Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wildlife Quiz - Owls

Owls belong to the order Strigiformes, a group of birds that includes 205 different species. These species are divided into two groups, categorized as true owls and barn owls. True owls are the largest group, comprised of 189 species, while there exists only 16 species of Barn owls. The Maine Audubon Society lists, 11 species of owls live in or call Maine home for a portion of the year. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.

Owls have well-developed binocular vision and special designed faces and ear tufts that funnel sounds, allowing them to hunt effectively at night. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits. Since owls do not have teeth, they swallow small prey whole and later regurgitate bone, fur and feathers.

In January through March, male owls pick a nest site. Owls make little effort to construct elaborate nest, instead preferring to nest in hollowed out trees, on rock ledges, the top of power-line towers or in hay lofts. Some species will even take over the nests of other bird species. During this time, male owls will attempts to attract females. Owls produce a wide distribution of calls to both find potential mates and frighten off any potential competitors. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching. Both parents feed and care for the young till they can fly by ten weeks of age. The mortality rate on owlets is about 50 percent, with many dying due to predators and accidents with man. Owls in the wild have been known to survive to 13 years of age with a few captive birds living to 30 years of age.

Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. To what order do owls belong?
2. How many different species of owls exist?
3. What are the two different categories of owls?
4. How many owls live in or frequent Maine?
5. In what kind of habitats do owls live?
6. What do owls eat?
7. At what time of year do owls pick out nesting sites?
8. How many eggs do owls typically lay?

Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. Owls belong to the order Strigiformes
2. There exist 205 different species of owls.
3. The two categories of owls are true owls and barn owls.
4. Eleven different species of owls live in or frequent Maine.
5. Owls live in a wide variety of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, clear-cuts, and even urban environments.
6. Owls feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, reptiles, birds, insects and rabbits.
7. Owls pick out nesting sites in January-March.
8. Female owls lay two to three eggs that incubate for about a month before hatching.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top Holiday Environmental Hazards for Your Dog

Authors Labrador "Onyx" on Top of Cadillac Mt. 
Best friend, hiking buddy, confidant, dogs are such a critically important part of our lives, as responsible pet owners, it pays huge to understand your dogs needs, as they relate to the holiday season. Even the best behaved dogs can have their manners tested as new treats, strange visitors and other distractions enter the household. While a vast majority of these interactions will be benign, to properly protect your pet, owners should be prepared. Preparation comes in the form of having the right knowledge, skills and even equipment, to ensure that your holiday's are peaceful and not disrupted by a emergency trip with Fido to the veterinarian!

The holidays are fun, festive times filled with things like parties, gift exchanges, and decorating, and the cold weather causes most people to send a lot of their time indoors. As a dog owner, you’re unlikely to overlook man’s best friend during the hustle and bustle, but many people are unaware of the holiday hazards to their dogs that they bring into their homes. What are these common environmental dangers? And what can do owners do - short of erecting a giant DIY dog fence and barricading the Christmas tree - to protect their dogs?

Toxic Holiday Plants
Bringing plants into your home is a great way to bring in some of the life of the outdoors, but you must be particularly careful when you have a dog. Many common houseplants - especially the ones most common at the winter holidays - are toxic to dogs. The safest bet is to opt for the artificial versions, if possible. If not, it’s important to place these plants out-of-reach of your dog, and be sure to clean up any fallen foliage from the ground before your dog does.

Mistletoe will upset your dog’s stomach, and it can cause heart collapse in severe cases. Poinsettia can upset your dog’s stomach, too, and cause severe mouth blisters. Holly can cause pain and vomiting. All of these plants can be fatal if your dog ingests too much of them. Hibiscus and lily plants can also be toxic to dogs. You should also make sure these plants are not growing inside your yard or within the boundaries of your electronic dog fence.

Christmas Tree Concerns
An authentic Christmas tree is the most iconic decoration, but bringing one inside your home creates some unique concerns if you have a dog. Pine needles are toxic to dogs, especially in large amounts (although smaller dogs are more at risk). Even in small amounts, pine needles can irritate your dog’s mouth or stomach. Don’t allow your dog to chew on the branches of an artificial tree, either, because the chemicals used to produce the tree could be toxic.

The water inside your Christmas tree stand is also a potential danger. Stagnant water always breeds bacteria, and any chemicals or pesticides used in growing your Christmas tree will pool inside the stand. If your dog drinks the water, they can become very sick or even die, so it’s a good idea to change the water on a daily basis.

If your dog enjoys chewing on electrical cords, light strands can pose a problem. Glass ornaments, tinsel, and ornament hooks can also cause serious internal damage if ingested. If your dog won’t leave the tree alone, a good solution is an indoor electric fence for dogs. Placing an invisible dog fence around your tree will block your dog’s access to it. Your dog will be kept at a safe distance, and you won’t have to make any changes to the way your Christmas tree looks.

Signs of Stress
Lots of people, noise, and activity might stress you out, but your dog is at a much greater risk of becoming stressed in busy situations. Most dogs are overwhelmed at holiday parties, for example, and they require quiet and solitude to recover. If your dog is too stressed, they can become dehydrated and physically ill, so it’s important to take them to a separate, quieter area, along with plenty of water, so they can rest and recharge.

Dogs can exhibit many different signs of stress, but here are some common ones to look for: cowering, trying to escape, pacing, growling, panting, staring, freezing up, jumping, showing the whites of their eyes, fur standing on end, hiding, or rapid breathing. Since you know your dog better than anyone else, take any behavior that is unusual for them as a sign of stress. If you’re traveling, try to identify a quiet place for your dog to de-stress before they need it. For dogs that are trained with an e-collar, a portable electric dog fence is a good tool for establishing a safe zone for your dog anywhere, including a campground or yard without a fence.

It’s a good idea for all dog owners to know basic dog first aid and CPR, just in case they’re faced with any significant emergencies. As always, keep the phone number to your vet’s emergency line on-hand, and call at the first sign of trouble. If you notice your dog acting strangely or becoming sick, call your vet or an animal hospital for guidance immediately.

Working dogs deserve the best protections available. If you are considering electric dog containment visit our educational partner for portable and static dog fencing solutions.

Any readers commenting on this post with automatically be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Tradition of Hunting

This is a short article I wrote for the Nov./Dec. 2015 edition of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) Newsletter....ENJOY!

Bedtime this past Saturday evening was highlighted by my 6 year old confidently pronouncing, "Daddy today was the best day evah!" Considering the achieved levels of decadence of his past birthday parties and how badly he was spoiled at Christmas, I considered this an extraordinarily bold statement. So, one might ask, what life-altering event could be so incredibly spectacular as to spur my young son to utter such a statement?

To the dedicated sportsman, it should come as no surprise that this proclamation came on the heels of his first day duck hunting. For me, starting to hunt was a relatively easy endeavor, having grandfathers, father, and an uncle who were all registered Maine guides and passionate about the outdoors. From a time shortly after I began walking, they helped me take the steps in my outdoors training that eventually led me to become interested in hunting.

What most people don’t understand is that hunting is much more then handing a young boy a rifle and pointing him in the direction of the woods. A hunter is someone who has undergone years of instruction and guidance, developing an understanding a large number of individual skills and eventually building to the mastery of a diverse set of abilities. Most importantly, before venturing forth into the wilds, one need to learn to be safe and comfortable in the woods, how to use a map and compass and know what to do should they become lost or injured. A hunter knows how to properly dress for the bitter north winds and how to start a fire in the wettest and direst of circumstances. These are fundamental skills that should be learned early by all outdoorsmen. To hunt game ethically and well, one must understand the animal they are pursuing, know its tracks, behaviors and where it is likely to bed, habituate and feed. A hunter must know how to shoot from a variety of stances, understand the inner workings of firearms, including how to clean and care for them. To humanely kill game, a hunter must know the animal’s anatomy and where to place a shot to quickly dispatch it. A hunter must know what to do should that bullet not be perfectly placed and an animal need to be tracked. A hunter must understand how to field dress, butcher and properly care for a killed animal, so the meat is not wasted. Lastly, it is the best of hunters who know how to properly cook game and prepare it for the dinner table.

All of these lessons are important as they’re the basic building blocks of creating an understanding and respect of the outdoors and the animals we as hunters pursue. Most people go to a supermarket, pickup a piece of meat, secured in plastic and don’t think: “Where did this meat come from? Did the animal suffer? Was it raised in captivity?” When a hunter shoots a deer, he has a pretty good understanding where that meat came from, whether the deer was taken humanely and know that the meat he is harvesting is completely organic. Hunters understand what hard work it is to take an animal from the field, clean it, butcher it, package it and make it ready for the dinner table. We as a society aren’t passing this connection on to the next generation and teaching the importance of these skills.

Our society reeks of trouble, too many things vie for our attentions, frequently removing us from the natural world and keeping us inside. Videogames, movies, the Internet, smart phones . . . we’re always connected, absorbed, distracted, multitasking and whether we know it or not, overwhelmed. Kids simply aren’t bored anymore; they always need to be entertained. And when those kids are put in an educational setting, unless the teacher is jumping on the desk or standing on their head, they just can’t hold the students’ attention long enough to teach them anything. That’s unfortunate. The education side of introducing women, kids and people who have never had a chance to hunt has come full circle for me now that I have kids. I have 6 and 8 year old boys, and while I would like them to grow up sharing my passion for hunting and fishing, I’ve always said it’s their choice and I’d never force it on them. I provide all of the entry points, but if they don’t want to take it up, that’s up to them. Their “wild” education started out identifying animal tracks in the winter, chasing rabbits and squirrels through the spruce thickets. Now they’re of an age where I take them hunting with me. This past October they joined me in the duck blind and on frequent walks hunting gray squirrels, rabbits and partridge, sometimes during these outings there is whining, often they struggle to be quiet and typically we arrive back home empty handed, having invested hours in the wilds with not a game animal to show for our exhaustive efforts.

However, hunting is so much more than harvesting a game animal; hunting at its roots is all about bringing family and friends together, connecting to the food eaten, having respect for animals and working to preserve this heritage for future generations. Hunting is ultimately only 10 percent about harvesting an animal. The remaining 90 percent is about hanging out with family and friends, spending time afield enjoying Mother Nature, and the frequent quiet, self-reflective moments.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Like Oil and Water, Ethanol and Snowmobiles Don’t Mix

In the 1990s, the federal government changed the Clean Air Act to require the addition of oxygenates to gasoline in order to generate higher octane ratings. This allowed fuel to burn more efficiently, producing cleaner emissions. The original fuel additive chosen to oxygenate gas tanks was Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE). Unfortunately, MTBE was found to be contaminating ground water supplies, creating a wide array of health and environmental concerns. Ethanol was chosen as a safer replacement and has been used almost exclusively since MTBE was discontinued in 2003.

Experts have argued for years over the positive and negative effects of ethanol in gasoline, unfortunately, after years of scientific study, a majority of these stories have been proven true. Many groups, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have even publicly released reports, warning the public about the negative effects of ethanol in gasoline. Marv Klowak, vice president of research and development for Briggs & Stratton, has even publicly stated that, "Ethanol has inherent properties that can cause corrosion of metal parts, including carburetors, degradation of plastic and rubber components, harder starting, and reduced engine life”.

As consumers, we have all heard whispers of these reports and also the multitude of horror stories about how ethanol in gasoline is destroying small engines, including snowmobiles. Given the sizeable investment many of us make in the purchasing and upkeep of our snowmobiles, how can we continue to enjoy our sport without worrying about costly repairs? The key to dealing with ethanol in gasoline is knowledge and prevention. As consumers, we need to understand what makes ethanol bad and take the steps needed to make sure these issues do not negatively affect our snowmobile engines. Snowmobiles are more susceptible to ethanol “enhanced” fuels than almost any other small engine due to the environment and conditions in which snowmobiles operate.

Challenges inherent with ethanol fuels in snowmobiles include:
1. Ethanol has more difficulty absorbing water than straight gasoline, meaning any water accidentally introduced to the fuel mixture tends to collect at the bottom of the gas tank. Water is then pulled into the snowmobile engine, causing it to run rough and stall. Continued operation of the machine, under these conditions, can eventually lead to catastrophic engine damage.
2. In extremely cold temperatures, ethanol stays in a liquid form rather than the gaseous state needed for effective combustion to occur. This issue hampers the ability of a snowmobile engine to start in temperatures below 0F.
3. Ethanol is an alcohol which over time works to dry out and degrade plastic and rubber components, including fuel lines and gaskets. Consequently, snowmobiles built in the 1980s and earlier typically require heavy upgrading to stay running on today's “enriched” gasoline.
4. Alcohol is a solvent that will scour out older fuel systems, eventually clogging filters and choking off the engine's fuel supply.
5. Over time, ethanol ¬oxidizes in fuel tanks leaving behind a thick residue that gums up engine components, leading to engine failure.

Given all of the apparent issues with ethanol enhanced fuels, what can consumers do to protect their equipment for the negative effects?
1. Obviously, the best thing that consumers can do is to buy ethanol free fuels. Sears, Home Depot, Lowes and many retailers sell ethanol-free fuel, though at a premium price. While this is a very viable option for the individual looking to occasionally operate a chainsaw, lawnmower or leaf blower, for the snowmobile enthusiast, the costs and availability of these fuels likely do not warrant their use.
2. Always use Sta-Bil, StarTron or other similar enzyme products designed to treat blended gasoline. These products work by dispensing water equally throughout the gasoline/ethanol mixture instead of allowing the water to collect at the bottom of the gas tank. These products also work to help keep engines running more effectively by cleaning existing gum and varnish out of the engine.
3. Never store blended gasoline for longer than three months. If only needing smaller amounts of fuel, use a small 2 gallon plastic gas storage tank rather than a larger 5 gallon tank. This will encourage more trips to the gas station to refill; ensuring fresh fuel is delivered to equipment.
4. Use a good quality synthetic snowmobile oil with detergents and lubricants such as AMSOil and LUCAS oil. These further help keep engines clean and combat the effects of ethanol based fuels.
5. At the conclusion of the snowmobiling season, drain the fuel tank and run the engine until it quits.
This draws all of the ethanol gasoline out of the tank and fuel lines, avoiding many of the problems outlined above.

Armed with this knowledge and prevention tips, snowmobile riders should find themselves more equipped this season to better understand ethanol based fuels, avoid potential problems and prolong the life of their machine. Drive safe, wear a helmet and enjoy this snowmobile season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smoking Cold Whitetails and Ice Hot Fishing Action

Muzzleloader Whitetails
For some hearty sportsmen, the first two weeks of December mean hunting the state’s whitetail deer population with muzzleloader. For those looking to join in on this challenging pursuit, the hunt is open statewide November 30th to December 5th and in WMD’s 12, 13,15 through 18, 20 through 26 and 29 from December 7-12th. In the past several seasons, hunters have enjoyed light snow on the ground during the first few weeks of December, allowing an excellent opportunity for sportsmen to track deer.

Compared to stand hunting, chasing deer on the ground is an exciting way to pursue this elusive and crafty game animal. A popular method of locating deer tracks still employs driving logging roads at first light and looking for fresh tracks. Once a fresh track of suitable size is located, the hunter slowly and methodically follows the track until the animal is found, the track is lost, the hunter tires or night falls. While a process simple in thought, tracking and still hunting is an art form and more often than not the deer wins.

Hunters can increase their chances in this endeavor by continued practice and by pre-scouting prime areas using game cameras and putting boots to the ground. Hunters looking to try their luck during this year’s muzzleloader season would be well served to begin their search for tracks by driving the roads surrounding First Lake (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, E-4) and Second, Third and Fourth Lake (Map 35, D-4). These areas not only contain a vast maze of navigable logging roads but also contain direct access to suitable deer habitat.

Ice Fishing White Perch on Baskahegan Lake
By late December, my thoughts turn to hardwater fishing and part of my regular daily routine is the monitoring of ice conditions on area lakes and ponds. Depending on the year, early ice fishing can be had on Baskahegan Lake (Map 45, C-3) in Topsfield, Maine. At 6,815 acres Baskahegan Lake is the third largest lake in Washington County and boasts a highly productive warm-water fishery. The lake is open to ice fishing for all fish except salmon, trout, togue and bass from ice in until December 31; and then open to ice fishing for all fish species from January 1 through March 31. Early season anglers tend to target the hearty white perch population, where there currently exists a generous 25 fish bag limit.

Ice fishing for white perch is one of my favorite things to do, as they are relatively easy to catch and rank as one of the most delectable fresh water game species. Generally white perch populations consist of large numbers of undersized fish, which some anglers perceive as fish that should be released to grow to a larger size. Smaller fish are however the product of an overabundant, slow growing population and need to be harvested to increase the growth potential of the overall population. Thinning of overpopulated white perch populations also has the added benefit of enhancing the growth and production of other desirable sport species in those waters.

When fishing Baskahegan or other lakes and ponds containing white perch, anglers should temporarily put aside their catch and release philosophies and instead work to fill their freezers. The best times to fish for “Whites” is dawn and dusk, when the species is at its most voracious. Anglers should target these aggressively feeding fish in a zone approximately 2-4 feet off the bottom. Drilling 3-4 times the number of holes needed at the beginning of the day allows anglers to later quickly and efficiently cover a large area to locate fish without added fish scaring noise and physical effort. A wide variety of lures and baits can be employed to put fish into the bucket but for anglers preferring to jig, the Swedish pimple in size 0 and small perch jigs in pink, red and orange seem to be perch favorites. If bites don’t begin occurring quickly, anglers should switch lure color, jigging speed and location until fish begin biting; this is all part of the excitement for the perch angler, figuring out that perfect combination that will trigger an explosion in the action.

For those employing the use of ice fishing traps, a light weight line of 4 pound is recommended. A smelt or shiner presented about 4 feet off the bottom can typically entice even the most finicky of whites to bite. Once a trap springs, pull up the perch and immediately drop a jig into the hole. The struggling of the caught fish is sometime all that is required to whip the rest of the school into a feeding frenzy and anglers can often pull several additional fish out of one hole. While it is perfectly acceptable to employ this method on your own holes, etiquette dictates anglers refrain from employing this method on the holes of their friends.

Baskahegan is an extremely large body of water but a majority of the fishing occurs in close proximity to the boat access site in Brookton about one mile from U.S. Rt. #1. Those wishing to encounter more fish would be better served to travel by snowmobile or ATV to some of the more remote areas of the lake such as Lindsey Cove at the mouth of Baskahegan Stream or the northern tip of Long Island.
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