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

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

Supreme Effort

I had the best night sleep that I have had in weeks last night. With that, I knew that today would be a good day to take on a major scouting trip.

I went to Smith Pond to scout the area between Kingsbury, Jones Hill, and the Jones property. I know that that area has had ongoing logging operations for the last five years or so.

When I arrived, my friend Robbie was running a logging operation of his own there. I asked whether he had seen any deer recently. He said he had seen his first two sets of tracks that morning. He said that he thought that the best places to hunt would be the oaks, like the backside of Kingsbury or Lovewell. He asked me to check in with him on my way out, as he was taking his boy out this weekend for Youth Weekend.

He told me to avoid the cutovers on the right because they were a mess with debris. He was right, but I went through them anyway, not wanting to leave any stone unturned. I forgot how steep and boulder-strewn those hills were. You realize these things more at my age. It was uphill all the way for a mile and a half. I was glad it was 36 degrees, or I would have sweated to death.

My mission, besides finding deer sign, was to reach the dozen or more apple trees that were scattered about the top. Robbie had told me that the small orchard nearer E. Washington Rd. was void of sign yesterday. To top things off I forgot my compass, and now with the terrain all askew, I would need my sense of direction to be on its game, and it was. I found the first tree with some difficulty because a bear had snapped the top off. No apples.

I call the next spot 7AT (seven apple trees) in my GPS, but with the leaves down, I actually found a dozen trees there. There were a handful of apples in total and no sign.

If I were 20 years younger, this place would be on my radar every year for bow hunting. It is obviously very secluded. There are trees of varying age and variety. Most however, ripen fairly early in the season, and bears are frequent visitors. There are many places to put up a permanent stand or a climber (a climbing tree stand). I love this spot.

Brad Using His Climber

Brad Using His Climber

There was no fresh sign though, so I headed north to check out a couple more spots—first a single tree, and then a grove of five more. That grove had apples in two trees that amounted to a couple of dozen. No sign.

So now I headed for a spot that bordered the Jones property that used to have a ladder stand that overlooked a nice tree. The stand was gone, thankfully, and the tree looked great, with 50 apples in the tree and 50 more on the ground. I ate one, and I understood why they were uneaten. They were very tart. The deer won’t eat them until they have been frozen and are then sweetened.

Frozen Apples

Frozen Apples

Behind the tree is about a full acre of red raspberry bushes, which deer love, and was littered with many historical deer trails. Nothing fresh.

I tried to take a photo of this spot, but my camera batteries were dead. I wasn’t very well prepared today, I thought to myself.

At this point you might think I was discouraged. Instead I was quite pleased with myself to be able to pull this off at all, and I was very encouraged that these trees were doing well. If I were only 10 years younger, I would take full advantage of them.

I decided not to torture myself on the way out and try to avoid the cutovers, which were a half mile below me. So I went further north before cutting west. It worked beautifully. The last time I was in here (a couple of years ago), I took a serious header, and I don’t need to be doing that again. As I was heading downhill, which my orthopedic doctor told me just Wednesday to avoid, I heard a thunderous crash as a tree toppled over 20 yards to my right. It scared the hell out of me. I also came across a fresh set of moose tracks. The only fresh tracks I saw all morning.

Moose Track

Moose Track

As I reached the logging road, it became obvious that the other side of the road, that had been logged a few years ago, was now at prime deer/moose growth stage. There were openings through the select cut where you could see for more than a hundred yards, and the understory was covered with raspberry and blackberry bushes. I could see myself tracking a buck through there, snow or no snow.

I would like to be telling you that I found the mother lode of deer sign, but for today I was pleased enough to just do the job and know that I have the good fortune to live in a place where there are so few boundaries that I can walk for hours and not concern myself with other people or posted signs.

WLAGS

Most Discouraged

Wow! I was so disappointed after checking the cameras this morning. We have had a major leaf fall, but I did not see ANY deer sign this morning. The leaves can cover droppings and track, but not rubs. I saw nothing.

The cameras confirmed what my eyes saw. There was one doe on camera #1, 11 minutes after I checked it last, and that was it!

I did get a great video of Mamma bear and her now considerably larger twin cubs at the Fork. Right at the end of the video, she stands up on her hind legs.

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

Black Bear Sow and Cubs

I also got a great video of a fisher cat at Stand #2, which is not surprising, as I deleted over 60 videos of mice, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, and porcupines at Stand #2.

Fisher Cat at Stand #2

Fisher Cat at Stand #2

A coyote and a red fox, the first I’ve ever seen there, also showed up to try and take advantage of the rodent explosion.

Red Fox at Stand #2

Red Fox at Stand #2

Those rodents have completely wiped out the acorns there.

By the way, I got a great video of a big bull moose at the Fork a while back that I forgot to mention.

Big Bull Moose at the Fork

Big Bull Moose at the Fork

I’m stymied, but I don’t have the physical strength right now to scout the areas where I think the deer have moved off to.

My best guess is the bigger oak groves on either side of Mountain Road and up to Stand #5.

The other possibility is the new cutovers above Eckart’s.

I have never seen so little sign in J.E.

The brookies are getting ready to spawn. I saw several this morning, including at the spot where Debbie and I watched them spawn last year.

WLAGS