Apple Blossom Time

Apple Blossom Time

As I walk through the woods, the things that amaze me most about New England are the stonewalls (which I consider a greater feat than the Great Pyramids) and the apple trees.

As I’m sure you are aware, there are no apple trees native to the Americas. All these trees came stock and seed from Europe, starting long before we were a nation.

There are literally thousands of varieties, many of which grow wild in our woodlands, that are found nowhere else in the world. They are varieties that have no commercial value in today’s world, but are of extreme importance to the wildlife that depend to varying degrees on them. That’s why we were thrilled on our recent trip North of the Notches to see hundreds and hundreds of these trees in full bloom. It makes it so easy to see them for a few days a year when they are otherwise camouflaged into a green world of leaves and limbs.

I call them wild trees because they are no longer in the care of humans and survive as best they can. Tens of thousands have died over the last century. I can find almost a hundred just here in town, but thousands still remain.

Most of them are more, much more than 100 years old. Some twice that. The tree that I shot that buck from in Vermont in 1967, is a good example. It was, according to the farmer there, a hundred years old then, and last I knew it was still alive, 50 years later, having survived being mangled by bears and a lightning strike.

So it should come as no surprise that I cherish them and help them, when possible by cutting out competing saplings and in some cases pruning and feeding them. This picture of the apple tree at J.E. shows how that effort pays off.

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

J.E. Apple Tree Blossoms

A tree full of blossoms does not ensure fruit later, but a lack of blossoms equals no chance of fruit.

Long live the apple tree!

WLAGS

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What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a WSI day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

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

 

J.E. Tour

This was the first morning in months that I was able to get to all the stands. I had hoped to go shed hunting, but the remains from 3″ of heavy, pasty, snow made that almost futile.

I found yet another balloon. Why so many find their way here in such a remote place is beyond me.

I did see one set of fresh moose track heading for Buck Knob from #3 stand. No deer tracks anywhere! The biologist from Keene found 24 coyote-killed deer in 10 days. Northern New England may have lost as many as 25% of their deer herd this winter.

I took a few photos as I set up the camera on Buck Knob.

A Well-Camouflaged Camera at Buck Knob

A Well-Camouflaged Camera at Buck Knob

Dana's Buck Knob Blind

Dana’s Buck Knob Blind

Here is a photo of moose rubs while looking through the rungs of stand #3.

Moose Rubs

Moose Rubs

 

I counted 14 rubs within view of the stand. Tony found two sheds within view of that stand, and I found one a couple of years ago.

WLAGS