Saving wildlife: win some, lose some


By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist



Some old-time readers will remember when Fowler’s ran a camera shop on Chillicothe Street in downtown Portsmouth. It was to Fowlers I went, in the 1960s, when I was first getting the bug to try my hand at photo journalism, to go in debt for a Nikon single-lens reflex that cost $500.

I had just done a story for Fur-Fish-Game magazine on bow hunting for deer and the editor wanted photos of a deer hunter drawing back on a bow from a tree stand.

The film we used then was color slides, which we sent to editors by regular mail. Newspaper photos were all on black-and-white film and were printed in 8 x 10 format.

Anyway, I decided I would serve as both photographer and model. In the woods I came across a huge elm with a slanting trunk that sported a huge limb running almost parallel with the trunk and only about four feet from the forest floor.

I set the camera on a tripod, set the shutter to go off after a 10-second delay, the only option available, and focused on the portion of the limb where I would be taking aim with the bow.

I pushed the camera button, grabbed the bow and arrow, ran up the tree trunk and out the limb. Just as I drew the bow string back my foot slipped, and I wound up straddling the limb as ….

“Click.”

I set the camera up again, ran up the trunk and out the limb, notched the arrow and drew back on the bow, leaned too far forward, lost my balance, and fell. I was in mid-air when ….

“Click.”

After a third unsuccessful try I decided, before I wound up putting a razor-sharp arrowhead in my body, to end my photo session until I could find someone willing to serve as a model. For a reasonable fee of, say…getting your picture in a magazine?

WILDLIFE RECOVERY

The other day I turned off U.S. 52 onto the Jesse Stuart Memorial Bridge crossing the Greenup Dam just as a huge bald eagle flew overhead on an upstream course.

A few years ago, such a sighting would have prompted the observer to call newspapers and radio stations with a report. Now eagle sightings are common. Even some working nests have been observed.

Continuing down U.S. 23 on the Kentucky side I looked over into a new-mown hayfield and saw four or five white-tailed deer feeding amongst the rows of hay.

When I was a youngster growing up in this area, we would never have seen an eagle or a deer. Likewise, the river otter and the beaver that now frequent the Little Sandy River and Tygarts Creek.

So, we conclude that wildlife in our area of the world is making a comeback and doing well.

SOME NOT SO WELL

The last barn owl I saw was quite a few years ago. I spotted him in the loft window of an old barn setting off a dirt road crossing the bottoms toward the Ohio.

Now the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources tells us the barn owl is in danger of going the way of the dodo bird. The department asks the public’s help in finding nesting sites of this bird.

Barn owls were plentiful across Kentucky in the 1960s. Now, however, there are only about 25 nesting sites documented statewide.

Other, more common owls, which are not threatened, are often confused with barn owls, which have distinctive heart-shaped faces and dark eyes. They have no ear tufts as other owls do. They’re medium-sized, standing 14 to 20-inches tall. They look much bigger in flight with a wingspan of three and one-half feet.

They have a whitish face and breast with whitish to pale cinnamon bodies. They don’t hoot like other owls. Instead, they screech and hiss, especially when approached.

The department says one reason for the decline is that barn owls have lost their historic and foraging habitat as landowners cut down old trees damaged by storms and convert pastures, hayfields, and grasslands to row crops.

Wildlife biologists are searching for additional factors causing the decline.

In the struggle to save wildlife, it seems we win some and lose some.

The loss of any species can be counted as a loss for all of us.

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By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at gsamwriter@twc.com or (606) 932-3619.