Turtle harvesting ban, Bradford pears and tame deer

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Good news! Last Saturday the State Conservation Advisory Board met and unanimously approved a recommendation that, with the commissioner’s approval, will outlaw commercial harvesting of wild-caught turtles from the state’s fresh waters. I addressed the problem in last week’s edition of this newspaper.

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For about a month I have noticed numerous small trees and shrubs with showy white flowers along rural and suburban roads in our area. From a distance, they might be mistaken for dogwoods, but only recently have dogwoods begun to display their conspicuous white flowers.

I recognized the early bloomers mentioned above, when growing in lawns or along maintained highway rights-of-way, as Bradford pears, but when I saw them in natural landscapes, I was puzzled. I noticed one blooming on my property underneath some pine trees, clipped off the end of a flowering branch, and showed it to a botanical expert. He was reasonably certain it was a Bradford pear.

Having seen so many of these trees growing in uncultivated natural settings prompted me to do some research on the species. The Bradford pear is a cultivar belonging to the species Pyrus calleryana, a native of China and Viet Nam. Botanists call it a callery pear. Birds eat the ripened fruit and deposit the seeds in their droppings.

The first naturalized callery pears were first discovered quite a few years ago in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and around Washington, D.C. They have now been reported in 152 counties in 25 states.

In 1982 the National Landscape Association voted the “Bradford pear tree” as the second most popular tree in the United States. It is now considered an “invasive species.” In natural environments, the naturalized trees reportedly compete with early successsional native species in old fields, hedge rows, and areas that have been subjected to clear-cutting.

I have detected no evidence that the trees are adversely affecting any natural habitats in our area. In fact, their fruits are providing food for fructivorous (fruit-eating) birds and small mammals and their showy white flowers are contributing pleasingly to the visual ambience of our natural landscapes, all of which lead me to conclude that although they are invasive, they are also beneficial and may prove valuable as substitutes for the declining number of dogwoods in rural areas.

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A few months ago, I mentioned having acquired an i-Pad. I’ve learned to use it with limited success and can now access information previously unavailable to me without Janie’s assistance.

I have also been able to access some YouTube videos I found interesting. The video depicting the honey badger, a fearless African critter, was informative and entertaining. Several others were also, but none has been as fascinating and entertaining as one showing a crow caring for and playing with a house cat. The kitten’s owner said, “If it hadn’t been for the crow, the kitten would probably have died.”

The relationship lasted for quite a while, and the video showed the two playing with each other. When the cat was indoors, the crow would ‘caw’ until the owners let the cat outside. I’ve had three tame crows and was impressed by their intelligence. One played with our young dog, but was very protective of its food and of the cache of trinkets it had gathered.

On the subject of inter-specific animal relationships, the following observation strikes me as particularly unusual. The forested areas to the north and west of my 40 acres of undisturbed woods were clear-cut, and my property is now inhabited not only by the original residents but also by those that formerly resided in the adjoining, but now barren tracts. I see deer regularly, and as least two have become so tame that they seem oblivious to my presence, and, now get this, to my dogs. One of the two is a young buck, a six-pointer, the other a doe.

The other day I walked onto my deck and saw the two deer nibbling on some vegetation on the creek bank.

My two dogs ran down the deck stairs, into the woods, and confronted the deer. I thought the deer would flash their tails and run away, and that my dogs would either chase them or bark.

They did neither and the deer stood their ground. Then the dogs and the deer began frolicking around, like they were playing a game of chase. That lasted for about three minutes before the deer trotted away.

I can only assume that the omnipresence of deer on our property have led our dogs to assume that they are members of the family, and that the deer, having suffered no harm from humans or dogs, have assumed likewise.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also co-chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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