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Guano Testing, "lost" deer and Rainier
Seattle Times staff columnist
Some pressing and nonpressing items from the Big Gore-Tex Northwest Mailbag, a proud Seattle institution for nearly an eighth of a century:
Q: I read somewhere that the state is going to be testing wild birds next month for the Asian H5N1 avian flu virus. How, exactly, is this accomplished? Do they shoot them, then run a blood test, or what?
A: The state says it already has tested about 100 birds, either found dead or encountered in other wildlife-management activities, and none have had the virus — nor have any other wild birds tested throughout North America. But it wants to take a closer look this summer.
Wildlife agents, targeting mostly migratory birds that might have "interacted" with Asian counterparts in the Arctic, will test birds found dead first, then move on to live captures to get at least 2,500 valid samples.
Live birds will be restrained in nets, held for samples, then released. The state also will collect data from some 800 birds shot by hunters, and various wildlife agents — insert your own "drawing the short straw" joke here — will collect 500 samples of bird droppings. (Note to samplers: Save yourselves some time and travel here; you can collect about 300 samples simply by lurking around the windshield of my truck on any summer day.)
Most of the birds tested will be pintails and mallard ducks, along with some widgeon, green-winged teal, shovelers and sea ducks. And lest you worry that this program will put a huge crimp in the bird population in the Pacific Flyway, note that roughly a million geese, 12 million ducks and 150,000 swans wing their way from the Arctic down through Western U.S. states every year.
Most of the funding for this project comes from the feds. If you see a guy with rubber gloves and a scraper collecting widgeon guano from a beach log near you, relish the sight of your tax dollars at work.
Q : Help me out here. My girlfriend has seen a couple young fawns behind our property that appear to be walking around alone at times. She naturally supposes that their mothers have been hit by a car, and that the animals need help because a mom deer would never leave a fawn alone. I say this probably happens a lot, like when the mom is out shopping or bowling. Who's right?
A : You are, my friend. Deer would never shop during daylight hours, and never bowl unless they live in Yakima, where league play is required of all living beings. But they do occasionally leave the young ones "alone." Usually, the mother is right around the corner, keeping her distance from the fawn to keep her own body scent off of it, to ward off predators.
In fact, notes Dave Brittell of the state Wildlife Department, your girlfriend picking up a fawn to "rescue" it very likely would be witnessed by the horrified mother, watching from a short distance away.
Rule of thumb: Keep yours in your pockets. Wild animals have been figuring out how to survive a lot longer than we have. And keep in mind that holding a wild animal in captivity is a misdemeanor offense in this state.
Q : Remind me when to avoid Paradise at Mount Rainier. Is it this summer that the project to replace the "flying saucer" Rainier visitor-center begins?
A : Right you are. Mount Rainier National Park recently awarded a contract for the new visitor center at Paradise, which, unfortunately, will be built in the current Paradise parking area, throwing the already overburdened area into a possible traffic hell for the next two — pessimists among us might suggest three — summers.
The new visitor center isn't scheduled to open until fall 2008. Until then, a major chunk of the current Paradise parking lot will be a construction site. The space occupied by the old flying-saucer building will revert to parking eventually, but it won't be demolished until the new center opens.
The park will temporarily allow parking on the shoulders of the nearby Valley Road and pledges to run a shuttle to Paradise. (Believe this when you see it. The park has been pledging a Paradise shuttle for years, and none has ever materialized.) But they are conceding that all of this could become one volcano-sized headache.
Also note that the Paradise Inn will remain closed while it's being rehabilitated through the spring of 2008.
Our advice: Take the shuttle, if it proves something other than fictional, or go elsewhere. And absolutely do not point your GPS unit toward Paradise on a summer weekend.
Ron Judd's Trail Mix column appears here every Thursday. To contact him: 206-464-8280 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company