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

Black-footed ferret

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the Super Bowl record of the Seattle Seahawks?

Answer can be found here.

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

White-tailed buck and doe. (Internet photo)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, should you try to help out these critters?

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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


Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The killdeer has a life span of about 11 years.

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

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

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

The name has stuck through the decades since.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

All signs, but yet no sightings.

Uncropped version of photo above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, according to Reynolds,

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Canada lynx in the wild.

A Canada lynx in the wild.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Turkey was almost national bird

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what about the first Thanksgiving? Many myths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

Interesting question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

The answer can be found here.

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

brown marmorated stink bug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else can you do?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who is the New England Patriots all time leading rusher?

Answer can be found here.

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes sense to me.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.

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

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

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

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

Answer can be found here.