Low Lead in Arizona Condors

Condor_bloodwork_webIt’s been a good year for lead levels in condors in Arizona and Utah. While last year saw the second worst levels on record, this year saw the lowest level in a decade, says a press release from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“The ups and downs of lead poisoning over the years demonstrate that any single season does not make a trend, but our test results are encouraging,” said Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund’s condor project in the release. “If this ends up being the beginning of a trend, we hope it will continue.”

Arizona Game and Fish, as well as the Peregrine Fund, which also distributed the release, believe that voluntary lead ammunition measures in the two states has contributed to the lower lead levels in condors there. Another factor may be the unseasonably mild winter, the release says.

In an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, Chris Parish, condor program coordinator for The Peregrine Fund is quoted as saying, “The half life of lead in blood is a very short period. That gives us a relatively good indication of where and when exposure may have happened.”

The Tribune article also says that 78 percent of hunters in condor country who were contacted were voluntarily using non-lead ammunition. In 2011 the number was 10 percent.

More details in the Arizona Game and Fish press release here. (Halfway down the page.)
The same press release is here on its own page at the Peregrine Fund website.
The Salt Lake City Tribune article is here.

Photo: Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department






Bats and Wildfire

gray bat 2After the Wallow Fire, Arizona’s largest wildfire, burned 538,000 acres, a half-dozen biologists lead by Northern Arizona University researchers came in to study bats’ reaction to the changed ecosystem, an article in Bats Magazine, the magazine of Bat Conservation International, says.

It was no surprise that the team found that bats prefer unburned habitat to burned habitat. It was a little surprising that while bats generally avoided burned over areas, they would roost in burned snags. How burned a particular tree is compared to the other trees in the area seems to play a role in which burned snags are chosen as roosts.

The study will continue this summer.

Read more about the study and the bats’ roost selection criteria in the article in Bats Magazine article “Bats in the Burns,” here.

Photo: Photoshopped bat art, from  US Fish and Wildlife Service photo of a gray bat


More Mountain Lions

mo mountain lionWhere are there more mountain lions? There are increases Puma concolor sightings just about everywhere, recent news reports say.

An article in The New York Times focuses on mountain lions’ expansion east from their strongholds in the Rocky Mountains and Texas. The article says that mountain lion sightings are now common in the Midwest, and it includes a map that shows recent sightings, including several in New England.

Read The New York Times article here.

In Arizona, an abundance of mountain lions in the Catalina Mountains has some folks worried about a planned release of bighorn sheep there, says an Arizona Daily Star article. A management plan calls for killing mountain lions that kill the bighorns, although the mountain lions should have plenty of other prey, the article quotes Jim Heffelfinger, regional game specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department as saying.

An increase in deer in the area likely lead to the increase in mountain lions, the article says.

Read the Arizona Daily Star article here.

Mountain lion populations have been going up in California for at least 20 years, with hundreds of sightings annually, but that doesn’t mean the sight of two mountain lions in Redlands, California isn’t news. Redlands is near the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angleles.

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.

Photo: One of the increasing number of Midwestern mountain lions, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Vultures As Pollution Sentinels

Turkey_VultureResearchers from the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania have been studying vultures throughout the New World to see if they are effective sentinels for environmental pollutants, such as lead.

The theory, says an Associated Press article that ran in the Havasu News (AZ), is with their ability to eat and digest biological toxins, vultures may be accumulating man-made toxins as well. Testing them for toxins may reveal hot spots that can then be investigated.

A Hawk Mountain Sanctuary blog reveals that they have been at this for ten years. The big news today is that they have expanded the study in to Arizona. The hope is that information from the tough vultures will provide more information on the lead poisoning that is killing the already federally endangered California condors.

Read the Associated Press article here.
Read the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary “Vulture Chronicles” blog here.

Photo: Turkey vulture, by Lee Karney, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

No Releases for Desert Tortoises

Desert_tortoiseFor decades, captive tortoises have suffered from a mysterious ailment known as “upper respiratory tract disease.” The disease was known in captive tortoises in Europe and the United States, according to information from the California Turtle and Tortoise Club.

Then, in the 1980s wild desert tortoises in California suffered a major die-off from the disease.

The threat of spreading that disease to wild tortoise populations in Arizona is one of the many reasons why the Arizona Game and Fish Department does not allow the release into the wild of tortoises that have been handled for any length of time. The department cares for as many of the tortoises as it can, and also runs an adopt-a-tortoise program.

Last year the department cared for over 40 tortoises at one time.

“I can’t stress enough how detrimental it could be for both the captive and wild tortoises to release a captive tortoise in the wild,” Zen Mocarski, a department public information officer said in an AZGFD newsletter. “Along with potential disease issues and displacement, captive tortoises are not prepared to find food and water in an unfamiliar area and often die.”

Read the AZGFD newsletter item, here. (It is the third story from the bottom.)
Read the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s upper respiratory tract disease fact sheet, here.

Photo: This desert tortoise is in Nevada. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Revised Plan for Ferrets

black-footed ferret“The most feasible action that would benefit black-footed ferret recovery is to improve prairie dog conservation,” said Pete Gober, black-footed ferret recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a service press release. “If efforts are undertaken to more proactively manage existing prairie dog habitat for ferret recovery, all other threats to the species will be substantially less difficult to address. Down listing of the black-footed ferret could be accomplished in approximately 10 years if conservation actions continue at existing reintroduction sites and if additional reintroduction sites are established.”

The press release announced a draft of a revised recovery plan for the black-footed ferret.

You can read the USFWS press release here.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department release is here, in a newsletter. It’s the second article from the bottom.
Arizona has been a site of black-footed ferret recovery. Read a reporter’s first-hand account of an annual survey, here.More info on black-footed ferret recovery can be found here.

Photo: Black-footed Ferret. Credit: Kimberly Tamkun / USFWS

Bat Training

BCI workshopBat Conservation International (BCI) still has space available this June in its Arizona field training workshops for biologists, land managers, consultants, students, and serious advocates of natural resource conservation who need to develop skills to monitor and inventory bats.

An acoustic monitoring workshop will be held June 4-9 and will cost $1,795, which includes dormitory-style lodging and food, but not airfare or other costs of transportation to the training site. A bat conservation and monitoring workshop will be held June 10-15 and will cost $1,595. If you want to handle bats during the workshop, you will need a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.

The deadline for applying to one of the June workshops is May 1, 2013.

More information about the two workshops can be found on the BCI website, here.

Condor Reintroduction Reviewed

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department:

A review of the 2007-2011 period of the California condor reintroduction program in northern Arizona and southern Utah was recently completed and identifies a number of successes, including an increase in the free-ranging population, consistent use of seasonal ranges by condors and an increased number of breeding pairs. However, exposure to lead contamination from animal carcasses and gut piles left in the field continues to limit the success of the program. The team made several recommendations to address the lead issue.

You can read the rest of the press release on the AZGFD website, here. It’s the third item on the page.

Go straight to the news with this Peregrine Fund press release. (I think it says exactly the same thing.)

On Saturday (Sept. 29), the reintroduction continues with 17th public release of condors in Arizona since the recovery program began in 1996. At this event three endangered California condors will be released to the wild.

Read more about it in the AZGFD’s Wildlife News. It’s the sixth item from the top and is followed by another release praising Arizona hunters for voluntarily reducing their use of lead bullets to help the condors survive.

Photo: California condor, courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Turtles, Cougars, and Frogs in the Southwest

The current issue of Southwestern Naturalist has several articles that may be of interest to biologists outside of the region.

Yellow mud turtles decline in the Midwest. The largest populations of yellow mud turtles in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri have experienced severe declines. Withdrawal of water from aquifers is the main cause, but the growth of woody plants also plays a role. Read the article, here. (Requires fee or subscription for full article.)
More info on yellow mud turtles from Texas Parks and Wildlife, here.

Cougar habitat in Texas and northern Mexico. Researchers from Sul Ross State University tested a model of current and potential cougar (Puma concolor) in Texas and northern Mexico and found that it worked. Read the article here. (Same for fees or subscription.)

Fungus strikes desert frogs. Chytrid fungus was found in desert oasis frog populations in Baja California Sur. The oases with higher infection rates also had bullfrogs and non-native crayfish. Read the article here.

Also interesting: Western red bats (Lasiurus blossevillii) and Arizona myotis (Myotis occultus) were found on the lower Arizona River after the area was restored. The Arizona myotis had been extirpated from the area, and the western red bat had not be found there previously. Read the article here.

New Nest Helps Eagles in Arizona

After three years of ticks killing off bald eagle nestlings in Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department constructed “starter nests” in nearby trees. This year the bald eagle pair used one of the man-made nests and successfully fledged two young, says a department press release.

Several attempts to protect the nestlings from the ticks in the old nest were unsuccessful. While building the man-made nests, the old nest was removed and burned.

The press release gives more detail about the attempts to rid the nest and the tree from ticks, but does not give any detail about techniques used in the building the starter nests.

According to the release: “Bald eagle conservation in Arizona is a partnership effort of the Southwest Bald Eagle Management Committee — a group of 25 government agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes.”

Photo: Building a new bald eagle nest, courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.