A Plan and a Whim

A Plan and a Whim

On our last day, we made plans to fish a small and somewhat difficult pond to reach. On the drive there, we had the pleasure of seeing a cow moose kneel down right beside our truck to drink while her calf (a young bull with knobs on his head) whimpered like a dog. He was more concerned about our presence than she was.

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

That was quite a sight, and it was a great way to start our morning. Now on to that remote pond. It would require carrying the boat and all the equipment over a fairly steep, rock-strewn and root-covered trail.

Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting

As usual, Tony did most of the heavy lifting as we dragged his 15-foot canoe and all the necessary equipment to the pond. And thanks to the cold, wet spring we had, the black flies were mixed in with the mosquitoes, even though it was Father’s Day weekend, not Mother’s Day weekend when you’d normally see black flies.

We made our way to the brush-choked shore. It was worth it almost for the view. It’s a gorgeous little pond, even by Maine standards. We were anxious to get started.

Can't Beat the View

Can’t Beat the View

The weatherman had promised an overcast day and maybe even a little drizzle. No such luck! As soon as we launched, the sun broke out of what turned out to be a cloudless sky, and the temperature shot up; not exactly the prime conditions we were hoping for.

We did as well as could be expected, catching my first creek chub, and a few small brookies–both stocked and native.

My First Creek Chub

My First Creek Chub

We lunched on the porch of the only camp on the lake.

A Rustic Camp

A Rustic Camp

It was a throwback in time in its structure and what passed for furniture and equipment. The only access is by boat or across the ice. It looked like it had not been used in several years, but one can only imagine the many wonderful days and nights spent there by so many hopeful hunters and fishermen.

A Hopeful Fisherman

A Hopeful Fisherman

Of note was the cardboard cutout, which was often done back then so you could eat your catch, of a 17-inch brookie with the date and name of the lucky fisherman and the fly. After lunch, we left our respite and headed across the pond to our truck to make ready for an evening of fishing.

After a hearty supper, we started to head for one of the more famous rivers when I once again got a whim. I turned to Tony, as we passed a stretch of a river that looked great and suggested that we drop the canoe in there.

It is one of those places that is very difficult to wade, and it is almost impossible to cover all of the good water with a fly rod.

So we dragged the canoe down yet another steep, rocky bank, and we launched. This worked out great. The darker it got, the more fish rose, and we had a great night of dry fly fishing.

Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Salmon

We landed five salmon and one brook trout, and one rainbow trout, along with the odd fallfish and smallmouth bass.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Again a whim paid off!

WLAGS

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Startled and Surprised

Startled and Surprised

I went to get a few tasks done on Monday and Tuesday, and as usual I had a surprise or two waiting for me.

I went to Stand #1, and was standing over the dead buck, which is still untouched, when the very loud snapping of a branch behind me startled me so much that I grabbed for my pistol.

It sounded about 30 yards away to these half-deaf ears, in the swamp and just out of sight.
When I composed myself, I thought it had to be a moose, despite the lack of fresh moose sign around me.

I then headed up to set up a camera at the bear rubbing tree at Stand #2. As I left there, I spotted a single fresh moose track in a spotty snow patch, headed towards Stand #1. I now felt sure that it was a Moose that I had heard.

I then proceeded to Stand #3, and as I did I chewed myself out for not remembering a padlock for the recently moved stand. I then remembered that we had left the bow holders in the old tree, and I mused over what it would take to recover them now that the stand was gone. It was probably an impossibility to get them.

When I got to the stand, I thought how it was so unusual not to see the stand in that big black spruce tree after all these years. So I looked in that direction again and again. Where was the tree? I could not see the tree that I had seen hundreds of times before. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I walked to where I knew it had to be. There it was…laying flat on the ground!

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

Was Stand #3 Load-Bearing?

That seemingly perfectly healthy 80’ to 100’ spruce, had been blown over in the recent heavy winds. It would have been quite a sight if the stand was still attached to it, as it was just 10 days ago. The bow holders were right there; chest high! I pulled them out and placed them at the bottom of the new stand location.

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

Easy Access to the Bow Holders

I then made my way to Buck Knob. I saw running moose track coming up Route 1C. So I back tracked her (I think it was the cow) to Route 1A, and she used my trail down to Stand #1. I found her bed 30 yards south of Stand #1, in full view of it. So I was wrong about the distance from me when I had heard her. It was at least 50 yards.

There was no deer sign, and only sign of the one moose. There were lots of coyote and hare tracks. Porcupine, partridge, mouse, and mink tracks made up the rest. The coyotes must have a den near Fort Knox, as there was heavy use on one trail going in both directions. Why they haven’t touched that deer carcass at Stand #1, which is less than 200 yards away, is a great mystery. 

On Tuesday, I went out for another hike to the north side of our hill. The walking was awful. There was much deeper snow than I expected; over my knees in places. I got around best by walking in melted out moose tracks.

I spotted a rub on the south side of Route 1A. It was about 150 yards from that big scrape under the beech tree on the north side that we marked last season.

Big Buck Rub

Big Buck Rub

I guess it’s safe to say that it is breeding season in the world of snowshoe hares! Their track was even more numerous today, probably because I was in thicker cover, hence the deeper snow.

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

Snowshoe Hare Track, Droppings, and Estrus Sign

It felt great to get outside again and not be cold and wet.

WLAGS

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

The Great Stand #3 Move of 2017

We finally got around to moving Stand #3 on Saturday. Below is my son Tony’s take on our day.

WLAGS

——————

We had a very productive day. Right after breakfast, Dad glued the latch lock loop back on to my camera. I wrote about it breaking off in my Suburban Hunters blog called “Storms-a-Comin’ “.

Then we set about moving Stand #3. We left just after 9:00 AM.

What we brought:

  • All the padlock keys that we could find
  • Bolt cutters in case we didn’t have the right key
  • Hand saw
  • Pole saw
  • Pruners
  • WD-40
  • Reflective tacks
  • Trail camera
  • Walkie talkies

We needed every one of those things, but we were still underprepared.

What we should have brought:

  • Another padlock
  • A strap for the top of the stand
  • Tools for support bar
  • Spray paint
  • Bow hangers

I’ll get to all that later. First, I’ll share the scouting report from our walk in to the stand.

The snow conditions varied widely thanks to the record-breaking warm temperatures. There was bare ground in spots and knee-deep snow in other places.

Record-Breaking Heat

Record-Breaking Heat

The knee-deep snow meant that we’d need snowshoes, but the snow was so soft that even our snowshoes sunk all the way through the snow. It was a hard slog, and we walked a lot.

Hard-Earned Steps

Hard-Earned Steps

One upside to all the melting snow is that the brook and beaver pond are way up.

Our first stop was Stand #1. The dead spike horn is still untouched, but now that it’s uncovered and the temps are warming, hopefully something will take advantage of all that protein.

Spike Horn Carcass

Spike Horn Carcass

There were turkey tracks and droppings in several places, and there were lots of droppings near Stand #3.

As Dad mentioned almost exactly a year ago (Feb. 21, 2016), The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Moose Bed with Hair In It

Moose Bed with Hair In It

There was a lot of moose activity from the brother/sister pair.

Finally, we made it to Stand #3. I tried to match up one of the keys we had to the padlock, but no such luck. Luckily, the bolt cutters cut through the padlock like butter. It was a bit unsettling at how easy it was.

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

The Bolt Cutters Made Short Work of This Lock

I then set about undoing the straps that had been in place for years. The top one had a bad case of dry rot. It broke while Dad tried to tie a not in it. The bottom strap had grown into the tree. I had to use the handle of the pole saw to get it out of the bark.

Then we dragged the stand over to the new spot, about 50 yards to the NNW. Dragging it was much easier than we had anticipated.

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

Dragging the Stand to Its New Home

We picked a tree right at the intersection of two major trails. We leaned the stand up against the tree, and as (bad) luck would have it:

  • The support bar was rusted and stuck at its current length. We sprayed WD-40 on it, but we really needed a wrench or some pliers. We never got it to budge.
  • There was an awkwardly shaped, big branch right in our way. Cutting it took me about an hour.
The Branch from Hell

The Branch from Hell

While I cut the branch, Dad set up the camera to point directly at the stand, and Bear took a nap.

Bear Taking a Load Off

Bear Taking a Load Off

Did I mention that we had record-breaking heat? I worked up quite a sweat doing all that sawing. I stripped down to a T-shirt. Here it was February 25, and we were working in short sleeves.

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

A Better Bow Hunting Perch

As you can see, the stand is much harder to see now. I put a couple of reflective tacks near it to help us find it in the dark. Despite being, it’s a much better bow stand, with two excellent windows along both trails, thanks to our pole saw work.

We’re really happy with where it is now, but we still have some work to do, hence the “What we should have brought” list above.

On the way out, we split up. Dad went straight back to the truck, while Bear and I checked the Buck Knob camera. The batteries were dead because it’s very windy on Buck Knob this time of year. There were hundreds of wind videos. We’ll need to change the sensitivity to Low the next time we’re there. We did get some great videos of the twin moose though, including two of them touching noses.

I pruned my way back down 1A. By then, the sun was high in the sky, and snow was like slush. It was rough going. Notably, there was moose sign everywhere.

After 2:00 PM (five hours later), we were finally done and exhausted.

~ Tony

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

The Moose Are Very Active in J.E.

Today, there was moose sign EVERYWHERE! As I stated last time they were using all “my” trails.

This photo is of what greeted us as we passed through the gate. It is bull droppings on Rte.1 right along the beaver pond. The droppings stretch from me to my granddaughter. In hind sight, I should have paced it off.

Bull Moose Droppings

Bull Moose Droppings

I took this photo of the brook at the same place I did last time to show how much things have changed in six days.

The Brook Six Days Later

The Brook Six Days Later

We were in moose sign all morning. One passed right in front of Stand # 1 and just to the left of Stand #2, just out of camera’s view. Then that one, a bull, headed for the Tunnel, where it bedded down. Note how much bigger this bed is compared to the earlier ones.

Bull Moose Bed

Bull Moose Bed

There were several sets of track going up and down the trail from Stand #1 to Stand #3 and past the Fork. We came across four beds, countless droppings, and browse sign. There was no hair or ticks in any of the beds, thankfully. This photo is in the gully at the end of Route 1A, below Dana’s Knob. 

Gully

Gully

As soon as we went through the Tunnel, the sign increased as we were now in the Matriarch’s home range.

She and the bull were obviously spending some time together. Would you believe that they were all over Buck Knob but never stepped in front of the camera?

After checking the camera at Stand #1, which my granddaughter had to climb, where there was much sign, we headed for the camera by the gate.

All along the way—the field, Frog Pond, and both brooks—there was sign. This all had to happen in the last 24+ hours because of all the snow we lost after the snowfall 36 hours earlier. These conditions are ripe for shed hunting.

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

Tony Found These Antlers in J.E. in 2010

On another note, my frustration with the Stealth camera continues!

There were moose, fox, and coyote tracks in front of the camera—most of it crossing, despite my effort to aim it down the trails—and not a SINGLE video of any of them! But all is not lost. It took a good daytime video of a bobcat. However, again the poor trigger speed reared its ugly head. The bobcat was in the middle of the screen (moving right to left) before the camera triggered. In other words I got half the video I should have.

It frustrates me to the point that I’m ready to shoot it, but I’m already down two cameras as my two oldest Bushnell cameras finally died last fall.

It is looking like that not-so-crazy woodchuck in Pennsylvania might be right.

WLAGS

 

The Matriarch Moose of J.E.

The Matriarch Moose of J.E.

I was greeted by moose sign everywhere at J. E. this afternoon. I wanted to see how the wildlife was handling this current COLD spell. I took one photo to show the babbling brook that is no longer babbling. It is one of the very few times that I have seen the brook not running due to ice.

Frozen Brook

Frozen Brook

I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw this phenomenon. A minus 50 wind chill and many hours of subzero temps will do that.

As I approached Stand #2, I crossed fresh (less than 12-hour old), moose track coming down the gully between the first 2 stands by Dana’s Knob. When I got to #2, the moose had crossed towards the Fork before reaching the camera. The camera by the way had a great midday video of a coyote.

I tracked the moose only because I was confident that she had passed long enough ago that I would not spook her. I didn’t want to stress her under these conditions forcing her to burn badly needed calories. I did want to look for any sign of winter tick. The good news is, if you look at the photos I took of two of her beds, there was no hair loss and no ticks.

Moose Bed With Just a Few Hairs

Moose Bed With Just a Few Hairs

Another Moose Bed

Another Moose Bed

My walking stick, which I included in the photos for reference, is 54″. She traveled all of my trails, which are actually game trails (mostly deer and moose trails) that I choose to follow from place to place.

She, the matriarch moose of J. E., has been there for at least 6 years and maybe 7 if you include her first year as a calf. She spends most of her time between the swamps near the main trail and the swamps nearer Eccardt’s. Her favorite bedding area is the knoll that overlooks Buck Knob. I have caught her there on the knoll laying down more than once.

The Matriarch Moose in 2012 (Photo Taken from Stand #3)

The Matriarch Moose in 2012 (Photo Taken from Stand #3)

I am concerned about her calves. I was confident she had a calf this spring, but saw little sign of it by early fall. My concern is twofold. My first concern is our large bear population. Bears kill far more calves in New England than do coyotes, for example. We got a video of a cow (presumably her) with a calf and a bull at Buck Knob in mid-September.

My second concern is the winter ticks. Tony and I have seen infestations in years past. Calves are the first victims of ticks.

There is one other concern about our matriarch, that maybe she is getting too old to breed. She had at least three different suitors during the rut this past fall. One was a particularly large bull that definitely was the top dog of the mountain.

So if she is still a viable mother, by Memorial Day we should see sign of a calf, or two actually because of this mild winter. Their birth rate is often tied to the mother’s condition after the winter.

Speaking of a mild winter, we just recorded our first two WSI days. Some biologist refer the WSI as Wildlife Survival Index, others the Winter Severity Index. In either case, at this time last year I had recorded 19 WSI days so far for the year, and it extended to every day after that in February. So barring an extreme cold spell and a couple of big storms, this should be a good year for most of the wildlife.

Coyotes do not fare as well in mild winters as you might think. They do better when the deer are forced into yards because of deep snow and make for easy pickings. This might explain why I continue to see coyotes traveling as individuals instead of traveling in packs or family groups that are required to take down larger game. They are in the “every coyote for themselves” mode, concentrating on rodents and small game, which is more easily done by a single animal.

Ruffed grouse (locally called “partridge”) also do better in deep snow because they actually fly into the snow in the afternoon to use the snow as insulation to make it through nights like last night.

Snowshoe hare (or “varying hare”) also bury themselves in the snow for warmth so they are more at risk in extreme cold when there isn’t adequate snow cover.

WLAGS

 

Tracks

Tracks

 

A quick, hour-and-45-minute trip, to J.E. this morning was fairly uneventful. I was hoping to take advantage of the minimal snow cover to do some shed hunting. That proved to be fruitless. The only moose track I found was snow filled, and I never cut a deer track.

There was a lot of track of coyotes, snowshoe hare, bobcat, squirrel, porcupine, and fox. In the photo, you will see a track that frequented the brooks and beaver pond. Any guesses?

Tracks Along the Brook

Tracks Along the Brook

It was a pair of mink, and much of it was very fresh as was some of the hare, coyote, and bobcat tracks. The hare tracks were plentiful, as long as you stayed in the swamps. I concentrated on the swamps because in the past I have had luck there finding moose sheds.

A Shed Moose Antler I Found Years Ago

A Shed Moose Antler I Found Years Ago

There were virtually no tracks in front of the cameras, but some nearby, so I was pleased to get an 8:00 AM video of a big coyote that was very nervous.

We are supposed to get 5” of snow over the next 18 hours so shed hunting will be a lot tougher after that.

WLAGS

J.E. Christmas Eve

J.E. Christmas Eve

My first day in the woods in a couple of weeks was, as always full of surprises. As soon as I opened the truck door my first surprise was the sound of gushing water. It had rained overnight and more than once this week, but still the volume surprised me.

The second surprise was to see the beaver pond full with water skirting the edges and through the middle of the dam. My first thought was that the beavers had returned, but I saw no sign of recent activity.

The J.E. Beaver Pond Last Fall

The J.E. Beaver Pond Last Fall

As I walked upstream, I was very pleased to see the trout taking full advantage of this fresh flow of water. There were several brookies, including two big (six inches or better) trout sitting at the tail end of the pool formed by the new culvert. Six inches may not seem big to some people, but those fish were probably five to six years old. They grow very slowly in this environment, in which they have little food of value. Also they have to expend great energy to survive in the brook’s current and the cold months that are about to descend upon them.

There actually was a small caddisfly hatch going on, and the trout were doing their best to take advantage of this little bonus because of the mild weather.

Caddisfly

Caddisfly

I could see the trout better than I had in months because the rush of water had scoured the bottom of the brook almost perfectly clear of leaf litter and debris. That is why the pond was as full as it was. All that debris being forced down stream to the dam helped to seal the leaks.

Wood Ducks in the Beaver Pond

An Old Photo of the Beaver Pond Dam

The rest of the morning, no matter where I was in the woods, I could hear rushing water. All the tributary streams were scrubbed clean, and it seemed that there were trout everywhere.

Everything I saw in the woods for sign was kind of expected. The deer, moose, and coyotes along with grouse, squirrels, and even the mice were taking full advantage of this unusually warm weather. Nothing I saw looked like the wildlife had gone into winter survival mode…yet.

Most of the rest of my surprises would come when I would check the SD cards from the four cameras at home. The first three cameras were full—to the tune of more than 100 videos—of squirrels (red, gray, and flying) along with tons of mice and a few coyotes trying to take advantage of them.

The last camera, the one on Buck Knob, was full of surprises, and truthfully I didn’t expect to see much on it at all. In chronological order, there was a cow moose at 9 am on the 7th. At 11:00 that night, there was a deer running so fast that it is little more than a blur. One minute later, there is a coyote in hot pursuit. An hour later, there is a big old doe acting like she doesn’t have care in the world. She was on camera each of the next three days. At 3 pm on the 13th there is a small bear cub that normally would be denned up now, running past the camera.

At 1 pm on the 18th there’s a big surprise—two large dogs running down the game trail. Not a good thing for any of the wildlife down there. I THINK I know who owns them, and if I’m right I will speak to them.

One minute after the dogs go past, there is an animal running so fast in the opposite direction that I honestly can’t make out what it is. It is either a fox, a small coyote, or even a bobcat. The trigger speed on these cameras are pretty fast, so whatever it was, it was all but flying. We have seen evidence of coyotes running very fast before.

Last there was a great opportunity to get a great photo or video of a moose, but it passed so close to the camera that most of the shots were useless.

The Too Close Moose

The Too Close Moose

This particular camera was set in hybrid mode, in which it takes three still photos followed by a video. In hindsight, I think it would have been better off in video mode all the time.

Live and learn!

WLAGS