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Friday, February 22, 2013

American Kestrel

We had WHEP practice earlier this week.  I got sidetracked with some family business but I wanted to make sure to get this information for those who are trying to practice and remember what we covered.

We talked about the American Kestrel as our focal species.  Straight from our manual we learned:

General information 
American kestrels are found year-round throughout the U.S. Kestrels use Stages 2 and 3 for feeding, and Stages 4, 5 and 6 for roosting and nesting. Kestrels use both natural and arti¬ficial cavities for nesting. They eat small mam¬mals, other birds and insects.

Habitat requirements
Diet: primarily insects and small mammals as¬sociated with open areas
Water: obtain necessary water from diet and do not need water for drinking
Cover: nest in tree cavities and other sites in¬cluding holes in cliffs, canyon walls and arti¬ficial nest boxes

Wildlife management practices
Establish Field Buffers: to increase cover for prey around row crop fields

Establish Native Grasses and Forbs: where necessary to provide increased early suc¬cessional habitat for prey; Stages 2 and 3 should be interspersed with Stages 5 and 6

Forest Management Techniques: forest regen¬eration will provide open areas for hunting for a couple of years

Manage disturbance: prescribed fire, chaining and herbicide applications are recommend¬ed to maintain Stage 4 and stimulate Stages 2 and 3; grazing management should leave enough herbaceous canopy to support in¬sects and small rodents; grazing manage¬ment should maintain trees in riparian areas

Nesting Structures: where adequate nesting cavities are lacking; boxes can be placed on fence posts in open areas

Plant Shrubs: in large open areas on idle lands for cover for hunting prey

Plant Trees: for future perching sites and cavi¬ties for nesting

Create Snags: for perches, nest cavities and a food source (insects)

Tillage Management: will facilitate hunting prey when waste grain is available

Then we went outside and talked about vertical structure (understory, midstory , and overstory/canopy), arrangement & interspersion, and edge.  I used the 4Hers to show the different levels of the vertical structure.  I think they enjoyed the interacting.  Hopefully, we will be able to do this more as we go to different parks with more area.  We also hope to have the back area of the museum again soon.  We were able to discuss the edge of the plant succession (hard edge and soft edge) during this time using the museum property as well.

We ended with the group analyzing the use of the museum grounds for American Kestrel.  This was pretty far-fetched but it was a good scenario for them to see the difference between the aerial map features and actual land conditions.

This is the scenario created for the museum grounds:

Wooded park and museum on the outskirts of a small city is looking to encourage the sightings of American Kestrel on their property.  There have been sightings of this species on other properties near the museum, but not in the park area.

The director of the property has discussed the future plans to remove sections of the wooded area behind the museum.  There is an open field on the adjacent property.   There is also a seasonal creek on the outer edge of the property.

There were a lot of great ideas to incorporate the American Kestrel on to this property.  I gave the group the homework of placing this information on a map of the property.  I am looking forward to seeing what they remember from the lesson.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Story Boarding

In my desire to stay off the computer for the next few weeks, I almost forgot to mention a fun learning experience our Photography project had this week.  We all met at the local library to talk about story boarding.  We had a small group of seven and we talked about how sometimes a story could not be told in 1000 words as the saying goes...there might be a need for a few more pictures to give a more accurate account of the event or subject.

This is what we learned:

A storyboard is a visual representation of a story from beginning to end. Storyboards are used in television, film and video as a panel-by-panel blueprint for the final product. Photography storyboards act as unique representations of an event, person or place. When you make a photo storyboard, you panel several different pictures to bring together a unified theme. With photography software, you can make professional photo storyboards, print them to size, frame and hang them on your walls.
Before creating your photo storyboard you must first decided on the size. If this is just for web and blog only then the size really does not matter, however if your purpose is to have this printed then you will need to take into considerations what printing sizes are available to you through you local photo print lab.

Things needed:
Photoshop (elements or any of the CS series)…not necessary but helpful…there are free programs such as gimp that can do this also.

Hi-resolution photos (any quantity, but photos should be around 300dpi)

When collecting photos to use in a storyboard you want to be sure that they all relate to each other, or there is a common theme in which you can connect each one together (i.e. birthday, bath time, Easter, summer vacation, etc.)

Here are several websites....some have information about formatting and others are given just to look at examples.   Pay close attention to the flicker site for great examples...especially notice the rugby photo...a new way of creating a storyboard is to blend several photos into one.

After the information was given to the group, they were asked to find a story to tell within the library.  I thought that was pretty clever but I am not sure if anyone got the pun....oh I now know I am glad I did not choose the path of a comedian!  The 4Hers came back with several interesting ideas.  Their homework was to take the photos collected and create a story board to show the group next month.  It should be fun to see what they design!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

American Robin Review

We spent our WHEP meeting reviewing the American Robin for the contest.  After being at the WHEP practice over the weekend, I think we will have a similar format each time we meet.  The idea is to focus on one type of animal each time along with the habitat requirements, management techniques and a scenario that relates to that focal species.

Today that meant learning about the American Robin.  I picked this animal because most of us are familiar with it.  We can all spot a robin with little trouble.  Also, the needs for a robin are straight forward.  We also talked about plant succession...moving through the six stages-bare ground to mature forest.

I think looking at a species plan for one animal at a time is helpful practice that will prepare us for the contest.  We went over the plan together, but everyone was given a little "homework" to create a plan given the scenario.  These will be brought to the meeting next week to be discussed.

This is what we learned today (straight out of our WHEP manual):

General information
American robins use a wide assortment of vegetation types, from mowed grassy areas to forested areas. In urban areas, robins use large open areas and nearby trees and shrubs. Parks, golf courses and lawns in residential areas are attractive to robins. They are found throughout North America, though they may migrate out of northern latitudes during winters with sustained cold and snow. Robins build a nest of grass and mud on a tree or shrub limb, but will occasionally nest on building ledges. Robins spend considerable time on the ground feeding on earthworms,  but also will perch on branches to eat berries, fruit and insects.

Habitat requirements
Diet: insects and worms in warm seasons; soft mast from shrubs and trees in winter; seldom use artificial feeders

Water: require water daily in warm seasons; obtain water from low-lying areas, ponds, even yard irrigation and rain-filled gutters

Cover: shrubs, evergreen trees, and deciduous trees used for nesting and escape; evergreen trees often used for early nests

Wildlife management practices
Manage disturbance: prescribed fire, disking, grazing and mowing can be used to set back succession and improve structure for robins

Mowing: can be used to maintain suitable structure for robins in urban areas (really a part of the techniques above!)

Plant Shrubs: for soft mast; examples might include dogwoods, hollies, golden currant and winter berry 

Plant Trees: both deciduous and evergreen; where nesting sites may be limiting

Water Developments for Wildlife: birdbaths and pans of water can be provided in urban ar­eas; do not place water in areas where cats can catch the birds; cats should be removed

This was the scenario we used:

City Park Scenario
The park manager would like to increase the habitat for the American Robin at the city park.  During recent bird watching events, the numbers have been down from previous years.    The area represented on the map is accurate for current park conditions; however, there are benches not represented along the walking path.  All reasonable solutions are acceptable and cost is not a limiting factor.

Great time for all.  Looking forward to many meetings with this group!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

WHEP Practice Contest

We all met together to head to the WHEP practice contest.  We took a good group of participation (Michelle, Sean, Henry, Edward, Brenda, Brianna, Renee, Caitlin, Naomi, Trevor, Trent, Becca, Christie, and Katy).  We began with introductions, which included our park ranger host and the local county extension agent.  Then the contest began...

We were all given a habitat management requirements chart for the four focal species (wild turkey, black bear, northern bobwhite, and mourning dove).  We were told that the chart would be given to us marked with the correct techniques, and we were to circle the correct ones that matched the scenario.  We were also given the conditions for the park about these focal species.  In general, we were told that hunting was not allowed on the park grounds and food plots were not promoted for wildlife in their natural habitat.  We then began our walk around the property.  We stopped along the way to go over the key areas of the property.

Our first stop was at a plot that was mostly covered in yaupon with a few mature trees and a seasonal creek (not acceptable for consistent wildlife use).  We were asked to evaluate the property for wild turkey and black bear.  We were only told that Wild Turkey were scarce and biologists had made call and sight counts in the fall.  Also, also the park was interested in managing the habitat to bring in more for viewing.  The Black Bear had not been seen in several years.

Larry did a great job of allowing us the opportunity to evaluate the land before he presented the "correct" answers.  In this case, the only need for the land was to manage disturbance (e.g. prescribed burn to remove the yaupon and other shrubs...disking and chaining would not have been appropriate because the trees needed to remain) and create water development for wildlife to provide water for the turkeys.  Manage disturbances relates to maintaining a habitat and plant succession at a certain stage of plant succession to provide the habitat for wildlife.  Even if the land is currently at the appropriate level, the need for manging disturbances might be needed to continue a specific need for focal species. We learned that the use of "Forest Management Techniques" was only for areas that need to remove timber (usually for value/profit) in forest area and this would be hinted at directly in a scenario.  Another way of looking at this use is to decide if the loss of habitat was worth harvesting trees OR was the land owner's desire for the tree value more important and the habitat benefit be a bonus to this desire.

Then we answered some questions about the focal species that would be used for the Junior division.  We were told that when answering the Junior questions, we did not need to worry about field conditions for this portion of the contest.  Two of the questions asked about a situation when wildlife was causing trouble on the property.  We learned that when a species is harming human assets (this might include domesticated animals or livestock harmed) the way to mange the species is to have wildlife damage management.  However, when wildlife are hurting other wildlife, the management technique should be to increase harvest (hunting or trapping).

We continued through the trail to the area designated for the Northern Bobwhite.  This area appeared to be suited for this species, but we would quickly learn differently.  We needed to have a wildlife survey performed and manage disturbances (e.g. burn to create larger area).  Also, we leaned that we would NOT use "tillage management" because this practice is used for crop land and not appropriate for a wooded area inside a park.  Larry told us about a publication that explained more about quail habitat that we should try to read..."Maintaining Quail Habitat".  We will try to find this in the near future.

Once again, we answered some questions formatted for Juniors over the same habitat and then moved on to our last scenario.  This time we learned that management for migratory birds (e.g. mourning dove) is difficult because we have no control over their habitat.

We looked out at a field with very tall, dry forbs and we were asked to evaluate the situation for Mourning Dove.  We needed to perform a wildlife survey, and then follow this with managing for disturbance (e.g. mow paths or strips to create open areas with easily accessible cover).  There was also a need for water development for wildlife, since there was no access to water.

By this time everyone was tired from the morning session and hungry!  We made our way back to the picnic tables where we were given a nice BBQ lunch.  We enjoyed the company of all the groups and the younger 4Hers had a playground to enjoy.  The weather had been cold in the morning but had warmed to a comfortable temperature.  It was cloudy but we were all hoping any rain would hold off until after the training.

Larry gave us an introduction to the next portion of the contest.  He assured the 4Hers and adult volunteers that the Wildlife Plan, along with the oral presentation, was a simple process of gathering the needed information and presenting in an orderly fashion.  He would go to great effort to keep this portion of the contest relaxed and enjoyable.  He wants the 4Hers to come into this portion of the contest with the idea that it is a learning process as well as a way to see what they have learned.  Each level of experience (Junior, Intermediate, and Senior) are given a portion of the plan format to use during the contest.  This template to gather information should help to remind the participants of the needs of the plan that should be followed.  Every plan will have the following details:

Plan Background (Focal Species to be managed and Management Objectives of the landowner)-This will come directly from the scenario and should be easily identified.

Plan Development (Habitat Requirements of focal species and Evaluation of habitat)-The first part of this development should come straight from the habitat needs found in our WHEP manual for food, cover, and water.  The evaluation is what we observe in the scenario and in the actual physical observation of the habitat.  This will include what is present in the habitat for each species and what is lacking.

Plan Implementation-This is when the management practices are given for the habitat at its current state to reach the objectives.  his should include how, when, where and the effects (on the habitat and on the species) for each management technique implemented.

Plan Evaluation-This is where we look at how to determine if the plan worked.

Plan Sketch-A drawing of the land that is being managed should be as accurate as possible and include the management techniques used.

So, then we went out to practice what we had learned.  We were told our main objective was to evaluate the pond area of the park for implementing a habitat for Largemouth Bass.  We were told that the population was unknown but some were caught regularly.  A water test revealed that the oxygen, Ph, and temperature of the pond water was adequate for the needs of the fish.  The park had a desire to improve this species to allow for more fishing.  We were then sent out in our groups to observe the habitat.

We had such a large group we decided to split into two sections.  We each went the opposite way around the "mile" path that circled the pond.  We observed the water level, clearness of the water, and plants as we made our way around.  About half way, the drizzle began and increased until it was a nice rain by the time we made it back to the picnic area (thankfully that was a covered area).  No one seemed to mind the wet too much and we were able to gather information that we thought would be helpful to create a habitat management plan.  We would later find out that we do not know much about managing ponds...but Larry was a great instructor and helped us along the way.

We learned that we should begin with a survey of the population.  Also, the water was actually too clear for the fish population and a fertilizer was needed to promote phyoplankton.  This would provide more food and vegetation growth.  There was also a need to maintain the spillway because we should have observed that the lake edge had several small cave ins and holes that needed repair.  There was also a need for a water control structure because there was not a siphon drain present to lower the water supply.  This is helpful to expand the management options for the pond to make it easier to mange the species.

Then to evaluate the plan implemented there should be a fish survey using fishing records throughout the year.  Then a simple observation of vegetation growth can be used to evaluate the success of the fertilizer.

This review of our plans was a big help in understanding the contest.  We followed this with the wildlife ID and general wildlife knowledge questions.

Then Larry gave us some valuable resources (publications of various animals).

We learned a lot and we are looking forward to updating what we learned with all the information from the other participants.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

4H Meetings

Our WHEP meeting did not last very long because I got stuck behind all the slow drivers coming back from Austin.  I was thankful for Lynda being well enough to present some of the wildlife habitat management skills to the group.

By the time I arrived with the boys, she was finishing up her presentation.  I was able to talk a little about the practice contest coming over the weekend.  Then Amanda asked if anyone would like to see how to feed a snake (her new red-tailed boa had not been fed in over a week).  Every one agreed that it would be an interesting experience and the the moms agreed that it would be OK...I am sure only out of curiosity but with leery approval.  It went well and Amanda did a good job of being professional...keeping everyone away as she went through the process.  I do not think I would let her do it again but it was good for the 4Hers to see the feeding.

Then we were off to set up for the monthly club meeting.  We had plenty of time and ended up sitting around for several minutes before meeting started.  Amanda was asked not to bring her snake out during the meeting.  However, she was allowed to keep it inside because it was getting cold outside.

The club meeting went well.  We only had a few announcements and it was over within an hour.  After the pledges, Katy started us out with a poem entitled "Truths for Living" by William Arthur Ward.  This went very well with our guest speaker for the evening.  We enjoyed Al from the local radio station coming to speak to us about charity and community service.

After our normal project reports, Ms. Brenda spoke to the group about the youth fair belt buckle sponsorship, and we decided as a club to not sponsor a belt buckle this year.  We would reconsider for next year.  Also, the boys (Edward, Henry, and Sean) stood up and told two things each one enjoyed about 4H Capitol Day.  It was amazing how our boys who can be so loud were so quiet when they spoke to the group.  But all went well and we hope others will join us next time.

The meeting adjourned and then I had a brief meeting with the adult 4H volunteers about the Child Protective training that we should try to view on 4H Connect.  The idea is to have as many of our active adlt members trained by the end of the month.  This program is designed to protect our children from child abuse.  I hope to see our county in full compliance soon.

So glad we were able to make it back in time for the meeting.

I also learned the 4Hers who placed at the Food Show Extravaganza over the weekend.  Here is the list of winners from our county:

Food Show

1 Taylor Castillo

4 Barrett Duncan

Fruits and Vegetables
3 Holden Boulware

7 Victoria Guy

6 Brennan Duncan

6 Rebecca Stringer

1 Rozalinn Runnels

5 Adriana Guy

1 Corrine Caraway

Healthy Holidays Poster Contest
2 Barrett Duncan

3 Brennan Duncan

Food Challenge
3 Angelina County
Adriana Guy
Victoria Guy
Brianna Puntch
Rebecca Stringer
James Terry

1 Angelina County Emily LaRoe
Brooke LaRoe
Erin LaRoe
Laura Long

Congrats to all who worked so hard!

4H Capitol Day

Wednesday, Michael went with the three older boys (Sean, Henry, and Edward) to the State Capitol for 4H Day.  Here is there account of the event:

After fighting traffic on IH-35, and eventually just driving through part of the city to escape said traffic, we made it and found a parking place.

After checking in, we donned our new shirts and headed up to the rotunda for a group photo.  People must have thought we were in charge, because they kept coming up to us to ask where to check-in.  After the photo, we had time to go up to the 4th floor and check out all the portraits of the various governors and presidents of Texas, which was quite interesting.  Then we made our way to our assigned spots in the House of Representatives.

For us Aggies, there was a special treat.  Johnny "Football" Manziel, the freshman quarterback of Texas A&M was being honored for his outstanding season and being the first freshman to ever be awarded the Heisman Trophy.  Even the t.u. fans in the House wore Aggie Maroon that day.

Afterwards, the House introduced a resolution honoring all the 4H members in attendance before returning to regular business.  This ended about an hour earlier than our schedule showed, so we had time for a long lunch, followed by a walking tour of the Capitol grounds.  Here we found a hidden treasure, the Capitol Visitor center, formerly the General Land Office of Texas.  There were several neat exhibits in there, especially dealing with the renovation and restoration of both the Capitol as well as the Governor's Mansion, which had been damaged by arson in 2008.  The famous short story author O. Henry had worked there as a clerk, and we discovered that several of his stories had been set in that very building.

After lunch, we went headed back downstairs to meet with our State Representatives and State Senators.  We were early, and so we found a group of Jaycee's that had come to the capitol about the annual Rattlesnake Roundup.  They had brought several rattlers in, and the boys had a chance to see them up close and touch their tails.

Then it was time to meet our reps.  Unbeknownst to the boys and I, the meeting times and locations had been changed, but we did make it to all the meetings, and were able to participate in discussions and pose for photographs with our elected officials.

It was a good experience and we look forward to doing it again in two years.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shooting Tryouts

While Michael was away at his Hunter's training, the boys were trying out for the shooting sports team. This is the first of four days at the range.  The boys were a little confused with the set up, but hopefully Michael can work with them during the week.

Sean was the most confused....he did not understand that he was to shoot in all three shooting positions (standing, kneeling, and prone).  He set up his target for the prone position for all three targets and shot this way.  He often stopped to watch the others...knowing something was not right but not saying anything.  I tried to talk to the coach about the situation but told me not to cause him any distress.  I am not sure what that means since he was going to be in distress when he found out he did not shoot correctly.  Oh is just for fun this year and he was enjoying this for the most part.

Henry did follow the directions but was stressed since he was never taught to shoot standing or kneeling.  His form looked good to me but he says he missed most of his shots.  We will just have to wait and see.

Edward, being a junior, was allowed to remain in prone position.  He was happy to shoot as he had in the past.  He will probably have the best shot (no pun intended!) at learning the set up.  Even if it does not help him this year, maybe he can learn for the future.

I am still a little confused on how the boys are to learn how to shoot the gun and sighting through the scope.  I hope they are eventually taught to do this properly and not just make their own attempts.  We will see how it goes!

Michael did purchase a air rifle for practicing at home.  The boys were so excited to have this opportunity to work with him.  I am hoping they can go out throughout the next few days to get a better understanding of positioning and using the sight.

They will gain from any experience they are given.  I hope they are not too discouraged by their first year and will want to try again next year.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wildlife and Hunter Education Certification

Michael spent a fun weekend in training that will help several 4H projects.  This blog post will tell his experience:

Interesting day today, started off with introductions in the classroom.  We were given two publications that are used in Hunter Education throughout much of the country.  The Hunter's Guide by the NRA and Today's Hunter, by Texas Parks and Wildlife.  (Larry said that many states have adopted the Today's Hunter for use in their states.)  We were also introduced to many of the resources that Hunter Safety educators can order for their classes.

Since both the Hunter Certification class and the 4H Wildlife and Hunting projects include a live fire activity we were also given some guidelines for running a range.  This is almost old hat to me, as I have been to many ranges over the last two decades in the army.  There is a big difference in vocabulary, however. In the Army a firearm is a weapon, but in 4H it is a gun.

After wrapping up our morning in the classroom, we drove out to a nearby ranch.  We were treated to a meal of "carne asada" (grilled beef) and tortillas.  We then drove out to a pasture where we were introduced to black powder muzzle-loading rifles.  This was  a new experience for me, but many of the same safety rules apply.  Loading a black powder weapon is complex, but not difficult, as long as you remember: "Powder, Patch and Ball/Without these/It won't work at all."  This helps you to remember the proper loading steps.  Though we did not demonstrate what happens if you don't do this properly, some people did share personal experiences.

After we all fired one round, we went on a Hunting Skills trail.  Denise (our Hunter Certification Instructor) had three dummy weapons, so we took turns as the hunters explaining how we would deal with common hunting scenarios.  We had to shoot a (simulated) deer and follow its blood trail after it ran off.  We found some turkeys and got a demonstration of the effectiveness of camouflage, demonstrated by a mannequin hidden beyond the turkeys.  This led to a discussion about ethical and safe behavior in hunting.  Since the other hunter was hidden, it would have been incumbent upon him to make his presence known to the walking hunters.  We also discussed proper use for game animals, and why some animals are hunted, even if they are not commonly eaten (such as the collared peccary).  Invasive or destructive species may be hunted, if the property owner deems them to be so. Of course, protected species are still protected.

We also had scenarios on bird hunting, covering zones of fire and safe positioning of hunters, as well as a mule deer/white-tail hybrid that was sky-lined.  (Never shoot a sky-lined target, as there is no backstop for the bullet.  However, if you do (legally, safely, and ethically) shoot a hybrid, you must tag it as a mule deer if it shows at least one mule deer characteristic.

The last field activity today was archery.  We discussed specifics of archery and bow-hunting, and some of us were introduced to 3-D target shooting (life-sized foam targets) at various ranges.  I remembered more of my old college archery classes than I thought I did!  On my team was one of the Texas State 4H Archery team members.  It was a very interesting experience.

We headed back to the main building for dinner (BBQ) and found a 20 question Wildlife ID course set up for us.  I have picked up a lot more from Michelle and the boys than I realized.  Though I only got 12/20 correct, the ones I missed are not ones that are usually taught in WHEP or Wildlife.  We also received four pamphlets that cover certain animals for Animal ID.  Though they are small, they are pretty detailed.  I think that they will be very useful for both W&H and WHEP.  They are Illustrated Guides to: Ducks, Geese and Swans; Small Game and Furbearers; Big Game Animals; and Upland Game Birds.

We finished up the night with campfire discussions about hunter ethics and motivations, 4H programs, and complementary non-4H programs.   I did not get to participate fully in these, as by this time my allergies were going haywire.  However, we did get a lot of good information, and I can't wait to get back tomorrow for shotguns and our Hunter Safety exams.

Day two:

This morning we headed back out to the ranch.  Our first activity was a test for those of us that had not previously received our basic Texas Hunter Safety Certification.  I did alright, missing one question because I did not read it correctly.  Oh well.

Then we moved out to the ranch's skeet range to practice shotguns.  It was very interesting.  I had shot on a moving target range, ages ago, in Infantry School, but that is nowhere near the same thing.  While I did not break the clay pigeon, I did get a piece of it.

After that, we headed back to the main building for a talk on topographic maps, compasses and orienteering.  Our practical exercise was a nifty test of pace count and compass handling, and everyone did fairly well, though it did demonstrate how a little error can produce big discrepancies.

Then we got a bunch of goodies from the 4H folks.  Including targets, posters, pamphlets and more...I think I will keep the last little bit as my surprise for the youth that decide to join Wildlife and Hunting.

Then it was back to the 4H office for a last discussion about resources and our certificates.

This looks like it will be a fascinating project to get off the ground.