SCORES & OUTDOORS: The Maine coon cat

Maine Coon Cat

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I don’t usually do a column on domestic house pets, but I think this one is worth the exception. I have this Maine coon cat that hangs around my house. It belongs to the next door neighbors, but it seems to have claimed my yard as part of its territory.

The Maine coon cat is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine, and is recognized as the official state cat.

Although the Maine coon’s origins and date of introduction to the United States are unknown, there are many theories. The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 19th century, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. The breed has made a recovery, and is second only to the Persians in popularity throughout the world.

There are only theories and folklore as to their origin. One involves Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed in 1793. The story goes that before her death, Antoinette attempted to escape France with the help of Capt. Sam­uel Clough. She loaded Clough’s ship with her most prized possessions, including six of her favorite Turkish Angora cats. Although she did not make it to the United States, her pets safely reached the shores of Wiscasset, where they bred with other short-haired breeds and evolved into the modern breed of Maine coon.

Another folk story involves Capt. Charles Coon, an English seafarer who kept long-haired cats aboard his ships. Whenever Coon’s ship would anchor in New England ports, the felines would exit the ship and mate with the local feral population. When long-haired kittens began appearing in the litters of the local cat population, they were referred to as one of “Coon’s cats.”

A myth which is trait-based, though genetically impossible, is the idea that the modern Maine coon descended from ancestors of semi-feral domestic cats and raccoons. This myth would account for the common color of the breed (brown tabby) and its bushy tail. Another idea is that the Maine coon originated between the matings of domestic cats and wild bobcats, which could explain the tufts of hairs that are so commonly seen on the tips of the ears.

The generally-accepted theory among breeders is the possibility that the short-haired domestic cats and long-haired breeds brought from overseas, were responsible, especially the 11th century Vikings. The Maine coon bears strong resemblance to the Norwegian Forest Cat.

The first mention of Maine coons in a literary work was in 1861, when a black and white Maine coon by the name of Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, was written about by co-owner F. R. Pierce, who wrote a chapter in Frances Simpson’s The Book of Cats in 1903.

In 1895, a dozen Maine coons were entered in a show in Boston. On May 8, 1895, the first North American cat show was hosted at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. A female Maine coon brown tabby, named Cosey, won the silver collar and medal, and was named best in show.

In the early 20th century, the Maine coon’s popularity began to decline with the introduction of other long-haired breeds, such as Persians. The last recorded win by a Maine coon in a national cat show was in 1911 in Portland, Oregon. The breed was rarely seen after that. The decline was so severe that is was prematurely declared extinct in the 1950s.

Maine coons are known as “gentle giants” and possess above-average intelligence, making them easy to train. They are known for being loyal to their families and cautious, but not mean, around strangers, but are independent and not clingy. It is not generally known as a lap cat, but their gentle disposition makes the breed relaxed around dogs, other cats and children. They are playful throughout their lives, the male more so than the female.

Maine coons have a fascination with water, and some theorize that this trait comes from their ancestors, who were aboard ships for much of their lives.

Maine coons are generally a healthy and hardy breed, and have adapted to survive the New Eng­land climate. Their most severe threat is a heart disease most commonly found in cats, whether pure bred or not. Another potential health problem is spinal muscular atrophy, a disease which causes the loss of the neurons in the spinal cord that activate the skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs.

They have several physical adaptations for survival in harsh winter climates. Their dense fur is water resistant and the shaggier hair on their underside and rear protect them when walking or sitting on top of wet surfaces of snow and ice. Their long and bush raccoon-like tail is resistant to sinking in snow, and can be curled around their face and shoulders for warmth and protection from wind and blowing snow.

My wife and I have had our share of cats over the years, and choose not to have any more. But if I were to have another cat, it would be a Maine coon. There seems to be a mystique about them.


Well, Patriots fans, what do you take away from Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, 10-7?

I think it’s an improvement. After losing, 10-6, to Indianapolis two weeks ago, they only lost by three points instead of four. It is a sad affair when your defense gives up only 10 points in each of those games, and they still lose. It can only get better, right? Can you say, 2-15?

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The New England Patriots were the first NFL team to achieve what record during the regular season?


SCORES & OUTDOORS: What is that funny-looking chicken?

A Pearl Guinea Fowl, front, and White Guinea Fowl.

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A little while back, I went to a friend’s house at the lake to help bring in his dock. But before we did that, he had to go to Hannaford to pick up his weekly issue of the Boston Sunday Globe – he wouldn’t read anything else. I stayed back to start getting things ready.

When he returned, he asked me about a flock of birds he had seen crossing the road that looked like fat, gray chickens. Immediately, the guinea fowl came to mind. Rather than have him describe the bird to me, I described it to him, and it was exactly what he had seen.

Guinea fowl, Numida meleagris, in our area are generally domestic stock, kind of like chickens and bantams. It is believed they are of West African origin. There are two common varieties, the Pearl and the White. The bird rarely weighs over 3-1/2 pounds, although they appear larger than this alive. The bones are quite small, and the carcass produces a relatively large amount of meat.

There is good demand for Guinea fowl in the large markets, and because of their wild game flavor the birds are served extensively in the larger hotels and higher priced restaurants.

The eggs are small, of dark color and fine flavor, and are apt to be laid in secluded places in the grass and weeds.

It is not easy to distinguish the sex of Guineas. The male has slightly larger head appendages and the female seldom screeches like the male. They are normally monogamous, mating for life. All guinea fowl are social, and typically hang out in small groups.

The Guinea fowl is a family of insect-eating, ground-nesting bird that resemble partridges, but with featherless heads. Most speciest have a dark gray or blackish plumage with dense white spots.

Guinea fowl have a long history of domestication, mainly involving the helmeted Guinea fowl. They eat lice, worms, ants, spiders, weedseeds and ticks while on the range.

They are a very noisy bird, and are said to be good for controlling the Lyme disease-bearing deer tick. They range well and eat lots of small things. In fact, if you keep bees, you don’t really want to keep guineas. They’ll stand by the hive and snap up the bees as they come out. Some have reported that since they started keeping guinea fowl, they have not seen yellow jacket hives in their fields.

You can reduce ticks and other insects by raising them. They are a little tricky to raise, but they are interesting, friendly and they eat bugs. Contrary to popular opinion, they are quite intelligent.

Guineas often lay their eggs in fields and hatch their young by themselves. Being native to dry areas of Africa, they are very susceptible to dampness during their first two weeks, and can die from following their mother through dewy grass. After two weeks of age, they are probably the hardiest of all domestic land fowl.

Guinea fowl live in the wild once you raise and release them.They are territorial so they will stay pretty much in one area.

Once you have raised them, their release can be tricky. If you release them all at one time, they may wander off forever. The best bet is to release one or two. They will hang near the others in the hutch. They hate to be alone. After dusk, you will find them roosting on the ground nearby. Capture them from the top so they can’t open their wings. This shouldn’t hurt them. Wear gloves as their claws and beaks are sharp. Put them back in the hutch and let another pair out the next day.

They are extremely vulnerable to hawks, cats and raccoons. They are most vulnerable when they are bedded down as a group at night. These birds cannot fly when their feathers are wet.

Do not confine male guineas with chickens if there are roosters in the same flock. Male guineas will run the roosters ragged and keep them from food and water. Females do not cause the same problems.

If you wish to raise Guinea fowl, there is much information on-line on that subject. Your local feed store will either sell keets (babies) or they will be able to tell you who does. You will need 15-20 to get started as they have a high mortality rate. They generally cost $3 – $5 each. There are benefits to raising these birds but there are some tricky steps along the way. Make sure you have done some homework, not to mention having the room (their range is usually 3 – 5 acres) before you begin to raise these wonderful birds.

During our many trips to Mexico, and the Caribbean, for that matter, my wife and I have noticed Guinea fowls are kept at all the resorts we have stayed at to control insects.

I have seen several Guinea fowl in the central Maine area, and maybe there should be more of them, considering the large population of deer ticks that have been reported lately.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

In what year did the Boston Patriots become the New England Patriots?


SCORES & OUTDOORS: Let’s take a look at what’s to come

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

We’ve turned another page on the calendar and we are now entering into the time of year when the holidays are upon us, and the wintery weather is on the horizon. What is in store for us this year?

Well, most of my natural signs are not visible this year. One of the forecasters of snow amounts, the hanging of bee hives, was not present this year. The activity of the bees was almost non-existent toward the end of summer. Remember, the higher the hives, the more snow can be expected.

Secondly, the wooly bear caterpillar. Old farmers folklore states the wider the rust colored band on the furry caterpillar, the milder the winter. I have not seen one single, solitary wooly bear caterpillar this year.

The onion peelings are the only one that I have been able to use. My wife and I use a lot of onions. In this case, folklore has it the easier to peel, the milder the winter – the onions have been relatively easy to peel.

The first cicadae was heard on or about July 26 this past summer. Farmers’ folklore says 90 days following that, we will see the first killing frost. Although the 90-day period ended on October 26, it usually doesn’t take effect until after the next full moon, which was October 28. Although a frost was predicted, it didn’t happen in the Kennebec Valley. Side note: It was 37-degrees when I drove to work on October 30. However, there was a frost on October 31.

So what’s in store? Well, I had to go to several sources to find out. Coming up with a consensus was difficult. But here goes.

Winter officially arrives this year on December 21, 2023. On the winter solstice, those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted as far away from our Sun as possible.

Many sources are predicting snow, seasonable cold, and all of winter’s delights! This winter’s forecast will surely excite snow bunnies and sweater lovers alike, promising a lot of cold and snow across North America.

Snowfall will be above normal across most snow-prone areas. Get prepared for plenty of snow throughout the season! Keep a shovel at the ready early, especially in the Northeast, where snow will arrive beginning in November with a myriad of storms, showers, and flurries continuing through the beginning of spring.

Along with above-normal snow, we’ll see normal to colder-than-normal temperatures in areas that typically receive snow. Expect just the right amount of chill in the air for an afternoon of adventurous snow sports like snowmobiling, skiing, cross-country skiing and ice fishing. Only snowy New England and the Atlantic Corridor will enjoy winter temperatures milder than typical for their regions. Which I guess is good news when it comes to the heating bill. Much of the U.S. coastline, from New England down to Florida will see mild to cool temperatures.

The Old Farmers’ Almanac explains that we are approaching the middle of Solar Cycle 25, which is increasing in intensity and already as strong as Solar Cycle 24, which possibly had the lowest solar activity in about 200 years. Such low activity has historically meant cooler-than-average temperatures across Earth, but this connection has become weaker since the last century.

They go on to say the expected El Niño has emerged and should gradually strengthen into the winter. El Niño is a natural climate phenomenon marked by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Typically, El Niño conditions result in wetter-than-average conditions from southern California to along the Gulf Coast and drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Will we see a “Super El Niño?” We also expect a warm Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and a cool Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Also significant are the equatorial stratospheric winds involved in the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, or QBO.

Wow! My head is spinning!


Amazing how much of a difference a week makes. After feeling good about the New England Patriots’ last second upset win against the Buffalo Bills, our collective bubbles were burst with this past Sunday’s performance against the Miami Dolphins. The 31-17 loss was disappointing, especially after scoring a touchdown on a long pass early in the game that gave the Pats a 7-0 lead. I guess it’s on to Washington and a showdown with the Commanders. A winnable – and loseable – game.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

When was the last time the New England Patriots started a season 2-6.

2000. Bill Belichick’s first year as head coach.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: More reports of mountain lion sightings in Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Every so often I get emails from people who have read my columns and contribute their own experiences. This one involved the sighting of a Mountain Lion. Now, let us not forget that depending on with whom you speak, mountain lions either do, or, do not exist in Maine.

Here is the email I received recently. It came from Brian and Colby Prescott, of Windham:

“Was reading an article you wrote about mountain lions in Maine from a couple years back and thought I’d relay a sighting from the other day, September 1, 2023.

“My son and I were camping at the Bemis Stream Prospect Camp location just north of Byron off Route 17. It’s right where Bemis Road crosses Bemis Stream.

“We were at the first camp site that’s down lower than the road. The brook was high and the water was fairly loud. We were huddling around the Coleman burner to warm up at about 6:30 in the evening, and my son tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up towards the road and sure enough, a mountain lion walked by. It was unmistakable. The size was approximately 150 lbs. It had giant paws and the tail was absolutely enormous. Thick, and it curved down to almost the ground. We were able to view the large cat for only five seconds or so, so unfortunately, no picture. The color was a sandy brown. Needless to say, I was in shock for several seconds. We waited for 20 minutes in the truck before settling into the tent for the night!

“My son and I looked for tracks early the next morning, but only found bear tracks with five claws. We got pictures of the paw print, but pretty sure it was just a bear.

“I met a neighbor from Mooslookmeguntic Lake walking his dog and immediately mentioned the sighting, although I knew the chances of it being nearby were very slim. He was very interested and said he would look for signs of the cat. Meanwhile, we drove over to Devil’s Den to explore that area.

“This person walked by our camp site later in the morning and mentioned he found some scat and was hoping to get it tested to see if it was from a mountain lion. I unfortunately did not think to get his name or number at the time. Needless to say, my son and I were super excited to have experienced the sighting. I never in my 16 years of camping in that area ever experienced anything like that!”

So, are there Mountain Lions in Maine? Maybe, Maybe Not . . .

Mountain lions, also called cougars, catamounts or pumas, are large felines that are native to the Americas. They once roamed from coast to coast in the United States, but today they are mostly found in the western states.

There have been occasional sightings of Maine mountain lions over the years, but it is uncertain whether there is a breeding population in the state.

So, are there mountain lions in Maine? One thing is for sure: if there are any cougars in the state, state wildlife experts contend they are most likely solitary animals that are just passing through.

On the other hand, credible witnesses with lots of outdoor experience insist on the presence of mountain lions in Maine. So, unfortunately, there is no easy definitive answer, yet. Officially, according to state wildlife experts, there are no mountain lions in Maine. However, there has been at least one official sighting and one Class 2 confirmation of mountain lions in Maine.

Mountain lions were classified as extinct in the 1920s and 1930s across the eastern states. In Maine, the last official mountain lion was shot by a hunter in 1938.

I have researched this subject many times and keep coming up with the same conclusion. Credible eyewitnesses vs. the state biologists: Which do you want to believe? There are photographs out there, but mostly are pooh-poohed by state “experts”. “Inconclusive photos”, hoaxes or staged. Those are the answers you will get from state officials.

I for one, believe there are mountain lions in Maine because, even though I have never actually sighted one, have seen their tracks in snow and mud. Unmistakable, feline prints, approximately four inches across, or as big as my hand. That is not a house cat, and too large to be bobcat or lynx.

But, unofficially, the jury is still out.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Which NFL team went 0-16 in 2008?

Detroit Lions.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: What are all those chirps we hear in the night?


Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

I’ve always been interested in folklore. It is intriguing how older generations and cultures came up with them, with most dealing with nature.

While sitting around a campfire with friends once in late summer, we heard a cricket chirp in the distance. One of the friends, we’ll call her Lauri, groaned at the sound. “What’s the matter?” I asked. Lauri responded, “Hearing a cricket means the end of summer.”


Well, my curiosity got the best of me. I started asking many acquaintances, friends, family and whoever else would listen: Had they ever heard of that folklore? The answer has been “no” every time. One thing I failed to ask Lauri was where she had heard that. It probably is an old wives tale or something, just like the cicada predicting the first killing frost in the fall, or the wooly bear caterpillar forecasting the severity of a winter.

Crickets, family Gryllidaeare, are found in all parts of the world, except in cold regions at higher latitudes. They are also found in many habitats, upper tree canopies, in bushes, and among grasses and herbs. They also exist on the ground, in caves, and some are subterranean, excavating shallow or deep burrows. Some live in rotting wood, and some will even run and jump over the surface of water. They are related to the bush crickets, and more distantly, to grasshoppers.

Crickets are relatively defenseless. Most species are nocturnal and spend the day hidden. They burrow to form temporary shelters, and fold their antennae to conceal their presence. Other defensive strategies are camouflage, fleeing and aggression. Some have developed colorings that make them difficult to see by predators who hunt by sight.

Male crickets make a loud chirping sound by scraping two specially textured limbs together. This organ is located on the fore wing. Most females lack the necessary parts to stridulate, so they make no sound.

Crickets chirp at different rates depending on their species and the temperature of their environment. Most species chirp at higher rates the higher the temperature. The relationship between temperature and the rate of chirping is known as Dolbear’s law. According to this law, counting the number of chirps produced in 14 seconds by the snowy tree cricket, common in the United States, and adding 40 will approximate the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

Some crickets, such as the ground cricket, are wingless. Others have small fore wings and no hind wings, others lack hind wings and have shortened fore wings in females only, while others have hind wings longer than the fore wings. Probably, most species with hind wings longer than fore wings engage in flight.

Crickets have relatively powerful jaws, and several species have been known to bite humans.

Male crickets establish their dominance over each other by aggression. They start by slashing each other with their antennae and flaring their mandibles. Unless one retreats at this stage, they resort to grappling, at the same time each emitting calls that are quite unlike those uttered in other circumstances. Once one achieves dominance, is sings loudly, while the defeated remains silent.

Crickets have many natural enemies. They are eaten by large numbers of vertebrate and invertebrate predators and their hard parts are often found during the examination of animal intestines.

The folklore and mythology surrounding crickets is extensive. The singing of crickets in the folkore of Brazil and elsewhere is sometimes taken to be a sign of impending rain. In Alagoas state, northeast Brazil, a cricket announces death, thus it is killed if it chirps indoors, while in Barbados, a loud cricket means money is coming, hence the cricket must not be killed or evicted if it chirps inside the house.

In literature, the French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre’s popular Souvenirs Entomoloquques devotes a whole chapter to the cricket. Crickets have also appeared in poetry. William Wordsworth’s 1805 poem, The Cottager to Her Infant includes the lines, “The kitten sleeps upon the hearth, The crickets long have ceased their mirth.” John Keats’ 1819 poem Ode to Autumn, includes the lines, “Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft, the redbreast whistles from a garden-croft.” Could this be from where that folkore about the end of summer comes?

Crickets are kept as pets and are considered good luck in some countries. In China, they are kept in cages specially created. The practice is also common in Japan, and has been for thousands of years. Cricket fighting is a traditional Chinese pastime that dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). It was originally a common indulgence for emperors, but later became popular with commoners. (I hope Vince McMahon doesn’t read this!)

While serving in the Army in Southeast Asia from 1968-69 (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), I learned that crickets are commonly eaten as a snack, prepared by deep frying the soaked and cleaned insects. In Thailand, there are 20,000 farmers rearing crickets, with an estimated production of 7,500 tons per year. No, I didn’t try them.

And, of course, in popular culture, we have Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 film Pinocchio, and in the 1998 film Mulan, Cri-kee is carried in a cage as a symbol of good luck.

In the media, the sound of crickets is often used to emphasize silence, often for comic effect after an awkward joke.

I’ll bet you didn’t think crickets had such a valued place in societies and cultures for centuries.

Roland’s trivia questions of the week:

Is Jim Rice the all-time Red Sox home run leader among right-handed batters?

Answer here.
Yes (382).

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Call in the night turns out to be red fox

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

One evening, earlier this summer, we heard something mysterious. It was after dark, and from a distance, we heard a wailing, lamenting siren-like shriek. Everyone around was wondering what was making that noise. At first we thought it was a small, yiping dog. But it continued almost uninterrupted.

Then, someone mentioned they had seen some red foxes around.

That was it. The sound we heard was that of a red fox. It is common to hear those kinds of cry during the foxes’ breeding season, and thought to be emitted by a vixen’s (female fox) summoning males. Foxes generally greet each other with high pitched whines, particularly submissive animals. During an aggressive encounter they will emit a throaty, rattling sound.

An adult red fox has been identified with 12 different sounds while kits may produce eight.

The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, is the largest of the true foxes and the most abundant wild member of the species. It is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Besides its large size, red foxes are different from other species because of their ability to adapt quickly to new environments. There are 45 different subspecies of foxes.

The red foxes have a long history of interacting with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for many centuries. Because of its widespread range and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade. Too small to pose a threat to humans, it has successfully colonized many suburban areas.

Urban red foxes are most active at dusk and dawn, doing most of their hunting and scavenging at these times. Despite their search for usable food, foxes tend to eat anything humans eat.

These foxes can cause problems for local folks. Foxes have been known to steal chickens, invade rubbish cans and raise havoc in gardens. In our case, we heard that a nearby neighbor, who kept chickens, had many disappear in a relatively short period of time. They will also prey on domestic rabbits and guinea pigs if they are allowed to run in the open. Urban foxes have been known to encounter cats and may feed alongside of them. In confrontations, cats usually have the upper hand, although foxes have been known to attack cats, not so much for food but rather as a competitor for food.

Red foxes are not readily prone to be infested with fleas.

Red foxes live in family groups, sharing a common territory. They may leave their families once they reach adulthood if the chances of winning a territory of their own are high. Otherwise, they will stay with their parents, postponing their own reproduction.

Red foxes have binocular vision, but their sight reacts mainly to movement. Their hearing though, is their strength, being able to hear a squeaking mouse at about 330 feet. Their sense of smell is good, but weaker than that of a domestic dog.

Being the largest of the Vulpes genus, on average, an adult male will measure 14-20 inches high at the shoulders, 18-35 inches in body length, and the tails measuring 12-22 inches. Their weight range is 5 – 31 pounds, with vixens weighing 15 – 20 percent less.

Red foxes are often mentioned in folklore and mythology of human cultures. In Greek mythology, the Teumessian fox or Cadmean vixen, was a gigantic fox that was destined to never be caught. According to Celtic mythology, witches were thought to take the shape of foxes to steal butter from their neighbors. In later European folklore, the figure of Reynard the Fox symbolizes trickery and deceit.

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia shortly after the Wisconsin glaciation, which took place approximately 85,000 to 11,000 years ago. It was the most recent major advance of the North American ice sheet complex.

At camp, the red foxes have been sighted many times, but they tend to keep their distance, and have not been seen in close proximity of our shelters. Perhaps it’s because there are so many dogs present.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

Who was the last major league pitcher to win 30 or more games in one season?

Denny McLain, of the Detroit Tigers, in 1968, went 31-6, with a 1.96 ERA.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: A case of mistaken identity

Halloween Pennant (left), Graphic Flutterer (right)

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

From time to time, it happens. You see something unusual, don’t know what it is, so you go to your research material to find the answer. You use multiple sources, do your homework, then, when you think you have found the answer, it ends up being wrong.

Well, it happened again last weekend for me. While working in my garden at camp, I noticed this unusual looking dragonfly. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, old brown ugly dragonfly. It was extremely colorful and just seemed out of place.

My research pointed to it being a Graphic Flutterer, rhyothemis graphiptera, The illustration looked remarkably similar to the photo I had taken, but there was one thing that didn’t add up. The Graphic Flutterer can only be found in Australia, the Moluccas, New Guinea and New Caledonia. That’s half way around the world from here.

So, like I have done many times before, I turned to my contact, a wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, emailed the photo to him, and he responded in short order.

“This is a Halloween Pennant,” (no, not a little flag you would wave on October 31), Celithemis eponina. This is a native dragonfly in Maine, an uncommon, but not rare, species that breeds in slow streams, ponds, and lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation.”

Well, it sure fits. If you have been to Webber Pond, in Vassalboro, in recent years you will see that the lake is abundant with aquatic vegetation.

The Halloween Pennant can be found across the eastern United States, ranging from the east coast to the states just east of the Rocky Mountains. They can also be found on some Caribbean islands and in Ontario province, in Canada. Seen mostly during June and July during the summer, they are actually active year round.

The Halloween Pennant gets its name from its orange-colored wings, which have dark brown bands. They are often found on tips of vegetation near the edges of waterways. Mine was just hanging around on a Tiki torch near my garden.

It is a medium-sized dragonfly but also considered large for its species. They can range from 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 inches in length.

The adults fly around above freshwater habitat and the surrounding vegetation, and feed on smaller insects they capture in flight. They are considered very strong flyers, and can fly during rain and strong winds.

And, listen to this, they have some positive impact: They help control the mosquito population and have no negative affect on humans. I can only hope I see more of them, considering the healthy mosquito population we have at camp.

They are also secure in numbers and currently have no conservation concerns, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In case you’re interested, dragonflies have been in existence since the Permian period (299 – 251 million years ago).

In the end, I was not too far off when I identified it as a Graphic Flutterer. According to the Animal Diversity Web, at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the male Halloween Pennant closely resembles the Graphic Flutterer.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

This New England Patriots QB holds the record for most passing yards in a season. Who is he?

Drew Bledsoe, 4,555 in 1994

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Let’s talk weather predictions; how do they come up with it?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Let’s stray off the beaten path this week and talk about the weather. Everybody does. Especially forecasts in particular, and those people who tell us what to expect, and are very often wrong. Or are they?

A group of us were recently talking about weather forecasts and what they mean. If you asked three people what a 50 percent chance of rain means you’ll potentially get three different answers. The chance for rain (or snow) is probably the most misunderstood part of the weather forecast. In meteorology they refer to the chance for rain or snow as POPS, or probability of precipitation.

A rain chance – also known as a PoP (probability of precipitation) – is often expressed as the coverage of showers and storms in a given day and describes the chance of precipitation occurring at any point in a selected area.

The National Weather Service defines PoP in the following way: PoP = C x A where “C” = the confidence that precipitation will occur somewhere in the forecast area, and where “A” = the percent of the area that will receive measurable precipitation, if it occurs at all. So… if the forecaster knows precipitation is sure to occur ( confidence is 100 percent), he/she is expressing how much of the area will receive measurable rain. ( PoP = “C” x “A” or “1” times “.4” which equals .4 or 40 percent.). Another way to explain this, is that if there is a 50 percent chance of rain in 80 percent of a given area, there is a 40 percent PoP.

This means that PoP is an expression of both confidence and area. If a forecaster is only 50 percent certain that rain will occur over 90 percent of the area, then the PoP is 45 percent (because POP in this instance would equal 0.5 x 0.8).

Let’s say tonight’s forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain. It does not mean, 1. that 50 percent of the area will get wet; or 2. that it will rain 50 percent of the time.

According to meteorologists, a 50 percent chance of rain means there is a 50 percent chance for any one spot in the forecast area to get wet during the forecast period. So what’s the forecast area and forecast period?

A UGA study surveyed 188 meteorologists and broadcasters and found that respondents expressed a range of different definitions of PoP, and that each person was highly confident in their definition. The expression given above (PoP = Precip X Area) is one of the most common, while another common interpretation of PoP focuses on a specific point instead (PoP = Precip X Point).

Nearly half of those involved in the survey also felt there was little consistency in the definition of PoP, and the study concluded that it was evident that we need to work together as a community to establish clear and consistent messaging involving the communication of uncertain information. However, to be clear, none of the interpretations of PoP reference the intensity, amount, or duration of precipitation. You can still see flooding with a 30 percent PoP, and there could also be a day with 100 percent PoP that results in little accumulation (such as a day when meteorologists are anticipating a few hours of drizzle everywhere). Planning a beach day and see an 60 percent chance of rain? Dive deeper – don’t let it ruin your fun at first glance! It could mean that there is a high likelihood of a 30-40 minute storm, versus an all-day event. This is why context is critical when consuming any kind of information – especially a weather forecast.

Fortunately, even if everyone isn’t on the same page of what PoP means, they’ve likely adapted their own internal definition of it. If you see an 80 percent chance of rain, you’ll likely remember to grab a rain jacket or umbrella on the way out the door, regardless if you think the 80 percent is referring to how much rain your area will receive or how long it will last. A quick glance at the forecast for PoP is generally all people need to know if they need to grab their rain gear, but if you have plans outdoors, be sure to take a closer look at the forecast.

At no time does a percentage given in a forecast tell you how long it will rain, how much rain is expected, what time the rain will arrive or what the potential impacts are to you.

Confused yet?

There is a lot of confusion around what rain chances actually mean; simply put, the percentage given in a forecast is the coverage of people in the coverage area they think will see wet weather.

Unfortunately, POPS is a very subjective topic. Let’s say your county is the forecast zone and it has a 50 percent chance for rain today. If it rains in just one spot sometime during the afternoon then the forecast is verified, regardless of where the rain fell within the county.

The above scenario happens a lot. It might rain in a rural or unpopulated part of the county, missing the bulk of the population. Because the main population center missed out, most will think “they were wrong again,” referring to the local meteorologists, despite the forecast really verifying, because it did indeed rain within the forecast area during the forecast period.

My mother had two methods to predict rain. One, she would look at the silver maple tree outside, when the green leaves turned over to display the silver on the back side; two, or – we lived on the west side of the Kennebec River, in Waterville, and Hollingworth & Whitney (Scott Paper Co.) was on the east side, in Winslow. Whenever we got a strong scent of sulfur from the mill, and the wind was coming out of the east, on both occasions, she would predict rain – and was right 100 percent of the time.

OK, Mr. weatherman, with your Doppler radar and computer models, when will you be able to tell us which part of a given area will receive 100 percent of the rain?

So, here’s my solution. I have a rock in my backyard that I look at every day. If it is wet, it’s raining; if it is white, it’s snowing; if it’s dry, then it’s a nice day. Best of all, that rock is never wrong.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What Hall of Fame defenseman, who played 21 seasons for the Bruins, logged the most career games in franchise history?

Ray Bourque, 1,518 games from 1979 to 2000.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Where have all the insects gone?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While sitting around a campfire a couple of evenings ago, someone asked the question: Where have all the bugs gone?

We began to discuss how few black flies, mosquitoes, June bugs, etc., we have seen so far this spring and summer.

Bugs are an interesting subject.

If a dollar value was put on the services insects provide, this would equal roughly $70 billion in the U.S. alone.

With an estimated 5.5 million species, insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet. More than one million have been named by scientists — and many more have yet to be discovered. In fact, insects account for 80 percent of animal life on Earth.

But, both the number and diversity of insects are declining around the globe due to habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Without widespread action, many of these important creatures face extinction within the next few decades.

For instance, worldwide declines in insect populations have sparked considerable concern. To date, however, significant research gaps exist, and many insect threats remain under-investigated and poorly understood. Example, despite their charismatic bioluminescent displays and cultural and economic importance, the 2,000-plus species of firefly beetles have yet to be the subject of a comprehensive threat analysis.

Writing in BioScience, Sara M. Lewis, of Tufts University, and her colleagues aim to fill the gap with a broad overview of the threats facing these diverse and charismatic species – as well as potential solutions that may lead to their preservation into the future. Lewis and colleagues catalog numerous threats, foremost among them habitat loss, followed closely by artificial light and pesticide use. The future is not bleak, however, and the authors describe considerable opportunities to improve the prospects of bioluminescent insects, including through the preservation of habitat, reduction of light pollution, lowered insecticide use, and more-sustainable tourism.

By making a few small changes in your life, you can help curb this worldwide problem. Insects are crucial to life on Earth and what you can do to help save these amazing creatures.

The question that is always raised is why should I protect insects?

While many insects can seem like pests, they provide a wide range of services to other plants and animals in our environment. In fact, a diverse range of insect species is critical to the survival of most life on Earth, including bats, birds, freshwater fishes and even humans! Along with plants, insects are at the foundation of the food web, and most of the plants and animals we eat rely on insects for pollination or food. For example, 96 percent of songbirds feed insects to their young.

According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, roughly 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. That means you can thank a pollinator for about one of every three bites of food you eat. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 100,000 different animal species play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on Earth, with insects like bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies and beetles being the most common. Additionally, some insects are natural predators to pests that may harm food crops.

Some insects are known as decomposers, meaning they break down dead materials like fallen leaves and animal carcasses and turn them into simpler materials, making nutrients available to primary producers like plants and algae. In other words, decomposers are nature’s own recycling system.

Only a very small fraction of insects in the world are considered by humans to be pests, meaning they cause harm to people, plants, animals and buildings. While insect pest control costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually, this number would be much higher if it weren’t for the countless beneficial insects that serve as natural predators to pest species, like fire ants and mosquitoes. Additionally, some parasitic insects like small wasps lay their eggs inside pest species, driving their population down. To adequately control pests, we need beneficial insects.

Insects are the primary menu item for many reptiles, birds and amphibians. If insect populations continue to decline, some food webs might collapse entirely.

We also depend on insects for silk, dyes, honey and medical and genetic research. But, aside from the services insects provide, they are simply fascinating animals that spark curiosity in humans, especially children. These incredible creatures exhibit many extraordinary behaviors that are unthinkable in other forms of life and have inspired technology that we use today, like drones! Take some time to really observe the insects in your backyard, what behaviors do you see that captivate you?

Since many insects have yet to even be discovered, there may be benefits we don’t even know about yet!

So, the next time you think about swatting, spraying or crushing, maybe, just maybe, that creature can serve more benefits to you alive than dead.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

A large brown bear named Blades is the mascot of what Boston professional sports team?

The Boston Bruins.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Slugs, they’re everywhere! And now, how to control them

The common slug

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Slugs! They can truly do a lot of damage to your plants, like they did to mine this past spring. They like damp places, feed at night and prefer tender new growth and seedlings.

Last week we learned about slugs, this week we will talk about how to control them.

Here are a few general tips on how to deal with slugs:

  • Seedling protection: Protect your seedlings with 2-3 liter plastic soda bottles. Make sure no slugs are around the seedlings first. Cut the bottoms out of the bottles, sink them into the soil around the seedlings and remove the caps. You can reuse them over and over.
  • Mulch: Keep mulch pulled away from the base of your plants. Consider waiting to apply mulch until the soil temperatures have warmed to above 75°F.
  • Garden debris: Keep all decaying matter cleaned out of your garden beds. Clear all dead leaves and debris from the garden on a regular basis and put it in the compost pile which is best located in an area away from the garden.
  • Slug havens: The shaded areas beneath decks can be a slug arena. Keep them weed and litter free.

You can also build barriers around your garden:

  • Use cedar, oak bark chips or gravel chips which will irritate and dehydrate them.
  • Try a barrier line or an overall sprinkle of powdered ginger.
  • Use wood ashes as a barrier around plants, however try not to let the plant come into contact with the ashes. The ashes act as a desiccant and dry up the slugs.
  • Spread well crushed eggshells around the plants. The calcium released from the eggshells is an extra benefit that “sweetens” the soil. The sharp edges of the shells will kill slugs.
  • Talcum powder works as a barrier but must be replenished after rainfall or watering.

Finally, there is always the slug trap method:

  • Beer or yeast traps: A traditional trap that seems to work well is to place containers of beer or yeast and water at one inch above the ground level in the garden to entice and drown your prey. Empty traps as needed. For the yeast trap, use one package of yeast to 8 ounces of water.
  • Grape juice: A new rendition on the beer trap is to use grape juice. For some reason slugs really have a taste for this. Use just as you would in the beer method and buy the cheapest grape juice you can find.
  • Beer batter bait: Mix 2 tablespoons of flour with enough beer to make a thick batter. Put 1 teaspoon of this in a small paper cup and lay the cups on their sides around your plants. Slugs will flock to this, get snared in the flour and die. When the trap is full toss the whole thing in the compost pile.
  • Comfrey: This perennial is a preference of slugs and can be used as a trap. Comfrey is considered to be an invasive plant, however, it has so many uses for the garden and medicinally that it is worth having around. Comfrey has more protein in its leaves than any other vegetable, perhaps explaining its appeal to slugs.

I have comfrey around my garden at home and have had very little problems with slugs. So, I might just transplant some to the garden at camp.

Taking into consideration everything we have learned about slugs in the last two weeks, the more I think about it, slugs remind me of college students: They suck up available resources, give very little in return, and they like to drink beer. They even prefer the same beers (a study conducted by students at Colorado State University concluded the slug’s favorite beers are Budweiser products).

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

How many New York Yankees players have recorded 3,000 career hits with the team?

One. Derek Jeter, 3,465.