Monday, November 24, 2014

Wildlife Quiz - Harbor Pollock

The American “Harbor” Pollock The American “Harbor” Pollock (Pollachius virens) inhabits the cool continental waters on both sides of the North Atlantic, spanning from Nova Scotia to Chesapeake Bay and throughout the North Sea, English Channel, and even into the Bay of Biscay.

In the Gulf of Maine, fishermen catch large numbers of Pollock to be used both for bait as well as human consumption. Pollock meat has a sweet, mild fish taste reminiscent of haddock, thus making it a favorite among fishermen.

 Pollock posses plump bodies, pointed noses, projected lower jaws, forked tails, and a handsome greenish hue that fades to smoky gray on each side below the lateral line. In the open ocean, Pollock routinely grow to a length of two and a half feet and an average weight of 20 pounds, with some individuals reaching mammoth proportions in excess of 40 pounds. Immature Pollock inhabit the shallow more sheltered areas around docks, piers and other natural and manmade structures to escape predators. These smaller juveniles rarely exceed 10 inches and tend to stay in the more confined habitat of Maine’s local harbors till they are large enough to survive the rigors of the open ocean.

Pollock tend to use its keen sight rather than scent to capture its prey and fishermen target Pollock with shinny silver lures to monopolize on this fact. Pollock feed chiefly on shrimp and small fish, such as Cod, Haddock and Halibut. Voracious feeders, biologists once examined a nine inch long Pollock and found its stomach contained seventy-seven herring averaging two and a half inches long!

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is the primary habitat of the Pollock?
2. Are Pollock a game species pursued by fishermen for food?
3. What are the distinguishing features of a Pollock?
4. What is the average length and weight of a Pollock inhabiting the open ocean?
5. How big do “harbor” Pollock tend to grow?
6. Which do Pollock tend to use more when hunting for food, their sense of sight or smell?
7. What do Pollock mostly feed on?
8. How many two and a half inch long herring were once found in the stomach of a nine-inch long Pollock?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The Pollock prefers to inhabit the cool continental waters on both sides of the North Atlantic, spanning from Nova Scotia to Chesapeake Bay and throughout the North Sea, English Channel, and even into the Bay of Biscay.
2. Yes, Pollock meat has a sweet, mild fish taste reminiscent of haddock, thus making it a favorite among fishermen.
3. Pollock posses plump bodies, pointed noses, projected lower jaws, forked tails, and a handsome greenish hue that fades to smoky gray on each side below the lateral line.
4. In the open ocean, Pollock routinely grow to two and a half feet in length and an average weight of 20 pounds.
5. Harbor Pollock rarely exceed 10 inches, tending to stay in the more confined habitat of Maine’s local harbors until they reach a size where then can survive the rigors of the open ocean.
6. When hunting for food, Pollock tend to rely more on their sense of sight than their sense of smell.
7. Pollock feed chiefly on shrimp and small fish, such as Cod, Haddock and Halibut.
8. Seventy-seven two and a half inch long herring were once found in the stomach of a nine-inch long Pollock.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Food Plot Construction for Deer and Turkey

In the publication, “Living on the Edge, An Overview of Deer Management in Maine”, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) strongly discourages individuals from providing supplemental feed (corn and hay) to deer. State biologists have proven that this long standing and previously accepted practice is actually detrimental to deer populations, having been proven to ultimately lead to malnutrition, increase predatation and contribute to the spread of chronic wasting disease. Instead of supplemental feeding, IFW offers other ways to help support Maine’s dwindling deer herd. One of these ideas, centers on the importance of landowners creating and maintaining food plots as a healthy alternative supplemental feeding method.

Maine landowners growing food plots can provide deer with a natural and sustainable food source that nurtures local deer herds while also providing a prime area to attract and hunt deer. While Maine law prohibits the placement of “bait” to attract deer, food plots, apple trees and even gardens provide natural forage are therefore not defined as bait in accordance with Maine law and are legal to hunt over. Food plot construction is a relatively straight forward procedure, accomplished with minimal time and effort. While large scale food plots often require heavy equipment to plant and maintain, small scale food plots can be easily created and managed with a chainsaw, rototiller, rake and a good amount of determination. These half and quarter acre food plots are capable of offering thousands of pounds of supplemental feed to help support Maine’s struggling deer populations. Individuals without land large enough to host a food plot can, with permission, ask neighbors if they would find it acceptable to plant a small food plot on their property.

Some hunters feel that hunting deer over food plots is an unsportsmanlike behavior; however, these same individuals hunt over apple orchards, use deer calls, scents or decoys. Man made food plots, natural food sources, calls, lures or decoys are all methods of luring or “baiting” deer into close proximity so a hunter can take an ethical shot. Even now, scoped weapons, compound bows, deer attractants and electronic calls are viewed by some hunters as against the intrinsic values of “fair chase” and the high tech “toys” of those hunters lacking true hunting skills. Ultimately, hunters degrading other hunters for employing these tactics or tools, only damages us as sporting men and women. To we all need to be accepting of an individuals law abiding choices, ultimately support our hunting heritage and traditions.

Planting a food plot in the Maine wildlands requires an understanding of a few horticultural basics. Location, soil and seed are of utmost importance and must be carefully considered before planting. Food plot growth issues can almost always be traced back to a failure in one or more of these big three. As in real estate, location is king and with food plots this same axiom holds true. Potential plots should be examined to determine the amount of sunlight the area receives daily, as well as how well or poorly the soil drains. Taking time and carefully selecting a location is a key component to success. In Maine’s acrid soil, it’s a safe bet plots will need plenty of fertilizer and lime, lime and more lime to ensure plants thrive. The budget conscious, will want to consider growing plots comprised of clover and brassica, as these perennial mixes thrive well in Maine’s short growing season, do not require annual replanting and produce forage from early spring till late fall.

Obviously, not all deer hunters have access to sufficient land or the time needed to bring a food plot to fruition. If deer cannot be lured into sight then sights must be placed on the deer. For those hunters not “luring” deer, Downeast offers a myriad of choices for spot and stalk hunters. Spot and stalk is a time tested and extremely effective hunting method to employ in Washington County where the woods are dark, thick and deep and deer densities extremely low. Unless a perfect ambush location is scouted and predetermined, a hunter could sit for weeks or more in the woods and never see a shootable deer. To combat this, hunters need to be mobile and know how to tread softly in the woods. Moving through the woods after or during a heavy rain, using rushing streams or accessing prime area via canoe all work to help mask the sound of a hunters foot falls. Following by canoe, the course of the Machias (Map 25 B-5) or the Narraguagus River (Map 25 C-1) hunters are provided with an effective means of accessing the backcountry without disturbing finicky whitetails. A personal favorite is an early morning paddle into Maine’s Public Reserve Lands or “The Great Heath”, accessible via the Pleasant River (Map 25 C-

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wildlife Quiz - Red-Tailed Hawk

The most common hawk in North America, the Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) occupies an impressive diversity of habitats, including deserts, roadsides, fields, parks, urban areas and woodlands. The home range of this highly adaptable avian stretches from Alaska to as far south as Central America.

Red-tailed hawks plumage varies widely depending on subspecies and region. Typical adults exhibit the characteristic brick-colored tail feathers along with whitish underbellies, hooked shaped bills, broad tails, yellow legs and feet and a small head seemingly disproportionately sized in comparison to their large muscular bodies.

Red-tailed hawks communicate using a piercing, high-pitched scream, used to warning other raptors or as a means of talking between mates. Sharp-eyed and efficient hunters, red-tailed hawks prefer high perching places near wide open spaces where they can spot and seize their favorite prey of mice, voles, squirrels, small snakes and rabbits.

 Breeding season kicks off a spectacular sequence of aerial acrobatics with red-tailed hawks putting on an impressive courtship display. The mated pair will sometimes clasp talons, plummeting toward the ground at a high rate of speed, only pulling away from each other and returning to normal flight seconds before impact. Monogamous creatures, red-tailed hawks typically mate for life. Females lay one to five eggs each year, with both parents taking turns incubating the eggs. Eggs hatch in four to five weeks with young leaving the nest in about six weeks and juveniles attain maturity at around 4 years. Red-tailed hawks have been recorded to live to the ripe old age of 29 years.

Wildlife Quiz Questions: 
1. What is the home range of the red-tailed hawk?
2. What is the most distinguishing characteristic of the red-tailed hawk?
3. What method of auditory communication is used between red-tailed hawks?
4. What do red-tailed hawks prefer to eat?
5. What is spectacular about the courtship ritual displayed by red-tailed hawks?
6. Are red-tailed hawks monogamous?
7. How many eggs are laid by female red-tailed hawks?
8. How old do red-tailed hawks live?

 Wildlife Quiz Answers: 
1. The home range of the red-tailed hawk stretches from Alaska to northern Central America.
2. The most distinguishing characteristic of the red-tailed hawk is the red or brick colored tail feathers. 3. Red-tailed hawks communicate using a piercing, high-pitched shrill scream.
4. Red-tailed hawks prefer to eat mice, voles, squirrels, small snakes and occasionally rabbits.
5. Mated pairs of red-tailed hawks will sometimes clasp talons, plummeting toward the ground at a high rate of speed, pulling away from each other and returning to normal flight only seconds before impact. 6. Red-tailed hawks are monogamous creatures, typically mating for life.
7. Red-tailed hawks lay one to five eggs per year.
8. Red-tailed hawks have been recorded to live to be approximately 29 years old.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Camping, Fishing, Hunting . . . Deer Lake, Maine has it ALL!

October in Maine is the outdoors person’s paradise. The bugs finally disappear, the weather becomes blissfully cool and hunting season begins in earnest! When I was a much younger man, attending school at the University of Maine at Machias, my fraternity brothers and I would camp at Deer Lake every Columbus Day weekend to hunt woodcock and partridge and enjoy what was typically the last long weekend of good weather before old man winter descended upon the land.

Camping at Deer Lake 
Deer Lake campground (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 34, E-5) provides visitors with the perfect base camp from which to launch hunting, fishing and ATVing expeditions into the surrounding hinterlands. Deer Lake campsite manager, Arthur Keenan highly recommends Deer Lake to ATV riders, as its centralized location in the Sunrise Trail System offers the best access to numerous trail riding and options. While the campsite does not have treated water for drinking, flush toilets or showers it does have outhouses, eight waterfront and twelve off lake well-maintained tent and RV sites. If reserving a site make sure to pick site number 1. This site is provides a beautiful view of the water is semi-private and offers a large lot that is RV accessible.

Trailered boats cannot be launched at Deer Lake but watercraft can be hand carried over a small beach making small boat access possible. Due to the lakes miniscule size motor driven watercraft are unnecessary and a canoe or kayak is perfect for exploring and fishing its waters. Those interested in exploring Deer Lake or staying at the campground, the directions are relatively simple. The area is accessible via the 3000 road that leaves Rt. 9 (the "Airline") in Devereaux Township (Map 24, A-1) and follows the Naraguagus River for a distance of approximately 15 miles. If driving from Bangor toward Calais, a great landmark is the Airline snack bar and the northern terminus of Rt. 193. Drive approximately 1 mile further this point and turn left onto the 3000 road at the Ranger Station. If the Narraguagus River is crossed, turn around. While this road is bumpy and not as well maintained as the typical 4500 to 3100 to Studmill to 3200 road more direct route, the 3000 road will allow bird hunters to drive through several great covers on their way to Deer Lake. Be sure to drive slowly, always keeping a keen eye on the road edging for early morning or late evening partridge. Deer Lake campground has tent/RV sites but no hook ups for electricity or water. Costs are $20 for the first night and $10 per night after. A primetime Friday/Saturday night stay costs $45. For reservations, please contact Lois Keenan (546-3828) or for additional information Arthur Keenan (664-3198). Lois and Arthur also maintain the Lower Sabao Lake (Map 35, E-1) and Cranberry Lake (Map 35, E-2) campgrounds. All three campgrounds are open Memorial Day and close when the snow flies.

Fishing Deer Lake and the Surrounding Area 
At 38 acres and a maximum depth of 21 feet, the waters of Deer Lake support warm water game species only, providing anglers with opportunities to fish yellow perch, chain pickerel and hornpout. Cold-water game species like brook trout have little chance of survival and as such, stocking of the lake does not occur. Anglers looking to catch brook trout would be better served to fish the nearby Narraguagus river (Map 34, E-5) or Mopang Stream (Map 25, A-2) that will hold ravenous trout spurred into feeding by the season’s dropping temperatures. A public boat landing at Nicatous Lake (Map 35, D-5) additionally allows anglers with larger watercraft to access salmon waters.

Hunting for Partridge at Deer Lake
Deer Lake is surrounded by a network of dirt roads that provide hunters with plenty of access to bird hunting opportunities. While some will enjoy riding these roads and “heater hunting”, know that hunters typically hit these roadways hard and shot opportunities are often sparse. Even when birds do present themselves they are often skittish and by the time hunters get out of the vehicle and load their weapon the bird has typically flown to the next county. Hunters can achieve a higher level of success by getting out and walking some of the harder to get to sections of forest via roads that have been rendered impassable by washed out culverts or blow downs. Speed need not be employed when hunting early morning and late afternoon birds, slow and steady walking while carefully scanning and searching through the roadside underbrush is a much more likely method of putting birds in the bean pot. The unimproved roads and trails around Indian Brook (Map 34, D-4) and off the Morrison Ridge Road (Map 34, D-5) contain excellent spots where hunters who wish to beat the brush can break away from the heavily traveled main roads and pursue birds in relative peace and quiet.

Start Scouting Deer Now 
Hearty souls, unafraid of cold weather and wishing to return to this area in November to hunt deer would be well served to spend some time while hunting and driving in October paying special attention to any perceivable deer sign. Making careful note of rub lines, scrapes, dropping and tracks and marking these locations with GPS coordinates will save time later and allow individuals to invest a majority of their time hunting and not scouting when deer season begins. Lightweight climbing stands are fantastic hunting tools but they are only effective when a prime location has been preselected. The Maine woods are vast and a hunter can sit for a long time and never even see a deer if a spot is not wisely chosen. It makes little sense to stumble blindly into the woods, in the early morning light, with no idea of what exists in the area for deer or even if a suitable tree exists that will effective hold a climbing stand. Then once sufficient deer sign and a suitable tree are both selected, what view will be achieved once that tree is climbed? Finding these answers and accomplishing these tasks before the season begins will pay big dividends later by putting a person at least a day ahead of their hunting brethren.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wildlife Quiz - The Eastern Phoebe

In 1804, the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) became the first bird in North America to be banded. John James Audubon attached a short-silvered thread to an Eastern Phoebe's leg, in order to track its return the following season, to its nesting site. Phoebes inhabits an impressive range stretching across most of North America.

Phoebes breed in the northern United States, migrate south for the winter in September and early October and typically arrive back in Maine during mid-late March. Phoebes possess heads appearing much too large for a bird of its relatively diminutive size. Evolution blessed the Phoebe with a short thin bill, perfectly adapted for catching their favorite food of insects and grubs. The head, typically the darkest part of the small birds body, lightens to a brownish-gray colored body that fades into a dirty gray breast and white throat.

The Phoebe lacks distinct eye rings and wingbars making it easy to distinguish from other flycatchers. Phoebes also wag their tails up and down when perching on a prominent perches, making they easy for novice birdwatchers to identify. The Phoebe's gets its name, from its sharp fee-bee chirp that frequently echoes through the Maine woods.

Phoebe’s are adaptable and through prefer open woodland and farmland will occasional invade suburbia and nest on buildings and bridges. Nests are comprised of mud and grass and usually located in protected nooks. Both the male and female phoebes care and feed newly hatched chicks and often raise two broods of 2-6 eggs every year. If successful at avoiding predators, Phoebes can live to be 10 years old.

1. In what year did John James Audubon band the first bird in North America?
2. When do phoebes migrate south for the winter?
3. What is the favorite food of the phoebe?
4. What distinguishes phoebes from other flycatchers?
5. What do phoebes do while perching that makes them easy to identify by novice bird watchers?
6. What sound or call does the phoebe make?
7. What materials do phoebes use to construct their nests?
8. How many broods do phoebes typically raise every year?
9. How long can a phoebe live?

1. John James Audubon banded the first bird in North America in 1804.
2. Phoebes migrate south for the winter in September and early October.
3. Phoebes favorite food is grubs and insects.
4. Phoebes can be distinguished from other flycatchers by their lack of distinct eye rings and wingbars. 5. Phoebes wag their tails up and down while perching, making them easy to identify by novice bird watchers.
6. The phoebe makes a sharp fee-bee chirp.
7. Phoebes use grass and mud to construct their nests.
8. Phoebes typically raise 2 broods per year.
9. A phoebe can live up to 10 years.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Canada Geese and Island Camping

If you have never been to Maine in September, it is my hope that perhaps I can convince you to give the state a try when the lines aren’t quite so long, the air is a bit cooler, the colors more vibrant and the experience a tad sweeter. Enjoy mornings a field where your breath can be seen sleepily wrapping up and around your head then slowly dissipating in the first rays of morning sunshine. If these moments can be shared with friends and family, they are only further enriched.

Canada Goose Hunting 
Being a passionate waterfowl hunter, there is no place I would rather be in September than in pursuit of resident Canada geese. Waking up well before dawn to set-up decoys in a productive field or on a small farm pond and waiting patiently for geese to arrive is a thrilling experience. Sitting in absolute silence, sipping rugged coffee and anticipating the moment when the calmness of the morning will be ruptured by that first echoing “honk”, indicating approaching geese. Hunting geese tends to be a mixture of about luck and location. Even when scouting and investing considerable time in locating productive feeding areas, sometimes the geese still refuse to show-up. Other times, what appears to be a terrible location will by mornings end, yield close to a limit of geese.

A majority of goose hunting occurs in fields but getting permission to hunt these prime locations can often be a hassle. A knock on a farmer’s door can be met with pleasantries and permission but also rude distain despite your best efforts. A long time ago, I simply stopped asking permission and started primarily hunting water-based locations, such as lakes, ponds and streams residing in close proximity to these feeding and afternoon resting areas. Good luck can happen on the water and both morning and evening hunts can be productive. Around 9-10:00 in the morning and about 30 minutes before the end of legal in the evening are exceptional times to hunt as geese look for drinking water after a morning feeding or a secure place to sleep for the evening. The sheer size of a goose makes it in flight appear deceptively slow. Do not be fooled, however, as geese are fast flyers and many a goose has escaped being dinner by hunters shooting behind their target. To be successful, don’t rush, keep the end of your barrel moving after the shot and always be prepared for a quick follow-up shot should the goose hit the water only wounded. Geese are powerful swimmers and can quickly disappear from view before hunters can launch a boat and retrieve.

 Geese make for fine eating and when sliced thin and fried with a little butter and salt and pepper remind me of minute steaks. For those needing a little more “spice”, lightly sprinkling the breasts with Montreal steak seasoning adds a nice zip to the taste. Combine “steaks” with a homemade thin cut french-fries fried in canola oil and a favorite micro-brew like season favorite Pumpkinhead by Shipyard brewing company and a perfect meal is created to bring conclusion to the perfect day a field. September weather can be wildly unpredictable with heavy rain and cold weather always a possibility even on mornings that start out beautiful and sunny. To be comfortable, make sure to always throw a lightweight pair rain pants and a jacket into the boat. Good luck this season and may the only precipitation encountered be geese raining from the sky!! Looking for geese? Small lakes and ponds like Fourth Machias Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, C-1), Third Machias Lake (Map 35, C-3) and Lower Sabao Lake (Map 35, E-1) have long been favorites. But remember patterns change daily so keep eyes to the skies and be prepared to quickly modify plans to stay on resident geese!

Camp on an Island
While hunting geese, it makes sense to stay close to the intended hunting location. This facilitates the early mornings and tends to make getting to prime hunting spots a bit less hectic. Camping on an island is certainly a unique experience but ultimately very similar to car camping. Gear and other heavy supplies can be transported by boat leaving less to lug on backs. While care must be taken in packing smaller watercraft like canoes, larger watercraft can easily carry the camping needs of even the most extravagant campers. Firewood on islands tends to be in limited supply, so having a small portable stove to cook meals instead relying solely on wood power is a good idea. Each of the lakes and ponds mentioned above have islands or nearby primitive campsites where intrepid waterfowlers can camp. Fourth Lake Machias (Map 35, C-1) has a beautiful primitive campsite and a very healthy population of resident geese. Use care when navigating this lake during early mornings, as this lake is notoriously rocky and replacement sheer pins a long way away. Better to take a canoe, kayak or scull boat and use the early morning fog to paddle in quietly to an unsuspecting flock and reach your limit in plenty of time to return to the campsite to enjoy a second cup of coffee and a big breakfast.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Deer Season Favorite Pictures

Thanks to everyone for supporting Saving Maine's Bear Hunt! Considering the importance this vote had on not only Maine hunters but hunting in general I thought it important enough to dedicate the blog over the last several months to defeating the "Bear Hunting Referendum". Now defeated, we can move along to postings of my inane and sarcastic ramblings.  To jump start things, here is a picture from this deer season (2015) of a 170 pound 8 pointer I shot in central Maine during the second week of deer season.

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