Any-deer permits now available

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

This bit of news came across my desk this week, and I thought I would share it with you. According to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, applications for 2017 any-deer (antlerless) permit lottery are now available online from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

To apply online, visit www20.maine.gov/online/nedeer/. Online applications are due by 11:59 P.M. on August 15, 2017.

It is free to apply for the any-deer permit lottery. The drawing will be held on September 8, and results will be posted on the department’s website.

A total of 66,050 any-deer permits will be issued in 22 of the state’s 29 wildlife management districts. This is an increase from last year when there were 45,755 permits available to hunters. The permit allocation is: 16,517 for landowners; 16,517 for juniors; and 1,453 for Superpack holders and 31,563 for all other hunters.

The 22 wildlife management districts where any-deer (antlerless) permits will be issued are 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 29. This year, permits have been allocated to districts 7, 12, and 13 as biological data collected and field observations by staff suggest that these WMD’s have experienced population growth.

The department uses the any-deer permit system to manage the white-tailed deer population in the state. The ability to enact change in the state’s deer populations derives from the ability to increase, or decrease, the number of breeding female deer on the landscape. By controlling the harvest of female deer in the 29 regional wildlife management districts throughout the state, biologists can manage population trends.

With last year’s winter below average in severity, more permits can be issued. White-tailed deer are at the northern edge of their range in Maine, and winter severity is a limiting factor concerning population growth. The 2015-16 winter proved to be mild in nature, in fact it turned out to be one of the mildest in the last 60+ years which often results in an increase in the deer population. To offset potential population increases due to increased juvenile survival, MDIFW increased Any-deer permit (ADP) allocations by approximately 60 percent (45,755) from the 2015 allocation of 28,770.

Last deer season, Maine hunters harvested 23,512 deer, representing an increase of 16 percent from the 2015 deer harvest. There were 20,040 deer tagged during the general firearms season, 1,267 deer were harvested during the expanded archery season, 469 deer were tagged during the regular archery season and Maine’s youth hunters harvested 659 deer. Muzzleloaders tagged 933 deer.

Deer hunting season (firearms) begins with Youth Deer Hunting Day on Saturday, October 21. Youth may take a buck statewide or an antlerless deer only in the wildlife management districts where any-deer permits will be issued this fall.

This year, Maine Residents Only Day is on Saturday, October 28, and regular firearms season for deer runs October 30 through November 25. Note: this year, a nonresident who owns 25 or more acres of land in Maine and leaves land open to hunting, holds a valid hunting license, and is not otherwise prohibited by law, may hunt deer on the resident only day.

For more information, visit www.mefishwildlife.com.

Faked out again by similar looking insects

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

From time to time, it happens. You see something unusual, don’t know what it is, so you go to your research material to find the answer. You use multiple sources, do your homework, then, when you think you have found the answer, it ends up being wrong.

Well, it happened again last weekend for me. While working in my garden at camp, I noticed this unusual looking dragonfly. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, old brown ugly dragonfly. It was extremely colorful and just seemed out of place.

Graphic Flutterer Internet photo

My research pointed to it being a Graphic Flutterer, rhyothemis graphiptera, The photo looked remarkably similar to the photo I had taken, but there was one thing that didn’t add up. The Graphic Flutterer can only be found in Australia, the Moluccas, New Guinea and New Caledonia. That’s half way around the world from here.

So, like I have done many times before, I turned to my contact, a wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, emailed the photo to him, and he responded in short order.

“This is a Halloween Pennant,” (no, not a little flag you would wave on October 31), “Celithemis eponina. This is a native dragonfly in Maine, an uncommon, but not rare, species that breeds in slow streams, ponds, and lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation.”

Well, it sure fits. If you have been to Webber Pond, in Vassalboro, in recent years you will see that the lake is abundant with aquatic vegetation.

The Halloween pennant can be found across the eastern United States, ranging from the east coast to the states just east of the Rocky Mountains. They can also be found on some Caribbean islands and in Ontario province, in Canada. Seen mostly during June and July during the summer, they are actually active year round.

The Halloween pennant gets its name from its orange-colored wings, which have dark brown bands. They are often found on tips of vegetation near the edges of waterways. Mine was just hanging around on a Tiki torch near my garden.

It is a medium-sized dragonfly but also considered large for its species. They can range from 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches in length.

Halloween Pennant
Photo by Roland D. Hallee

The adults fly around above freshwater habitat and the surrounding vegetation, and feed on smaller insects they capture in flight. They are considered very strong flyers, and can fly during rain and strong winds.

And, listen to this, they have some positive impact: They help control the mosquito population and have no negative effect on humans. I can only hope I see more of them, considering the healthy mosquito population we have at camp. We feed them well.

They are also secure in numbers and currently have no conservation concerns, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In case you’re interested, dragonflies have been in existence since the Permian period (299 – 251 million years ago).

In the end, I was not too far off when I identified it as a Graphic Flutterer. According to the Animal Diversity Web, at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the male Halloween Pennant closely resembles the Graphic Flutterer (take a look at the accompanying photos).

The wonders of nature

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

We have talked about the activities of nature’s little critters in the past, but it never ceases to amaze me as to what can happen in an instance.

Last week, while on vacation, I was sitting on the porch taking a break from some chores, and my wife was behind camp working in her flower garden.

Earlier, she had been filling the bird feeders and had taken a piece of suet, about half the size of a golf ball, and placed in on the ground while she refilled the cages.

Well, shortly following that, a chipmunk came out of his den, which he has many entrances to in the area, and began enjoying the morsel of suet. However, a nearby woodpecker decided that it was his, and began pecking at the chipmunk’s head. The chipmunk was undeterred by all of this and continued to eat the suet, despite taking quite a beating from the woodpecker.

Meanwhile, two mourning doves landed nearby, and decided to get in on the action. They began to approach the other two combatants, sneaking in from behind the woodpecker. At that point, I thought to myself, “this will be interesting.” Unfortunately, my wife was not aware this was going on and came around from behind the camp and began to say something to me. At that point, the confrontation broke up. The chipmunk scooted off to his den, and the three birds flew off in their own directions. We’ll never know how that would have turned out.

Later, that evening, I noticed the chunk of suet was no longer on the ground, so one of them won out on that fight.

But that was nothing compared to what we witnessed on Saturday. It was a beautiful day, and we were out on the lake to take in some fishing. There was a bass tournament going on that day, so many boats and anglers were in the area. At one point, we saw a small bass, about 12-inches in length, floating in the water, obviously dead. We left it, citing that the circle of life would come into play, and some bird of prey, an osprey, bald eagle, or even a sea gull would come along and scavenge that up.

One of the things we did notice in the almost three hours we were fishing was that there were no birds present in the crystal blue sky. Usually, they are all around us.

Finally, at one point, we heard the call of a bald eagle, although we could not see it. I summized it was perched in a nearby tree and possibly warning us not to approach the dead fish, which it possibly had its eyes on for lunch.

The fish was floating approximately 15 yards away from our boat when a bald eagle came swooping down from a nearby tree and flew parallel to the water – maybe five feet from the water level – for about 20 feet, extended its talons, picked that fish right from the surface of the water, and proceeded, at the same altitude, down the shoreline and disappeared around a bend into a cove.

I have seen bald eagles scoop up fish from the lake before, but not from that close a distance. It goes without saying the scene was spectacular. Bald eagles are massive birds.

Even when you think you have seen all Mother Nature has to offer, something like this comes along.

The strange blue streak ends up being a common sight

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

It flashed by quickly. While driving down the Bog Road, in Vassalboro, recently, a streak of blue passed directly in front of my Jeep, near the Vassalboro Community School. It was a blue-colored bird, that looked on the small side, and it was gone in an instant. The blue was the most brilliant I have seen on a bird.

Indigo bunting

Indigo bunting

“Indigo bunting,” was the first thought that went through my head. But this bird showed a small area of red or orange and yellow under its wings along the breast area.

An Indigo bunting, Passerina cyanea, is a small bird, and the males are a vibrant blue during the summer months. However, during the breeding season, only the head is indigo. The wings and tail are black with blue edges. The female is brown on the upperparts and lighter brown on the underparts.

Its habitat is brushy forest edges, open deciduous woods and second growth woodland and farmland. Precisely the habitat surrounding the area I spotted the bird.

But no red/orange or yellow are present on this bird.

Lazuli bunting

Lazuli bunting

The Indigo bunting is closely related to the lazuli bunting, which has markings of red and yellow, and will interbreed where their ranges overlap, in the Great Plains. So the lazuli bunting was quickly eliminated from consideration because it occurs only west of the 100th meridian, through the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast.

What else could it be?

Well, the last thing to pop into my head probably is what I saw. The Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis, a member of the thrush family, is also found in woodlands, farmlands, and orchards. It occurs east of the Rockies, southern Canada to the Gulf states, and southeastern Arizona to Nicaragua. The increase in its move to the western range during the past century is due mostly to fire suppression and tree plantings.

The male bluebird is a brilliant royal blue on the back and head, and red-brown on the breast. Exactly what I saw that day. It is the most widespread of the three bluebirds.

Bluebirds are very social birds. They gather in flocks of a hundred or more, but are territorial during the breeding season.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Two-thirds of the bird’s diet consists of insects. But they will supplement their diet with fruits, especially when insects are scarce in the winter. The availability of winter food will determine whether or not the bird will migrate. If they remain in the region during the winter, they group and seek cover in heavy thickets, orchards, or other areas in which adequate food and cover is available.

Females will generally have two broods per season. The female incubates the eggs for about 13 – 16 days, then both parents cooperate to raise the young. The chicks will fledge at 18-19 days old.

During the summer, bluebirds can be seen sitting on power lines.

The Eastern bluebird had seen a period of serious decline in many areas due mostly to the loss of habitat and nesting sites. However, thanks to the increase of birdhouses in many areas, the species is making a comeback. Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Eastern bluebird as a species of least concern with an increasing trend.

I haven’t seen many Eastern bluebirds in my travels, but I wish I could see some more close up than I did that day. And maybe it could sit still for a while so I could enjoy it.

CHICKADEE UPDATE

The chickadee that took up residence in a birdhouse behind our camp, that had been vacant and abandoned for the better part of a decade, was sighted again a couple of weeks ago. Well, this weekend, we watched an extreme amount of activity around the birdhouse as both the male and female were spotted at the same time entering and exiting. There must be young ones in there, was our thought. Well, Saturday, we watched as four young birds flew out of the box.

The only other question we had was, once the young leave, do they come back to the nest for a while. It seems the two parents are still feeding something inside the box.

White-tailed herd OK following a mild winter

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

While traveling the back roads of Vassalboro the last couple of years, I noticed a drastic decline in the number of white-tailed deer sightings. There was actually one year – maybe the year before last – when I saw none at all.

Well, my hopes have been renewed about the state of the deer herd in this area. The last three days, I have seen deer every day. I truly welcomed sight.

So, what is the condition of the state’s deer herd?

According to figures from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the mild winter we just experienced was very kind to the deer. The deer population in Maine is estimated at approximately 210,000, mostly in central and southern Maine. Although there are fewer deer in northern Maine, there tends to be some of the largest bucks in the state in that area.

Male white-tailed deer can weigh between 100 and 300 pounds.

The healthy state of numbers in Maine has prompted the wildlife regulators to increase the number of “any deer” permits they will issue this year to 45,000, up by 60 percent. Approval of the final number should be made next month.

Most of those extra permits will be issued in southern Maine where the white-tailed deer did particularly well to survive the winter. Maine is actually at the northern edge of their range.

I did some research and was a little disappointed when I learned that, according to some “experts,” Maine didn’t even make the top 10 list of the best places in the United States to hunt deer. That is probably due to the fact that deer are at the edge of their range here, and the number of permits issued, along with the large size, area wise, of the state.

White-tailed buck, left, with a doe.

Wildlife regulators in Augusta say its necessary to keep the herd in check to prevent the herds from growing to the point where it becomes a problem. Unchecked growth can lead to deer-car collisions and food competition, which could result in starvation.

Back in the late 1990s, Waterville had a serious deer problem at the municipal airport, and were causing some anxious and dangerous moments when they wandered out on the runway. The herd had grown to large numbers. Since it is illegal to discharge a firearm within the city limits, archers were allowed to enter the area to help harvest the deer and manage the herd. Also, the habitat was altered in an attempt to force the deer to seek food and shelter elsewhere.

Coyotes and black bears are the main predators of fawns. It has helped protect the young deer with the fact that there is open season on coyotes, which means you can hunt them year round, but black bear hunting is restricted. However, today, dogs and humans are their primary predator. Because they don’t have many natural predators, deer populations sometimes grow too large for their environment and can cause death by starvation.

White-tailed dear, Odocoileus virginianus, have a way of protecting themselves during the winter months, like most other wildlife.

In winter, when the snow depths exceed 16 inches, deer will yard in stands of conifers, forming a central resting area with trails packed through the snow. This dense cover with adequate browse is essential for winter survival. They are herbivores and follow well-used trails to their feeding areas.

During the fall, with the coming of hunting season, is the time of year when deer breed. Females have a gestation period of seven months, and will produce one to three fawns, generally born in May and June.

The average hunting success rate in Maine is usually between 14 and 17 percent, with 84 percent of that coming during the firearms season. The firearms season generally attracts approximately 175,000 hunters.

White-tailed deer, sometimes referred to as “swamp ghosts,” are excellent runners, leapers and swimmers.

But, with all that, it is good to see more deer in our area this year than I have noticed over the last two to three years. With a healthy deer herd, the influx of hunters brings about economic benefits.

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.

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.

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.