By Valerie Fellows, USFWS

Eastern North Carolina is the winter home to the largest concentration of tundra swans on the entire eastern seaboard.  As many as 75,000 tundra swans converge on the wetland habitats of this windy coast in the autumn, up to three quarters of the east coast population.  But the constant wind supply found on the North Carolina coastal plain is also enticing for wind energy development.

Our Raleigh Field Office created a map of eastern North Carolina to help assess the potential impacts of wind energy development on migratory birds and other wildlife, including tundra swans.  It focuses on the eastern part of the state where there is the highest interest in wind energy development.  The map helps to streamline the project review process by providing information on areas where the Service has data related to species of concern and sensitive habitats.  This means that developers can more easily predict a general level of effort for assessing potential sites for wind power before they submit documentation for the Service to review. This means that our wildlife will be protected as renewable energy development moves forward. 

Valerie Fellows is a Communications Specialist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters Office 

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The First Family Photo: Wisdom and her newest chick!

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Wisdom and her chick on Midway Atoll NWR. Photo credit: Ann Bell/USFWS

A  Laysan albatross known as “Wisdom” – at least 63 years old – is once again busy rearing a chick on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.   The newly hatched chick was first by visitor services manager, Ann Bell, being cared for by Wisdom the morning of February 4, 2014.  Wisdom is a female albatross first banded as an adult in 1956. 

“As the world’s oldest known bird in the wild, Wisdom is an iconic symbol of inspiration and hope for all seabird species.” said Dan Clark, refuge manager for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. “She provides to the world valuable information about the longevity of these beautiful creatures.  In the case of Wisdom, she has logged literally millions of miles over the Pacific Ocean in her lifetime to find enough fish eggs and squid to feed herself and multiple chicks, allowing us the opportunity to measure the health of our oceans which sustain albatross as well as ourselves.”

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Wisdom sitting on her nest on Midway Atoll NWR. Photo credit: Ann Bell/USFWS

“Her ability to continue to hatch chicks during the last half century is beyond impressive despite the threats that albatross face at sea.” said refuge biologist Pete Leary. “It is a poignant and overwhelming reality that plastics discarded at sea float, from toothbrushes to millions of bottle caps, float and, are used as a substrate for flying fish to attach their eggs, a food highly prized by foraging albatross and ultimately regurgitated into the chick’s mouth,” said Leary. “In addition, the chick’s sole survival is completely dependent on the health of Wisdom and her life-long mate and their dual ability to provide for food and protection.”

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Nesting albatross on Midway Atoll NWR. Photo credit: David Patte/USFWS

Albatrosses arrive on Midway Atoll Refuge by the hundreds of thousands to nest each year. Refuge staff and volunteers are responsible for monitoring the health of these extraordinary, beautiful ocean gliders. After spending five months at sea molting and feeding, albatross return to the same nesting site on Midway Atoll Refuge.  Once they mate, an albatross pair will immediately begin to craft a sturdy nest. If they successfully incubate the egg and a chick hatches, each parent takes turns brooding their chick, until it can be left on its own, when they both will then forage for the chick’s meals over the next six months. 

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We’re celebrating some milestone anniversaries at some of our national wildlife refuges!

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona were both established in 1939 -  75 years ago this month! And Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama is celebrating its 50th birthday this month.

Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Piedmont Refuge in central Georgia was originally established as a game demonstration area, attempting to show that timber management and wildlife could co-exist. Ira Gabrielson, chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey (predecessor to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), said if the Bureau could take a piece of completely worn out land, as Piedmont was at the time, and make it into a productive wildlife area, then he would know that any kind of land could be managed for wildlife.  Today, the refuge is proof that good timber management practices can improve and maintain habitat for wildlife in the southern pine forests. “We actively manage the forest with prescribed fire and timber harvesting keeping the needs of wildlife in mind,” says assistant refuge manager Carolyn Johnson.

One of the many wildlife species that benefits from this type of habitat management is the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker whose population is increasing, from under 40 family groups a decade ago to 54 groups in 2013.  These woodpeckers build cavities in large, living pine trees – at least 80 years old. As Johnson describes it, the red-cockaded woodpecker wants to “sit on his front porch and see his yard. Prescribed burning maintains an open understory and reduces the hardwood midstory.” If a cavity tree dies or the midstory growth becomes too thick, the woodpecker abandons the site. The woodpeckers live in family groups with each bird needing its own cavity for roosting. Artificial cavities are added to some trees to encourage young males to stay and start their own families.

The refuge trail system, including the 2.9 mile Red-cockaded Woodpecker Trail, offers excellent opportunities for bird watchers. Also, many nesting sites are observable from refuge access roads. Bachman’s sparrows can be seen in many red-cockaded sites during the nesting season. Refuge personnel can provide directions to the best bird-viewing sites throughout the year.  The refuge is open the public for day use throughout the year, offering opportunities for hunting, fishing and environmental education.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Kofa Refuge was established to protect desert bighorn sheep and other native wildlife following a 1936 campaign by Arizona Boy Scouts. For more than two years, some 10,000 Boy Scouts campaigned to “save the bighorns” with poster contests, talks, school assemblies and radio dramatizations. As a result of their efforts. Kofa Game Range (as it was originally called) was established and named for one of the area’s most notable mines, the King of Arizona gold mine. 

More than 80 percent of Kofa Refuge became designated wilderness in 1990.  The Castle Dome and Kofa Mountains rise abruptly from the plains on the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti reach up to 50 feet tall. Large mammals like the desert bighorn sheep and mule deer escape the desert heat in mountain caves. Bats roost in caves, crevices and mines. The speedy Sonoran pronghorn also lives on Kofa Refuge which participates in a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of the species.

Kofa Refuge offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as well as nature trails,  primitive cabins for wilderness camping and a desert scavenger hunt for families.  Kofa Refuge also has some of the best quail hunting in the country, as well as hunting for big and small game and upland birds.

Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama

On January 27, 1964, Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge was established to serve as wintering habitat for migratory waterfowl, nesting and brood rearing habitat for wood ducks, and protection of alligators. Up to 200 broods of wood ducks are produced annually in the refuge’s artificial nest boxes and wintering waterfowl can exceed 10,000.  Although the refuge is only 4,218 acres, it supports a wide variety of migratory and resident wildlife within its bottomland hardwood habitat. 

Choctaw Refuge is a popular destination for local anglers and hunters. It is also an identified stop along Alabama’s Birding Trails.

Find a refuge near your backyard here!

It’s another beautiful day on the Fox River in Montgomery, Illinois. This great pic was snapped by one of our wildlife fans!
Have a photo you’re proud of? Don’t forget to tag your snaps with #USFWS on Instagram, and we might feature your picture! And don’t forget to give us a follow: http://instagram.com/usfws
Photo: Fox River courtesy of Luis Alonso Garcia

It’s another beautiful day on the Fox River in Montgomery, Illinois. This great pic was snapped by one of our wildlife fans!

Have a photo you’re proud of? Don’t forget to tag your snaps with #USFWS on Instagram, and we might feature your picture! And don’t forget to give us a follow: http://instagram.com/usfws

Photo: Fox River courtesy of Luis Alonso Garcia

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At Last!

The first video of a brand new rare and endangered short-tailed albatross chick.

A short-tailed albatross chick hatched at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on Eastern Island within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument on January 9, 2014.  The short-tailed albatross is one of the most endangered seabird species in the world, has a stunning golden head and an impressive regal stature much larger than its cousin, the Laysan albatross which nests on Midway by the hundreds of thousands.

 “A year ago last fall, the male returned and patiently waited but the female returned too late in the season and did not lay an egg,” noted refuge biologist Pete Leary.  “We were therefore thrilled when this past fall a remote camera technician sighted the female reuniting with the patiently waiting male that appeared the week before.”

Male and female short-tailed albatross reunited on Midway Atoll NWR.

This male and female pair of short-tailed albatross are reunited at Midway Atoll NWR. Photo credit: Dale Chorman/SeeMore Wildlife Systems

Both parents took their brooding duties seriously this year as they have in the past, exchanging places approximately every 2 weeks.  While away from the nest, the parent will use its impressive 8.5 foot wing span to cover thousands of miles, soaring between Midway Atoll Refuge and the nutrient-rich ocean waters some 1,000 miles to the North in an intense effort to gather food to feed its chick and acquire enough squid and flying fish eggs to sustain itself.

 Midway Atoll Refuge Manager Dan Clark said of this year’s hatching,"We are always excited and guardedly optimistic that this chick will grow strong and healthy enough to fledge like the two previous chicks hatched on the refuge.  Like chicks in any albatross colony, the young bird will depend on both parents for its growth and survival. Unfortunately, an ever increasing amount of floating plastic debris is intermixed with albatross food sources in the ocean. When the debris is inadvertently swallowed by the adults and later fed to chicks, it can seriously compromise their well-being,” Clark said.  “However, this couple has raised two short-tailed albatross chicks that have survived to the fledging stage so we know this chick has attentive and experienced parents.”  Along with the hazards of plastic and other human caused impacts they face the risk of death so each successful fledging is cause to celebrate.”

 “The nest site is continuously monitored by refuge staff via a remote camera controlled on nearby Sand Island,” noted refuge visitor services manager, Ann Bell.   “For the first time we will be able to post on-line video clips of the parents caring for the chick.”

 This is only the third hatching in recorded history of a short-tailed albatross any place other than two small islands near Japan. The 27 year-old male and 11 year-old female first met six years ago near their current nest site. 

In 2011, the five-month old chick received a permanent metal band on its right leg and a red-and-white one coded AA00 on its left.  When the bird fledges, the bands will help biologists track this extremely rare and endangered seabird to learn where it will one day go to nest. Most albatross return to the island where they were hatched. Photo credit: Pete Leary/USFWS

Newly banded five month old chick in 2011. Photo credit: Pete Leary/USFWS

This pair raised their first chick in 2011 which amazed the scientific community by successfully fledging despite large storm waves in January and the March 2011 Japanese tsunami that washed the young bird from its nest site twice before it was able to fly.   

Once the most abundant albatross species in the North Pacific, short-tailed albatross were hunted for feathers and by 1949 were thought to be extinct. A few birds were seen nesting on the Japanese Island of Torishima in the early 1950s and protection soon followed. Primarily due to international treaties and the work of Japanese researchers, the short-tailed albatross population is on the road to recovery at over 2,200 now in existence nesting on three Pacific islands.  

 Upon visiting Midway Atoll Refuge’s remote nest site a few years ago, famed Oceanographer, Dr. Sylvia Earle described the abundance of recovered endangered species and habitats by referring to the refuge as having “hope spots” and being a “model for the world.”  This particular hope spot now provides encouragement for the continued recovery of this endangered species and brings increased hope for other species, including ourselves.  By this summer, the chick at the refuge will hopefully grow strong and skilled enough to leave the island, bringing increased hope for the species and the health of our oceans.

More photos and videos of the brand new chick. 

Learn about the short-tailed albatross love story at Midway Atoll NWR.

Download now! Our latest edition of the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management is now online! From sage-grouse to coyotes and bats, this peer-reviewed, scientific journal contains current research and papers on a variety of wildlife species and habitat concerns: http://bit.ly/1fj40pRPhoto: A male greater sage-grouse struts to attract females. (Jeannie Stafford/USFWS)

Download now! Our latest edition of the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management is now online! From sage-grouse to coyotes and bats, this peer-reviewed, scientific journal contains current research and papers on a variety of wildlife species and habitat concerns: http://bit.ly/1fj40pR

Photo: A male greater sage-grouse struts to attract females. (Jeannie Stafford/USFWS)