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.


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.”

 


Snow Business Beats No Business

February 15, 2011

Now I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of the snow.  In fact I consider snow a 4-letter word that should not be spoken aloud, but when it adds to the fun and enjoyment of park visitors joining me for a program even a die hard rather melt in the sun individual such as me can find snow a positive thing.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Snowman on the Lake Dunn Dam.

Last month as the snow was blanketing the park the wheels in my head started spinning.  You see I had planned a Guardian and Me:  Mammals program as one of our regular weekend programs trying to entice our locals to bring their little ones (3-6 year olds) out to the park.  The program was already planned I knew I would introduce the children to the world of mammals and tell them how mammals are different from other animals.  I was going the bring out our furs and skulls for them to touch and examine,  we were going to make animal track soaps for the children to take home, and of course no trip to the park is complete without a hike to look for animals.  But as the snow piled up and started to stick I thought if we get lucky it be fun to make snow mammals as part of the program.

Snow Squirrel

Snow Squirrel

So I hoped the roads would stay clear and the ground would stay covered.  Well when Saturday arrived the snow was starting to melt, but we still had several patches.

The children seemed to really enjoy making snow mammals.  We had a snow bunny, a snow squirrel and we almost had a snow deer but there just wasn’t quite enough snow for the deer.  The remaining snow also increased the success of our hike.  The snow was a great medium for animal tracks especially on the many bridges along the trail, so even though we did not see any of our resident mammals we saw more pristine animal tracks then I have ever seen on a group hike.  We had several canids (mostly domestic dog), what was probably a member of the cat family and an eastern cottontail Rabbit.  So I guess I will have to change my mind about snow and maybe remember that a little snow can be a great thing.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Mamma & Baby White-tailed deer tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Dark-Eyed Junco tracks.

Raccon Tracks

Raccon Tracks

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Tara Gillanders, Park Interpreter

Raised in Kingsville, TX, Tara’s family moved to Jonesboro, AR in the mid 1980s where she graduated from high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in science education from Arkansas State University.  Tara taught high school science for 3 years before finding out about the profession of interpretation.  She has been the park interpreter at Village Creek State Park since 2008. “I cannot imagine a more fulfilling job.  What other profession allows you to connect people to the things you are passionate about?”


The Clean-up Crew

November 12, 2010

We had a school group come the park today and they raided the snack part of our gift shop during a break in the program.  So, it will be a good evening for our clean-up crew.  We have a special clean-up crew that works nights, 365 days a year, without holidays.  No, I am not talking about the two-legged kind of maintenance crew that comes in every morning early to shine the bathrooms, empty the trash, and get us ready for a new day of visitors.  I’m talking about the two- and four-legged kind, both furry and feathered, who make their appearance as soon as the last employee and last visitor leaves the public parts of the park–the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, crows, and other birds.

I often work farther into the evening than other staff members, so I hear noises that sound like some ghost or spirit is rattling around outside my office.  One night I found the source of all of that after-hours racket.  A raccoon hopped out of the trash can just as I walked past.  I think that we were both scared an equal amount.  Most evenings as I walk up through the parking lot, I will also disturb two or three crows stalking around and looking for treats.

A missed learning opportunity

A missed learning opportunity

Once in a while I eat lunch on our upper deck after a school group like today’s has sat and eaten their snacks or lunches.  That’s when you find out which are the braver songbirds living in the park.  Especially the tufted titmice seem to have no fear of humans when the snacks are really plentiful.  First, they fly to the rail that goes around the deck.  From there if you watch you can see them carefully scoping out the tables vacant of people and with the best looking crumbs under them.  The birds then flit down, grab up some of the good stuff, and head back to the railing to enjoy the treats.  After an hour or so of this diligent work, they can have things pretty well cleaned up.

I don’t mean to imply that I think that this human food is particularly good for our animal friends.  Sometimes I wonder if those jalapeño Cheetos ever keep them up at night like they do me.  Most of the time parks try to limit the amount of access that the animals have to our leftovers.  So, the design of garbage cans continue to evolve, as the animals continue to get smarter.  They can leave an awfully large mess when they really go through a trash can.  The mess shown in the photo below shows just how bad things can get.

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "Old" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

Our "New" Trash Cans

The raccoons are the most adept at getting into human trash cans.  So, our old design trash cans had a hidden latch that you had to work before you could open the lid.  The problem with these cans was that the latches were so well hidden that humans had to study the little instruction picture carefully and then try it two or three times before getting the hang of it.  The raccoons never did figure it out, but they certainly did love the piles of trash that were left on top of or next to the trash cans by frustrated visitors.  Now I think that the trash can designers finally have the winning design (see below).  No fancy hidden latches, but a fairly heavy lid that covers the entire top of the square can.  If the raccoon tries to open it from on top, then their own weight and the lid’s weight will keep it closed.  A side attack doesn’t work either, because the tops of the cans are too high to be reached from the ground by even the tallest raccoons, and the cans don’t have any lip for the acrobatic raccoons to hang on as they lift the lid.

So, as we phase in these new-design cans, the pickings for those furry folks who are used to dining out on our leftovers will become much slimmer.  That is the reason days like today are a smorgasbord feast for our evening “clean-up crew”.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is working on her “next” career as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.


The Milkweed Archipelago

October 8, 2010

“The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A tiny island of orange beckons an orange butterfly.  Down she goes as millions of her ancestors have for eons of time.  This brilliant orange flower and this beautiful insect have a relationship common in nature.  Milkweed is required for the reproduction of the Monarch butterfly.  The plant has many defenses for protection from hungry bugs.  One of the most potent is a chemical called cardiac glycoside.  It is poisonous to most animals.  It is life to the Monarch.

The female carefully sticks her cone shaped eggs to the bottom of the milkweed leaves.  In a few days they will hatch, and the tiny caterpillars will find themselves on a salad bar perfect for their taste.  Cardiac glycoside is the flavor they crave.  They like it so much it becomes part of them, stored in their tissues.

When they emerge from the chrysalis, their bright orange wings will fill with fluid.  Not only are they bold and bright in color, they fly slowly.  They are an easy target for insect eating birds.  Monarchs are easy to catch, but hard to digest.  Glycoside from the milkweed causes a nasty stomach upset for the hungry bird, and the bright orange and black pattern of the Monarch makes it easier to remember the nauseating dining experience.  It is no longer on the menu.  Monarchs that fly past this bird in the future can pass in safety.  The bold pattern of the monarch is a warning coloration.  While many species in the animal kingdom try to blend in, the monarch, armed with its own version of chemical warfare, stands out.

At least two other insects have adapted to eating milkweed and making glycoside their own.  The Milkweed Beetle and Milkweed Bug feed only on milkweed.  The orange-red Milkweed Beetles are often seen on the leaves, and the red and black Milkweed Bugs can be found on the seedpods.  They are brilliant, beautiful, and a sickening meal for predators.

 

Milkweed

Milkweed

 

Rich Mountain is an excellent stopover for Monarchs due to the many species of wildflowers that bloom during the end of September and the beginning of October. We can’t predict the exact days of the migration, but it usually happens in the first days of October.

A wave of orange will descend onto the white, yellow and blue flowers along the Lover’s Leap Trail.  The adult Monarchs are not limited to milkweed, but nectar on many different wildflowers.  Only as caterpillars are they tied exclusively to members of the milkweed clan.  Thousands of Monarch butterflies will steadily move over the mountain toward their wintering ground in Mexico.

A few Monarchs trickle through the park all through August and September. These early individuals are just the preview of the flood that will come.

This remarkable phenomenon of the fall season reminds us of the unending cycle of life. Each year Monarchs wing their way across the Ouachitas persistently fluttering toward the southwest.  Grounded, we watch them pass and take comfort in the promise it gives us for the years to come.

Next year the Monarchs will head north from their wintering ground in Mexico searching for the scattered clumps of milkweed. Their islands of survival, the milkweed archipelago, is the center of the Monarch’s universe.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.