SCORES & OUTDOORS: Barred owls are keeping me awake

Barred owl

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last Thursday night my wife woke me from a sound sleep to listen to something outside our camp. Well, being somewhat groggy, I didn’t hear anything, and went back to sleep. It wasn’t long afterwards that she woke me again.

“Can’t you hear that?” she inquired sounding a little frustrated – You see, my wife tells me I’m going deaf.

I sat up, and listened attentively. “OK, I hear it, it’s a Barred Owl,” I told her.

She persisted. “Listen carefully.”

What I then heard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was at least two, maybe three, barred owls caterwauling to each other. This was at about 11 p.m. I had heard Barred Owls behind camp a thousand times, but never anything like this. It was almost as intriguing as listening to loons calling to each other.

The “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” call was unmistakable. But, I think it was a strange time of year for them to engage in this activity. This is usually done during the spring courtship, when one will vocalize to its mate, and vice versa. There were times when it was so loud and sustained, it almost sounded like a barking dog.

These calls are most heard at night or in twilight, and especially during the breeding season. However, calls can be heard year round since these birds do not migrate. They are very territorial, and will chase away intruders with loud hoots. These vocalizations become more frequent during the mating season, where female birds make invitation calls to mate with males.

Scientists, however, have debated that the calls of Barred Owls are much more diverse than we think. The research indicates that more needs to be known about the Barred Owls before they can deduce more about its behaviors in and out of the breeding season. Owls in general can be a difficult species of bird to study since they are mainly nocturnal and are not incredibly active until the breeding season.

Barred Owls, Strix varia, are easiest to find when they are active at night, but they are easier to hear than to see. From a distance, their calls can sound like a barking dog. They prefer mature forests, and their main diet is small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Since the 1960s, Barred Owls have expanded their range to the Pacific Coast where they are considered invasive. That is because it is believed they are partly to blame for the recent decline of the northern Spotted Owl, which is native to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. When Barred Owls and Spotted Owls occupy the same space, the Barred Owl is more aggressive and will out-compete the Spotted Owl. Barred Owls have even been known to kill Spotted Owls. Interbreeding is also suspected.

In 2007, White House officials announced a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to shoot Barred Owls in order to reduce the threat to the Spotted Owls. If implemented, it was estimated 2,150 to 2,850 Barred Owls should be taken over a five to 10 year period. It is feared that increased populations of Barred Owls could eventually render the Spotted Owl extinct. Environmentalists fear increased blame on Barred Owls for declining Spotted Owl numbers will result in less attention being paid to territorial protections and resumption of logging in protected Spotted Owl habitat.

According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, the experiment is ongoing and results are still being studied.

An adult Barred Owl can be anywhere from 16 – 25 inches long and weigh 1.1 to 2.3 pounds, with a wingspan of 38-49 inches. The Barred Owl is the only true owl of the eastern United States which has brown eyes. All others have yellow eyes.

The upper parts are a gray/brown, the underparts are light with markings. The chest is barred horizontally while the belly is striped vertically. The legs and feet are covered with feathers to the talons, and the head is round with no ear tufts.

Even though they are primarily nocturnal, they generally hunt near dawn or dusk, swooping down from a high perch, to take their prey.

We haven’t heard them in over a week, but I know they are still out there. I can’t wait for the next concert.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What Red Sox player was hit by a pitch an American League record 35 times in the 1986 season: Carl Yazstremski, Don Baylor, or Jim Rice?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Black squirrel makes another appearance

Black squirrel on a suet feeder. (photo courtesy of Michael Bilinsky)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I received an email recently from a reader/supporter, from China Village, who sent along a photo of a black squirrel he has seen around his home. He asked if I could do a column on them. I did a couple of years ago, but here goes, to refresh everyone’s memory.

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. 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 gray squirrel and the fox squirrel.

The black squirrel is actually a gray 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 gray 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 gray squirrels, too, and the result is that the black squirrels will usually run all the other squirrels “out of Dodge”.

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.

Black squirrels share the same natural range as their counterparts. In addition to their natural range, black morphs of eastern gray squirrels were also introduced into other areas of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Black morphs of eastern gray squirrels occur most frequently in the northern portion of its range around the Great Lakes Basin. Conversely, black morphs of fox squirrels typically occur most frequently in the southeastern portions of the species’ natural range, the southeastern United States. Although they are found more frequently in those regions, the coloration remains uncommon in most areas that these species inhabit. However, black morphs of eastern gray squirrels forms the majority of the species’ population in the Canadian province of Ontario, and the U.S. state of Michigan.

Several municipalities and post-secondary schools in the United States have adopted a black squirrel for branding purposes, using it as a symbol and/or mascot. Some municipalities that have adopted the black squirrels as a symbol for their community have also passed ordinances that discourage attempts to threaten them.

If you’re fortunate enough to see, one enjoy. He is merely a gray squirrel in disguise.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the New England Patriots logo commonly referred as?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Large bug interrupted my game

Giant Water Bug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While I was playing cornhole last Friday night, I was interrupted while in the process of preparing for my next toss. It was pointed out to me that something was attached to the leg of my pants.

It was approximately two to three inches long, black/brown – at least in the evening light. Someone said it was a cicadae, but I knew better. I wasn’t sure what it was.

We sent it on its way.

Research told me it was a giant water bug,

Belostomatidae is a family of freshwater insects known as giant water bugs or colloquially as toe-biters, Indian toe-biters, electric-light bugs, alligator ticks, or alligator fleas (in Florida). They are the largest insects in the order. There are about 170 species found in freshwater habitats worldwide.

These predators are typically encountered in freshwater ponds, marshes and slow-flowing streams. They can grow to up to 4.5 inches and nearly reach the length of some of the largest beetles in the world. Giant water bugs are a popular food in parts of Asia.

They have a flattened, egg-shaped body, and usually the legs are flattened. The head features two large compound eyes, but lacks the eye-like spot. Short antennae are tucked in grooves behind the eyes. A short breathing tube can be retracted into its abdomen. Adults cannot breathe under water, so must periodically place the breathing tube at the surface for air (similar to a snorkel).

Their hind legs have two claws. The frontal legs are modified into raptorial appendages that they use to grab their prey. Once caught, the prey are stabbed with their proboscis and a powerful saliva is injected, allowing the bug to suck out the liquefied remains. Wing pads can be seen from the dorsal view. They have a greatly reduced flight apparatus and are flightless.

The giant water bugs are aggressive predators that stalk, capture, and feed on fish, amphibians, as well as aquatic invertebrates such as snails and crustaceans. The largest species have also been found to capture and feed on baby turtles and water snakes. They often lie motionless at the bottom of a body of water, attached to various objects, where they wait for prey to come near. They then strike, injecting a venomous digestive saliva with their rostrum. Although their bite is excruciatingly painful, it is of no medical significance. Occasionally, when encountered by a larger animal or a human, they have been known to “play dead” and most species can emit a fluid from their anus. Due to this, they are assumed dead by humans only to later “come alive” with painful results.

These water bugs show paternal care and these aspects have been studied extensively. In species of the subfamily, the eggs are typically laid on the male’s wings and carried until they hatch. The male cannot mate during this period. The males invest considerable time and energy in reproduction and females take the role of actively finding males to mate. This role reversal matches the predictions of R. L. Trivers’ parental investment theory where the eggs are laid on emergent vegetation and guarded by the male.

In some areas of Asia, they are considered a delicacy, and can be found for sale in markets. This is mainly in South and Southeast Asia. In South and Southeast Asia they are often collected for this purpose using large floating traps on ponds, set with black lights to attract the bugs. Adults fly at night, like many aquatic insects, and are attracted to lights during the breeding season.

I don’t know where it came from, or where it went, I don’t know why it chose me among the dozen and half people who were there that night.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In what year did the Patriots move from Boston to Foxborough and changed their name to the New England Patriots?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Menacing-looking spider is common, harmless

Yellow garden spider

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Last week I received an email from a reader who sent along a photo of a large yellow spider she found on her screen door. It was a menacing-looking thing.

It actually is a yellow garden spider, commonly known as the yellow garden spider, black and yellow garden spider, golden garden spider, writing spider, zigzag spider, zipper spider, black and yellow argiope, corn spider, Steeler spider, or McKinley spider.

The species was first described by Hippolyte Lucas in 1833. It is common to the contiguous United States, Hawaii, southern Canada, Mexico, and Central America. It has distinctive yellow and black markings on the abdomen and a mostly white cephalothorax. The body length of males range from 0.20 – 0.35 inches; females range from 0.75–1.10 inches. These spiders may bite if disturbed or harassed, but the venom is harmless to non-allergic humans, roughly equivalent to a bumblebee sting in intensity.

Yellow garden spiders often build webs in areas adjacent to open sunny fields where they stay concealed and protected from the wind. The spider can also be found along the eaves of houses and outbuildings or in any tall vegetation where they can securely stretch a web.

Female spiders tend to be somewhat local, often staying in one place throughout much of their lifetime.

The web of the yellow garden spider is distinctive: a circular shape up to two feet in diameter, with a dense zigzag of silk in the center.

The yellow garden spider can oscillate her web vigorously while she remains firmly attached in the center. This action might prevent predators like wasps and birds from drawing a good bead, and also to fully entangle an insect before it cuts itself loose. In a nightly ritual, the spider consumes the circular interior part of the web and then rebuilds it each morning with fresh new silk. The radial framework and anchoring lines are not usually replaced when the spider rebuilds the web. The spider may be recycling the chemicals used in web building. Additionally, the fine threads that she consumes appear to have tiny particles of what may be minuscule insects and organic matter that may contain nutrition.

The yellow garden spider does not live in very dense location clusters like other orb spiders. The yellow garden spider keeps a clean orderly web in comparison to the cluttered series of webs built and abandoned by groups of golden orb spiders.

This spider is found from Canada to Costa Rica, but less so in the basin and mountain areas of the Rockies.

These spiders are not aggressive. They might bite if grabbed, but other than for defense they do not attack large animals. Their venom often contains a library of toxins with potential as therapeutic medicinal agents.

A bite by the yellow garden spider is comparable to a bee sting with redness and swelling. For a healthy adult, a bite is not considered an issue. Though these spiders are not aggressive, people who are very young, elderly, or who have compromised immune systems should exercise caution, just as they would around a beehive or a hornet nest.

Yellow garden spiders breed twice a year. The males roam in search of a female, building a small web near or actually in the female’s web, then court the females by plucking strands on her web. Often, when the male approaches the female, he has a safety drop line ready, in case she attacks him. After mating, the male dies, and is sometimes then eaten by the female.

The female lays her eggs at night on a sheet of silky material, then covers them with another layer of silk, then a protective brownish silk. She then uses her legs to form the sheet into a ball with an upturned neck.

In the spring, the young spiders exit the sac. They are so tiny that they look like dust gathered inside the silk mesh. Some of the spiderlings remain nearby, but others exude a strand of silk that gets caught by the breeze, carrying the spiderling to a more distant area.

Females of the species are the most commonly seen in gardens. Their webs are usually characterized by a zigzag shaped extra thick line of silk in the middle extending vertically. The spiders spend most of their time in their webs, waiting for prey to become ensnared. When prey becomes caught in the web, the spider may undulate the web back and forth to further trap the insect. When the prey is secure, the spider kills it by injecting its venom and then wraps the prey in a cocoon of silk for later consumption (typically one to four hours later). Prey includes small vertebrates, such as geckos and green anoles, as well as insects.

If you find one of these around your house, it is not as dangerous as it looks.

Easy for me to say, Mr. I-don’t-like-spiders.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who were the four outfielders on the Red Sox’ 2018 World Series championship team?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Surprised by a northern ringneck snake

Left, Northern ringneck snake. Right, Northern ringneck snake
under side.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A friend of mine, who lives in Sidney, sent a text message with the photo of a snake he found under his wood pile. He said he had never seen one before. Neither have I. The snake was black with a bright yellow ring around its neck. What he found is fairly common.

Diadophis punctatus, commonly known as the ring-necked snake or ringneck snake, is a harmless species of snake found throughout much of the United States, central Mexico, and south-eastern Canada. Ring-necked snakes are secretive, nocturnal snakes, so are rarely seen during the day time. They are best known for their unique defense posture of curling up their tails, exposing their bright red-orange posterior, ventral surface when threatened.

Ring-necked snakes are believed to be fairly abundant throughout most of their range, though no scientific evaluation supports this hypothesis. Scientific research is lacking for the ring-necked snake, and more in-depth investigations are greatly needed.

Ring-necked snakes are fairly similar in morphology throughout much of their distribution. Its dorsal coloration is solid olive, brown, bluish-gray to smoky black, broken only by a distinct yellow, red, or yellow-orange neck band.

Size also varies across the species’ distribution. Typically, adults measure 10–15 inches in length,

Ring-necked snakes have smooth scales with 15–17 scale rows at midbody. Males typically have small tubercles on their scales just anterior to the vent, which are usually absent in females.

Ring-necked snakes usually mate in the spring.

Ring-necked snakes are fairly common throughout much of the United States extending into southeastern Canada and central Mexico. Eastern populations cover the entire Eastern seaboard from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in Canada, continuous through the Gulf Coast of Texas. Distribution moves inland into northern Minnesota, continuing diagonally through the U.S. to include all of Iowa, eastern Nebraska, and most of Kansas. In the western U.S., the distribution is significantly less continuous, with spotty, distinct population segments through most of the Pacific Northwest. Populations extend from south-central Washington continuing along the extreme West Coast into Mexico. Population segments extend inland into western Idaho, through southern Nevada, into central Utah, and continuing south through Arizona and central Mexico.

Ring-necked snakes occur in a wide variety of habitats. Preference seems to be determined by areas with abundant cover and denning locations. Northern and western subspecies are found within open woodlands near rocky hillsides, or in wetter environments with abundant cover or woody debris.

Since it is a woodland reptile, it can also commonly be found under wood or scraps. Because of hot weather, they tend to make holes and burrows, or they hide under rocks or any suitable material. They are normally found in flatland forests. Though they prefer to remain away from human-made structures, ring-neck snakes are not afraid to utilize urbanized areas as refuge from predators.

The diet of the ring-necked snake consists primarily of smaller salamanders, earthworms, and slugs, but they also sometimes eat lizards, frogs, and some juvenile snakes of other species. The frequency at which prey species are chosen is dependent on their availability within the habitat. Ring-necked snakes use a combination of constriction and venom to secure their prey. In a study analyzing the dietary habits of this species, age, amount of food consumed, and temperature were conditions that highly affected digestion. The snakes do not have a true venom gland, but they do have a structure called the Duvernoy’s gland derived from the same tissue. The venom is produced in the Duvernoy’s gland located directly behind the eye. It then drains out of an opening at the rear of the maxillary tooth. Ring-necked snakes first strike and then secure the prey using constriction. Next, they maneuver their mouths forward, ensuring the last maxillary tooth punctures the skin and allowing the venom to enter the prey’s tissue. The secretion significantly affects the righting response of the prey. Ring-necked snakes are rarely aggressive toward larger predators, suggesting their venom evolved as a feeding strategy rather than a defense mechanism. Rather than trying to bite a predator, the snake winds up its tail into a corkscrew, exposing its brightly colored belly.

Ring-necked snakes are primarily nocturnal or can be found at twilight, though some day time activity has been observed. Individuals are sometimes found during the day, especially on cloudy days, sunning themselves to gain heat. Yet, most individuals lie directly under surface objects warmed in the sun and use conduction with that object to gain heat. Though ring-necked snakes are highly secretive, they do display some social structure, but the exact social hierarchies have never been evaluated. Many populations have been identified to have large colonies of more than 100 individuals, and some reports indicate some smaller colonies occupy the same microhabitats.

If you should see one, it’s harmless to humans.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who were the Boston Red Sox’ “Gold Dust Twins” in the 1970s?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Hunter Praul’s love of nature involves slimy and scaly creatures

Hunter Praul

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

This came across my desk last week, and I thought it would make a good story for this week’s column.

Growing up in China, Maine, Hunter Praul said he always had an interest in exploring the outdoors, especially for reptiles and amphibians. He became an Eagle Scout, but even outside of his troop outings, he would find himself in forests, lakes and stream banks looking for frogs, toads, turtles and anything else he could find.

As a student researcher at the University of Maine, Praul has taken his love for nature’s slimy and scaly creatures and applied it to the mission of conservation in Maine.

When Praul graduated from high school, he was named to the Maine Top Scholars program, which provides full tuition and research opportunities for the highest achieving high schoolers in the state to attend the University of Maine.

Since early spring 2022, Praul has worked on a variety of turtle conservation research projects in the lab of Matthew Chatfield, assistant professor at the School of Biology and Ecology. Praul’s primary project aims to record the musk turtle population on the nearby Pushaw Lake, which is thought to be one of most northern (if not the northernmost) parts of the species’ habitat range.

“It would be interesting to get data and information on the most northern population to see if there are differences from the southern ones or even just more southern in the state, although there hasn’t been much research on them, especially in Maine,” Praul says.

Every month for the past couple months, Chatfield and Praul have headed out to three different plots near Gould’s Landing to lay six sardine-baited traps at each, strategically placing them at different levels of vegetation and depths along the shore. For that week, they return every morning to check the traps, repair any damage wrought by hungry raccoons or snapping turtles, and record their observations.

“I have worked with thousands of students in the classroom and dozens in a field or mentoring capacity and I have to say Hunter [Praul] is probably the most meticulous student I have ever met,” Chatfield says. “Every word and number on the data sheet gets recorded exactly right. He’s definitely one of the strongest undergraduate researchers I have come across.”

Praul admits, though, that he hasn’t had much luck finding musk turtles this summer. He has only found one, though he has seen plenty of the common painted turtles throughout the course of his study.

“We might be in the wrong spot in the lake, but there also might not be as many in the lake as we originally thought,” Praul says. “We’re taking a little break and we’re going to try again at the end of this summer to see if there’s a seasonal change in numbers.”

Praul is still hoping to use the musk turtle project for his senior capstone project, but if doesn’t find enough musk turtles to draw any substantive conclusions about the Pushaw Lake population, he will use data from a graduate project in Chatfield’s lab about wood turtles. Praul has been assisting graduate students with fieldwork using radiotelemetry to observe and record the nesting behavior of wood turtles, a heavily trafficked and internationally listed endangered species that purportedly has a stronghold in Maine.

Almost every week, Praul will join a graduate student researcher at their streamside site; the exact location is confidential, to protect the highly-trafficked turtles. They use a receiver to find the turtles observed for that study, which are tagged with radio telemeters, and record environmental and behavioral data about their subjects.

Turtles aren’t the only animal that Praul interacts with for this research, either.

“To help with finding wood turtles, there is a dog that has been trained to find them,” Praul says. “Sometimes her handler [Lindsay Ware of Science Dogs of New England] and I take her out to go sniffing through the grass and stream. If she finds a different species, she’ll pass on it, and if she finds a wood turtle, she’ll just stand over until we get there.”

The dog’s name is Chili Bean, Chili for short. Some of the wood turtles have names, too, like Crowley, Outlaw and Jennifer Lawrence — to make them easier to identify in the field, of course.

Outside of his herpetology projects, Praul also works at the UMaine Environmental DNA Laboratory conducting lab procedures. He said it’s “very interesting” and “cool to do,” but he prefers studying the natural world on a larger scale.

Praul plans to graduate this spring after his third year at the University of Maine. He isn’t exactly sure what he will do after that, but one thing is for sure: he wants to work with animals.

“I definitely still say herpetology is my main interest, but I also basically have an interest in all animals,” Praul says. “It makes it a little bit harder to choose something if there are so many options.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which pitcher is the all-time saves leader for the Boston Red Sox?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The elusive pileated woodpecker, not to be confused with ivory-billed

pileated woodpecker (left), ivory-billed woodpecker (right)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

You catch a fast-moving, swooping bird navigate through the thick forest of trees. It looks more like a shadow. What was that? It lands on the trunk of a nearby tree, and begins a slow, rolling whacking sound against the bark of that dead tree. You look closer, it’s a pileated woodpecker.

Although very common in the eastern United States, it can sometimes be quite elusive. You don’t generally see them often, because they prefer the protection of dense deciduous or coniferous forests.

The pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, lives in Canada from British Columbia east to Nova Scotia. It can be found in most areas of the eastern United States, and west from Washington state south to California and east to Idaho and North Dakota.

Their numbers have increased from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding popultion of 1.9 million with 67 percent living in the U.S. and 33 percent in Canada.

The reason for the subject of this bird this week is the numerous photos that readers have been sending to this newspaper.

I have seen several of these birds around camp, and even saw one, once, sitting on an apple tree stump in my backyard, in the middle of Waterville.

The pileated woodpecker is one of the biggest forest birds on the continent. It is close in size to the crow.

They drill distinctive rectangular-shaped holes in rotten wood to get at carpenter ants and other insects. They are loud with whinnying calls. They also drum on dead trees. There flight is undulated (a bounding motion) as opposed to other birds straight flight paths.

Besides carpenter ants, pileated woodpeckers like woodboring beetle larvae, termites and other insects such as flies, spruce budworm, caterpillars, cockroaches and grasshoppers. They will also eat wild fruits and nuts. However, ants comprise 40 percent of their diet. Occasionally, you will find a pileated woodpecker at backyard feeders for seeds or suet.

Building a nest is quite a construction project that can last up to six weeks. The male begins excavating the nest cavity and does most of the work. The entrance hole is oblong rather than the circular shape of most woodpecker holes. For the finishing touches, the bird climbs all the way into the hole and chips away at it from the inside. The female begins to contribute as the nest nears completion. The cavity depth can be from 10 to 24 inches.

Of course, then you have the disagreement on how to pronounce the name. Well, in actuality, it can be pronounced two ways. You can use he soft “i” as in pill-ee-ated, or the hard “i” in pile-ee-ated. So, now we should have no more arguments about that subject.

Many people, though, confuse the pileated woodpecker with the ivory-billed woodpecker. The ivory-billed woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America, other than the imperial woodpecker of Mexico, which is feared to be extinct. The pileated is the second largest. Because of habitat destruction and, to a lesser extent, hunting, the numbers of ivory-billed woodpeckers, Campephilus principalis, have dwindled to the point where it is uncertain whether any remain, though there have been reports that they have been seen again, in Florida and Arkansas, although nothing has been substantiated. According to various sources, including the Cornell University Lab on Ornithology, almost no forests today can maintain an ivory-billed woodpecker population. Ivory-billed woodpeckers were most prominent in the southeastern U.S.

So, if you see that large woodpecker in Maine woods, you are most probably seeing a pileated woodpecker.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which Boston Red Sox player holds the club record for intentional walks, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, or David Ortiz?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The summer sound of the cicada


Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While browsing through some old emails recently, I noticed one that I had planned to respond to, but as often happens, I was sidetracked and never got back to it. It was an email with photos of cicadas with an inquiry. I apologize to that person for not getting to this sooner.

Cicadas are green bugs, usually one to two inches in length with prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae and clear wings. They have an exceptionally loud song, produced not by stridulation (making shrill or chirping sounds by rubbing certain body parts together), but by vibrating drumlike tymbals rapidly.

The “singing’ of male cicadas is not stridulation such as many familiar species of insects produce, like crickets, for example. Instead, male cicadas have a resilin structure call a tymbal below each side of the anterior abdominal region. Contraction of internal muscles buckles the tymbals inwards, thereby producing a click; on relaxation of the muscles, the tymbals return to their original position, producing another click. By rapidly vibrating these membranes, a cicada combines the clicks into apparently continuous notes. Only the males “sing.” However, both males and females have membranous structures called tympana by which they detect sounds, the equivalent of having ears.

To the human ear, it is often difficult to tell precisely where a cicada’s song originates. The pitch is nearly constant, the sound is continuous to the human ear, and cicadas sing in scattered groups.

The question posed was as to whether it was a periodic cicada, which spend most of their lives as underground nymph, emerging only after 13 to 17 years. This may reduce losses by starving their predators and eventually emerging in huge numbers that overwhelm and satiate any remaining predators.

At least 3,000 cicada species are distributed worldwide with the majority of them being in the tropics. Most are restricted to a single biogeographical region and many species have a very limited range.

Many of North American species are in the genus Neotibicen: the annual or jar fly or dog-day cicadas (so named because they emerge in late July and August). The best-known North American genus, however, Magicicada, have an extremely long life cycle of 13 – 17 years, suddenly and briefly emerging in large numbers. When this phenomenon occurs, the noise emitted by the cicadas is deafening.

After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig where she deposits her eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly-hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives at depths down to about eight feet. Nymphs have strong front legs for digging and excavating chambers in close proximity to roots where they feed on xylem sap (the woody vascular tissue of a plant). In the process, their bodies and interior of the burrow become coated with anal fluids. In wet habitats, larger species construct mud towers above ground in order to aerate their burrows. In the final instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time, and emerge as adults. The exoskeleton remains, still clinging to the bark of the tree.

The long life cycles may have developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A specialist predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.

Other predators include bats, spiders and robber flies. Cicadas are fast flyers and can escape if disturbed, and they are well camouflaged. They are difficult to find by birds that hunt by sight.

Cicadas have been featured in literature since the time of Homer’s Iliad. They are also mentioned in Chinese and Japanese literature. Cicadas are also a frequent subject of haiku, where, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer or autumn.

Cicadas have been used as money, in folk medicine, to forecast the weather, to provide song (in China), and in folklore and myths around the world.

Cicadas feed on sap; they do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may occasionally mistake a person’s arm for a plant limb and attempt to feed. They are not a major agricultural pest but in some outbreak years, trees may be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of females laying their eggs in the shoots.

The periodical cicada, which takes 13-17 years to emerge, does not exist in Maine. The Maine cicadas are the annual or dog-day species, which emerge in late July and August. It is common to discover a cicada’s shed exoskeleton on a tree (in Maine, at least) than it is to find an actual cicada. That it because they are strong fliers that spend their time high in the trees, so without the mass emergences that take place in other regions of the country, one is not very likely to encounter one in Maine very often, making them a thing of curiosity for anyone unfamiliar with them.

I have seen cicadas at my camp, but only on a few occasions.

By the way, cicadas are the critters you hear buzzing in late summer. Old farmers’ lore states that the first killing frost of the season will occur 90 days following the first sounds of the cicada. We heard the first buzzing of the cicada on July 22, which means the first killing frost will occur around October 22. Can’t you just wait?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which former Red Sox outfielder went on to become a NASCAR truck series driver following his retirement from baseball after the 1996 season?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Swans are sighted on west shore of Webber Pond


Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

It has been reported that a bevy of swans has been spotted on Webber Pond. Interesting. So I had to investigate. Oh, by the way, a bevy of swans is when they are on the ground. While in flight they are called a wedge.

The swan is known around the world for its beauty, elegance, and grace.

The swan has the ability to swim and fly with incredible speed and agility. This bird is also very intelligent, devoted to its mate, and highly aggressive about defending its young. They are a common sight in temperate and colder climates around the globe.

The English word “swan” is also shared with the German and Dutch. It likely has its roots in the older Indo-European word swen, which means to sound or to sing.

This bird is much faster on land than you might suspect with speeds of 22 miles an hour. In the water, it can also achieve speeds of around 1.6 miles per hour by paddling its webbed feet. But if they stretch out their wings, then swans can let the wind carry them at much higher speeds while also saving energy.

These birds feature prominently in human mythologies and arts around the world. Some of the most famous stories involve metamorphosis and transformation. A Greek legend claims that the god Zeus once disguised himself as a swan. The famous 19th century Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake, which derived from Russian and German folk tales, is the story of a princess transformed into a swan by a curse. And of course, the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Ugly Duckling is about a duck that transforms into a swan.

Swimming gracefully through the water, these birds are an impressive spectacle whose characteristics include a large body, a long and curved neck, and big feet. Each species has different colored plumage. The common mute swan is almost completely covered in white feathers except for an orange bill and some black markings on the face.

These birds rank as the largest waterfowl and among the largest birds in the world.

Among these birds’ most remarkable social characteristics are the intense bonds they form with one mate for life. Unlike many other species of birds (even the closely related geese and duck), this has a few distinct advantages. First, it allows the pair to learn from their reproductive failures and develop better strategies. Second, the couple will share several duties, including the construction of nests, which they build out of grasses, branches, reeds, and other vegetation. This makes them far more effective than it would be on its own. Third, because of their long migratory routes, they have less time to acquire a mate, so the lifelong bond actually saves them time.

These birds are quite defensive animals that will do anything to protect their young. To drive off threats, they will engage in a display called busking, which involves hissing, snorting, and flapping with their outstretched wings. Due to their relatively weak bones, this display is largely a bluff that has little force behind it, but it doesn’t stop them from gloating. After driving off a predator, they make a triumphant sound. They also communicate through a variety of other vocalizations that emanate from the windpipe or the breastbone, including in some species a geese like honk. Even the so-called mute swan can make hissing, snoring, or grunting sounds.

After the breeding season, the bird migrates to warmer climates in the winter by flying in diagonal V formations with around 100 individuals. When the lead bird tires, another one takes its place at the front. These birds can be either partially migratory or wholly migratory depending on where they nest. The fully migratory species typically live in colder climates and may travel the same route thousands of miles every year toward warmer climates.

These birds are endemic to ponds, lakes, rivers, estuaries, and wetlands all over the world. Most species prefer temperate or Arctic climates and migrate during the colder seasons. The common mute swan is native to Europe. It was later introduced into North America (where it flourished).

Swans are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals. When swimming in the water, it feeds via a method called dabbling in which it flips upside down and reaches down with its long neck to the vegetation at the bottom of the floor. The bird can also come up onto land in search of food.

These bird’s large size, fast speeds, flying ability, and rather aggressive behavior (at least when threatened) are a deterrent for most predators, but the old, ill, and young (especially the eggs) are sometimes preyed upon by foxes, raccoons, wolves, and other carnivorous mammals. Habitat loss, pollution, and overhunting have all posed a persistent threat, but they can adapt quite well to human habitations, and the cultivation of ponds and lakes for local wildlife has kept population numbers high. In the future, swan habitat and migratory patterns will be affected by climate change.

Thanks to years of protection, the swan genus as a whole are in excellent health. According to the IUCN Red List, which tracks the population status of many animals around the world, every single species of the swan is listed as least concern, which is the best possible conservation prognosis. Population numbers, though not known with precise accuracy, appear to be stable or increasing around the world. The trumpeter swan endemic to North America once fell to as little as 100 birds in 1935, but it has since been rehabilitated.

Swans have symbolized different things to different people. They were a symbol of religious piety in ancient Greece. They were revered for their purity and saintliness in Hinduism. And because of their lifelong bonds, they’ve also symbolized love and devotion around the world.

The common phrase “swan song,” which means a mournful call at the moment of the swan’s death, appears to be a myth. It is still regularly used in modern English to signify a final graceful exit, but the origin of this belief is not well understood. According to the author Jeremy Mynott, who wrote a book about birds in the ancient world, the phrase might have to do with the swan’s connection to Apollo, the god of prophecy and music. The philosopher Plato believed that the swan song was a “metaphorical celebration of the life to come.” Rather than bewailing their own deaths, Plato writes, the swans are “happy in the knowledge that they are departing this life to join the god they serve.” Other ancient authors were skeptical of the swan song and sought to debunk it. More recently, some scientists have tried to find a more rational and scientific explanation for this belief, but more likely it’s based entirely on symbolism and myth.

Despite their intense devotion to each other, swans do not die from grief. This appears to be a myth derived from a dubious ancient source. If a mate dies prematurely, then the surviving swan will usually find a new mate. What they feel after a mate dies is not entirely clear, since we cannot know fully what they are thinking.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which shortstop’s league-leading 209 hits helped him win the 1997 rookie of the year award?

Answer can be found here.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: DNA verifies another wolf killed in New York

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 my space to John Glowa Sr., of the Maine Wolf Coalition, with an update on the mounting evidence that wolves are attempting a comeback in the Northeast:

by John Glowa Sr.

DNA analysis of an 85-pound canid shot by a New York hunter in December 2021, has verified the animal to have been a wolf. The animal was killed in central New York and the hunter posted photos of the animal on social media. At the time that it was killed, wolves had been removed from the federal Endangered Species list. They have since been reinstated to the list after a successful lawsuit by wildlife advocates.

In a collaborative effort between the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society (NERS) and the Maine Wolf Coalition (MWC), the hunter graciously provided tissue samples of the animal for DNA analysis, some of which were sent by NERS at considerable expense to the Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. We thank the hunter for his cooperation, without which we would not have gotten samples for analysis. The findings concluded that the animal was effectively 100 percent wolf with DNA from Great Lakes wolves, Northwest Territories gray wolves and Eastern wolves, in decreasing order of DNA percentage. The complex nature and purity of the wolf DNA may be consistent with a wild wolf that dispersed from Canada where various wolf populations are known to intermingle.

It has long been wrongly believed that the St. Lawrence River and surrounding area serve as a barrier to wolf dispersal. This animal is the latest of at least ten wolves known to have been killed south of the St. Lawrence River since 1993 which includes wolves killed in Day, New York, in 2001, and Sterling, New York, in 2005. Other wolves have been killed in Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Brunswick and Québec. MWC, through our own research, documented the first live Eastern wolf in Maine in through scat we collected in 2019.

The presence of wolves in New York is to be expected, given the state’s proximity to documented wolf range in Canada and its abundant habitat and prey. There are tens of thousands of square miles of potential wolf habitat in the northeast, much of it in New York, which makes the northeast ideal for wolf recovery. In fact, wolves live just sixty miles from the New York border, a distance that a dispersing wolf could travel in a day or two.

The New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has long denied the presence of wolves in the state. NYSDEC agents reportedly took tissue samples of the animal for DNA analysis but the agency has issued no statement regarding their results.

The killing of this animal is just the latest stone in a growing mountain of evidence proving that wolves are attempting to recolonize the northeast U.S. and maritime Canada south of the St. Lawrence River. It is past time for the state and federal governments to take action to protect wolves in the northeast. Denying their existence, failing to conduct the necessary research to determine their status, and refusing to give them the protection to which they are entitled are all contrary to state and federal law and the intent of the Endangered Species Act.

For more information, contact: Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, Joseph Butera 83-37. 267 St., Floral Park, NY 11004, 917-855-4906: email:; or Maine Wolf Coalition, John M. Glowa, Sr., 30 Meadow Wood Drive, South China, ME 04358, 207-660-3801: email: