Here we are in just about the middle of the meteorological winter with less than 40 days until March.
What started out a little mild, eventually turned to record cold in terms of temperature and time. We were probably near a Winter Severity Index (WSI) disaster. Add that to some significant snow earlier in December, 31” by my tally, and things were looking very gloomy.
As I explained in previous blogs tagged “WSI,” such as “Winter Severity Index Report for 2015,” a Winter Severity Index (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.
A flock of turkeys that I saw regularly was getting decimated by the sub-zero nights and days, aided by strong winds. At first there were eight. Then a few days later there were five, and finally I saw only two.
The others *probably* froze to death while roosting. We’ll never know, as any carcasses are surely consumed by a host of predators and scavengers. That said, I have seen two flocks of more than a dozen birds during this thaw.
By my tally, we had 14 WSI days in the last week of December. (Again, that’s two for each day that the snow was more than 18” deep and the temperatures went below zero.)
January continued that trend for the next week with another six, 2-WSI days. As the temperature rose, it was only the snow that was adding to our WSI total.
With this wonderful and unprecedented thaw, everything has changed. We now stand at 31 WSI so far for the season. That is good, but far more than we have had in the previous five years. In 2016 (See https://wlags.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-matriarch-moose-of-j-e/) and 2017 for example, we had only 1 WSI for each of the last two months.
However, it all comes down to March and April. Those are the “make it or break it” months. We are in a good spot for now, with the deer and turkeys able to move about freely.
Today I ventured out to check snow depths in the woods. They ranged from bare ground in the large evergreen groves to 8” on the northeast-facing slopes. Four inches is a good average of what I saw.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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.
Another surprise was the fisher, not because it came at all, but rather that it only came once.
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.
The bobcat visits were much less frequent, but did provide some great photos.
The ravens were a constant, and they were by far the most photographed critters over the last two weeks.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It felt great to get outside again and not be cold and wet.
Three years ago, Tony, his dog, Angie, and I made a mission out of dragging a boat into a remote trout pond that we had fished a few times with success in our float tubes.
The thought was with a boat in place, we would fish it more often, if for no other reason than we would not have to deal with carrying in the float tubes and inflating them. Well, it didn’t work out that way. As it turned out, we never went back, except to check on the boat. It also turned out that other people had taken advantage of our efforts. They broke the lock off by twisting the chain, and they obviously used the boat more than once. They twisted the chain so badly that we needed the same bolt cutters that we used the day before to detach it from the boat.
Well, we now had better ideas for the boat. As he described in his blog, in the fall, Tony could use it at home to access some bowhunting spots that are along a river, and my grandson, Ian could use it for fishing all summer.
So now it was up to us and Tony’s new dog, Bear to get it out of the pond. In both of our trips, it was necessary to make benefit of snow cover to make the dragging easier. At first, this trip was was made more difficult by a coating of ice on the snow’s surface. It was very slippery, especially in the shaded and steep areas. We had to pick our way carefully and more slowly than we had hoped.
When we reached the boat, it was mostly uncovered from the snow. With a little work, we were able to free it, and when we did it became obvious that it had suffered a little damage. I could see light coming from rivet holes under at least one of the seats. Other than that, it looked as though it would serve our purposes. I’ll patch any holes this spring.
So the trek out began.
The good news was that in the 30 minutes that we readied for our exit, the high sun had softened the snow, despite the subfreezing temperatures. The trip out was significantly less slippery.
The first third of the trip was steeply slanted up and to our left as we made our way through the beech trees on the south facing slope.
After that, the biggest problem was not getting hit by the boat as it slid down the steep slopes and avoiding a myriad of boulders. It was a lot of work in a fairly short period of time.
When we finally reached the truck, Bear did not need much coaching to get in the back seat. She would sleep the entire way home.
And after the effort we all put in the day before to relocate the tree stand, we were tired too. It was a good way to utilize a mid-winter weekend, hopefully to the benefit of many summer and fall weekends to come.
We finally got around to moving Stand #3 on Saturday. Below is my son Tony’s take on our day.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While I cut the branch, Dad set up the camera to point directly at the stand, and Bear took a nap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!