Old News Archive

Outdoor Report - November 20, 2007

November 20, 2007 - TRC

Region A- Southwestern Maine

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving the voting booth on Election Day, an old friend stopped me to tell me about a piece of land his is donating to the local land trust. For several years now, he has made his property available to me for the annual Christmas Bird Count so I was very pleased to hear it will be permanently protected. Before leaving, he also mentioned that he had recently seen a rabbit on his property. Somewhat surprised by the report, I queried him, “A rabbit, are you sure it wasn’t a snowshoe hare?” No, he was positive, it was a cottontail. Freeport, although not considered a hotspot for New England cottontails, is on the northern edge of their range in Maine. The prospect of a Freeport population was exciting indeed. New England Cottontail populations have significantly declined in Maine, so much so that they were listed as a state endangered species this past September under the Maine Endangered Species Act, and are currently listed as a candidate threatened species with the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Federal Endangered Species Act. New England cottontail numbers are believed to have dropped to only a few hundred individuals, and their range, which used to extend as far as Fryeburg, Lewiston, and Belfast, now includes only York and Cumberland Counties, 17% of its former range. The reasons for this decline are twofold, a shift in habitat through natural succession and loss of available remaining habitat from development and associated increased predation. New England Cottontails need brushy, early successional upland habitat. Given that their remaining range lies in the heart of southern Maine’s development activity, old fields, and shrublands have been replaced by subdivisons, or have reverted to forest stands. Add to this loss of habitat, increased human activity and an increase of outdoor pets such as free roaming cats, and the future for New England cottontails can appear bleak.

For years, I operated a banding station at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, and up until about two summers ago, we would see New England Cottontails almost every morning we banded. As much as I love birds, it’s hard not be smitten with a rabbit. I would often stop and watch as they fed on the edge of a shrub thicket, their ears perked up, whiskers twitching, all the while chewing a favored plant. Always very alert and rather jumpy; as soon as they caught wind of you, they would retreat back into the thicket where they would remain for the next few minutes, until they felt secure enough to slowly venture back to the edge of the grass. New England Cottontails, unlike Eastern Cottontail, are not likely to venture too far into the open. In fact, their preferred habitat is very dense thickets or shrubs, with as much as 50,000 stems per hectare. Here in Maine, we just have New England Cottontails, so the only species you might confuse them with is a snowshoe hare. New England Cottontails are a medium sized rabbit, 15-17 inches, with a dark brown to buff coat that has a slight black wash. The back edge of their ears is black, and they have a distinct black spot between their ears. Eastern Cottontails, the rabbit so commonly seen on lawns and pastures in southern New England, were introduced to the region by local hunting clubs and don’t occur in Maine. Snowshoe hares have much larger ears and hind feet, have brown fur in the summer, which turns white in the winter.

This winter, MDIWF and USFWS will be working together on a project to document New England Cottontails throughout southern Maine. We’ll be conducting tracking surveys after snowfall, looking for browsed areas, and collecting scat samples. Our efforts will focus on sites where there have been known occurrences of NEC in the past, primarily on lands currently in conservation ownership. In addition, we will be working with land trusts and willing landowners to try and document populations at new sites. We are currently looking for volunteers to help us survey about 75 parcels in York and Cumberland counties. In early winter we will be conducting training sessions for anyone interested in helping with this project. You don’t need tracking experience, or a background in biology; just a willingness to learn, a flexible schedule, and a pair of snowshoes would be helpful. To learn more about this project, volunteer, report a sighting, or if you have a property you would like to have surveyed, please email me at judy-camuso@maine.gov

Additionally, our Department is working cooperatively with the Maine Department of Transportation through Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program to better understand the habitat requirements of Maine’s New England cottontail population. This past summer we collected genetics information from several individuals to better understand how populations move across the landscape especially given the extent of habitat fragmentation in their southern Maine range. Having this information on hand help us to recommend key habitat linkages and habitat appropriate corridors for preservation to best meet the long-term needs of this species and hopefully protect this important element of Maine’s natural wildlife diversity.

-Judy Camuso, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region B - Central Maine

Procrastination has always been my strong suit. I am truly a professional at it. November is a crazy busy month for all us IF&W biologists. This week’s Outdoor Report competes for time along with closing Swan Island for the winter and the collection of deer season biological samples. Add in personal chores such as raking leaves and replacing an old leaky toilet, yes, even the “honey do” list gets honorable mention here, and there is little time left for a rousing Outdoor Report. Yet my Sunday evening approach to this report has much more to do with waiting until the last minute than it does with too heavy a work load. Maybe I was just waiting for something to inspire me…pondering out of the ordinary topics rather than hurrying to the first fixation that landed in my lap.

I have had little time for hunting this season, but I have spent a lot of time walking in the woods. I consider that to be the best time for pondering...and observing. Like watching a chipmunk, cheeks filled, scurrying along a lichen covered stonewall. My grandfather from Caribou called chippys “short legged deer” because of the way they run with their tails in the air. I contemplate whether this nickname is commentary relating to his deer hunting experiences. While set in the momentary smile of my grandfather’s “short legged deer” reminiscence, I start to pay attention to the stonewall that this little deer was running on. Ah, I found my inspiration.

Throughout the history of agriculture in Maine, and New England for that matter, stonewalls played an essential role. Stonewalls were more than just the mere ornamentation that they serve today. Stonewalls were used as fencing, boundary lines and animal pounds. The period from 1775 - 1825 was known as the golden age of stonewall building.

By the mid-1800’s, more than 70 percent of the land in New England had been cleared for agricultural purposes. As farming grew more fashionable, the need for satisfactory fencing also increased. Before stonewalls were widely used, wooden rail fences were the sensible solution for fencing in a farm. This quickly became a pickle because once the land was cleared for a farm, few trees were left to build the wooden fences. In addition, these fences would also rot over time and need to be replaced. Farmers soon switched to using rock in their fences to replace the wooden rail fences and to make use of stone unearthed as fields were tilled and cleared. Oh, but there was a vicious circle. Although some farmers had ample stone with which to build their walls, others did not.

Once the act of making fencing out of stone became the standard, farmers were faced with the problem of obtaining the stone. Some farmers could build a wall with stone that was found on their farmland. Many farmers however, had to steal or buy the stone.

Interestingly, in the 1800’s when a stonewall was finished it needed to be inspected by a “fence viewer”. A fence viewer was a public worker that would inspect fences to make sure that they were structurally sound. If a stonewall was deemed sound, then the owner was not liable for damage done to another farmer’s crops by his animals.

Today, New England stonewalls are so popular that they are disappearing from their centuries old resting spots. These fencing relics are being dismantled, placed on pallets and shipped throughout the Northeast. It is now entirely possible to buy a 200-year-old New England stonewall at a local landscape center. In part, their value is derived from the weathered look that newly quarried rock cannot imitate. I have always wondered as I followed a stonewall or climbed over one, how old it is.

Dating a stonewall is actually accomplished, roughly, by “aging” the weathering. You see, the faded blue jeans look of an old stone wall is caused by the growth of lichen on the stone. Lichens are symbiotic plants composed of a fungus and an algae and grow on stones at a slow and regular rate, some only 1 millimeter per year. The lichen can be measured and then calculated to see how long it has been growing. This dating method is called lichenometry.

I think one of the most mesmerizing pleasures of walking in the woods is stumbling upon an old stonewall and realizing just how enormously changed the landscape has become. The old stonewall has a story to tell and I listen attentively. Sitting down and letting my eyes wander down its length is indeed inspiring. A worthy topic for this Outdoor Report and a grand playground for my grandfather’s “short legged deer”.

-Charles Dyke, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region C - Downeast

Most everyone is a collector or appreciates some form of items from the past. Whether it is dolls, paintings or hunting and fishing equipment, quality is evident and appreciated and admired. Recently while talking to an antique dealer, we both were speculating, what items of today are going to be collectables in 25 or 100 years from now ? We are in the quick fix and throwaway generation. Most of the sporting good collectables from the past were made for a specific market and came in different grades with options, chokes, barrel lengths, etc. Coming from times when money was tight, if you bought it had to have a use, not to become a closet queen firearm or a dust catcher in the cellar.

Having all this in mind, while walking thru the sporting goods department in the different big box stores, I look up and down the aisles I try to imagine, what would take someone’s breath away 50 years from now. Everything is plastic, rubber or who knows what and mostly made overseas. If you were going to make a sporting goods time capsule for them for 2060, what would you put in it ?

Everything is driven by the current demands, composite stocks and stainless steel barrels are great for adverse hunting conditions, much like the current military arms. But, what if you want something to use on “nice” days, wood on a firearm that has great burl and the metal has fiery casehardening on the frame and deep rust bluing on the barrel. Or, comparing a vintage bamboo fly rod to a current graphite production model. You don’t see current makers selling two tips with their rods.

Definitely, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, when your grand kids ask, why didn’t you put some of those away, what will they be talking about ?

-James Hall, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

Like all the other regional wildlife biologists, all of last week was dedicated to collecting biological data from the deer harvest. The age and sex breakdown of the harvest, as well as antler beam diameter measurements from yearling bucks will be used in the Any-Deer permit allocations for the 2008 season. In addition to this information we are also collecting samples to monitor for chronic wasting disease. Collection of those samples is done both at the meatcutters and taxidermists we visit as well as locating deer at homes and camps. The latter is done by visiting game registration stations to search for deer killed in a town of interest, within the last few days, by a resident hunter who can be easily located.

Our CWD data collections are going well but we still need samples from the following towns: The Forks, Moscow, Brighton, Andover, Coplin Plt., Rangeley, and Kingfield. If you or someone you know takes a deer from one of these locations we sure would appreciate the opportunity discuss the collection of a sample. The best way to contact us is to call the Strong office at 778-3324 ext. 25. If we are out when you call just leave a voicemail and we will get back to you.

- Chuck Hulsey, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region E - Moosehead Region

Last year about this time (actually a little prior to now), I was tasked with figuring out how many deer from WMD 14 would have to be examined to determine the "yearling frequency." We examine the teeth up close to determine age.

Somehow, I knew the importance of that statistic from something I had read in the past; some biologist studying population dynamics had determined yearling frequency equals removal rate. With removal rate, the population can be estimated. I took that assignment home, because statistical inference is a topic I'm not too conversant in. I was going to have to study this issue in a quiet atmosphere.

I skimmed thru an old text on statistics for the section that applied. I didn’t find it right away. Then I had a thought; couldn't this situation be replicated using a table of random numbers such as odd = yearling, even = not yearling? Odd and even numbers presumably have an equal probability of being selected. And in some population ~50% of adults are yearlings. I worked with subsamples of 10, accumulating the result and studying the overall outcome. I determined this way that narrowly determining the percentage of yearlings in a population of unknown size was improbable without examining approximately 170 individuals drawn from that population. Regarding WMD 14, we could never expect to see that many shot by hunters, so the whole idea of trying was improbable. It wasn’t worth attempting.

After thinking more on this, I realized my trial was just one iteration, and that many more would be necessary to really determine what level of sampling would be necessary to generate an estimate in which you could put much confidence in (estimate +- say 15% and correct say 4 times out of 5 ). According to the textbook formula, the answer ranges between approximately 170 and 350, depending on how skewed the population is to the yearling age class. Who would guess such large numbers would have to be examined ?

Science is very demanding.

-Bill Noble, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

Well, if you only have been able to hunt on Saturdays this year, then it has been a tough deer hunting season! Stormy or windy conditions have prevailed on all four weekends in the Penobscot Region this season making hunting difficult and testing the motivation to deer hunt at all. On the other hand, if you have had chances to hunt during the weekdays there have been some very good days to hunt with lighter winds and cooler temperatures.

As expected, week three showed a change in the composition of the harvest from large numbers of yearling bucks to fewer, larger more mature bucks. Yes, there’s still a good proportion of younger bucks being taken, but the peak of the rut is upon us making the mature bucks more active and hopefully more vulnerable.

In most years, the Thanksgiving week hunt falls slightly after the peak of the rut, but this year, due to the early start to the season, bucks should still be in hot pursuit of does. During my own hunting activities I have noticed that old scrapes have been freshened and that some new scrapes have appeared, indicating that the rut is still high gear!

If your one of those lucky hunters that has already tagged out there’s still plenty of other hunting opportunities available this season. In my travels I have observed hundreds of Canada geese utilizing corn fields. I have also noticed some sizeable flocks of Mallards and Black ducks using agricultural areas. Don’t forget about ruffed grouse either, the season extends to December 31st and I have seen plenty while sitting on my deer stand. It may be a little premature, but it should be a fantastic year for spring turkey season. Good nesting and brood rearing weather this spring has bolstered turkey poult production and has produced large fall flocks throughout the Region!

-Allen Starr, Assistant Regional Wildlife Biologist

Region G - Aroostook County

The big hunting news this past week has been the weather. We’ve had somewhat of a repeat from last year’s 3rd week of deer season. For those of you who may have forgotten last year, it rained, actually poured, most of the week. It was some of the most miserable extended hunting weather I can remember. Again this year, we got hit with a couple of days of very heavy rain. On Thursday and Friday, southern and central Aroostook County got approximately 2-4” of rain. This created not only miserable hunting conditions but swelled all rivers and streams resulting in widespread flooding, particularly in lowland swamps and floodplains. Walking any distance through the woods was a challenge, requiring rubber boots and lots of back-tracking and skirting around flooded lowlands. Flooded roads also made travel into more remote areas over lightly used gravel roads very difficult.

Also given the wet, muddy ground conditions in central and southern Aroostook County, hopefully hunters will respect private landowner concerns and refrain from causing damage to their field roads. In meetings with agriculture landowners, we’ve heard repeatedly that a major concern in regard to wildlife damage on their farms is not necessarily damage caused by wildlife, but damage to property caused by hunters.

The good news for deer hunters in the Allagash region was that some of this rain eventually turned to snow, dropping 4-10” of new snow. This is great for tracking deer but this additional snowfall, plus the existing snow from prior snowstorms, has made getting around in this region more difficult. Plan on having a 4-wheel drive and chains for icy roads particularly if hunting far from major roads. If possible hunt with a companion and always let a friend or relative know your destination.

Lately I’ve been seeing an unusually high number of hooded mergansers in the County. I passed Daigle Pond in New Canada two weeks ago and the pond was full of these little diving ducks. We also had some flocks on the Hodgdon Mill pond and surrounding wetlands. The males are now in their breeding plumage and are quite striking with their large white hooded crest. These little diving ducks feed mostly on small baitfish which are very abundant in small ponds and forested wetlands. The warm weather we had earlier this fall kept many small wetlands ice-free longer than normal providing for ideal feeding and staging sites. Unfortunately, with cooler temperatures in the forecast many of the remaining migratory birds will move south creating a noticeable void in the North Maine woods until next spring.

We have been getting reports over the last few weeks of moose showing up on roads particularly after dark. I’ve heard of groups of moose on Route 163 between Ashland and Presque Isle and on Route 161, but I’m sure there are others. Having all these roadside moose sightings just after the moose season is certainly not part of our moose management plan. In WMD #3 and 6 we’ve increased the number of moose permits to reduce moose populations and roadside moose numbers and vehicle accidents. However, even if we are successful in lowering moose populations in these wildlife management districts, motorists must still be vigilant in watching for roadside moose. This time of year moose tend to herd together in groups around abundant food sources. So, if motorists see one roadside moose keep an eye out for others.

-Arlen Lovewell, Assistant, Regional Wildlife Biologist

Submitted by :
Mark Latti, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street
41 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

mark.latti@maine.gov 207-287-5248 fax 207-287-6395

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

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