your Surroundings

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife. Look on the road sides, the shoulders, down into ditches (they love the grass there), median strips, intersecting roads, on the road itself and try to spot any signs of movement, flashes of eyes or body shapes. Be sure to scan both sides.

Worth Pondering…

The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.
―Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam

Read More

Are You Wildlife Aware?

Human encounters with wildlife increase in the spring as outdoor recreation becomes increasingly popular, bears emerge from their den, and wildlife species bear young.

Rocky Mountain Sheep lamb © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Sheep lamb © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most regions of the U.S. and Canada are home to an abundance of wildlife. It can be exciting to see wildlife, but remember to enjoy wildlife with respect and caution and observe from a safe distance.

It’s important to be Wildlife Aware—be informed about bears and other wildlife and what to do when you come into contact with them.

Always give wild animals a clear escape route. Do not approach or crowd wildlife; doing so could make the animal stressed and unpredictable.

Many people enjoy feeding wildlife because it allows them to have close contact or because they believe they are helping the animals.

While seeing wild animals up close can be enjoyable, providing wild animals with a human‐supplied food source nearly always leads to problems for both the animals and humans. Feeding can create unintended conflicts with humans. Wild animals that are used to being fed by humans commonly lose their fear of people. Animals that are unafraid of people will approach them for food, and are sometimes mistaken as rabid, aggressive, or mean, then killed for that behavior. An instinctive wariness of people is important to a wild animal’s survival.

Be Wildlife Aware—and camp responsibly

Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sloppy campers and hikers don’t just endanger themselves, but also future visitors.

If an animal can’t smell your food, it won’t get your food. Keep a clean campsite. Pick up,

seal, and pack out every scrap of uneaten food.

If an animal can’t see your food, it won’t get your food. Once an animal finds food in a pack, box, or can, it will seek out similar containers with hopes of securing a easy meal.

If a wild animal receives a food reward from a human source, it can become food-conditioned. This behavior has resulted in the removal or death of many wild animals, and has also increased the risk of human injury.

Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife. Do not leave food out to deliberately attract bears or other animals. It is great to see wildlife but we should not be luring them to our camp or picnic sites by leaving treats.

Reduce or eliminate odors that attract bears. Store food in air-tight containers and store in your RV or car trunk.

Keep your campsite clean. Never leave cooking utensils, coolers, grease, or dish water lying around the campsite.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make garbage a priority. Always clean up spilled food or leftover food particles; strain all wash water and distribute it at least 200 feet from camp.

In terms of trash, pack out everything you pack in. Make sure the garbage is sealed in an odor-proof bag or container. Never throw leftover food down park toilets or box latrines.

And obey all closures and warnings.

Be Wildlife Aware—the rule about Wildlife is their unpredictability

Many species, such as white-tailed deer, do not constantly stay with their young and only return to feed them. While a fawn might look abandoned and alone, it is waiting for the female to return. A fawn is well-equipped to protect itself. By the time it is 5 days old it can outrun a human, and within a few weeks of birth, can escape most predators.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The doe will return to the fawn several times a day to nurse and clean it, staying only a few minutes each time before leaving again to seek food.

For other species, the parent may return and become aggressive in an attempt to defend its young.

Chipmunks, squirrels and other rodents are usually a bigger nuisance than bears. Fortunately, the rules that work to help deter bears work for these animals, too.

Just because a squirrel doesn’t pose a threat to your life doesn’t mean you should forget about animal-proofing techniques when you’re not camping in bear country.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

Read More

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

On the northern side of the Coachella Valley, nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, and other desert cities.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Enjoy palm groves, picnic areas, a diverse trail system, and the rustic visitor center, the Palm House. Inside the historic building are trail maps as well as unique displays of the natural and historic features of the area.

The palm encountered in the oases within the Preserve is the California fan palm, or Washingtonia filifera. It is the only indigenous palm in California. The Washingtonia filifera has a very thick trunk and grows slowly to about 45 feet. Dead leaves hang vertically and form what is called a skirt around the trunk providing a place for various critters to live. Inflorescences, or fruit stalks, extend beyond the leaves and bear masses of tiny white to cream colored flowers.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall months, large clusters of small hard fruit hang from the tree. The palms may live 150 to 200 years.

No one knew just how significant a 6-inch lizard would be to conservation in Coachella Valley.

In 1980 a lizard small enough to fit in the palm of your hand brought the $19 billion Coachella Valley construction boom to a screeching halt.

When the lizard was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all development was jeopardized because it might illegally destroy habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

A six-year conflict ensued as environmentalists battled developers over the fragile desert habitat. Finally, the Nature Conservancy was called in to resolve the bitter stalemate, and the result was a remarkable model of cooperation through which endangered species and economic development could co-exist.

The Conservancy proposed creating a nearly 14,000-acre preserve that would provide permanent protection for the little reptile and other desert species, while allowing developers to build elsewhere in the valley. It was a great experiment in cooperation that produced astonishing results. The creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve proved that through consensus, economic development, and species protection can indeed be compatible.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From easy to moderately difficult, from flat terrain to steep grades, hikes of all varieties are available. There are also several designated equestrian trails, but there are no bike or dog-friendly trails.

One hike that is a sure bet for all levels, is through varying desert terrain to the McCallum Grove, about a mile from the Palm House visitor’s center. There are about a dozen isolated palm groves within the preserve, the largest being McCallum Grove.

There’s more water here than anywhere else in the preserve and the overflow allows a large and diverse community to thrive, including tiny freshwater crayfish called red swamp crayfish, desert pupfish, and the occasional mallard duck making a brief stopover during its annual migration.

After leaving McCallum Grove keep hiking west on marked trails out to “moon country”. You will come to an overlook that provides you with great views of the entire area.
From there you can return to the visitor’s center, or continue via the 4.2-mile Moon Country Trail Loop, or the more advanced Moon Country Canyon Extension, which adds an additional 1.63 miles roundtrip.

Other delightful trails include Pushawalla Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Hidden Palms, which are all somewhat more strenuous hikes.

Coachella Valley Preserve is a great way to spend a day with its fantastic hiking trails, and beautiful vistas, but best of all it’s free and also easy to find. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Coachella Valley Preserve, you won’t be disappointed.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Palm Springs take Interstate 10 East to the Ramon Road exit. Turn left and follow Ramon Road and make a left turn on Thousand Palms Road. The entrance to the visitors center is located about two miles on the left.

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.
—Edward Abbey

Read More

Bird Photography is What I like to Do

With binoculars, scopes, and gazes turned to the skies, birders are often easier to spot than their feathered friends.

Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the U.S. and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

According to an U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy.
Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

Getting Started

It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Field Guides

Using one or more field guides are also recommended.

The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Sibley Guide to Birds

Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide of Birds of North America.
Eastern and Western editions of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America.

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder.

The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in Canada and the United States. If you have more than a passing fancy, it’s well worth owning. Its large size makes it generally impractical for use as a field guide. Alternately you may opt to purchase this guide in smaller Eastern and Western editions as we have.

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done. Kenn Kaufman took the illustrations from photographs and digitally enhanced them to bring out the species characteristics. This field guide quickly became my reference guide of choice.

Record Keeping

Keep a list of the birds you’ve seen.

A great way for birders to keep track of the species they’ve seen is with a “life list”.

The standard procedure for recording a species you’ve seen for the first time is to include the common name, the date and time, and location. Special notes regarding identification, weather conditions, or unusual plumage are often useful for later reference.

Many birders maintain their list by recording their sightings in their favorite field guide. This is a handy approach, but more than one bird watcher has managed to lose a field guide, and also their life list at the same time.

Some birding websites also make it easy for you to maintain a life list directly on-line.

If you decide to become even more serious about keeping lists of the birds you have seen, there are several PC-based packages that make it easy to create and manage your lists.

Birding with a Camera

Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bird Photographers wait in predawn light for the sandhill cranes lift-off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small but increasing number of birders have started to combine photography with their love of birdwatching.

It has been my experience that birding groups aren’t overly photography friendly.

Birdwatching runs at a faster pace and photographers are often considered a slowing threat for the listing expectations of the group. With their high powered scopes birders don’t require the same proximity to birds as do photographers.

As a result of past experiences I now tend to avoid groups of birders or at least maintain a distant presence. However, my encounters with individual birders have been pleasant and meaningful often sharing insights into our particular focus.

Although I deeply enjoy birding, I still consider myself first and foremost a photographer and writer. As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

I now take photos of birds with two purposes in mind.

Identification

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I rarely carry binoculars with me. I can more quickly find a bird and observe it with the telephoto lens on my Canon D-SLR camera. When photographing a bird species for the first time, I’ll use my photo to help me identify the bird once the image has been downloaded to my computer.

Artistic Expression

Beyond and including simple identification, I want my photos to be artistic paying attention to form and composition, sharpness and exposure. I want to avoid compositions where the background will compete with the foreground for attention.

And that’s what gives me the greatest joy in photography and birding.

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Read More

Texas Gulf Coast Habitat Becomes State Park

A multi-partner coalition including the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Foundation has announced the purchase of the 17,351-acre Powderhorn Ranch along the Texas Gulf Coast in Calhoun County.

Wetland Marsh Waterways at Powderhorn Lake
Wetland Marsh Waterways at Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Jerod Foster)

The acquisition will conserve a spectacular piece of property that is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled coastal prairie in the state. At $37.7 million it is the largest dollar amount ever raised for a conservation land purchase in the state and represents a new partnership model of achieving conservation goals in an era of rapidly rising land prices.

In years to come, Powderhorn Ranch is expected to become a state park and wildlife management area.

Safeguarding this natural treasure has been contemplated for more than 30 years by several conservation organizations and wildlife agencies including The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), these organizations are playing a critical role in the acquisition and long-term conservation of this property.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is spearheading the fundraising for the $50 million project, which includes the purchase of the property, habitat restoration and management, as well as a long-term endowment.

Aerial Photo of Fringe Marshes Along Powderhorn Lake
Aerial Photo of Fringe Marshes Along Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

The real estate transaction has been more than two years in the making. Powderhorn Ranch was previously owned by Cumberland & Western Resources, LLC, whose primary investors are conservation-minded citizens who sold the property below its market value to ensure its permanent safekeeping.

A significant portion of the funding for the project is being provided by NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, which was created with dollars paid by BP and Transocean in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. NFWF has committed $34.5 million over the next three years, making this the biggest land acquisition in the nation so far using BP spill restoration dollars.

The acquisition will protect in perpetuity unspoiled coastal land with forests of coastal live oak and intact wetlands. This range of habitats is perfect for public hunting, fishing, hiking, paddling, and bird watching. These nature tourism activities currently bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Texas coast.

Cactus and Wetlands Along Powderhorn Lake
Cactus and Wetlands Along Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Jerod Foster)

The property also includes thousands of acres of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes that offer vital fish and wildlife habitat, provide natural filtering to improve water quality, and shield people and property from storm surges and sea level rise. The ranch includes more than eleven miles of tidal bay front on Matagorda Bay and provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds and animals, including the endangered whooping crane.

Details

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation

Founded in 1991, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is the non-profit funding partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Website: www.tpwf.org

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores our nation’s wildlife and habitats. Chartered by Congress in 1984, the Foundation directs public conservation dollars to pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private contributions.

Website: www.nfwf.org

The Conservation Fund

For nearly 30 years, The Conservation Fund has been saving special places across America. They have protected more than seven million acres nationwide including more than 193,000 acres of natural lands across Texas, including the Big Thicket National Preserve, Fort Davis National Historic Site, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and along the Neches River and the Gulf Coast.

Website: www.conservationfund.org

The Nature Conservancy 

Powderhorn Ranch Regional Context Map
Powderhorn Ranch Regional Context Map (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

The Nature Conservancy has been responsible for the protection of more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide and the operation of more than 100 marine projects globally. In the Lone Star State, The Nature Conservancy owns more than 30 nature preserves and conservation properties across Texas.

Website: www.nature.org/texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) operates 95 Texas state parks, natural areas and historic sites, 46 wildlife management areas, three saltwater fish hatcheries, and five freshwater hatcheries.

Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

What Texans can dream, Texans can do.

—George W. Bush

Read More

Cumberland Island: From Camping to the Carnegies

Explore Georgia’s Cumberland Island to witness the beauty of natural wilderness and historical intrigue. A trip to Cumberland Island can satisfy your mind’s curiosity with its historical secrets or relax it with tranquil scenery.

Dungeness Ruins has a very long history
Dungeness Ruins has a very long history to tell. The name came originally from the very first property, which was a hunting lodge named Dungeness, in the area, owned by James Oglethorpe in 1736. In 1803, it was replaced by a mansion built by Nathaniel Greene, which was later on used as a headquarters by the British. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The National Park Service protects almost 36,000 acres of the island, including miles of unspoiled beaches.

The most intriguing part about Cumberland is its history. Once a working plantation, followed by a winter retreat for the wealthy Carnegie family, Cumberland Island is now home to the descendants of slaves and aristocrats, as well as approximately 150 feral horses with bloodlines that trace to the royal stables of the King of Arabia. The stories of the people weave a captivating tale of wealth, poverty, privilege, and sacrifice.

Visit Cumberland Island for the day, camp overnight, or be a guest at the upscale Greyfield Inn, made famous by John F. Kennedy Jr.’s wedding. Day visitors and campers reach the island by taking the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Cumberland Island Visitors Center in St. Marys, Georgia, to the Sea Camp Dock. Guests of the Greyfield Inn take the hotel’s private ferry, the Lucy Ferguson. The boat ride itself is wonderful way to see Cumberland’s beauty from the water.

The best way to unlock Cumberland’s secrets, whether historical or natural, is with a guide. You can take a Jeep tour as part of your stay at the Greyfield Inn, or choose the park ranger service, which offers walking or motorized tours that start at the Sea Camp Dock, or cell phone tours that originate at the Dungeness Docks. It’s best to reserve the motorized tour when you book the ferry. You’ll cover several hundred years of history in just a few hours, all while traveling the interior of one of the largest maritime forests remaining in the U.S.

feral horses
Visitors are reminded these are feral horses and should be treated as wild animals. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly explore the island further, you need a bike and a good pair of walking shoes. Guests at the Greyfield Inn have bikes at their disposal as part of their rooms. Otherwise, bikes are available for rent at the Sea Camp Dock. Bike rentals are first-come, first-served, though, so do this before anything else, including the tour.

A favorite destination is the Dungeness Ruins, the remains of Lucy Carnegie’s island mansion. Lucy, whose husband Thomas was the brother and business partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, once owned 90 percent of Cumberland Island and built grand homes for her children, including Greyfield.

Besides the mansion, be sure to explore the out buildings. The laundry is fascinating, not only because of the cleaning machines on display, but the innovations in cooling. It must have been sweltering hot to wash clothes in the summer, yet the height of the ceiling and fans that pulled out the hot air helped keep the building relatively cool. Dungeness is also a favorite spot for the island’s horses, so bring a camera!

A visit to Cumberland Island takes some preparation because visitors are limited and there are no concessions on the island. Start your planning and make reservations through the Cumberland Island National Seashore website (SEE link below). The site offers tips for a great visit and information on tours and activities.

We walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach
We walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach, alive with crabs and shorebirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the island requires considerable walking, and the island is not stroller friendly, so pack the little ones, leave them home, or wait a few years until they can get around on their own. That said, the Junior Ranger program is a wonderful way for kids 5-12 (and kids at heart) to learn about the island. It’s free, as are the Civil War trading cards available at the Sea Camp Ranger Station.

Details

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore, on the Georgia coast, includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is also home to one of the largest maritime forests remaining in the United States, one of the largest wilderness areas in a National Seashore on the east coast, and a herd of feral, free-ranging horses.

Getting to the Island: Accessible by ferry boat from Visitor Center dock in St. Marys. Ferry is walk-on, passenger-only. All trips are round-trip. To make ferry reservation, 912-882-4335 or toll free, 800-860-6787 .

ferry boat returns from Cumberland Island to the dock in St. Marys
It’s the end of a wonderful day as our ferry boat returns from Cumberland Island to the dock in St. Marys. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reservations are required for both the ferry and camping. Visitors must check in 30 minutes before departure at the Cumberland Island Visitor Center or the reservation will be canceled.

Ferry Fees: $20; Senior, $18; Children under 12 years, $14

Entrance Fees: $4/person (valid for 7 days) or Golden Age/Golden Access and America the Beautiful–National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass

Mailing Address: 101 Wheeler Street, St. Marys, GA 31558

Phone: (912) 882-4336

Website: www.nps.gov/cuis

Worth Pondering…

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—Georgia On My Mind, lyrics by Stuart Gorrell, written by Hoagy Carmichael (1930), recorded by Ray Charles (1960), official state song of the State of Georgia (1979)

Read More

Discover the Golden Isles: Jekyll Island

The southernmost island of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was inhabited by Indians several hundred years ago; in subsequent years it has been used as a place for settlers and for a Civil War encampment.

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Cranes and Goulds and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Cranes and Goulds and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families as a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a fine clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months in the winter.

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Cranes, and Goulds and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth. (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms.)

These vacationers came by train to Brunswick and crossed the river to Jekyll, or arrived in their yachts with family members, servants, and supplies aboard.

The men relaxed and hunted while the ladies had tea, planned parties, and went to the beach.

By 1942 most of these elite vacationers departed the island, never to return. World War II and the economy had taken their toll. Some of the wealthy families left their homes fully furnished, and the buildings fell into disrepair.

In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island for $650,000 and set a provision that 65 percent of it must always remain undeveloped. Some of the wealthy families’ cottages have been restored and are open for tours.

Today, this era of Jekyll Island’s history can be dramatically revisited with a tram tour of the National Historic Landmark District, including many of the opulent mansions their millionaire owners called “cottages”.

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages.

The duBignon Cottage built in 1884. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The duBignon Cottage built in 1884. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which boasts a small interactive museum as well as access to a fully-functional rehabilitative center where visitors can see live sea turtles in the recovery tanks being treated for their injuries before returning to the wild.

To see more of the island’s eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers guided tours that last for 90 minutes, routing through beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes.

Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel, oceanfront properties, and RV camping at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites.

Amenities include tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.

Rates range from $23 for a primitive tent site to $37 for a fully-serviced RV lot.

The island will boast three new hotels, an all-new beachfront convention center with more than 78,000 square feet of function space, a beautifully redesigned  gateway corridor to the island, a beach village shopping and dining district, and many more enhancements.

Twenty miles of flat, mostly paved bike paths encircle the island. You can spend a whole day riding beneath canopies of live oaks, along the beach, and through the historic district.

Bikes can be rented at Jekyll Island Campground, the shopping mall, and various hotels around the island. Restaurants are at these stops, or you may want to tote your own meal and enjoy it at any of the many picnic grounds situated along the way. Tram tours, Victorian carriage history tours, and nature and landscape walks are available from the visitors center, located on the Jekyll Causeway.

A fishing pier is located across from Jekyll Island Campground, and fishing is available along the beaches.

Owned by the State of Georgia and managed by the Jekyll Island Authority, the island’s development is limited to just 35 percent of the available land area to preserve the critical barrier island ecosystem. Great lengths have been taken to honor this ratio while the revitalization of Jekyll Island moves forward.

Indian Mound, 1892 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Indian Mound, 1892 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, once a haven for America’s elite, now beckons to all.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on Brunswick and the Golden Isles of Georgia

Part 1: Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History & Beauty

Part 2: Discover the Golden Isles: St. Simons & Sea Island

Part 4: Discover the Golden Isles: Little St. Simons Island & Historic Brunswick

Part 5: RV Camping in Brunswick and the Golden Isles

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?

The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!

A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,

Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,

Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,

To the terminal blue of the main.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

Read More

How Stupid Can You Be?

How stupid can you be?

A photo showing people in a vehicle feeding a bear on Highway 11 near the north gate to Banff National Park on May 19. (Jeff Bingham/Facebook)
A photo showing people in a vehicle feeding a bear on Highway 11 near the north gate to Banff National Park on May 19. (Jeff Bingham/Facebook)

How can anyone be stupid enough to feed wieners, pepperoni sticks, and bread to a black bear?

That’s the question wildlife officials are asking following an incident on the David Thompson Highway (Highway 11) near the north gate to Banff National Park on May 19.

Jeff Bingham, a wildlife photographer witnessed the event as it unfolded.

“Confronting people is not the answer,” he wrote on Facebook, where he posted a photo that shows the license plate on the vehicle.

“So I found a Parks Canada person, and reported it.”

Parks Canada investigated the incident and determined it took place about 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) outside the north gate to Banff National Park, the Calgary Herald reports.

In a national park, feeding wildlife carries a maximum fine of $25,000. Officers in provincial parks and recreation areas can also charge people up to $250 for the act.

But there are no provincial laws that would allow Fish and Wildlife officers to issue a fine in this incident.

“It is certainly not something our officers condone,” Brendan Cox, spokesman for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, told the Herald.

This black bear wants his food and he is waiting patiently. DO NOT FEED BEARS! (Source: Thomas J/travelooce.com)
This black bear wants his food and he is waiting patiently. DO NOT FEED BEARS! (Source: Thomas J/travelooce.com)

“Outside of a park, there is no specific violation that refers to feeding wildlife in this way.

“Officers will try to discern the license plate and the owners of the vehicle so that the people involved in this case can be educated about how irresponsible it is to feed bears, or any wildlife for that matter.”

The discrepancy concerns those who work to reduce conflicts between people and wildlife.

“That worries me, because now people will think they can get away with that,” said Kim Titchener, director of Bow Valley Wildsmart.

“We don’t want people feeding wildlife…they might think it’s fun and it’s cute and they get this great picture, but they’ve killed that animal. They are responsible for that animal’s death now.”

Provincial officials said they will keep an eye on the bear to determine whether it has become habituated.

“If it learns to associate people with food, then it’s possible it could be approaching people for food in the future,” Cox explained to the Herald.

“Officers will monitor the situation and reassess it if there’s any future incidents.”

Should the bear get into trouble again, it could be captured and either euthanized or relocated.

Although incidents of feeding wildlife are happening less frequently, there have been a few high-profile cases in recent years, both within and outside of the protected areas.

“I don’t know where people are missing that message,” said Titchener.

“This is a long-standing message since the ’70s.

“Don’t feed the wildlife.”

An expert with Parks Canada told the Herald it could be a bear that officials have handled in Banff National Park.

Remember: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Remember: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

“In the photo, they are saying there was a green ear tag,” said Brianna Burley, human/wildlife conflict specialist with Lake Louise, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks.

“That does fit with a bear that we did tag around Saskatchewan Crossing last summer and it wouldn’t be unheard of at all for a bear to wander.”

She was concerned about the bear’s welfare if it was fed along the road.

“They start becoming food conditioned,” explained Burley.

“That association between people and food leads to aggressive behavior from bears, which ultimately can lead to injury to people.

“It leaves us for very little room for any management decision and can very often lead to the destruction of those animals.”

Burley said they are noticing more incidents of people feeding wildlife within the park.

“When this came across my desk and we were trying to figure out where it happened, I wasn’t surprised by it,” she said. “Over the past few years, we’ve had more and more reports of this and I am not sure why that’s happening.”

Burley also reminded people to report any bear sightings within the park to Banff dispatch rather than just post it on social media sites.

The Banff dispatch number is 403-762-1470.

Worth Pondering…

Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.

―John Wayne

Read More

Lake Erie Wind Turbine Project Halted

In an earlier post I detailed the threat to migratory songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and bald eagles with the proposed wind turbine project planned for the shores of Lake Erie.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

In a recent development, one of several wind turbine projects planned for the shores of Lake Erie, in one of the greatest bird migration corridors in the Western Hemisphere, has been halted following submission of a letter of intent to sue from American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), reports birdingwire.com.

The two groups had vigorously opposed the project due to its exceptionally high risk to federally protected wildlife.

The announcement formalizing the decision to halt the project was made via a letter from Air National Guard Headquarters-the National Guard Bureau, Department of Defense, in Andrews, Maryland-to the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal (MGC) of Washington, D.C, which represents ABC and BSBO.

The petition campaign and letter of intent to sue the Ohio National Guard (ONG)), along with an ongoing petition campaign that has acquired over 5,000 signatures, charged that efforts in connection with the wind project at Camp Perry Air National Guard Station west of Port Clinton, Ohio, violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other federal conservation and environmental laws.

The letter from the National Guard Bureau states: “After carefully considering your objections … I have decided to withdraw the FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) for the project effective immediately. … Since the FONSI has been withdrawn, the project will not go forward at this time.” The letter was dated Jan. 28 and was signed by Colonel Peter A. Sartori, Director, Installations and Mission Support.

Camp Perry is in the "red zone" of ABC's Wind Development Bird Risk Map, indicating an extreme risk to birds. The red area that crosses Lake Erie is a high-density migration corridor.
Camp Perry is in the “red zone” of ABC’s Wind Development Bird Risk Map, indicating an extreme risk to birds. The red area that crosses Lake Erie is a high-density migration corridor.

“The victory sends a strong message to other wind energy developers in this ecologically sensitive region that conservationists will be closely watching their actions. This is a heartening outcome for the environment and for birds,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.

“We are absolutely elated that the Air National Guard has halted this project, at least temporarily and possibly for good,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO.

“We certainly owe thanks to the thousands who voiced their opposition to the project via the petition.”

“This is a big win for the vast numbers of birds that migrate through the Camp Perry area, which have been using these routes and stopover habitats for centuries,” said Kenn Kaufman, internationally acclaimed author of bird field guides and a local resident.

“It’s also a win for the local economy and for the businesses that rely on tourism dollars from the tens of thousands of visiting birders. Let’s hope that the suspension is a permanent one.”

ABC and BSBO assert that the placement of the project at the Camp Perry facility—and those proposed for the surrounding areas—presents an extremely high risk to migrating songbirds, especially the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. This imperiled species was nearly extinct less than 40 years ago and, while rebounding due to costly and intensive management efforts, still numbers only in the low thousands.

Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)
Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)

Additional birds at risk include other migrating songbirds, raptors, Bald Eagles, endangered Piping Plovers, and waterfowl. Also of concern to local residents is the possibility that projects like these may discourage birding tourism. Currently, visiting birders inject $37 million into the local economy every spring.

The two groups announced their intention to sue via a letter sent by MGC, stating that the environmental review process was unlawfully circumvented and that the development is taking place in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

They pointed out that the Camp Perry turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration corridor directly adjacent to a national wildlife refuge and that it was being constructed without regard for the many concerns expressed by wildlife professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

According to Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO Research Director: “Long-term research indicates that some of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in North America occur in the Lake Erie coastal region, including around Camp Perry. These species, along with one of the highest concentrations of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, use habitat precisely in the risk zone of turbines such as the one proposed. Long-term monitoring of the active eagle nest at the facility indicates extensive use of the area of the turbine by eagles.”

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

ABC has created a Wind Development Bird Risk Map that shows the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio is among the worst possible locations for a wind power project. The configuration of water and land serves to “funnel” large numbers of protected migratory birds through a small area; the birds aim to avoid a long lake crossing by hugging the shoreline or following the shortest cross-water route to the Pelee Peninsula to the north. This is also major stopover habitat, where migrating birds are not merely flying over, but landing and taking off-often during poor weather conditions.

Worth Pondering…
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

Read More