SCORES & OUTDOORS: Unity College students initiate a turtle mark-recapture study; radio-telemetry and habitat mapping project

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While watching a documentary about turtles on British Broadcasting Company/America (BBCAm) over the weekend, they had several episodes about turtles on the show Blue Planet. It got me to thinking about turtles in our area, and the plight they encounter. I have written on turtles before, but I felt it was time to do it again.

Recently, I received a story from Unity College on a program the students conducted over the summer, and I thought I would share it with you.

Here is the article:

wood turtle

As the antenna slowly swept a semicircle into the crisp fall air above his head, senior Greg Leclair listened closely to the steady beep of the receiver at his chest for any change in intensity. Up to his hips in leaf-strewn stream water, sporting camouflage waders and a Unity College baseball cap, if it weren’t for the radio-telemetry gear Greg could have easily been mistaken for a fisherman on a morning expedition. But his quarry was of a much craftier kind.

Suddenly, he paused, eyes squinting against the increasing blaze of a rising sun, and gestured upstream. “We passed him. He’s that way,” he called out, catching the attention of two other student volunteers combing nearby banks for any sign of their clever target. Somehow they’d missed him — but that was no surprise. He could be anywhere: cozy under three feet of water or tucked happily between the roots of a tree. He might even be sunning himself beneath a thin layer of sand on a nearby beach, virtually invisible to all but the carefullest passerby.

But 20 minutes later, the jig was up. Going on a hunch, Greg wandered up an embankment and into the woods nearby, antenna in hand, to search. The transmitter’s telling beeps assured that Gotham, one of ten radio-tagged turtles currently wandering the woods and waters surrounding Unity, Maine, promptly got pulled out of the shady protection of an overgrown raspberry bush. Since spring 2015, Greg and other Unity College students have followed the telling beep of their telemetry gear and waded through deep waters to locate turtles.

In partnership with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Associate Professor Matt Chatfield initiated a mark-recapture study and a radio-telemetry and habitat mapping project on a nearby Wood Turtle population. At least once a week in fall and spring, students pull on their waders and search for turtles, both tagged and untagged, to collect data on. “This project and this college are a match made in heaven. We’re all about sustainability science, conservation and protection of the environment here, and this project really speaks to that,” Dr. Chatfield said. “This is a real opportunity to collect information that can be used range-wide to help conserve this turtle in its wild habitat, and also offers integrative experience that is essential in training the next generation of wildlife biologists and environmental problem-solvers. So far it’s been very rewarding — it’s always fulfilling as a professor to watch your students grow.”

As a group, turtles are the most imperiled vertebrates on earth. More than 80 percent of species are already extinct or threatened with extinction. The Wood Turtle is especially at risk, and is experiencing widespread decline throughout much of its range. The species is currently listed as a Species of Special Concern in Maine, and as a Priority 1 Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Maine’s Wildlife Action Plan. But data on Wood Turtles remains sparse, making Unity College’s study a much-needed attempt to fill in some of the gaps. The project will hopefully help scientists understand how Wood Turtle habitat use and movement patterns may be influenced by things like agriculture, road construction, and development. “This project, through close collaboration between students, faculty and MDIFW biologists, helps fulfill the mission of the college, while simultaneously empowering students through invaluable experiences on a local, yet globally-relevant conservation project,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “Participation in the project through internships, work study, and volunteering through the campus herpetology club, helps students transition smoothly into graduate programs and further their career goals as biologists or conservation practitioners.” Each turtle found is tracked with a number, using the same system as the state of Maine because ultimately all of the gathered data goes on to Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Besides their numbers, most turtles are also given informal names. “Shredder” came about after one turtle kicked so much during his transmitter glueing that he shredded the latex gloves of his handler. Another turtle unexpectedly turned up a solid half mile from his usual haunts one day and gained the name “Roman” for his efforts. “Gotham” got his name for his piercing yellow eyes and dark shell, bringing to mind an image of “the dark knight” for some students.

Dr. Chatfield has watched many of his undergraduates become increasingly interested in the project over three years of study, seeing its influence on their career paths, skillsets and sense of responsibility. He said he leans on Greg in particular in a way generally reserved in academia for graduate students.


Was it just me or was this year’s Daytona 500, except for the final five laps, the most boring of all. I have never watched a Daytona 500 that had as many commercials as this one. It was like commercials every five laps, that took up about six or seven laps of the race. Here was how I tracked it. With 32 laps left, they went to commercial and returned with 25 laps left. Commercials again at lap 21, returned at 17, broke again at 14 laps, returning with 11 laps to go. And during the only green flag pit stops – very exciting to me – they were in commercials. I think I saw more commercials than the actual race.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the U.S four-man bobsled team won a gold medal?

Answer on page 11.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Winter birds; pond hockey classic: good hockey, however….

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A 40-year study conducted by the Audubon Society has found that more than half of 305 bird species in North America are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago. Some of these birds include chickadees, robins and owls.

purple finch

Bird ranges can expand for many reasons, among them urban sprawl, deforestation and the backyard feeders.

The study suggests that the reason so many birds over such a broad area are wintering in more northern locations is climate change.

The study of migration habits from 1966 through 2005 found that about a quarter of the species have moved farther south. But the number moving northward (177 species) is double that amount.

Of all the birds, the purple finch was the biggest mover. Its wintering grounds are now more along the latitude of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, instead of Springfield, Missouri.

Over the four decades covered by the study, the average January temperature in the United States rose by about five degrees. That warming was most pronounced in northern states, which have already recorded an influx of more southern species and could see some northern species move into Canada.

The study also provides support for what many bird watchers across the country have long thought – that many birds are responding to climate change by moving farther north.

boreal chickadee

Previous studies of breeding birds in Great Britain and the eastern U.S. have noticed similar trends. But the Audubon study covers a broader area and includes many more species.

Examples of these are the purple finch and the boreal chickadee. They are spending their summers in the forests of Canada and fly south into the U.S. for the winter. Climate change could be playing a role in why they are not flying as far south as they used to. This is reflected in the fact that these species of birds are no longer as common as they once were in states like Maine and Vermont.

The Audubon Society likes to conduct their bird counts in mid-December. At that time of year, temperature is the primary driver for where birds go and whether they live or die.To survive the cold, birds need to eat enough during the day to have the energy needed to shiver through the cold nights.

With the milder winters that the northeast have been experiencing in that four-decade span, it is possible that birds don’t need to expend as much energy shivering, and can get by eating less food in the day.

However, researchers cannot explain why some certain species are moving. It’s speculated that changes in temperature affect different birds in different ways.

Researchers don’t know for a fact that it is warming. But when they keep finding the same thing over and over, they reason that it is not just a figment of the imagination.


The 6th annual Maine Pond Hockey Classic took place last weekend at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, in Sidney. Over 60 teams and 500 players from the northeast, Canada, and beyond, participated in this annual event, sponsored by the Harold Alfond Boys/Girls Club. The classic was founded in 2013, and its original site was on China Lake, in China.

I watched a lot of hockey over the three-day tournament and found most of it competitive. The A, B and Over-35 divisions showcased some good hockey. However, if I may make one suggestion, it would be this: there needs to be a better vetting process for the C category, or Recreational Division as it is named.

That class was the largest of the different groups. The level of talent was too broad. There were many teams with talent that should have been playing in higher divisions against stiffer competition. I watched a game on Saturday morning that ended 22-4 – I think. I lost track of the goals because they were coming so often. Not very entertaining nor competitive hockey. It was obvious that members of the losing team were amateurs who play in recreatonal leagues with below college skills, while the winners had obviously played at much higher levels. There were some teams in the recreational division that were comprised of players with much more experience from higher levels of competition.

Although many players said they had fun, I doubt losing 22-4 is exactly a joy ride. I suggest to the organizers that players with college or higher experience should not be paired against those who have high school or lower backgrounds.

If I may have one more suggestion: They need better monitoring of the games by officials. I witnessed countless rules violations that were not addressed.

Just a thought.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When did the U.S. last host a winter Olympics?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Those messy, dirty, scavenging and annoying war heroes

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One of the educational things I do for myself every day is read the comics in the daily newspaper. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the day for me. I have my favorites: Peanuts, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Garfield, etc. I even like to read Mark Trail just to see what kind of adventure he sets out on, and invariably, brings to a successful and happy ending.

The one that once caught my eye was a certain theme that Doonesberry was presenting. It seemed this certain person declared himself a “birder” and was on a quest to find a certain warbler to add to the list of birds he had witnessed.

That got me thinking. Claiming myself to be an amateur birder, I wondered how many different bird varieties I have seen in my life time. So, I set out to make a list.

Once I got to about 73, I decided I was wasting too much time on this. So, the thought came to me that maybe I should single out one that was intriguing to me.

Having seen birds as small as a ruby-throated hummingbird, and as large as a Great Blue heron, it was difficult to see which one in between would get my attention. Then it dawned on me.

These particular birds are mostly envisioned as pests, vagrants, scavengers and dirty inhabitants of parking lots, churches, parks, and just about everywhere else you can go in the world, leaving behind messes and clear indications of their presence, if you know what I mean. What is more intriguing than the common Rock Dove?

Pigeons, as annoying as they can be, were once highly-decorated war heroes.

More commonly known as pigeons, rock doves vie with the domestic chicken for status as the world’s most familiar birds. They are not indigenous to the western hemisphere. They were introduced into North America from Europe long ago and are conspicuous in cities and villages throughout much of the world.

There are few visible differences between males and females, and the species is generally monogamous.

Feral pigeons have become established in cities around the world. The species is so abundant, that an estimated population of 17 to 28 million feral and wild birds exist in Europe alone.

With only its flying abilities to protect it from predators, rock pigeons are a favorite almost around the world for a wide range of raptors. I remember several years ago when I kept seeing pigeon body parts strewn all over my yard. One day, when I just happened to be looking out the window, I noticed a large flock of pigeons cleaning up on the ground under my bird feeders. Like a lightning strike, I saw a broad winged hawk dive head first into the pile, and came out with his next meal. To protect the pigeons, I temporarily suspended the feeders until the hawk found a new place for his hunting grounds. That poor pigeon didn’t stand a chance.

Pigeons, though, get a bad rap. They have been falsely associated with the spread of human diseases. Contact with pigeon droppings poses a minor risk of contracting diseases, and exposure to both droppings and feathers can produce bird fancier’s lung. Pigeons are not a major concern in the spread of West Nile virus. Though they can contract it, they do not appear to be able to transmit it.

Pigeons, in fact, have been associated with humans for several thousand years. Believed to have been the first domesticated birds, they were raised for meat as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians.

Because of their powers of flight and their remarkable homing ability, pigeons have played important roles in history. A domestic pigeon taken from its home loft and released many miles away will almost invariably return. And if a message is tied to the bird’s leg, the result is a kind of air mail – a fact that humans learned to exploit many centuries ago. When Julius Caesar marched against Gaul, the news of his victories was carried back to Rome by a network of carrier pigeons. Other pigeons carried messages for Alexander the Great and for Hannibal. In modern times opposing armies in both World War I and World War II made use of thousands of carrier pigeons, also known as war pigeons. Curiously, many pigeons have received bravery awards and medals for their services in saving hundreds of human lives. A total of 32 pigeons received medallions or medals for their gallant and brave actions during World War II. And today, pigeons are still bred for their homing ability.

The next time I see a disgusting-looking pigeon on the ground, I may stand at attention, salute, and thank it for the many contributions their collective ancestors made for the human race.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the US Olympic men’s hockey team won the gold medal?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Woodrow Charles – A gopher’s gopher makes another bold prediction

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It’s that time when I have a love-hate reaction to this day. The love: It’s February and I get to go visit my gopher friend, Woodrow Charles. The hate: I have to trudge through snow, cold and wind to his lair in the woods of Center Vassalboro. Woody is a weather prognosticating groundhog that I visit every year for his prediction on the length of the remainder of winter.

Folklore has it that if Woody sees his shadow, we are in for six more weeks of winter-like weather. If he doesn’t see his shadow, we can look forward to an early spring.

So, I bundle up and head out. It’s a cold, sunny day. The snow is not deep, but there is ice as far as the eyes can see. Actually, with the sun shining on the icy surface, it is a rather beautiful sight, like diamonds spread out on the snow.

I finally arrive at Woody’s den. The light is shining through the window, and the smoke is billowing from the chimney. He’s home.

As I approach, I notice the Christmas wreath still hanging from the door. Kind of unusual for my little furry friend who is usually so meticulous about his surroundings. I knock gently.


Woody answers the door, dressed in a smoking jacket with an ascot, holding a glass of brandy and a cigar. He looks quite distinguished.

“Hi friend,” he greets me. “Come on in. Can I get you something?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“What brings you out here in this weather,” he asks.

“lt’s February,” I respond. “How come your Christmas wreath is still up, and what’s with the cigar?”

“Oh, I’ve been really busy,” he answers. “And the cigar is just a phase I’m going through, to kind of celebrate the moment.”

“How busy can you be,” I inquired.

“Well, the stock market is up, and I check my portfolio a couple times a day. I’m doing very well at this time. I’ve been trading and making moves. I’m investing in steel and concrete. Plus, with the new tax reform law that was just passed, I’m trying to figure out how that will affect my bottom line.”

“That’s only for really rich people,” I come back.

“Hey, my finances are my business,” he snaps back.

“That takes up all your time?” I ask.

“No, I also have to get ready for the Super Bowl. The boys are coming over again, and I have lots of cooking to do. You must remember Frank, Butch and Slim? By the way, they say ‘Hi,’”

“I’m glad they remember me. Why don’t you ever go to their place,” I ask reluctantly.

“What, and hang out in those drafty places where they hole-up for the winter. It’s much more comfortable here.”

“Any prediction?” I ask.

“It’s going to be a really tight game, as usual when it involves the Patriots. But I think they will win 27-17. Nick Foles will look like a backup quarterback against the Patriots defense, and Brady will, … well, Brady will be Brady.”

“No, I’m talking about the weather. It is Groundhog Day, you know.”

“Oh, that again,” he says with a sigh.

We both sit there, uncomfortable, for a moment. We glance at each other. What is he thinking?

“Well, if I must,” he snorts. “OK, February will bring below average precipitation and slightly colder weather, maybe one degree below normal. March will be warmer than normal, about five degrees above normal with about one inch above normal precipitation. It looks to me that we most probably will have another six weeks of winter, but with a possibility of an early spring.”

“Hey,” I interrupted. “You’re starting to sound like a weather man, even worse, a politician.”

“Isn’t that what you want,” he snaps back.

I guess he is right.

As I headed toward the door, I stopped, turned, and looked back.

“So, why concrete and steel?” I inquired.

“Don’t you read the news? Last, week the nine prototypes for the wall on the Mexican border were tested, and all contained either steel, or concrete, or both. I may as well get in on the action.”

I shook my head, turned and walked out the door.

“See you next year!” he called, as the door slowly closed behind me.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL player has scored the most individual points in a single Super Bowl game?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An imbalanced food web and Lyme disease

Deer Tick

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This week, I’m going to print an article that was sent to me by Glenn W. Martin, regarding the tick-born disease epidemic. It is an interesting article and worthy to be passed on to our readers.

Glenn W. Martin, a resident of Montville, is a master Maine Guide and farmer, and his hypothesis on the cause of the tick/tick-borne disease problem is worth a read.

Maine’s extremely large and growing tick population is to blame for human contracted tick-borne diseases such as the Lyme epidemic. This was the result of an increase in tick hatching and growing habitat. The root of the problem was driven by a disruption in the food web caused by the artificial introduction of wild turkeys. Wild turkeys were introduced to southern Maine by 1980. Relocation continued across the state for 20 years by netting birds from established New England flocks. The goal of the program was to increase hunting opportunities. Regulated, permit-only hunting kept the birds safe and propagated the current population.

Increased wild turkey populations have caused disruptions in the bug food chain. Voracious, shoulder to shoulder eating habits have stripped tracts of woods, edge and grassland of large protein filled grasshoppers, caterpillars, worms, grubs, beetles and spiders among others. Leaving areas reduced in bug life is detrimental to many wild creatures (migratory song birds, snakes, shrews, voles and moles) and beneficial to others (Gypsy Moths, Japanese Beetles and Ticks).

Many species of spiders and insects rely on other bugs for food. These creatures are called predator bugs. Their populations reflect the amount of protein a particular area’s bugs are producing. Foliage and grass-eating insects convert vegetation into protein. Sub-terrestrial beetles, grubs and worms convert decaying vegetation into protein. Turkey’s aptitude for fast growth and large food consumption have decreased the protein-producing bug numbers. Eggs and larvae (protein) are the currency of the bug world. When a caterpillar is eaten, it doesn’t mature to lay eggs as a moth. Reduction of eggs and larvae is reflected in reduced bug populations.

As mammals depend on protein in milk, insect and spider populations depend on protein in eggs and larvae. Tick populations have not suffered because their protein source is warm blooded animals. Like any insect or spider, a tick’s largest predator is other young spiders and insects eating their eggs and larvae. Reduced predator bug populations provide sanctuary for tick eggs and larvae. History shows a balanced food web will not allow for an exponential growth in tick population. Current rates will continue until the natural predators are restored to their past levels, when ticks were virtually nonexistent. The disruption turkeys caused in the complex food web is the primary reason we have a tick-borne disease public health crisis.

Many publicly funded studies and reports were consulted to better illustrate this connection. A passive, statewide tick surveillance was initiated in 1989 to record the species, size, season, location, host and age, with a report published in 2007. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made a Wild Turkey Assessment, recording a basic timeline and reasoning behind the turkey program. Public records clearly show that where wild turkey populations had grown, tick populations increased exponentially. In 2010, the Maine State Legislature required the Maine CDC to record all incidences of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Up to date wild turkey harvest records are available from MDIF&W. The help of numerous MDIF&W wildlife biologists, the Vector-Borne Disease research group led by Chuck Lubelczyk and the wisdom of the Maine State Legislature made the pieces available to put this puzzle together. Thanks Given!

Primary sources to consult are:

  1. Maine CDC report to Maine Legislature on Lyme Disease February 2017.
  2. Maine DIFW Wild Turkey Assessment January 25, 2000.
  3. Maine DIFW Wild TurkeyHarvest Records per WMD post 2000.
  4. Passive Surveillance in Maine, an Area Emergent for Tick-Borne Diseases 2007 Entomological Society of America.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Of the New England Patriots’ five Super Bowl wins, Tom Brady has been MVP ofur times. Who was the fifth?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Raccoons should be left alone no matter where you see them

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

On our way home to Waterville driving along Rte. 201 recently, during the recent unseasonable warm spell, my wife and I observed a raccoon walking along the roadside in Winslow. My first thought: “A raccoon out during the day is not normal, and could mean it is rabid.”

While it is true that a rabid raccoon will exhibit a variety of unusual behaviors, activity during daytime is most definitely not a guaranteed indicator of rabies. You see, although raccoons are primarily noctural, they do often get some stuff done during the day. It’s not that unusual for a raccoon to be active in the middle of the day. We just don’t see it often. They often go off in search of food or drink, especially a nursing female raccoon who has babies to take care of, and who has extra nutritional requirements.

Raccoons can be cute…

Raccoons, along with foxes, skunks and bats are considered a primary carrier of the rabies virus in the United States. While any warm-blooded animal can carry rabies, these are the ones that are called “rabies vector species.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one human has ever died from the raccoon strain of rabies. That is because a rabid raccoon is usually dead within 1-3 days of becoming infected, and even if you’re bitten by a rabid raccoon, effective post-exposure treatment is available and recommended.

How can you tell if a raccoon has rabies? Rabid raccoons are very sick, mostly they are lethargic. Their walk may be erratic, or their legs paralyzed. They may be walking in circles or falling over, discharging from the eyes or mouth, or lurching in an unnatural fashion. In short, they just plain look sick. If you see a raccoon outside when it’s light out, and it looks agile, alert, is running or foraging in a smooth and coordinated manner, then you can be almost certain that it doesn’t have rabies. This doesn’t mean you should approach it and offer it a lick of your ice cream cone, but you most likely have nothing to worry about.

But the best advice is that should you see a raccoon, no matter what time of day, leave it alone. Never try to feed it or approach it. A raccoon out during the day may be foraging for food. For example, especially in urban locations, if you always put your trash out at 1 p.m. in the afternoon, raccoons will learn that. So, if you see one that is lingering in your yard, seems overly friendly, is acting unstable, etc., leave it alone, and contact your police or animal control officer.

  • A couple of myths about raccoons is that if a raccoon is seen during the daylight hours, it is rabid. Well, we’ve already discussed that, and the answer is “no.”
  • Raccoons hibernate during the winter: No, they go through a period of decreased activity in the winter.
  • All raccoons are carriers of rabies: No, the majority of them do not have rabies but those that do, will die within days of being infected.
  • Raccoons eat cats: No, they don’t – usually. Raccoons are quite capable of killing cats but normally don’t attack cats unless they are threatened or rabid.
  • Raccoons always wash their food: No, it is more akin to their “feeling” their food.
  • Raccoons make good pets: No, raccoons do not make good pets. Even though it is legal to keep wild animals in Maine including raccoons – with a permit – it’s not advisable to have a raccoon as a pet. Over time, as it grows older, it could become too wild to handle.

…but they can also be vicious.

Raccoons in general can be a nuisance, but caution should always be used around them. I once had one living under my garage. I set a Hav-a-Hart trap baited with cat food, and captured it within an hour and a half. But the tricky part was moving it to another location in the country. Frightened, it was very aggressive while in the cage, and I had to use a stick, with gloves on, in order to load it in the back of my SUV. Its claws were as sharp as razors and could have done some major damage to my hands when I tried to grab the handle. The release was successful, and the raccoon hurriedly waddled away. I don’t recommend this to just anyone.

As a matter of fact, my sister-in-law once tried using a broom to fend off a raccoon that had attacked her dog. The raccoon retaliated and bit her. The ‘coon ran off and was never found. So, because of the uncertainty of whether or not the raccoon was rabid, she had to undergo a series of painful shots. Although that incident is probably an isolated one, you never know how a raccoon will react. In this case, she probably didn’t have much choice because the raccoon had attacked her small dog. But it serves as an illustration of what can happen.

A very safe rule of thumb, quite simply, is if you see a raccoon, leave it alone, or contact a professional if you suspect that it is rabid.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The New England Patriots have appeared in the most Super Bowls with nine (5-4). Which two teams are second with eight?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Was it a Sharp-shinned hawk or a Cooper’s hawk? Hard to tell

Sharp-shinned hawk, left, and Cooper’s hawk, right. Note the square tail of the Sharp-shinned hawk, compared to the rounded tail of the Cooper’s hawk.


by Roland D. Hallee

I have seen some interesting acts of Mother Nature during my travels, but what happened last week probably tops most of them.

The first was somewhat insignificant because I had seen it one time before. Arriving home from work late last Wednesday, I noticed a dead crow in my backyard. Not knowing quite what to do, I called the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and was told it was OK for me to dispose of the bird. I feared that because they were vulnerable to West Nile disease, I should report it. I wasn’t sure I should touch it.

But what I saw on Saturday, topped that without a contest. After picking up my granddaughter at a basketball game to take her home (they live in a condo village in Waterville), I turned around in my daughter’s driveway. In front of her garage, I noticed a rather large bird obviously plucking the feathers of the prey it had taken down. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the unfortunate fowl was a male mallard duck.

The hunter was a rather smallish hawk that sat there almost motionless once it spotted me. It began to look uncomfortable with my presence, and flew into a nearby tree. I made a mental picture of the raptor and would try to identify it. Immediately, I ruled out broad winged hawk and redtail hawk, both of which I am familiar.

My research indicated to me that it was either a Sharp-shinned hawk, or a Cooper’s hawk. They had similarities that I couldn’t quiet determine which was which.

Sharp-shinned hawks are small, long-tailed (this one had a long tail) hawks with short rounded wings. Again, a match. Adults are slaty blue-gray above, with narrow, horizontal red-orange bars on the breast. Again, that was what it had. However, Sharp-shinned hawks breed in deep forests. This was in the center of Waterville.

The Sharp-shinned hawk is a woodland raptor, skilled at capturing birds on the wing. Its short, rounded wings permit it to snake through brushy areas. Its long, narrow tail serves as a rudder. They will surprise their prey with their speed, and prefer the ease of taking down birds weakened by disease or injury.

Now, the Cooper’s hawk resembles the Sharp-shinned hawk so much that even experts are often fooled. That didn’t leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling about identifying the right culprit.

The Cooper’s hawk, however, has one real distinction: it is larger, more powerful, and able to kill larger prey. This particular hawk had taken down a mallard duck. Not quite the size of a chickadee which the Sharp-shinned hawk would prefer.

For decades during the 19th century, Cooper’s hawks were referred to as “chicken hawks” for their preference to taking chickens from backyards. So, for many years, they were hunted and slaughtered by the thousands. Fortunately, people came to understand the role that predators play in nature, and hawks are now protected by federal law. But, the Cooper’s hawk is its own worse enemy. They are woodland birds, so when they see a window, they see whatever the glass reflects, be it sky or trees. They think they can just fly through it. Sadly, they sometimes even succeed, but the price of success is still a broken neck.

Cooper’s hawks tend to be more common in suburban areas, where Sharp-shinned hawks nest in conifers and heavily wooded areas. The Cooper’s hawk has a rounded tail, that when folded, the outer feathers are shorter than the inner ones. The Sharp-shinned hawk’s tail is square, and both species have broad dark bands across their long tails. The hawk I saw had those bars.

So, what did I see. I’m going to have to say it was a Cooper’s hawk only because of the tail. The bird I saw had a tail that had shorter tail feathers on the outside and longer ones inside. That was probably the only thing I noticed that was significant. It was definitely the tail of the Cooper’s hawk. So, I guess I’m going to have to go with that.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL teams that have never made a Super Bowl appearance.

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: News flash – the birds are back in town

Roland D. Hallee
by Roland D. Hallee

It was prompted by a telephone call, on December 20, from a reader in Freedom who alerted me that birds had returned to her feeders. So, I went home, told my wife about the conversation I had with the caller, and proceeded to refill our feeders.

It took a couple of days, but by the the time of the nor’easter of Christmas day, it was business as usual at the stations. The birds were back with a fury and it was standing room only on the feeders with a waiting line perched in nearby trees. They were hanging out on the wind chimes, waiting their turns, and one actually set himself, sideways, on an icicle.

There were chickadees, house finches, gold finches, nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays and juncos, even an occasional downy woodpecker. There was also a bird I couldn’t identify (it didn’t hang around long enough). It was like the good old days.

It has been well over a week now, and the activity hasn’t let up. In fact, I think it has escalated.

As a whole, bird populations fluctuate seasonally and from one year to the next for a range of reasons. According to the Audubon Society, often when someone reports that birds have gone missing from their yard, they are just seeing normal variation. However, what we all witnessed this past summer and fall was unusual in that there was a complete void of birds.

Causes for these regular changes include:

Fluctuating food supplies/ requirements. Cones, berries, seeds, and insects change from year to year, causing birds to move about to take advantage of food surpluses and to escape from areas with food shortages. Also, birds have different dietary needs during different times of the year, so they may move to or away from your feeders seasonally. You may notice fewer birds at your feeders during the late summer and early fall as there is usually lots of natural food available.

Weather patterns. Birds may temporarily move out of areas to avoid droughts, floods, storms, exceptional heat and cold waves, and other unusual weather conditions. However, with the recent extreme cold snap, the feeders are busier than ever.

Predator populations. Foxes, birds of prey, cats, and other predators have fluctuating populations too. When their populations are high, bird populations may fall. This can also happen on a very local scale, such when a hawk takes up residence in your yard. When the predators move on, your birds will come back.

Disease. On rare occasions, outbreaks of diseases can sharply reduce numbers of certain birds.

Habitat change. Tree removal, housing developments, land clearing, fires, and other changes can change the number or types of birds you see.

But none of the above reasons made any sense of the fact that the absence of the birds was not a normal occurence. It seemed to be isolated to this year.

Bird numbers fluctuate for natural reasons, but many populations of bird species are declining consistently from year to year.

The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates how species’ populations have changed since the mid-1960s. In 2010, Partners In Flight compiled a list of Common Birds in Steep Decline – 42 species that have lost 50 percent or more of their population since the 1960s.

The 2016 State of North America’s Birds report examined 1,154 native bird species that are found in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico, and determined that over 37 percent are of high conservation concern and at risk of extinction without significant efforts at conservation.

Projects such as NestWatch and FeederWatch focus on gathering data on birds during breeding and winter feeding times, respectively. Habitat Network, seeks to add another layer of data to bird watching by allowing people to follow the patterns in their yards.

And one of the biggest citizen science efforts ever undertaken, eBird, allows people anywhere in the world to enter bird observations anywhere, anytime, into a worldwide database. eBird also allows you to record and organize your bird sightings, use maps to view real-time sightings of particular species, create charts detailing which birds are seen in your area, and when, and make graphs to compare species occurrence for an area over a period of up to five years.

Programs like Birdcast use data from sources like eBird to compile bird migration forecasts, pinpointing where species are at certain times during migration.

eBird and Birdcast are great resources to find out more about where species of birds might be after they disappear from your backyard.

Through these efforts, they are learning more than ever before about many basic questions: Where does a given species live? How abundant is it? How are these patterns changing with time? With a clearer understanding of these baselines, they are in a better position to analyze the underlying factors that are acting on bird populations, and chart courses of action for their benefit.

In the end, the birds seem to be back in the central Maine area. Let’s just hope they continue, and whatever happened to cause their temporary exodus from our backyards doesn’t occur for a while. We’ll be vigilant.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In what year was the first Super Bowl played?

Answer here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: December, Christmas, Santa Claus and flying reindeer


by Roland D. Hallee

While driving down the interstate recently, I noticed signs along the way that read, “Slow down, only reindeer can fly.” Well, that made me think that Christmas is quickly sneaking up on us, and as everyone knows, it is the day that Santa Claus comes down the chimney bearing gifts. And, we also know, Santa arrives at your house in a sleigh powered by eight flying “reindeer.” So, what are reindeer?

The reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, also known as caribou when wild in North America, is an Arctic and Subarctic-dwelling deer, widespread and numerous in those areas.

The name “caribou” comes, through French, from Mi’kmaq qalipu, meaning “snow shoveler,” referring to its habit of pawing through the snow for food.

Originally, the reindeer was found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Mong­olia and northern China north of the 50th latitude. In North America, it was found in Canada, Alaska and the northern contiguous USA from Washington state to Maine. During the late Pleistocene era, reindeer were found as far south as Nevada and Tennessee.

Today, wild reindeer have disappeared from many areas within this large historical range, especially from the southern parts, where it vanished almost everywhere. Large populations are still found in Norway, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada.

Caribou and reindeer numbers have fluctuated historically, but many herds are in decline across this range, with the decline linked to climate change and industrial disturbance of habitat for sedentary, non-migratory herds.

The reindeer travels the furthest of any terrestrial mammal, walking up to 3,100 miles a year, although in Europe, the animal does not migrate as far. Normally traveling from 12-34 miles a day, the caribou can run at speeds of 37-50 mph.

The reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping.


The reindeer coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat consisting of hollow, air-filled hairs.

There are a variety of predators that prey heavily on reindeer. Golden eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on calving grounds. Woverines, brown bears, polar bears and gray wolves also prey on newborn calves or sickly animals. The gray wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer.

Reindeer hunting by humans has a very long history. Humans started hunting reindeer in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and humans are today the main predator in many areas. Norway and Greenland have unbroken traditions of hunting wild reindeer from the ice age until the present day.

Reindeer meat is popular in the Scandinavian countries where reindeer meatballs are sold canned, and sautéed reindeer a best known dish in Lapland. In Alaska and Finland, reindeer sausage is sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. Reindeer meat is very tender and lean. Caribou have been a major source of subsistence for Canadian Inuit.

The first written description of reindeer is found in Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico (chapter 6.26), from the first century BC: “There is an ox shaped like a stag. In the middle of its forehead a single horn grows between its ears, taller and straighter than the animal horns with which we are familiar. At the top of this horns spreads out like the palm of a hand or the branches of a tree. The females are of the same form as the males, and their horns are the same shape and size.”

Getting back to Christmas, Santa’s reindeer were first named in the anonymously-written 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (“Twas the Night Before Christmas,” later credited to Clement Clarke Moore), and were called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Dunder was later changed to Donder, and still again to Donner (German for “thunder.”). Blixem was later changed to Bliksem, then Blitzen (German for “lightning”). Some consider Rudolph as part of the group as well, though he was not part of the original work. Rudolph was added by Robert L. May in 1939 as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

So, if you leave cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas eve, don’t forget some lichens, and leaves of willows and birches, for the reindeer.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL quarterbacks to have been the winning quarterback in at least three Super Bowls.

Answer here!

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Bird disappearance is phenomenon that exists nationwide


by Roland D. Hallee

Two months after writing an article about the lack of song birds in our area, the feedback continues to pour in from all over the country, not to mention from friends and acquaintances whenever the subject surfaces. Everyone has also commented on the extremely large number of crows that have emerged in our area.

Even in my backyard, where we generally have a multitude of bird varieties, it has been quiet. We have completely cleaned out the bird feeders and restocked them, to the point where we have even purchased new ones, and other forms of bird seed dispensers like nets, seed balls and containers.

The problem is universal, it seems.

Mimi replied to me, “My neighbors and I also noticed a very sudden decline in feeder birds since mid-September in the Catskills as well. It is so sad to not have the birds about though there are geese and crows, so hopefully the others will be back.”

Sj says, “Over the last two years we have noticed the decline of spiders on our property in mid-coast Maine. The mosquito decline is possibly due to the second year of a drought. Wild bees, and our bat [population] all seem stressed and in decline. I have kept daily journals for 25 years, making daily notes of weather and wildlife. The odd absence of birds is ‘different’ this year, for us as well, and another alert to change in our environment worth keeping track of.”

Msdarlene writes, “We are in central New Hampshire and have always fed birds with multiple feeders and a varied diet of sunflower seeds, hearts, nuts and suet. We have cleaned out our feeders monthly and replenished the food and still no birds in sight. We normally have to refill our feeders twice a week. Since September 2017, our woods and feeders are silent. No birds, zero, zilch, nada…scary quiet. I hope they return, I sure miss them.”

Rich speculates “that the malathion aerial spraying for zika vectors has done damage to large insect populations.”

Finally, Lyn, of Fairfield, writes, “Wow! This article came up on my Facebook feed. Some friends and I were just talking about how we have no song birds this fall. I said I thought they had been driven away by massive crow populations, just as you observed, too. They are all I see. I am sad to know this is happening all over. I hope the Audubon Society is right that it’s just a normal migration shift, but I am missing the birds very much.”

With the first measurable snowfall this fall, only 12 days before the official winter solstice, we will keep vigil as to the turnover in bird varieties. We’ll see if the cardinals arrive, along with the European starlings that come around in the winter. Also, don’t forget the pigeons and mourning doves. Not to beat a subject to death, but since noticing the large number of crows around, the pigeon population seems to have taken a hit. Since the crow onslaught, I have noticed no pigeons in my yard, which is extremely unusual. There also seem to be more seagulls than normal. Is that another sign of changes in the environment?

It’s probably time we pay attention to what Mother Nature is trying to tell us.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the original six teams of the NHL.

Answer here!