SCORES & OUTDOORS: Titmice taking over the feeders

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

It has already been a month since my wife and I moved to camp for the summer. With the annual trek comes the installation of the bird feeding stations that are all around us. We get the usual local congregations of chickadees, nuthatches, gold finches, blue jays, woodpeckers and occasional wanderers like the house finches, purple finches and grosbeaks.

However, this year, we have observed a noticeable influx of another species of bird that would, in the past, and at home also, be occasional visitors. That would be the Tufted Titmouse.

They have dominated the feeders, and we can hear their unmistakable calls from the cover of the woods. It is a resounding peter-peter-peter.

What has caused this increase in their numbers? Populations have boomed between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimate a global breeding population of 8 million with 100 percent living in the U.S. They are not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List. The most probable reasons for the range expansion include a warming climate, reversion of farmlands to forests, and the growing popularity of backyard bird feeders. It’s a story we have heard over and over about these different species of birds that are migrating further north.

It is generally thought that tufted titmice, as of late, have become year-round residents of their range rather than migrating south.

The Tufted titmouse is a small bird with gray upper-parts and white underparts with a white face, a gray crest, a dark forehead and a short stout bill, with reddish-brown flanks.

Tufted titmice, Baeolophus bicolor, live in deciduous woods or mixed evergreen-deciduous woods, typically in areas with a dense canopy and many tree species. According to this, our camp is a haven for this species of bird. They are indiscriminate eaters. They eat mainly insects in the summer, and include seeds nuts and berries in their diet. Experiments with tufted titmice indicate they always choose the largest seeds they can when foraging. They typically hold the seed with their feet and hammer it open with their beaks. In fall and winter, they often hoard these shelled seeds in bark crevices.

tufted  titmouse

tufted
titmouse

Like the chickadee, they can only take one seed per trip and usually shell the seeds before storing them.

While foraging, they hop among branches and twigs of trees, often hanging upside down, sometimes hovering momentarily.

The female will lay from five to six eggs, with sometimes as many as nine. The eggs are under an inch long and are white or cream-colored with brownish or purplish spots. The incubation is done by the female only. They will hatch is 12-14 days. The male will feed the young during the early days, but both parents will feed the chicks as they get older. The young will leave the nest in 15-16 days following their hatching.

Tufted titmice nest in a hole in a tree, either a natural cavity, a manmade nest box, or sometimes an old woodpecker nest.

The oldest known wild Tufted Titmouse was at least 13 years, three months old. It was banded in Virginia in 1962, and found in the same state in 1974.

There is always something going on with Mother Nature.
CHICKADEE UPDATE

If you recall, a couple of weeks back I told of a chickadee that had taken up residence in a long-abandoned bird house behind our camp. We hadn’t seen it in a couple of weeks, thinking the worse, after seeing a blue jay in the area. Well, she was spotted this weekend, in the bird house. We didn’t want to approach the house causing a disturbance. We can only assume there are eggs in there. We will continue to monitor the situation.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Fear strikes out

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Back around 1954, when I was seven years old, I became aware of a game called baseball. I loved it. I grew up in an era where I watched some of the greatest baseball players in history: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, etc. The list goes on.

I watched on television when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run of the season in 1961, at Yankee Stadium against Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record; I was at Fenway Park when Detroit’s Jim Bunning pitched a no-hitter against the Red Sox; I was also at Fenway Park when Ted Williams hit his 521st, and last home run in his final at-bat before retirement in 1962. I’ve seen many games, watched many players who are now enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But, my two main idols in those formative years were Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone, whom I think I gravitated to because that was the position I played in Little League, high school, and during my softball playing days. But my favorite in the 1950s and early 1960s, was Red Sox centerfielder Jim Piersall.

Jim Piersall

What brings this up is that Piersall passed away on June 3, at the age of 87. But the story doesn’t end there.

Back in the early 1990s, a friend of mine was in the business of promoting sports memorabilia shows in Augusta. My job was to drive to Portland and rendezvous with professional athletes with whom he had contracted to come to the shows for autograph sessions. Among the many I drove from Portland to Augusta and back were former Red Sox stars Jody Reed, George Scott, Jim Rice, Jim Lonborg, Bill “The Spaceman” Lee, etc.; New England Patriots linebacker Steve Nelson; Celtics star Robert Parrish and Bruins players Cam Neely, Bobby Carpenter, Ken Hodge, just to name a few.

Well, one day, my buddy says to me, “I’m putting on a show next week, and I need you to go to Portland and pick up George Foster and Jim Piersall.”

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. A week later, I was driving a car to Augusta with Jim Piersall sitting in the back seat. I was hoping he would sit next to me up front, but Foster claimed that spot. My conversation with Foster is a story for another day. But Piersall did not disappoint me in his storytelling.

Unfortunately, Piersall suffered from bipolar disorder during his playing days, in a time when the disease was not fully understood (early in his career he was diagnosed with “nervous exhaustion” and spent seven weeks in a mental facility in Massachusetts), and everyone said he was crazy. The film Fear Strikes Out, starring Anthony Perkins as Piersall, was the story of Piersall’s 17-year major league career and the mental challenges he faced.

But that day, in the car, on our round trip from the airport to the Augusta Civic Center, he displayed no signs of the disorder. Most of his topics were up and coming players at the time and some banter with Foster, who was a feared slugger who played in the National League for the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” in the 1970s. He once held the National League record for most home runs in a season with 52.

Piersall’s stories are legendary. He once stepped up to bat wearing a Beatles wig and playing “air guitar” with his bat; led cheers for himself in the outfield during breaks, and “talked” to Babe Ruth behind the centerfield monuments at Yankee Stadium. In 1963, while playing with the New York Mets, he hit the 100th home run of his career and ran around the bases backwards.

He was ejected from the game a countless number of times for the shenanigans he performed on the field.

In his autobiography, Piersall commented, “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jim Piersall, until that happened?”

The list of his antics are endless, but one memorable one was when he was ejected from a game, while playing for the Cleveland Indians, for running back and forth in the outfield, waiving his arms frantically, trying to distract Ted Williams during an at bat.

He heckled umpires, threw baseballs at scoreboards, and charged the mound when hit by a pitch.

He was a colorful character that is missing from the game today. When Jim Piersall stepped on a baseball field, you never knew what was going to happen.

But with all these incidents, playing for five different teams, Piersall was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame on September 17, 2010.

To this day, I really can’t explain why I idolized that baseball player.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Fox sightings raise concerns

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

One of my neighbors at camp reported recently seeing a red fox trotting down the side of the Cross Hill Road, in Vassalboro, with a chicken in its jaws. That prompted many questions about the animal and its place among humans. There have been increased sightings of red foxes during the last few weeks and the diminutive canine is worth discussing.

You’ve probably read stories about the cunning fox trying to outwit his animal brothers and sisters. Foxes no doubt got their crafty reputation from the way they look, with their long, thin faces and yellow eyes that have narrow slits for pupils. But in real life, foxes are more concerned with finding food than with playing tricks on anyone.

red fox

red fox

The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, is a lean, mean hunting machine that’s built for speed. About 3-1/2 feet in length, slinky and long-legged, they only weigh about 10 pounds full grown. But red foxes look a lot bigger because of their thick fur, which can range from deep brownish red to sandy blonde with black legs, feet, and backs of the ears and white underparts. Sometimes red foxes can even be all black or black with white tips, or have a dark brown “cross” across their backs.

Foxes are great hunters, and not only because they’re fast. Their large, upright ears allow them to locate a rustling sound within one degree of its true location, a trait that is not possible in humans. A fox can also hear a mouse squeal from 150 feet away.

Red foxes are solitary hunters that slowly approach their prey, creeping low to the ground and stretching their head high to spot the target. They pounce on the mouse, rabbit or other prey with their forefeet.

Mice, especially meadow voles, are a popular food for red foxes, but their favorite dish is rabbit. They aren’t picky eaters either, and will eat berries and insects in the spring and summer, along with squirrels, songbirds, ducks and pheasants. In the north, they will also eat snowshoe rabbits, and they’ll even clean up after humans by eating garbage. So, if foxes have been spotted in your area, it’s a good idea to secure garbage so as not to encourage it to continue to show up at your location.

Nighttime is when red foxes are most active. They do most of their hunting from two hours before sunset to about four hours after sunrise, and travel up to nine miles a night. When they aren’t hunting, foxes like to rest in forests, ravines or woodlots, curling their long bushy tails around themselves to keep warm. The tail is also used for balance or as a signal flag to communicate with other foxes.

Fox families each have their own clearly marked home ranges that they defend from intruders, but they don’t usually fight. Foxes are territorial animals. A group chase or a “threat display” – charging, growling, etc. – will generally do the trick. A fox family has a hunting range of about 150-400 acres, but in less diverse habitats, like farmland, one family might need up to 2-3 square miles.

Red fox don’t live in dens most of the year, but do set up nurseries in abandoned woodchuck burrows when it’s time to have pups. Foxes breed in mid-January and have five or six pups in mid-March. They will hunt with their parents when they’re three months old and are ready to strike out on their own at eight months.

Red foxes can be found along fence rows, gravel roads, paths or treelines, especially after a light snowfall. Their tracks are very similar to that of a small dog. On spring or summer evenings, search along hillsides with binoculars. If you see a mound of fresh dirt in front of a dark hole, it could be a den entrance.

The question most asked was whether they are a threat to humans.

Many humans think foxes are dangerous animals. The most concerns raised are do they pose a threat to pets, small children, and also look sick or rabid. Humans are intimidated by foxes. They will become aggressive if cornered, so never try to catch one with your bare hands. Generally, foxes are not especially dangerous to humans or pets. Attacks on humans are extremely rare. And that is only when the fox may be defending its den.

They do not regard humans or dogs and cats as prey. They will, however, take poultry and rabbits. If an attack is initiated towards dogs or cats, they usually end when the barking starts, and the cat extends its claws. Remember, foxes are not fighters. As a rule, once they have been discovered in an area, they might pack up and move.

Foxes, however, can be carriers of diseases, including rabies. They can spread other diseases through their feces, so it’s important to clean it up if you discover one. Although it will not affect humans, the diseases that foxes carry can affect your pets, especially dogs. If mange is suspected, see your veterinarian immediately. That can be treated.

Treat red foxes with respect, keep your distance, and they could be a source of entertainment for you for quite some time.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What do we really know about chickadees?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

About 12 years ago, our grandson gave us a birdhouse that he had built. That same year, while attending a benefit auction, I acquired another birdhouse. We took both of those houses and mounted them on trees behind camp. There they sat for a dozen years. No activity that we ever noticed, until last weekend, when while having breakfast, I noticed a black-capped chickadee enter one of them. I continued to watch as it exited, and came back a few minutes later with what looked like building material for a nest.

Finally, someone was moving in. The little bird continued to work the rest of the day, and continued the next. That’s when I asked myself, “what do we really know about chickadees?”

They are the state bird, and they can be found just about everywhere. But, what else?

Insects form a large part of their diet in summer. Seeds and berries become their fare in winter. We feed the birds both at home and at camp, and one of the things that has always captured my attention in that chickadees, unlike the gold finches or nuthatches, who park themselves on the feeders, the chickadee goes to the feeder, takes one seed, and flies to a nearby tree to break it open. They will also store food in various places. They can remember where the food is stashed for up to 28 days.

On cold winter nights, they have the ability to reduce their body temperature by as much as 10-12 degrees C. That kind of torpor is not common in birds.

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

Chickadees are permanent residents. They do not migrate in winter, other than possibly moving south within their range. During winter, they often flock together, and will forage as a group. While flocking, they create a social hierarchy, Males rank over females and older birds over juveniles.

They usually sleep in vegetation or in cavities. I guess this particular chickadee liked the looks of that hole in what it may think is part of the tree.

Black-capped chickadees are monogamous, and males contribute greatly to reproduction. During the incubation period, the male will feed its partner. When the nestlings hatch, males are the primary provider. However, as the young get older the female takes over those responsibilities. They breed between April and June. Females prefer dominant males.

The black-capped chickadee is the state bird of both Maine and Massachusetts, and the Canadian province of New Brunswick, which borders Maine.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the black-capped chickadee as least concern due to its widespread distribution, and large population.

But, what disturbed me was the sighting of a blue jay in the area of the bird house on Monday. We haven’t seen the chickadee since.

Blue jays are known to attack or kill smaller birds. They are extremely territorial birds and will even show aggression towards humans if they come too close to their nest. Additionally, blue jays may raid other birds’ nests, stealing eggs, chicks or simply taking over the nest. We hope that was not the fate of that little chickadee that we have enjoyed watching for those couple of days.

Of course, with the rain we had on Monday, let’s just hope the chickadee had enough sense to stay out of the rain.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Those lovable little critters announcing spring’s arrival

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Camp is open! Last Friday and Saturday my wife and I worked diligently to get things squared away at camp. Open the shelter, put away necessities for the summer, arrange outdoor furniture, check out the grill, etc. It was a busy two days, and Saturday night we finally sat down around the first campfire of the year.

Before I proceed, let me set the scene.

Next to our camp is a rather large gully that drains spring runoff from the top of the hill down to the lake. Just before you get to the pond, there is a large swampy area.

OK, got it? So there we are sitting around the campfire. At sunset came the sounds for which we have been waiting. The peepers. The unmistakable sound of spring. If you live east of the Mississippi River, you have definitely heard the sound of hundreds of chirping frogs.

A spring peeper, left, and one with its vocal sac inflated. Internet photos

While spring peepers are the most famous of all the frogs, they’re not the only species native to North America. Spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, exist in the eastern half of North America from Florida to Canada. You can distinguish the spring peepers, also known as chorus frogs, because their noise sounds very much like jingling bells when there are a lot of them around.

If you have ever seen a spring peeper, you have probably noticed a peculiar bubble that forms around the frog’s mouth. The bubble is actually the frog’s vocal sac. To make their calls, peepers close their nostrils and mouths and squeeze their lungs to inflate the sac. The peeping sound happens as air leaves the lungs, passes over the vocal chords and into the vocal sac.

The sounds they produce are mating calls emanating from the males, which are made from the edges of the bodies of water in which they breed. Even when calling, peepers may be difficult to locate. They typically breed from March to June when the warm rains start. The female will lay around 900 eggs, but up to 1,000 are possible. Egg clusters are hidden under vegetation, and they transform into frogs about eight weeks following the hatching.

Their environment includes marshy areas, especially wooded wetlands and swampy areas near forested areas because they like to hibernate under tree bark or fallen logs. Thus, the perfect habitat is what I described earlier.

They are an extremely small frogs, reaching a maximum size of about 1-1/2 inches and weigh about 0.18 ounces. Because of their diminutive size, they feed on small bugs like ants, small beetles, flies and spiders. They have large toe pads for climbing, although they generally spend their time amid loose debris.

Spring peepers are nocturnal and do most of their hunting at night.

Peepers, are among the first frogs in the region to call in the spring, and will make their first appearance shortly after ice goes out on the wetlands.

How to identify a peeper? That’s easy. They are tan or brown in color with a dark X-shaped marking across their back. Now, go out and try to find one.

The spring peeper has no special endangered status in most areas. They are common and widespread over the region. However, their habitats are quickly changing due to loss of wetlands. In some areas, their populations have decreased significantly. Where have we heard that before?

If you get the chance, spend an evening outside listening to the sounds of spring, and among them you will hear the chirps of these amazing little frogs.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What is Aylostera Vulpina?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

It’s simply amazing what you come across in the woods of Maine. Last weekend, while preparing to open camp for the season, my wife and I were helping some friends next door do some raking and leaf pickup, when the wife showed me something that she had raked up. It looked kind of odd. OK, something else I had never seen in the 29 years my wife and I have been there.

It was round, like an orb, a little smaller than a tennis ball. Brown in color, with black bristles all over the exterior. At one end was a hole with what appeared to be dried mud inside.

That evening, I perused through the myriad of books I own and found nothing that really resembled it. The closest I came was that of a milkweed stock, but still didn’t look the same. So, I turned to my contact at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in Augusta. His initial thought was a gall, but he would confer with his botanist colleagues.

Basically, a gall is a kind of swelling growth on the external tissues of plants or animals. They are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues, similar to benign tumors or warts on animals. They are caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites. They are highly organized structures and because of this the cause of the gall can often be determined without the actual agent being identified. In human pathology, a gall is a raised sore on the skin, usually caused by chafing or rubbing.

In the end, what we had found was not a gall.

Several emails later, my contact replied following some consultations with the botanists, and were wondering if it might be a Chestnut gall. This would only be possible if we had a mature Chestnut tree on the premises. There are none that we are aware.

What we found, left, and what we think it is.

Then, another state botanist, Don Cameron, concluded that there are no trees in Maine with galls that have multiple spines from the same attachment point and therefore he speculated that it was most likely a cactus house plant that was thrown away in the yard some time ago.

He concluded the orb was possibly that of the Aylostera vulpina plant, a cactus that is native to Bolivia and Argentina, but very popular as house potted plants. In the wilds of South America, they grow at altitudes of 3,400 – 3,900 feet. I was not able to find a common name for them.

The plant is easy to grow and recommended for beginners. They prefer a gritty, porous soil mix with a pH slightly on the acidic side. Full sun to light shade. The root system is rot prone so watering should be monitored closely.

It’s recommended to let the pot dry out before adding water. It is winter hardy and will sustain temperatures below freezing. They require a winter rest period.

This species of cactus will occupy a small flower pot comfortably and remain a manageable sized house plant. The flower is bright red with scarlet petal tips and white stigma.

They are subject to mealy-bug attacks and to fungus and rot brought on by over-watering and high humidity.

It appears that in cultivation they grow larger and cluster more vigorously than in the wild.

The site where the pod was found has had a high turnover rate in the past 6 – 10 years so could very conceivably have been a potted house plant. The area had not been raked in quite some time.

I guess, for the time anyway, we have solved another “mystery” at camp.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The return of the phoebe

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Several years ago – there seems to be disagreement when it was – we had an Eastern phoebe build a nest under the awning, on a cross beam that abuts our camp. We watched as the female incubated the eggs, and my wife had the opportunity to witness the last of the chicks leave the nest.

Well, I think it’s about to happen again, and to quote the late, great Yogi Berra, “it’s déja vu all over again!” We noticed an Eastern phoebe hanging around last Sunday when we went to camp to assess the winter damage and begin the clean up. She seemed to be scoping out the area for a potential site for a nest.

In the past, the female arrived and began building the nest sometime after May 1. When we moved out to camp for the summer on May 9, the nest was about half complete. Even with the increase in traffic, the bird continued on its mission of finishing the task it had begun, despite the fact that the nest was about two feet from the door to the camp, in the exact location the other bird had chosen a few years back.

eastern phoebe

There were four eggs in the nest. We determined this by taking a mirror, placing it on a stick and looking inside the nest. The female, at that point, would leave the nest every time the door opened. They were all phoebe eggs. The Eastern phoebe is occasionally host to the nest-parasitic brown-headed cowbird.

As the incubation period approached its end, she was a little more reluctant to leave the nest unattended. She was more tolerant of our presence and did not leave the nest after sunset, regardless of the commotion that was going on around her.

Returning north at the beginning of spring, sometimes before the snow has left, these early arrivals are unmistakable. They pump their tails up and down, as only phoebes can. They have remarkably large heads, and the straight-up feathers on their heads are far too short to make a respectable crest.

In inhabited areas, the phoebes like to build their nests under bridges, porches, eaves and sheds. They will practically move in on favored homeowners – which I suppose is what we became – who may then be lucky enough to watch the construction of their moss and mud nests, the hatching of the eggs, the feeding of the young, and finally the fledgling of the brood as they take their first awkward flights, all things that we have been fortunate enough to observe.

Phoebes will frequently return to the same nest sites year after year, which we have discovered.

Although only the female incubates the eggs, both parents share in the feeding of the young. They generally will raise two broods a year, sometimes three. In our case, the last experience with them was only one brood, because we deduced that because of the many times she leaves the nest in our presence, it may take longer than the customary 14-17 days to incubate.

The young will leave the nest approximately two weeks after hatching.

The nest is an open cup with a mud base (makes a mess on the windows) and lined with moss and fine grass stems and hair.

Although the book on the phoebes indicate they are loners, and that even during egg laying the female will chase away the male, the pair that we have stay close. While the female is in the nest, the male is never too far away. We witnessed the male attack a Baltimore Oriole that had landed on the edge of the roof, eight feet away from the nest.

When we go back to camp this weekend, we will try to find if the phoebe has found a place to nest. The beam that once was home for these birds is no longer there. I’ll keep an eye on the outbuildings.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A fish story to top them all

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

I have been an avid fisherman for the better part of the past five decades. I have fished for many different species, under various weather conditions with some unusual experiences. But I have never had one fall out of the sky…until this week.
Now, I know recreational marijuana use is legal in Maine, but I swear on my mother’s grave I don’t touch the stuff.

When I arrived home from work last Wednesday, there it was, on the walkway from my driveway to the side door, a yellow perch, completely intact, with rigor mortis very well established. Since my hands were full, I figured I’d go back out to take care of it later.

Once in the house, I forgot about the fish until the next morning when I left the house to head to work. It was still there. I kicked it over to the side so no one would accidentally step on it, and proceeded to work. I returned that afternoon, and it was still there. I went in the house, dumped my briefcase and laptop, and headed out to take care of the situation.

The fish had disappeared, just as quickly as it had appeared. Strange to say the least.

Since I live about 400 yards from the Kennebec River, where there is a large population of sea gulls, crows, and a nesting pair of bald eagles, I figured one of them may have inadvertently dropped it during a mid-flight skirmish with another bird over the fish. I have witnessed such encounters in the past. Why it stayed there for two days before being reclaimed, or discovered by another bird, or even ground animal, is a mystery.

With that in mind, I have received the first fishing report of the season from Mark Latti, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for our region.

The report, dated April 21, states the Belgrade Lakes are still ice bound except for some places where open water exists. I would think, though, that by now, they are probably free of ice. Anglers are catching up to 19-inch rainbow trout in Long Pond.
In our area, the best spot right now for landlocked salmon and brown trout is at Lake St. George, in Liberty, according to IF&W biologist Jason Seiders.

Alford Lake, in Hope, is another place to visit this time of year. Reports from there indicate brown trout in the eight pound range, according to trapnetting that was conducted last fall. Seiders thinks there may be some even bigger ones this spring. Also, humpback white perch, ranging up to two pounds, have been caught.

With the spring runoff, many area streams are overflowing their banks, making fishing a little difficult right now. Messalonskee and Belgrade streams have not yet been stocked, but should be in the near future.

A little further north, below the Wyman Dam, reports are showing excellent early season fishing of salmon and rainbow. IFW staff “conducted creel surveys there and interviewed one group that caught 20 salmon, and released all but one,” according to Seiders.

Also, taking into consideration the past history, the alewives should begin to run at the dam on Webber Pond during the first week or two of May.

Open water fishing is well underway – I saw a couple of bass fisherman on China Lake this week – so it’s time to get the gear out, prepare the boat, and head out on the great Maine lakes and streams, but keep an eye out above.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Eulogy for a little friend

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

I always knew this day would come eventually. I always had it in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be any time soon. It has taken me three weeks, but I have finally come to grips with it.

This is a story about a pet.

His name is Dudley. He is a Holland Lop rabbit. Born on May 16, 2007, he came to us on July 7, 2007. How he got his name is kind of a cute story. You see, he was supposed to be my wife’s, although you would never know it by the way I spoiled him.

From left, Dudley, two weeks after we acquired him, on July 24, 2007; full grown adult in 2014; eating Cheerios from a miniature champagne glass. Photos by Roland D. Hallee

Dudley was born in a litter of 12 rabbits, as the runt. We have photos of him at a very young age, keeping to himself in the back of the cage. A place he would not stay for very long. Anyway, my wife has always loved the film Arthur, starring diminutive Dudley Moore, who stood only 5 feet 3 inches tall. My wife also had a love for the actor. So, she decided to name the rabbit Arthur. That’s when I stepped in and suggested Dudley, since that was the man’s name who played the character Arthur in the film. So Dudley it was!

Once we got him home, he would never again spend any time locked up in a cage. He had the run of the house. We purchased a collapsible dog kennel as his “getaway” space, and quickly litter box trained him.

In the early years he would run, jump, twist, and literally do acrobatic stunts, to our delight and entertainment. We had many a good belly laugh watching him go through his antics. He spent his time between camp in the summer, and home during the winter. Everyone who knew Dudley loved him. He was extremely social, and enjoyed being around my wife and I. He very often would give us love “kisses.” There were times when we thought he was almost human. The stories about him abounded with our friends and family. My favorite is when I would alert people of his presence behind the outside door. I would tell them, “Watch out for the rabbit, and don’t let him out no matter what he tells you.” Dudley became a legend in his own time.

My kids, I think, actually became jealous of him.

Once, when he was between 12 and 15 weeks old, we were given his sister to care for who had been a little dehydrated. My wife made sure the sister had plenty of water, and gave it an occasional spray water bath, all the time keeping it in a dark, cool area. But, in our opinion, it was Dudley who nursed her back to health. He spent his time huddled next to her and constantly licked her coat in an attempt to soothe her. Remarkable, was all we could think at the time. She was later able to return to her caretakers.

Of course, as the years passed, he began to slow down, like the rest of us. During his prime, he weighed 5.4 pounds, actually a little overweight for a lop.

It is the opinion of my wife and I that Holland Lops are the best rabbits in the world. Dudley was not a dwarf rabbit, but rather known as mini lops. He had a wonderful temperament, curious as all outdoors, and was easily trained. One of the remarkable characteristics of his, was that he did not fear the vacuum cleaner. You would think a small animal would not know what to make of a modern human contraption that makes a lot of noise, and run and hide. He would actually come right up to it (remember what I said about his curiosity). He was not fearful of other animals, particularly small dogs. Again, his curiosity would lead him to investigate what this other animal was that was invading his space. All-in-all, nothing really bothered Dudley. He was about as layed back as an animal could be.

And a story about Dudley would not be complete if we didn’t mention his love affair with Cheerios. The rabbit was addicted. He would do anything for them as a treat. At times, when I felt he had too many or he wasn’t being a “good boy,” I would ignore him. He would actually stretch as far as he could, and nip me in my inner thigh while I sat in my chair. It goes without saying he would get my attention. He would even get Cheerios from relatives and friends at Christmas.

I could go on about the experiences we had with this adorable pet, but space doesn’t allow it. All I can say is that I would have another one (but the pain of losing him was tremendous), and recommend them as a pet for adults. They don’t particularly like to be picked up and held, although in time, Dudley learned to accept it.

The average life expectancy of a mini lop is seven years. Dudley passed suddenly, in my arms, on March 31, 2017, 45 days shy of his 10th birthday. As far as we know, he was the last survivor of his litter.

Goodbye, little friend, may you rest in peace.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Brook trout fishing is on the horizon

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

The weather has warmed, the snow is melting and the streams are bustling with activity as the spring runoff is in full swing.

A party of six anglers landed these 22 brook trout on a trip to Nesowadnehunk Lake several years ago. Contributed photo

On a recent trip to Vermont, my wife and I saw many streams along the route swelling their banks and looking primed for brook trout fishing.

I have been on many a brook trout fishing trip, mostly to Nesowadnehunk Lake in northern Maine where the lake is exclusively brook trout – fly fishing only.

The meat of the brook trout, in my humble opinion, is the best tasting and sweetest of all the fish species, including salmon, probably because they are of the same family of Salmonidae. We have consumed many a brook trout by simply cooking them straight over a wood fired, outside fireplace, with no seasoning whatsoever.

The Eastern Brook Trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, varies in size depending on water temperature, productivity and food sources. Brook trout sizes will range from 7-1/2 to 17-1/2 inches in different lakes and streams. The stream brook trout is slower growing and usually much smaller than their lake relatives.

The brook trout is also known in other parts of its range as speckled trout, squaretail, mud trout and brook charr.

KI Jo-Mary Multiple Use Management Forest is a 175,000-acre, privately-owned, commercial forest located between Millinocket, Greenville and Brownville. Included within its boundaries are over 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the Gulf of Hagas Reserve, the Hermitage, the east and west branches of the Pleasant River, White Brook, more than 50 lakes and ponds and over 100 miles of brooks, streams, and rivers.

The brook trout has a dark green to brown color, with a distinctive marbled pattern of lighter shades across the flanks and back, and extending at least to the dorsal fin, and often to the tail. A distinctive sprinkling of red dots, surrounded by blue halos, occurs along the flanks. The belly and lower fins are reddish in color, the latter with white leading edges. Often the underparts, especially in the males, becomes very red or orange when the fish are spawning.

The brook trout’s range is varied but are increasingly becoming confined to higher elevations. Their southern range has been drastically reduced, with fish being restricted to higher-elevation, remote streams due to habitat loss and introductions of brown and rainbow trout.

They prefer clear water of high purity and a narrow pH range caused by environmental effects such as acid rain. Warm summer temperatures and low water flow rates are stressful on the brook trout populations, especially larger fish.

Brook trout have a diverse diet that includes larval, pupal, and adult forms of aquatic insects, and adult forms of terrestrial insects. The brook trout we catch at “The Hunk,” as the lake is known locally, had large amounts of crayfish in their stomachs.

Kassie Brunette, of Belgrade, displays a brook trout she caught last summer while fishing in the Jo-Mary Multiple Use Manage­ment Forest, in northern Maine.

Until the introduction of brown and rainbow trout, the brook trout attracted the most attention among anglers, especially fly-fishermen, from colonial times through the first 100 years of U.S. history. Following the decline in brook trout populations in the mid-19th century, anglers flocked to the Adirondacks in upstate New York and the Rangeley Lakes region in Maine to pursue the brook trout.

The world record brook trout was caught by Dr. W. J. Cook on the Nipigon River, in Ontario, in July 1915, at 31 inches. The weight couldn’t be confirmed because the badly decomposed fish weighed only 14.5 pounds after having been in the bush without refrigeration for 21 days.

Brook trout in North America became extirpated from many waterways due to land development, forest clear-cutting, and industrialization. Streams and creeks became polluted, dammed, or silted. The brown trout, not native to North America, has replaced the brook trout in many of its native waters.

Let’s just hope the many clean, pure waterways we still have in Maine remain that way to sustain the fate of the brook trout in a positive way. In some lakes where brook trout is supreme, we anglers always fear the possibility of other species being introduced illegally. We must remain vigilant.