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

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

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

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

Moose antlers in velvet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An unexpected late night concert

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

She persisted. “Listen carefully.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Farm raised salmon: Real or Imposters?

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

Last week we discussed the plight of the Atlantic salmon and the efforts underway to restore this majestic fish, in its natural form, which had seen declining numbers. One of the reasons cited was the new threat from competitive farmed fish.

Such an operation exists in East Machias at the Peter Gray Hatchery. The hatchery has reported the highest smolt production in the East Machias River since the start of the Peter Gray Parr Project in 2012. This summer has seen similar weather conditions as last year, except that the days and evenings are cooler than normal for July. Despite the dry spell, the “little athletes” in the hatchery are doing well, according to the hatchery’s monthly newsletter.

So, that brings us to an article written by Kathleen McKeog­hain, of AlterNet. She claims, “Atlantic salmon, the native salmon that used to inhabit the northern Atlantic Ocean, rivers and seas, is a species now represented by an imposter: farmed salmon.”

She goes on to say that farmed salmon come from hatchery genetic stock and unlike its native ancesotrs, lacks wild genetic variation. The wild fish our ancestors ate is gone. What appears on our dinner plates is a substitute copy, a genetic dilution of a once mighty fish, the adaptive king of the sea, and a significant food for coastal humans since prehistoric times.

According to McKeoghain, the change in genetic stock has been happening for decades, as farmed salmon are released into native waters via restocking progrms (in an attempt to reduce the negative impacts of overfishing of wild salmon) and also unintentionally as a consequence of faulty containment in sea net-cages. The resulting “swamping out” effect — farmed in, wild out – along with several other insidious factors, has driven native salmon to effective extinction.

“When I began to research the scientific literature on native Atlantic salmon, I was stunned to discover that this species, Salmo salar, is essentially extinct,” continues McKeoghain. How can this be?

“The verified statistic is that 99.5 percent of all Atlantic salmon living today, whether farmed or fished from open ocean or rivers, is not what biologists call “wild type” and does not faithfully represent, in a genetic sense, the native fish that once broadly populated waters of our planet’s Holarctic zone, the ecological region that encompasses the majority of habitats found across the Earth’s northern continents.”

The fish we eat today is not the fish that fed our ancestors, or even the fish that fed our forbears of a century ago. Today’s salmon, because of the effects of a force called genetic erosion, is the diluted copy of a fish that once thrived on a wild genome, that tried and true set of original genes which, in the case of salmon, generated a fish capable of magnetic field navigation, survival in fresh and salt water and geochemical detection of spawning micro-habitats.

The earliest salmon came from a diverse group of ocean vertebrates known as the ray-finned fishes and was part of a broad divergence of ocean fishes that adapted over eons to the cold, northern waters of the upper northern hemisphere, around the Arctic Circle. Early Atlantic and Pacific salmonid ancestors branched into separate ocean groups of early species types about 600,000 years ago.

Salmon are anadromous, a migrant from fresh water to salty sea, a fish who returns to its birth river to spawn in the family niche for the next generation, for the continuation of each clan, the many clans for each population, and the many populations for each species.

According to Slow Food, an affiliation of the Lighthouse Foundation, “the stocks of wild Atlantic salmon have been reduced to dangerously low levels. Reasons are overfishing, pollution, environmental changes, aquaculture, habitat deterioration and disturbances of migration routes. In many regions, the species has disappeared completely. Even though wild Atlantic salmon stocks have been drastically depleted, farming represents a poor alternative, given the environmental havoc it causes. Farmed salmon should not be eaten frequently. Farmed salmon flesh contains significant amounts of pollutants.”

McKeoghain concludes by saying, “the salmon has taken a fatal series of genetic blows. Its ‘old growth forest’ was set on fire by a human feeding frenzy that began with overfishing and was fed by industrial aquaculture. The genetic erosion is shocking and steep. Today, 99.5 percent of all native Atlantic salmon has disappeared from the wild, forever.”

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Atlantic salmon restoration steady but slow despite many efforts

Roland D. HalleeSCORES & OUTDOORS

by Roland D. Hallee

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the fate of the mighty Atlantic salmon.

Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, have long been the target of recreational and commercial fishing, and this, as well as habitat destruction, has reduced their numbers significantly. The species is the subject of conservation efforts in several countries.

Several populations of Atlantic salmon are in serious decline in Maine. The Endangered Species Act currently places 11 Maine rivers on the list: the Kennebec, Androscoggin, Penobscot, Sheepscot, Ducktrap, Cove Brook, Pleasant, Narraguagus, Machias, East Machias and Dennys. The Penobscot is the anchor river for Atlantic salmon populations in the U.S. Returns in 2008 have been around 2,000, more than double the 2007 return of 940.

However, on the Kenduskeag River, in Bangor, according to Richard Dill, a biologist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat, over recent years, the return of salmon to the river has been particularly low. In 2012, 624 salmon returned to the fish trap at the Veazie Dam. In 2013, just 372 salmon were counted at the facility.

There has been some success thus far with populations growing in the Penobscot and Connecticut rivers. In November 2015, salmon nests were observed in the Farmington River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, where Atlantic salmon had not been seen spawning since probably the Revolutionary War.

Atlantic salmon were once abundant throughout the North Atlantic. European fishermen gillnetted the salmon in rivers using hand-made nets for at least several centuries. Wood and stone weirs along streams and ponds were used for millennia to harvest salmon in the rivers of Maine and New England. Human activities have heavilty damaged salmon populations across their range. The major impacts were from overfishing and habitat change, and the new threat from competitive farmed fish.

The first laws regarding Atlantic salmon were started nearly 800 years ago. Edward I instituted a penalty for collecting salmon during certain times of the year. His son, Edward II continued the legislation.

Atlantic salmon fishing is illegal in Maine. Anyone who accidentally catches one is required to release the fish alive and uninjured immediately. The fishing rule, listed in the law book under an S-33 code, also requires that “at no time should an Atlantic salmon be removed from the water.”

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is an international council made up of Canada, the European Union, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States. Established in 1983, it helps protect Atlantic salmon stocks, through the cooperation between nations. They work, hand-in-hand, to restore habitat and promote conservation of the salmon.

The Army Corps of Engineers reports that Project SHARE, of Eastport, is seeking a permit from the Corps to conduct work in waters of the U.S. in conjunction with an Atlantic salmon enhancement project in China (Maine), the Narraguagus River and the Barrows Stream, in Crawford.

The application proposes to place fill/structures below the ordinary high water line of the West Branch of the Sheepscot River, in China, along with the other two sites, in conjunction with an Atlantic salmon rearing habitat enhancement project. The fill/structures consist of Post Assisted Log Structures (PALS) and Large Woody Debris. Eighty-eight PALS will be placed in the West Branch of the Sheepscot River to enhance 6,275 feet of river.

The work may impact Essential Fish Habitat for Atlantic salmon. This habitat consists of stream bottom composed of mixed sand, gravel, cobble and boulders. Long-term impact to this species is expected to be minimal with appropriate erosion control measures, in stream work windows and other best management practices. The Corps has primarily determined that the site-specific adverse effect will be minimal.

Much is being done to restore the Atlantic salmon populations in the North Atlantic region, but much more needs to be done.

Next week, see what Kathleen McKeoghain, of AlterNet, has to say about Atlantic salmon populations.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: 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.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: 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).

SCORES & OUTDOORS: 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.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: 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.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: 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.

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.