The J.E. Apple Tree

The J.E. Apple Tree

Most of you that will be reading this will remember back about 15 years ago, when the primary apple tree at J.E. was on its last legs. It was almost completely engulfed in maple saplings, had few leaves, and no fruit. I made it my mission to do what I had done hundreds of times before in three states—to liberate and rehabilitate it.

After World War II, hundreds of farms in New England were abandoned for economic reasons. Almost every farm had apple trees, as they were a staple of life here for 300 years. For a time, wildlife benefitted from these now unprotected trees, but in no time at all they started dying from the crowding of native trees.

Some state organizations, including Fish & Wildlife departments, took it upon themselves, on land they controlled, to make an effort to liberate them, as did I and my friends. So it was natural for me to take up that mission here in my own back yard.

I started by cutting away the saplings with my pruning saw every time I went there. In a couple of years, the tree came back to life slowly. First with healthier foliage, and later with a few blossoms. Those blossoms produced a few small, wormy apples. Then John M. jumped in, and with some machinery from Charlie, eliminated the saplings entirely and enlarged the open area to allow more sunlight. It worked, and now most years we can count on 100 to 200 apples.

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

J.E. Apple Tree with Blossoms in 2015

Each year, I fertilize the tree in the spring and fall, and I prune it in late winter when I can reach the upper branches by standing on the snow rather than climb the tree. I put the wire mesh around the trunk when the beavers decided to try to take the tree down.

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

Wire Mesh I Put Around the Trunk

My best guess is that the tree is 50 to 75 years old. I believe it is a New Hampshire heirloom variety that might be almost 200 years old. I hope to have it analyzed next year.

Most of you are familiar with our own Johnny Appleseed, Mr. Jones. You are probably aware of the dozens of trees that he has planted, starting 50 years ago, on his property. What you are probably unaware of, is that he has planted hundreds of trees on every hilltop and slope for miles around. He goes out in the woods with a 5-gallon bucket filled with root stock and a spade, picks likely spots, and plants them.

He does this out of a love for wildlife, even though—like almost all the great conservationists in history—he is a hunter. The only animals he distains are moose and bears. I bet you can guess why. They kill his apple trees. A fate that will happen to this tree someday.

I came across an extremely agitated Mr. Jones one day. He was looking at three apple trees that he had nurtured for several years that a bull moose destroyed. The bull had eaten the apples, then the branches, then probably in a rush of passion, had obliterated the trees with his antlers.

I, like Mr. Jones, have undertaken this mission for the benefit of wildlife. There are at least 20 mammals that have direct benefit of this tree, from moose to mice. Then there are the pure carnivores that benefit as well from the dozen or so rodents that frequent the tree. Our increasing bobcat population, mink, and three varieties of weasels are among them. It might surprise you to know that one of the larger members of the weasel family loves to eat apples. I have personally witnessed on two occasions, fisher cats first hunting the apple trees and failing that, then climbing the tree to harvest apples. One I witnessed making several trips to cache the fruit just like the foxes (both red and gray) do.

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Fisher Cat with Apple on Our Trail Camera

Then, of course, our raptors—goshawks, sharp shinned, Cooper’s, and broad-winged hawks, and barred and great horned owls—greatly benefit from the rodents that live off of apples.

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

Then there are the song birds—too many to list, but during my last trips to the tree, there has been an ovenbird each time, just for an example.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Migrating birds, particularly Canadian robins and waxwings feed on the frozen fruit in winter.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Turkeys benefit greatly from apple trees, especially in winter. Many times I have seen a bird fly into a tree and knock the apples to the ground for the rest of the flock. Fish & Game will supply you with a list of late ripening crab apple trees to plant for wintering turkeys.

Ruffed grouse (“partridge” here in N.H.) not only eat the fruit, but love the leaves as I first witnessed that day in 1967, in my Deer Story blog post.

Partridge

Partridge

The ground under the trees is fertile, attracts worms, and migrating woodcock. On several occasions in my life, I have been privileged to see flights, as they are called, of woodcock. Sometimes 50 or more come in to spend the night in an abandoned orchard.

Woodcock

Woodcock

WLAGS

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Bowhunting Report from Tony: October 5, 2014

Below is my son Tony’s write-up of his first weekend bowhunting in J.E. this year.

WLAGS

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Getting Back in the Stand

My dad isn’t bowhunting this year due to lack of time to practice, my friend Brad had a last-minute job interview, and my friend Matt is busy with his two boys’ sports commitments on weekends these days. So it was just me hunting this weekend. My first weekend bowhunting in about 10 years was eventful in some surprising ways. Not surprising was how good it felt to once again view the world from atop a couple of our stands.

The View from Stand #2

The View from Stand #2

Due to my late arrival Friday night, I had a late start Saturday morning, which was foggy and drizzly. These great still hunting (stalking) conditions led to the season starting off on a good note. I snuck up on a doe and a skipper in the field at J.E. The doe knew I was there, but she didn’t view me as a threat until I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures of her. I stayed hunched over at the waist the whole time, and she never recognized me as a human until I stood up to take her picture.

The Doe and Skipper in the Fog

The Doe and Skipper in the Fog

To the surprise of no one, Dad had gotten these two on his cameras earlier in the year.

Doe and Skipper

Doe and Skipper

The skipper never knew that I was there. I could have shot it at about 70 yards, not that I would take a shot at that distance. I could have shot the doe at about 35 yards or so, which is perfectly legal during archery season, but I don’t want to shoot a doe with a skipper. Also, Dad asked that we not shoot does in J.E., except for that old, barren piebald doe.

Piebald Doe

Piebald Doe

I then worked my way up to Stand #5 near the top of the mountain in hopes of finding more consistent acorns. My next surprise was waiting for me when I got into the stand. A moose vertebra was sitting on the platform of my stand 20 feet in the air. A squirrel must have brought it up there to chew on.

Moose Vertebra

Moose Vertebra

I did find quite a few acorns near that stand—spread out as they are everywhere else, but I saw very little deer sign. This discouraged me until I got back to the house, and Dad showed me recent photos of a fork horn and a spike horn at Stand #2 (both during legal shooting hours), despite there being very little deer sign there as well.

Fork Horn at Stand #2

Fork Horn at Stand #2

After walking all over the mountain, and getting my 10,000 steps for the day, one thing became very clear: there are no more bears on the mountain. Despite Dad getting photos of bears almost every single day for months, there now is no fresh bear sign anywhere. They must have been chased off by those Virginia bear hunters with their dogs.

My 10,000 Steps

My 10,000 Steps

Around noon, as I stopped at the field on my way back to the car, a woman walked by me. We exchanged hellos, and she continued on her way. When I eventually started towards the car again, she had turned around and was headed towards me on the snowmobile trail to the west of Rte. 1. In a thick accent, she asked me where the pond and the road were. I told her that I was heading that way. As we walked together, I asked her where she was staying. “In a cottage on the road,” she said. Curious about her accent, I asked, “Where are you from?” She gave the one-word answer, “Europe.”

“Where in Europe?”

“Belgium.”

I told her about my wife spending time there after college, which pleasantly surprised her.

Pointing to my bow, she asked, “Are you hunting?”

“Yes, I’m hunting deer,” I said. “I saw two today.”

“I think I saw one too,” she said. She went on to describe what she saw. My best guess was that it was a calf moose.

As we approached the beaver pond, she said, “Oh yes, I remember this from this morning. You have better shoes for this.” She pointed to my knee-high rubber boots. She was wearing knee-high leather boots. We both sunk in over our ankles.

The Beaver Pond

The Beaver Pond

When we arrived at the parking lot, she said that she didn’t have far to walk and continued on foot up the road.

Upon my arrival at Dad’s, he asked the usual question, “Did you see anything?”

You can imagine his surprise when I responded, “A doe, a skipper, and a Belgian woman.”

I went to Stand #2 for the afternoon hunt, but it started to pour rain as soon as I got there. I toughed it out for about an hour. I spent the rest of the afternoon practicing with my new target behind Dad’s house.

Wildlife Behaving Badly

Sunday morning, which was also foggy and drizzly, started out with a bang, or rather a slap. I could have clubbed a beaver over the head with my bow. It ran across what we call Rte. 1 right in front of me on my way to Stand #2. This was after it slapped its tail in the puddle in the road. It then slapped its tail for another five minutes while I walked up Rte. 1. I could still hear it as I approached the field.

Surprised Beaver

Surprised Beaver

While in Stand #2, I got excited when I heard blue jays screaming at something about 50 yards in front of me. I was hoping it was that fork or the spike that was also on the camera from Friday evening. Blue jays will scream at anything. I’ve seen them scream at a young doe, and one of Dad’s trail cameras even recently captured a video of them screaming at a raccoon on Buck Knob.

This time, they were screaming at a barred owl, of which we have several photos from the camera at Stand #2. The blue jays continued to dive bomb it and harass it for another five minutes.

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

The Resident Barred Owl at Stand #2

Flocks of juncos, chickadees, tufted titmice, two white breasted nuthatches, and several swamp sparrows kept me entertained the rest of the morning.  I grunted several times, but no sign of the spike horn or fork horn.

WLAGS early-season scouting showed that this would be a good, but not great acorn year. It is turning into a very good acorn year. Today I listened to hundreds of acorns fall. The area around Stand #2 is loaded now.

On my way out of the woods, I crossed the brook near Stand #1, as we usually do. Just before I crossed the brook, I looked for brook trout because I thought I had heard one scoot away from me when I was on my way in this morning. This time I saw two 4-inch brook trout. They were biting and grabbing each other’s fins and pushing each other. They battled for several minutes, until I spooked them as I crossed the brook. I took several photos of them. I wish I had thought to take a video.

One Brook Trout Pushing Another

One Brook Trout Pushing Another

On my way back to Stand #2 for my Sunday evening hunt, I heard a cow moose bleating near Stand #1. I have no doubt that it was the same cow moose that we’ve been seeing for the past three years between Stand #1, Buck Knob, and Stand #3. Three years ago, she was just a calf. Now she’s clearly mature and “hot to trot,” as Dad used to say.

I grunted several times between gusts of wind, but again, no sign of those adolescent bucks. As Dad says, “You can set your watch by a doe, but young bucks are as unpredictable as teenagers.”

On my way out of the woods in the dark, I heard a whole pack of coyotes howling near the west side of Mountain Road. Despite the gusty breeze, I could pick out individual coyotes—young pups born this spring, adolescents, and the mature adults with deeper howls. It’s likely that one of the younger ones was the one Dad caught on camera at Buck Knob.

Coyote at Buck Knob

Coyote at Buck Knob

As I approached the J.E. parking lot in the moonlight that was now so bright that it caused me to cast a shadow, a barred owl hooted a continuous farewell from the vicinity of the apple tree. It was a great way to end my first weekend back in the saddle. I can’t wait to get back out there to see what other surprises Mother Nature has in store for me.