Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

Winter’s Victim, Part 4: Winter’s Savior

From March 14 through my visit on the March 30, there were varying intensities and frequencies of visits. The most notable was from a vulture because they are not frequent visitors in the winter. My guess is that it was migrating because it only stopped by for a meal on the go.

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Turkey Vulture Takes a Turn

Another surprise was the fisher, not because it came at all, but rather that it only came once.

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

A Fisher Checks Out the Carcass

There were countless visits by coyotes, even after all of the deer was consumed, except hair, including the morning that I checked the camera. You can see in this photo from that morning how little was left at that point.

What's Left

What’s Left

The bobcat visits were much less frequent, but did provide some great photos.

Bobcat's St. Patrick's Day Feast

Bobcat’s St. Patrick’s Day Feast

The ravens were a constant, and they were by far the most photographed critters over the last two weeks.

The Ravens Were a Constant

The Ravens Were a Constant

A mouse even got involved. I had to look closely, but one night as a coyote approached you can see a mouse scooting away. The coyote barley gave it a look, unlike almost any other time when he would have turned himself inside out to catch it.

There were more great photographs than we could reasonably include in a few blog posts. Instead, we’ll just include a slideshow here.

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All in all, this young buck provided much needed sustenance to many forms of life during the very trying days—the most trying days—of winter, as fat reserves are all but gone this late in the winter for most of these animals.

Having said that, I still am sorry that this little spike horn buck did not live to see his second spring.

WLAGS

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Winter’s Victim, Part 3: Midnight Coyotes

Winter’s Victim, Part 3: Midnight Coyotes

Midnight on day 3 (March 12) found the coyotes on sight. They fed very aggressively for about 30 minutes. Again, the pair fed in shifts. At 6:30 AM, Blondie made her first appearance of the day.

Blondie Being Cautious

Blondie Being Cautious

She gave us some great photos in that time.

Blondie Feeding

Blondie Feeding

The bobcat stopped by at about 11:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM, and 3:00 PM. Each time, he grabbed a few mouthfuls and then headed into the swamp, seemingly to rest and digest between visits.

Bobcat Coming for Brunch

Bobcat Coming for Brunch

The coyotes returned at dusk. Blondie and her mate returned repeatedly during the night.

Anytime that there wasn’t a predator on the carcass, the ravens would be. You can just picture them sitting safely in the treetops, waiting for any opportunity to swoop in for their share.

Again midnight on day 4 (March 13), found a pair of coyotes already feasting.

Midnight Coyotes

Midnight Coyotes

This was the busiest of days, with more than 700 pictures taken.

A Mouthful

A Mouthful

There was a coyote at the carcass ever hour of the day and night.

Top Dog

Top Dog

They seemed to be trying to deprive the ever-present ravens of even a single bite.

Damn Ravens

Damn Ravens

Blondie showed up in the late afternoon and got her fair share.

Late Afternoon Snack

Late Afternoon Snack

You can clearly see in one photo one coyote waiting in the background while another ate.

The Lookout

The Lookout

This behavior goes against all of the images that I have had in my mind of what takes place at a carcass. I suspect it may be very different if it was a fresh kill, especially if the group took part in the chase and kill.

The consuming took place all night.

WLAGS

Winter’s Victim, Part 2: No Blonde Jokes, Please

Winter’s Victim, Part 2: No Blonde Jokes, Please

The camera took 598 photos the next day; March 11.The consumption started at about 3:00 AM, and it went through the night and into the morning, until the bobcat showed up. It is unclear exactly how many coyotes took part, but I can clearly identify only two.

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

They fed in shifts. Never during this whole time was there even a moment when two coyotes fed at the same time. While one coyote fed, the other would be 10 yards or more away, standing guard. They would then change positions. Each would feed for 15 to 30 minutes then rest and digest.

Tearing Off a Bite

Tearing Off a Bite

The coyotes made a hasty retreat at about 8:45 AM, and the bobcat appeared at 9:05. The cat remained for more than an hour.

The Cat Shows Up

The Cat Shows Up

All was quiet until a very big surprise came at 3:00 in the afternoon. Blondie made her grand entrance. She is the lightest colored coyote I have ever seen, including photos in journals and such.

Blondie Enters the Scene

Blondie Enters the Scene

She fed briefly then ran off with a large mouthful of meat. An hour or so later, she returned and fed again, and then her larger and darker mate showed up to get his share. They fed until midnight.

You might remember the photo I got three years ago of a very dark coyote not 100 yards from where Blondie was on this day.

Coyote at Stand #2

Coyote at Stand #2

Dark coyotes are rare too. My contact at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) recently asked for permission for Dave Anderson to use that photo for an article to appear in the New Hampshire Union Leader. I of course said yes. Wait until he sees Blondie!

WLAGS

Winter’s Victim, Part 1: The Feast Begins

Back on January 11, 2017, I discovered a dead spike horn buck. He had been dead for about a week or ten days, I would guess.

Winter's Victim

Winter’s Victim

Two sets of human tracks passed within a few feet of him, but they showed no sign of the person having noticed him. I felt sad about this one because I had photographed and videoed this buck many times since he started his antler growth in March of 2016. I even got a couple of videos of him rubbing his antlers on a tree.

I always feel sad about the death of an animal, even ones that I have killed. When I take their life, I know that they will be fully utilized, and I thought this deer’s life would be utilized even more.

I knew it would take some time for animals and birds to take advantage of this, but even I was surprised by how long it would take. I knew that coyotes, for whatever reason, will let a carcass sit and age for weeks, but with this deer, they exceeded even that timeframe.

I am certainly not a medical examiner, but it is my determination that another buck killed this buck. Here’s why. There was only one small cut on his right side by his rib cage. The hole was too elongated to be from a bullet. There was no bloating that would have indicated the kind of damage a bullet would do, and there was no exit wound. The cut was far too small to be from an arrow. If a predator had killed him, it would have consumed him at once, at least partially. He was perfectly intact.

The timing (early January) was such that this would have taken place during the second rut of the season. That is when any un-bred mature does and the does born that year and come into estrus. The bucks are very aggressive at this time because their instincts tell them this is their last chance to pass on their genes.

To top it off, there was an unusually high number of bucks in the area this season. That group included two mature seven-pointers that I assumed were the dominate deer, until later when a big mature eight-pointer showed up, undoubtedly from another area where he had fulfilled his breeding duties and was anxious for more.

I think he was the culprit. The little spike buck lived in close proximity to all the other bucks, including the two seven-pointers his whole life, and he gave them a wide berth during the rut.

Every day that you live increases your chances of living the next day, but sometimes your luck just runs out.

The little spike met his demise in early January, and there he lay until March 10, when, at the stroke of midnight, a coyote started to feed on the carcass. It took the prime pieces (the steaks), and moved off.

The Feeding Starts

The Feeding Starts

My first surprise was how quickly a bobcat got involved. First thing that morning, there it was.

First Daylight Visitor

First Daylight Visitor

Over the years, my cameras have debunked two myths about bobcats. The first myth is that they don’t eat carrion. A dead porcupine behind my garage disproved that theory.

Bobcat Eating Dead Porcupine (April 2016)

Bobcat Eating Dead Porcupine (April 2016)

The second myth is that they are nocturnal. They certainly do hunt at night, but they hunt far more in the daylight, especially in the cold of winter, despite the longer nights. My cameras show far more activity during daylight and often well after sunup. I believe they hunt more with their eyes and ears and far less with their nose than do the canines, hence the value of hunting in daylight. I have also noticed many times that they are very active on the brightest of days.

One of the Bobcats of WLA

One of the Bobcats of WLA

In fact, of the 3,424 photos I got of animals over this carcass, I don’t have a single photo of a bobcat at night. True to form, this bobcat came back for a quick bite at 4:50 in the afternoon on that first day, and 30 minutes later, the coyote grabbed a mouthful and dashed a few feet away to engulf it. He continued this periodically for a couple of hours. There was no activity again until a coyote passed by about midnight, seemingly just to check on the carcass, but there was much more activity in the coming days.

WLAGS

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Day 5 of Fishing

July 1, 2016

When we got going on Friday we were once again put in the very capable hands and feet of Simon. We headed to the lower portions of the McKenzie River because no one else had fished those sections yet this season. These sections are extremely important in August and less so in July. It would also require our longest walk and the most boat changes of our entire trip.

Simon was up and off right on time with us in tow. It is more difficult to negotiate the narrow trails with fly rods, waders, bugs, and mud. Thankfully some of the mud had dried up since our initial hike on Monday. Our trip took us through some of the nicest country and beautiful water of the entire week.

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

We noticed that the further we walked downstream the fewer insects and even fewer bait fish we were seeing. The water seemed cooler too. That all seemed to contribute to a lack of game fish. We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.

"We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another."

“We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.”

All we managed were three pike–another indication that the water was cooler and that the brookies in particular were not going to be sharing the water with those toothy critters.

"All we managed were three pike."

“All we managed were three pike.”

We did see and Tony did get some awesome photos of the eagle at Elbow Pool.

The Eagle Didn't Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Didn’t Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

So we reluctantly started our trek upstream, which included Simon having to pull the canoe upstream for 100 yards or more. Not an easy task even under the best of conditions.

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

We were tired and admittedly a little discouraged when we reached Salmon Pool, and Simon perked up as he spotted a “nice” brookie rising in the middle of the pool. He set up Tony in position to best reach the fish. This fish was going to be a real challenge. It was obvious that this fish was going to be very fussy about the fly and its presentation. It took some time, but finally the fish took Tony’s presentation and a great battle ensued. In the end he was netted. A beautiful 19-inch, 3.5-pound brookie. It took the edge off a tiring and somewhat disappointing day.

Tony's 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Tony’s 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Just as we were about to leave, Simon noticed another trout rising almost in the same spot. So I was up, and having Tony’s fish taking a liking to Tony’s fly, I used his rod. This fish, like Tony’s, was very fussy about presentation, and it took a few casts to get it just right. Eventually I did get the presentation right, and he took the fly. It was another fish that was greatly appreciated, even in this river of monsters. My fish was just shy of 19” and 3.5#.

Another Beautiful Brookie

Another Beautiful Brookie

 

Both of these trout would have been our biggest brookies of all time before this trip.

I then managed a smaller salmon to cap things off.

The rest of the trek up river and back to camp was much more enjoyable because of Simon’s sharp eye and those beautiful fish.

After dinner, we witnessed the “contest” that Andrew and JP had going. They had challenged each other to dive into Andre Lake each night that they spent there in 2016. We all ran down to the dock to watch them brave the chilly waters. The water in the lake had *warmed up to* 53 degrees Fahrenheit by today, July 1. Imagine the temperatures when they arrived on June 12, the day that the ice went out on the lake.

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

After that excitement, Burt said, “I bet I know where you are going tomorrow.” He was right. Nothing short of Hell or high water would stop us from going back to the Quartzite!

WLAGS

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Day 4 of Fishing

June 30, 2016

Thursday was a challenge. The weather was gray and windy, and we were headed for the Comeback River. It is more than an hour’s ride north in the biggest canoe with the 20 HP motor at full throttle. Tony and I questioned Burt’s suggestion about making this trip, but he assured us it was a good bet. We could see plainly that the wind was coming out of the south, and we knew getting there would not be much of an issue. We also knew that if the winds did not lie down, coming back could be another matter.

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

So we packed our gear and got into the boat with JP as our guide. It was clear to us that the further we went up the lake, the waves were building at our stern. After an hour, we reached Montgomery narrows, and JP turned to us and expressed his doubt about going through the narrows. His fear was that we would be sheltered on the other side and not see the waves building. We agreed.

He suggested that we troll right where we were. We agreed again and tried, but the waves were already too much to handle comfortably. We knew the ride back was going to be longer and wetter than the ride was to get there. After a few tempered attempts to troll, we headed back south towards camp. It was a very slow, wet, and bumpy ride, with JP having to cut across many of the larger waves. Finally, we could see camp, after more than an hour of getting battered to and fro.

Now we took a lunch break, and for one of the few times, we did that at the lodge. After lunch, under drizzly skies, JP suggested that we troll at the mouth of the McKenzie River. As we got about 200 yards from the mouth, in about five feet of water, we could see boulders all around us, and after only a few minutes, my rod doubled over. It was obvious from the first few seconds that this was a very large fish. Then the fish made four runs that put me over 100 yards into my backing.

The Fish Made Four Runs

The Fish Made Four Runs

He or she was towing us. I got most nervous when we found ourselves in only a foot or two of water with boulders everywhere you looked. Finally, after somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes, we had the fish parallel to the boat just inches below us in two feet of water. We all looked in amazement at its size. My first thought was “We’re going to need a bigger net!” Even JP was in awe. He was as excited as we were, for sure. Slowly I guided the fish towards the net, JP slipped the net under the fish, and there was much rejoicing…high fives, cameras flashing, and all of us in awe.

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

We were surprised when JP said it was the biggest laker he had ever seen as well as the biggest fish he had ever heard of being landed at camp. He guessed the laker was 25 or more years old, maybe even 30. JP’s best guess was that it weighed 15 pounds. That beats my previous biggest laker by almost 6 pounds. We measured the fish against my hockey stick-turned-wading staff since we didn’t have a measuring tape in the canoe. When we got back to camp, we measured JP’s mark to see that the fish measured 33 inches. That fish took the sting out of a disappointing morning.

Measuring Against My Bauer "Wading Staff"

Measuring Against My Bauer “Wading Staff”

A few minutes later I hooked a smaller, 19-inch laker, which by comparison felt like a sunfish. I actually had Tony land it for me because my arms were beat from the estimated 20-minute fight with the 33-incher.

19-Inch Lake Trout

19-Inch Lake Trout

I’m here to tell you that anyone that disparages the fighting ability of a lake trout, has never caught one in a few feet of 50-degree water on a fly rod. I can’t imagine that any 15-pound striper has ever given more of a battle than that 15-pound laker did. By the way, I actually caught both of these lakers on a striper fly with a saltwater hook.

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

After catching a nice pike while trolling, we decided to stretch our legs by wading and casting for some pike. It was ridiculously easy fishing. You would make a cast, usually with a popper, and if you didn’t get a hit immediately; then all you had to do was make like you were bluefish fishing (that is, strip really fast and erratically) and you would be on. There was literally a pike every 10 feet of shoreline that we waded.

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

Most of the pike were about two feet long, a few were bigger, and a rare one was smaller. Almost every one had scars on them where another pike, a lake trout, an eagle, a mink, or an otter tried to eat them.

All of the Pike Had Injuries

All of the Pike Had Injuries

I think I caught about six, and Tony caught more than that in very short order. It was great to see this big, toothy mouth come up behind your popper just a few feet away and engulf it. We missed many because the strikes were so startling, and that threw off your timing of the hook set.

When we got our fill of pike fishing, Tony and JP waded over to the “Jugs” to see whether any fish were hanging out there. The Jugs are a couple of white plastic bottles anchored at the end of the camp’s peninsula to mark the channel leading into the McKenzie River. That day, while we fished in waders at the Jugs, Joe Jr. was with Burt, fishing the mouth of the McKenzie in the pontoon boat.  

The wind slowed, a few caddis started hatching, and a few fish began rising in the channel. Tony had his target. After a number of casts, Tony hooked into a huge salmon that jumped and snapped his leader. I told him, “I know you’re excited, but when they jump…” “I have to bow to them,” Tony finished my sentence. “That’s right,” I said.

After missing several more takes on his dry fly, Tony eventually hooked up again. Each time the fish came to the surface, Tony bowed. He had learned his lesson. However, this fish never jumped all the way out of the water. Eventually we decided that this fish was not anything that we had previously encountered. The fish had taken a relatively small dry fly, which ruled out a pike and made it very unlikely to be a laker. Although it was giving Tony what for, it was not shaking its head very much, which ruled out a brook trout.

JP Prepares to Net Tony's Mystery Fish

JP Prepares to Net Tony’s Mystery Fish

As the battle lingered on, it became obvious to JP that it was a whitefish…very much sought after here for their taste for dries and their taste in the frying pan. You have to be careful when playing them or even setting the hook on one, as their mouths are very soft and the hooks will pull out very easily. I knew that this was bigger, by far, than any whitefish that I had ever seen, never mind caught. JP caught the end of the long fight on Tony’s GoPro.

I got a photo or two, and Joe Jr. got some great photos from his seat in the pontoon boat.

One of Joe Jr.'s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

One of Joe Jr.’s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

When the fish came to the net it was in fact, by my standards, a large lake whitefish at about 20 inches and 4 pounds.

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

Now Tony was only a salmon and a laker shy of the McKenzie River grand slam.

Tony Releases the Whitefish

Tony Releases the Whitefish

During dinner that night, Tony, JP, Joe, and I, talked about all the salmon and whitefish that were rising to Tony’s fly. This got everyone excited to do some dry fly fishing around sunset…sunset being at 10:50 PM!

JP and Zula Heading Out

JP and Zula Heading Out

After dinner, Tony,  JP, Zula, and even Andrew, and I took a canoe to the top section of the McKenzie to cast some dry flies.

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

True to form, Simon was already there when we got there. Soon after we arrived, Simon caught a brookie and a salmon. It was such a gorgeous night that Tony was torn between fishing and taking photographs. The lack of wind was a nice change from that morning, but the mosquitoes were awful!

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

We got schooled by the guides that night, but it was a pleasure to watch the guides work their craft. Simon is a fantastic caster. He can cast an entire fly line with relative ease. He muscles his way through the line, and he’s rewarded with lots of fish. Andrew’s cast is like butter. His considerable height gives him an advantage over Simon, but clearly Andrew has worked to perfect his naturally smooth, effortless cast. Andrew came up empty that night though, as did we.

JP outsmarts the fish. He wades far, casts short (though he can no doubt cast as far as he wants), and most importantly, he watches the water and the insects. He caught several caddisflies and inspected them closely. He then matched that hatch. Finally, he watched the water like a hawk to pick up on the patterns of the rising fish. His homework paid big dividends. Despite being distracted by a lifejacket-wearing Zula, JP caught more fish than anyone…brookies, salmon, and even a whitefish.

Zula Visiting JP

Zula Visiting JP

He captured a nice video of his whitefish with Tony’s GoPro.

The canoe ride home made for some beautiful views of the setting sun, which takes a long, long time to set this time of year this far north.

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

It was a long day, not the best day by far, but the fish we caught were nice ones, and you just can’t beat the views.

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Indescribable Views at Sunset

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