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February 16, 2018

ART LANDER'S OUTDOORS:

Driving rural backroads or busy highways through wooded suburbs, motorists are likely to see skunk carcasses in the road this time of year.

The reason is simple — it’s mating season, and skunks, particularly males, are roaming around in search of mates. The nocturnal mammals aren’t that fast or agile and have predominately black fur, so they get run over unintentionally on dark roadways. Motorists beware!

The skunk most common in Kentucky is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a native species that by the late Pleistocene geologic time period, 70,000 to 14,500 years ago, was widely distributed throughout the southern United States. Today, the striped skunk is found in all Lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico.

There are 13 subspecies of the striped skunk. Their common name in the rural South is polecat.


The skunk most common in Kentucky is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a native species that is found in all Lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico. There are 13 subspecies of the striped skunk. Their common name in the rural South is polecat. (Photo by by Wallace Keck)

The skunk most common in Kentucky is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a native species that is found in all Lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico. There are 13 subspecies of the striped skunk. Their common name in the rural South is polecat. (Photo by by Wallace Keck)The skunk most common in Kentucky is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), a native species that is found in all Lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico. There are 13 subspecies of the striped skunk. Their common name in the rural South is polecat. (Photo by by Wallace Keck)Description

The medium-sized, 20 to 30 inch mammal, has a stout build, with short legs, a small, conical head and a long, heavily-furred tail.

Adult males are 10 percent larger than females. Body weights range from four to nine pounds, though some robust males may tip the scales at up to 12 pounds.

Their back feet are flat, with bare soles. Their forefeet are armed with five long, curved claws adapted for digging.

The color patterns of the fur can vary greatly, but generally consist of a black base with a white stripe extending from the head which divides along the shoulders, continuing along the flanks to the rump and tail. Brown or cream-colored mutations occasionally occur.

Habitat

Striped skunks are found in a variety of habitats, but prefer forest borders and brushy fields, near a pond, lake or stream.

They often sleep above ground during warmer weather, but dig dens below ground at the onset of cold weather. When the opportunity presents itself, striped skunks will also use dens abandoned by other animals.

Females with unweaned kits make use of underground dens in spring and early summer. In cultivated areas, striped skunks will often dig their dens in fencerows, where they are less likely to be disturbed by machinery or livestock.

In winter it is common for a single den to be occupied by multiple females and a single male. During severe cold the striped skunk saves its energy by lowering its body temperature, and depends primarily on its fat reserves to survive.

Their preference for semi-open lands puts them in contact with their only significant predator, large birds of prey, such as the Great Horned Owl. Foxes, bobcats and coyotes usually avoid striped skunks, but will kill and eat them when starving.


Striped skunks often sleep above ground during warmer weather, but dig dens below ground at the onset of cold weather. Females with unweaned kits make use of underground dens in spring and early summer. (Photo provided)

Striped skunks often sleep above ground during warmer weather, but dig dens below ground at the onset of cold weather. Females with unweaned kits make use of underground dens in spring and early summer. (Photo provided)Striped skunks often sleep above ground during warmer weather, but dig dens below ground at the onset of cold weather. Females with unweaned kits make use of underground dens in spring and early summer. (Photo provided)Food Habits

Striped skunks are omnivores, feeding on a variety of plant and animal matter.

Primarily an insectivore, the striped skunk most frequently consumes grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and caterpillars. In the winter and spring months, the striped skunk will supplement its diet with vertebrates such as mice and voles.

They are also known to eat the chicks and eggs of ground-nesting birds, including wild turkeys. They are nocturnal, but start hunting in late afternoon.

Scent Glands

Like all skunks, the striped skunk possesses two highly developed scent glands, one on each side of their anus.

The oily, yellow-colored scent that they can spray at a considerable distance, consists of a mixture of thiols, odorous compounds that resemble the smell of garlic or rotten eggs, only worse.

Dog owners beware!

If the family dog has a run-in with a skunk, it’s no laughing matter. That unmistakable, musky odor will take your breath away.

Dogs can get sprayed by skunks year-round, but late winter to spring seems to offer dogs more opportunities to get in trouble. Skunk activity picks up in February when males start wandering in search of mates, and skunk populations are highest in the spring after baby skunks are born.

Both commercial preparations and home remedies are used with varying success to try to defeat the powerful smell. But, in the end, it’s time that heals all. The offensive odor eventually goes away, wearing off on its own.

The key to cutting the smell to tolerable levels is neutralizing the spray’s pH. Skunk spray is alkaline, high on the pH scale, so that’s why home remedies are acidic.

The gestation period for striped skunks lasts around 59 to 77 days, with kits being born at about mid-May to early June. The eyes open after around three weeks, and are weaned after 42 to 56 days. (Photo provided)The gestation period for striped skunks lasts around 59 to 77 days, with kits being born at about mid-May to early June. The eyes open after around three weeks, and are weaned after 42 to 56 days. (Photo provided)Home remedies include tomato juice, milk, and cider vinegar. Tomato juice and vinegar contain acetic acid, and milk contains lactic acid.

De-skunking a dog takes lots of scrubbing and a steady flow of clean water from the garden hose. This means working outside. If done right, it’s a two person job and everyone is going to get wet.

First thoroughly soap the dog, using a concentrated dish soap like Dawn Ultra, then rinse with the garden hose.

Cider vinegar is perhaps the best choice of the home remedies. It’s less expensive than milk and isn’t as messy to apply as tomato juice.

Rinse the dog several times, mixing about 1 1⁄2 cups of vinegar in about two gallons of warm water. Pour or spray the solution all over the dog and thoroughly rub it into its fur.

Another effective home remedy is a mixture of one quart of hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup baking soda and one teaspoon of dish soap. A third option is to mix a 16-ounce bottle of hydrogen peroxide with a large can of tomato juice and a teaspoon of dish soap.

Whatever remedy, it’s going to take several applications to make an impact on the foul scent.

Skunk Breeding and Reproduction

Striped skunks are polygamous and they breed once a year, though yearling females who have failed to mate may enter a second estrous cycle a month after the first.

The mating season starts in mid-February and continues through mid-April.

A single male may have a harem of females, which he mates with and defends against other males for a period of about 35 days. Once the mating period has finished, the impregnated females confine themselves to their dens, while the males attempt to rebuild their fat reserves.

The gestation period lasts around 59 to 77 days, with kits being born at about mid-May to early June.

Litters generally consist of 2 to 12 kits, born blind and sparsely furred, weighing 25 to 40 grams. The eyes open after around three weeks, and are weaned after 42 to 56 days. At this point, the kits may accompany their mother outside the den, becoming independent after about three months.

It’s that time of the year — skunk mating season. Motorists and dog owners beware! It’s a stinky proposition.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

 

February 10, 2018

A 17-year-old teen from Knox County, Kentucky, has translated his love for hunting and fishing into a wildly popular video channel.

Kendall Gray “started making videos of his outdoor adventures in the summer of 2016 to pass the time, but his YouTube channel has since blossomed into a dedicated online community with nearly 190,000 subscribers and 34.5 million views,” Will Wright reports for The Lexington Herald-Leader. “His fans even sport their own hashtag, #GrayGang.”

And he gets fan mail from people all over the country, mostly from tweens and teens.

It’s helping him learn more about business: Gray says he spends up to 35 hours a week shooting and editing his videos as well as managing merchandise. He’s sold more than 3,000 pieces of branded merchandise to fans all over the country; his mother Brenda helps him manage the orders.

He shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. “I’ll take it as far as it wants to go. I’m going to have fun and let other people have fun through my videos,” he told Wright, who also works as a journalist for the Ground Truth Project in Central Appalachia.

One of Gray’s most popular videos, with more than 1.5 million views, shows his efforts to catch a red fox that escaped from one of his snares.

Check it out:

Click pic for video

 

February 2, 2018

Art Lander’s Outdoors: 

Woodpeckers are found throughout Kentucky, and are most abundant wherever semi-open forests or big trees are present.

In winter, several species of woodpeckers often frequent backyard bird feeders, where they can be observed up close and photographed.

Place trays on the ground filled with mixed bird seed that includes black oil sunflower seeds, and hang suet cakes in wire cage feeders, and it’s likely woodpeckers will show up. Woodpeckers are particularly fond of suet, a mixture of fat, seed and fruits.

Six species — the Red-Headed Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker — nest in Kentucky.

In the late 1990s the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis), a federally endangered species, had a tenuous foothold in the pine forests of southern Daniel Boone National Forest, but today the species may not be present in the state.

Woodpeckers are members of Family Picidae. They are tree clingers — adapted to climbing and feeding on trees. Most species have specialized feet and toes.

Their long tongues with barbed tips are used to probe crevices in tree bark to find insects and larvae. They have stiff tail feathers that prop them up when they climb.

As imagined, woodpeckers have thick, bony skulls to withstand the pounding of their chisel-like bills on tree bark and rotting wood. Feathers cover their nostrils to protect the nasal cavity from wood chips and dust.

They excavate nest cavities in dead snags of otherwise living trees, or in the limbs or trunks of rotting trees, usually located just inside the forest edge. Most species seem to prefer semi-open terrain, rather than closed-canopy forests.

They use their nesting cavities to store food, and escape the brunt of cold weather, in addition to raising young.

The woodpecker’s plumage is generally not brightly colored, but they often have distinctive markings and patches of red around their heads.

Here’s some information on five species of woodpeckers found in Kentucky, with details from The Kentucky Breeding Bird Atlas, by Brainard Palmer-Ball Jr.


Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed Woodpecker Red Headed Woodpecker • The Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is common in Central and Western Kentucky, but somewhat rare throughout the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains.

The species is found most often in semi-open to open areas with big trees, hence it abundance in the bottomland forests, swamps and sloughs of Western Kentucky.

In pre-settlement, the Red-Headed Woodpecker was likely present in great numbers in the native prairies and savannas of Central Kentucky.

Acorns and other nuts are a favorite food.

This 10-inch, jay-sized bird is strikingly colored, with a red head. The wings and tail are bluish-black, the breast is white, and there are white patches on their wings.

This year-round resident begins nesting in May.

 

• The Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) is found throughout Kentucky, but is less abundant in the eastern third of the state.

This robin-sized woodpecker is found in a variety of habitats but seems to favor rural farmland with scattered woodlots, suburban yards, urban parks and riparian corridors.

A year-round resident, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, readily comes to feeders in the winter.

Nesting begins in mid-April.

Their plumage is black and white (barred) on their backs and wings, with a pale breast. Males have a red crown and nape.

Their preferred food is boring beetles, grasshoppers, ants and other insects, but they also consume nuts and wild fruits.


Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker 1Downy Woodpecker 1• The Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), the smallest woodpecker in the eastern U.S., is sparrow-sized, and the most numerous and widespread woodpecker in Kentucky.

They are found in all of the state’s forest types, yet seem to prefer farmland woodlots, large urban parks, and wooded suburban neighborhoods. Very fond of suet, this approachable little woodpecker is a common visitor to backyard bird feeders.

Plumage is black and white with numerous white spots. Males have a small red patch on the nape of the neck.

The Downy Woodpecker is often confused with the larger Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), which has a longer bill and unspotted white back.

In the fall, the Downy Woodpecker is often found in the company of nuthatches, creepers and chickadees.

Nesting territories are established by mid-April.


Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker Northern Flicker • The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a 12-inch woodpecker found in uniform abundance across the state.

Distinctive plumage, a loud wicka-wicka-wicka vocalization, and unique feeding habits make this large woodpecker easily identifiable. Males have a brown back with dark bars, a white breast with black spots, a red patch on the nape, and a black “mustache.”

The Northern Flicker feeds primarily on the ground, eating ants and beetle larvae.

Its preferred habitat is a mix of woodlands and open land, with some large trees nearby.

In winter, transients from more northern breeding areas, pass through Kentucky and may overwinter here, boosting local populations.

One brood is raised a year and nest trees stand alone or are in a cluster of trees


Pileated Woodpecker (Photo by Robert Mislan)

Pileated Woodpecker Pileated Woodpecker • The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is Kentucky’s largest woodpecker.

The 17-inch, crow-sized bird has distinctive plumage too, and a loud, unmistakable vocalization cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk, that rises and falls in pitch. Its plumage is black with white neck stripes, and a prominent red crest. The linings of the wings are white.

This reclusive bird lives in mature forests and is uncommon to fairly common, found statewide, except the Bluegrass Region, where it is considered rare.

One of the best times to get a glimpse of this majestic woodpecker is in the spring, as nesting activity begins in late March. Their large, rectangular entry to the nesting cavity, is distinctive.

Wild turkey hunters in the spring often use a Pileated Woodpecker call as a gobbler locator call. The shrill, high-pitched notes “shock” a tom into gobbling, so the hunter can determine the exact location of the bird, to set up for the hunt.

Woodpeckers are a prime example of Kentucky native wildlife being negatively impacted by exotic, invasive species.

Woodpecker reproduction, and ultimately their abundance, has been severely impacted by the non-native European Starling, a noxious bird that competes for nest sites, often taking over holes in trees made by woodpeckers.

About the author:

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for NKyTribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors column.

 

February 2, 2018

The National Rural Education Association has named Scott Jordan the National Rural Teacher of the Year. Jordan teaches fisheries and wildlife technologies in the Cuba-Rushford Central School District in upstate New York. It took a while for the NREA to find Jordan to tell him the big news, because he and his students were hunting in New Zealand. Trips like that are what made Jordan a candidate in the first place, said NREA executive director Allen Pratt.

"It was the impact on the kids," Pratt told Tom Dinki of the Olean Times Herald, "and, I think, the hands-on approach and that he could reach the highest academic student to the student that may not be at the highest level." Jordan also teaches the kids with hands-on activities close to home; he built a fish hatchery, log cabin and deer enclosure on the school grounds. The students have a nationally televised show (which they edit) called "CRCS Outdoors" that airs on the Pursuit Channel.

"Hunting and fishing lets kids gain confidence that you don’t see in a lot of other things," said Jordan, whose program teaches almost 60 high school students. The award includes about $3,000 for Jordan to use in the program.

Written by Heather Chapman

 

Dec 29th, 2017

ART LANDER’S OUTDOORS: A LOOK BACK AT 20 YEARS SINCE INCEPTION OF KENTUCKY’S ELK RESTORATION PROJECT

The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region. (Photo provided)The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region. (Photo provided) 

This is the first in an occasional series of articles on elk in Kentucky, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the elk restoration project.

The end-of-the-year holiday celebrations have a special significance this year as it was 20 years ago this December 18th that Kentucky’s elk restoration project began.

The return of elk to the mountains of eastern Kentucky has had an immense social, economic and cultural impact, and is the realization of the vision to create hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities, with economic benefits from tourism to rural communities in the region.

The resounding success of this largest wildlife restoration project ever attempted in the eastern U.S. has garnered national attention and kudos for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), who financed a majority of the project.

Here’s some insight into the beginnings of elk restoration in Kentucky, with some quotes from a taped interview that aired recently on Kentucky Educational Television (KET):

• In Colonial America elk were common east of the Mississippi River.

The eastern elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis), which was native to Kentucky, was one of six subspecies of elk that inhabited the northern and eastern U.S., and southern Canada.

Unregulated hunting and habitat loss wiped out elk in Kentucky by the mid-1800s. Naturalist John James Audubon observed that by 1851 a few elk could still be found in the Allegheny Mountains but that they were virtually gone from the remainder of their range.

The last eastern elk was shot in Pennsylvania on September 1, 1877. The subspecies was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880.

The elk that were stocked in Kentucky during the six-year restoration project were Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni), a subspecies found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of western North America.

• In 1996 wildlife biologists and administrators with KDFWR, and members of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, began to discuss, then study the feasibility of re-introducing elk to reclaimed coal mined lands in eastern Kentucky.

On December 18, 1997 a crowd of more than 3,000 persons gathered at CyprusAmax WMA, near Ary, Kentucky, in Perry County, to witness the release of the first seven elk. It was a historic moment in wildlife conservation in Kentucky. (Photo provided)On December 18, 1997 a crowd of more than 3,000 persons gathered at CyprusAmax WMA, near Ary, Kentucky, in Perry County, to witness the release of the first seven elk. It was a historic moment in wildlife conservation in Kentucky. (Photo provided)

Tom Bennett, who was KDFWR commissioner, said that it seemed like “a crazy idea at the time.”

There was many unanswered questions, including: 1) How would the project be financed? 2) Was there enough suitable habitat? and 3) Would the public support the idea?

SEE REST OF STORY HERE

 

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