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3 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)

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1 hour ago

Decatur High School teacher accused of having sex with students resigns

An Alabama high school teacher who was paid nearly $130,000 while on leave fighting charges that she had sex with students has resigned.

The Decatur city school board accepted the resignation of Carrie Cabri Witt on Monday.

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Superintendent Michael Douglas tells the Decatur Daily that Witt quit the day before the board was scheduled to hold a hearing on her employment.

The 45-year-old Witt is charged with two counts of having sex with a student.

She’s been on paid leave since March 2016 while fighting the accusations.

Witt’s resignation letter says she “vehemently” denies committing any crime or having any inappropriate relationship with a student.

The school district has spent more than $128,000 on salary and benefits on Witt since placing her on leave.

She worked at Decatur High School.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

How an incoming freshman overcame inner-city Chicago to get to Alabama State University – ‘This is the start of a new life’

Ivry Hall has a tale to tell – one that is too unbelievable and too tragic to be anything but real. But it is who life’s challenges have made him, and where Hall is going from here, that he wants to be his life’s story.

Chicago born-and-raised, Hall just turned 18 last month.

“I grew up on the South Side. Englewood, 64th and Laflin,”  he told WLS-TV. “My mom did a lot of moving, but that’s where I spent most of my childhood.”

His upbringing, like that of most in this infamous part of the Windy City, was filled with serious trouble.

“Gang banging,” Hall admitted. “I used to smoke when I was little.”

He also dropped out of school, saying that is what was expected of children like him in that urban neighborhood.

Hall said, “I did a lot of stuff. That’s just from the image I was seeing so I wanted to do it, too.”

And that was all before his mom, who was raising him as a single mother, got cancer when Hall was only 12.

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“When my mom passed away, I was so hurt,” he reflected. “And I just wanted to do better.”

This tragedy inspired Hall to go back to school, and after some time, attend Tilden High School.

While in a positive frame of mind again, his life did not necessarily get easier when he went back to get his education. Hall was living with a cousin who moved nearly two hours from where he went to class.

“I had to get on three buses and one train,” Hall explained.

However, through hard work and the right attitude, he always kept going.

“I don’t believe in giving up, and I think that failure is not an option,” said Hall.

Not only did his mom pass away when he was 12, but when he was a senior in high school, Hall’s dad died of lung failure.

“Of course, I lost my mom. I lost my dad,” he told WLS-TV in Chicago. “I wish they were still here to see what I’ve accomplished now, but they’re not. Everything is not going to come as you want it.”

Hall’s faith in Jesus Christ, sports and a local boxing gym got him through the hard times. He also had mentors at his church who never stopped encouraging him.

Hall said, “They are like, ‘Ivry, you’re going to be something. You’re so smart.’ And that stuff encouraged me to do good.”

“No pity party,” explained Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church, where Hall attends. “No ‘poor me.’ He was just a young brother who wanted the best for himself and others.”

Hall set a goal for himself when his mother died, and he never took his eye off achieving it.

“I always wish that I could graduate valedictorian, and look, I did,” he recounted. “I was beyond happy.”

Now, Hall is beginning his freshman year at Alabama State University in Montgomery, a triumph made possible in part by a $10,000 scholarship from his church.

The teen from the South Side of Chicago is just getting started on writing his life’s story, but he has a good plan for what comes next.

“Major in business, so I can open up my own business,” Hall forecasted.

He added, “I’m not for sure what I want to open up, but I want to help people.”

Hall now has his sights set on a new goal, and he is determined to succeed.

“I’m going to go to college and graduate, so I’m going to find a way to study,” Hall said. “I’m going to find a way to do everything without giving up.”

“If I give up, I will be just like everybody that I know,” he continued.

The young man also shared his key to overcoming the challenges life has thrown at him again and again.

“You have to give 100 percent in everything you do,” Hall emphasized. “Once you give up, you’ll only be used to giving up. At least try. If you can’t do it, continue to try.”

He has been through a lot in his short time on earth, but to him, a blank canvas awaits.

“This is the start of a new life,” Hall concluded.

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

2 hours ago

Former Prattville police officer gets 10 years for fraud, theft

A former police officer in Alabama who pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and burglary has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports 51-year-old Leon Todd Townson was sentenced Monday.

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The former U.S. Marine is one of two former Prattville Police Department lieutenants charged with breaking into a home in 2015.

The other lieutenant, 48-year-old John Wayne McDaniel, is set to be sentenced Friday.

Townson also was charged in 2017 with defrauding an insurance agency by filing a claim containing false information.

The fraudulent claim prompted the agency to award Townson more than $190,000.

He resigned from the police department in 2005 before pleading guilty to trying to sell a modified rifle seized by the department’s drug unit.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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3 hours ago

GATR Technologies Inc. of Huntsville gets $522M Army contract for inflatable antennas

An Alabama company has a five-year, $522 million extension to an Army contract for inflatable satellite antenna systems.

GATR Technologies Inc. of Huntsville first won the contract in 2013.

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It said in early 2014 that the contract made the antennas more broadly available to the armed services, which already were using them in special operations units.

GATR’s ground-mounted antennas look like giant beach balls with tie-downs to point them in the right direction.

The antenna inside is reflective fabric.

Fans keep the air pressure in the top half slightly higher than in the bottom half, pushing the fabric down into the right shape.

The extension brings the contract’s total maximum value to more than $960 million.

It was announced Friday in the Pentagon’s daily list of military contracts.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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