Category Archives: North America (news)

Nature-related news from North America

Spring’s Top 10 Wildlife Spectacles in the USA (The Nature Conservancy)

“Looking for an excuse for a road trip, or maybe just an afternoon at a local park? Here are ten top must-see natural spectacles that you can catch each spring….”

Eddie adds:  The good news is that events in at least three of the ten categories (four, if you are a fly fisherman) happen here each year in the North East USA, so check out the suggestions in the above link, from The Nature Conservancy!

An Increase in Tick Bites and Lyme Disease in the UK

Walkers in Britain are being urged to take extra precautions against tick bites this summer because an epidemic of blood-sucking ticks is likely, following a mild, wet winter that gave them perfect breeding conditions.

The warning was delivered by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University, who says there’s no definitive data on how many ticks are in the country. Some areas have none. Others – usually woodland and heath areas – may have more than 100 per square metre. However, the general consensus among rural communities is they are on the increase, largely as a result of the warmer and wetter weather (good breeding conditions) and the growing number of wild deer (ticks like living on their skin).

Dog walkers are also being advised to check their pets thoroughly as well, because ticks spread other diseases too, not just Lyme Disease.

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease — the most serious bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks — has also increased, according to Dr Tim Brooks, head of the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. He says laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1,200 last year, although the actual number of cases is probably three times that. Awareness and testing of the disease has also gone up, so the figures have to be seen in that context, he adds.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.

Typical bulls-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Typical bull’s-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most common symptom is a pink or red circular “bull’s-eye” rash that develops around the area of the bite, but it doesn’t appear in everyone. Flu-like symptoms and fatigue are other noticeable signs of infection.

Eddie adds:

Before feeding on the blood of their victim, the ticks are extremely small and difficult to see.  What is grimly worse is the fact that they actually burrow into their host’s flesh and become very difficult to remove.  The best way to do so is with forceps, pulling gently, directly upwards but it is extremely imortant not to squeeze too hard and burst the tick as that may leave its mouthparts embedded and can add to the subsequent infection.

Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host's flesh (which is painless) and swell as  and they suck the blood.  You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons

Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host’s flesh (which is painless) and swell as and they suck the blood. You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons

The longer the tick is on its victim the larger it gets as it fills with the blood it is feeding on.  The illustration on the left shows the different life-stages.  (The American ‘dime’ coin that is used for scale is smaller than a British ‘penny’ and significantly smaller than a British ‘one pound’ coin.)

However, the good news — as established over many decades of this problem here in the USA — is that if the tick is removed within 36 hours of first attaching itself, the chance of a person getting Lyme Disease is somewhere between very low and zero, so the crucial task is checking oneself very carefully each day after being outdoors in relevant areas.

Get your partner or a family member to check your back, too, because even though some say the ticks only bite up to an adult person’s waist height, this is actually goverened by the height of the vegetation in the area.  Tall grass or brush raises the waiting insects higher and any resultant bites can therefore be higher on one’s body.  The back of one’s neck and shoulders should certainly be included if you’ve been through tall vegetation, and if you are wearing a short-sleeved top, check your armpits as well.

Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal's presence by the increase in carbod dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim.  At this stage, the ticks are minute.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal’s presence by the increase in carbon dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim. At this stage, the ticks are minute. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some people in the USA advocate wearing light-coloured clothing so you can see any ticks that are on the outside of such (where they are harmless) before they potentially find an opening and get inside.  Similarly, if you are in a bad area for ticks it is a good idea to tuck your trouser legs into your socks — another way to stop them getting in, even if it won’t win you any points in a fashion competition.

This is certainly a problem I take very seriously and the fact that I always wear insect-repellent shirts and trousers, from early spring until winter sets in properly, undoubtedly helps.

Are such garments available in Britain?  I don’t recall ever seeing them there.  If you are planning an outdoorsy vacation anywhere warm, I would certainly recommend you search for such clothing online as it also stops mosquitoes and other biting insects from spearing you through your shirt!

One good source is Ex Officio and the relevant page is: but there are several other sources that I know of so just do searches for ‘bug-repellent clothing’ and ‘insect-repellent clothing’.

 Eddie Wren






Salamanders — tiny predators doing good things for the planet!

My father-in-law Bob kindly saved an article from yesterday’s Buffalo News for me, under the heading of ‘Peewee predators’.  (Science Page [page H6], Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014).

It originated from the New York Times and focuses on recent research which rather surprisingly describes how useful salamanders are at helping to combat greenhouse gasses!  Who would have thought it!

Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]

Red-spotted Newt by J. Carmichael. [Wikimedia, Commons License]

By far the best write-up on salamanders that I have ever encountered is spread through what is — perhaps unsurprisingly — one of the very best natural history books I have ever read, namely The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, in Tennessee.

One small excerpt rather dramatically covers the ‘peewee predator’ aspect mentioned above, as follows: “Salamanders are the sharks of the leaf litter, cruising the waters and devouring smaller invertabrate animals.  Evolution has discarded Plethodon’s lungs to make its mouth a more effective snare.  By eliminating the windpipe and breathing through its skin, the slamander frees its maw to wrestle prey without pause for breath.”

Last but by no means least, I’m going to mention the Woods, Walks and Wildlife blog I came across, from Connecticut, which includes some really pleasing photographs of red-spotted newts and efts (the same species at different stages of life).  Check it out!


21 April, 2014

Dragonfly Conservation in the USA

If you are interested in conservation and have an interest in insects, in their own right, or odonates in particular (i.e. dragonflies and damselflies), you are likely to find this 1 hour 23 minute YouTube video to be very informative indeed.

The video is of a webinar developed for Natural Resource Conservation Biologists that covers dragonfly life history, ecological roles, conservation status, habitat needs, and their intersection with the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program.

A separate, very useful website for anyone interested in odonates is:

West Seneca Oxbow Wetland Restoration, WNY

As someone who is not exactly from Western New York originally — {:-) — I had no idea that there even were any old oxbow lakes in the area, let alone one on which restoration efforts had been made, but there is and its in West Seneca.

The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper [BNRK] website states that “West Seneca’s oxbow wetland on Buffalo Creek is just a few miles upstream from the industrialized Buffalo River, a Great Lakes ‘Area of Concern’. As one of only three major wetlands in the lower Buffalo River watershed, it is considered a source area for future habitat and species restoration in the AOC.  Planning studies over the past 40 years have recommended that the oxbow site be protected.”

According to the  ERIE [Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange] webpage, “the restoration of the  oxbow wetland began in 2008 as part of the Buffalo River Watershed and AOC  restoration effort.  The project was led by BNRK and funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“In Fall 2009, six ERIE trainees became involved  in the restoration project… [and] donated over  1000 hours in fieldwork and analysis of flora, fauna, soils and groundwater.  The trainees developed a habitat restoration  and management plan for the 14-acre parcel of the oxbow. The plan used an  adaptive management framework to control invasive plant species and reintroduce  native plants to the site based on historical and nearby reference  communities. ”

To see pictures of the Oxbow and ERIE trainees working on the project (courtesy of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper), click here.

IfI can establish that there is public access to this site, or get us permission to visit, then this seems like a good venue for one of our ‘Wildlife Watchers & Nature Photographers’ group walks.  I’ll let you know the outcome of this.

When Catching a World-Record Fish Ends in Heartbreak

On 8th February this year, retired navy captain Rob Scott, from Minnesota caught a 4-pound Lake Trout (actually a species of char, not a trout — Salvelinus namaycush) while hand-lining through ice on Lac la Croix, on the Minnesota/Ontario border.  Shortly afterwards, he was checked by an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officer who recorded the fact that Rob had kept his one permitted lake trout — the Ontario provincial limit.  Ironically, if the retired captain had been just a short distance away, on the same lake, he would have still been in Minnesota and would have been allowed to keep two lake trout, and — as you will see below — on this occasion this matters.

Retired navy captain Rob Scott and his 52-pound, world-record Lake Trout. February 2014

Retired navy captain Rob Scott and his 52-pound, world-record Lake Trout. February 2014

The problem came later that day when Rob hooked a second fish, which — at 52 pounds 3 ounces — was not only a new world record for lake trout but was a mind-boggling 77 percent larger than the previous, 18-year-old record of 29 pounds 6 ounces!

According to the book ‘Freshwater Gamefish of North America’, by Peter Thompson, the average weight of a lake trout is just 4-10 pounds, so at 52 pounds he probably thought he’d hooked a stray submarine!  In lake trout terms, it was a behemoth.

All went well until the same  Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officer who had checked the 4-pound fish saw a subsequent newspaper report about the enormous laker, and regrettably this started an official ball rolling.  As a result, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officer confiscated the record-breaking fish from a Duluth taxidermist, and it was then destined to be handed over to Ontario officials.

As a retired police officer myself, I am very aware that rules are rules, and all that sort of stuff, but I really would like to ask Ontario officials just what they think they have actually achieved on this occasion, other than perhaps leaving a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people.  Of course conservation is crucial, and the majority of fishehrmen I know and fish with would be the first to agree with that belief but in my own opinion, this time around, the Ontario people have scored a PR ‘own goal’ and have little, if anything, to actually be proud of.

Eddie Wren