SCORES & OUTDOORS – The great moose hunt: it wasn’t always that way

Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

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 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 was declining.

Lee Kantar, state moose biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, stated, “the moose herd is dynamic. While young calves trying to make it through to their first birthday each May suffer from winter ticks that can be debilitating, in the core moose range generally from the Moosehead Region to the Canadian border, moose are abundant. But winter ticks depress reproduction in adult females and combined with moderate to severe overwinter mortality of calves in many years, annual population growth can become stagnant or decline with sporadic increases when annual winter tick levels ease.”

There were 4,030 permits issued this year including the 550 issued specifically for this year’s initial Adaptive (experimental) hunt to reduce moose densities in order to determine whether that can aid in breaking the debilitating impacts of the winter tick cycle.

The moose harvest in 2020 was 2,375.

Kantar continued, “September and October bull seasons have been variable. September had seasonable weather and moderate to high success rates. October bull season just ended Saturday and the week was unseasonably warm, keeping success rates lower.”

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 overhunting 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:

Who was the last Red Sox player to be named World Series MVP?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS – Monarch butterflies on the decline: what caused the death of this one?

Monarch butterfly.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One day last week, as we were backing out of our driveway, I noticed something hanging from the front door knob. I stopped, and my wife jumped out to see what it was. What else but a political notice to vote “No” on Question 1. That is not the subject of this column. What is that on her way back to the car, at the base of a pine tree, she picked up a dead monarch butterfly. What had caused its demise?

I have seen a handful of monarchs this summer.

The monarch butterfly is the most widely recognized of all American butterflies with its distinct orange, black, and white wings. While beautiful, this coloring actually sends a warning to predators that the monarch is foul tasting and poisonous. Found throughout the United States, as well as Mexico and Canada, one of the most notable characteristics about the monarch is the astonishing 3,000 mile journey some will make in the fall to their wintering grounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico or to southern California, depending on which part of the United States or Canada they migrate.

Millions of monarch butterflies make the trip down to Mexico to roost for the winter. During the migration tens of thousands will land on a single tree in certain areas along their migratory path.

Monarchs can travel between 50 – 100 miles a day; it can take up to two months to complete their journey to winter habitats.

Wherever there is milkweed there will be Monarch butterflies. The monarch is widely distributed across North America, from Central America northwards to southern Canada, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.

Milkweed produces glycoside toxins to deter animals from eating them, but monarchs have evolved immunity to these toxins. As they feed, monarch caterpillars store up the toxins in their body, making them taste bad, which in turn deters their predators.

Monarchs can produce four generations during one summer. The first three generations will have life spans from 2 – 6 weeks and will continue moving north. During this time they will mate and have the next generation that will continue the northward migration. The fourth generation is different and can live up to nine months. These are the butterflies that will migrate south for winter to either Mexico or southern California.

It is predicted that one of the many effects of climate change will be wetter and colder winters. If they are dry, monarchs can survive below freezing temperatures, but if they get wet and the temperature drops they will freeze to death. Because hundreds of millions of monarchs are located in such a small area in the Sierra Nevada of Mexico during the winter, a cold snap there could be devastating.

Monarch butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees. They will sit in the sun or “shiver” their wings to warm up.

As the world warms, suitable habitat will begin to move northward resulting in a longer migration. This means the monarchs may be forced to adapt and produce another generation to reach further north. It is uncertain whether they will be able to do so. Therefore, few monarchs may be able to make the longer trip back to Mexico for winter.

Other threats to the monarch include habitat loss and loss of milkweed which they depend upon as larva to survive. Illegal logging remains a problem today in Mexico in protected areas and is devastating monarch winter habitat.

Whether monarchs are present in a given area within their range depends on the time of year. They are one of the few migratory insects, traveling great distances between summer breeding habitat and winter habitat where they spend several months inactive.

From Sep­tem­ber into early October, fall southern migration to Mexico begins, with the majority of monarchs following the reverse path south along the central migratory corridor. Monarchs from the Northeast head south along the Atlantic coast, concentrating in the states that make up the Delmarva Peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay on the journey. Florida is a stop for many monarchs before they fly over the Gulf Coast to Mexico. A much smaller population of monarch butterflies lives west of the Rocky Mountains.

There are populations of monarchs in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and some islands of the Caribbean, as well as in New Zealand. Monarchs may have been blown to these places in storms or naturally dispersed there by island-hopping, or they may have been introduced by humans. These populations are not part of the annual migrations on the North American mainland.

The monarch migration is one of the greatest phenomena in the natural world. Monarchs know the correct direction to migrate even though the individuals that migrate have never made the journey before. They follow an internal “compass” that points them in the right direction each spring and fall. A single monarch can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.

The monarch population has declined by approximately 90 percent since the 1990s. Monarchs face habitat loss and fragmentation in the United States and Mexico. For example, over 90 percent of the grassland ecosystems along the eastern mon­arch’s central migratory flyway corridor have been lost, converted to intensive agriculture or urban development. Pesticides are also a danger. Herbicides kill both native nectar plants where adult monarchs feed, as well as the milkweed their caterpillars need as host plants. Insecticides kill the monarchs themselves. Climate change alters the timing of migration as well as weather patterns, posing a risk to monarchs during migration and while overwintering. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the species’ status.

One easy way to help monarchs is to participate in the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program by planting a pesticide-free monarch habitat garden filled with native milkweed and nectar plants. North America has several dozen native milkweed species, with at least one naturally found in any given area.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the monarch migration a threatened phenomenon. In 1986, the Mexican government created the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve which protects 62 square miles of forests in the Sierra Madres where hundreds of million of monarchs spend each winter. The Biosphere Reserve was expanded to include 217 square miles in 2000. Local organizations are also working to stop the illegal harvesting of trees on the reserve to protect wintering habitat.

I guess we’ll never know what killed this particular monarch.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Name the two NFL teams that have a human face on the sides of their helmets.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: How rare are black squirrels?

From left to right: Black squirrel, Fox squirrel, and Grey squirrel.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I know they exist, but just how many are there?

Several years ago I had the rare opportunity to see a black squirrel in Waterville. Last Monday, while driving along the Seaward Mills Road, in Vassalboro, I spotted another one as it was crossing the road in front of me.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University, in Ohio, released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and now scientists believe they know why. Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History, collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common grey squirrel and the fox squirrel.

The black squirrel is actually a grey squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving grey squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

According to Mental Floss’ Jake Rossen, black squirrels are relatively rare, constituting just one in 10,000 of the seemingly ubiquitous rodents.

Black squirrels are actually grey squirrels with a genetic mutation that causes them to have black fur. They are more aggressive and territorial than the grey squirrels too, and the result is that the black squirrels will usually run all the other squirrels out of an area.

According to this new research, however, black fur actually results from a genetic mutation. This explains why the black squirrel is somewhat rare, making up for an estimated one in every 10,000 squirrels.

Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, with the only difference being their fur color. The new work builds on research from 2014, which found that the black fur is caused by the grey squirrel having a pigment gene with a missing piece of DNA.

In mythical folklore, the black squirrel symbolism does not mean good luck. Instead, it means solar eclipse according to some legends. Therefore, a black squirrel is the enemy of humanity and needs to be destroyed if mankind wants to enjoy the heat and light of the sun. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to go out and dispatch a black squirrel just because he’s hanging out in your neighborhood.

Black squirrels normally live up to a year, but some have lived up to 10 years. Black squirrels will eat anything they are offered, often feeding on nuts and acorns, any kind of seed, fruit, insects and even bird eggs. Mating occurs from December through January.

WINTER PREDICTION UPDATE

I’m still watching Mother Nature to see what else I can learn from her signs.

I’m still getting mixed messages. I hate to say this, but the majority of signals from nature are that we should prepare for a severe winter. One of the signs is trees, flowers and vegetables. When leaves drop early, autumn and winter will be mild. However, when flowers bloom in autumn, a bad winter is at hand.

Well, the leaves are falling early, but the flowers are blooming late. I have a wild rose bush on the corner of my property, and it has bloomed for the third time this year. Usually, I get one, sometimes two. My neighbor across the street has two large lilac bushes. As everyone knows, lilacs usually bloom around Memorial Day. Well, these two bushes have bloomed for a second time this year. I have never heard of that.

Grey squirrels are also an indicator. I am seeing more and more of them with bushy tails. Another sign of a severe winter.

Again, draw your own conclusion, but I don’t think we are going to get the mild winter repeat from last year.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the New England Patriots logo commonly referred as?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Photographs are probably wolves in Maine’s north woods

Trail cameras set up by MWC captured these images. (photos courtesy of John Glowa)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This week, I’m going to give up my space to a China resident. In the past we have done articles on wolves in Maine with mixed reactions. Some people believing there are wolves in Maine, and some others saying no.

John Glowa, of China, is a member of the Maine Wolf Coalition, Inc., and has advocated for wolves in the past. The following is a press release from Glowa:

In 1993, a young female wolf was killed by a bear hunter north of Moosehead Lake. In 1996, a second wolf was killed by a trapper east of Bangor. Since then, there have been many sightings of possible wolves in Maine.

In 2019, in response to the failure/refusal of the state and federal governments to assess the status of wolves in the northeast, the Maine Wolf Coalition (MWC) began a search for wolves in Maine. Due to the proximity of wolves in Canada, and the abundant habitat and prey in the northeast U.S., wolves are attempting to recolonize the northeast. Unfortunately, widespread killing of large canids by hunters and trappers in the U.S. and Canada is likely preventing or hindering their natural recovery in Maine.

Trail cameras set up by MWC captured these images. (photos courtesy of John Glowa)

In 2019, MWC documented the first live Eastern wolf in Maine through its scat. In 2021, MWC set out trail cameras to attempt to photograph wolves. Two of the cameras were placed where the wolf scat was found. These two cameras photographed at least two adult animals. A third was placed in another area where we previously found large canid scat which could not be analyzed. This camera photographed a litter of up to seven canid pups.

Here is a link to the video which is a compilation of photos. They show at least two wolf-like adults. They are very different in appearance, possibly owing to the fact that Maine may have both gray and Eastern wolves and hybrids of both. The morphology of these animals shows the wide variation in wolves and wolflike canids. Wolves in Maine may range in size from less than 50 pounds to more than 100 pounds and they may vary in color from white to black and various shades of brown and gray.

We continue to maintain trail cameras and collect canid scat in Maine’s north woods. Given the information we have gathered to date, we would like to see the state and federal governments and universities/colleges conduct similar research to further assess the status of wolves in Maine including whether or not there is a breeding population. Unfortunately, the federal government recently removed federal protection for wolves in Maine and elsewhere, in part due to their unfounded claims that Maine has no wolves. In addition, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife refused to close a relatively small portion of Maine’s woods to coyote trapping to protect possible wolves and the Province of Québec allows wolves to be killed legally to the Maine border.

The Maine Wolf Coalition, Inc. is a non-profit 501c3 Maine corporation dedicated to wolf recovery in Maine through research, education and protection. For more information, contact John Glowa at 207-660-3801 or at jglowa@roadrunner.com.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What manager led the Boston Red Sox to their first championship in 86 years in 2004?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A good ol’ fishing story from the past

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Reprinted from 2015

We haven’t had one of these in a long time, so it was kind of timely because it happened on one of our last fishing outings of the season. With summer officially ending on September 21, my wife and I are preparing to close camp, so the boat will be coming out of the water soon.

What is it you ask?

A fishing story.

Anyone who has done some significant amount of fishing can attest that sometimes weird things happen while on the water. It can involve birds, mammals, or anything related to nature, including fish.

For instance, recently, while fishing near the large island on Webber Pond, we heard this rather loud splash in the water. In the past we have experienced ospreys go into their kamikaze dive to catch a fish, or a large bass coming to the surface to grab something to eat. On occasion, it could be a loon. On that particular day, that large splash was made by a deer. We don’t know what happened, because we didn’t see, just heard. But the deer was in the water, chest deep, working its way back toward the island. As always, once it reached some vegetation, it disappeared.

But this next one is a fishing story. This is not a fabrication.

We were about to wrap up the fishing for the day, having spent a little over four hours on the pond, when I felt a “hit.” Once I set the hook, I could tell this was going to be a nice fish. I began the process of bringing the fish toward the boat. It was putting up a pretty good fight, finally breaking water and going into its routine of trying to release itself from the hook. It jerked and twisted while doing its “dance” on the water.

The fish wasn’t successful so the struggle continued. As I got the fish closer to the boat, it decided to dive aft. This is when things got really interesting. The bass had managed to get directly under the boat, or so I thought. My fishing rod was completely bent in half, with the tip of the rod nearly touching the water. At this point, I could no longer pull the fish toward the surface nor take up any more line on the reel.

I told my wife, “grab the net, we are now in a Mexican standoff.” The fish was pulling as hard from his end as I was from mine. After what seemed like an eternity, the line finally succumbed to the stress, and broke.

Disappointed, I had to investigate as to why I could not land the fish. I figured the bass had to have snagged itself somewhere under the boat. I first checked the side where I have a diving platform. That is the usual culprit. Nothing there. Next, I checked the fin on the lower unit of the motor, nothing. “OK, it’s got to be the prop,” I thought. A quick check of the propeller showed no sign of a fishing line. However, I did notice the anchor line coming across just below the prop, a strange place for it to be.

Closer inspection showed me that the hook, with lure still attached was imbedded in the anchor line. I always try to steer the fish away from that area, but this one had decided, with authority, that is where it wanted to go.

Wait a minute! I noticed something else when I saw the hook and lure. I could see eyes staring back at me. I grabbed the anchor and started to pull it up from the bottom of the lake, and there it was. The fish was still attached to the hook and lure, and tangled in the anchor rope. The fish was hauled into the boat, and the usual ceremony took place. Free the fish from the line, measure and weigh, photo op, and back into the water. It wasn’t a giant: 18-inches, 3-1/2 pounds, but it fought like a whale.

Another fish story to tell my grandkids and great-grandkids, because my friends don’t believe it.

WINTER PREDICTION UPDATE

I promised I would keep you updated on my observations regarding the winter prediction. Well, things haven’t changed much. I have seen many squirrels out and about, and all of them have had a skinny tail, indicating a mild winter. Last Friday evening, I saw my first wooly bear caterpillar. He was about one third rust colored, and two-thirds black, a sign of a relatively tough winter. Again, conflicting indicators.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the longest reigning heavyweight boxing champion with 25 successful title defenses.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What will winter bring to us?

Basketball size bee hive, left, and its location in the tree. (photos by Roland D. Hallee)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

OK, it’s mid-September and time for me to go out on a limb, stick my neck out, walk the tightrope – take your pick of the risk I’m about to take.

It’s my annual attempt at reading Mother Nature’s warnings, and predict the upcoming winter. I know…I know, it’s only September, but that season will be here before we know it.

I have been watching signs over the past couple of weeks, and I have to admit, I’m getting mixed messages.

My first observation are onions. If the skin is thin, we can expect a mild winter. The onions I have been peeling lately have had thin skins, thus that would indicate a mild winter. Another sign of a mild winter has been squirrels. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to gather nuts for the winter, another sign of a mild winter.

However, another farmer’s folklore signal is the squirrel’s tail. A bushy tail indicates a tough winter, and a skinny tail means a mild season. I have seen both. One day I noticed a squirrel with a really bushy tail, and later in the day, saw one with a less bushy one.

How about berries and nuts. Let’s examine that. I have wild berries growing in my backyard, black raspberries and choke cherries. My crop of black raspberries this year was minimal, and I have way fewer choke cherries than usual. Both signs of a mild winter.

Now, there are other signs for which to look. Are cornhusks thicker than normal? If so, a rough winter. I have not noticed much of a difference this year. Flowers blooming in late autumn are another sign of a tough winter. I don’t know if this qualifies, but when my rhubarb patch was pretty much finished in late July, I cleared the area, getting it ready for winter. While I was checking on my squash garden this past weekend, I noticed a new crop of rhubarb coming in. I have never seen that before. Also, the abundance of acorns at camp seems to be way down this year. Not as many as we’ve seen in recent years.

Let’s talk bees. Actually yellow jackets.

The old folklore states that bee hives constructed high indicates heavy snow fall. Closer to the ground means mild winter, snow-wise.

This past weekend, while camping with my family in Solon, we noticed plenty of yellow jackets around. On Sunday morning, we finally located the hive. It hung from a tree along the Kennebec River, it was the size of a basketball, and must have been a good 30 feet above ground, hanging over the river. Not a good sign, unless, of course, you’re a skier or a snowmobile enthusiast.

Another is leaves on a tree. If the leaves fall early, it signals a mild winter, but if they fall late, winter will be severe. Upon our return to camp from the camping trip, my wife and I noticed a large number of leaves on the ground. It seems, at least to me, that it’s a little early for that.

Finally, the wooly bear caterpillar. This one I can’t help you with. It is mid-September and I have yet to see one. I will keep a vigil on this, and perhaps report to you later. Remember, the wider the rust colored band on the caterpillar, the milder the winter.

According to the Old Farmers Almanac, weather folklore warnings of a harsh winter are based on La Nina. La Nina conditions for North America tend to be dry in summer and cold in winter, so if birds leave early, the leaves fall quickly, onions and apple skins are tough, and caterpillars are short, it may be due to the La Nina drought. A miserable winter will follow.

So, let’s review. I have presented 12 conditions on which to base my prediction. The score is: Mild winter 7, tough winter 3, and two undecided. It looks like a relatively mild winter. However, all the “weather experts” seem to say a rough winter. Maybe I’m just trying to justify a mild winter in my mind.

So, here is my recommendation. You’d better polish the shovels, and tune up the snowblowers, because to be a true Mainer is to be ready for anything. And we’ve all heard the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many years did it take for Bill Belichick to win a Super Bowl as head coach with the New England Patriots?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The sounds at camp

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, we are approaching that sad time of year when my wife and I are readying to shutter camp for the winter. It’s with mixed emotions because we really enjoy camp (we live there from May to October), but it’s football season, and we are both avid New England Patriots fans, and home is where we like to be for Sunday afternoon kickoffs.

The big question that comes to mind is which do we prefer, the sounds of the loons’ eerie calls in the night, the barred owls caterwauling at each other in the early morning hours, peepers in the spring and all the other wonderful sounds of nature, or… the sounds of ridiculously large pickup trucks revving their oversized engines with the loud exhaust belching fumes and smoke into the air, squealing tires, police sirens blaring at all hours of the night, barking dogs, arguing neighbors, etc? Living in the middle of Waterville, those sounds always make me think, “Welcome home.” I think the answer to my question is a no-brainer.

With that in mind, here are some of the more memorable things that I witnessed this past summer at camp.

First, we’ll talk about the bald eagles consistently seen circling over Webber Pond in search of food. On two occasions this past summer, while fishing, we witnessed bald eagles come swooping down from a high perch in the trees, to scoop up fish from the surface of the water with their sharp, deadly talons. One time the bird came as close as 20 yards from our boat. The second time, it was a little further away, but still as magnificent.

Then, there was the morning when, on my way to work on the Seaward Mills Road, in Vassalboro, I saw a rafter of geese crossing the road in front of me. I had to come to a standstill because one of the adult turkeys was stationed smack in the middle of the road while the rest of the brood crossed, in single file, with an adult leading the way. That turkey resembled a school crossing guard as he stopped traffic for the kids to cross.

Not two long after, on the same road, I saw another flock of turkeys crossing the road, but this time they were accompanied by a house cat, who showed all the techniques of a border collie herding sheep. It would move around the flock to keep the young ones in line as they navigated the asphalt. Quite something to see. The cat showed no interest in harming any of the fowl.

There was also the night, which I mentioned before in this column, of the barred owls as they caterwauled to each other late one night. They started quite innocently as you would expect to hear an owl. These, being barred owls, would call out “who cooks for you, who cooks for you, all.” However, the calling began to intensify and before long the calls began to sound like barking dogs, something I had never heard before from barred owls.

Finally, in mid-May, there was the night we heard noises off in the distance that sounded like a small dog wailing from discomfort. It was a yelping sound, followed by a whine. “An injured dog,” was the first thought. However, as the sound persisted, it became clear that the calling was from red foxes calling out to each other during the mating season. The foxes have been around all summer, but the callings have stopped.

Nature has sounds of its own, and even though they can be loud at times, still trump (Oops, there’s that word, again) the sounds of the city.

Every year, the weekend after Labor Day, we make a fishing trip to Nesowadnehunk Lake, in a remote area abutting Baxter Park to the west, where we can lay in our cots in the tent, and listen to the coyotes howl in the distance. Ah, the wonderful sounds to which to fall asleep.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What was the name of the fictitious former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher played by Ted Danson in the hit TV comedy Cheers?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Is it possible that bees kill other bees?

Honey bee

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Here is something quite interesting. At least I think so.

Last Sunday, while I was talking with a neighbor, we were standing near one of my wife’s hummingbird feeders. She uses a mixture of sugar and water to lure, and watch, the hummingbirds. Well, as sometimes happens, bees take over the feeder.

While we were standing there, two bees decided to occupy the same feeding station. They got into a fight, actually looking as if they were wrestling, both falling to the ground. One of the bees then returned to the feeder. The other lay on the ground, with a very noticeable twitch to its hind end, seemingly unable to fly. It continued to do so for some time before succumbing to its injury. It never did regain flight.

My immediate question: do hornets sting other hornets?

Here goes:

Many years have been spent studying and working with different kinds of bees, and most bee keepers say they have never seen a bee sting another bee. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. There are many different kinds of bees and some live in groups with other bees. The most famous of the bees that live in big groups are honey bees.

Honey bees that live in the same hive are called nestmates because they share a nest. The queen bee lays all the eggs in the hive and has mostly daughters. So usually nestmates are sister-bees that get along very well. They cooperate to feed their little sisters and brothers, collect food, build and protect their nests from animals (or bees from other nests) that want to eat them or their honey.

Because sometimes honey bees steal nectar (the main ingredient for making honey) from other nests, some bees, called guard bees, stand at the door and sniff the bees that land there with their antennae. If the newly-landed bee smells like she belongs in the nest, the guard lets her nestmate in. If not, the guard will bite and sting the intruder bee, preventing the intruder from entering the nest.

In experiments where scientists investigate how bees tell whether a bee is their nestmate or not, bees sometimes fail to recognize their nestmates and end up accidentally stinging their sisters! They also sometimes let bees into the hive that are not their nestmates.

So yes, even when trying to defend their nests from intruders, bees sometimes accidentally sting their nestmate sisters, but only because they mistake their sisters for intruders.

I can’t say I blame them. I’m not sure I’d be so good at recognizing my sisters if I had thousands of them.

Outside their nest area hornets, on the other hand, have been known to be quite passive creatures. It has been noted by some researchers that hornets are shy, peaceful creatures. They tend to avoid conflict and only attack when they absolutely have to.

One beekeeper said, in their 30-plus years in the beekeeping industry, they have never seen a bee sting another bee, hornet or wasp. But on many occasions have seen a number of bees “ball” another bee or wasp. In these instances they aggressively wrestle with the intruder, biting and in the case of another bee pulling the body hair with their jaws until the intruder escapes or dies. That is what may have happened Sunday.

Also observed were many bees attacking and killing a mouse by stinging it to death but never another insect of similar size, or species, but no doubt it may happen. There is no reason for bees to lose one life to take another by stinging it to death when a number of them can chase one individual from the hive in another way.

When a honey bee stings, it dies a gruesome death. The bee’s stinger is structured in such a way that once it punctures human skin, the bee can’t yank it out without self-amputating. As the honey bee tries to pull out the stinger, it ruptures its lower abdomen, leaving the stinger embedded, pulling out instead a string of digestive material, muscles, glands and a venom sac. What results is a gaping hole at the end of the abdomen.

It’s kind of like bleeding to death, except bees don’t have blood,, It’s fake, clear insect blood.”
The honeybee stinger is hollow and pointed, like a hypodermic needle. It contains two rows of lancets, or saw-toothed blades. These blades are barbed in shape, and face outward like a harpoon.

As a bee stings, the blades alternate, scissoring together into your flesh. It looks — and works — like a screw anchor, meaning that once in, the stinger can’t retract. Muscles connect the stinger to a venom sac, from which a cell-destroying toxin is pumped into the hole.

The scent of the venom released from the honey bee signals a threat to the hive. And weirdly, it smells like bananas. It is only the female honey bees, also known as the worker bees, that sting. Each hive contains some 60,000 worker bees, followed by a few hundred male drones and a single female queen bee.

Worker bees are like disposable soldiers for the colony: their sole function is to gather nectar, pollinate, and defend the base. They are all infertile females. The queen lays all eggs and the drones fertilize them.

The queen bee only stings when fighting for dominance against another queen, Winston said.

And while the hornet and the wasp are known for being more aggressive, honey bees are more docile, and typically only attack when threatened.

Although queen bees have never been stung, many times the workers will participate in “balling” a queen for no apparent reason. Perhaps they just don’t like some individuals.

Colony usurpation is when a summer swarm takes over an established colony by quickly invading it in a matter of minutes. While some of the hive bees and the usurpation bees fight, the crucial action is with the queens. Queen balling is where bees form a tight ball about the size of a walnut around a queen. Once a new queen has hatched, it is the duty of the worker bees to kill the existing queen through a process known as “balling”, in which they cluster around the queen bee, essentially suffocating her.

So, everything that we have learned so far about bees and hornets, it still doesn’t answer the question of why these two bees got into a “wrestling” match, with one killing the other, around a hummingbird feeding station. The only thing that comes to mind is, because summer is fading, the bees might come from different hives, and are fighting to bring back as many nutrients as possible to their respective hives.

Only a theory.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

True or False. After retiring from baseball pitcher Jim Lonborg, of the Boston Red Sox, became a used car salesman.

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Those giant mosquitoes buzzing around at night

Crane fly

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Have you ever gone to bed on a warm summer night, and seen this thing flying around that resembles a large mosquito?

It happens to me all the time at camp.

Sitting up in bed, grabbing the book I’m reading, or possibly a magazine for some light and quick reading. And, there it is, buzzing around the light, and becoming extremely annoying. It looks like a giant mosquito.

One of my relatives recently posted a photo on Facebook of that exact same insect on her arm. In the posting, she notes, “it’s a good thing I’m not afraid of spiders.” Wait a minute, this insect has six legs. All arachnids have eight legs. That is not a spider.

Well, I quickly fired off an email to my biologist contact at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, along with the photo. It didn’t take long to receive a reply.

His response was, “this is a cranefly, a true fly in the order Diptera, and probably from the family Tipulidae. There are over 1,500 species of Craneflies in North America and possibly several hundred in Maine. The adults are harmless, some species not feeding at all, and some species feeding predominantly on nectar.”

In colloquial speech, the cranefly is sometimes called Daddy Longlegs, a term also used to describe opiliones, or harvestmen, both of which are arachnids. The larvae of the cranefly are known commonly as leatherjackets.

Craneflies are found worldwide, though individual species usually have limited ranges.

The adult crane fly, like mentioned earlier, resembles an oversized mosquito, and has stilt-like legs that are deciduous, easily coming off the body.

The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa, and often mates immediately if a male is available. Adult craneflies have a lifespan of 10 – 15 days. Cranefly larvae (leatherjackets) have been observed in many habitat types on dry land and in water. They are cylindrical in shape, but taper toward the front end, and the head capsule is often retracted into the thorax. Larvae may eat algae, microflora, and living or decomposing plant matter, including wood. Some are predatory.

The sole purpose of the adult crane fly is to mate and, for the females, to lay eggs for next spring’s crop of flies. Crane flies are harmless to handle, so the next time one makes its way indoors, simply cup it gently to release outdoors. Think of it as a romantic gesture.

Some lavae species consume some living aquatic insects and invertebrates, which could potentially include mosquito larvae. Many, however, because of their short lifespan, never eat at all.

Numerous other common names have been applied to the crane fly. Many of the names are more or less regional in the U.S., including mosquito hawk, mosquito eater, gallinipper, and gollywhopper.

There are other misconceptions about the crane fly.

There is an enduring urban legend that crane flies are the most venomous insects in the world, but have no ability to administer the venom; this is not true. The myth likely arose due to their being confused with the cellar spider as they are also informally called “daddy longlegs”, and although the arachnid does possess venom, it is not especially potent.

Despite widely held beliefs that adult crane flies prey on mosquito populations, the adult crane fly is anatomically incapable of killing or consuming other insects.

Crane flies are generally thought as agricultural pests. Since the late 1900s they have become invasive in the United States. The larvae have been observed on many crops, including vegetables, fruits, cereals, pasture, lawn grasses and ornamental plants.

Should you kill crane flies? Adult crane flies are harmless and do not feed on blood. However, crane fly larva, known as leatherjackets, can cause damage to your lawn. You can kill the flies immediately with an insecticide or you can take preventative measures by killing their larva.

First, you must use home remedies with essential oils to prevent adult crane flies. It will also prevent them from laying their eggs in your garden or lawn. There are many essential oils that you can use to make your treatment, the most common being lavender, and peppermint oil.

It is harmless to humans, can be a nuisance to agriculture, but I wish it would stop reading over my shoulder.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Red Sox relief pitcher appeared in a record 81 games during the 2005 season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Banded longhorn beetles common in central Maine

Banded longhorn beetle

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A little while back, while we were sitting with neighbors at camp, we noticed a bug walking along the floor of the porch. Strange looking thing…really ugly! They asked what it was. That was easy.

It was a longhorn beetle.

Although you don’t see them often, they are pretty common around the world, including Maine. Oh, I forgot. They are called banded longhorn beetles. There are over 20,000 species worldwide, 1,200 of which occur in North America.

Adult longhorn beetles, Typocerus velutinus, vary greatly in shape, size and color. In general, they are cylindrical and rather long-bodied. Some of the larger ones can reach six inches in length, but most species measure around two to three inches long. Some are dull brown, while others have bright colors or intricate patterns on their wing covers.

But the dominant part of their bodies are their antennae. They can reach at least two-thirds as long as the body, and in some species the antennae are longer than the body. Males have longer antennae than females. Some are slow moving, while others can run quickly or are strong fliers. Depending on the species, adults may be observed feeding on flower parts, leaves or bark.

Banded Longhorn Beetles have extremely long antennae (horns) like their other relatives. Their bodies are colored in alternating bands of red and yellow. The head and pronotum are black. A thin band of yellow separates the pronotum from the head and abdomen. They are wider at the ‘shoulders’ and taper at the tip of the abdomen. Antennae are black and segmented. Legs are yellow with black ‘feet’.

They are often found on flowers, eating the pollen of a variety of species though they seem to favor parsley, carrot and celery flowers. Look for them in herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. Adult beetles can also be found on hardwood trees. Eggs are laid on dead or decaying trees where larvae hatch and begin boring into the wood. Look for larval frass, a mix of feces and sawdust, on the trunk or near the base of the tree. It is produced as a larva digs and is expelled as the tunneling deepens. This species’ larvae seem to prefer birch, sumac and goldenrod. Examine fallen trees and rotting logs in mixed wood forests for signs of the Banded Longhorn Beetle.

Longhorn beetles have many natural enemies, especially parasitic wasps and the larvae of certain other beetles. Many birds feed on adults and woodpeckers are fond of the larvae. Lizards sometimes lie in wait and capture adults when the beetles land on bark to mate or lay eggs.

Adults can be found on hardwood trees. Eggs are laid on the dead or decaying trees where lavae hatch, boring into the wood. Look for larval frass, a mix of feces and sawdust created when the larva tunnels deeper. This species seems to prefer birch, sumac and goldenrod, of which there are plenty in central Maine. They can be found in 38 states, seven Canadian provinces, mostly in eastern Canada, and Mexico.

Partly because of their relatively slow rate of reproduction, the survival of some species of longhorn beetles is endangered. For example, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle is threatened with extinction in California. Development and farming along river banks have destroyed much of this beetle’s natural habitat.

And then, you have the Asian longhorn beetle, which have become a serious threat to some of North America’s most beautiful and popular trees. Native to parts of Asia, the beetle is believed to have arrived in North America in the wooden packing material used in cargo shipments from China. Isolated Asian Longhorn Beetle infestations have been discovered in Brooklyn and Amityville, New York, and in Chicago, Illinois. In all instances where Asian longhorn beetles have been found, authorities have reacted quickly to stop the infestation from spreading.

Trees favored by the Asian longhorn beetle are predominantly maples, but infestations have also been discovered in horse chestnuts, poplars, willows, elms, mulberries and black locusts. Currently, there are no known chemical or biological defense against the Asian longhorn beetle and, in North America, they have few natural predators. In all cases of infestation, the affected trees are cut down and the wood destroyed.

In concluding, if you see a banded longhorn beetle, they are scary looking, but quite harmless to humans.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who holds the record for hitting the most home runs in Red Sox history?

Answer can be found here.