SCORES & OUTDOORS: Turkey was almost national bird

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey as the national bird of the United States, but he never publicly voiced his opposition to the bald eagle.

In a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache, on January 26, 1783, he wrote how he disapproved of the Society of Cincinnati, which he described as a chivalric order, for having a bald eagle in its crest.

He wrote, “Others object to the bald eagle, as looking too much like a Dindon [turkey]. For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk [osprey]; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”

The wild turkey, throughout its range, plays a significant role in the cultures of many Native American tribes all over North America. Eastern Native American tribes consumed both the eggs and meat. They provided habitat by burning down portions of forests to create artificial meadows which would attract mating birds, and thus making the hunting of the turkeys much easier.

Of course, clothing and headdress of many chiefs and significant people of the tribe were made from turkey feathers.

Thanksgiving is next week, but do we really know anything about the bird that we cherish at our dinner tables on that day?

There are two species of large birds in the genus Meleagris native to North America. The domestic turkey is the bird most commonly referred to when the term “turkey” is used.

Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of the beak, and a fleshy bulge that hangs from the top of its beak called a snood. As with many species, the female (hen) is smaller than the male (tom or gobbler), and much less colorful. With wingspans of almost six feet, the turkeys are by far the largest birds in the open forests in which they live, and are rarely mistaken for any other species.

When Europeans first encountered turkeys in the Americas they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl, also known as a turkey-cock from its importation to Central Europe through Turkey, and the name of that country stuck as the name of the bird. The confusion is also reflected in the scientific name: meleagris is Greek for guinea-fowl.

The name given to a group of turkeys is a rafter, although they are sometimes incorrectly referred to as a gobble or flock.

Several other birds which are sometimes called turkeys are particularly closely related: the Australian brush-turkey and the Australian Bustard. The bird sometimes called a Water Turkey is actually an Anhinga.

While the large domestic turkey is generally unable to fly, the smaller wild turkey can fly extremely well. This is usually enough to perch in the branches of trees, however, it is an ineffective method of transportation. Turkey chicks are unable to fly for the first two weeks after they hatch.

And what about the first Thanksgiving? Many myths.

As the Puritans prepared for winter in 1621, they gathered anything they could find, including Wampanoag supplies.

One day, Samoset, a leader of the Abenaki, and Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) visited the settlers. Squanto was a Wampanoag who had experience with other settlers and knew English. Squanto helped the settlers grow corn and use fish to fertilize their fields. After several meetings, a formal agreement was made between the settlers and the native people and they joined together to protect each other from other tribes in March 1621.

One day that fall, four settlers were sent to hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The Wampanoag heard gunshots and alerted their leader, Massasoit, who thought the English might be preparing for war. Massasoit visited the English settlement with 90 of his men to see if the war rumor was true.

Soon after their visit, the Native Americans realized that the English were only hunting for the harvest celebration. Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast and for three days, the English and native men, women, and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat, far from today’s traditional Thanksgiving feast. Notice, there was no turkey.

Although prayers and thanks were probably offered at the 1621 harvest gathering, the first recorded religious Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth happened two years later in 1623. On this occasion, the colonists gave thanks to God for rain after a two-month drought.

Much of what most modern Americans eat on Thanksgiving was not available in 1621.

The peace between the Native Americans and settlers lasted for only a generation. The Wampanoag people do not share in the popular reverence for the traditional New England Thanksgiving. For them, the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed. Since 1970, many native people have gathered at the statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Massachusetts, each Thanksgiving Day to remember their ancestors and the strength of the Wampanoag.

One other thing about the turkey. Did you know that it missed by one vote of being our national bird instead of the bald eagle.

Kind of gives you some food for thought, doesn’t it?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Super Bowl was the only one not designated with Roman numerals?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Why are Canada Geese flying north in November?

Canada Geese in their familiar V-formation. (The Town Line file photo by Joan Chaffee)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

My wife and I had a good friend visit with us last week, and following many different conversations, she asked the question, “Why are Canada geese flying north in November?”

Interesting question.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are several possibilities, but in fall it’s likely these are family groups moving around, now that the yearlings can fly, in search of feeding grounds. Canada geese raise their young near water, where the goslings can feed and, if necessary, dive or swim away to escape predators. In late summer the adults temporarily become flightless as they molt their wing feathers. This usually takes about six weeks, during which the geese remain grounded. Once the young have learned to fly, and the parents have regained their flight, the whole family will take off from their nesting grounds to find more productive feeding areas – and this movement could be in any direction. This happens in the late summer before the massive southward migration as temperatures drop across the continent.

First and second year geese (not old enough to breed – most Canada Geese don’t breed until they are four years old), along with those that lost nests early in the breeding season also undertake a molt migration. Individuals may move several to hundreds of miles during the late spring and summer to large bodies of water where they will be safer as they molt their wing feathers. In September and October many of these individuals will be returning from this seasonal journey, and again may be seen flying in almost any direction.

Also, bear in mind that there are increasingly large numbers of resident Canada Geese across North America. These birds do not migrate at all, and so you may see them at any time of year flying in any direction. Their numbers have been growing exponentially since the mid-20th century and they have begun to be seen as nuisances in some communities.

Canada Geese are of low concern conservation-wise and have increased in numbers between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The total North American population in 2015 was between 4.2 million to over 5.6 million.

The proliferation of lawns, golf courses and parks offers Canada Geese such reliable habitat that in some areas the birds stay all year round instead of migrating like they used to do in the past.

Canada Geese are especially drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators.

Our friend noted that these geese were in their flight V formation, and there were three separate groups.

Johnnie St. Vrain, of Times-Call, states that what she may be seeing are geese that decided this is as far south as they needed to go. They probably came from further north in Canada. They’ll spend the night on a relatively large reservoir or lake where they feel safe. In the morning, they’ll fly out to whatever feeding grounds they have. They might be flying to a local park or to a nearby cornfield.

If their feeding ground is north of their roosting area, you’ll see them flying north in the morning, but you might miss them heading back south that evening.

Some of these winter geese fly in from neighboring states. Others fly down from the mountains to spend the season in front-range cities.

Geese are pretty well adapted. They will fly only as far south as they need to make a living.

Historically, most Canada geese would migrate through this area, with very few sticking around. But agriculture, specifically the grain left in farmers’ fields, has caused geese to spend winters here.

The geese that fly north-to-south in fall are less noticeable. They fly a couple thousand feet high.

But locally, large numbers of geese will sit out on a lake. Their warmth will keep the water open. The geese might move when we’ve had really cold weather and a lot of the lakes around here ice up and become unavailable. But we have enough warm days, that if there’s enough geese hanging out, it will create holes they can stay in. Or they’ll stay on the river, but they don’t like that as much.

Canada Geese mate for life with very low “divorce rates,” and pairs remain together throughout the year. They mate “assortatively.” Larger males mate with larger females and the smaller males mate with smaller females. In a given pair, the male is usually the larger of the two.

Migrating flocks generally include loose aggregations of family groups and individuals, in both spring and fall. Flights usually begin at dusk, but may begin anytime of the day, and birds fly both night and day. They move in a V-formation, with experienced individuals taking turns leading the flock.

Our friend lives on the river in Fairfield, which is probably why she sees these flocks of Canada geese flying north. There are many cornfields north of Fairfield.

It may be worth paying a little more attention to see if they return at night.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The New England Patriots have appeared in 11 Super Bowls, the most in NFL history. Name the three teams that are next with eight appearances each.

The answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The proliferation of stink bugs in the world around us

brown marmorated stink bug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

They seem to have invaded our environment and taken up permanent residence in the state of Maine. We are seeing more and more of them in and around our homes. More so this time of year when the critters are attempting to come indoors where its warm. They are commonly known as stink bugs.

The brown marmorated stink bugs are an invasive species and are considered a serious crop pest. They are notorious at attacking especially corn and potatoes. They were accidentally introduced in the United States from Asia. It is believed to have hitched a ride as a stow-away in packing crates or on various types of machinery. The first documented specimen was collected in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1996. It is now found in the eastern half of the U.S. as well as California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Since arriving from Asia, the stink bug spread quickly from state to state, and is now listed as a top invasive species of interest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 2013. They spread quickly due to their ability to lay more than 100 eggs each spring and summer. The USDA now reports the stink bug can be found in 44 states.

It is easily identifiable by its brown color, six legs, shield-like pattern on its shell, white segments on its antennas and the cilantro-like smell it emits when scared or crushed.

The stink bug gets its name because it releases an odor when disturbed or when crushed. They will emit a foul-smelling chemical when they are injured, startled or attacked.

Generally, adult stink bugs feed on fruits, while nymphs will dine on leaves, stems and fruit. Stink bugs eat peaches, apples, peppers, soybeans, tomatoes, grapes and others. According to USDA records, the stink bug caused farmers to lose $31 million in 2010, which is the most up-to-date figures available. Their ability to possibly spread throughout the country has the agricultural community nervous.

In the fall, they search for sites to avoid the winter weather. They re-emerge in early spring and become active. During the warmer summer months, they can be found congregating en masse on the sides of buildings. Stink bugs have a life expectancy of nine to 10 months.

They enter homes through windows, cracked foundations, dryer vents and door jambs. Once inside, they seek refuge in warm places, like insulated walls. It is not uncommon to find thousands of them inside a house.

Stink bugs are not poisonous to humans and do not normally bite. Although native stink bug species exist in the U.S., none have caused damage to crops and invaded homes in numbers like the brown marmorated stink bug. However, some people are allergic to the marmorated stink bug, with reactions that include eye watering, congestion and coughing.

Stink bugs present no known danger of damaging the home, however, large amounts of dead stink bugs in the walls of the home can attract carpet beetles, which eat wool. That may explain why, all of a sudden, some of your clothes hanging in closets have developed holes.

To prevent stink bugs from entering homes and buildings, seal cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys and underneath the wood fascia and other openings. Use a good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk. If you need to remove stink bugs already established in the home, a vacuum cleaner can aid in the removal. However, make sure to empty the vacuum cleaner outdoors after using to avoid the odor that will probably permeate throughout the house from disturbing the bugs.

Although studies are being conducted on how to handle the growing problem, farmers don’t currently have too many options. Pesticides that are used for other bugs can work, however, unless the pesticide hits the bug directly, it won’t make much of different in the stink bug population.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry asks anyone who finds a stink bug to take a picture and fill out an online survey. That could be a cumbersome project.

I have not seen any marmorated stink bugs in my home, but I have seen many around homes of family and friends, especially those residing in rural areas. Most merely dismiss it as nothing more than a nuisance and simply deal with them one at a time, as they appear.

What else can you do?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the New England Patriots all time leading rusher?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Talk always turns to the weather; what is an Indian Summer?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Isn’t it amazing how when you begin a conversation with someone, inevitably, it always leads to the weather. What would we do if we didn’t have the weather to talk about. Maybe some of us would never speak.

Whether you’re at the supermarket, church, or just bumping into a friend on the street, the conversation always goes something like, “What a nice day?” or “boy it sure is hot enough.” Get the idea?

Well, the other day, a colleague and I started talking about whether this recent stretch of weather constituted an “Indian Summer.” Which prompted me to think, “what really is an Indian summer and what determines whether we have one or not?”

An Indian summer is unseasonably warm, dry and calm weather, usually following a period of colder weather or frost in the late autumn, in September, October or early November. The Old Farmers Almanac describes it as taking place between November 11 and 20. It states, “During true Indian summer, the atmosphere looks hazy or smokey, and the weather is calm and dry.”

Modern ideas on what an Indian summer constitutes vary, but the most widely accepted value for determining whether an Indian summer is occurring is that the weather must be above 70 degrees for seven days after the autumnal equinox. The term Indian summer has been used for more than two centuries. The origin of other “Indian” phrases are well-known as referring to North American Indians, who prefer to be called Native Americans, or, in Canada, First Nations. The term Indian summer reached England in the 19th century, during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indians in question were the Native Americans, and the term began use there in the late 18th century.

Indian summer is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by the French-American soldier-turned-farmer J. H. St. John de Crevecoeur: “Then a severe frost succeeds which prepares it to receive the voluminous coat of snow which is soon to follow; though it is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the Indian Summer.”

There are many references to the term in American literature in the following hundred years or so. In the 1830s Indian summer began to be used figuratively, to refer to any late flowering following a period of decline. It was well enough established as a phrase by 1834 for John Greenleaf Whittier to use the term that way, when in his poem “Memories,” he wrote of “The Indian Summer of the heart!”

Or, Thomas DeQuincey, in a republishing of Bentley’s Works of Thomas DeQuincey, 1855, wrote: “An Indian summer crept stealthily over his closing days.”

Also, in his story The Guardian Angel, Oliver Wendell Holmes mentions “an Indian summer of serene widowhood.”

As a climatic event it is known throughout the world and is most frequently associated with the eastern and central states of the U.S., which have a suitable climate to generate the weather pattern. For example, a wide variation of temperature and wind strength from summer to winter.

Why Indian? Well, no one knows but, as is commonplace when no one knows, many people have guessed.

Some say it was from the prairie fires deliberately set by Indian tribes; from raids on European settlements by Indian war parties, which usually ended in autumn; or, in parallel with other Indian terms, it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was a substitute copy of the real thing.

But my grandfather, who could spin a yarn with the best of them, had the most creative I’ve ever heard.

It seems an Indian chief was concerned about a hunting party that was delayed in returning from a late summer gathering of meat for the winter. The year had been an extremely difficult one and the tribe needed the buffalo, deer and turkey meat for their winter consumption, and the hides for clothing and shelters. Fearing the crops in the fields would go to waste before the braves returned to harvest, the chief sat at his campfire and began to feverishly smoke a pipe, and did so for days, until the air was filled with smokey, hot air.

Once the hunting party made its return, the air was still warm enough to gather the crops that had not been damaged by frost, that the chief feared would be destroyed by the impending cold weather. By warming the air with the smoke from his pipe, the chief, essentially, saved the crops.

Makes sense to me.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Rob Gronkowski is second on the all-time total receiving yards for the New England Patriots with 7,861 yards. Who is first?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Do moose and deer ever get their antlers caught in trees?

On the left, moose in full “velvet.” On the right, deer in full “velvet.”

Roland D. Halleeby 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.

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.

The Netsilik Inuit people made bows and arrows using antlers, reinforced with strands of animal tendons braided to form a cable-backed bow. Several American Indian tribes also used antlers to make bows, gluing tendons to the bow instead of tying them as cables. An antler bow, made in the early 19th century, is on display at Brooklyn Museum. Its manufacture is attributed to the Yankton Sioux.

Throughout history large deer antlers from a suitable species, like the red deer, were often cut down to its shaft and its lowest tine and used as a one-pointed pickax.

Antler headdresses were worn by shamans and other spiritual figures in various cultures, and for dances. Antlers are still worn in traditional dances.

Gathering shed antlers or “sheds” attracts dedicated practitioners who refer to it colloquially as shed hunting, or bone picking. In the United States, the middle of December to the middle of February is considered shed hunting season, when deer, elk, and moose begin to shed.

In the United States in 2017 sheds fetched around $10 per pound, with larger specimens in good condition attracting higher prices. The most desirable antlers have been found soon after being shed. The value is reduced if they have been damaged by weathering or being gnawed by small animals. A matched pair from the same animal is a very desirable find but often antlers are shed separately and may be separated by several miles. Some enthusiasts for shed hunting use trained dogs to assist them. Most hunters will follow ‘game trails’ (trails where deer frequently run) to find these sheds or they will build a shed trap to collect the loose antlers in the late winter/early spring.

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.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The familiar sights and sounds of the Canada Geese

Canadian Goose

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We’ve all heard them. The honking sounds overhead as the Canada geese move south in their familiar V formation. Let’s learn a little more about these large birds that at one time were considered extinct.

The Canada goose, Branta canadensis, is a large wild goose species. It is native to arctic and temperate regions of North America, and its migration occasionally reaches northern Europe. Like most geese, the Canada goose is primarily herbivorous and normally migratory; it tends to be found on or close to fresh water.

Extremely skilled at living in human-altered areas, Canada geese have established breeding colonies in urban and cultivated habitats, which provide food and few natural predators. The success of this common park species has led to its often being considered a pest species because of its excrement, its depredation of crops, its noise, its aggressive territorial behavior towards both humans and other animals, and its habit of begging for food (caused by human hand feeding).

The Canada goose was one of the many species described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first citation for the ‘Canada goose’ dates back to 1772. The Canada goose is also colloquially referred to as the “Canadian goose”. A persistent urban legend gives the name origin as after an ornithologist surnamed “Canada,” but this is false.

Canada geese range from 30 to 43 inches in length and have a 50–73 inch wingspan. The male Canada goose usually weighs 5.7–14.3 pounds. The female looks virtually identical, but is slightly lighter at 5.3–12.1 pounds, and generally 10 percent smaller in linear dimensions than the male counterparts. The honk refers to the call of the male Canada goose, while the hrink call refers to the female goose. The calls are similar, however, the hrink is shorter and more high-pitched than the honk of males.

This species is native to North America. It breeds in Canada and the northern United States in a wide range of habitats. The Great Lakes region maintains a very large population of Canada geese. Canada geese occur year-round in the southern part of their breeding range, including most of the eastern seaboard and the Pacific coast. Between California and South Carolina in the southern United States and northern Mexico, Canada geese are primarily present as migrants from further north during the winter.

By the early 20th century, overhunting and loss of habitat in the late 19th century and early 20th century had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of this bird in its native range. The giant Canada goose subspecies was believed to be extinct in the 1950s until, in 1962, a small flock was discovered wintering in Rochester, Minnesota. Harvey K. Nelson, talked Forrest Lee into leaving Minnesota to head the center’s Canada goose production and restoration program. Forrest soon had 64 pens with 64 breeding pairs of screened, high-quality birds. The project involved private, state, and federal resources and relied on the expertise and cooperation of many individuals. By the end of 1981, more than 6,000 giant Canada geese had been released at 83 sites in 26 counties in North Dakota. With improved game laws and habitat recreation and preservation programs, their populations have recovered in most of their range, although some local populations may still be declining.

In recent years, Canada goose populations in some areas have grown substantially, so much so that many consider them pests for their droppings, bacteria in their droppings, noise, and confrontational behavior. This problem is partially due to the removal of natural predators and an abundance of safe, man-made bodies of water near food sources, such as those found on golf courses, in public parks and beaches, and in planned communities. Due in part to the interbreeding of various migratory subspecies with the introduced nonmigratory giant subspecies, Canada geese are frequently a year-around feature of such urban environments.

Contrary to its normal migration routine, large flocks of Canada geese have established permanent residence along the Pacific coast of North America from south-western British Columbia (specifically Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland), south to the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California. There are also resident Atlantic coast populations, such as on Chesapeake Bay, in Virginia’s James River regions, and in the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), and nearby Hillsborough. Some Canada geese have taken up permanent residence as far south as Florida, in places such as retention ponds in apartment complexes. In 2015, the Ohio population of Canada geese was reported as roughly 130,000, with the number likely to continue increasing. Many of the geese, previously migratory, reportedly had become native, remaining in the state even in the summer. The increase was attributed to a lack of natural predators, an abundance of water, and plentiful grass in manicured lawns in urban areas.

Canada geese are primarily herbivores, although they sometimes eat small insects and fish. Their diet includes green vegetation and grains. The Canada goose eats a variety of grasses when on land. The Canada goose also eats beans and grains such as wheat, rice, and corn when they are available. In the water, it feeds from aquatic plants.

In urban areas, it is also known to pick food out of garbage bins. They are also sometimes hand-fed a variety of grains and other foods by humans in parks. Canada geese prefer lawngrass in urban areas. They usually graze in open areas with wide clearance to avoid potential predators.

Canada geese are known for their seasonal migrations. Most Canada geese have staging or resting areas where they join up with others. Their autumn migration can be seen from September to the beginning of November. The early migrants have a tendency to spend less time at rest stops and go through the migration much faster. The later birds usually spend more time at rest stops. Some geese return to the same nesting ground year after year and lay eggs with their mate, raising them in the same way each year. This is recorded from the many tagged geese which frequent the East Coast.

Flying in the V formation has been the subject of study by researchers. The front position is rotated since flying in front consumes the most energy.

The lifespan in the wild of geese that survive to adulthood ranges from 10 to 24 years.

Canada geese instinctively nest on higher ground near water. Known predators of eggs and goslings include coyotes, Arctic foxes, northern raccoons, red foxes, large gulls, common ravens, American crows, carrion crows and both brown and American black bears.

Once they reach adulthood, due to their large size and often aggressive behavior, Canada geese are rarely preyed on, although prior injury may make them more vulnerable to natural predators. Beyond humans, adults can be taken by coyotes and grey wolves. Avian predators that are known to kill adults, as well as young geese, include snowy owls, golden eagles and bald eagles and, though rarely on large adult geese, great horned owls, and peregrine falcons. Adults are quite vigorous at displacing potential predators from the nest site, with predator prevention usually falling to the larger male of the pair. Canada geese are quite wary of humans where they are regularly hunted and killed, but can otherwise become habituated to fearlessness towards humans, especially where they are fed by them. This often leads to the geese becoming overly aggressive towards humans, and large groups of the birds may be considered a nuisance if they are causing persistent issues to humans and other animals in the surrounding area.

Canada geese are susceptible to avian bird flus.

In North America, nonmigratory Canada goose populations have been on the rise. The species is frequently found on golf courses, parking lots, and urban parks, which would have previously hosted only migratory geese on rare occasions. Owing to its adaptability to human-altered areas, it has become one of the most common waterfowl species in North America. Canada geese are protected from hunting and capture outside of designated hunting seasons in the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and in Canada under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. In both countries, commercial transactions such as buying or trading are mostly prohibited and the possession, hunting, and interfering with the activity of the animals are subject to restrictions.

In Maine, the Early Canada geese may be hunted from September 1 – 25, in the north, south and coastal zones. The Regular Canada Geese, including white-fronted geese, may be hunted, in the north zone, from October 1 through December 9; in the south zone, October 1 through October, and October 30 through December 26; and coastal zone October 1 through October 12, and October 27 through January 2, 2021.

Canada geese have been implicated in a number of bird strikes by aircraft. Their large size and tendency to fly in flocks may exacerbate their impact. In the United States, the Canada goose is the second-most damaging bird strike to airplanes, with the most damaging being turkey vultures. Canada geese can cause fatal crashes when they strike an aircraft’s engine. The FAA has reported 1,772 known civil aircraft strikes within the United States between 1990–2018.

As a large, common wild bird, the Canada goose is a common target of hunters, especially in its native range. Drake Larsen, a researcher in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University, described them to Atlantic magazine as “so yummy…good, lean, rich meat. I find they are similar to a good cut of beef.”

In 2000, the North American population for the geese was estimated to be between 4 million and 5 million birds.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have each won 17 NBA titles. Which two franchises are tied for third on the list.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Squirrels: my cultured, refined little thieves

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I know I’ve written about gray squirrels in the past, but, I have to tell you about the two in particular that have made their home in my backyard. High in a tree, overlooking the garage, sits a large squirrels’ nest where these two reside. You rarely see them together, but when you do, it’s a comedy act rivaled by none.

I refer to them as my cultured squirrels. They have done such amazing things, that I have dubbed them Martha and Stewart because of some of their etiquettes.

For starters, my backyard is peppered with black chestnut pits. I learned a long time ago those nuts are a staple for these scavenging rodents. Annually, my wife and I visit a cemetery in China where there are horse chestnut trees. We gather a bagful and feed them to the squirrels, a little at a time.

Well, the black chestnuts were a mystery until about 10 years ago when I learned there is a black chestnut tree in the middle of Waterville, about 150 yards from my house – by the way the crow flies. These squirrels obviously make that journey to acquire those nuts, stash them in the nest, and discard the pits. I have to rake up the pits because the last thing I need is another tree growing in my backyard.

We watch them frolic around, chasing each other up and around the large pines in the backyard. We even hear them running across the peak of the roof to our house in the early mornings. Once recently, they actually looked like they were dancing on our porch railing. I had never seen that before, but there they were, face-to-face, with front feet wrapped around each other like they were about to dance to a Mozart waltz.

But, what had transpired before that was what really astonishes me. Next to the porch, on a bench, are my trash cans. One metal, one plastic. Now, quite a while ago, the squirrels had chewed a hole through the plastic lid. I repaired the hole and it stayed that way for about a year and a half. The other morning, I noticed the patch was removed. So, I applied another. Meanwhile, with the holidays coming up, my wife and I did some sorting of various foods in the pantry, and discovered a container of some outdated crackers – mini crackers about the size of a nickel. We bagged them with the rest of the weekly trash, and deposited the bag into the trash can outside for Friday’s pickup.

A few days later, I noticed one of the squirrels sitting upright on the railing, chomping away on what looked like one of the crackers. So, I couldn’t help but sit and watch his next move. Sure enough, from my vantage point, I could see where this squirrel didn’t bother to undo the repaired patch, he chewed a new hole through the lid. He jumped off the railing, went down the hole into the trash can, and came out with another cracker. I watched him do that about six times before he noticed me, and left the area.

I went outside, looked inside the trash can, and the bag containing the crackers was split open. So I placed a brick temporaily over the hole. Here’s my question: How did that squirrel know that crackers were present in a plastic bag, tied securely at the top, and deposited into a plastic trash receptacle, with the lid snapped on tightly?

It boggles my mind how keen a sense of smell these little critters have.

I wrote this column last Sunday, and thought I was finished. Well, Martha or Stewart, were back to their old tricks. As I was getting snacks together in the kitchen before the start of the football game, I saw one of them sitting on the railing licking a paper muffin cup. My wife and I had muffins for breakfast on Saturday, and he was cleaning up the leftovers. Then, I noticed in front of him, a K-cup from our Keurig machine, which it had opened at the top, and was literally having coffee grounds with his muffin. I couldn’t tell if it had a pinky in the air while doing this.

It had enlarged the hole where the brick was sitting on top of the trash can, and gone inside to help himself.

Now comes Monday: During the afternoon, there they were again, this time in the axel of a branch on a maple tree, where the two were giving each other a bath, the way a mother cat would do to its kittens. An attempt to photographed them failed. I needed some proof about these two squirrels, because when I tell these stories, people look at me like I was crazy.

The trash is now gone, so I guess the next step is to dispose of the plastic can, and purchase another metal one. I don’t mind feeding the squirrels, but my trash is personal.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the New England Patriots used three quarterbacks in the same season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The three most common owls in Maine are quite different

northern screech-owl

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

During the still of the night at camp, we can hear the sounds of barred owls communicating with each other.

One night last week, we could hear three calling out for each other from different locations. It’s not quite as soothing as listening to the loons, but it does put me back to sleep.

However, one evening, one of our neighbors said they heard a screech owl one evening. That got me to thinking. I didn’t think there were any in Maine.

Generally, it is known there aren’t that many different species of owls in Maine. Mainly, we have the Great Horned Owl, Northern Saw-Whet Owl and the very common Barred Owl. The Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl live in a wide variety of forested habitats and occupy dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments such as golf courses, cemeteries, and parks with adjacent woodlots.

But first, let’s look at the screech owl.

The northern screech-owls are found in eastern states, such as New Jersey and New York. The screech owls are named for their piercing calls. The normal territorial call is not a hoot as with some owls, but a trill consisting of more than four individual calls per second given in rapid succession (although the sound does not resemble screeching or screaming). They also have a kind of “song” which is used in courtship and, as a duet, between members of a pair. Calls differ widely between species in type and pitch, and in the field are often the first indication of these birds’ presence, as well as the most reliable means to distinguish between species. The distinctness of many species of screech owls was first realized when vastly differing calls of externally similar birds from adjacent regions were noted.

According to a state website, if there are any screech owls in Maine, they would be found in the extreme southern part of the state. Actually, eleven species of owls live in or visit Maine for all or a portion of the year. The great horned owl and the barred owl are the most widely distributed owls in the state.

Most owls are nocturnal predators, with hooked bills and needle-sharp talons. They have wide wings, light bodies, and feathers specially designed to allow them to silently swoop down on prey. Depending on the species, owl calls are characterized as being either a hoot, a screech, or a whistle.

northern saw-whet owl

The northern saw-whet owl, Aegolius acadicus, is a small owl native to North America. Saw-whet owls are one of the smallest owl species in North America. They can be found in dense thickets or conifers, often at eye level, although they can also be found some 20 feet up. Saw-whets are often in danger of being preyed upon by larger owls and raptors. Northern saw-whet owls are also migratory birds without any strict pattern.

Their habitat is coniferous forests, sometimes mixed or deciduous woods, across North Ameri­ca. Most birds nest in coniferous type forests of the North but winter in mixed or deciduous woods. They also love riparian areas because of the abundance of prey there. They live in tree cavities and old nests made by other small raptors. Some are permanent residents, while others may migrate south in winter or move down from higher elevations. Their range covers most of North America including southeastern and southcentral Alaska, southern Canada, most of the United States and the central mountains in Mexico.

They can weigh from 1.9 to 5.3 ounces, making them one of the smallest owls in North America. They are similar in size to the American robin.

The northern saw-whet owl makes a repeated tooting whistle sound. Some say they sound like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone. They usually make these sounds to find a mate, so they can be heard more often April through June when they are looking for mates. Despite being more common in spring, they do vocalize year round.

great horned owl

The great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, also known as the tiger owl (originally derived from early naturalists’ description as the “winged tiger” or “tiger of the air”) or the hoot owl, is a large owl native to the Americas. It is an extremely adaptable bird with a vast range and is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas. Its primary diet is rabbits and hares, rats and mice, and voles, although it freely hunts any animal it can overtake, including rodents and other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

The great horned owl is generally colored for camouflage. The underparts of the species are usually light with some brown horizontal barring; the upper parts and upper wings are generally a mottled brown usually bearing heavy, complex, darker markings. All subspecies are darkly barred to some extent along the sides, as well.

The great horned owl is the second-heaviest owl in North America, after the closely related, but very different-looking snowy owl. Although the snowy owl is not common in Maine, I have seen one on two different occasions. Once on the fence post of a pasture, and the other standing in the breakdown lane on the interstate highway.

The great horned owl is heavily built, with a barrel-shaped body, a large head, and broad wings. Its size can vary considerably across its range, with populations in interior Alaska and Ontario being largest and populations in California and Texas being smallest, though those from the Yucatán Peninsula and Baja California appear to be even smaller. Adult great horned owls range in length from 17 to 25 inches, and possess a wingspan of three to five feet). Females are somewhat larger than males.[

They are distributed throughout most of North America. I once saw a great horned owl in flight ahead of us while riding a snowmobile trail in Palermo. It was after dark and I can say they are a magnificent bird.

Typically, great horned owls are highly sedentary, often capable of utilizing a single territory throughout their mature lives. Although some species such as snowy owls, northern saw-whet owls, long-eared and short-eared owls are true migrants, most North American owls are not migratory and will generally show fidelity to a single territory year around. In great horned owls, mated pairs occupy territories year-round and long-term. Territories are established and maintained through hooting, with highest activity before egg-laying and second peak in autumn when juveniles disperse Most territorial de­fense is per­form­­ed by males, but females frequently assist their partners in hooting contests with neighbors or intruders.

barred owl

The barred owl, Strix varia, also known as the northern barred owl or, more informally, hoot owl, is a large species of owl.

Barred owls are brown to gray overall, with dark striping on the underside contrasted immediately above that with similarly-dark and tight vertical barring about their throat and nape. Barred owls are largely native to eastern North America, but have expanded their range to the west coast of North America where they are considered invasive. Mature forests are their preferred habitat, but they can also acclimate to various gradients of open woodlands. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, but this species is an opportunistic predator and is known to prey upon other small vertebrates such as birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as a variety of invertebrates.

The barred owl is distributed throughout most of the eastern United States, as well as much of southern Canada. They are found as far northeast as much of Nova Scotia (western two-thirds), New Brunswick and in much of Québec, up to Lake Mistassini, and Ontario, up to Moosonee.

The barred owl ranges in every part of the eastern United States continuously from northernmost Maine down throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, much of the Midwest, the Southeast United States and all of Florida. A wandering barred owl was once seen flying over Lake Michigan 30 miles from the nearest land.

The barred owl, like most owls, is largely adapted to nocturnality. Between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., juvenile barred owls were recorded to sleep an average of 28 percent of each hour. Peak times in Minnesota were found to be right after sunset and just before dawn. Nonetheless, they are not as fully nocturnal as many owls and rank around sixth amongst 19 regular North American owl species for the regularity of their activity outside of nightfall, especially in particular circumstances such as when a rival or a human impersonator is emitting barred owls calls or whilst hunting. Often daytime activity tends to be early in the morning or around dusk but potentially at any time (overcast days being preferred).

Owls are interesting creatures. An old myth exists that owls are intelligent because they look intelligent. Well, here is the truth: The wise owl appears in everything from The Iliad to Winnie the Pooh. But, it turns out, though they’re excellent hunters, owls probably aren’t any smarter than a lot of other birds. In fact, they may be significantly worse at problem solving than other big-brained birds like crows and parrots.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the only two players to win a World Series with both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Noisy, plentiful acorns; obscure beech nuts

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While preparing breakfast last Saturday, I glanced out the kitchen window towards my recently cleaned up garden plot. As I looked around I noticed some movement, and commented to my wife: “I think I have the title for a new country song, ‘There’s a squirrel in the compost pile.’

I’m not sure how that translates to pickup trucks, bass boats and lost loves, but I’m sure it has a place in there somewhere.

Anyway, that prompted me to ask myself what could be in the compost that would interest a squirrel. After all, it has nothing more than plant stems, vines from squashes and various roots and stalks. There were a few tiny, fledgling fruits from these items that didn’t have a chance to mature, but that would be it.

Then my mind rewound to camp, and the food sources out there. Nearby there is a large oak tree and a mature, but fairly young beech tree. Most of you have probably heard acorns when they fall from the trees, and land on something solid. They sound like gunfire, exploding bombs or branches falling. They make quite a loud noise. The presence of Beech nuts, on the other hand, are hardly even noticeable.

Wildlife that consume acorns as an important part of their diets includes birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals include mice, squirrels and several other rodents – ahh, squirrels. Large mammals include pigs, bears, and deer. Acorns are in high demand.

Acorns are attractive to animals because they are large and efficiently consumed or cached. They are rich in nutrients and contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin.

Acorns are too heavy for wind dispersal, so the spreading of the seed is dependant on animals like the squirrels who cache the nuts for future use. Squirrels scatter-hoard the acorns in a variety of locations in which it is possible for them to germinate and thrive. On occasion, the odd acorn may be lost, or the squirrel may die before consuming all the acorns it has stored. A small number of acorns may germinate and survive, producing the next generation of oak trees.

As far as humans go, acorns have frequently been used as a coffee substitute. The Confederates in the American Civil War and the Germans during World War II, which were cut off from coffee supplies by Union and Allied blockades, respectively, are particularly notable past instances of this use of acorns.

As far as the beech nuts go, again going back to camp and the beech tree near our site, there doesn’t seem to be much activity by squirrels in the area of the tree. Of course, the beech nut seems to defy gravity. It is a small nut with soft-spined husks. Although it is high in tannin content, they are bitter. The nut can be extracted by peeling back the husk, but your fingers may hurt dealing with the spines. Maybe that is why they are not that attractive to squirrels.

Nowhere in all my research did I find any reference to wildlife that feast on the beech nut.

Beech trees are better known for other things than producing a source of food. The Beech bark is extremely thin and scars easily. Carvings, such as lovers’ initials, remain because the beech tree is unable to heal itself.

On a different note, slats of Beech wood are washed in a caustic soda to leach out any flavor and is used in the bottom of fermentation tanks for Budweiser beer. This allows a surface for the yeast to settle, so that it doesn’t pile up too deep. Thus the slogan, “Beechwood Aged.” Beech is also used to smoke Westphalian ham, various sausages and some cheeses.

The American beech tree occurs only in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It is believed that it was found coast to coast prior to the Ice Age. Now they can only be found east of the Great Plains. You will rarely find the beech tree in developed areas unless it is a left over of a forest that was cut for land development.

The beech tree is also temperamental. Some trees never produce nuts while others only spawn edible nuts in certain years.

So what was that squirrel – I could not discern whether it was Martha or Stewart, my two resident rodents – looking for that day? Probably just window shopping.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who are the only two Red Sox managers to be named Manager of the Year?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Sandhill cranes becoming more abundant in central Maine

Sandhill cranes photographed in Chelsea by Gary Kennedy.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Several people now have shown me photos of a large bird that is seen grazing in the fields of central Maine. I’ve seen them before, but reports of sightings have become more frequent. They would be sandhill cranes.

The sandhill crane, Antigone canadensis), is a species of large crane of North America and extreme northeastern Siberia. The common name of this bird refers to habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska’s Sandhills on the American Plains. This is the most important stopover area for the subspecies.

Adults are gray overall; during breeding, their plumage is usually much worn and stained, particularly in the migratory populations, and looks nearly ochre. The average weight of the larger males is 10 pounds, while the average weight of females is just under 9 pounds. Sandhill cranes have red foreheads, white cheeks, and long, dark, pointed bills. In flight, their long, dark legs trail behind, and their long necks keep straight. Immature birds have reddish-brown upperparts and gray underparts. The sexes look alike. Sizes vary among the different subspecies; the average height of these birds is around to feet, seven inches, to four feet, six inches. Their wing chords are typically 16.5 – 23.6 inches, tails are 3.9 – 10.4 inches.

These cranes frequently give a loud, trumpeting call that suggests a rolled “r” in the throat, and they can be heard from a long distance. Mated pairs of cranes engage in “unison calling”. The cranes stand close together, calling in a synchronized and complex duet. The female makes two calls for every one from the male.

Sandhill cranes’ large wingspans, typically five feet, five inches to seven feet, seven inches, make them very skilled sflyers, similar in style to hawks and eagles. Using thermals to obtain lift, they can stay aloft for many hours, requiring only occasional flapping of their wings, thus expending little energy. Migratory flocks contain hundreds of birds, and can create clear outlines of the normally invisible rising columns of air (thermals) they ride.

Sandhill cranes fly south for the winter. In their wintering areas, they form flocks over 10,000. One place this happens is at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. An annual Sandhill Crane Festival is held there in November.

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird. A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is said to be of this species, but this may be from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of sandhill cranes and not belong in the genus. The oldest unequivocal sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old, older by half than the earliest remains of most living species of birds

Sandhill cranes are fairly social birds that usually live in pairs or family groups through the year. During migration and winter, unrelated cranes come together to form “survival groups” that forage and roost together. Such groups often congregate at migration and winter sites, sometimes in the thousands.

Sandhill cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often feed with their bills down to the ground as they root around for seeds and other foods, in shallow wetlands with vegetation or various upland habitats. Cranes readily eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum. Waste corn is useful to cranes preparing for migration, providing them with nutrients for the long journey. Among northern races of sandhill cranes, the diet is most varied, especially among breeding birds. They variously feed on berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.

Sandhill cranes raise one brood per year. In nonmigratory populations, laying begins between December and August. In migratory populations, laying usually begins in April or May. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest using plant material from the surrounding area. Nest sites are usually marshes, bogs, or swales, though occasionally on dry land. Females lay one to three (usually two) oval, dull brown eggs with reddish markings. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial; they hatch covered in down, with their eyes open, and able to leave the nest within a day. The parents brood the chicks for up to three weeks after hatching, feeding them intensively for the first few weeks, then gradually less frequently until they reach independence at 9 to 10 months old.

As a conspicuous ground-dwelling species, sandhill cranes are at risk from predators, which are probably the main source of mortality. Mammals such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, cougars, bobcats, and lynx hunt them given any opportunity, the first three mainly hunting large numbers of young cranes, the latter four types more rarely taking full-grown cranes in ambush excepting the prolific bobcat. Corvids, such as ravens and crows, gulls, and smaller raptors such as hawks (largely northern harriers or red-tailed hawks) feed on young cranes and eggs.

Cranes of all ages are hunted by both North American species of eagles. Mainly chicks and possibly a few adults may be preyed on by great horned owls and even the much smaller peregrine falcons has successfully killed a 6.8-pound adult sandhill crane in a stoop.

Sandhill cranes defend themselves and their young from aerial predators by jumping and kicking. Actively brooding adults are more likely to react aggressively to potential predators to defend their chicks than wintering birds, which most often normally try to evade attacks on foot or in flight. For land predators, they move forward, often hissing, with their wings open and bills pointed. If the predator persists, the crane stabs with its bill (which is powerful enough to pierce the skull of a small carnivore) and kicks.

In the 20th century, sandhill cranes were generally extirpated east of the Mississippi River. Although sandhill cranes are not considered threatened as a species. Resident populations, not migratory birds, cannot choose secure breeding habitat. Many subpopulations were destroyed by hunting or habitat change. Their desirability as a delicious game bird brought them the nickname of “Rib-eye of the sky” by a small group of modern hunters. The greater sandhill crane proper initially suffered most; by 1940, probably fewer than 1,000 birds remained. Populations have since increased greatly again. At nearly 100,000, they are still fewer than the lesser sandhill crane, which, at about 400,000 individuals, is the most plentiful crane alive today.

Some migratory populations of sandhill cranes face population threats due to interspecies competition with snow geese. duced offspring for annual releases into the refuge.

So, it is fair to summize that although they were generally extirpated east of the Mississippi River, they are making a comeback, as frequent sightings in the central Maine area are not uncommon.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Boston Red Sox player has won the most batting average titles.

The answer can be found here.