Old News Archive

Outdoor Report - October 30, 2007

October 30, 2007 - TRC

Region A- Southwestern Maine

I spent most of this week getting ready for the opening of “deer season”, that is firearm season for white-tailed deer hunting. I’ve been to training sessions, collected all the necessary supplies, learned how to remove the brain stem and lymph nodes to test for Chronic Wasting disease, and visited most of the meat cutters that I will be checking for the next five weeks.

One morning, on my way to introduce myself to a local meat cutter, I spotted a large group of Canada geese in a field, so I stopped to watch them for a few minutes. Off in the distance, on the edge of the field, at the very top of a bright yellow maple tree, I noticed a smallish bird perched. For a few seconds, I think my heart stopped beating; I was hoping that this was a northern shrike. Not that shrikes are rare, Maine Audubon’s bird alert has reports of them throughout the state this week, but I haven’t been able to get my eyes on a shrike for over 2 ½ years.

As a birder, I am often plagued by what I call “nemesis birds”, birds everyone else is seeing but me, or birds that show up ten minutes before or after I arrive. This is very typical for me, and for the past two years it seems that everyone was seeing shrikes but me. People would tell me, “had a shrike on my ride in today”, “there was a shrike in the field just ten minutes ago”, “my shrike was in its normal spot again this morning”. I have been looking all over a shrike. I am outstanding at finding things that look similar to shrikes, such as mockingbirds, but a shrike, I couldn’t find one to save my life. Even my brother, who never so much as looked at a bird until he had kids, called me last spring, wanting help figuring out a bird they had seen in his suburban Boston backyard. “It was the strangest thing” he said, “it was small and grayish, with a little mask, and I swear Jude, it went after a chickadee, but it wasn’t much bigger than the chickadee?” I cheerfully explained what he saw, and what the bird was doing, but in my head, I have to confess, I was thinking, “figures, my brother and ten year old niece are finding shrikes, but I have yet to see one”.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I got my spotting scope out and focused on this bird, and sure enough it was an immature northern shrike. As a biologist, and a birder, what has always fascinated me about wildlife is behavior, and northern shrikes exhibit some very unusual behavior, making them one of my favorite birds to watch. Taxonomically, shrikes are passerines; perching birds, songbirds, related to things like warblers, vireos, and thrushes. But behaviorally, they are more closely related to hawks or falcons; they eat mice, moles and small birds, as well as snakes, grasshoppers, beetles and large insects. It’s a little unusual for a songbird without any talons, or real mechanism for tearing flesh to eat meat, but shrikes do, it’s amazing. Like my brother, I too have watched shrikes pursuing small birds through shrubs and tangles, and because they are a songbird and have small wings, they are able to make quick turns and pursue their prey through dense thickets. Small birds often flee into dense cover to avoid a predator, and birds like sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawks, with their larger, broader wings have to turn off, and give up the chase. This is where the shrike has an advantage; it can follow the chickadee into the densest of thickets.

Without the talons of a raptor, a shrike uses a sharp blow from its powerful beak to stun birds, and can use its beak to cut through the vertebrae of its prey. Shrikes regularly impale their prey on a sharp branch, bit of fencing, or thorn (often while the prey is still alive), thus giving the shrike one of its local names of butcher bird. In fact the Latin name for this bird, Lanius excubitor literally means butcher watchman.

Northern shrikes are about 9 inches with a grayish back and belly, a white throat and black wings and tail. Their wings have a prominent white patch, and outer portion of the tail is also white. Shrikes have a dark mask around the eye, and a strongly hooked bill. They breed in open county with medium or tall trees across Alaska and northern Canada. Shrikes winter from the southern portion of their breeding range southward to the northern United States. Their winter range and abundance is strongly linked to population of small mammals. While foraging, they consistently sit on an exposed perch, or the top of a tree and watch for their prey.

Similar in appearance and habits to a Northern shrike, loggerhead shrikes used to breed here in Maine. Their populations have declined drastically throughout their range, and now are virtually gone from the northeastern part of their range, primarily due to habitat loss. While loggerheads would be in Maine during the breeding months, northern shrikes are generally just here in the non-breeding months. If you happen to find a shrike during the breeding season, between say May-August, please give me a call; any reports of breeding shrikes in Maine are very important.

So, if you see a smallish bird perched on the top of a tree, take a minute and look, this time of year and throughout the winter, it’s possible you’ll see a shrike. Although I couldn’t stay long enough to see this immature shrike pursue a bird or mouse, I was thrilled to finally find one!

-Judy Camuso, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region B - Central Maine

The 2007 deer season extravaganza is upon us. It is an exciting time of year to live in New England. Please don’t even get me started on the Red Sox. How am I supposed to get up early to go hunting.…I mean work…. when I, like the rest of Red Sox Nation is glued to the television until the wee hours? My father-in-law wants to know why the games have to start so late. I need to take a class in time management. World Series and sleep deprivation aside, deer season has renewed my deliberation of hunter access, private property and “posted” signs. I feel a history lesson forthcoming.

Today’s sportsman, without doubt, have to deal with a vastly different landscape than did their preceding brethren. More difficult? Not as good as? More restricted? I’m not sure, but it is unquestionably different. To start, the Native American concept of land ownership was exceptionally different from the legalistic and individual nature of European ownership. A major factor in treaty disputes was Native Americans' concept of land and land ownership. Indians fought among themselves over hunting rights to a territory but the Native American idea of "right" to the land was different than that with which we have become accustomed. The Indians had no concept of "private property," as applied to the land. For the most part, the Indians practiced communal land ownership. That is, the entire community owned the land upon which it lived. Certainly, the idea of an individual having exclusive use of a particular piece of land was completely strange to Native Americans. The question begs to be asked…..did the Native Americans make use of “POSTED” signs. Were they ever given a reason to exclude access? Had trespass even been imagined?

Let’s move forward. In the early years, in what is now the United States, the British granted charters to large land companies, which were essentially comprised of wealthy land speculators who resided in England. These land companies had the authority to issue land grants to those individuals who were loyal to the crown. The crown ultimately controlled all of the lands in these huge charters, with the land companies acting as agents of the crown. Some of the more famous of these land companies were the London Company, Massachusetts Bay Company and the Plymouth Company. A proprietorship was responsible for the granting of lands from the charter, as agent for the charter (and therefore, for the crown). When these disbursements of land were made, the land itself was laid out in descriptive form in much the same way as later deeds, with landmarks and other prominent identifying data. Do you suppose these land proprietors put up “POSTED” signs. Did you have to be a loyalist in order to hunt on someone else’s land? And…..what about the deer? Who did they belong to?

For sure, times are now different. How did we arrive where we now are? We cannot go back in time to a simpler and perhaps more ideal world. We reside and must conduct ourselves in the world that we now live in. No doubt, my deliberations will continue…… what would Daniel Boone think?

-Charles Dyke, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region C - Downeast

Wildlife is a product of the land, and the richer the quality of the land, the greater number of animals and species present. Wildlife production is the same as gardening; the yield can vary greatly from similar sized plots of land. There are a few other variables thrown into the mix, carrying capacity, biological breeding potential, climate, etc., to name a few.

Basic productivity from the soil up can readily be observed in various ways. One of the most striking is newly exposed soil along the edges of woods roads and what plants pioneer and take hold; grasses and clover or sweet fern, for example.

Consider Ruffed grouse … the production from similar blocks of land with similar tree species and stocking densities, although the stand age may be different, varies greatly from one end of the state to the other. Climate and especially weather conditions at critical times of the year can be the make or break factor (winter severity and nesting season especially). Usually we think of winters and deep snow as being hard on wildlife, and for many species it is. But snow accumulations can actually enhance grouse survival, as the bird has evolved the ability to dive and burrow into the snow for protection from the elements. The type of snow cover is actually more of a concern; deep powder being the best and a hard crust the worst. Because much of the grouse’s food in winter consists of buds located in the crowns of trees, the ability to forage for food is not affected by deep snow.

Following the format of several comedians, you might be a rabid (enthusiastic) bird hunter if you:

1. Lose more sleep over scratching your bird gun then denting your truck.
2. Hold your bird dog in higher esteem than your relatives.
3. You have given your prize bird gun a name, and you talk to it.
4. Vet bills average more than your personal health costs.
5. In case of a divorce, custody of the dog is more contentious than the kids.

-James Hall, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

If you have spent time in the Rangeley area during the past few weeks, you may have noticed new signs posted around town, which read: “Feeding Deer: More Harm Than Good.” These signs were displayed around town in order to make residents and visitors of Rangeley aware of some dangers associated with feeding deer. The intention is to help people make an informed decision about whether or not to feed deer this winter, not to prohibit the practice of feeding. The creation of the signs was a collaborative effort among several different organizations, but the concept and bulk of the work has been fostered by the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsman’s Association (RRGSA).

Development of the signs began early last summer, when Mac Dudley, a board member of the RRGSA, approached the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) regional wildlife biologists in Strong inquiring about what the RRGSA could do to benefit deer in the area. Initially, the RRGSA were interested in finding more information about supplemental winter feeding of deer, but ultimately formed a committee to look at several key issues associated with deer in the area. The group did their homework and invited a variety of speakers to present information about the topic. Over time, the RRGSA accumulated a large body of information about the deer and winter feeding.

Feeding wildlife is a controversial topic, and people are motivated to feed wild animals for a variety of different reasons. However, feeding wild animals does not come without consequences, and this is particularly true for white-tailed deer. Many well-intentioned people falsely believe that deer populations are limited by the amount of food that is available in the winter. Therefore if they provide “supplemental” food, the deer will be more likely to survive. Unfortunately, winter survival is a much more complicated issue. White-tailed deer living in Maine are at the edge of their species range, and have adapted to the harsh winters by conserving as much energy as possible. They do this by seeking shelter in “deer yards” and by reducing their metabolic rate and daily activities. Research has shown that the availability of winter shelter is the most critical factor to a deer’s survival in Maine. One of the dangers of feeding deer is over-browsing of the natural vegetation around the feeding site, which can actually affect the long-term viability of this critical winter shelter. This inadvertent consequence of feeding can have a long-term effect on the local deer population.

This is just one of the many potentially significant consequences when you choose to feed wildlife. MDIFW applauds the efforts that RRGSA has taken to educate their neighbors and friends about this subject. If you are planning to feed deer this winter take a minute to read one of the signs, and if you still have questions or would like further information visit MDIFW’s website at www.maine.gov/ifw/ or call a regional Wildlife Office.

- Bob Cordes, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region E - Moosehead Region

Biologist’s do all kinds of unusual jobs; I remember when Dave Knupp walked the Realty Road (a major haul road for loggers up north) with a stick of bamboo and a mirror attached to the end. When asked by a trucker just what he was doing, he had a ready explanation, “Looking in robin’s nests.” He, or whoever he worked for, was trying to determine whether the gunk being sprayed to control spruce budworm had a detrimental effect on other life forms.

This year I find myself once again asking hunters whether they’d like to part with their deer head. We find mostly just the locals are willing. This creates a problem, because it makes it difficult for us to get enough from the area north of Greenville.

We will extract parts from the heads for testing for CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease); specifically the opex & retropharygeal lymph nodes. These will eventually be examined in a commercial lab. Results will be available next spring.

If CWD can be detected early in ME, it might be possible to prevent its spread.
None has been found yet in several years of looking. If you hunt in the area around Moosehead, and would like to contribute, you can call 695-3756 ext 32 for pick up arrangements.

-Bill Noble, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

This past Saturday was a long one. Up early to greet the ‘07 deer firearms residents-only Saturday; then closing it out by staying up late to watch our Red Sox take a commanding 3-0 lead in the World Series. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

In this part of the state, the rain kicked in around the start of legal hunting time and stayed with us throughout the day, with the winds whipping up in the afternoon. A long wet day in the field that may translate into a low kill for the first day. I’m sure many, like myself, may have only hunted a portion of the day, and returned home a bit on the soaked and wet side. Or as was the case with a friend of mine when asked if he “killed anything” today, his response was, “hard to kill anything from a Lazyboy”! So yes, effort may have been down for this wet and windy start, but there are still plenty of days to come for this season. Once again, wildlife biologist, and contractors will be collected biological data on harvested whitetails, and also collecting samples as part of our ongoing CWD monitoring program.

While collecting the above-mentioned deer data will be the priority for the month of November, Region F has plenty of other initiatives ongoing as well. Recently moose biologist Kim Morris and I met with a Lincoln-based group that is very concerned about the number of moose/vehicle collisions, particularly in this part of the state. Discussions regarding opening up Marsh Island to bow hunting continue as well. We are also providing input into the transmission line corridor that will be part of the Stetson Mt. windpower facility to name just a few other initiatives. We continue to work away at several projects on some of our wildlife management areas (WMAs).

At the Bud Leavitt WMA, a favorite of local and not-so-local deer hunters, we are finishing up bushhogging our fields and roadsides, timber management operations continue; and plans to prune some of our apple orchards and release many of the chestnut trees planted several years ago are also in place for later this fall. With our Lands Division foresters Ryan and Mark taking the lead, we will continue to develop harvest prescriptions for some of the 11 compartments on the WMA. Recently, Ryan and I assessed the two-acre grouse blocks that were operated in over the last two winters. For the most part they are coming in nicely to aspen, and we expect that they will continue to respond.

Field restoration work continues at the Page Farm Unit of the Mattawamkeag River System WMA. Work on the many apple trees there is also scheduled for later this fall. Harvest prescriptions focusing on both woodcock and grouse are also being developed at this time for Page Farm. And we are even getting a bit of much-needed roadwork addressed. Bushhogging was also completed for both the Dwinal Pond and Caribou Bog WMAs.

Land trapping began this past Sunday following on the heels of the early fox and coyote season that started a few weeks ago. The early season on muskrat also concluded this past Saturday, and water trapping for some WMDs begins on November 1. More on trapping in the weeks to come.

-Mark Caron, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region G - Aroostook County

Hard to believe it’s deer season already with moose season just ending and temperatures above normal. One good point to mention is the fact that Daylight Savings Time ends November 4 where once again we set clocks back one hour. This is a week later than normal, enabling weary eyed hunters extra hours of sleep and perhaps an extra hour after work to enjoy hunting for the elusive white-tailed deer.

The first day of deer season was wet and windy for northern Maine, keeping the deer registration numbers lower than normal. For those hunters always trying to outsmart white-tailed deer, the normal rut primarily falls around the third week in November, and that makes the last week of deer season the prime time to hunt this year. The downfall of this year’s early season may be limited snow fall thus decreasing the hunters chance of finding deer sign so scouting and doing your homework will be critical.

Maine wildlife biologists will be busy collecting deer samples over the next 4 weeks to test for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) as well as collecting deer biological data to evaluate condition of deer. CWD is a fatal disease of the nervous system of deer, elk, and moose. The disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

Currently, CWD is known to infect free-ranging deer and elk in portions of Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and both Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. In addition, CWD has been found in captive/farmed elk or white-tailed deer herds in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. Free-ranging moose have been detected with CWD in Colorado.

In 2002, DIFW biologists tested 831 hunter-killed deer from all areas of the state. All deer tested negative for CWD. Similar negative results were obtained from 810 deer in 2003, 756 deer in 2004, 819 deer in 2005 and 909 deer in 2006. At this time, we consider Maine to be CWD-free, based on available evidence. However, we are stepping up surveillance for wild deer and captive/farmed cervids to better evaluate CWD status in Maine, as is being done throughout the U.S. If you would like to learn more about CWD please go to DIFW web site http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/disease/cwd.htm

-Rich Hoppe, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Submitted by : Mark Latti, DIFW

For More Outdoor Information, and Sporting Licenses 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week, Please Visit www.mefishwildlife.com

For More Information, Please Contact:

Mark Latti
Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
fax 207-287-6395
284 State Street
41 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

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