SCORES & OUTDOORS: Brook trout fishing is on the horizon


by Roland D. Hallee

The weather has warmed, the snow is melting and the streams are bustling with activity as the spring runoff is in full swing.

A party of six anglers landed these 22 brook trout on a trip to Nesowadnehunk Lake several years ago. Contributed photo

On a recent trip to Vermont, my wife and I saw many streams along the route swelling their banks and looking primed for brook trout fishing.

I have been on many a brook trout fishing trip, mostly to Nesowadnehunk Lake in northern Maine where the lake is exclusively brook trout – fly fishing only.

The meat of the brook trout, in my humble opinion, is the best tasting and sweetest of all the fish species, including salmon, probably because they are of the same family of Salmonidae. We have consumed many a brook trout by simply cooking them straight over a wood fired, outside fireplace, with no seasoning whatsoever.

The Eastern Brook Trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, varies in size depending on water temperature, productivity and food sources. Brook trout sizes will range from 7-1/2 to 17-1/2 inches in different lakes and streams. The stream brook trout is slower growing and usually much smaller than their lake relatives.

The brook trout is also known in other parts of its range as speckled trout, squaretail, mud trout and brook charr.

KI Jo-Mary Multiple Use Management Forest is a 175,000-acre, privately-owned, commercial forest located between Millinocket, Greenville and Brownville. Included within its boundaries are over 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the Gulf of Hagas Reserve, the Hermitage, the east and west branches of the Pleasant River, White Brook, more than 50 lakes and ponds and over 100 miles of brooks, streams, and rivers.

The brook trout has a dark green to brown color, with a distinctive marbled pattern of lighter shades across the flanks and back, and extending at least to the dorsal fin, and often to the tail. A distinctive sprinkling of red dots, surrounded by blue halos, occurs along the flanks. The belly and lower fins are reddish in color, the latter with white leading edges. Often the underparts, especially in the males, becomes very red or orange when the fish are spawning.

The brook trout’s range is varied but are increasingly becoming confined to higher elevations. Their southern range has been drastically reduced, with fish being restricted to higher-elevation, remote streams due to habitat loss and introductions of brown and rainbow trout.

They prefer clear water of high purity and a narrow pH range caused by environmental effects such as acid rain. Warm summer temperatures and low water flow rates are stressful on the brook trout populations, especially larger fish.

Brook trout have a diverse diet that includes larval, pupal, and adult forms of aquatic insects, and adult forms of terrestrial insects. The brook trout we catch at “The Hunk,” as the lake is known locally, had large amounts of crayfish in their stomachs.

Kassie Brunette, of Belgrade, displays a brook trout she caught last summer while fishing in the Jo-Mary Multiple Use Manage­ment Forest, in northern Maine.

Until the introduction of brown and rainbow trout, the brook trout attracted the most attention among anglers, especially fly-fishermen, from colonial times through the first 100 years of U.S. history. Following the decline in brook trout populations in the mid-19th century, anglers flocked to the Adirondacks in upstate New York and the Rangeley Lakes region in Maine to pursue the brook trout.

The world record brook trout was caught by Dr. W. J. Cook on the Nipigon River, in Ontario, in July 1915, at 31 inches. The weight couldn’t be confirmed because the badly decomposed fish weighed only 14.5 pounds after having been in the bush without refrigeration for 21 days.

Brook trout in North America became extirpated from many waterways due to land development, forest clear-cutting, and industrialization. Streams and creeks became polluted, dammed, or silted. The brown trout, not native to North America, has replaced the brook trout in many of its native waters.

Let’s just hope the many clean, pure waterways we still have in Maine remain that way to sustain the fate of the brook trout in a positive way. In some lakes where brook trout is supreme, we anglers always fear the possibility of other species being introduced illegally. We must remain vigilant.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Eastern cottontail numbers affect lynx population


by Roland D. Hallee

Walking through the woods following a snowfall can show evidence of many wildlife tracks. One that I saw recently was that of the Eastern Cottontail rabbit.

The Eastern Cottontail, Salvilagus floridanus, is actually a New World cottontail rabbit, a member of the family Leporidae. It is one of the most common rabbit species in North America.

Here in Maine, its numbers has a profound affect on the Canada lynx population. The survival rate of the lynx is dependent on a healthy cottontail population.

The Eastern Cottontail is chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance with large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. Its underside fur is white. There is a rusty patch on the tail.

Eastern cottontail

Its appearance differs from that of a hare in that it has a brownish-gray coloring around the head and neck. The body is lighter color with a white underside on the tail. It has large brown eyes to see and large ears to listen for danger. In the winter, its coloring is more gray than brown. The kittens develop the same coloring after a few weeks, but they also have a white blaze that goes down their forehead. This marking eventually disappears. The average adult weighs between 2-4 pounds. However, the female tends to be heavier.

They can be found in the eastern and southwestern United States, southern Canada, eastern Mexico all the way down to South America. Originally, it was not found in New England, but it has been introduced here and now competes for habitat with the native New England cottontail.

The rabbits are active at night, and do not hibernate in winter. Predators include hawks, owls, coyotes, wolves and the aforementioned lynx. On farms and in gardens, they are considered pests and are often trapped or shot to protect plants.

Mating occurs from February to September. Males will mate with more than one female. Females have 2 to 4 large litters of up to nine young in a year. After the female has given birth to her offspring, she can mate again immediately thereafter. The kittens are weaned after three weeks and leave the nest after seven weeks. The kittens then reach mating age after three months.

The Eastern cottontail is a very territorial animal. When running, it can jump from 15 feet, which can aid in avoiding predators. When chased, it runs in a zigzag pattern so the animal chasing it will lose its scent, making the rabbit harder to follow. They can run up to 18 miles per hour. The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open. Forests, swamps, thickets, bushes or open areas where it can dig a burrow are optimal habitation sites for this species.

I had one appear in my backyard a few years ago and seemed to have settled in very well. It apparently found a buffet of clover that grows wild around my garden area. It stayed around for about a week. Unfortunately, although it seemed content where it was, the constant attempt of neighborhood kids to capture it led it to run off in a desperate escape attempt on several occasions. I found it dead one Sunday morning, apparently the victim of a road kill collision with a car.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Redpoll comes calling to feeders


by Roland D. Hallee

Like I do every Saturday morning during the winter, I stand at my kitchen window, while I’m waiting for the Keurig to brew my first cup of coffee, and watch the bird feeders. The usual cast of characters come and go. However, last Saturday, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a redpoll.

I’ve seen them at the feeders before, but it’s been a while. That, in itself, is not unusual because redpolls are Arctic birds and are members of a group known as northern finches. They are denizens of the taiga and tundra, but will move south every couple of years in what is called irruptions. Irruptions occur when these birds, who normally reside in high latitudes, move south in large numbers. It is generally agreed these irruptions are triggered by shortages of food in their normal ranges.

In North America, irruptions among seed eaters include Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill and Redpolls. The Red-breasted Nuthatch will also come south during invasion years.

male redpoll

male redpoll

Redpolls, Carduelis flammea, are about 5 – 5-1/2 inches long with a wingspan of around 8-1/2 inches. They have a red cap, black chin, reddish wash on the breast, pink rump, somewhat forked tail, whitish under parts and overall brownish stripes. What is unusual about these birds is that they are relatively tame and show little or no fear for humans. It is believed that is because they live so far north away from human habitations. They can be confused with the house finch to the casual observer. I know I was when I first saw one.

Your next question would be, how do these little birds survive the winters of the tundra? Around the Arctic regions, winters last up to six months and temperatures plunge well below freezing. Research has shown that redpolls are able to survive temperatures down to -89 degrees F.

They have built-in heating systems. One of the most important anatomical adaptations is what is called their esophageal diverticulum, a partially bi-lobed pocket situated in the neck. They use the pocket to store seeds, especially before nightfall or before a storm. The extra seeds allow them to feed while sheltering from the cold. They also do like other species, by fluffing their feathers to trap layers of air to insulate their body to greatly reduce heat loss.

Redpolls will sometimes burrow into the snow to escape the cold weather. Under the snow, temperatures will remain at about -24° F even when air temperatures drop to -49° F.

Redpolls are attracted to backyard feeders, especially thistle seeds. In fact, the genus name Carduelis comes from the Latin Carduus, which means Thistle. Well-stocked feeders that attract finches will most likely attract Redpolls. One of our feeders is a fully stuffed sock of thistle seeds. Although I have not seen another redpoll to this date, I’m sure that is what attracted that one.

But, with redpolls, where there is one, there are many more. Outside the breeding season, they can form large flocks, which sometimes includes mixing with other finches. We have an unusually large number of American goldfinch at our feeders, so I’m wondering if the redpolls have intermingled.

Their main habitat consists of thickets and birches. In winter, they prefer semi-open country, including woodland edges and brushy or weedy fields. During the breeding season, they hang out in clearings of birch or spruce forest, thickets of willow, alder, or dwarf birch, bush areas on the tundra.

They are widespread and abundant, and are not listed as a bird of concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Between 1955 and 2000, 342,158 Common Redpolls were banded. Of these, 698 were encountered at locations away from where they were banded. Studies show redpolls live up to eight years in the wild.

If you have thistle in your feeders, be on the lookout for them.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Skunks are not pests that everyone thinks

Roland D. HalleeSCORES

by Roland D. Hallee

“You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road, dead skunk in the middle of the road; You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinkin’ to high heaven.”

Those lyrics to the song by Loudon Wainwright III tend to speak the truth this time of the year. With the warmer weather during the day, skunks are finding their way out of the winter dens.

Skunk preparing to dig up an in-ground bee hive.

A dead skunk by the side of the road in North Vassalboro last Sunday is witness to that rite of spring.

Skunks are placid, retiring and non-aggressive by nature. They try very hard not to get in harm’s way. I’ve had several encounters with skunks and have been able to “talk my way” out of trouble. Some people call me the “skunk whisperer.” Speaking to them in a soft, calm, yet firm voice will convince them that you, also, mean no harm.

“Crossin’ the highway late last night
He shoulda looked left, and he shoulda looked right;
He didn’t see the station wagon car,
The skunk got squashed and there you are.”

Skunks eat mostly insects, many of which are pests to humans. Therefore, they are very beneficial to have around. They also eat some plant material, including wild fruits, apples and corn. In winter and spring, they may eat mice and the eggs of ground-nesting birds. In the summer, they find inground bee hives to be a delicacy.

Above, the aftermath. Note the honeycomb to the left.

Breeding usually occurs in late winter or early spring and gestation averages about 60-75 days, so babies are usually born in May or June. Second litters and late births do occur. After mating, a female can store the male’s sperm and delay initiating pregnancy for some weeks. Litters range from three to as many as 10 young who remain in the nest for about two months, after which they begin to follow their mom as she forages.

Skunks are able to dig their own burrows but will also use abandoned dens of other animals, hollow logs, wood or rock piles, under buildings, stone walls, hay or brush piles and trees or stumps. We had a family of five once reside under our deck at camp. Had I not observed them going under there at dawn one day, I would never have known they were there.

“Take a whiff on me, that ain’t no rose,
Roll up yer window and hold your nose.
You don’t have to look and you don’t have to see,
‘Cause you can feel it in your olfactory.”

The skunk’s main defense is a complex chemical substance that includes sulfuric acid that can be fired from either one or two independently targetable anal glands. Because of this ability, skunks will stand and face a threat rather than run away. This works well with people and animals but is usely against cars. As a result, many skunks die on roadways. They just can’t seem to win that battle.

Skunks generally will give you ample warning before unloading its odoriferous defense system. Each year, many skunks are killed because someone is afraid of getting sprayed. Those who are familiar with skunks know that it takes a lot to get sprayed. Hopefully, through education, people will come to recognize and understand the role these mild animals play and the benefits of tolerating their presence.

Skunks can carry rabies, but it is important to remember that not every skunk is rabid. Only if an adult skunk seen in the daytime is showing abnormal behaviors such as paralysis, unprovoked aggression, moving in circles, or self-mutilation should you call your animal control officer or police department.

“Yeah, you got your dead cat and you got yer dead dog,
On a moonlight night you got yer dead toad frog;
Got yer dead rabbit and yer dead raccoon,
The blood and guts, they’re gonna make you swoon.”

They can be frightening when you encounter one, especially in the middle of the night, but these critters are kind of nice to have around at times. I remember one time when I came out of the house in early morning to fetch my newspaper, and found a large hole dug in the side lawn. At first I was upset at the sight. Closer inspection showed that a skunk had dug up a hornets nest that I did not know even existed. It could have brought some painful consequences the next time I mowed my lawn. I still thank that skunk to this day.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Are robins truly sign of spring?


Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

According to the calendar, spring is about 10 days away, as of this writing. Many people, as of late, have been telling me about robin sightings – a sure sign of spring. But… is that a fact or a myth? Let’s explore.

The American robin, Turdus migratorius, is a migratory songbird, belonging to the thrush family. It is widely distributed throughout North America, wintering from southern Canada to central Mexico.

The American robin is the second most populous bird in North America, behind only the red-winged blackbird, and just ahead of the European starling, in their numbers. With an estimated population of 320 million individuals, the bird is not threatened with population decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) evaluates the robin as least concern. At one point, the bird was killed for its meat, but it is now protected throughout its range in the United States by the Migratory Bird Act. So, look but don’t touch.

Its natural predators include hawks, cats, and snakes, but when feeding in flocks, it can be vigilant and watch other birds for reactions to predators. Brown cowbirds have been known to use robin nests to lay their eggs, but are generally rejected.

The robins’ diet consists of 40 percent small insects, to 60 percent wild and cultivated fruits and berries. Their ability to switch to berries allows them to winter much further north than most other thrushes. They love fermented berries, and don’t be surprised to see them fall over from intoxication should they consume large amounts of these berries. However, they are still attracted to the good old-fashioned earthworm.

The male and female resemble each other, with the female having the tendency for the red breast to be a bit duller in color.

Now that we have learned a little about the bird, what about that robin-and-spring correlation.

Robins breed throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada southward to northern Florida and Mexico. This is where the controversy begins. Although not backed by any scientific evidence, I have spoken with people who say they have robins in their backyards all winter long. Well, that is quite possible. Although robins prefer to migrate south of Canada to Florida, the Gulf Coast to central Mexico, they will occasionally overwinter in the northern part of the United States and southern Canada. Most going south will depart by the end of August, returning in February and March.

But, as much as we like to see these fellas toward the end of winter, and the anticipation of warmer weather, they can also be a hazard to humans. They are a known carrier of the West Nile virus. While crows and blue jays are often the first noticed death in an area, the American robin is suspected to be a key host, and holds a larger responsibility for the transmission of the virus to humans. This is because, while crows and blue jays die quickly from the virus, American robins survive the virus longer, thus spreading it to more mosquitoes, who then transmit the virus to humans and other species.

The robin also has a place in Native American mythology. The story goes how the robin got its red breast by fanning the dying flames of a campfire to save a Native American man and a boy. Also, the superhero Robin was so named by his mother because he was born on the first day of spring, with his red shirt suggesting the bird’s red breast.

The robin probably became a symbol of spring from a well-known poem by Emily Dickinson, titled I Dreaded That First Robin So.” Also, based on a Québec supersitition, by the wife of Dr. William H. Drummond, that whoever sees the first robin of spring will have good luck.

But the primary reason the robin is associated with spring is based on the fact that robins tend to follow the 37° F isotherm – a type of equal temperature at a given date or time on a geographic map – north in spring, but also south in fall. The sooner the temperatures warm, the sooner they begin their journey north.

Hopefully, that clears up the picture a little bit. Right?

SCORES & OUTDOORS: How do birds stay warm in cold weather?


by Roland D. Hallee

Last week we took a look at how white-tailed deer keep warm during those cold winter days and nights. As you remember, that was perpetrated by my watching birds at my wife’s feeders during the blizzard of February 12-13. So, let’s talk about how those little feathered friends keep warm during those times.

First of all, I was astonished as I watched the birds come in and out of the feeders during the height of the storm that dumped upwards of 24-28 inches of snow in central Maine, with winds gusting to 25-30 miles per hour.

Birds are warm-blooded animals that have a much higher temperature than humans, usually in the range of 105 degrees, as compared to our 98.6 degrees. Body temperatures can vary during daylight hours but it can challenge the birds during the night to maintain such a high body heat.

Smaller birds run more of a risk of body heat loss since they have a proportionately larger surface area on their bodies to lose heat but a smaller core volume to generate it.

Birds have different ways to maintain body heat during cold weather. Their feathers provide remarkable insulation, and many species will actually grow extra feathers as part of a late fall molt to give them thicker protection in the winter. Oil also coats their feathers to provide, not only insulation, but waterproofing.

Their legs and feet are covered with scales to minimize heat loss. By constricting blood flow to their extremities, they can also reduce body heat loss even further.

Then, there is the old standby: adding body fat reserves to serve as insulation and extra energy for generating body heat. They will gorge themselves in the fall when food sources are abundant.

Another way to produce insulation from the cold is to fluff their feathers. That enables air pockets to be created, keeping them toasty warm. Also, it is not unusual to see birds standing on one leg or crouched to cover both legs with their feathers to shield them from the cold. They also tuck their beaks into their shoulder feathers for protection, and to breathe air warmed from their body heat.

On sunny days, they will perch with their backs to the sun to maximize the exposure area of their body.They raise their wings to allow the skin and feathers to absorb as much of the sun’s heat as possible, even spreading or drooping their wings while sunning.

If you see a bird shivering, don’t worry. They do this to raise their metabolic rate and generate more body heat as a short term solution in extreme cold.

Many small birds will gather in large flocks at night and crowd together in an attempt to share their collective body heat. Even individually, they will roost in places that may contain residual heat from the day’s sunlight.

But, there is something called torpor that birds will use to conserve energy during the cold nights. Torpor is a state of reduced metabolism when the body temperature is lowered, therefore requiring fewer calories to maintain the proper heat. Birds can lower their body temperature from 22 to 50 degrees. Torpor, however, can be dangerous as reduced temperature also leads to slower reactions and greater vulnerability to predators.

Even with all of these Mother Nature-built in safeguards, mortality rate among birds can run high during extreme winters. You can help.

During winter, keep your feeders cleared of snow and filled with good food, offer liquid water, and provide shelter. You can build brush piles or protective boxes if you have no natural shelters. I think one of the reasons we have as many birds during winter as we have is because birds are attracted to coniferous trees. My wife and I have three rather large pine trees in our backyard, providing them with plenty of protection from the weather.

Mother Nature, again, provides for its creatures, large or small.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Surviving the rigors of Maine’s winters


by Roland D. Hallee

During the blizzard that swept through our area last week, I was standing at my kitchen window, watching the bird feeders. To my surprise, even during the height of the storm, with heavy snowfall and howling winds, the birds kept coming to the feeding stations.

“Tough little buggers,” I thought while watching.

That got me to thinking. How do these animals and birds survive these harsh winters?

So, I decided to do some research on the white-tailed deer. I had recently read an article that said the “mild” winter so far made it easier for the deer to move in search of food. That all changed last Sunday and Monday. Now that there is in the vicinity of an additional three feet of snow on the ground, how will they survive the remainder of this season?

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

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

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

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

Their winter habitat is also important. Dense softwood canopies intercept more snow, resulting in reduced snow depths. Gathering in these areas also allow many deer to share the energy cost of maintaining a trail network to access food and to escape predators.

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

So, should you try to help out these critters?

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

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

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

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Crows v. Ravens: is there a difference?


by Roland D. Hallee

If you remember, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about all the birds that have been coming to our feeders, and I compared the situation with the Alfred Hitchcock thriller film, The Birds. Well, I have another chapter in that episode. I have noticed recently the high number of crows, or ravens, that have been hanging around my house. Just the other day, I saw seven of them sitting in my pine trees in the backyard. They are huge birds.

Just to draw a comparison, there was a gray squirrel – either Martha or Stewart, my resident squirrels, are pretty good sized squirrels – on one of the other branches, and these birds made it look like a field mouse. The squirrel was dwarfed by these birds. They were also licking their chops. However, the crows’ stout bill is not strong enough to break through the skin.

Later that day, while driving by the park that is located at the end of my street, there were about two dozen of these birds feeding on the banking that was bare of snow.

Where are they coming from? And are they crows, or ravens like some people are calling them?

Well, to cut to the chase, crows have a fan-shaped tail, while ravens’ tails are wedge-shaped. The birds I’m looking at have a fan-shaped tail. Obviously, there are a few differences between the two species. Most of the differences are noticeable when the two are together. However, crows will assemble in large flocks, while ravens tend to be solitary, until the fall migration.

Crow, left, and Raven. Note the position of the tail feathers. The crow’s are fan-like, while the Raven’s are wedge-shaped.

Both the crows and the ravens are highly intelligent birds. Perhaps the most intelligent. The two can learn to imitate a variety of sounds, including the human voice. Recent research has found crows not only use tools, but also tool construction. Their intelligence quotient is equal to that of many non-human primates.

There is a story that indicates crows know how to count. The story has not been substantiated, but it goes like this. Three hunters enter a hunters’ blind. They wait, the crows know they are in there. The crows don’t move. Two hunters leave the blind, and the crows still don’t move. Once the third hunter leaves, the crows know they are gone and resume their normal activity.

Crows also have a good memory, remembering where there is danger, and where their cache of food is for later consumption.

Predators include owls and hawks. Crows will gather together to move an offending or intruding owl or hawk. However, West Nile disease has been taking its toll on crow populations.

A couple of years ago, while fishing on Webber Pond, my wife and I noticed a large flock of crows headed for a tree that sat on a point. Apparently, a bald eagle was intruding on a nest. The crows mobbed the eagle and drove it off. That was interesting to watch.

So, taking all these things into consideration, the large black birds hanging around my house are crows. But the question as to where they come from and why they are hanging around, has not been answered. In the past, I have seen massive numbers of crows fly overhead in late fall. But they continue in a northwesterly direction, darkening the sky as they passed. This year, they are making themselves right at home around my house.

I will continue to investigate.

SCORES & OUTDOORS: Canada lynx surviving in Maine

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Recently, two Canada lynx were found dead in northern Maine, spawning an investigation into why, and who, killed the predatory cat.

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

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

A Canada lynx in the wild.

A Canada lynx in the wild.

Lynx in the contiguous United States are at the southern margins of a widely-distributed range across Canada and Alaska. The center of the North American range is in north-central Canada. Lynx are found in coniferous forests that have cold, snowy winters and provide a prey base of snowshoe hare. Lynx, primarily found in northern Maine, prey almost exclusively on snowshoe hare, so the fate of both species are linked.

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

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

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

a snowshoe hare

A snowshoe hare, the favorite prey of the lynx, with its winter coat.

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

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

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

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

Recently, a friend of mine who keeps farm animals in Richmond, reported sighting a lynx that was checking out his chicken coop.

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

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

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

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

SCORES & OUTDOORS: The goose and Christmas dinner

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Well, it’s December, and Christmas is closing in on us fast. What does that have to do with a sports and outdoors column? How about talking about one of the all time traditions of the holiday dinner – the Christmas goose. After all, even Ebenezer Scrooge, of the 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, prompted by the Ghost of Christmas Present, observed the Cratchit family enjoying a goose for Christmas dinner.

The once common farm bird, the goose has a rich legacy of multi-purpose value. Geese possess down feathers, dark flavorful meat, and rich high-temperature cooking fat.

As natural foragers, geese much prefer to graze than feed on grain alone, and need the freedom to roam in search of tender grasses. Their tendency to grazing has made them difficult to be produced under farm conditions, like the turkey.

According to Frank Reese, “In the old days you’d never harvest a goose until after you had freezing weather. The old people really felt that the cold weather allowed the goose to put down that important layer of fat that was needed to make it taste like it was supposed to.”

Goose, before Christmas dinner.

Goose, before Christmas dinner.

I once attended a wild game dinner with some friends. As hunters and fishermen, we would gather once a year and share our bounty from the previous season. That was the first time I had tasted goose, which had been harvested in New Jersey. I found the meat to be tender, a little greasy, but very pleasant to the palette.

Geese are a waterfowl. The word goose is a direct descendent of the German word gos, with the plural ges and gandres, becoming the modern English words of goose, geese, gander and gosling, respectively.

Actually, goose is the name given to the female of the species. The males are called ganders. Interestingly, a group of geese on land or in water is called a gaggle, while in flight, it is known as a skein.

Fossils of true geese in North America seem to indicate the different species of geese have been around since about 10 million years ago.

Geese are monogamous, living in permanent pairs throughout the year; however, unlike most other permanently monogamous animals, they are territorial only during the short nesting season. Paired geese are more dominant and feed more, two factors that result in more young.

However, farmyard ganders have been known to have a harem of three or four females. They are extremely dedicated partners and will actually mourn the loss of a mate.

And the Goose just before Christmas dinner.

And the Goose just before Christmas dinner.

Geese are herbivores, and the bumps in their beaks are used for cutting through grass stems. Since the inside of the beak and the tongue are serrated, they are often mistaken as fangs.

The goose is also the subject of many well-known sayings in American culture:

  • What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander;
  • Your goose is cooked;
  • Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs;
  • A wild goose chase.

The Egyptians domesticated the goose more than 3,000 years ago. Properly cared for, geese can live to be as old as 20 years.

In Victorian England, the goose was the chimney sweep’s favorite tool. The goose was lowered down the chimney to collect the built up coal, and would come out the other end blackened with soot.

Another historical fact about geese: their feathers were used in some of the first golf balls, being created by hand, making them extremely expensive.

How do you cook a goose (no pun intended)? Very carefully.

As a casual dabbler in the culinary arts, I suggest this: Let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Generously salt both the inside and out and fill the cavity with garlic, thyme and sage. Prick small holes over the skin, being careful not to pierce the meat. This allows the fat a chance to render out during roasting. Cook low and slow, preferably at 325°F.

Having a tendency to be a bit dry, the meat should be served medium-rare. If you’re worried about the dark meat, to ensure it has had time to become tender, remove the breast part way through roasting.

Now, trying to find a goose at the local grocery store can result in a “wild goose chase.”

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

The New England Patriots are 6-5 in Super Bowl appearances. Name the teams to which they lost.

Answer can be found here.