NEAMN ‘Birds and Bees’ Adventures

NEA Master Naturalists celebrated the beautiful northeast Arkansas spring season with two grand adventures.

Our May outing took us to the Potlatch Conservation Education Center at Cook’s Lake in Casscoe, Ar.  What a unique treasure!  The center is a joint venture between the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  It is located on 1,850 acres of upland and bottomland hardwood forest near the White River Natural Wildlife Refuge.  The setting is spectacular and well worth a visit for hiking, bird watching, nature photography, etc.  The area has an abundance of old growth hardwood trees, and water is plentiful, making it a superb habitat for ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Our visit included a rich and interesting hummingbird program and demonstration presented by Tana Beasley, the facility manager.  We observed Tana measure and band several ruby0throated hummingbirds.  Banding involves placing tiny metal bracelets about the size of a wristwatch knob on the bird’s tiny legs.  The band code provides a way to identify each individual if it is recaptured.  Tracking birds by their codes, scientists can learn about the range, longevity, migration patterns, population changes and habits of birds.

Each time a banded bird is trapped, data are collected.  In addition to determining species and sex, lengths of wings, tail and bill are measured.  The bird is weighed, and an examination of a groove in the bill is helpful in determining its age.

A bander can examine a bird to tell if it is pregnant or merely storing fat for migration.  We were lucky enough to see eggs through the abdominal skin of the females who were close to laying!  Once the important conservation work was completed, we each got to release one of the tiny birds back into the wild.  We love hummingbirds!

The delicate work of trapping, banding, measuring bird wings and beaks, recording that information by hand and releasing the birds can be a year-round job.  They are busiest May through September, with August being the peak time.  The skilled team at Cook’s Lake has placed such bands on the right legs of 1,400 hummingbirds since 2009.  It is expected the total will reach 2000 by the end of September.

The Bees!

Our June spring adventure brought us to the apiary of Mel and Jerry Harvey in * Arkansas.

Mel Harvey, the interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park, is one of Arkansas’ most knowledgeable beekeepers.  Mel delivered a fascinating presentation about the life of the honeybee and the practice of beekeeping.  She and her husband Jerry graciously showed us around their apiary where they manage eight hives.  They also set up an observation hive for us to get a safe up-close look at these busy insects.

Honeybees produce several marketable products, including honey, pollen and propolis (consumed as health supplements), and beeswax.  Although a single hive can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey annually, our demand for honey far exceeds our national production.  Americans consume more than 400 million pounds of honey each year, two thirds of which are imported.

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