News and Information from MassWildlife

Contents:
* Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund    
* Spring Creatures & Vernal Pools
Bat Mortalities in Massachusetts
* Waterfowl Survey Preliminary Results 
* Confirmed: Wolf Shot in Massachusetts  
* Preliminary Figures for 2008 Eagle Count    
* Directions to Public Ponds and Lakes    

MassWildlife, the state fish and wildlife agency, works to conserve and manage Massachusetts’ wildlife heritage by offering expertise and assistance, addressing issues involving wildlife and habitat, and making sure people understand and comply with laws designed to protect our populations of wild plants and animals.

 

Learn about wildlife in Massachusetts and what to do when problems arise.

 

MVMA URGES YOU TO SUPPORT ENDANGERED SPECIES FUND WHEN YOU FILE YOUR MA TAXES


Since 1983, Massachusetts tax filers have had the option of donating to MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund while filing their state income tax form (Line 32). All contributions go to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund, which currently is the source for a significant portion of the annual operating budget of the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

 

MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) was removed from the state's operating budget in 2004. Since then the NHESP has been funded by project-specific bond monies, fees, federal grants, and voluntary contributions. A major source of funding for the protection of rare and endangered species in Massachusetts comes from voluntary donations through state tax returns. Over 20,000 tax filers support the program each year. When you contribute to the fund, you help to protect and restore rare and endangered animals, plants, and their habitats. Past donations have helped conserve and restore in the Commonwealth populations of the Bald Eagle, Hessel's Hairstreak butterfly, the Redbelly Cooter, and the beautiful Eastern Silvery Aster.

Donations to the Fund may also be made year round by sending a check made out to Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund and sent to: MassWildlife Field HQ, NHESP, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westborough MA 01581. Check the Natural Heritage area of MassWildlife's website at http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/natural-heritage/ for more details on the program’s mission.

MVMA is pleased to support the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program as a means of protecting the wide range of native biological diversity. We urge your support as well.

 


 

Advisory on amphibian travel: VERNAL POOL SEASONAL NOTES AND PUBLICATIONS

When spring comes, the season for amphibian movements is upon us. Salamanders, spring peepers, wood frogs, and toads amble and hop across Bay State roadways on warm wet nights, heading to vernal pools and other wetlands to mate and lay their eggs. The height of spring amphibian activity comes during warm, rainy nights when spring peepers are heard calling. Thousands of frogs, salamanders, and toads move across roadways during these conditions and many amphibians are squashed by vehicles traveling after dark. Some local communities and conservation groups host salamander crossings where traffic is slowed to allow for safe progress of amphibians. Other local groups meet at known "Big Night" crossings or look for new road crossings to share this seasonal phenomenon with the public or to document the presence of nearby vernal pools. Consider doing your daily errands before dark or during dry evenings as a way to reduce amphibian traffic mortality.

A poster on vernal pools and the creatures that depend on them is available from MassWildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). "Vernal Pool Life: A Race Against Dryness" depicts the many animal species which depend on vernal pools. The poster serves as a wonderful educational aid. Support for the production and distribution of this poster has been provided by NHESP, Sweet Water Trust, the Vernal Pool Association, EnviroNet, and Tuft's Wright Center for Education. The poster is available for free when picked up at MassWildlife District offices and the Westborough Field Headquarters.

 

To find out much more about what vernal pools are, what they look like, and what is found in them in Massachusetts, order a Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools published by MassWildlife's Natural Heritage Program and the Vernal Pool Association. Beautiful photographs and descriptive text are combined to aid in the identification and study of amphibians, reptiles and many invertebrates. The Field Guide may be ordered by sending a $12 check made out to Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund and mailed to Vernal Pool Guide, MassWildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd, Westborough, MA 01581. Visit the MassWildlife website at www.mass.gov/masswildlife and click on the Natural Heritage button for other information about ways to certify and protect vernal pools. Another useful website with information on vernal pools, crossing signs, and additional educational materials can be found at the Vernal Pool Association website, www.vernalpool.org.

BAT MORTALITIES IN MASSACHUSETTS  (March 2008)

After receiving reports in February from Vermont and New York about large numbers of bats dying in caves, biologists from MassWildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated caves and mines in western Massachusetts where colonies of bats are known to spend the winter. Biologists observed bats flying around outside of the state’s larges mine when they should have all been inside hibernating, and found dead bats near the entrance of the hibernacula (winter quarters) which were collected for further study. Biologists confirmed that these bats, like the ones in Vermont and New York, were affected with white nose syndrome (WNS), a term used to describe some of the bats found at these sites that look like their faces were dipped in powdered sugar. This white material is a fungus that is growing on the faces of up to 10% of the bats at the affected sites.   Up to 97% of the bats at some affected sites in New York have died.

Bats with crusting white fungus were first found in New York bat hibernacula during the winter of 2006-2007. Mortality was high and aroused concern among the bat conservation community. By winter 2007-2008 the syndrome and associated mortality had spread to many of the largest New York hibernacula and to sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. New sites are still being reported.  Of the eight species of bats currently found in Massachusetts, it appears that the bat species most affected by WNS include widespread and common species such as Little Brown Bats, Eastern Pipistrelles and Northern Long-eared Bats as well as the rare, state listed Small-footed Bats. These bats hibernate in caves or mines. Big Brown Bats which commonly hibernate in buildings are not yet known to be affected.  The Red Bat, Hoary Bat and Silver-haired Bat are migratory and apparently not affected.

Bats at the affected sites have exhibited some unusual behaviors. These behaviors include clusters of bats roosting in the light zone close to cave or mine entrances; dead bats or bat remains found outside of caves in the snow; nearby citizens reporting bats flying during the day in very cold weather (15-20°F) and bats roosting on exterior house walls.  Flying bats have been observed falling to the ground or crash landing and several have been found roosting in woodpiles.  Midwinter necropsies of bats have found the mammals’ fat stores completely depleted, when they would normally last until the bats emerge in spring and begin to feed on flying insects.

Wildlife managers are concerned about the outbreak because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate during winter months.  If WNS is caused by an infectious agent, this behavior increases the potential that the disease will spread among hibernating bats.  In addition, hibernating bats disperse in spring and migrate, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to spend the summer.  Bats are important predators of mosquitoes and other insects. A study from Boston University estimates that 14 -15 tons of insects are consumed each summer by the 50,000 Big Brown Bats that live within the bounds of Route 128. “High bat mortality is a major concern because bats have a low reproductive rate,” says Dr. Thomas French, MassWildlife Assistant Director for Natural Heritage and Endangered Species. “Most bats raise one pup per year.  It will take decades for bat populations to rebound after a large die-off.”

Currently, scientists do not know what is causing bats to die in such great numbers. It is not clear if white nose syndrome is a cause or a symptom of bat mortality. Currently, there are 9 universities, 4 or 5 federal agencies, state wildlife agencies and health departments from 3 states, and a host of other volunteers, researchers, and cavers working together to gather data, understand this condition and to diagnose the cause.

The “Homeowners Guide to Bats”, a bat booklet, can be picked up at MassWildlife offices or downloaded from the MassWildlife website in the Publications area: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/dfw/wildlife/wildlife-facts-pubs/bat-guide.pdf.


 

 

MIDWINTER WATERFOWL SURVEY RESULTS  (March 2008)  

 

MassWildlife’s waterfowl biologist, H. Heusmann, reports that the annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey (MWS) on the Bay States coastal areas has been completed. This year the count is notable for the large number of eiders and scoters counted in Massachusetts. The state total was 83,461 eiders and 24,000 scoters, 82% and 355% above their 10 year average, respectively. Included in this total is information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reporting 14,000 eiders and 19,000 scoters around Martha’s Vineyard and 57,000 eiders and 1,300 scoters around Nantucket.

 

American black duck numbers at 19,271 were 5% above the 10 year average and the 5,133 mallards counted were a record high, but only 1% higher than last year’s count. Most mallards, however, overwinter on inland sites where people feed waterfowl and they are not found in great numbers on the MWS, a coastal oriented survey. More than 12,000 mallards were counted at such sites this year. Counts of most other ducks were slightly above or below their 10 year average. This was also true for Canada geese with 12,243 counted, but like mallards, many Canada geese, especially Massachusetts resident birds, winter on inland sites not surveyed by the coastal MWS.  Brant numbers, which winter strictly on the coast, were 59% above average with 2,916 counted.

 

The Boston area portion the survey was covered from the ground by the Boston based bird group, Take a Second Look, on January 6, while the remainder of the state’s coastline was covered with a float plane provided by the USFWS with the cooperation of MassWildlife personnel during the period January 21-25, 2008.

 


 

CANID SHOT IN SHELBURNE IS CONFIRMED TO BE A WOLF  (March 2008)

 

A large canid shot in Shelburne last October was an eastern gray wolf, according to Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Healy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region. According to Healy, the Service's National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, examined the wolf, conducting both genetic and morphological examinations. Forensic scientists compared the Shelburne canid’s DNA to DNA from wolves of known origin and concluded that the individual was an eastern gray wolf. Their structural comparison concluded that the animal was consistent with gray wolf and inconsistent with coyote, domestic dog and wolf-dog hybrids. "We have no indication that this wolf was ever held in captivity," Healy said. "But what we don't know about this wolf's origins far outweighs what we do know."

 

In mid-October, a Shelburne farmer notified Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife that a canid had killed and partially consumed lambs on his property. A MassWildlife biologist visited the farm and took photographs of the lambs and measured tracks found in the area. The following day, the canid was killed on the farmer's property. The MassWildlife biologist returned to the farm and, upon seeing an apparent wolf, took possession of the carcass. MassWildlife conducted a brief examination, determining that the animal was male, weighed 85 pounds, and the stomach contents included remains of lamb. A wolf researcher from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst also examined the carcass and concurred that it was most likely a wolf. Because wolves are a federally endangered species, MassWildlife contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and turned the carcass over to that agency.

 

The gray wolf was extirpated from Massachusetts by the mid-1800s. The closest known wolf population to Massachusetts is in the Canadian province of Ontario. Information about gray wolves may be found on the USFWS website at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/. Some researchers have proposed that the eastern wolf should be recognized as a separate species than the western gray wolf, but this proposed separation has not been officially accepted by the scientific community. For more information, contact Tom Healy, USFWS at 413/253-8329.

 


 

PRELIMINARY EAGLE COUNT FIGURES   

 

Despite an inclement weather postponement, a concentrated eagle count for the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey finally took place on January 16, 2008. The preliminary statewide reports from this effort by MassWildlife staff and volunteer observers resulted in 72 American Bald Eagles sighted. This event was part of a two week nationwide Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey conducted annually in January.

 

A tally of eagle sightings by area from the January 16th survey are as follows: 36 at Quabbin Reservoir (20 adults, 16 immature); 9 at Connecticut River ( 8 adults, 1 immature); 5 at Wachusett Reservoir (2 adults, 3 immature); 5 at Royalston; (3 adults, 2 immature); 1 at Nashua River, Groton (adult); 8 at Merrimack River (4 adults, 4 immature); 4 at Lakeville/Middleborough (3 adults, 1 immature); and 4 at Watuppa Ponds and Westport River area (3 adults, 1 immature).

 

Dr. Tom French, MassWildlife Assistant Director of Natural Heritage and Endangered Species, commented that the high number of juvenile birds seen is an indicator of healthy eagle reproduction. He also expressed gratitude to partners in the eagle project. “We appreciate National Grid’s continuing partnership and flexibility in providing a helicopter for surveying the Quabbin Reservoir and Connecticut River. We also want to acknowledge the efforts of the volunteers who were flexible enough to change their schedules and braved cold temperatures.”

Eagle restoration efforts have been funded over the years from a number of sources; major funding has come from the former Bank of Boston, and hunting and fishing license fees (Massachusetts’ Inland Fish & Game Fund), the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund, support from National Grid, federal aid from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

 


 

A NEW DIRECTION TO PONDS AND LAKES IN MASSACHUSETTS   

 

Looking for directions to public ponds and lakes for fishing or boating in Massachusetts? The MassWildlife website has a feature in the very popular Pond Maps area which “map” you to the boat ramp or access that you are seeking! Pond maps are organized by MassWildlife District and include a link to both the individual pond map and a Google map that provides a map to the boat ramp/access location. Users are reminded that the maps provided by MassWildlife are only of those ponds or lakes to which the public has a right of access. The bathymetric pond maps indicate water depths and a few other relevant features helpful to anglers and other boaters.  

 

Another useful website for locating boat access points on rivers, lakes, ponds and coastal areas, along with detailed information on access parking facilities, type of boating access, and the agency or municipality which manages the access can be found at the Office of Fishing and Boating Access website at http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/fba/ . A companion booklet, Public Access to the Waters of Massachusetts, is a full-color publication that includes 90 individual site maps and descriptions of more than 200 access points to state waterways. The 150-page guide also includes information about sportfishing piers, fishing in fresh and marine waters, boating law, rights of access, and information about boating and fishing programs in the Department of Fish and Game. Contact the Office of Fishing and Boating Access at 617/727-1843 or write to their office at 1440 Soldier's Field Rd., Boston, MA 02135.

 


 

 

AUTUMN SAFETY REMINDERS
Fall is a fantastic time to be outdoors with dazzling colors, crisp air and wildlife activity galore. Please note that MVMA as an organization does not advocate hunting or fishing, though we have some members who participate in these activities. We urge people involved in those pursuits to do so safely and to do help protect endangered plant and animal species. Whether your passion is hiking, hunting, fishing, birding or just taking in the scenery, a few common sense safety reminders will add to your enjoyment during a day afield.

 

  • Know your limits. Don’t take off on a long hike, hunt, or bike ride if you’re not physically ready.
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Watch the weather. New England weather is notorious for quick changes. Be ready with an extra layer of clothing, warm hat and gloves.
  • Expect the unexpected. No one expects problems while spending a day outdoors, but having a fanny pack with a few first aid items, matches, water, Swiss army knife, cell phone, map, compass, whistle, extra food and flashlight can help prevent small problems from becoming big ones.
  • Respect the water. Canoeists and kayakers are required to wear life jackets from September 15 to May 15 but all water enthusiasts, especially anglers who wade our larger rivers, would be wise to wear floatation devices now that water temperatures are low.
  • Share the outdoors. Mountain biking, horseback riding, wildlife watching, hunting and hiking are not mutually exclusive activities. Know the seasons and who is likely to be sharing the woods and waters with you. Wear blaze orange for visibility, keep dogs under control and respect others’ rights to enjoy our open spaces.
  • Finally, licensed sportsmen and women are reminded to take the basics of hunter safety to heart. Treat every firearm as it were loaded keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times. Positively identify your target and what’s beyond.

Outdoor activities are among the safest recreational pursuits available. By using a little common sense, they’ll stay that way.