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Critter bits: Odds and ends from the wild side

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Four years ago, I wrote of a bird that seemed destined to colonize our fair area after having been found in Kindred, a first for Cass County. Well, it's happened. Nearly every burg a person ventures into these days gives up a Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) or two.

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All this, as some may recall, started from the accidental release of this Old World bird in the Caribbean. From there, the bird made its way to the mainland in Florida; some years later, North Dakota and virtually the rest of the continent. Last summer, the birds even nested in the middle of West Fargo. And they're here to stay. Watch for this large pale dove in areas of spruce trees, where it nests.

I had heard of river otters (Lontra Canadensis) being around, but had never seen one in North Dakota. But last year, I witnessed three of these animals, all near the Red River. One was even spotted frolicking several times in and near Fargo's Edgewood Golf Course.

These and other local sightings are likely resulting from a reintroduction effort the Minnesota DNR carried out some years ago. Regardless of the animals' origin, I suspect this large and agile member of the weasel family will fare well here, and give quiet observers a chance at a fairly rare viewing treat.

2009 looks to be a wash of sorts for the storied whooping crane (Grus Americana). The latest aerial census (plus other reports) produced 244 birds in and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge area of Texas, a number similar to the prior year's total.

Outside the wild flock, there is a sister flock wildlife officials began a few years ago in Wisconsin. The nearly 20 whoopers in that group are all in Florida now, having been led by ultralight pilots again this year. Reportedly, this is the last chaperoned trip, so the birds will be on their own next time. Read operationmigration.org for details on this experimental flock.

Mountain lions, or pumas (Puma concolor), continue to make headlines in North Dakota, from animals wandering near towns to the growing interest in hunting this large cat.

Because of the animal's solitary and retiring nature, mountain lion statistics in North Dakota are based upon a limited (but growing) body of research and are hardly firm. Still, the evidence seems undeniable: the animal's population in this state is stable, if not growing. Seeing one still defies very long odds, but chances seem to be increasing.

The checklist of North American birds (as recognized by the A.B.A.) likely grew by one last month when two lucky individuals found a bare-throated tiger-heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum), a species never before seen north of Mexico. It was located near Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park near Mission, Texas, and the bird remains there still, attracting out-of-state birders by the hundreds.

This species will undoubtedly be confirmed by the records committee. Yet another new one found along the Lower Rio Grande, a site with a rich history of such occurrences.

What was once a rare beast is now an expected sighting nearly every time one ventures very far in Cass County. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) can now be found every month of the year in our area and has been officially delisted as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Despite this, the birds are still protected and the N.D. Game and Fish Department is monitoring the nation's symbol as well. Included in this program is the mapping of known nests. The latest information lists three nests in Cass County, two in the Harwood-West Fargo area.

It's called common raven (Corvus corax) because it's the most common raven over its range. But don't let the title fool you. This bird is anything but common locally. Last fall I saw just my second common raven in Cass County in about 30 years.

Still there seems to be reason for optimism. Reports from around North Dakota are on the increase, away from traditional areas like the Turtle Mountains. I haven't heard of anyone guessing why this might be happening. But the raven - the largest songbird - is known for its very high level of intelligence. It must have its reasons.

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