SCORES & OUTDOORS: Cardinals brighten the landscape wherever they reside

Male, left, and female cardinal

Symbolize family life and good family relation

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It seems this time of year people see more northern cardinals than any other time of the year. I know my wife and I see them year round at our home, visiting our feeders on a regular basis.

In picture postcards and greeting cards, you usually see them in a winter setting, especially around Christmas time. I have two such photos hanging on the walls of my TV room at home.

Northern Cardinals do not migrate, so they brighten the landscape wherever they reside. As a result of not migrating, they will live their entire lives within a mile or two of where they were born.

Few birds are so well loved as the Northern Cardinal. Even the female stands out with its red accents on brown. Also, unlike other bird species, the male and female cardinals both sing. Since the cardinal doesn’t appear to need much sleep, you may hear them singing in the morning well before sunrise.

Actually, besides gracing us with the beauty of its red feathers, those plumes serve a very important service to the cardinals. They keep the cardinal warm during the winter, helping the birds to survive the coldest of seasons. Seeing them in winter may help you to regain some of your personal strength, considering what that little bird is enduring during the winter. Cardinals symbolize family life and good family relations.

Some of our readers have reported that cardinals will come to the feeders at their windows, and peck against the glass. Well, males can be aggressive when defending their territory, and they frequently attack other males who intrude. This tendency sometimes leads cardinals to fly into glass windows, when they charge an “intruder” that is really their own reflection.

During the mating season, which begins in March, the males are so hot-blooded, that although they breed near birds of other species, they will never allow one of their own kind to set up housekeeping in their territory. A male cardinal can be seen frequently following another from bush to bush, emitting a note of anger, and diving aggressively towards the trespasser.

You can tell what its emotional state is by looking at its crest. If the bird is calm, the crest will lay flat, and if it is excited, the crest will lift tall and peaked.

Once he is successful in driving out the intruder, he will perch himself in his favorite tree and pour out an unmistakeable song of victory and exultation.

Cardinals are good parents. The male cardinal shares in the duties of parenthood with his mate, feeding and caring for the mother during and after incubation. He will protect his family until they are able to safely leave the nest. Young cardinals frequently follow their parents on the ground for several days after leaving the nest, and will remain until they are able to fend for themselves. During this period of caring for its mate, the male will feed the female seeds, and to the common observer, they appear to be kissing.

An interesting note about the male is that during this period, he has has the ability to change his colors to a duller shade of brown and will look more like the female. This is a camouflage to help fulfill his duties as a dedicated parent.

Cardinals will usually be parents to 3 – 4 eggs. The incubation period is 12-13 days, and the young will leave the nest about 9 – 11 days after hatching. The cardinal’s expected life span is up to 15 years.

The cardinal is a seed eater with a strong bill. He also likes fruits, small berries and insects. Towards autumn they frequently go to the tops of tall trees in search of grapes and berries. Cardinals tend to be as fond of pulpy fruits as they are of the seeds of corn and grasses. They also eat a variety of weed seeds and insects that can be harmful to humans.

The northern cardinal is abundant and widespread. It has expanded its range over the last century and the current numbers remain stable. The bird actually benefits from the growth of cities, with so many bird feeders, that they have been thriving and increasing in population since the 18th century.

It is the official bird of seven states, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

The cardinal got its name when colonists arrived in North America, because the male’s red crest reminded them of a Catholic cardinal’s biretta (headgear).

Is a cardinal hanging around your house? Don’t worry. According to folklore, a cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. They also make an appearance during times of celebration, as well as despair, to let you know they will always be with you.

Erecting bird feeders is the only way to get them to stay around. It is illegal to own a cardinal as a pet or to kill one. They are government-protected wild bird species and protected pursuant to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

So, observe them, love them, but leave them to their own world. Should you come across an injured cardinal, it is best to contact an avian rehabilitator in your area.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL team has relocated three times from its original city?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Tale of the turkeys, and the tough times they’ve been through

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is an upland ground bird native to North America. Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name from the domesticated variety being imported to Britain in ships coming from the Levant via Spain. The British at the time therefore associated the wild turkey with the country Turkey and the name prevails.

Wild turkeys prefer hardwood and mixed conifer-hardwood forests with scattered openings such as pastures, fields, orchards and seasonal marshes. They seemingly can adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as coverage and openings are widely available.

Despite their weight, wild turkeys, unlike their domesticated counterparts, are agile, fast fliers. In ideal habitat of open woodland or wooded grasslands, they may fly beneath the canopy top and find perches. They usually fly close to the ground for no more than a quarter mile.

Wild turkeys have very good eyesight, but their vision is poor at night. They will not see a predator until it is too late. At twilight most turkeys will head for the trees and roost well off the ground; it is safer to sleep here in numbers than to risk being victim to predators who hunt by night. Because wild turkeys don’t migrate, in snowier parts of the species’s habitat like the Northeast, it is very important for this bird to learn to select large conifer trees where they can fly onto the branches and shelter from blizzards.

Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. They prefer eating acorns, nuts and other hard mast of various trees, including hazel, chestnut, hickory, and pinyon pine as well as various seeds, berries such as juniper and bearberry, roots and insects. Turkeys also occasionally consume amphibians and small reptiles such as lizards and small snakes.

Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food. Early morning and late afternoon are the desired times for eating.

Males are polygamous, mating with as many hens as they can. Male wild turkeys display for females by puffing out their feathers, spreading out their tails and dragging their wings. This behavior is most commonly referred to as strutting.

Predators of eggs and nestlings include raccoons, striped skunks, groundhogs, and other rodents. Avian predators of poults include raptors such as bald eagles, barred owl, and Harris’s hawks, and even the smallish Cooper’s hawk and broad-winged hawk.

Predators of both adults and poults include coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, cougars, Canadian lynx, golden eagles and possibly American black bears.

Occasionally, if cornered, adult turkeys may try to fight off predators, and large male toms can be especially aggressive in self-defense. When fighting off predators, turkeys may kick with their legs, using the spurs on their back of the legs as a weapon, bite with their beak and ram with their relatively large bodies and may be able to deter predators up to the size of mid-sized mammals. Occasionally, turkeys may behave aggressively towards humans, especially in areas where natural habitats are scarce. They also have been seen to chase off humans as well. However, attacks can usually be deterred and minor injuries can be avoided by giving turkeys a respectful amount of space and keeping outdoor spaces clean and undisturbed. Male toms occasionally will attack parked cars and reflective surfaces thinking they see another turkey and must defend their territory. Usually a car engine and moving the car is enough to scare it off.

At the beginning of the 20th century the range and numbers of wild turkeys had plummeted due to hunting and loss of habitat. When Europeans arrived in the New World, they were found from Canada to Mexico in the millions. Europeans and their successors knew nothing about the life cycle of the bird and ecology, itself, as a science would come too late, not even in its infancy, until the end of the 19th century whereas heavy hunting began in the 17th century. Deforestation destroyed trees turkeys need to roost in.

Game managers estimate that the entire population of wild turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 by the late 1930s. By the 1940s, it was almost totally extirpated from Canada and had become localized in pockets in the United States. In the northeast they were restricted to the Appalachians, only as far north as central Pennsylvania. Early attempts used hand reared birds, a practice that failed miserably as the birds were unable to survive.

Wild turkeys were once native to Maine but were extirpated in the early 1800s from over-hunting and the clearing of forests along the coast. But in 1978, wild turkey were successfully reintroduced in Maine by state biologists – and the birds have thrived since.

But not everybody is so enthusiastic about the state’s success in reintroducing wild turkeys, which began back in the 1970s in York County. In fact, plenty of Mainers think we have far too many turkeys on the landscape and blame the birds for a variety of ills.

In some parts of the state, there are a lot of turkeys. And though the state deals with few calls about nuisance turkeys, there are places where efforts to limit the number of birds might make sense.

However, these big birds get a bum rap and are blamed for a variety of problems. If you see a flock of turkeys in a blueberry field at noontime, you might blame the birds for eating all the berries. But there are deer, bear, moose, foxes and other critters in that blueberry field at night, doing damage.

“Do we have too many turkeys?”

It all depends on whether the birds are eating your crops, or foiling your attempts to hunt them.

Benjamin Franklin

Had it been up to Benjamin Franklin, the turkey we carve for Thanksgiving dinner might have been our national bird. After the bald eagle won the honor instead, Franklin wrote to his daughter that the turkey was “more respectable” than the eagle, which he thought was “of bad moral character,” calling them lazy, opportunistic predators.

Franklin expressed admiration for the feisty way barnyard turkeys defended their territory, a trait he liked in Americans, too. It’s not clear, however, whether Franklin knew much about wild turkeys, which ran and hid from intruders instead of defending their turf. Indeed, some Apache Indians thought turkeys were so cowardly that they wouldn’t eat them or wear their feathers for fear of contracting the spirit of cowardice.

So Franklin probably wasn’t thinking about the wild turkey when he considered possible symbols of American courage. But the domestic or barnyard turkey he admired did have its origins in America’s wild turkey population.

Aztec Indian tribes had long domesticated wild turkeys for food. Early Spanish explorers discovered these domesticated turkeys and took a few of them back to Europe, where the birds were bred into yet another variety of domestic turkey.

Those European turkeys came to North America with English colonists and were used for food. They are the birds Franklin seems to have preferred over the native bald eagle for our national symbol.

So, even though the bald eagle is the official bird of the United States, much to the chagrin of Benjamin Franklin, it must be pointed out that on Thanksgiving day, the wild turkey is the national “bird of the day,” even though most of us actually consume domesticated turkeys.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The Buffalo Bills appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1993. Has there ever been a team to appear in three in a row?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The unfair resources of today’s “great game hunter”

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

When I was having my usual morning coffee and Danish at a local coffee shop last week following Sunday Mass, I happened to look up at a wide-screen television mounted on the wall to notice an outdoor show. It was your typical show, sponsored by outfitters, outdoor equipment companies and the opinions of various “expert” hunters.

The reason the show caught my attention was the way they were going about hunting. I remember the days when I was an avid hunter (my wife says I have since “lost the thrill of the hunt”), we used to have our favorite spots, get out early in the morning on a full stomach, brave the weather conditions and have great expectations for the outcome at the end of the hunt. It was the hunter vs the hunted. A classic exercise in who could out think, out maneuver or outwit the other. It was wild game hunting at its best. You needed to possess the skills to pursue your prey in its own environment, both parties equipped with all the instincts Mother Nature provided.

I can remember a couple of those adventures when the animal actually out-smarted me – something my wife says is easy to do (her opinion). I once followed a deer through the snow for many hundreds of yards, never catching sight of him, but I could hear him snorting up ahead of me, and hearing his antlers rattling against tree limbs. I followed him until we crossed our original tracks, and he actually passed through two conifers without disturbing a snowflake on the boughs. That was when I knew I was outwitted.

And that’s not to mention, probably, how many times I may have walked right past a deer and not noticed it was even there. They don’t have the nickname “swamp ghost” for nothing. They have this uncanny ability to disappear once they hit the tree line. Have you ever noticed while driving, when you may see a deer either in the road or on the shoulder, and it turns into the woods. As you pass by, try to locate it. They do seem to disappear.

On one day in particular, after having worked the night shift, I headed into the woods at sun up. I found a nice tree and sat down on the ground facing east, and soaked in the warmth of the sun. I fell asleep. I don’t know for how long, but my hunting partner eventually came along and told me a herd of deer could have walked right past me and I wouldn’t have noticed. Those are the stories you don’t forget.

Oh, by the way, I went home without a deer that day.

But that was then.

Today, it just isn’t fair. Here, on this show, they had hunters gathering on game farms, splashed with deer urine scent like it was Aqua Velva, equipped with global positioning equipment, calling the deer with artificial devices. Once the deer was lured, they employed a computerized gauge to calculate the distance to the target, refer to another hand-held instrument to measure the direction and velocity of the wind before finally sighting in the prey. Mounted on top of their high powered rifle was a scope capable of seeing a gnat’s tonsils at 200 yards.

The deer didn’t stand a chance. The only thing the hunters didn’t have were laser guided ammunition or “smart” bullets. After they dispatched the animal, they would break into a wild celebration. What’s with that?

If, after the use of all that sophisticated equipment, you didn’t come home with a deer that was essentially caged, you should be embarrassed to the point of taking up bowling. The whole episode was like shooting fish in a barrel.

So, I’ve decided that a money-making venture would be to make available to deer: human motion sensors, rear view mirrors, bullet proof vests, space-aged unpenetrable deflector shields a-la Star Trek, and laser guided bullet defense systems. After all, it’s only fair.

Remember the old saying, “We believe in the right to arm bears?” Well, the same could be said about deer.


As of this writing, the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics and New England Patriots are all in first place in their respective league divisions. Let’s keep track and see how long it lasts.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the seven NFL teams with the initials of their cities on the side of their helmets.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Squirrels in the compost pile

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 a 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 the recently closed down 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 substantive. 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 dependent 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. 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:

With the World Series going past October in recent years, who was the first MLB player to hit a home run in November?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Moose hunting returned following a long absence

A bull moose.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

The Maine moose hunting season is underway. It has not always been that way.

The moose hunting season was reintroduced in 1980 on an experimental basis, when 700 permits were issued to residents. At that time, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife estimated the moose population to be in the vicinity of 20,000 – 25,000 animals. In 2007, a wildlife ecologist estimated the moose population for New England and New York to be in the range of 50,000 animals.

A campaign was began in 1983 by a group of moose lovers to place the moose hunting question on a referendum ballot. The initiative failed. The legislature subsequently gave the DIF&W the authority to establish the number of moose permits handed out each year, while maintaining control of the moose lottery.

In 2002, for the first time in 21 years, state wildlife biologists recommended reducing the number of permits, for fear that the moose population may have been on the decline. There had been a high level of calf mortality with the culprit possibly being the tiny blood-sucking ticks that have become so numerous in recent years. Ticks killed more than half of the moose calves in northern New Hampshire during a peak year. It was feared the same was happening in Maine.

After expanding for most of the 20th century, the moose population of North America has been in steep decline since the 1990s. Populations expanded greatly with improved habitat and protection, but for unknown reasons, the moose population is declining.

In northeastern North America, the moose’s history is very well documented: moose meat was often a staple in the diet of Native Americans going back centuries, with a tribe that occupied present day coastal Rhode Island giving the animal its name. The Native Americans often used moose hides for leather and its meat as an ingredient in a type of dried jerky used as a source of sustenance in winter or on long journeys. Eastern tribes also valued moose leather as a source for moccasins and other items.

The moose vanished in much of the eastern U.S. for as long as 150 years, due to colonial era over-hunting and destruction of habitat.

European rock drawings and cave paintings reveal that moose have been hunted since the Stone Age.

Moose are not usually aggressive towards humans, but can be provoked or frightened to behave with aggression. In terms of raw numbers, they attack more people than bears and wolves combined, but usually with only minor consequences.

When harassed or startled by people or in the presence of a dog, moose may charge. Also, as with bears or any wild animal, moose that have become used to being fed by people, may act aggressively when food is denied.

A bull moose, disturbed by the photographer, lowers its head and raises its hackles. Like any wild animal, moose are unpredictable. They are most likely to attack if annoyed or harassed, or if approached too closely. A moose that has been harassed may vent its anger on anyone in the vicinity, and they often do not make distinctions between their tormentors and innocent passers-by.

Moose also tend to venture out onto highways at night. In northern Maine, especially, moose-vehicle collisions are common. The problem with that is the center of mass of a moose is above the hood of most passenger cars. In a collision, the impact crushed the front roof beams and individuals in the front seats. Collisions of this type are frequently fatal; seat belts and airbags offer little protection. In collisions with higher vehicles, such as trucks, most of the deformation is to the front of the vehicle and the passenger compartment is largely spared.

Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in eating woody vegetation. A moose’s upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs. A moose’s diet often depends on its location, but they seem to prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch.

Moose also eat aquatic plants, including lilies and pondweed. (We could sure use a few of them on Webber Pond). Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. This trait serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are thus attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months as both provide suitable vegetation to eat and as a way to wet themselves down. Moose avoid areas with little or no snow as this increases the risk of predation by wolves and avoid areas with deep snow, as this impairs mobility.

So, moose are a vital commodity to Maine, and we must do what is necessary to preserve them, and continue to harvest them responsibly.

Can anyone answer this question? If you have a legal moose hunting permit, you are on your way to the hunt, and you collide with a moose and kill it – and you survive – does that count as your moose, or can you continue to the hunting zone and claim a second moose?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the New England Patriots lost three games in a row?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home…

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

That is the beginning of the popular child’s rhyme about lady bugs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Many years ago, when our kids were growing up, we did a lot of camping in our popup camper. Every year, after the campgrounds closed, usually on Columbus Day weekend, we would take our “last picnic of the year.”

Last week, our daughter called and wanted to do that again. It was a little strange request seeing that she is 48 years old. Maybe it was the anticipation of the empty nest syndrome seeing that her youngest child is a senior at Waterville High School, and will be leaving after the school year to pursue her education.

So, my wife and I agreed. It was just a matter of where we would go with limited time on our hands. We decided on Blueberry Hill, in Mt. Vermon. From there, we could have our picnic, and take in the brilliant foliage from that vantage point. Looking east, you can see Great Pond and Long Pond, along with miles and miles of colorful fall leaves.

While there, we were infested with lady bugs. They were swarming around us, landing everywhere on us. As we tried to flick them off more would come. As we were leaving, they also were inside the car.

We finally decided to go to Lemieux’ Orchard, in North Vassalboro. My wife wanted to make an apple pie for our trip to Vermont this coming weekend, and some homemade apple sauce.

While there, the lady bugs made their appearance. They were everywhere, also. I ran into an old friend and we began talking. He also commented on the lady bugs.

The family is commonly known as lady bugs in North America, and ladybirds in Britain. Entomologists prefer the name ladybird beetles as these insects are not classified as true bugs.

The majority are generally considered useful insects, because many species prey on herbivorous insects such as aphids or scale insects, which are agricultural pests. The lady bug, or ladybirds, are only minor agricultural pests, eating the leaves of grain, potatoes, beans and various other crops, but their numbers can increase explosively in years when their natural enemies, such as parasitoid wasps that attack their eggs, are few. In such situations, they can do major crop damage. They occur in practically all the major crop-producing regions of temperate and tropical countries.

The lady bugs usually begin to appear indoors in the autumn when they leave their summer feeding sites in fields, forests and yards, and search out places to spend the winter. Typically, when temperatures warm to the mid-60s F, in the late afternoon, following a period of cooler weather, they will swarm onto or into buildings illuminated by the sun. Swarms fly to buildings in September through November depending on location and weather conditions. Homes or other buildings near fields or woods are particularly prone to infestation.

A common myth, totally unfounded, is that the number of spots on the insect’s back indicates its age. In fact, the underlying pattern and coloration are determined by the species and genetics of the beetle, and develop as the insect matures. In some species its appearance is fixed by the time it emerges from its pupa, though in most it may take some days for the color of the adult beetle to mature and stabilize.

The harlequin ladybird, is an example of how an animal might be partly welcome and partly harmful. It was introduced into North American, from Asia, in 1916 to control aphids, but is now the most common species, out-competing many of the native species. It has since spread to much of western Europe, reaching the United Kingdom in 2004. It has become something of a domestic and agricultural pest in some regions, and gives cause for ecological concern. It has similarly arrived in parts of Africa, where it has proved unwelcome, perhaps most prominently in vine-related crops.

It does explain something, maybe. As we have discussed before, toward the end of the summer, particularly in September, we were inundated with parasitoid wasps at camp, and saw no lady bugs. On Blueberry Hill, we saw plenty of lady bugs, but no wasps. We have yet to see a lady bug in our house this fall.

So, what about that rhyme? Here goes:

Lady bug, lady bug, 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.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Of the four remaining teams in the MLB playoffs, which team has never won a World Series?

For the answer, click here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Can we foretell the upcoming winter?

Annual cicada photographed by Jayne Winters, of South China, taken last summer at her camp on Sebec Lake.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, we’re coming up on the middle of October, and time to take a look at what Mother Nature has provided to us in regards to a preview of the upcoming winter.

Brrrr! Dread the thought!

During the summer and fall, our little critters, and even our vegetation, provides us with a glimpse of what we may be in store come the winter months.

Now, let’s make it clear. All of the following are according to farmers’ folklore. I looked up the word “lore” in the dictionary, and this is what I came up with: “All the knowledge of a particular group or having to do with a particular subject, especially that of a traditional nature.” Apparently, these are the result of many years of farmers keeping track of conditions involving their fields and crops.

First, it’s the old wives tale about the beloved onion. The lore goes that if an onion is difficult to peel, it is a sign of an impending harsh winter. If the onion peels easily, we can expect a milder winter. Notice I said, “milder.”

So far this summer, I have noticed that onions have been relatively easy to peel. My wife and I eat lots of onions, so this is more than just a small sample size.

Hornets nest in tree

Next comes those dreaded hornets and wasps. Farmers’ folklore has it that ground hives signify a low snowfall. Well, we went through this a couple of weeks ago when I told of the problem we had at camp this fall with yellow jacket hives in the ground. We had at least four that we knew about this summer, when action had to be taken to alleviate the problem.

However, during our close-down weekend at camp, we were again pestered with a multitude of yellow jackets, indicating there was another hive nearby. We never found it.

Yellow jackets ground nest

Contributing to that theory is the hornets nest I saw last week. A nest, the size of a honeydew melon, hung on a branch, low on a tree, probably about six feet or so off the ground. Not very high for a hornets nest.

With so many nests in the ground and the one hanging low on a tree branch, that, supposedly, indicates low snowfall. Wouldn’t mind that, even if I do have the snowblower tuned up and ready to go.

Another sign that the impending winter will be on the mild side has a little bit of controversy.

The wooly bear caterpillar. That darling, little fuzzy insect that usually comes out in mid-September. I have seen only a few, but they all have been on the highway, where I can’t get a really good look at them.

I did see one last weekend at camp, and the results were not favorable. However, there is another side to that story.

Now, I am sure everyone has heard the myth that the length of the rust-colored band on a wooly bear tells of how severe or mild the winter. If the rust-colored band dominates the body, it will be a mild winter.

Banded Wooly Bear Caterpillar

The wooly bear I saw measured 1-5/8 inches long. An inch of that length was black, while the rust-colored band measured only 5/8-inch. That’s telling me the winter will be a little on the bad side. However, other people have told me the wooly bears they have seen were predominantly rust-colored. I hope mine was the flunky of the wooly bears.

Finally, the cicadae. That is the green, grasshopper-looking insect that buzzes during the hot, steamy, humid days of July. Farmers’ folklore has it that the first killing frost of the season will occur 90 days following the first sound of the cicadae, after the full moon. The first time we heard the cicadae this summer was on July 26. Count out 90 days, that brings us to October 26. With the full moon happening on October 28, you can expect the first heavy frost to take place after that date.

Now, just for giggles, let’s throw in the Farmers Almanac. According to them, the first sight of snow should come around mid-November, but only as flurries. Through December, it is calling for some wet snow and rain, with some wintery mix. They do predict a white Christmas. But again, no serious snowfalls. Their first significant snow event is predicted during the second week of January 2020.

Do we dare look any further?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which player holds the NFL record for most points scored in a single game.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Take precautions against browntail moth hairs when working outdoors

Left, hickory tussock caterpillar. Right, hickory tussock tiger moth.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last weekend while closing camp for the season, I had an encounter with the hickory tussock caterpillar. Although I didn’t touch it, but merely flicked it off a cleaning bottle, I think I stirred up its hairs and came down with a mild rash on my forearm. It lasted a little over a day.

Later in the week, I heard complaints from other people who have mysteriously developed a rash on their forearms or legs. That led me to thinking they had probably come in contact with the hickory tussock or, even more possible, the browntail moth caterpillar.

A couple of days ago, I received a press release from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Maine Forest Service, about the browntail moth caterpillar.

At this time, I will share that news release with you.

browntail moth caterpillar

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), Maine Forest Service (MFS), and 211 Maine remind the public that browntail moth hairs remain in the environment and can get stirred up during fall yardwork. Tiny hairs shed by the caterpillars can cause a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. They can also cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems.

The caterpillars are active from April to late June/early July.

“While browntail moth caterpillars might not be as noticeable at this time of the year, their hairs remain toxic and in the environment for one to three years,” said Maine CDC Director Nirav D. Shah. “It is important that Mainers take the proper prevention measures when working outside this fall.”

The hairs can lose toxicity over time. Hairs blow around in the air and fall onto leaves and brush. Mowing, raking, sweeping, and other activities can cause the hairs to become airborne and result in skin and breathing problems.

To protect yourself from browntail moth hairs while working outdoors:

  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles, a dust mask/respirator, a hat and disposable coveralls.
  • Rake or mow when the ground is wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne.
  • Cover your face and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles.
  • Do not rake, mow the lawn, or use leaf blowers on dry days.
  • Use pre-contact poison ivy wipes to help reduce hairs sticking into exposed skin.
  • Take extra care when working under decks or in other areas that are sheltered from rain.
  • Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities to wash off any loose hairs.
  • Use caution with firewood stored in areas with browntail moths, especially when bringing it indoors.

Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days. In more sensitive people, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Hairs can also cause trouble breathing, and respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become stuck in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by browntail moth hairs. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms.

For more information:

I know that some of the suggestions of what to wear when doing yard work, or when to do it, doesn’t quite fit into your routine or schedule, but there is the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the last Boston Red Sox left handed pitcher to win 20 games in a season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Dealing with those pesky underground terrorists

Many people confuse yellow jackets and hornets. Pictured at left is a yellow jacket, and a hornet on the right.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A few weeks back, I wrote about how strange this past summer has been (see The Town Line, August 15, 2019). My research also revealed that I wrote a similar column back in 2015. Is there a pattern developing?

Anyway, one of the things I mentioned was the lack of bees this past summer. Well, I was raked over the coals by fellow campers this past weekend when we were swarmed with yellow jackets. We could not enjoy the outdoors during the day because these little monsters were everywhere, trying to find anything that contained liquid. Due to the recent dry spell, they are looking for anything sweet with sugars.

Searching, we found four ground nests of yellow jackets. That is a good sign in itself. More on that later. Now, it was what to do about it.

That is one of the things I am on the fence about. I don’t want to destroy the hives, nor kill the bees, who are declining in numbers. On the other hand, they are annoying, and pose a danger to anyone who might accidentally come upon the hive, especially those allergic to a bee sting.

I have come to refer to these yellow jackets as underground terrorists.

Over the course of the last week, we have closed up the hives, hoping the bees will find somewhere else to go. Of course, there was some collateral damage.

With one hive left, I sprayed it on Sunday evening, right around dusk, the time when all the bees are back in the hive for the evening, so there is no activity around the opening. I checked on it Monday morning, and saw where there was still some activity. I didn’t spray on Monday evening because of the threat of rain.

Tuesday morning delivered the surprise. When I went to check on the hive, it had been completely dug up with the honeycomb exposed. Obviously the work of a skunk.

Skunks will dig up in-ground hives for the honeycomb. Their thick, tough skin makes them immune to bee stings.

Yellow jacket is the common name in North America for predatory social wasps. Members of these genera are known simply as “wasps” in other English-speaking countries. Most of these are black and yellow like the eastern yellow jacket and the aerial yellow jacket; some are black and white like the bald-faced hornet. Others may have the abdomen background color red instead of black. They can be identified by their distinctive markings, their occurrence only in colonies, and a characteristic, rapid, side-to-side flight pattern prior to landing. All females are capable of stinging.

Yellow jackets are important predators of pest insects. Yellow jackets may be confused with other wasps, such as hornets. A typical yellow jacket worker is about half an inch long, with alternating bands on the abdomen; the queen is larger, about three-quarters of an inch long.

Yellow jackets are sometimes mistakenly called “bees, ”given that they are similar in size and general coloration to honey bees, but yellow jackets are actually wasps. In contrast to honey bees, yellow jackets have yellow or white markings, are not covered with tan-brown dense hair on their bodies, do not carry pollen, and do not have the flattened hairy hind legs used to carry it.

Yellow jackets have lance-like stingers with small barbs, and typically sting repeatedly, though occasionally a stinger becomes lodged and pulls free of the wasp’s body; the venom, like most bee and wasp venoms, is primarily only dangerous to humans who are allergic or are stung many times.

Yellow jackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures. Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After the eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

From this time until her death in the autumn, the queen remains inside the nest, laying eggs. The colony then expands rapidly, reaching a maximum size of 4,000 to 5,000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells in late summer.

The diet of the adult yellow jacket consists primarily of items rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as fruits, flower nectar, and tree sap. Larvae feed on proteins derived from insects, meats, and fish, which are collected by the adults, which chew and condition them before feeding them to the larvae. Many of the insects collected by the adults are considered pest species, making the yellow jacket beneficial to agriculture. Larvae, in return, secrete a sugar material to be eaten by the adults. In late summer, foraging workers pursue other food sources from meats to ripe fruits, or scavenge human garbage, sodas, picnics, etc., as additional sugar is needed to foster the next generation’s queens.

As mentioned earlier, finding multiple ground nests is a good sign, according to old farmers’ folklore. Finding nests in the ground is an indicator of low snowfall for the upcoming winter. We’ll wait to see if that is the case.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which two Boston Red Sox players each had over 30 homers and 50 doubles this season. The first time that has happened in Red Sox franchise history.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: An ugly, scary looking wasp that isn’t so scary, after all

Left, a giant ichneumon wasp photographed at a camp in Glenburn, and right, a pigeon horntail wasp.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A little while ago, the pastor at my church sent a photo to me of a bug he spotted at his camp. It was a scary looking bug that neither of us had ever seen before. It was yellow in color, had long legs and a long protruding appenditure that resembled a stinger.

So, it was time to call on my friends at the Maine Forest Service for some input. Here is what we found.

The bug is called the Giant Ichneumon Wasp, Megarhyssa macrurus.

There are several different species of Ichneumon Wasps, each with its own color variations. Some are black and yellow, others reddish and striped. All have the Ichneumon Wasps body shape: a thin waist and an abdomen longer than the rest of the body.

Females have a long, needle-like ovipositor which is often mistaken as a stinger. The sturdy ovipositor acts like a syringe, injecting eggs deep into wood (live trees or logs) where the larvae will feed on any other insect larvae already deposited there. It is not uncommon to see females poking around wood in an attempt to find a good place to deposit her eggs. Males do not have the ovipositor so their abdomen are shorter. Both genders are still wasps, however. Despite their large size and being “wasps” these are harmless to humans and unable to sting.

Giant Ichneumon Wasps tend to live in wooded areas and throughout all of North America, though they do stay away from arid and hot desert regions and scarcely treed central plains.

Ichneumon Wasp adults do not eat at all. Larvae are parasites of Pigeon Horntail larvae, another type of wasp that deposits eggs in wood. The Ichneumon wasp larvae will hatch and feed on the Horntail Wasp larvae.

When an insect develops on a single host, and kills the host in the process, it is called a parasitoid. Parasites, on the other hand, tend to nibble on their hosts without killing them. And predators kill more than one of their prey items.

The giant ichneumon wasp is a parasitoid, notable for its extremely long ovipositor which it uses to deposit an egg into a tunnel in dead wood bored by its host, the larva of a similarly large species of horntail. Another of its common names is stump stabber, referring to its behavior.

When a parasitoid kills its host, it can indeed be a gruesome sight. Typically, an adult female parasitoid lays an egg on the surface of, or into the body of, a living larva of another insect. When the egg hatches, the parasitoid proceeds to consume the host, piece by piece. Like a cat with a mouse, it keeps its victim alive as long as possible. Dead larvae rot quickly, and this makes the meal less attractive. First the parasitoid eats the fat bodies of the larva, then the digestive organs, keeping the heart and central nervous system intact for as long as possible. Finally, they are eaten as well and the long-suffering victim dies, leaving an empty caterpillar shell.

The slow death inflicted by parasitoids that attack other insects tested the concept of a benevolent God for 19th century theologians who discussed this practice at length. Even Darwin had trouble with the largest parasitoid family as he wrote to Asa Gray in 1860: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars….”

The female giant ichneumon wasp is a striking animal, two inches long, boldly patterned in brown, orange and yellow. Her two- to -four-inch long ovipositor with its two protective filaments looks like three long tails. Some parasitoids can choose to lay their eggs on a variety of host species, but giant ichneumon wasps need to find a larva of a pigeon horntail. Nothing else will do.

The ovipositor looks like a single filament, but it comprises three filaments, the middle one of which is the actual ovipositor, which is capable of drilling into wood. This central filament also appears to be a single filament, but is made of two parts, with a cutting edge at the tip. The two parts interlock and slide against each other.

Although very thin, the ovipositor is a tube and the egg being laid moves down a tiny channel in its center. The outer two filaments are sheaths which protect the ovipositor; they are out to the sides during egg-laying

The presence of giant ichneumons on a tree is not a good sign because they are an indication that horntail wasp are attacking the tree. Horntail wasps attack trees that are already under stress. Often by the time the wood-boring insects have started attacking the tree it is in irreversible decline.

Fortunately, for my pastor, the giant ichneumon wasp he saw was on a dead stump of a tree, and not on a healthy one.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

For how many teams did NFL quarterback Joe Montana play?

Answer can be found here.