Babysitting a Beaver

November 15, 2011
A beaver is rescued by the Park Superintendent.

A beaver is rescued by the Park Superintendent.

Only a few short years ago a few friends and a coworker of mine had an unusual experience while kayaking the flooded woods of Moro Bay State Park.  It was spring time and the river rose to the point where it closed the park.  This happens every couple of years at Moro Bay State Park so our facilities are built to withstand high water.  It doesn’t rise fast like it does in the hills of northern Arkansas.  Instead it climbs only about a foot per day or two feet per day in severe cases.   Once the river exceeds 85 ft above sea level the only way to explore the park is by boat or kayak.  I prefer kayak because negotiating the current in the woods is more exiting with a paddle and the quietness of a kayak affords a paddler some excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.  Such was the case on this cool spring evening in April of 2008.  It was almost sunset when a critter was spotted in the slough near the campground.  At first glimpse we could only see the ripples behind a dark object as it moved across the top of the water.  When Mark Myers (the former Park Superintendent) moved closer to investigate, it was clear that this was no scary alligator or dangerous serpent.  Instead it was a baby beaver (beaver kit) and the mother was nowhere in sight.  The beaver swam and played amongst the group of us for a few minutes.  Then Mark held his paddle out by the beaver kit and to our surprise, it climbed up on it as if it were a diving board.  The beaver jumped off the paddle and climb back on it several times in a playful manor.  The beaver kit was curious.  It didn’t run like most wild animals.  It had not yet learned to fear humans.

The writer (current Park Superintendent) with the beaver.

The writer (current Park Superintendent) with the beaver.

We laughed and smiled in amazement of this unique experience.  However, we soon began to wonder where the mother was.  The area this beaver was found in was very close to the park and only about 100 yards from the visitor center through the flooded woods.  It was not an area beavers had been sighted in before, even during flood conditions.  Our best guess was that the high water and current had separated this beaver from its mother.   It is our nature to want to protect babies of all species but the last thing we would want to do is take it from the care of its mother if she would return.  Many times people bring baby deer to the park that are often more kidnapped than rescued.  What people don’t realize is that the mother of the deer fawn is usually nearby and will return as soon as they leave.  The same is true with most mammals.  The rule I use is, leave the baby alone unless you visibly confirm the mother has died or the location of the baby is dangerous for it.  My experience with trying to raise wild baby animals is that they often don’t survive without their mothers regardless of how well you try to take care of them.  Our decision in this case was a compromise.  We had the opportunity to look over the baby and only move it a short distance from the location we found it in.  We brought it with us to the back of the visitor center.  The beaver rode on my lap in the kayak and I made no effort to keep it from escaping.

Pre-release

Pre-release

Our plan was to keep the beaver close and release it if the mother was seen or if the beaver chose not to stay.  We supplied it with food and a make shift hut made of limbs and a dog kennel.   Every few hours I let it out to swim and play on its own.  Each time the beaver returned to the kennel.  However, the following afternoon I let the beaver out to swim and it ventured a little further than usual.  I watched as it swam back to the slough where we had found it.  I didn’t try to capture it. Instead I simply said, farewell.  I left the kennel where it could return but we never observed it again.  However, a few weeks later the water receded and a lady came by the visitor center.  She was a local from just down the river and began to tell me a story about a curious baby beaver she had recently seen by her dock.  I smiled as I told her about our experience just a few weeks prior.

Reflecting on the experience now I am thankful to work at a park that provides visitors the opportunity to have experiences like this one.  Arkansas has many excellent parks like Moro Bay where visitors can rent a kayak or canoe and set out on an expedition with a Park Interpreter.   They can also set out on their own and enjoy the solitude of nature like I have many times canoeing in Moro Creek.  Sometimes, a person sees a bald eagle, wild hogs, or a white tailed deer.  Most times a person sees fish flouncing and a couple of Great Blue Herons coupled with a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  However, every time a person sets out they can experience the majestic cypress trees, a beautiful river, and the excitement of not knowing what critter will be just around the next bend.  It is my hope that the readers of this blog will realize the value of their Arkansas State Parks.  As our population increases and our natural resources are continuously transformed into subdivisions and parking lots, experiences like these are becoming increasingly rare.   Your Arkansas State Parks are set aside, protected, and determined in their mission to provide you with outdoor experiences that can enhance the quality of your life.  We are not only concerned with this generation but also the ones to come.

Canoeing Moro Creek.

Canoeing Moro Creek.

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler, Park Superintendent

Paul Butler grew up in the Suburbs of Little Rock.  In 1999 he went to college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello to play baseball.  He worked for the fisheries department of The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for three years in college performing fish sampling and other duties as assigned.  In May of 2005 he received a degree in Wildlife Management and began his Career with Arkansas State Parks that same month as a seasonal Interpreter at Cane Creek State Park.  In August of 2005 he was hired as the full time Interpreter for Moro Bay State Park.  In July of 2009 Paul became Superintendent of Moro Bay State Park.

 


Getting Your Feet Wet

October 6, 2011
Park Guests take part in a seining program.

Park Guests take part in a seining program.

The best way to learn is to get your feet wet, or at least that is how I feel when I give this program. These park guests are taking part in my creek seining program. It was developed to help monitor the aquatic life found in Lee Creek, but it turned into so much more.  As they were scooping up fish this little girl got her first look at a dragonfly larvae, she had no idea that these winged insects start their lives in the water. As we moved farther down the creek they continued to collect all sorts of things; minnows, darters, crayfish, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, and even a snake. They couldn’t believe the amount of life that lives in this small creek. It was a great experience for all them to understand that this creek plays so many roles in the park, including home to many creatures.

This is why I enjoy resource management programs in the park. It gives everyone an opportunity to go behind the scenes, and become a citizen scientist. They get to see things differently, they get to hold the resources in their hand and get a better understanding of the park itself. This also helps us accomplish part of our mission “To safeguard the natural, historical and cultural resources.” To do this we keep a natural resource inventory in the park to monitor these resources. This can be a pretty daunting task, so having help is a great benefit.

Getting up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians.

Getting up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians.

Another program that involves collecting data is our bird hike. It is so much more enjoyable to see birds through binoculars than squinting to make out its colors and features. It is also fun to just sit back and listen, but regardless of how we are identifying them we are adding to our inventory so that we can continue to protect and admire these creatures. This monitoring was very important last year in the addition of Spotted Towhee, Lark Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow to our park list.

I also like to present programs that give an opportunity to explore and observe on your own, such as a reptile and amphibian program that showcase some of our native animals. This gives everyone the tools to identify what they find so they can report it back to us at the park. By gathering observations we can have eyes all over the park and cover more ground.

There are many opportunities to become a citizen scientist no matter where you live or what park you visit, so we encourage you to get out and start exploring. Help us by telling what plants you found or what animals you saw. By helping us you can be sure that our great parks will be around forever.

Adam Leslie, Park Interpreter

Adam Leslie, Park Interpreter

Adam Leslie is a Park Interpreter at Devil’s Den State Park. He has been there since September of 2009. Prior to Devil’s Den he was a seasonal interpreter at Petit Jean State Park. He received a degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology from Arkansas State State. His main interest is natural resource management.


Wings on the Wind

August 30, 2011

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a vast landscape is a great way to enjoy a September morning on Mount Magazine. Scanning the horizon with a good set of binoculars helps spot wings on the wind. Southward migration has started for many species of birds and some butterflies. The unpredictable nature of migration watching requires diligence. Some days are a bust due to weather conditions. But other days can be outstanding with a good diversity of species and numbers of individuals.

For the column of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana Mount Magazine is the highest point above sea level. Perhaps to a migrant it represents a landmark and/or an obstacle for navigation. For many it is a convenient rest stop.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

Broad-winged hawks usually top the tally. They rest overnight in forested areas. As thermals begin to build during the day, one by one, they leave the canopy to catch rising air. Circling in these unseen currents hawks gain elevation rapidly. It is possible to have over a hundred broad-winged hawks swirling in a thermal at one time.  This is called a kettle. Reaching the top of the thermal they slip out, with wings set, gliding southward. Losing elevation as they approach the northern edge of Mount Magazine where they take advantage of updrafts to lift them just over the bluffs.

Tall bluffs flanking Ross Hollow create a funnel which many birds of prey use to cross over the mountaintop as if it were a major highway. The northern tip of Cameron Bluff offers a great vantage point for scanning the horizon and the hollow. Birds can be above, below, or even at eye level, offering opportunities to study field marks for identification.

There are many other species seen migrating over Mount Magazine other than broad-winged hawks. Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, ospreys, vultures, bald eagles, American kestrels, and even peregrine falcons have been seen from Cameron Bluff during September. White pelicans, song birds, and butterflies are also seen.

Monarchs and a few other migrating butterflies use the same updrafts to lift themselves over the mountain. Many will take the Mount Magazine exit to refuel on patches of wildflowers along park roadsides. Tickseed sunflower must appear like “golden arches” to these adolescent insects. Late arrivals often cluster together on “tree hotels” with southwestern views.  Some monarchs will be tagged and released to continue their way southward to their winter vacation in Mexican mountains.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

On the south side of the mountain migrating hawks seek out more thermals over the Petit Jean River Valley to help them get through the Ouachita Mountains. Turkey vultures are masters of riding updrafts and thermals. It seems as though some hawks key in on vultures to find thermals.

While sitting on Cameron Bluff, waiting for the next passerby, enjoy either solitude with a spectacular view or conversations with other watchers with various backgrounds and experiences. Pick up tips on hawk identification. Take advantage of unique photo opportunities.

A park interpreter is offering migration watching sessions at Mount Magazine State Park in September. Check the schedule.

So pack your binoculars, lawn chairs, water, and snacks, drive to the northern tip of Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive in Mount Magazine State Park, and watch wings on the wind.

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons is a Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 29 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


Making Arkansas Natural

July 7, 2011
Blue Eyed Grass

Blue Eyed Grass

Arkansas’s motto is “The Natural State”. The natural state just doesn’t mean having nature. If that were true all states can claim to be the natural state. We have to support and be our motto. A part of the State parks mission is to protect and manage our natural resources. I would have to say that each park does their best to uphold their mission…in the park. What we need is for all Arkansans to prove that we can come together and be “The Natural State” we claim to be. It is not hard to start. There are lots of things Arkansans can do. One of the easiest things you can do (and maybe the least thought about) is to plant native plants. Natural is something that is produced in nature and not artificial. What better way to start than to garden and landscape with native plants? You will actually find that our native plants help out our local businesses, are hardy and beautiful.

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

More bang for our buck! It seems to be more significant than ever to utilize and spend money locally. Arkansans, as well as those from outside Arkansas want to be connected and educated to this state. Almost every day visitors walk through our gift shop wanting to spend their money on gifts made in Arkansas. If people are asking for Arkansas items here, they are definitely asking for them in lots of other stores including gardens and nurseries. People generally like to know where the product they are buying is from. The benefits of buying native plants from local businesses include knowledge from community gardeners. There is rarely a better person to ask questions to than the person who grew the plants you want. Spending money at the local businesses helps your community grow right along with your new plants.

Yellow Indigo

Yellow Indigo

Native plants are much hardier. If you treat them right the first year they will survive. After finding the right plants for your environment, the maintenance for the new native plants goes way down. During the first year, most of your time and sweat is spent watering your plants. Watering a lot the first year is essential to any new plant. Personally, I only fertilized my plants once when they were planted. A year later everything is alive and bloomed out. Watering has gone down to once every one to two weeks for the trees during the summer. If you do your research you can find plants that thrive in this hot Arkansas weather. I am telling you right now you do not have to fight Mother Nature. If you would plant native plants you get the rewards without as much hassle.

There a lot of beauty in Native plants. They come in many shapes, sizes, colors and blooming seasons. The combinations are endless. Even the plants you do not see as beautiful will charm you just because they look healthy. These plants will not only be beautiful but the beauty will last for a longer period of time.

A great list of native plants can be found at PlantNative.org . An internet search of “Arkansas Native Plant Nursery” will give you a list of nurseries that specialize in native plants. I hope this will encourage you to pick native plants for your next project, big or small.

Let’s reclaim the natural state one plant at a time!

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy holds a bachelors degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University. Her career in Arkansas state parks started as a seasonal interpreter in 2006 at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. She is currently a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological Park and has worked there since 2007. She is also a member of the National Association of Interpreters and a Certified Interpretive Guide.


Songs of the Woods

June 29, 2011
The Green Treefrog is a small frog with a big voice.

The Green Tree frog is a small frog with a big voice.

I almost always have music playing.  I have radios, cd players, mp3 players, and music on my computer and phone.  But when I go hiking I don’t take anything for music.  Nature has its own song.

The rhythm section is filled by the frogs.  Frogs aren’t the most melodic animals, but add a beat to the song of the woods.  Cricket frogs have a clicking noise that to me sounds like marbles clacking together.  Green Tree frogs look cute and small, but have a loud noise best described as a bark. And when you talk about frogs, you can’t forget the bullfrog, with its load croak that can be heard from more than a quarter of a mile away.

Insects, like this newly molted cicada, make an interesting addition to the song of the woods.

Insects, like this newly molted cicada, make an interesting addition to the song of the woods.

The background vocals are provided by the insects.  I like the katydids with their cry of “katy-DID, katy-DID.”  Late summer brings the cicadas which produce a constant hum, a sound that for many people becomes so common it fades into the background.  Crickets not only add to the background music, but you can actually figure out the temperature by counting the chirps of certain species.

Mockingbirds steal the show with a variety of calls.

Mockingbirds steal the show with a variety of calls.

Without a doubt, the lead singers of the woods are the birds.  Right now the mockingbirds seem to drown out everyone else, as if trying to steal center stage at the concert.  That doesn’t stop the others from singing though.  Every bird keeps up its call and they sing with no thought to harmonies and chords.  Despite the chaos of too many leads, it has a unique sound that works in a way that I don’t truly understand, but I certainly appreciate.

The best thing about this song is that it changes from day to day, moment to moment.  Some animals are out during the day, others only call at night.  Different species are calling at different times of the year.  This means that I don’t ever get bored; I just wait a little while and see what changes.

So take some time to visit an Arkansas State Park near you, there will be plenty of opportunities to listen.  Don’t forget to try a few different areas and times of the day.  Also, many parks offer programs that will help you figure out what it is you are listening to.  If you haven’t listened to the music of the woods lately, it is definitely time to turn off the radio and head outside.

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan graduated from Henderson State University with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Park Administration and after college served two terms as an AmeriCorps member.   She began working for Arkansas State Parks in 2006 as the Park Interpreter at Crowley’s Ridge State Park.   Heather is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.


Distracted by the Birds at Petit Jean State Park

March 31, 2011
A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

A goldfinch visits a feeder filled with sunflower seeds

My office at Petit Jean State Park may be a bit cramped, but I am fortunate to have a window right beside my desk to let in the afternoon sunshine and allow me to see the comings and goings of some of the visitors to our park visitor center.  However, it can be a bit challenging to stay focused on my work at the computer when the birds come to visit.  We interpreters like to feed the songbirds, and this helps folks who come to the visitor center get a better look at them, especially if they go into the exhibit room and look out through the large window at the pond, manmade waterfall and feeders in the back.  From time to time we also put out birdseed and suet in front of the building, which is where my window is located.  The Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, pine siskin, Northern cardinal, and dark-eyed junco are just a few of the numerous bird species that may be observed hanging around bird feeders here on Petit Jean Mountain.

 

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

Brown-headed nuthatch at Petit Jean State Park

In the time it has been taking me to write this, I have seen quite a few species of  birds, including white-throated sparrow, pine warbler, red-bellied woodpecker, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, brown-headed nuthatch, brown creeper, Carolina chickadee, and American goldfinch.  (Not to mention that expert raider of bird feeders, the gray squirrel, busily stuffing itself and close enough to

 

touch if the window were open.)  The woodpecker is particularly distracting, with its brilliant red coloration on its head catching my eye, and the less noticeable red on its belly (which gives it its name) sometimes visible.  The male warblers are also eye catching, with their mixed coloration that includes olive green and vibrant yellow.  (As a co-worker of mine commented about an especially brightly colored male, “If that one doesn’t attract a mate, he’ll just be really unlucky!”)

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

This woodpecker has red on both its head and belly

It’s also interesting to observe the “pecking order” among the different kinds of birds.  Some birds give the appearance of being downright “mean” to other birds when competing for food (which is actually just a natural thing for them to do.)  A nuthatch may be chased away from the suet by a warbler.  The warbler is intimidated enough to move out of the way if a woodpecker comes along.  And if a crow comes to feed, all the other birds give him plenty of room as he hacks away and makes short work of the suet block!  (It’s typical to see the smaller birds scrounging on the ground after the crow leaves, cleaning up some of the mess he left behind.)

Educating the public about birds and presenting bird related programs is one of my favorite things about my job.  I am continually getting better at bird identification, and I enjoy observing and learning about birds, as well as inspiring park visitors to get interested in bird watching and make their own observations.

Well, it looks like the birds have consumed most of the birdseed it seems like we just put out for them.  Time to go give them some more!

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter

Rachel is a native Arkansan and a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, with a Bachelor of Science in biology.  Her interpretive experience includes work as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Dardanelle State Park, 1997 -1999, and as a full-time interpreter at Crater of Diamonds State Park, 2003 – 2007.   She has been a full-time interpreter at Petit Jean State Park since September of 2007.  Rachel is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and became a Certified Heritage Interpreter in 2009.  “One of my favorite things I do in my job is helping park visitors discover new ways to enjoy and learn from nature.”

 


Spring Fever!

March 1, 2011

It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!Mark Twain

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood

Who’s ready for spring? Signs of this much-anticipated season are everywhere, from fields carpeted with henbit to blooming elm trees; March reminds us that warmer weather is on the way. After this harsh winter in the Arkansas River Valley, I freely admit I have spring fever.

Falcate orangetip

Falcate orangetip

When I look ahead to March on the calendar, “spring break” comes to mind, a reminder that it’s time to schedule park programs that coincide with wildflower blooming and emergence of butterflies. It’s time to wipe the dust off the boxes holding my spring crafts for kids. It’s also time to work on my garden chore list and think about plants for this growing season. See? I have spring fever.

Due to higher elevation, spring temperatures come a bit later to Mount Magazine. A general rule of thumb is to add one week of greening or blooming for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The door of the season still opens in March.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry will soon dot the landscape with bright white blossoms. Spring beauties, trout lilies, and daffodils begin to emerge this month. Bloodroot, with its one-day-only white flowers and large leaves will emerge like a phoenix from the fallen leaves.

The symbiosis of flowering plants and animals is easily seen during the spring months. In mutualism, both organisms benefit. Flowers advertise their nectar rewards with specific colors, shapes, and nectar rewards, much like the advertising we see everyday in every form. Insects and birds are attracted as the consumer, and pollinate the plant in the process, enabling the plant to reproduce. Lack of color, unique shape, and putrid scent attract flies and gnats as pollinators.

Count the question marks.

Count the question marks

As birds begin to migrate north, many will drill into trees in search of food. Sap trickling down a tree trunk left behind afterwards attracts butterflies that have emerged from torpor. Question marks, goatweed leafwings, and mourning cloaks feast on the sugar-laden sap.

Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides in early spring are darker and smaller than summer forms in order to use the sun’s energy more efficiently. Zebra swallowtails, falcate orangetips, hairstreaks, duskywings, and elfins begin to take nectar from sources such as plum blossoms, redbud, spiderwort, wild hyacinth, blue star, and so many more. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive the first full week of April, and the flowers of Ohio buckeye and yellow honeysuckle are usually ready for them.  The best way to experience these flowers is to bring a field guide, get a park wildflower checklist, and of course, go on a wildflower hike with a park interpreter.

I’m not quite certain when my love affair with wildflowers began. Part of my affection stems from my love of butterflies; a lepidopterist has to be part botanist in order to understand the relationship between them. But my love of spring wildflowers is separate, and not just because the majority of them aren’t pollinated by butterflies. I admire these flowers with a short blooming period; completing their life cycles before the leaves take over with such precision and efficiency.

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

After so many years of living and working at Mount Magazine State Park, I delight in being able to take visitors to fire pink, spiderwort, Ohio buckeye, historic quince, and lilac shrubs on Will Apple’s Road Trail; bloodroot, trillium, and crested iris on the Signal Hill trail, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the Cove Lake trail. I am asked lots of questions about which trail to take to see wildflowers, and am often asked to identify photos of wildflowers after the hike is over. Helping visitors connect to nature in this way, and helping them gain confidence in their identification skills, and helping kids begin their own butterfly gardens are highlights of spring.

If not during spring break, then at some point in spring, I encourage you to visit a state park and walk a trail to cure your spring fever.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.