Old News Archive

November 7, 2006 - Outdoor Report

November 07, 2006 - TRC

Region A- Southwestern Maine

One day last week, Tuesday, October 31st, I was poking around the yard before work, heard the familiar caw, caw, caw sound of a crow. I looked overhead a saw small group, perhaps 5 to 7 birds flying in a southwesterly direction not much higher than three tree heights over head. I watched for a moment, then noticed another group about the same size, then another, larger group of twelve to fifteen birds headed the same way, flying about 5 to 15 seconds apart. This event continued on for nearly 10 minutes! Groups ranging from five to six birds up to about twenty kept appearing overhead. I eventually started counting and reached 299 birds over this time span. If you figure they were flying about 25 miles an hour, the front of the flock was over 4 miles ahead of the tail-enders!

Not knowing a whole lot about crows, I started doing some reading and some research on the internet and discovered a fascinating amount of information from sources such as Audubon Society, Cornell University, and other web-sites.

I learned that this flock was not exceptionally large, that flocks of crows that congregate together as “roosts” may contain several thousand individuals, and that a roost out in Oklahoma had an estimated 2 million birds! Evidently this roosting event takes place during fall and winter. Crows in the northern latitudes have rather short migratory patterns, and our birds may spend the winter in the mid-Atlantic and central eastern states such as Pennsylvania.

Quite a bit of publicity on crows in the past few years revolves around West Nile Virus, an infection that can cause encephalitis and meningitis. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that feed on the blood of infected birds. Evidently just a very few species of mosquitoes feed on both birds and mammals, and these are found in urban and suburban areas where pools of stagnant water as a result of poor drainage or pools of water in buckets, barrels, tires, and clogged gutters that have been allowed to collect water.

Much is being learned about this virus, but it is strongly felt by scientists that birds do not transmit the virus to humans, and that crows happen to be victims due to their proximity the human environment. One important thing that we all can do to lessen the chance of spreading this virus is to make certain our yards and properties do not have places for mosquitoes to breed.

-Norman Forbes, Biology Specialist

Region B - Central Maine

Attention class, would those sportsmen who contend that the successful introduction of wild turkeys into Maine has had a negative impact on deer, please sit up and pay attention. The argument has been advanced that the wild turkey consumes all the acorns and other natural foods to the detriment of the deer. If our previous class discussions on this topic have not persuaded you, I invite you to examine the state of the acorn crop in central Maine this fall. The acorn crop is virtually non-existent yet deer being processed at local meat lockers have more body fat than any year I can recall. Remember, even in the absence of acorns whether by natural cycle or the voracious appetite of the wild turkey, deer always fatten up for winter.

Opening day of deer season 2006 was a memorable day. We had gathered the day before as a group of four to celebrate our tradition. I was joined by Paul, a celebrated Maine poet from Millinocket, Charlie a salty woodsman from Gray, and Rick the land baron and brew master of Brooks. We had forged our friendships long ago when northern Maine whitewater was the master of our youthful passion. Opening morning on the drive over for breakfast, I saw a nice six point buck and a large doe standing where I normally park my truck to walk into my stand. I held my breath and drove slowly, foolishly thinking they might stand there until legal time. As I continued down the driveway I saw three more deer in the glow of the headlights. I had seen five deer and the season hadn’t even started! There could be no excuse now. We walked to our stands in the quiet darkness and sat alone with our thoughts. Paul got turned around and wound up sitting in a tree stand that was long ago abandoned in favor of a more promising spot. Within the hour, a nice 2 ½ year old seven point buck had crossed paths with a poet and the single report signaled the end of a successful hunt. The wind began to blow and the rain began to fall. Other hunters left the woods for warmer haunts. We laughed and listened intently as Paul relished in his moment and I thought, Maine the way deer season should be.

- Keel Kemper, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region C - Downeast

This past week, I had the pleasure of seeing two local initiatives that are aimed at preserving and perpetuating Maine’s wildlife and its habitat.

On Wednesday, at the request of the town of Bucksport, I walked some of the hiking trails on a 70-acre town-owned lot on the shore of Silver Lake. I was really surprised and impressed at the pro-active approach the town has taken to make the most of this public land. The approach road runs through a field that, combined with the adjacent privately owned horse pasture makes a wide open space of approximately 40 acres by my estimation. A grassy field of this size may provide nesting habitat for one or more species of grassland songbirds, including bobolinks and savannah sparrows. By not mowing the field until at least the middle of August, Bucksport is providing safe breeding habitat for species in sore need of undisturbed open grasslands. Along the edge of the road, saplings of a wide variety of native trees and shrubs have been planted and are identified by signs. Elsewhere on the property, mature trees and shrubs of the same species are marked by signs, helping to make the connection between a 4 foot sapling and 40 foot tree. I learned about a few trees and bushes I’ve been unsure of and I’ll be back when the leaves are on so I can learn more.

Aside from a well-maintained trail system, benches for resting and enjoying the view, more educational signs and plans for campsites and a restroom, the town lot is providing wooded habitats for a number of species. Apple trees are feeding deer and probably foxes and coyotes as well. Alders, birches and aspens are feeding and provided cover for partridge and a variety of other birds. The spruce-fir forest, which is the majority of the property, is providing shelter and food for the whole span of native wildlife that lives near the downeast coast. The undeveloped shoreline on this part of Silver Lake is protecting water quality, enhancing the view for boaters and anglers and providing habitat and food for beavers, ducks and other waterfowl and probably otters and muskrats as well.

Residents of Bucksport should be proud that their town is providing, on only 70 acres of public land, a combination of public recreation, education and valuable wildlife habitat.

The second local initiative I observed last week was Thursday night’s Taunton Bay Science and Management Forums in Franklin, which was arranged by Friends of Taunton Bay. This was the second (and final) night of lectures and discussion by a collection of experts on topics such as eelgrass, bloodworms, shorebirds, the management of trawling and dragging on the bay ecosystem and one talk about the general trends of development, erosion, sea-level rise and natural impacts to the bay. I think most of the audience would agree that any of the 20 minute lectures could have been an hour each and still held our attention. The previous forum (which I unfortunately had to miss) discussed topics including shellfish ecology, management and economics and the ecology of clam flats in general. It was very refreshing to see a local group gathering experts for an impartial and educational “state of the bay” type of presentation. The question and answer period at the end showed that the audience was listening and appreciated the calm, level-headed discussion of the various threats and opportunities of Taunton Bay. At the end of the evening I couldn’t help but hope that other communities that are identified by their natural environment will follow the lead of Friends of Taunton Bay and examine the state of their ecosystem.

-Rich Bard, Wildlife Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

Parachutes, Moose, and How We Value Wildlife

I was gassing up the truck last Saturday and overheard one guy ask another if he got his deer yet.

Whose wildlife is it often depends on the time of year because last summer I was instructed by an owner of apples trees to get IFW’s deer away from his trees. It’s not uncommon for people experiencing problems with wildlife to view the animal as the property of “someone else”. By law, wildlife belongs to all of us, citizens of the state and country. A hunting license allows an individual to harvest a set number at a certain time of year. Watching wildlife is also highly valued by many people and has no season or take restriction. Many hunters place a high value on watching all wildlife while hunting for one species.

As wildlife biologists our relationship with wildlife also changes depending on both situation and time of the year. Three weeks ago we were working a moose hunting registration stations where we collect biological data from moose brought in by hunters. I’ve always enjoyed doing this mainly because it is such a positive experience for so many hunters and the friends or relatives in their group. These stations also draw people who just want to see, photograph, and often touch a moose. In Eustis every year, two vans from an assisted living center in Farmington bring residents to watch the whole process. Though I’ve been doing this a while now, it is still nice to see some really fine bulls up close.

Yesterday morning we received a call from District Game Warden Reggie Hammond of Rangeley. He was called by the Navy’s SERE School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) in Redington Township. They encountered a bull moose tangled in a parachute. No, they are not having moose jump from planes (I asked, they aren’t). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for bull moose to get tangled up in ropes, wire, TV/phone cable, or fencing left hanging or on the ground. The lucky ones are found by caring people like the Navy folks at SERE.

After deciding to help the moose, the second good decision made was to notify the Maine Warden Service and not try to untangle the moose themselves. Moose are notoriously unappreciative of such assistance. A few years ago an experienced outdoorsman in this area attempted to untangle a large bull, ensnared in cable wire. He cut the moose free and got stomped as a thank you. His injuries were severe enough to warrant a life-flight to the hospital.

Upon receiving the call, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist Bob Cordes and I gathered up our capture and immobilization gear and headed to Redington. The moose was a two and a half year-old bull and we estimated the live-weight to be 750 pounds. With that Bob prepared the drug dosage and combination while I gave a quick talk on chemical immobilization, do’s and don’ts, and how each of the Navy instructors could help. While most of us stayed back a few hundred yards and out of sight, Bob and one of the Navy instructors approached the moose from behind and delivered the drug via a dart and dart projector (gun).

Moose are difficult to handle mainly because heat and stress are lethal combinations. Stress affects the ability of the drug to work. The moose was still highly agitated meaning he hadn’t been tangled up for a long time. Air temperature in the 30’s was in our favor.

The drugs we use disengage the animal’s ability to use voluntary muscles, but they can see and hear. Any stimulation including voices, touch, or light affects the ability for the drug to work.

After 15 minutes the moose was down and out. Snoring is good and is a sign we look for before handling the animal. Everyone worked to prop the moose onto his chest and keep him up (sternal position) with the hay bales we brought. Moose like cows are ruminants and they would have serious gas build-up if left on their sides for long. His head was positioned so his airway was clear. Then the Navy instructors put their knives to work and cleared the moose of the parachute, cord, and a small log. I gave him a dose of eye ointment, as they will dry while under very long.

We cover their eyes with towels to help reduce stimulation from light. The dart is removed and the minor cut is treated. Vital signs are monitored and recorded and they include temperature, heartbeat, and respiration. His body temperature ranged from 100.1 to 101.2 during the two hours he was under. Had his temperature gone to 103 we would have taken measures to lower it, but that was never a problem. After an hour and a half he started show signs of recovery and we administered a drug to reverse the effects of the others and 15 minutes later he was up and able to walk off.

About every two years Wildlife biologists at IFW receive really good training in wildlife chemical immobilization. If it is decided to use drugs to immobilize an animal, the animal really becomes and is treated like a patient. In fact, the process the animal goes through is very close to what you would go through when going under anesthesia. It is not a simple procedure.

Because our “patients” are wild, scared, running, hot, injured, near roads, in roads, near water, then treated in the dark, cold, heat, dirt, downtown city, successful outcomes for the animal are not a sure thing. Plus, drug injection to the right spot often has to be delivered through the air, from a gun.

Yesterday was a good day and all went well. This would not have been possible without the action and assistance by the Navy SERE instructors. I took a picture of the group that shows them with “their” moose.

If you didn’t read this article and saw the picture, could you tell if they were moose hunters or moose rescuers?

-Chuck Hulsey, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region E - Moosehead Region

Every so often I read a column by Albro Cowperthwaite, Director of North Maine Woods. The North Maine Woods is a privately-owned working forest of 3.5 million acres that is open to the public through gated access area north of here. Seeing Albro’s name reminds me of the “pre-tagged” bear story. IF&W has been studying bears up around Ashland since the mid-seventies, when Roy D. Hugie was in charge. Bears have been captured and marked with ear tags there since that time. Some were also radio-equipped. Roy routinely showed up in Ashland with whole dead (farm) cows for bait. I was marginally involved myself. The purpose of the study was to generate a rough population estimate, learn about the level of cub production, and get info on the magnitude of losses to various causes.

It was presupposed that if a tagged bear was taken by a hunter, or otherwise found dead it would be reported to IF&W. The tags were very conspicuous.

Albro was at the 6 mile gate one day when he saw a tagged bear strapped to the hood of a car. It was alongside a deer. He later mentioned that event to us at the Ashland Regional Headquarters. We hadn’t heard, so therefore did some checking.

It seems that a carload of hunters from Pennsylvania stopped to tag their deer at a game registration station which is a gas station on Main street in Ashland. Once the deer was registered the attendant asked about the bear. They told her it was already tagged, to which she said OK you can go. And off they went to Pennsylvania.

It was just by chance that this leak came to our attention.

-Bill Noble, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

Youth day, Resident’s Only day, and the first week of firearm season are now behind us. By all accounts, Youth Day was a huge success in Region F with several tagging stations registering several deer. While the majority of those deer were fawns and does, several youngsters also tagged a buck. Our Resident’s Only day was a wet and windy one eventually for everyone, and produced a smaller kill than usual for that day. Our first week of firearm was slow but steady. Rutting sign was beginning to show in abundance, non-residents joined in, and effort was on average with previous years. Mid-week produced some cold, clear, moonlit nights, which, raises that age-old question about deer movements as it relates to the phases of the moon. Hunters are never short of an opinion on that issue, and it always makes for a lively discussion.

Although many of our wildlife biologists are busy with deer data collection and CWD-related work, it doesn’t mean that the rest of our workload is put on hold for the month. Region F has several other initiatives going on as well, and plenty of other day-to-day work that keeps coming thru the door. We continue our work at the Page Farm WMA reclaiming old fields and planning the release of numerous apple trees come this winter. In spite of the wet weather this fall, harvest operations continue as best they can at our Bud Leavitt WMA. Winter operations have also been laid out, and with the assistance of our Lands Division, additional timber cruising and layout will occur as time and conditions permit. With the assistance of our biologists in the Herptile and Invertebrate Group located in Bangor, we will be assessing the status of the state-threatened Clayton’s Copper Butterfly and it’s associated habitat, primarily shrubby cinquefoil, on our Dwinal Pond WMA. We will also begin to assess habitat management opportunities and related work on the Caribou Bog WMA, acquired about a year ago. These are just a few examples of the other work that continues within the Region as our deer season and its related workload unfold.

-Mark Caron, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region G - Aroostook County

In the last three weeks, any avid outdoor person has probably picked up a sporting journal and read something about “White-tailed Deer Rut”, (rubbing, scraping, searching, early/late breeding), so now it’s time for me to add my two-cents. First and foremost, everyone should understand that rut is biological with scientific evidence to support the findings. There is no scientific evidence, as many believe to support the theories that the phase of the moon influences peak breeding of white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer in different areas of the country breed at different times depending primarily on the photoperiod (length of daylight hours), and secondarily on the local climate. All white-tailed deer in these areas breed at approximately the same time each year. For example in Northern states such as Minnesota the peak of rut is around November 12th. In Northern Michigan it’s around November 12-19th,Vermont around November 13-18th, and Maine around November 15th.

White-tailed deer in the north breed earlier, and have shorter breeding seasons, than deer in the south. The breeding season (from when the first doe to the last doe gets bred) lasts 60 or more days in most areas. Therefore, some breeding will occur 2-4 weeks before peak breeding, and some breeding will occur up to one or more months after peak breeding depending on the area of the country. I have enclosed a graphic depiction of conception dates for Minnesota having some of the best-published data on doe conception.

The above graph (could not include graph) plots weekly breeding dates for 2.5 year old or older does, 1.5 year old does, and .5 year old doe fawns in Minnesota. It shows a spike of conceptions on Nov. 12. There is also a peak in 0.5 year old doe fawn conceptions from Nov. 19-Dec. 24. The data shows that the first doe was bred the week of Oct. 1, with the last doe bred the week of Jan 28. The graph shows that the average peak breeding date of white-tailed deer in Minnesota from 1980 - 1987 occurred during the week of Nov. 12. This is not unlike Maine where the peak rut occurs about mid November obtained from research published by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (Banasiak 1961).

Many hunters believe that most of the breeding occurs within the 1-2 weeks of peak breeding. However this is not true. Scientific studies show that breeding season lengths vary according to latitude and spring phenology. The farther north the deer are, the shorter and more intense the breeding season length, with more conceptions occurring during the one week of peak breeding, At southern latitudes, particularly below the 36th latitude, breeding occurs over such a long time frame that it may be hard for hunters to determine a peak in breeding activity.

-Rich Hoppe, Regional Wildlife Biologist

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.