SCORES & OUTDOORS – Pigeons: are they a nuisance or are they heroes?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One of the educational things that 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: Snoopy, 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 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 birds I have seen in my life time. So, I set out to make a list.

Once I got to about 73, and was still half way through the book, 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.

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 in 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:

Where did the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and MLB’s Atlanta Braves franchises begin their existence?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Lady bugs are good things to have around the house: Really!

The common ladybug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one, and that’s Little Anne
For she has crept under the warming pan.

The ladybug as immortalized in the still-popular children’s nursery rhyme. They have been, for very many years, a favorite insect of children. But what about these little bugs that appear in our houses at certain times of the year?

Well, they come from the beetle family Coccinellidae, and are found worldwide with over 5,000 species, with more than 450 native to North America.

It is known by numerous names, but only in the U.S. is it called a ladybug. Other names include ladybirds, God’s cow, ladycock, lady cow and lady fly. Scientists increasingly prefer the name ladybird beetle, as ladybugs are not true bugs.

Coccinellids are small insects, and are commonly yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers, with black legs, head and antennae. A common myth is that the number of spots on the insect’s back indicates its age.

For the sake of this column, let’s refer to Coccinellids by the commonly-known name, ladybug.

A few species are considered pests in North America and Europe, but they are generally considered useful insects, as many species feed on aphids or scale insects, which are pests in gardens, agricultural fields, orchards and similar places. These insects were introduced into North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids, but is now the most common species as it is out-competing many of the native species. While predatory species are often used as biological control agents, introduced species of ladybugs out-compete and displace native insects, and become pests in their own right.

Ladybugs are brightly colored to ward away potential predators. Mechanical stimulation — such as by predator attack — causes reflex bleeding in both larval and adult lady beetles, in which an alkaloid toxin is exuded through the joints of the outer shell, deterring feeding. Ladybugs are known to spray a toxin that is venomous to certain mammals and other insects when threatened.

These insects overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring. Eggs hatch in three to four days from clutches numbering from a few to several dozen. Depending on resource availability, the larvae pass through four phases over 10-14 days, after which pupation occurs. After a molting period of several days, the adults become reproductively active, and are able to reproduce again. Total life span is one to two years on average.

Predatory ladybugs are usually found on plants where aphids or scale insects are, and they lay their eggs near their prey, to increase the likelihood the larvae will find the prey easily. A larva uses its sharp jaws to crush an aphid’s body and sucks out the aphid’s juices.

The most common plants where you will find ladybugs include any type of mustard plant, such as other early blooming nectar and pollen sources, like buckwheat, coriander, red or crimson clover, and legumes, and also early aphid sources such as bronze fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, yarrow of the wild carrot family, dandelions and scented geraniums.

These insects are sensitive to synthetic insecticides.

Many cultures consider ladybugs lucky. In many countries, including Russia, Turkey and Italy, the sight of a ladybug is either a call to make a wish or a sign that a wish will soon be granted.

In Christian areas, they are often associated with the Virgin Mary, and the name that this insect bears in various languages in Europe corresponds to this. Though historically many European languages referenced Freyja, the fertility goddess of Norse mythology, in the names, the Virgin Mary has now largely supplanted her.

For example, freyjuhoena (Old Norse), and Frouehenge (Norwegian) have been changed into marihone, which corresponds with Our Lady’s Bug.

Although the ladybugs are beneficial insects to have around, they still gather the curiosity of children. In the animated film, A Bug’s Life, Francis the Ladybug (voiced by Dennis Leary) is an aggressive beetle and the clown in P.T. Flea’s circus. The contrast between him being a male and a “lady”bug, is a recurring joke in the film.

Don’t squish that ladybug, it will keep unwanted insects off your plants, and even entertain the children and grandchildren.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia recently announced his retirement. He won the American League MVP award in 2008, becoming only the second Red Sox second baseman to do that. Who was the other?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Brown-tail moth caterpillar is back in the news in 2021

browntail moth caterpillar

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, it looks like the brown-tail moth caterpillar is back in the news in 2021 with news that they are abundant in the central Maine area, including Waterville, Vassalboro, China, Albion and Winslow, according to a Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry report. In all, 54 Maine communities were on the list.

I have seen and been around brown-tail moth caterpillars before, but the summer of 2020 was my first contact with one.

We had been doing some extensive outdoor renovations at camp this spring. With the tick population at record high numbers, we’ve been clearing and pushing back growth and decaying leaves further back into the woods, away from the camp. We had also torn down our old screened-in room, and prepared a new platform for the new one to be installed later. During all of this, we dress accordingly, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and boots, to try to alleviate the possibility of ticks jumping on-board.

Apparently, there was another enemy out there. With the high, sustained winds, I somehow came in contact with airborne hairs from the brown-tail moth caterpillar. Saturday found both my arms, left shoulder and upper thigh on my left leg, covered with a pinkish rash, that itched like the dickens.

I have since dispatched three of the caterpillars I have found strolling along my deck.

They were accidentally introduced to the United States in the 1890s. During the early 20th century they were present from eastern Connecticut northward into New Brunswick, Canada, but a subsequent severe population collapse reduced the territory to parts of coastal Maine and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, by the late 20th century. One theory for the decline appeared to be a parasite introduced to combat gypsy moths. Starting in 2015 there has been a population spike and territory expansion along coastal Maine.

Hairs from the caterpillars are toxic for humans, causing a poison ivy-like itchy rash of up to weeks duration due to mechanical and chemical irritation. Direct contact with larvae is not necessary, as the hairs are shed and can become windblown. Toxins in the hairs remain potent for up to three years. Outdoor activities such as mowing a lawn or raking leaves in the fall can cause exposure.

The brown-tail moth is an invasive species in the United States and Canada, having arrived in Somerville, Massachusetts, circa 1890, and becoming widespread there and in neighboring Cambridge by 1897. Initial outbreaks were most evident in pear and apple trees. Doctors reported “poisonings” (skin rash) far worse than poison ivy rash. Within a few years it was seen as a serious, fast-spreading, horticultural and health problem – apparently, not enough though, to cause a complete shutdown of the country. Through the early parts of the 20th century it was present in much of New England from eastern Connecticut to Maine, and northward into New Brunswick, Canada, but the 1906 introduction of the parasitic fly Compsilura concinnata to counter gypsy moths collaterally impacted brown-tail moths. By the late 20th century the habitat was reduced to the coast and islands of Maine, and also parts of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Cold and wet weather hinders re-expansion of the population outside its current territories, although starting in 2015 there has been a population spike and territory expansion in coastal Maine, from Portland to Bar Harbor.

Photographs taken from aerial fly-overs are used to identify areas where the trees have been denuded of leaves, by the moth, and where the branch-tip tents are present. The white-winged adults are nocturnal and strongly attracted to light; a report from 1903 likened their appearance around streetlights as being akin to heavy snowfall.

The brown-tail moth produces one generation a year. Eggs are laid in July and hatch in August.

In the United States, many species of birds prey on the winged adults, including English house sparrows and blue jays (I wonder if that is what has led to an increased number of blue jays around our bird feeders at camp?)

How to control it? Branch-tip webs can be clipped in winter and very early spring, and either dropped into a bucket of soapy water or burned. Gloves should be worn. Appropriate pesticides should be applied before early May because that is when the larvae start to develop harmful hairs. For organic garden and farm situations there are sprays that use a strain of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Cicely Blair wrote a paper about the rash caused by the brown-tail moth caterpillar in the British Isles. It, and other descriptions, confirmed that loose hairs can break off and cause very itchy rashes on contact with skin, as well as breathing difficulties similar to asthma if inhaled. Rashes can persist for weeks. The same symptoms have been reported as far back as 1903. The reactions are due to a combination of mechanical and chemical stimuli, the barbed hairs in effect becoming lodged in and physically irritating the skin.

The species should be handled using protective gloves at all stages of its life cycle. Shed hairs blow about, and can be brought indoors on clothing and shoes, so rashes can occur without the victim coming in direct contact with the caterpillars.

Brown-tail larvae have been reported as feeding on 26 genera of non-resinous trees and shrubs belonging to 13 different families. This is considered unusual. Non-specific host plant feeding combined with its tendency to reach extreme outbreak densities makes this species a major pest of fruit orchards, ornamental trees and hardwood forests. Partial list of plant species: apple, cherry, beach plum (Cape Cod, Massachusetts), beech, elm, grape, hops, maple, oak, pear, raspberry, rose and willow. An early description of the introduction to the United States in the 1890s identified pear and apple trees as most greatly afflicted, but mentioned that once trees were entirely bare of leaves, the larvae would descend to the ground in great numbers and move toward any leafy plant, including vegetable plants.

The hairs are almost like silent attackers. You may acquire the rash without even knowing it, as I did. All the precautions and protections I took were to no avail once the hairs became airborne.

I did find out, though, that baby powder will relieve the itching, but the best “antidote” I found was Benadryl spray or cream. That completely took away the itching, although the rash remained.

Meanwhile, be on the lookout for the little irritating critters come warmer weather.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In Super Bowl LV, the Kansas City Chiefs failed to score a touchdown in the game. This has happened three times in the Super Bowl era. Once in 1971 when Dallas defeated Minnesota, 24-3. When was the other?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: So, what were they? Crows or ravens?

Crow, left, and a raven.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week I observed that many different kinds of birds have been coming to our feeders this winter, and I compared the situation with the Alfred Hitchcock thriller film, The Birds – actually, crows, ravens, seagulls, and sparrows were used in the film. (Did you know, The Birds is a political allegory about the psychological violence of capitalism and the fear-mongering of the Cold War – filmed in 1963. Fear of nuclear attack is apparent when the birds “cover the bay like a white cloud”, suggestive of a nuclear mushroom cloud.)

Anyway, back to the subject matter.

Well, I have another chapter in that episode. I have noticed recently the high number of crows, or ravens, that have been hanging around my house. Just the other day, I saw seven of them sitting in my pine trees in the backyard. They are huge birds.

Just to draw a comparison, there was a gray squirrel – either Martha or Stewart, my resident squirrels, are pretty good sized squirrels – on one of the other branches, and these birds made it look like a field mouse. The squirrel was dwarfed by these birds. They were also licking their chops. However, the crows’ stout bill is not strong enough to break through the skin.

Later that day, while driving by the park that is located at the end of my street, there were about two dozen of these birds feeding on the banking that was bare of snow.

Where are they coming from. And are they crows, or ravens like some people are calling them?

Well, to cut to the chase, crows have a fan-shaped tail, while ravens’ tails are wedge-shaped. The birds I’m looking at have a fan-shaped tail. Obviously, there are a few differences between the two species. Most of the differences are noticeable when the two are together. However, crows will assemble in large flocks, while ravens tend to be solitary, until the fall migration.

Both the crows and the ravens are highly intelligent birds. Perhaps the most intelligent. The two can learn to imitate a variety of sounds, including the human voice. Recent research has found crows not only use tools, but also tool construction. Their intelligence quotient is equal to that of many non-human primates.

There is a story that indicates crows know how to count. The story has not been substantiated, but it goes like this. Three hunters enter a hunters’ blind. They wait, the crows know they are in there. The crows don’t move. Two hunters leave the blind, and the crows still don’t move. Once the third hunter leaves, the crows know they are gone and resume their normal activity.

Crows also have a good memory, remembering where there is danger, and where their cache of food is for later consumption.

Predators include owls and hawks. Crows will gather together to move an offending or intruding owl or hawk. However, West Nile disease has been taking its toll on crow populations.

A couple of years ago, while fishing on Webber Pond, my wife and I noticed a large flock of crows headed for a tree that sat on a point. Apparently, a bald eagle was intruding on a nest, the crows mobbed the eagle and drove it off. That was interesting to watch.

Crows don’t regularly visit feeders, but you can attract them to your backyard if you offer a mix of trees, open space, and food. Peanuts left in an open place are a good attractant. Crows are also attracted by compost, garbage, or pet food that the birds can feed on.

American Crows congregate in large numbers in winter to sleep in communal roosts. These roosts can be of a few hundred up to two million crows. Some roosts have been forming in the same general area for well over 100 years. In the last few decades some of these roosts have moved into urban areas where the noise and mess cause conflicts with people.

Young American Crows do not breed until they are at least two years old, and most do not breed until they are four or more. In most populations the young help their parents raise young for a few years. Families may include up to 15 individuals and contain young from five different years.

So, taking all these things into consideration, the large black birds hanging around my house are most likely crows. But the question as to where they come from and why they are hanging around, has not been answered. In the past, I have seen massive numbers of crows fly overhead in late fall. But they continue in a northwesterly direction, darkening the sky as they passed.

This year, they are making themselves right at home around my house.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Tampa Bay will be making only its second appearance in the Super Bowl. Name the four teams to never play in a Super Bowl.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: It’s Groundhog Day; what does Woody have in store for us?

Woody on Zoom.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While I was checking my calendar last week, I realized that February 2 is next Tuesday. Where does time go?

It’s time for me to take my annual trek to visit by little, furry friend, Woodrow Charles, the weather prognosticating groundhog.

Folklore has it that should Woody see his shadow on Groundhog Day, we will experience six more weeks of winter, whereas, if he doesn’t see his shadow, we can plan on an early spring.

As I looked out the window, it was a beautiful day, brilliant blue sky, nary a cloud in sight, and temperature hovering in the mid-30s. It has been a remarkably mild winter thus far. For the first time, the hike up to his domain in center Vassalboro will be an easy one. No snow and I’ll be walking on bare ground. After all these years, it’s getting harder and harder to get up the energy to take this annual trip.

As I walked to the closet to fetch my coat and hat, I figured I should check my emails one more time. After all, I would be gone for most of the afternoon.

Scrolling down through the many emails I receive each day I noticed one from Woodrow Charles.

I opened it wondering why he was getting in touch with me this way. He’s never done that before.

In his message he said, “Sorry to inconvenience you, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I would rather you didn’t come out this year. I have set up a Zoom account, and we can do it that way.”

Well, to be honest, I have a dislike for Zoom conferences. For some reason, they seem impersonal. But, what was I to do.

At the designated time, I logged on to my computer, and waited for Woody to make his appearance. I sure hope he’s wearing pants.

After about ten minutes, his face came up on my screen.

“How’s everything going? Are you OK?” I asked.

“Sure, everything is good,” he replied. “Keeping my distance from everyone. We don’t know how that virus would affect a groundhog should he become infected. Not much science on that.”

“Well, I was hoping maybe you’d be available again this year,” I stressed. “It’s been 17 years, you know. I didn’t want to break the streak.”

Woodrow replied, “Well, it’s best to do it this way this year, and be able to resume our tete-a-tete next year.”

“I will miss your great raspberry tea,” I continued. “The warmth and coziness of the wood fire, and the aroma of the wax melter in your abode is magnificent. Who can not like the scent of Essence de Cabbage.”

“Well, all that aside,“ he came back. “It’s also gonna be different this year. You know how I host a Super Bowl party each year. My buddies, Frank, Butch and Slim won’t be able to come over to watch the Super Bowl. At least the grocery bill will be less this year. They are such moochers.”

“Can’t you wear masks and social distance?” I asked.

“Well, my place is a little cramped. Best to be safe. Wouldn’t want to spread the virus throughout groundhog land. And besides, those masks don’t go well attached to our ears.”

“So, what do you have for me this year?”

“I stopped making predictions,” Woody said. “Seems whatever team I root for, always comes out the loser.”

“If you’re like me,” I answered, “Even though you don’t say it out loud, just thinking about which team I want to win seems to be a jinx on them, anyway.”

Woody rubbed his chin, looking like he was thinking of something serious. “I have to say I have to go from the heart this year, and wish my old buddy, Tom, the best of luck.”

“Well, said. So how about the rest of the winter?”

“The way I see it,” he started, “early February will see sunny and mild temperatures, with rain and snow showers through mid-February, followed by sunny and mild temperatures into the third week of the month. Late February will see rain and snow showers, again, with cold temperatures at first, turning mild later on. The temperatures in February could be as much as 5 degrees above normal with slightly above normal snowfall. We will experience a period of snowy weather in mid-March.”

“What are you trying to say,” I asked.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though the weather seems milder and warmer than usual for a Maine winter, snow will not leave us until at least the middle of March. Plan on six more weeks of winter.”

“Well, I can’t argue with you. You nailed it right on the head last year, compared to those other groundhogs around the country.”

“What can I say,” replied Woody, a little flauntingly, “I have my reputation to uphold.”

With that, we said our adieus, and signed off.

I sure miss our little person-to-groundhog visits.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many playoff wins does Tom Brady have?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Did you know that ferrets are man’s other best friend?

Black-footed ferret

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Don’t ask why or how, but last week, during a conversation, I was asked a question about ferrets. Not knowing that much about them, I decided to look into it.

What I discovered about the little furry animals was most interesting.

Although I know a few people who have had ferrets as pets, I didn’t realize they were the third most popular pet, behind only dogs and cats. They are popular, although often controversial. My wife and I had a pet Holland lop rabbit for nearly 10 years. I would have bet, if I were a gambling man, and based on conversations with a multitude of people who care for them, that rabbits were more popular than ferrets.

Ferrets have the size and shape of a zucchini, and are related to European polecats. They are not to be confused with skunks which are sometimes colloquially called polecats, but related more to wolverines, ermines, minks and weasels.

The ancient Greeks probably domesticated ferrets about 2,500 years ago to hunt vermin. The practice spread across Europe, especially with sailors who used ferrets on ships to control rats. Ferrets were introduced to America in the 1700s.

A 1490 painting by Leonardo da Vinci named Lady with an Ermine, actually shows her holding a ferret.

Ferrets are carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. According to the American Ferret Association, domesticated ferrets typically eat factory-made chow. A healthy diet for pet ferrets consist of 36 percent protein, 20 percent fats and is low in carbohydrates. A healthy ferret will sleep up to 18 hours a day.

Male ferrets are known as hobs and females are called jills. In the wild, hobs and jills mate around March and April. Following a gestation period of 35 – 45 days, a jill will give birth to one to six kits. Kits will stay with the mother for about a month and a half, leaving the mother as autumn approaches. They become sexually active at one year old. In captivity ferrets can live up to 12 years, but the actual life expectancy is 7-10 years.

Unlike dogs, ferrets have not yet been rigorously studied when it comes to social cognition. According to Hungarian researchers, their early history in service to man is obscure, but have probably been domesticated for more than 2,000 years through selective breeding. Like dogs, ferrets were originally bred for practical reasons like hunting. However, their role within human society has since shifted, as they are now predominantly pets.

Most ferrets will live happily in social groups. A group of ferrets is commonly referred to as a “business.” They are territorial, like to burrow, and prefer to sleep in an enclosed area.

Ferrets can release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared, but the smell is much less potent than a skunk’s and dissipates rapidly. Most pet ferrets in the U.S. are sold de-scented (anal glands removed).

When excited, ferrets may perform a behavior commonly called the weasel war dance, characterized by a frenzied series of sideways hops, leaps and bumping into nearby objects. Despite its common name, this is not aggressive but is a joyful invitation to play. It is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as “dooking.” Conversely, when frightened, ferrets will make a hissing noise; when upset, they will make a soft ‘squeaking’ noise.

Although most domesticated ferrets were introduced by Europeans, there is only one that is native to North America. It is the black-footed ferret, and its existence is in trouble. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to use unmanned aerial drones to rain peanut-butter laced pellets down on northeast Montana, where the ferrets reside. The pellets contain a vaccine against the plague, which is common in prairie dogs. Prairie dogs consist of 90 percent of the ferret’s diet. As Americans moved west, prairie dog eradication programs and agriculture and development removed much of the ferrets’ prey and habitat, and by 1987 only 18 of the ferrets remained.

It is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of its very small and restricted populations. The species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily as a result of decreases in prairie dog populations, which is their major food and shelter source, and sylvatic plague. They will also eat small mammals such as opossums, rabbits, hedgehogs and rodents, but prairie dogs are the fare of choice.

Wild ferrets were thought extinct until Lucille Hogg’s dog brought a dead black-footed ferret to her door in Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981. The remnant population of a few dozen ferrets lasted until the animals were considered extinct in the wild in 1987. However, a captive-breeding program launched by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in its reintroduction into eight western U.S. states, Canada, and Mexico from 1991 to 2009. Now, over 1,000 mature, wild-born individuals are in the wild across 18 populations, with five self-sustaining populations in South Dakota (two), Arizona, and Wyoming. It was first listed as “endangered” in 1982, then listed as “extinct in the wild” in 1996, before being downgraded back to “endangered” in 2008.

So, by feeding the prairie dogs with the vaccine they would stay healthy, which in turn would help the black-footed ferrets.

I guess domesticated ferrets don’t have it all that bad, kinda like dogs and cats.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the Super Bowl record of the Seattle Seahawks?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The white-tailed deer and how they survive winters

White-tailed buck and doe. (Internet photo)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

My wife and I spent last weekend at the Harbor Ridge Resort, in Southwest Harbor. It was a quiet weekend, especially enjoying the view of the harbor below our unit. Saturday afternoon, while we were both comfortably sitting in the living room, reading our favorite authors, my wife noticed something moving on the slope.

There they were, two magnificent white-tailed deer: a buck and a doe. Both large beautiful specimens. The buck had eight points, but walked with a very noticeable limp on its left foreleg. Otherwise, the pair seemed healthy.

They plodded along slowly, very deliberate in their strides, seemingly unfazed by any of their surroundings.

My wife and I watched in silence until the two deer disappeared from our sight line.

That got me to thinking. How do these animals survive our winters? So, I decided to do some research on the white-tailed deer.

I had recently read an article that said the “mild” winter so far made it easier for the deer to move in search of food.

White-tailed deer have developed a set of adaptations that enable them to survive the deep snow and cold temperatures that occur in Maine. Maine is the northern-most point of their range and there are very few of them north of the St. Lawrence River. Also, the further north you go in their range, the larger the body size, as compared to their counterparts to the south.

According to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, deer shed their hair in the spring and fall. The summer hair has solid shafts and lacks the undercoat, but the winter hair has hollow hair shafts, and dense, wool-like under fur, providing effective insulation.

Also, deer will alter their diet to accumulate and retain more fat under their skin and around organs, providing them with insulation and energy reserves for the months that lie ahead. The winter diet is lower in protein and less digestible than the summer diet, requiring more energy to digest and resulting in fewer calories. The stored fat is burned during winter to partially compensate for the lack of energy in the winter diet. Deer will lose weight during the winter. If winters become too long (early start and late finish) deer could run out of stored energy and die.

Fat reserves in adult does can account for up to 30 percent of their body mass in the fall.

Their winter habitat is also important. Dense softwood canopies intercept more snow, resulting in reduced snow depths. Gathering in these areas also allow many deer to share the energy cost of maintaining a trail network to access food and to escape predators. The forest surrounding the resort where we stayed was mostly white birch.

As you would suspect, the greatest mortality in the winter is found among fawns, followed by adult bucks and then does. Severe winters can drastically deplete the fawn population, resulting in fewer young to mature into adulthood. Consecutive severe winters can have a devastating effect, by as much as 90 percent, of young maturing, depleting the adult herd.

So, should you try to help out these critters?

Although supplemental feeding of deer is usually well-intentioned, it could have some severe adverse effects. Just to touch on a few of the reasons to leave the deer to Mother Nature’s natural course:

  • Supplemental feeding may actually increase predation. Providing supplemental food sources crowds deer into a smaller area than their usual range, making it easier for coyotes and bobcats to hunt down the deer, by limiting their escape routes;
  • Feeding sites near homes may place deer in danger of free-roaming dogs;
  • Deer feeding stations may increase deer/vehicle collisions. Feeding stations near homes also place the deer in close proximity to well-traveled highways;
  • Deer could actually starve when fed supplemental foods during winter. It takes deer two weeks to adjust to new foods, and could starve in that time period;
  • Deer compete aggressively for scarce, high-quality feeds;
  • They could die from eating too much at one time;
  • Deer concentrations at feeding sites may increase the vulnerability of deer to disease. MDIFW has documented deer concentrations equal to 350 deer per square mile at some feeding sites can cause an outbreak of infectious diseases, such as the bovine tuberculosis in 1994, and more recently, the fear of introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease, which, by 2016, had only been found in deer and moose. Although CWD, a disease that causes weight loss leading to death, has not been detected in Maine, the disease, which originated in the midwest, seems to be making its way east. It is now found in 23 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine has actively monitored for CWD each year since 1999, and since that time screened approximately 9,000 wild deer. Thus far, Maine proudly remains CWD free.

Finally, predation and vehicle collisions claim more deer during the winter than starvation. Mother Nature has provided well for her creatures, so just sit back and watch them go about their daily routine.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL quarterback has the fewest Super Bowl rings, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, John Elway or Jimmy Garoppolo?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What, exactly, is a killdeer? How did it get its name?

Killdeer

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There is a road off Lakeview Drive, in China, called Killdeer Point Road, that takes you to Killdeer Point, on the lake. We know the area received its name when someone exploring the area saw what he thought was a killdeer, and so named the point. So, what is a killdeer?

It’s probably one of the most misnamed creature. They are birds, they fly, and they don’t kill deer.

The killdeer feeds primarily on insects, although other invertebrates and seeds are eaten. It forages almost exclusively in fields, especially those with short vegetation and where cattle and standing water are found. It primarily forages during the day, but during the non-breeding season, when the moon is full or close to full, it will forage at night. This is probably because there is a larger abundance of insects and reduced activity by predators after dark. Predators include various birds and mammals, most notably herring gulls, common crows, raccoons, and striped skunks. They prey in some areas during the breeding season. Predation is not limited to eggs and chicks. Mustelids, fur-bearing mammals like weasels, martens, skunks and mink, for example, can kill incubating adults.

The bird is classified as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), because of the range and population, however, its population is in decline, but the trend is not severe enough for the killdeer to be considered a vulnerable species. It is protected by the American Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and the Canadian Migratory Birds Convention Act.

The killdeer is a large plover, with adults ranging in length from 8 – 11 inches, having a wingspan of 23 – 25 inches, and weighing 2.5 – 4.5 ounces. It has a short, thick and dark bill, flesh-colored legs, and a red eye ring. Its upper parts are mostly brown with rufous fringes. It has a white forehead and a white stripe behind the eye. It is the only plover in North America with two breast bands. The rump is red, and the tail is mostly brown. The latter also has a black subterminal band, a white terminal band, and barred white feathers on the outer portion of the tail. In flight, a white wing stripe at the base of the flight feathers is visible.

So, what about the name killdeer? During display flights, it repeats a call of “kil-deer” or “kee-deeyu.” When a plover is disturbed, it emits notes in a rapid sequence, such as “kee-di-di-di.” Thus, the name.

The killdeer nests in open fields or other flat areas with short vegetation, such as agricultural fields and meadows. Nests are also sometimes located on roof tops. They generally breed close to where they bred the year before.

The killdeer uses beach habitats and coastal wetlands and fields during the non-breeding season. It forages almost exclusively in these fields. When breeding, the killdeer has a home range of about 15 acres. Although generally a low-land species, it is found up to the snowline in meadows and open lake shores during its autumn migration.

Following breeding, about 53 percent of the eggs are lost, mainly to predators. They start walking within the first day of life, and both parents will lead them out of the nest, generally to a feeding territory with dense vegetation the chicks can hide under when a predator nears. Both parents usually are present to successfully raise the chicks. The young fledge about 31 days after hatching.

The killdeer has a life span of about 11 years.

The killdeer feed on insects, especially beetles and flies, in addition to millipedes, worms, snails, spiders and some seeds. It will also take tree frogs and dead minnows when the opportunity presents itself.

Killdeer can be found in all the continental United States, except Alaska. They are also present in Canada, Mexico, northern South America and along the west coast. They are also found in the Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

According to Eli Bush, who named Killdeer Point on China Lake, the birds were spotted in that area in the late 1920s. Possibly, it was the large farm pastures of the Seward, Edson and Sinclair farms that attracted the birds to the area.

The name has stuck through the decades since.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the record for the longest field goal in New England Patriots history?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Reported sightings of mountain lions on the upswing in Maine

This photo of what appears to be a mountain lion, was taken by a game camera in the backyard of a home near Mark Pantermoller’s home, in Fairfield. (photo courtesy of Mark Pantermoller)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There has been a long-going debate as to whether mountain lions, also known as cougars, are present in Maine.

The official word from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is that they do not exist. Officials at the department state, “No known cougar populations exist in Maine.” Although Maine once had a cougar population, they have long been officially listed as extirpated. Wildlife spokesmen say that, “if cougars existed here, we would have trapped one by now, or killed one on the highway.”

I have maintained for years that they do exist. I have not personally seen one, but many signs have been spotted. However, my son, who lives in Rome, told me he saw one in his driveway one day about seven years ago. He described to me what he saw and it fit the description of a mountain lion to a “T.” It was large for a cat, light brown/beige, and exhibited the long tail that seems to drag on the ground, and it was club-like on the end. But not seeing it, I could not definitely say it was one.

While hunting on a logging road in Windsor one year, I came across some feline paw prints in the mud that measured four-and-a-half inches across. Mighty large paw prints for a house cat, or even a lynx or bobcat.

On a fishing trip up north on Harrington Lake, outside my friend’s lodge, one morning, again in the mud near some remnants of that winter’s snow, I, again, saw the same size print.

All signs, but yet no sightings.

Uncropped version of photo above.

Another time I became aware of an actual sighting was several years ago, when a woman from Palermo called me to say she had spotted a cougar at the end of her driveway, near the road, because she had been alerted by her barking dog. When she looked out the window to see what the fuss was about, she spotted the large cat. Needless to say, she went outside to retrieve her dog.

All fine and good, but still no clear photographs of an actual cougar.

Well, then came Christmas morning of this year. While going through my emails, I saw one from Mark Pantermoller, of Fairfield, who sent a photo shot from a game camera near his property, that was definitely a clear, crisp photo of a mountain lion.

I’ve been criticized in the past for saying that mountain lions existed in Maine, but I think we now have the proof that is necessary to uphold my beliefs.

In an article written by V. Paul Reynolds, in a Special to the Piscataquis Observer, dated July 27, 2020, he states:

“In a way, the elusive and mysterious cougar has become somewhat of a Maine folklore icon, the Maine equivalent of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. Anybody who spends time in the outdoors and enjoys the pure anticipation of sighting wild animals, has to be intrigued by the mere idea that there might be a real mountain lion around the next corner on a woods road, or over there along the edge of that meandering dead water.”

The Maine cougar question has become intriguing because the scientific community and the general public seem to contradict each other. The state officials continue to contend the cougar does not exist in Maine.

Again, according to Reynolds,

“On the other hand, anecdotal cougar-sighting reports by laymen have been on the upswing. And this doesn’t seem to jibe with pronouncements from officialdom.”

According to the Piscataquis Observer article, “Last month the Northwoods Sporting Journal invited readers to share their mountain-lion sighting reports. The monthly outdoor magazine received more than 20 cougar-sighting accounts from readers, and published some of them. Witnesses ranged from loggers, trappers and hunters to housewives and fall leaf peepers. Personal interviews suggested that witnesses seemed credible, rational and sincere. All but one reported seeing a large, long-tailed sandy or tawny-colored cat. This past winter in Lubec the town was abuzz with cougar sightings reports. Reporter Karen Holmes recounted in the Quoddy Tides more than a half dozen cougar sightings by Lubec area residents!”

On one occasion, a retired biologist with the California Fish and Game department, who worked with mountain lions on the west coast and owns a camp near West Grand Lake, Maine, says he saw a black mountain lion not far from West Grand Lake. He says it was 15 feet away from him when it ran off. A sighting claim by a man who worked with the animals out west, and more than likely, knows one when he sees one.

Unfortunately, many game cameras have captured the elusive cat in its lens, but the quality of the photos have been so poor that biologist poo-poo them as either Canada lynx or bobcats. But in every photo is the prolific, long, club-like tail of the mountain lion.

Whether you believe it or not, evidence is continuing to mount, along with eye witness accounts from people who seem credible and sincere, that the mountain lion has made a comeback in the state of Maine.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the six teams the New England Patriots have defeated in their Super Bowl victories.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Canada lynx surviving in the state of Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Every once in a while, the conversation comes up about Canada lynx in Maine. Are they present in the state, where can they be found, are they dangerous? The questions are many.

Friends of mine who live in Richmond have had to deal with one on their mini-farm, who liked to come around and harass the chickens.

The Canada lynx, Lynx canadensis, was listed as threatened on March 24, 2004, by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Canada lynx are medium-sized cats, generally 30-35 inches long and weighing 18-23 pounds. They have large feet adapted to walking on snow, long legs, tufts on the ears, and black-tipped tails. They are highly adapted for hunting snowshoe hare, the primary prey, in the snows of the boreal forest.

A report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department’s Montana Field Office offers some insights.

Lynx in the contiguous United States are at the southern margins of a widely-distributed range across Canada and Alaska. The center of the North American range is in north-central Canada. Lynx are found in coniferous forests that have cold, snowy winters and provide a prey base of snowshoe hare. Lynx, primarily found in northern Maine, prey almost exclusively on snowshoe hare, so the fate of both species are linked. Maine’s population, believed to be several hundred animals, is contiguous with populations in southern Québec and northern New Brunswick.

Lynx can only flourish in a large boreal forest that contains appropriate forest types, snow depths and high snowshoe hare densities. In the Northeast, lynx were most likely to be in areas that support deep snow (106 inches annually), associated with regenerating boreal forest landscapes.

A Canada lynx in the wild.

A Canada lynx in the wild.

Lynx are highly mobile and have a propensity to travel long distances, particularly when prey becomes scarce.

Some believe both lynx and coyotes would compete for the same food, but during a recent 12-year study, it was found that is not the case. Lynx roam the deep snow without problems, while coyotes travel more in packs along trails and road systems, and are more likely to attack larger prey, such as deer.

Another question: do Canada lynx and coyotes attack each other? In the wild coyotes kill Canada lynx, but Canada lynx don’t kill coyotes.

The historic and current range of the lynx in the contiguous United States is within the southern extensions of the forests of the Northeast, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains.

The lynx is listed in 14 states that support the environment needed to sustain the animal. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are three of them.

The environment in Maine is perfect to support Canada lynx populations. Harsh winters, deep snow, dense evergreen forests and sub-zero temperatures are exactly what the lynx likes. But, due to extensive hunting for its pelts in the 1960s, the cat nearly disappeared from Maine. Only a new law protecting the lynx, enacted in 1967, has protected it from hunting and trapping. It is illegal to hunt or trap Canada lynx in Maine.

Canada lynx are a federally-listed Threatened Species. There is no open season for the trapping or hunting of lynx in Maine. To protect lynx and to help Maine trappers avoid accidentally taking lynx, the department has delineated a lynx protection zone in northern Maine where special regulations are in effect.

It is believed the lynx population in Maine is at a historic high. More than 1,000 adult lynx are believed to be inhabiting the Maine forests. Even though it doesn’t sound like very many, compared to other fur bearing animals in the state, the lynx is actually living at the edge of its range.

Although the lynx was placed on the federal-threatened species list, it is only listed as a species of special concern in the state of Maine.

Legal trapping, snaring, and hunting for bobcat, coyote, wolverine, and other furbearers create a potential for incidental capture of lynx. Lynx persist throughout their range despite the incidental catch that presumably has occurred throughout the past, probably at higher levels than presently.

Even though the animal rights group won a ruling about the state taking steps to prevent the occasional accidental trappings, they were not successful in their request for temporary suspension of some trapping where lynx are present in northern Maine.

Subsequently, inadvertent trappings of Canada lynx occur from time to time.

As far as human interaction is concerned, various reports have described it as ‘fearsome’, warning that it ‘could eat pets’ and be ‘aggressive if cornered’. According to the Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in Ceredigion, as of October 2017, there have never been any recorded attacks of a lynx on a human, but they are a wild animal… and will attack if cornered or trapped.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the four NFL teams to never appear in a Super Bowl.

Answer can be found here.