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8 months ago

Woodpecker species holding its own in Alabama

On the banks of the Coosa River, a federally endangered woodpecker continues to hold its own, with a little help from friends.

For more than 30 years, Alabama Power Company biologists have worked to protect and expand red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) populations on Lake Mitchell, which contains the largest population of RCWs on private property in the state.

The aptly-named woodpecker measures about 7 inches tall and is black and white except for the red streak males have along the side of their heads.

Each spring, Alabama Power partners with federal and state agencies to identify and track the bird through banding. In early May, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife or the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will scale pine trees up to 30 feet to check on that year’s offspring.

The baby birds, just 6 to 9 days old, will be given a unique band of colored rings along their tiny legs.

“Their eyes are shut, and they are still pretty much featherless, but the size is about right where you can put bands on them,” said Eric Soehren, an ecologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “If you wait too long – you can go 10 or possibly 11 days – but by then their eyes have opened up, and it’s a lot harder to pull them out. There is a small window of time in which you want to target.”

The bands will allow scientists to track the birds over their lifetime. Some birds from Lake Mitchell have turned up more than 100 miles away.

The first survey of red-cockaded woodpeckers was conducted in 1985. After last year’s nesting season, 11 active clusters produced a total of 17 fledglings – nine males and eight females. That’s in addition to 31 adult birds, bringing the total population of RCWs in 2017 to 48.

In addition to tracking, Alabama Power assists the woodpecker by providing habitat for the species.

While most woodpeckers carve openings in dead trees, RCWs bore holes exclusively in mature, living pine trees. To give the birds more nesting habitat, Alabama Power carves openings in trees using chainsaws.

“At the end of the next season, we will look at the number of birds there and compare that to the number of tree cavities at each cluster. If the number of birds exceeds the number of cavities, then we will hire consultants to go out and install artificial cavities for the birds,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power. “That way, all the birds will have a place to live.”

Alabama Power also helps keep the longleaf pine forests that woodpeckers depend on healthy with regular prescribed burning and tree thinning.

“The habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers really would not exist without thinning and prescribed burning at Lake Mitchell,” Fitch said. “We have prescribed burning at each cluster every other year or as needed to maintain an open, park-like area for RCW habitat.”

About the red-cockaded woodpecker

The red-cockaded woodpecker primarily feeds on ants, beetles, cockroaches, caterpillars, wood-boring insects, spiders and, occasionally, fruits or berries.

RCWs are a cooperative breeding species, which means some of the male birds from previous years will help take care of their half-siblings and future generations.

The nesting season runs from April to June and breeding females typically lay three to four eggs each season. Group members incubate eggs for 10 to 11 days. Once hatched, nestlings remain in the tree cavity for 26 to 28 days.

Upon fledging, the young often remain with the parents, forming clusters with three to four members. Groups can grow to as large as 10 birds; however, there is only one breeding pair within each cluster.

The “helpers” are all male as juvenile females generally leave the cluster before the next breeding season in search of solitary male groups.

The main predator of RCW nests is rat snakes. To combat these predators, the birds keep sap flowing from the pine trees as a defense mechanism.

The red-cockaded woodpecker plays a vital role in Southern pine forests. Several other animals, such as nuthatches, bluebirds, bees, wasps and other woodpeckers, use cavities excavated by RCWs.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

1 hour ago

Stray dog finds love and comfort at Alabama Power plant

When a stray dog wandered onto the property at Alabama Power’s Plant Greene County a dozen years ago, workers there had no idea how she would end up touching them all.

They also had no idea the dog was pregnant.

The latter became apparent when she had five puppies a few days later. The former has been firmly established by those who have come to love the dog they call Pup-Pup.

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Initially, they cared for the dog expecting she would find her way back home. It was soon apparent that Pup-Pup was home.

“Little did she know she went from hell to heaven when she showed up here,” said Christopher “Critter” Glass, mechanic-welder at the plant, who gave Pup-Pup her name.

Stray dog Pup-Pup finds loving family at Alabama Power plant from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Pup-Pup’s five puppies were given to contractors and employees. Employees donated to have her fixed and she has been a fixture at the plant ever since.

“An all call will go out and everyone here pitches in for anything she needs, whether it’s food, medicine or a new bed,” said Elaine Fetzer, financial specialist at Plant Greene County.

Recently, Pup-Pup was diagnosed with kidney failure and is no longer able to stay at the plant overnight. Fetzer, who once wanted to be a veterinarian, has tapped into that calling in caring for Pup-Pup away from the plant. She takes Pup-Pup home at the end of the workday and dispenses her medicine twice a day.

“Pup-Pup’s never missed a day until all of this went down (kidney failure), so she’s taking a few vacation days, but she has earned it,” Fetzer said. “Now she is getting her weekends and holidays.”

Even before Pup-Pup’s current health problems, she has had challenges. A vet visit after she was hit by a car revealed she had been shot before her days at the plant. She has always been skittish around flashlights and flashes, possibly because she may have been shot at night when someone shined a light on her.

But at Plant Greene County, Pup-Pup gives and receives love.

The outpouring of love is tinged with sadness as her plant family fears Pup-Pup is facing her final days.

As Plant Greene County Mechanic Chris Cameron put it: “Pup-Pup’s been a great dog, never seen a dog as mighty as her.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Birmingham Iron football team finishes first week of training camp, holds joint practice

The Birmingham Iron has finished its first week of training camp in San Antonio, ending with a joint practice with the Salt Lake Stallions.

Birmingham’s Alliance of American Football team is using the camp to whittle its roster down from the 85 original players to the 52 that will take the field against the Memphis Express at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Legion Field to kick off the inaugural season for the team and the new league.

The Iron released interviews with two players expected to make the final roster – running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Luis Perez.

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Update from Birmingham Iron training camp from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Richardson said the practice with the Stallions showed the progress the Iron is making as a team.

“It shows that we got something special,” the former University of Alabama and NFL running back said. “It shows that both sides still need a lot of work. But we did a lot of great things out there. We showed that team chemistry, too.”

Perez agreed that they are building something with this team.

“As a team, I think we’re doing a very good job,” he said. “We’re stacking those blocks, getting better every single day. Not making the same mistake twice is the end goal. Just getting better, installing all these plays and studying them. Right now we’re all in a learning phase, and I think we’re doing a good job.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Alabama WFF Ramps Up CWD Sampling Effort

With positive tests for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Tennessee and additional positives in Mississippi, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has ramped up testing in north Alabama.

WFF officials set up manned sampling stations in Hackleburg the first weekend of the new year and followed with sampling last weekend in Waterloo.

Self-service sampling stations were recently set up by WFF in north Alabama to accommodate drop-offs 24 hours a day.

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WFF Director Chuck Sykes said testing for the always-fatal disease, which is caused by a rogue protein called a prion, has been ongoing since 2002, but the positive tests in neighboring states caused WFF to increase its sampling effort.

“The Mississippi positives made us test more in the areas that joined Mississippi,” Sykes said. “When the deer in Tennessee tested positive, it prompted an increased level of testing where it fell within the response zone. Those positives just prompted us to increase our surveillance in those areas.”

Sixteen deer were brought in for sampling at the Hackleburg station, but Sykes said the interaction with hunters who didn’t harvest deer may have been the most productive aspect of the manned sampling station.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I consider it a success for a volunteer check station,” Sykes said. “More important than the 16 deer brought in, we had two times that many hunters stop by and ask questions. It was a really good way for our staff to get in front of the public, and the public to be able to ask questions one-on-one.”

Sykes and the WFF staff discovered that, although the Division has been immersed in the CWD Response Plan, it has yet to be widely discussed in the public.

“We (WFF) are up to our eyeballs in CWD,” Sykes said. “Even though we’ve offered seminars, done articles and put up billboards, a lot of people don’t pay attention until it hits close to home. A lot of the questions were just basic CWD knowledge that the average hunter in Alabama doesn’t understand. What is it? Why is it a problem? What makes it different from other diseases? These were very positive interactions. There was nothing negative about it.”

Sykes said the self-service sampling stations are part of the standard protocols of the CWD Response Plan (https://www.outdooralabama.com/deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know).

“With the positives in Mississippi and Tennessee within 50 miles of our border, that prompts us to do more testing in those areas,” he said. “It’s been shown time and time again that hunter-harvested deer and road-kills are the best ways to achieve samples and to get the most out of those samples. Just going in and randomly shooting deer is okay, but in areas that have had CWD for a long time, there is a higher predominance in road-kill deer and hunter-harvested deer because they lose their sense of wariness. The most effective way to sample is by hunter-harvested deer and working with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) to identify road-kills.”

Above all, Sykes said he wants hunters to continue to pursue deer just like they always have.

“Again, this is not something to cause people to quit hunting,” he said. “We need them to become educated on what CWD is. Don’t rely on what they’ve heard at hunting camp or what they saw on Facebook. Talk to us to try to understand the disease and what we’re doing to try to prevent it.”

Sykes reiterated how hunting, especially deer hunting, is a cornerstone in Alabama’s culture and economy. Hunting has an almost $2 billion impact annually on Alabama’s economy.

“This is not a hunter issue,” he said. “This is not even a deer hunting issue. This is a State of Alabama economic issue and a way of life issue. We need people to understand what’s going on, and we need their assistance to gather these samples in the most efficient way so we can stay on top of it. Heaven forbid, if it does get here, we will be prepared to mitigate the risks as much as possible.”

Previously, tissue samples had to be sent out of state to be tested for CWD. In 2018, WFF provided funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture to purchase CWD testing equipment, which was set up at Auburn University. The equipment and technician have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can test up to 90 samples per day.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the new CWD testing equipment speeds up the state’s response time considerably.

“We don’t have to wait on anybody,” Blankenship said. “We take our samples to the Department of Agriculture lab at Auburn University. We will get those test results quickly and be able to respond as soon as possible.”

The freezers for the self-service sample stations are located in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Colbert counties and are available to receive deer head samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head with 4-6 inches of neck attached. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. Hunters will then place the head in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. They will need to complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag, and attach the tag to the bag with a zip tie. Hunters will take the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer. All materials needed to drop off a sample are provided at each freezer location.

Locations of the self-service CWD drop-off sampling sites are:

Fayette County, Fayette County Extension Office, 650 McConnell Loop, Fayette, Ala., 35555

Lamar County, Hunter’s Gold Processing, 11634 County Rd. 9, Millport, Ala., 35576

Marion County, Watson’s Grocery, 5658 State Highway 19, Detroit, Ala., 35552

Franklin County, Fancher’s Taxidermy, 715 Newell Rd., Red Bay, Ala., 35582

Lauderdale County, Florence Frozen Meats, 1050 South Court St., Florence, Ala., 35630

Colbert County, Yogi’s Texaco, 17750 US Highway 72, Tuscumbia, Ala., 35674

Hunters can also have deer sampled at any WFF District Office (www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-section) or at the WFF office in Marengo County at 1105 Bailey Dr., Demopolis, Ala., 36732, phone number 334-289-8030. WFF offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before dropping off the sample, hunters should call ahead to make sure a biologist is available.

Sykes said the test results will be emailed to the hunter within three to four weeks.

Currently, self-service freezers are located throughout northwest Alabama only because of the increased surveillance samples needed in the response zones of the CWD-positive locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

19 hours ago

Mo Brooks to continue key service for Tennessee Valley on House Armed Services Committee

Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) announced he will again serve on the highly influential House Armed Services Committee in the 116th Congress, with increased seniority this time around.

Brooks has served on the important committee for the Huntsville area since taking office in 2011. He will also receive a second committee assignment to be revealed by the House Republican Steering Committee next week.

Among Republican members of the Armed Services committee, Brooks’ seniority has improved to 16th out of 26. His seniority among the full committee membership has officially yet to be determined, but it is expected to improve as well.

In a statement, Brooks emphasized the committee assignment’s importance to his district.

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“The military side of Redstone Arsenal employs roughly 30,000 Tennessee Valley residents,” Brooks said. “In light of the dramatic cut in Republicans on the Armed Services Committee (as we moved from majority to minority status), I am pleased my Republican colleagues chose me to continue serving on Armed Services, where my growing seniority empowers me to better protect America’s national security and promote Redstone Arsenal’s role in providing that security.”

Brooks concluded, “The Tennessee Valley is experiencing rapid economic growth in large part because of Redstone Arsenal’s reputation as a center of excellence. Quite frankly, we often do what no one else in the world can do. Recognizing this, I again successfully competed for a position on Armed Service, which annually produces the National Defense Authorization Act, the primary mechanism whereby Congress authorizes Department of Defense programs.”

Subcommittee assignments for the House Armed Service Committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

20 hours ago

Aderholt: ‘Abortion ends a human life, plain and simple’ – ‘Not a matter of religion vs. science’

With the March for Life in full swing in Washington, D.C on Friday, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) released a statement mourning “the loss of more than 60 million unborn children” since Roe v. Wade became law of the land.

Wednesday, January 22 is the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on abortion.

“Today, thousands of Americans joined together to mark the 46th anniversary of a terrible moment in American history – the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade,” Aderholt said. “Since that court ruling, we have mourned the loss of more than 60 million unborn children. We must continue to fight for these children who do not have a voice of their own.”

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The congressman added, “This is not a matter of religion vs. science. Science itself shows us that these are not just masses of tissue. I feel calling these unborn children a fetus instead of what they are, an unborn child, is simply a measure to ease guilty consciences. Science has proved that an unborn child’s heart begins beating just 18-21 days after fertilization, that an unborn child’s brainwaves can be detected just 6 weeks after fertilization, and that at 10-11 weeks after fertilization, every organ system is in place.”

“These facts add up to one conclusion, abortion ends a human life, plain and simple,” Aderholt concluded.

In the 116th Congress, Aderholt serves as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and Related Agencies for the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

He is also a member of that committee’s Defense Subcommittee and its Agriculture Subcommittee, as well as the Helsinki Commission.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn