SCORES & OUTDOORS: Where have all the birds gone?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Where have all the birds gone? That is a question that has been asked of me many times over the last several weeks. My wife first brought it to my attention when we first moved back to town from camp in early October. So, like a good husband, I ignored it. I said that I had seen birds at the feeders. Then, someone called a couple of weeks ago, and asked the same question. Many friends have also brought the situation to my attention.

So, thinking back, I realized the birds I had seen at home did not amount to the same number that have frequented our feeders in the past. Namely, one nuthatch, one chickadee and one house finch. The feeders are usually covered with gold finches, woodpeckers along with many other species. So, where did they go?

Even at camp, we noticed a shortage of birds this season. We did not see any grosbeaks, orioles or cardinals. And the hummingbirds left two weeks earlier than usual. So, where did the bird go?

Research showed me there is no definite answer. One of the reasons could be the loss of insects. Birds are highly dependent on them. When was the last time you had to clean your windshield of insects in the summer as we once did? Even at camp this summer, we noticed a shortage of insects. I haven’t seen a June bug in two years. There were hardly any hickory tussock caterpillars this fall, and definitely a decline in the number of harvestman spiders.

The loss of bird populations in the Western Mountains of Maine includes three major causes. First, there has been a coincidental drop in insect life. No one completely understands how or why this has happened. Another reason is loss of habitat.

Has anyone seen a wooly bear caterpillar this fall? They usually begin to appear in mid-September. I have seen zero, nil, zilch this fall.

Lepidoptera – Arctiidae – Pyrrharctia isabella caterpillar (woolly bear caterpillar)

Birds are the warning lights that tell us our natural systems are stressed out. Seen as indicator species for the health of America’s natural landscape, they are declining in numbers at an alarming rate.

I think it was in July when we first noticed there weren’t as many birds around as usual. We kept the feeders filled, but the time lapse between fill-ups was getting longer.

Was the summer too cold for baby birds to survive? Also, organized spraying campaigns can kill birds as well as the massive caterpillar population. Or, did the birds just go somewhere else. I guess we shouldn’t take it personally because birds do move from place to place in search of food. Birds migrate, so did they leave to head south a little earlier than normal. Did the violent hurricane activity this year have an affect on the bird migration? Did the storms mess up the birds’ timing and navigation? I guess the questions are endless on the possibilities.

The best reason I was able to find was from the Audubon Society, along with other bird information sources, insisting that nothing is wrong. That because of the warmer than usual fall weather and the unusually abundant sources of natural food, the birds are still finding plenty to eat in the wild. Also, another explanation was that bird populations naturally fluctuate from year to year and that a feeder that is really “busy” one year may have fewer birds the next.

It is apparently a universal question in our area right now, and one that seems to have fewer answers.

Read the follow-up, Update on Birds

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Gathering winter’s fare

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

During one of the final weekends of camp, my wife and I, one day, were sitting on the deck, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and watched nature as we made our plans for closing up camp for the summer. It was a warm, sunny day with a slight breeze coming out of the northwest. During that time I was able to watch this one particular chipmunk, which I would have to describe as resilient and determined.

Right in front of our storage sheds, he had dug one of his many entry holes. As we later went about our business of closing things up, the chipmunk’s hole kept getting filled in. Over the next few days, we would wake up in the morning and the hole had been re-opened.

On the fourth day I noticed his hole had not been re-opened from the day before.

Suddenly, out of the brush he came, and right there in front of us, began to dig as if we were not there. I know he knew we were there, but I couldn’t figure out whether he wanted to show us that we were not going to discourage him, or maybe he was just being plain defiant.

They are cute little buggers and very industrious. We watch them at our camp all the time, and they become braver as the summer turns to fall.

The common name of the chipmunk comes from the native Ottawan word jidmoonh, meaning “red squirrel.” The earliest form of “chipmunk” appeared in the Oxford Dictionary of 1842, although it appears in several books from the 1820s. They are also referred to as striped squirrels, chippers, munks and timber tigers.

They are omnivorous, primarily feeding on nuts and other fruits, buds, grass, shoots and many other forms of plant matter, as well as fungi, insects and other arthropods, small frogs, worms and bird eggs. Oh, and did I mention bird seed.

They forage basically on the ground but will climb trees for hazelnuts and acorns. They begin to stockpile food in early fall. They stash their food in their burrows and remain underground until spring, unlike some other species which make multiple small caches of food, such as the gray squirrel.

As small as they are, they fulfill several important functions in forest ecosystems. Their activities harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment. They consume many different kinds of fungi, including those involved with trees, and are an important vehicle in the dispersal of the spores of truffles which have co-evolved with these and other mammals, and thus lost the ability to disperse their spores through the air.

The eastern chipmunk hibernates during the winter.

Chipmunks also play an important role as prey for various predatory mammals and birds, but are also opportunistic predators themselves, particularly in regards to bird eggs and nestlings.

Chipmunks, on average, live about three years, but have been known to live up to nine years in captivity. In captivity, they sleep an average of 15 hours a day. It is thought that mammals which can sleep in hiding, such as rodents and bats, tend to sleep longer than those that must remain on alert.

Well, when we left our little friend on Sunday afternoon, his hole was open and he was seen scurrying around in the leaves, gathering the acorns that were falling from the trees …as if we weren’t even there.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It takes many generations of Monarchs to complete migration

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

A little while ago, while watching the National Geographic’s channel on television, I saw an episode of a series called Great Migrations, and became very interested in the Monarch butterflies, who are among the most intriguing of the migrating species.

The monarch, Danaus plexippus, is probably the best known of all North American butterflies. Its wings feature an easily recognizable orange and black pattern, with a wingspan of 3-1/2 – 4 inches.

It takes four generations of Monarch butterflies to complete southern and northern migrations.

The monarch is most famous for its southward migration and northward return in summer in the Americas which spans the lifetime of three to four generations of the butterfly.

The upper side of the wings is tawny-orange, the veins and margins are black, and in the margins are two series of small white spots. The fore wings also have a few orange spots near the tip. The underside is similar but the tip of the fore wing and hind wing are yellow-brown instead of tawny-orange and the white spots are larger.

In North America, the monarch ranges from southern Canada to northern South America.

Monarchs are especially noted for their lengthy annual migration. In North America they make massive southward migrations starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring. The monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south as the birds do on a regular basis. But no single individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations.

By the end of October, the population east of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests in the Mexican states of Michoacán and México. The western population overwinters in various sites in central coastal and southern California, United States, notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.

The length of these journeys exceeds the normal lifespan of most monarchs, which is less than two months for butterflies born in early summer. The last generation — also known as the super generation — of the summer enters into a non-reproductive phase and may live seven months or more. These butterflies fly to one of many overwintering sites. The generation that overwinters generally does not reproduce until it leaves the overwintering site sometime in February and March.

It is the second, third and fourth generations that return to their northern locations in the United States and Canada in the spring. How the species manages to return to the same overwintering spots over a gap of several generations is still a subject of research; the flight patterns appear to be inherited, based on a combination of the position of the sun in the sky and a time-compensated sun compass that depends upon a circadian (repeating in a 24-hour cycle) clock that is based in their antennae.

Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making trans-Atlantic crossings. They are becoming more common in Bermuda due to increased usage of milkweed as an ornamental plant in flower gardens.

Because they feed mainly on milkweed, monarch butterflies are poisonous or distasteful to birds and mammals because of the presence of cardiac glycosides that are contained in milkweed consumed by the larva. It is thought that the bright colors of larva and adults function as warning colors. During hibernation monarch butterflies sometimes suffer losses because hungry birds pick through them looking for the butterflies with the least amount of poison, but in the process killing those that they reject. Some birds, such as orioles and jays have learned to eat only the thoracic muscles and abdominal contents because they contain less poison. In Mexico, about 14 percent of the overwintering monarchs are eaten by birds and mice.

Many people like to attract monarchs by growing a butterfly garden with a specific milkweed species. Many schools also enjoy growing and attending to monarch butterflies, starting with the caterpillar form. When the butterflies reach adulthood they are released into the wild.

A problem in North America is the black swallow-wort plant. Monarchs lay their eggs on these plants since they produce stimuli similar to milkweed. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are poisoned by the toxicity of this invasive plant.

The common name “Monarch” was first published in 1874 by Samuel H. Scudder because “it is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain.”

Monarchs are beautiful to watch during the summer, but the next time you see one, think of what that particular butterfly may have gone through to be with us.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Talk always turns to weather

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Isn’t it amazing how when you begin a conversation with someone, inevitably, it always leads to the weather. What would we do if we didn’t have the weather to talk about. Maybe some of us would never speak.

Whether you’re at the supermarket, church, or just bumping into a friend on the street, the conversation always goes something like, “What a nice day” or “boy, it sure is hot enough.” Get the idea?

Well, the other day, a colleague and I started talking about whether this recent stretch of weather constituted an “Indian Summer.” Which prompted me to think, “what really is an Indian summer and what determines whether we have one or not?”

An Indian summer is unseasonably warm, dry and calm weather, usually following a period of colder weather or frost in the late autumn, in September, October or early November. The Old Farmers Almanac describes it as taking place between November 11 and 20. It states, “During true Indian summer, the atmosphere looks hazy or smokey, and the weather is calm and dry.”

Modern ideas on what an Indian summer constitutes vary, but the most widely accepted value for determining whether an Indian summer is occurring is that the weather must be above 70 degrees for seven days after the autumnal equinox. The autumn equinox occured last week, and we have had a stretch of seven days where we are experiencing unseasonally warm weather. We also had a period of cold weather earlier in September.

The term Indian summer has been used for more than two centuries. The origin of other “Indian”phrases are well-known as referring to North American Indians, who prefer to be called Native Americans, or, in Canada, First Nations. The term Indian summer reached England in the 19th century, during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indians in question were the Native Americans, and the term began use there in the late 18th century.

Indian summer is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by the French-American soldier-turned-farmer J. H. St. John de Crevecoeur: “Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”

There are many references to the term in American literature in the following hundred years or so. In the 1830s Indian summer began to be used figuratively, to refer to any late flowering following a period of decline. It was well enough established as a phrase by 1834 for John Greenleaf Whittier to use the term that way, when in his poem Memories,” he wrote of “The Indian Summer of the heart!.”

Or, Thomas DeQuincey, in a republishing of Bentley’s Works of Thomas DeQuincey, 1855, wrote: “An Indian summer crept stealthily over his closing days.”

Also, in his story The Guardian Angel, Oliver Wendell Holmes mentions “an Indian summer of serene widowhood.”

As a climatic event it is known throughout the world and is most frequently associated with the eastern and central states of the U.S., which have a suitable climate to generate the weather pattern. For example, a wide variation of temperature and wind strength from summer to winter.

Why Indian? Well, no one knows but, as is commonplace when no one knows, many people have guessed.

Some say it was from the prairie fires deliberately set by Indian tribes; from raids on European settlements by Indian war parties, which usually ended in autumn; or, in parallel with other Indian terms, it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was a substitute copy of the real thing.

But my grandfather, who could spin a yarn with the best of them, had the best I’ve ever heard.

It seems an Indian chief was concerned about a hunting party that was delayed in returning from a late summer gathering of meat for the winter. The year had been an extremely difficult one and the tribe needed the buffalo, deer and turkey meat for their winter consumption, and the hides for clothing and shelters. Fearing the crops in the fields would go to waste before the braves returned to harvest, the chief sat at his campfire and began to feverishly smoke a pipe, until the air was filled with smokey, hot air. Once the hunting party made its return, the air was still warm enough to gather the crops that had not been damaged by frost, that the chief feared would be destroyed by the impending cold weather.

Makes sense to me.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Big green caterpillar

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Last week a reader sent a photograph of a caterpillar that she couldn’t identify (see photo).

The photo she sent shows the Hyalophora cecropia in its fifth instar (stage) of development, or the cecropia moth caterpillar. It is the largest native North American moth.

Cecropia caterpillar

The female moth has had its wings measured up to six inches or more. Its range is from Nova Scotia in eastern Canada and Maine south to Florida, and west to the Canadian and U.S. Rocky Mountains. It can also be found in California.

Like all members of the giant silk moth family, the moths only reproduce because they lack functional mouth parts or digestive system, meaning they never eat. Therefore, the life expectancy is only about two weeks.

The female lays up to 100 eggs, which hatch into tiny black caterpillars. The larvae feed upon many common trees and shrubs, including maple, birch and apple. The larvae are more commonly found on maple trees. As they grow larger, it becomes clear that the black color is actually small hairs growing. In the early stages they are yellow-green. As they grow larger, the colors change to green to bluish-green, with the tubercles becoming blue, yellow and orange. Upon reaching matu-rity in autumn, the caterpillar, now about four inches long, spin large cocoons on trees or wooden structures to emerge as adults in the first two weeks of seasonally warm weather in early summer. They only have one generation per year.

Pests of the moth have become a significant problem. Parasites such as wasps and flies lay their eggs in or on the young caterpillars. The eggs then hatch into larvae, which consume the internal organs and muscles of the caterpillars. Once the eggs hatch into larvae, the para-sites release chemicals that override the regulatory mechanisms of the caterpillar, and will eventually kill the cecropia pupa. Squirrels also consume the pupae of the cecropia moths, which decreases the population significantly. Pruning of trees and leaving outdoor lights on at night can also be detrimental to the moths.

Cecropia moth

The wings of the moth are brownish with red near the base of the forewing. Crescent-shaped spots of red with whitish center are obvious on all wings, but are larger on the hindwings. All wings have whitish coloration followed by reddish bands of shading beyond the postmedial lie that runs longitudinally down the center of all four wings. The body is hairy with reddish color-ing. The body has alternating bands of red and white.

The coloration of the moth is so spectacular they are prized by collectors and nature lovers, specifically for their large size and extremely showy appearance.

Now you can impress your friends when someone sees one of these and you can identify it as the Hyalophora cecropia.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Final fish story of summer

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

We haven’t had one of these in a long time, so it was kind of timely because it happened on one of our last fishing outings of the season. With summer officially ending on September 21, my wife and I are preparing to close camp, so the boat will be coming out of the water soon.

What is it you ask?

A fishing story.

Anyone who has done some significant amount of fishing can attest that sometimes weird things happen while on the water. It can involve birds, mammals, or anything related to nature, including fish.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago while fishing near the large island on Webber Pond, we heard this rather loud splash in the water. In the past we have experienced ospreys go into their kamikaze dive to catch a fish, or a large bass coming to the surface to grab something to eat. On occasion, it could be a loon. On that particular day, that large splash was made by a deer. We don’t know what happened, because we didn’t see, just heard. But the deer was in the water, chest deep, working its way back toward the island. As always, once it reached some vegetation, it disappeared.

But this next one is a fishing story. This is not a fabrication.

We were about to wrap up the fishing for the day, having spent a little over four hours on the pond, when I felt a “hit.” Once I set the hook, I could tell this was going to be a nice fish. I began the process of bringing the fish toward the boat. It was putting up a pretty good fight, finally breaking water and going into its routine of trying to release itself from the hook. It jerked and twisted while doing its “dance” on the water.

The fish wasn’t successful so the struggle continued. As I got the fish closer to the boat, it decided to dive aft. This is when things got really interesting. The bass had managed to get directly under the boat, or so I thought. My fishing rod was completely bent in half, with the tip of the rod nearly touching the reel. At this point, I could no longer pull the fish toward the surface nor take up any more line on the reel.

I told my wife, “Grab the net, we are now in a Mexican standoff.” The fish was pulling as hard from his end as I was from mine. After what seemed like an eternity, the line finally succumbed to the stress, and broke.

Disappointed, I had to investigate as to why I could not land the fish. I figured the bass had to have snagged itself somewhere under the boat. I first checked the side where I have a diving platform. That is the usual culprit. Nothing there. Next, I checked the fin on the lower unit of the motor, nothing. “OK, it’s got to be the prop,” I thought. A quick check of the propeller showed no sign of a fishing line. However, I did notice the anchor line coming across just below the prop, a strange place for it to be.

Closer inspection showed that the hook, with lure still attached was imbedded in the anchor line. I always try to steer the fish away from that area, but this one had decided, with authority, that is where it wanted to go.

Wait a minute! I noticed something else when I saw the hook and lure. I could see eyes staring back at me. I grabbed the anchor and started to pull it up from the bottom of the lake, and there it was. The fish was still attached to the hook and lure, and tangled in the anchor rope. I had actually been trying to reel in the whole boat. The fish was hauled in, and the usual ceremony took place. Free the fish, measure and weigh, photo op, and back into the water. It wasn’t a giant: 18-inches, three pounds, but it fought like a whale.

Another fish story to tell my grandkids, because my friends don’t believe it.

CORRECTION

To clarify my column from last week, please disregard any reference to geese and substitute the word “turkeys.” It was an editing error.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The sounds of nature vs. the sounds of the city

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Well, we are approaching that sad time of year when my wife and I are readying to shutter camp for the winter. It’s with mixed emotions because we really enjoy camp (we live there from May to October), but it’s football season, and we are both avid New England Patriots fans, and home is where we like to be for Sunday afternoon kickoffs.

The big question that comes to mind is which do we prefer, the sounds of the loons’ eerie calls in the night, the barred owls caterwauling at each other in the early morning hours, peepers in the spring and all the other wonderful sounds of nature, or… the sounds of ridiculously large pickup trucks revving their oversized gas-guzzling engines with the loud exhaust belching fumes and smoke into the air, squealing tires, police sirens blaring at all hours of the night, barking dogs, arguing neighbors, etc? Living in the middle of Waterville, those sounds always make me think, “Welcome home.” I think the answer to my question is a no-brainer.

With that in mind, here are some of the more memorable things that I witnessed this past summer at camp.

First, we’ll talk about the bald eagles consistently seen circling over Webber Pond in search of food. On two occasions this past summer, while fishing, we witnessed bald eagles come swooping down from a high perch in the trees, to scoop up fish from the surface of the water with their sharp, deadly talons. One time the bird came as close as 20 yards from our boat. The second time, it was a little further away, but still as magnificent.

Then, there was the morning when, on my way to work on the Seaward Mills Road, in Vassalboro, I saw a rafter of geese crossing the road in front of me. I had to come to a standstill because one of the adult turkeys was stationed smack in the middle of the road while the rest of the brood crossed, in single file, with an adult leading the way. That turkey resembled a school crossing guard as he stopped traffic for the kids to cross.

Not too long after, on the same road, I saw another flock of turkeys crossing the road, but this time they were accompanied by a house cat, who showed all the techniques of a border collie herding sheep. It would move around the flock to keep the young ones in line as they navigated the asphalt. Quite something to see. The cat showed no interest in harming any of the fowl.

There was also the night, which I mentioned before in this column, of the barred owls as they caterwauled to each other late one night. They started quite innocently as you would expect to hear an owl. These, being barred owls, would call out “who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all.” However, the calling began to intensify and before long the calls began to sound like barking dogs, something I had never heard before from barred owls.

Finally, in mid-May, there was the night we heard noises off in the distance that sounded like a small dog wailing from discomfort. It was a yelping sound, followed by a whine. “An injured dog,” was the first thought. However, as the sound persisted, it became clear that the calling was from red foxes calling out to each other during the mating season. The foxes have been around all summer, but the callings have stopped.

Nature has sounds of its own, and even though they can be loud at times, still trump (Oops, there’s that word, again) the sounds of the city.

Every year, the weekend after Labor Day, we make a fishing trip to Nesowadnehunk Lake, in a remote area abutting Baxter Park to the west, where we can lay in our cots in the tent, and listen to the coyotes howl in the distance. Ah, the wonderful sounds to which to fall asleep.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bees and wasps – stinging insect activities continue into the fall

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

With the relatively dry summer we have experienced in 2017, you have probably noticed an increase in activity by bees and wasps over recent weeks. That is typical of a rainless period as bees are now out in search of moisture of any kind to continue their work at the respective hives.

Bee

Bees, wasps, and hornets – commonly referred to as “stinging insects” – continue to be active into the late summer and early autumn months in the northeast, despite the majority of nest and hive activity taking place earlier in the year. As a result, prevention techniques are still important for individuals and families looking to avoid painful stings.

“There are thousands of different species of bees, wasps, and hornets worldwide and as many as 200 that may be found in New England,” said Mike Peaslee, technical manager and associate certified entomologist at Modern Pest Services, a QualityPro company, recognized as such by the National Pest Management Association, serving Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. “They all have different functions and jobs within their own colonies so some are more active or prevalent than others as the days start to get cooler. But, as a whole, they are still around and still working hard, which can be problematic for people looking to avoid getting stung.”

Wasp

Among the reasons there may be stinging insect activity without any visible nest is because 70 percent of the 20,000 bee species actually nest underground. Wasps also have some ground-nesting species like Digger Wasps and Yellow Jackets. As the final days of summer draw near and the cooler days of autumn approach, sweet foods like loose, rotting apples on the ground can be a significant attractor of stinging insects to homeowners’ yards.

“People with apple trees or crab apple trees who don’t clean up loose fruit on the ground can see a bigger problem in their yard than others,” said Peaslee. “The insects will find a significant source of food and because the days are getting shorter, honeybees know they have to gather more food and nectar to feed their colony throughout the winter. That makes autumn a very important time of the year for these insects to prepare for the colder months.”

New England is home to several different types of bees and wasps, including Bald Faced Hornets, Carpenter Bees, Paper Wasps, and Cicada Killers.

“Distinguishing between a bee and a wasp is important, especially regarding control measures or nest removal, because they each require a specific treatment method,” said Peaslee. “Bees and wasps have a number of beneficial qualities to them, but they are also disruptive and dangerous for some people, which would require action to be taken on the nest.”

Bees stay in their hives throughout the winter while wasp and hornet nest will die off after the first hard frost with just the queens overwintering in protected sites in trees, structures, etc. before returning to activity in the spring, More information on bees, wasps, and other stinging insects can be found at www.modernpest.com.

These little creatures are not exactly my favorite. They can be nasty, unpredictable and take no prisoners, so to speak. I always refer to them as “underground terrorists.” Although they perform a needed service to the ecosystem, I don’t particularly care for their presence.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Why don’t deer and moose get their antlers caught in trees?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Last week, I received an email from a colleague, and follower of this column, asking the question, “Why don’t deer and moose get their antlers caught in trees?” Well, it isn’t uncommon to find deer with their antlers caught in trees. But it usually occurs following adverse conditions, especially from flooding or being frightened into a desperate retreat.

Well, actually, that was a question I always wondered myself. I always thought that maybe their antlers were like whiskers on a cat, using them as feelers to determine whether they can pass through an opening.

Moose antlers in velvet.

It turns out I probably wasn’t far off with my assessment.

I turned to my contacts at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for an answer. According to the state moose biologist Lee Kantar, “As the moose antlers grow, the moose ‘develop’ a sense of their width.” I can only deduce that the same holds true for deer.

Following the fall rut, male deer and moose will shed their antlers. In spring or early summer, March or April, the new antlers begin to form, growing out from a pedicel bone, a bony stalk situated on the frontal bone of the skull. The antlers begin to grow at a rapid pace. During growth, they are covered with a skin, called the velvet, a living tissue, which contains many blood vessels for the nourishment of the growing bone tissue.

“During antler growth,” said Kantar, “the antlers are highly vascularized and the moose can feel where those antlers are, touching other surfaces during the growth phase.”

When the antlers have reached the size and shape characteristic for the particular species, the blood circulation in the velvet is stopped, the velvet dies, and the buck or bull then rubs off the dead skin against branches,

In the case of moose, “During antler growth this velvet layer of hair that covers the antlers are the ‘feelers’ for the antlers,” the biologist continued.

“At the end of August into September the antlers essentially harden into bone and the velvet is rubbed and sloughed off as the bull thrashes and rubs against vegetation. By this time, the bull has essentially ‘learned’ the dimensions of his new antlers for his travels.”

Deer and moose have played a very important role in the history of our country, especially deer. The American Indians and European settlers depended on deer for food clothing, implements, ornaments, ceremonial items, tools and weapons. The hides provided shelter and protection from the weather.

Did you know the term “bucks” when referring to money comes from the American Indians. Deerskins were considered valuable for clothing and the skins were called “bucks.” They were traded for various other articles.

Lewis and Clark might never have been able to finish their journey from St. Louis to Oregon if the hunters they took along had not furnished them with deer meat along the way. For the four months they wintered in Oregon, they had little to eat other than deer meat.

Have you ever seen a set of deformed moose antlers on a mount, and wondered why? Well, if a bull moose is castrated, either by accident or chemical means, he will quickly shed his current set of antlers and then immediately begin to grow a new set of mishapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again.

I know I wandered off the initial subject, but I found all this information fascinating. I hope you did, too.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An unexpected late night concert

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Last Thursday night my wife woke me from a sound sleep to listen to something outside our camp. Well, being somewhat groggy, I didn’t hear anything, and went back to sleep. It wasn’t long afterwards that she woke me again.

“Can’t you hear that?” she inquired sounding a little frustrated – You see, my wife tells me I’m going deaf.

I sat up, and listened attentively. “OK, I hear it, it’s a Barred Owl,” I told her.

She persisted. “Listen carefully.”

What I then heard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was at least two, maybe three, barred owls caterwauling to each other. This was at about 11 p.m. I had heard Barred Owls behind camp a thousand times, but never anything like this. It was almost as intriguing as listening to loons calling to each other.

The “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” call was unmistakable. But, I think it was a strange time of year for them to engage in this activity. This is usually done during the spring courtship, when one will vocalize to its mate, and vice versa. There were times when it was so loud and sustained, it almost sounded like a barking dog.

These calls are most heard at night or in twilight, and especially during the breeding season. However, calls can be heard year round since these birds do not migrate. They are very territorial, and will chase away intruders with loud hoots. These vocalizations become more frequent during the mating season, where female birds make invitation calls to mate with males.

Scientists, however, have debated that the calls of Barred Owls are much more diverse than we think. The research indicates that more needs to be known about the Barred Owls before they can deduce more about its behaviors in and out of the breeding season. Owls in general can be a difficult species of bird to study since they are mainly nocturnal and are not incredibly active until the breeding season.

Barred Owls, Strix varia, are easiest to find when they are active at night, but they are easier to hear than to see. From a distance, their calls can sound like a barking dog. They prefer mature forests, and their main diet is small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Since the 1960s, Barred Owls have expanded their range to the Pacific Coast where they are considered invasive. That is because it is believed they are partly to blame for the recent decline of the northern Spotted Owl, which is native to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. When Barred Owls and Spotted Owls occupy the same space, the Barred Owl is more aggressive and will out-compete the Spotted Owl. Barred Owls have even been known to kill Spotted Owls. Interbreeding is also suspected.

In 2007, White House officials announced a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to shoot Barred Owls in order to reduce the threat to the Spotted Owls. If implemented, it was estimated 2,150 to 2,850 Barred Owls should be taken over a five to 10 year period. It is feared that increased populations of Barred Owls could eventually render the Spotted Owl extinct. Environmentalists fear increased blame on Barred Owls for declining Spotted Owl numbers will result in less attention being paid to territorial protections and resumption of logging in protected Spotted Owl habitat.

According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, the experiment is ongoing and results are still being studied.

An adult Barred Owl can be anywhere from 16 – 25 inches long and weigh 1.1 to 2.3 pounds, with a wingspan of 38-49 inches. The Barred Owl is the only true owl of the eastern United States which has brown eyes. All others have yellow eyes.

The upper parts are a gray/brown, the underparts are light with markings. The chest is barred horizontally while the belly is striped vertically. The legs and feet are covered with feathers to the talons, and the head is round with no ear tufts.

Even though they are primarily nocturnal, they generally hunt near dawn or dusk, swooping down from a high perch, to take their prey.