Alligator snapping turtles back in Illinois, USA


This 2015 video from the USA is called Alligator Snapping Turtle vs Common Snapping Turtle.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

First wild alligator snapping turtle in Illinois since 1984

November 13, 2017

Researchers report the first sighting in 30 years of a wild alligator snapping turtle in Illinois. The discovery may be a sign of hope for this state-endangered species, or the animal could be the last of its kind to have survived in Illinois without human intervention, the researchers say.

The team reports the find in the journal Southeastern Naturalist.

In October 2014, when Illinois Natural History Survey herpetologist Chris Phillips donned a wetsuit and dove to the bottom of Clear Creek in Union County, Illinois, he was looking for a young male alligator snapping turtle with a radio transmitter on its back. That turtle had recently been released in the area to bolster the state-endangered turtle population in southwest Illinois.

“I was just about out of breath when I felt the turtle shell,” Phillips said. “I thought I had found the male turtle I knew was there because I detected its radio signal. I felt along its back to where I thought the shell should end, but my hand just kept going.”

Phillips plucked from the water a 22-pound, 15-inch long female alligator snapping turtle that was twice as long as the one he was looking for, and at least 18 years old. Since she had no tracking device, she was not one of the turtles that had been released into the area. DNA tests showed that she belonged at the site and was not a lone traveler from a southern state. Southern Illinois is at the northern end of the turtle species’ range.

For years, INHS researchers have conducted extensive trapping, and have called for citizen observations along Clear Creek for signs of wild alligator snapping turtles, but to no avail. Populations of this state-endangered species have declined because of habitat changes including dams, drained swamps and river dredging. Only Union and Jackson counties offer the habitat that the turtles need to reproduce and thrive. Locating any wild turtles in these counties will help determine the next steps — whether to preserve a population or reintroduce more alligator snapping turtles in Illinois.

“Bolstering a hidden population of an endangered species is better than starting a new population in the area,” said Ethan Kessler, a graduate student of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the study. “However, since no wild alligator snapping turtles have been found in Illinois since 1984, reintroduction efforts make sense.”

For several years, researchers have purchased turtles reared in a facility and released them at ages 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. They also released about 90 adult turtles. Most of the animals go into creeks with radio transmitters attached to their backs so they can be relocated and tracked.

Researchers were conducting their biannual catch-and-release program when they found the wild turtle, close to the same spot and 30 years, almost to the day, after their last wild alligator snapping turtle was found.

“Finding this individual does not indicate that there is a functional, stable population of wild alligator snapping turtles in Southern Illinois,” Kessler said. “When a population dies out, a single turtle may wander around like a zombie waiting for the end of its days.”

Alligator snapping turtles can live 100 years, so the researchers working on this project today likely will not witness the advancing seasons of this female’s life. After finding her, the team marked her shell with a notch and attached a radio transmitter to her back for tracking. The transmitter battery died, however, and finding her again in the sediment-filled depths of Clear Creek or elsewhere would be like finding a needle in a haystack, Phillips said.

“She is marked, so in case of an incidental encounter, we will know it’s her,” he said.

One of the challenges of tracking turtles that have been introduced in Illinois is that they disappear underwater and may not be seen again until divers retrieve them.

“If we succeed with our project in introducing a new, viable population of alligator snapping turtles, it’s likely that no one will see them,” Phillips said. “It’s not as if we’re studying bald eagles that soar above us. I may never know the fate of these turtles, but it’s cool to know that this wild space exists in Illinois.”

The alligator snapping turtle is listed as threatened in the U.S.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded this research. Mike Dreslik of the INHS and Scott Ballard of IDNR are co-authors of the article. The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

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Clean out used nest boxes or not?


This beautiful Eastern Bluebird nest is located in our OOEF Nestbox #7 on our Old Oak Estate Farm Bolden Bluebird Trail. The nest features some horsetail hair from our black horse. Photo by Gisela Borawski-Hayes, Belleville, IL, United States

This photo of an eastern bluebird nest is from Belleville, Illinois in the USA.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s NestWatch eNewsletter in the USA, September 2017:

Cleaning House…or Not

With the nesting season drawing to a close, our once bustling nest boxes are now quiet and filled with leftover nesting materials. What should be done with old nests? Do cavity-nesting birds prefer to reuse nests, or do they like a fresh start?

Unfortunately, the answer is not clear-cut, and a lot depends on the species and the geographic location. Find out more about whether or not to clean your nest boxes on the NestWatch Blog.

United States professor witch-hunted for opposing Islamophobia


This video from the USA says about itself:

7 December 2015

Larycia Hawkins is a tenured Christian professor at Illinois Wheaton College. She was recently placed on administrative leave after expressing her belief that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Cenk Uygur, host of the The Young Turks, breaks it down.

By Joe Williams in the USA:

Illinois professor fired for expressing sympathy for Muslims

18 January 2016

In a craven capitulation to anti-Muslim agitation, Wheaton College has begun termination proceedings against Dr. Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor who attracted national attention in December by wearing a hijab during the Christian Advent period to show solidarity with Muslims.

Explaining on social media her decision to don the Islamic garb, Hawkins wrote, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God .… As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town [Chicago], in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic), and at church.”

Wheaton is a private evangelical Christian college located 25 miles west of Chicago. The college was founded by abolitionist opponents of slavery in 1860.

In response to Hawkins’ actions, the college released a statement to the media declaring that the “theological implications” of Hawkins’s claim violates the Wheaton College “Statement of Faith,” which all students and faculty are required to sign.

On December 15, four days after she posted her statement, Provost Stanton Jones presented Hawkins with a document accusing her of “blasphemy,” and Hawkins was placed on paid administrative leave. On December 17, Hawkins submitted a four page theological statement re-affirming her commitment to the Statement of Faith.

College officials are nevertheless moving forward with procedures to terminate Hawkins. A committee of nine tenured Wheaton professors is expected to arrive at a decision within several weeks about Hawkins’s future employment at the college. College president Phillip Ryken will then refer the professors’ recommendation to Wheaton’s Board of Trustees for a final decision.

Hawkins has received support from students and colleagues, who have denounced the administration’s justifications for her termination. On January 11, the first day of the spring semester, over 100 students staged a protest outside the school’s main chapel. Students are also continuing a sit-in, begun last semester when Hawkins was put on leave, outside the offices of Jones and Ryken.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Rally in support of Dr. Larycia Hawkins (Complete)

6 January 2016

Dr. Larycia Hawkins provides information regarding the notification she received from Wheaton College moving to terminate her tenure and employment from the evangelical institution. The disciplinary action comes as Dr. Hawkins maintains Christian support for the Muslim community amidst the ongoing anti-Muslim climate.

The Provost’s notification also cites as the basis for seeking her termination that Dr. Hawkins’ made an “unqualified assertion of religious solidarity with Muslims and Jews.”

Background:

On December 10, 2015, Dr. Hawkins posted a message on Facebook expressing solidarity with her brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith.

On December 15, 2015, Dr. Hawkins was placed on administrative leave by Wheaton College, and relieved of all teaching and programmatic duties for the Spring 2016 semester.

Dr. Hawkins continued her Christian act of embodied solidarity, wearing the hijab, through Advent, leading up to Christmas.

On January 4, 2016, Dr. Hawkins received an email notification of the Provost’s Recommendation to Initiate Termination.

The Joe Williams article continues:

One participant, senior Annika Bouwsma, told the Wheaton Daily Herald, “I don’t think there’s been enough transparency and I don’t think that she (Hawkins) deserves termination or leave.” Protest leader Joshua Mangis said he is hopeful that the college will reconcile with Hawkins, adding, “There’s definitely an atmosphere on campus just that this is an important thing…A lot of professors are opening class with a statement about it and encouraging students to read up on it.” One student held a sign reading “Academic rigor = academic freedom.”

A group of faculty has also registered a protest of the administration’s decision, declining to take part in a mandatory prayer service at Bedman Chapel, choosing to hold an alternative service in a nearby chapel instead. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament Studies at Wheaton, told Time, “I have seen no theological argument from the college that would deem her commitments unacceptable…[Hers] is a clear, compelling affirmation of what we believe in Wheaton’s Statement of Faith.”

Benjamin L. Corey, writing for the liberal Christian news site Patheos, observed that “the glue that holds fundamentalism together is the agreement upon a common enemy to fight, and Dr. Hawkins has rejected the notion that Muslims are the common enemy.”

Internal emails from the college administration appear to confirm that the move against Dr. Hawkins is a concession to the anti-Muslim hysteria that is being whipped up by the political establishment and the media. In one email, Jones acknowledged that Hawkins’ statement was “innocuous,” but complained, “Articles are already being written in a variety of news sources, and the media are pounding on our door asking for comments about our faculty who are endorsing Islam.” In another email, he wrote that “her theological comments are being taken up as an endorsement of Islam.”

This episode at Wheaton College is part of a broader trend on college campuses of chilling and suppressing dissent. In October, George Washington University student Ramie Abounaja was forced by police to remove a Palestinian flag he had hung from his dorm window. The school was unable to cite any regulation he had violated and eventually apologized under threat of legal action from a Palestinian civil rights organization.

In 2012, Wheaton College joined a number of other religious institutions in a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance for employees or students include contraceptive coverage. The Obama administration had decided in February of that year to allow religious institutions to exempt themselves from the requirement, instead requiring insurance companies to cover the expense.

All that an institution would have had to do under the Obama administration’s regulations was to fill out a two-page form and submit it to the government. Wheaton argued that this requirement was unduly burdensome and violated the college’s religious freedom. In Wheaton College v. Burwell (2014), the US Supreme Court decided in favor of Wheaton College.

The college has since discontinued health coverage for students altogether.

Sandra Bland funeral in the USA


This video from the USA is called Sandra Bland Funeral – Draws Hundreds Of Mourners In Illinois. It says about itself:

25 July 2015

Sandra Bland Funeral: Hundreds have been attending the funeral in Illinois of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas prison cell nearly two weeks ago after being arrested.

From NBC News in the USA:

Mourners Attend Illinois Funeral for Sandra Bland Who Died in Texas Jail

by Elizabeth Chuck

July 25 2015, 1:41 pm ET

Sandra Bland, the woman found dead in a Texas jail cell, was remembered Saturday as a courageous fighter for social justice.

Family and friends gathered at her wake and funeral in Lisle, Illinois, the Chicago suburb where she grew up. …

Before the service at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, the Rev. Theresa Read said mourners would remember Bland as a “young lady that refused to be subdued and silenced.”

“Our service will be one of celebration. We’ll be celebrating the life of Sandy Bland. We have much to celebrate. We’re happy that she found her voice, found her purpose in social justice. We celebrate that she walked and lived in her truth,” she said

Supporters don’t believe the autopsy findings, she added, saying officials’ account of the incident is “plagued with inconsistencies.”

From the New York Times in the USA:

At Sandra Bland Funeral, Mourning a Life Cut Short in Texas

By MITCH SMITHJULY 25, 2015

LISLE, Ill. — Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday at the suburban Chicago church that Sandra Bland attended for many of her 28 years, turning out in such numbers that even the overflow viewing room ran out of chairs. From the pulpit, relatives and friends recounted happy memories of Ms. Bland’s faith and social activism, and restated their belief that her death in a Texas jail was no suicide.

“That baby did not take herself out of here,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, Ms. Bland’s mother, during the funeral here at DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ms. Reed-Veal spoke at length, telling mourners about a recent road trip she had taken with her daughter. On their way to visit relatives in Tennessee, Ms. Reed-Veal said, Ms. Bland told her she had found a calling and planned to pursue it by returning to Texas, where she had attended college.

“Her purpose was to stop all injustice against blacks in the South,” Ms. Reed-Veal said at the funeral.

Many here believe that in seeking to fulfill that newfound purpose, Ms. Bland became another victim of the injustice she wanted to end. Shortly after arriving in Hempstead, Tex., where she had moved to take a job at Prairie View A&M University, the historically black school that was her alma mater, she was pulled over by a state trooper. …

Leaders at DuPage remembered Ms. Bland as a smart, outspoken woman who once sang in the youth choir and had participated in the church’s Girl Scout troop. After graduating from college, she returned here, serving on church committees, befriending older members of the congregation and earning a reputation as a prolific taker of selfie photos.

The Rev. Theresa Dear, an associate minister at DuPage A.M.E. who knew Ms. Bland since she started attending the church as a young girl, said the official account of the death conflicted with her own memories of an ambitious, educated Christian who was excited about the future and who had helped organize the church’s recent Women’s Day event.

“This is someone who had over 50 selfies, healthy self-esteem,” Ms. Dear said in an interview. “Someone who had two job offers. Someone who just talked to her family and knew that help and rescue was on the way. This is someone who knew the Lord and was extremely close with her church family and her sisters, her biological family.

“We’re not funeralizing a martyr or a victim,” said the Rev. James F. Miller, who officiated. “We’re celebrating a hero.”

But the circumstances around her death were discussed openly and repeatedly, and Mr. Miller had harsh words for the Texas officials handling the investigation.

“The authorities in Waller County are going to discover something that I learned and each of us learned at our mother’s knee,” Mr. Miller said from the pulpit. “You can disrespect a strong black woman if you want, but you’re going to pay for that.”

Speaker after speaker encouraged mourners to continue to use social media to seek justice. Twitter hashtags used by activists were printed in the funeral program and displayed by a handful of people on T-shirts. Ms. Reed-Veal also asked that supporters take cues from her and her lawyer on how the family wanted to proceed. She said protesters should not demonstrate outside the home of Brian T. Encinia, the trooper who arrested Ms. Bland.

“We want to do this the right way,” Ms. Reed-Veal said.

Senator Richard J. Durbin and Representative Bill Foster, both Democrats of Illinois, each spoke briefly at the funeral. They said they had asked the Justice Department to investigate Ms. Bland’s death.

Mr. Durbin said the circumstances started with a “highly questionable traffic violation.” Trooper Encinia, of the Texas Department of Public Safety, has said he pulled Ms. Bland over after seeing her change lanes without signaling. Mr. Durbin noted that he had seen plenty of people change lanes without a turn signal during his drive to the church on Saturday.

“It was an amazing life that was cut way, way too short,” Mr. Durbin told the congregation. …

Ms. Bland’s death spurred skepticism and outrage on Twitter, where her name became a trending hashtag invoked alongside tags for Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old killed last year by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray, the black man who died this year after being arrested by the Baltimore police.

Members of DuPage A.M.E. held a march in Ms. Bland’s honor last weekend, and demonstrators in Texas have protested her death.

Ms. Bland herself had been active online in recent months, posting videos that called for improvements to race relations in America and questioned how police officers treat black people. She “found her voice in social media and the civil rights realm and space,” Ms. Dear said. …

But on Saturday, even amid all the talk about Ms. Bland’s death, even as white flowers were tossed on her coffin as it was lowered into the earth, those who knew her made an effort to keep a focus on her life. This was the woman everyone here called Sandy, a gifted musician who grew up in the church, loved spicy foods and was just getting settled in her new home in Texas before the arrest.

“Sandy was ours,” Mr. Miller said at the funeral. “We take care of our own. We love her.”

From Reuters:

Her former sorority sisters from her alma mater, Prairies View A&M University, read an obituary highlighting her religious faith and her blogs about social injustice, race politics and police brutality.

Thousands of ‘freedom fighters’ in Cleveland for first national Black Lives Matter conference: here.

Bison back in Illinois, USA after 200 years


This 5 December video is about the Nachusa Grasslands, near Franklin Grove, Illinois, USA; and the recently reintroduced bison there. Music: ‘Home On the Range’ by Mannheim Steamroller. A song with lyrics mentioning ‘buffalo’ (really meaning American bison).

By Dean Reynolds, CBS News in the USA:

June 25, 2015, 7:19 PM

​Back in brown: American bison return to the Midwest

FRANKLIN GROVE, Ill – What used to be a corn and soybean field 15 years ago is now full of tall grass and flowers — a restoration in the making.

Jeff Walk is science director for the Illinois chapter of the Nature Conservancy, a private organization that is trying to bring the prairie back to the Land of Lincoln.

Walk and his group are seeding 1,500 acres with natural grasses and plants: from wild lupine to prairie smoke to golden Alexanders.

The goal is to restore the rolling hills to the way they looked 200 years ago or more. In the process, they’re adding one more, rather hairy ingredient to the mix: The American bison.

“The last wild bison in Illinois was killed about 200 years ago,” said Walk.

The bison serve an important purpose here. Kind of like landscapers, they maintain the prairie by eating the grass like furry lawnmowers that swallow what they cut.

“They’re doing great,” said Walk. “They cope very well. They seem to be peaceful, content.”

They were trucked to Illinois’ Nachusa prairie from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, as well as other preserves. About 50 are on the land now can move freely around 1,500 acres.

Bison are much easier than cattle for this job. They don’t need a barn, don’t need to be fed and are hardy as all get out — needing only one medical exam every year.

The hope is to have a herd of 125 in the future.

“They are just iconic Americana,” says Jeff.

So give me a home where the buffalo roam — just two hours west of Chicago.

From AgriNews in the USA:

Bison babies make more history

Jeannine Otto, Field Editor

Friday, June 12, 2015 2:00 PM

FRANKLIN GROVE, Ill. — The arrival of the first wild bison calf born east of the Mississippi River in close to 200 years didn’t cause much of a stir.

It was the discovery of that calf that was a surprise to the staff at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands prairie near Franklin Grove.

“The first one was definitely a surprise,” said Cody Considine, restoration ecologist at Nachusa.

In fact, it wasn’t even a staff member who got the first look.

“It was the first week in April, and Bill Kleiman had some friends visiting in town. They were looking around, and his friend said, ‘Oh, you’ve got a little one,’” Considine said.

After taking a look through binoculars, Kleiman confirmed that the first of the grasslands herd’s new members had arrived.

“That one was about two to three weeks ahead of the other ones,” Considine said.

The new calves for the herd, introduced to the restored Illinois prairie, now stand at 14. The herd numbers 30 adults with 18 mature cows, and Considine said that means they could see more new arrivals.

The bison and their babies don’t get any assists from human hands, even when calving.

“It’s all hands-off. Even if there was trouble, you have to let nature take its course. It’s natural selection,” Considine said.

But so far, there haven’t been any problems.

“Everybody seems happy and healthy,” Considine said.

Prairie Benefits

That includes the prairie itself.

“The whole reason why bison were brought to Nachusa is for the role they play in the tallgrass prairie,” Considine said.

Since the bison have been munching their way around the 500 acres they’re confined to now, with an additional 1,000 acres scheduled to be opened to them later this summer or in the fall, Considine and researchers have watched how bison affect the prairie.

The word “amazing” comes up more than once in describing how the bison, mature cows weigh from 800 to 1,100 pounds and mature bulls can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, delicately eat their way around the prairie.

“We’ve got a place where we had some rare violets blooming, and they’ve gone under the violet or around it and grazed the grass around it. That’s pretty incredible. That’s the proof in the pudding — they are doing what we brought them here to do, and that’s to eat the grass,” Considine said.

He and others gather data using fenced-off control areas, called “exclosures,” to record how bison impact the prairie. Three of the exclosures include remnant prairie — prairie that has never been plowed.

The total acreage of Nachusa is some 3,500 acres, and Considine said staff is exploring how many bison the acreage could support.

“We think we could support 100 to 120 animals. However, there’s no literature or anything on how much native tallgrass prairie east of the Mississippi River can support, so this is all new exploration. We’re doing a lot of monitoring, a lot of research. We’re going to let the land tell us how many animals it can support,” he said.

Considine said the bison have weathered the rainy and severe spring weather well.

“Some of those tornadoes came through pretty close and we had large hail and it didn’t seem to bother them at all,” he said.

Other Species

Right now, the adult bison are looking a little scruffy as they shed their winter coats. Even that activity is contributing to the ecosystem of the prairie — and helping fellow mammals grow their own families.

“Our crew got a photo of mice using the bison hair as a nest … It’s great for nesting material for mice and small mammals,” Considine said.

The increase in small mammals on the prairie — including some species of mice that only inhabit prairie — means other species thrive, too.

“There are a lot of small mammals on the prairie, and increasing those populations helps increase other animals, badgers, raptors — it’s one of the benefits of more food,” Considine said.

This fall, the bison herd will be moved into the corral system where they will get an annual health check and vaccinations, one of the few times they interact directly with humans.

The staff also is in the preliminary stages of building visitor areas, including one with a viewing platform, trails, restrooms and parking. Considine said plans are in the works for pull-off areas alongside the prairie.

The bison’s arrival has created a media sensation. Considine said staff has hosted or will host media from Chicago to national media, including the CBS Evening News, to global media, Al Jazeera, to talk about the reintroduction of the bison to the restored Illinois prairie.

For now, it’s up to the bison whether or not it’s time for a close-up with their fans.

“It depends. Yesterday they were right next to the road. This morning, you can’t see them. It really depends on where they want to be,” Considine said.

Western chorus frogs in Canada


This video from the USA says about itself:

Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) calling in Illinois Beach State Park. There are thousands of this small but very vocal frogs but I had to spend a lot of time to actually see one of them. To record them the secret is to just leave the camera running and move away for 10 minutes.

From Bird Studies Canada:

The Western Chorus Frog is at risk of disappearing from parts of its range in Ontario. Its numbers have declined as much as 40% in some areas since the mid-1990s. Key causes are habitat loss and degradation -through urban sprawl and intensification of agriculture. Diseases, pollution, drainage, and climate change are also factors.