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Snowshoe Hare Kits

Snowshoe Hare Kits

Snowshoe Hare Kits

Last week, in the midst of our quest to add beauty to the homestead, Steve backed the bush hog under a clump of wild apple, pine, spruce and black cherry trees. Ava and Zoey followed their noses to a young porcupine two days earlier, and Zoey came out with quills in her nose, lip and mouth. We got them out but don’t think ZoMonster knows what happened since it was dark, and that she’ll do it again. We needed to clean out the area to discourage the porcupine from sticking around. We weren’t expecting snowshoe hare kits.

I stood by, watching for the porcupine. Steve motioned like a one-armed windmill, pointing in the direction of the pond. “There’s a fuzzy lump running over there,” he shouted over the bush hog and tractor.  A moment later another fuzzy lump ran toward the fire pit. Snowshoe hare kits!snowshoe hare, kit, leveretI didn’t know how much I didn’t know about snowshoe hares, and thinking their nest was destroyed, I scooped them up to keep them safe. “Rob,” he said, “you can’t keep wild bunnies. It was like he’d never met me… I called our warden to get permission to keep the little cuties to be sure they were eating and drinking on their own, and to figure out where we’d let them go. They couldn’t go back to the clump of trees, the underbrush was nearly decimated, and they needed protection from Zoey. If Ava found them she’d give them a proper bath before gently lugging them to me. Zoey would think “squeaky toy!” and it wouldn’t end well.

If You Care, Leave Them There

They spent the night nestled in straw in a cage in the shed, food and water beside them. Maybe we’d take them up on Democrat Ridge. With eyes open, fully furred, and able to hop, they’d be fine without their mother. They must have been close to leaving the nest, I thought. I was wrong.

A little research clued me in. Snowshoe hares are born fully furred, eyes open and able to hop unlike the naked and helpless rabbits I know well. Their proper name as babies is leveret. I’ll stick to kit. They’re born in a “nest” but then separate and remain nearby, a method of staying safe. They come back together when the mother returns to nurse them.

What had I done? I’d picked up and snuggled these nearly newborn hares. I couldn’t release them somewhere else, they need their mother. Ignorance usually isn’t bliss.

In the morning I dragged brush into the clump, took the hares back, and I let them go. Had I completely screwed this up and condemned them to death by dehydration? Long story short, they’re fine. I saw the snowshoe hare kits with their momma this morning, at the edge of the grass. I sat down to watch them until eventually the littles hopped separately back to the clump and momma went back to the woods. She’ll stay away from them until she returns to nurse them tonight.

Ava and Zoey are staying away. They pass the clump of trees on their way to see if there’s anything in the live trap (a skunk we were unaware of on Friday morning, thankfully found by Steve at 4 am, before he took the dogs out). “Stay out of there” is enough to keep them away. The hares should leave their clump when they’re about a month old so we’ll be keeping an eye on the dogs over there for a few more weeks. Living with wildlife is never dull, especially when they’re as cute as snowshoe hare kits.

Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Black Bear Problems

Preventing Nuisance Bear Problems

There’s a rogue bear on the loose, being a pain in the backside, and scaring people. It’s probably a yearling that’s been through family separation and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself yet. Sows drive their yearlings away, sometimes violently, to prevent them from being killed by boars during mating season. If the youngsters haven’t mastered finding food they can become problems. Others can find food just fine but take advantage of easy opportunities. Gilman’s chickens looked pretty good and Betty’s dumpster was pillaged.

Maine has the highest black bear population in the lower 48 states, and the population in Maine is higher than biologists determined it should be. A short, easy winter means few bears died in their dens, and I thought it would mean they have enough food to not be jerks this year, but a few of them didn’t get that memo. They’re out and about and some are becoming nuisance bears. Preventing nuisance bear problems is easier than dealing with them after it’s too late, though sometimes we don’t know there’s a problem bear around until they make their presence known.
preventing nuisance bear. black bear, bear problems, problem bearsThanks to Betty Phelps for the photo. She didn’t know she had a bear problem until she woke up to this mess.

Prevent BEAR problems. Lock up your livestock and poultry like the Jack Link's Squatch wants to make them into jerky.Click To Tweet

Tips to Slow Down Nuisance Bears

  • Don’t put your trash outside. Secure it in a sturdy outbuilding or your basement, or take it away. Lock the dumpster. The doors not heavy enough to keep bears out. These big, silent creatures are strong.
  • Bring your grill in or at least clean it after every use. Burn off the food and bring in the grease cup, then give it a good cleaning.
  • Never leave food outside. Make sure everyone bring in their snacks and drinks.
  • Bring in your bird feeders from early spring until early to mid-November, and clean up the ground under the feeders.
  • Bring pet food and water bowls in as soon as the pet finishes eating.
  • Contain your livestock and poultry. Lock them up like the Jack Link’s Squatch is going to forget about jerky and munch on your critters. Lock them in before sunset. The bear that was hit by a pickup on Monday was hit before 5:30 pm.
  • Don’t leave any livestock and poultry food where a bear can get to it or be attracted by the smell. We keep food in 50 gallon drums that are tightly sealed and never have a problem.
  • Use the panic button on your vehicle’s key fob before you go outside to scare away any bears that might be in the yard. If you get up during the night for a drink, hit it again, for a second or two. This is best done if you don’t have neighbors too close.
  • When your dog barks at something you can’t see, let it bark. Bears are known as the “black ghost” because they move silently through the woods. The dog is likely to know a bear is nearby while you have no idea.

Bears and Dogs

  • Keep dogs and bears apart. Ava and Zoey are not afraid of bears. Instinct and experience don’t tell them to be careful enough, and their personalities tell them “oh look, a friend!” They don’t warm up to other dogs easily (they’re shy) but bears are a different story.

Preventing nuisance bear problems takes work. You have to stay on top of it and remind everyone in the household to do so, too.

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear? Please Call for Help!

Hit a Bear?

PSA. Attention please. :/ If you hit a bear please don’t assume it’s okay because it got up and ran. You seldom ever, or maybe never, have seen a dead bear on the side of the road in Maine. They have hard bones but their internal organs are still soft. If you hit a bear, please, please call the warden or police. You might be nothing more than shaken up and your vehicle might be just fine, but please get help for the bear.
black bear, bear tracks, hit a bear
 
Late Monday afternoon I saw the pickup in front of me hit a black bear. The driver did all he could to avoid it but it truly was unavoidable. He truck made contact with vital organs. The bear spun across the pavement across the other lane, rolled into the ditch, got up and ran in to the woods. The man parked in the road, stunned. I checked on him. He’s fine and there’s no damage to his truck. The bear is not fine. The man didn’t want to call the warden or police because “…I think it’s fine…a lot of fur but no blood…it ran.”
 
We don’t see bears on the side of the road because they’re tough. They can get up and run, but when you hit vital organs they aren’t gong to go far before they drop and die a miserable death. I can’t no do anything. It wasn’t my accident but I called it in to my warden. We couldn’t talk because of poor signals out here in the middle of no where but we could text. He looked for the bear and if necessary, put it out of its misery.

Tips to Keep Yourself Safe if You Hit a Bear

If you hit a bear it’s probably going to run off. If it doesn’t you should:

  • Pull over to a safe place near the bear to force vehicles away from it (in case they don’t see it), and put your flashers on.
  • Flash your headlights (low beam) at anyone coming toward you to warn them about the bear.
  • Stay in your vehicle.
  • Never approach the bear. It might look dead but be unconscious.
  • Call the game warden or police to find out what else you need to do.
American Bald Eagle

American Bald Eagle

American Bald Eagle

A sneak peak at an upcoming blog. Look at this American Bald Eagle….or is it eagles? This happened today near our home. I remind myself often that there are people who would have the thrill of a lifetime if they saw one bald eagle once. Today we saw two, up close and personal. We interacted with these huge, powerful birds on a level most people never will. Incredible. I don’t know how many times I said “I love this life” today. More later. It’s a crazy week so it might take a while but I’m going to do my best to tell the story by the end of the day Wednesday. Til then, here’s a sneak peak.

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

We were driving from on unsuccessful turkey spot to the next when something dark, short, long and flat crossed the road in front of us. “Baby fisher? no… Huge mink? no…” When we were close enough to see it well he accommodated us by crossing the road again. A Whistle-pig (Marmota monax), more commonly known as ground hog and woodchuck! He disappeared into a tall, hollow, dying tree. Of course I got out for photos but had only my phone camera.

Do you know how the whistle-pig got its name?Click To Tweet

“pssst…” And he came out. I took a few pictures before he disappeared, scared by a souped up, over done, owned-only-by-a-teenage boy truck. I was a little scared, too, and hoped he was paying attention to the road rather than the crazy lady taking pictures of a tree. The truck passed, our ears stopped ringing, and I made kissy noises to him. The whistle-pig popped out again. I suspect he’s friendly with the people who live across the street. I think if I’d sat down and waited a few minutes he’d have come to me. Before he got ideas of coming over for a scritch behind the ears, I left. Cute little critters long as he’s not my garden.

whistle-pig, ground hog, groundhog
groundhog, whistle-pig, land beaver, woodchuckWe’ve seen a lot of whistle-pigs on our travels this spring, and I’ve learned that not only do they live in hollow trees, they climb trees. In all my years outdoors I’ve never seen a whistle-pig up a tree, and now I’m looking for one.

When alarmed they give out a high-pitched whistle to warn other whistle-pigs of impending doom. I think Groundhog’s Day should be renamed Whistle-Pig Day. It’s catchy, has a better ring than woodchuck and groundhog. Can’t you picture Bill Murray starring in Whistle-Pig Day? Enough already. My silliness is over. Enjoy the day!

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

great horned owls, nest
great horned owls, soaking wet, maine
great horned owls, osprey nest

What was supposed to be an early morning turkey hunt with Peter turned into sleeping in thanks to or because of, depending on how I felt at the moment, pour rain, and hunting later. Hunting later turned into hilarity between Steve and I and a Saturday wildlife drive. Oh we saw turkeys…two hens. By then we’d given up setting up decoys and yelping. We were driving with hopes of seeing a tom somewhere. Anywhere. Didn’t happen. We visited the great horned owls on their nest.

The first time I saw the nest there was one adult great horned owl and two owlets. This time we could see two adults but no offspring. The adults were drenched after the downpour and looked downright cranky, and who can blame them. I love bird watching and  surprises like this Chestnut-sided warbler, and never thought I’d get to watch two great horned owls raising owlets. They’ll fledge in about 42 days so we’re running out of time. I want to go back one more time, on a sunny day, and take better photos before the youngsters leave.

Great horned owls sometimes use other birds’ nests. This nest was built by osprey so it’s on the typical power line pole and is at the edge of a large body of water. Osprey are also known as fish hawks. The nest is huge for owls and there’s lots of room to move around. The adults were hovering over the owlets when we arrived. We stayed about five minutes the first time, as we pulled away one of the owls left the nest, presumably to hunt. On our way back through both were on the nest and tearing something into bite sized pieces. The hunt was fast, we were gone less than 20 minutes, and successful. They eat skunks and porcupines (!!!), hare, water fowl and other birds, rodents, and house cats and small dogs. I wouldn’t want them out here near our ducks and chickens but I wouldn’t mind a pair that would pare down the porcupine and skunk populations. You have to admire anything that can handle skunks and porcupines.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler – bird watching

Chestnut-Sided Warbler – bird watching

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Bright and early this morning, we made a stop at the edge of a field to call for turkeys. Steve has one of his two tags filled, Peter is tagged out, and I have zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nine days of hunting, sometimes twice a day, and I’ve yet to see a turkey close enough to even pick up the shotgun. Peter called but there wasn’t a turkey around interested in gobbling to a hen. They started talking (they say women talk a lot but seriously, we have nothing on men in that department) and kind of forgot what it was we were supposed to be doing. I heard a bird call I wasn’t familiar with, zoned in on it, and discovered this male chestnut-sided warbler. This is an addition on my birding life list, a first for me. Excuse the quality of the photos. He moved every few seconds and was 50 feet away. Birding is one of the reasons I desperately want a new camera.

Chestnut-sided warbler in an old tree early in the morning
Chestnut-sided warbler side view
Chestnut-sided warbler, white chest
Chestnut-sided warbler face on
Chestnut-sided warbler, breeding plumage
Chestnut-sided warbler, back to
A male chestnut-sided warbler is easy to identify. Its song told me it is a warbler. And its sides – chestnut colored. This was a simple one. The yellow forehead is easy to pick out in the trees and if you look closely, he has an unmistakable mustache. They frequent the sides of fields along the edge of the woods as they search for insects. It was cool this morning and the insects weren’t moving yet so he was busy moving from branch to branch and tree to tree.

I learned this morning that they over winter in Central America and return to the same area each spring to rejoin birds they know. It’s incredible. I can’t imagine knowing how to get back to the same area, or being about four inches in size and flying to Central America… Isn’t nature wonderful! So much energy in a little bird called chestnut-sided warbler.

Wildlife Observation Tips

Wildlife Observation Tips

Wildlife Observation Tips

I never, ever take the ability to see a tremendous amount of wildlife for granted. Steve and I went turkey hunting this morning. We didn’t see a single turkey but we did see four bears (more later!), a moose, a fox, three snowshoe hare, 100+ red stag and fallow deer and seven bison. Yes, you read those last three right. We knew about the red stag and fallow deer but the bison surprised us. They’re on two farms. The farm with the bison is large enough to give them a lot of room to roam. We’ve been by them almost daily for two weeks and hadn’t seen them until this morning. Anyway, on to wildlife observation tips. These tips will help you find and see more wildlife.

red stag, wildlife observation

I left as soon as the deer spotted me. They’re farmed deer but they’re still wild and spotted me a tenth-of-a-mile away. No need to upset them.flying duckWhen to Look for Wildlife

Look any time. Look all the time. Walking by a window? Look out. These days it isn’t uncommon to see wildlife in city limits. Coyotes in NYC and Cambridge aren’t unusual anymore.

Early morning, as early as dawn, and early evening are great times to see wildlife on the move. Wildlife moves during bad weather but not so much in a downpour or snow storm. They’ll be out and about after the weather clears.

Migration is an excellent time to see birds you don’t otherwise see.

During black fly season they’re moving into clearings as soon as the black flies are up. They’re looking for a heavy breeze the black flies can’t fight.

Where Should You Go for Wildlife Observation?

Look in fields. In a big field you’ll want to look for small dots. A rabbit is hard to see, a turkey easier, a bear certainly even easier, but in a very large field a bear can look like a small dot. Scan the entire field and take your time to slowly move along the edge of the field.

Logs and rocks are sunning places for turtles, water fowl, snakes and other critters that like to warm up or nap in the sun.

Look down side roads as you pass them. If you’re driving you should keep your eyes on the road and have your passengers be on the look out. You can turn around to go back if they see something.

What Do You Look For in Wildlife Observation?

Look for something that looks out of place. The black spot at the edge of a field might be a bear. Or a boulder.

Movement. A flash across a field or crossing a road might be a fox. A white bouncing object could be the “flag” of a white-tailed deer.

Tracks and signs tell us a lot about what wildlife is in an area. Tracks, scat, hair, chewed plants – all good places to start.

Once you’ve gotten familiar with spotting whole animals or birds you can start looking for body parts. Steve taught me to stop looking for a deer and start looking for a deer’s ear, tail or leg. This morning I spotted a moose in the woods because I saw its shaggy, shedding rump through the trees and recognized it for what it is.

How Do You Do This?

Good wildlife observation skills start at home. Don’t load up on scents. Avoid perfume, aftershave and smelly deodorant. Use an extra rinse on laundry or forego fabric softener (or both).

Find a place that’s safe. Wildlife observation can take a little getting used to. You want to start out safe and sound before you start dealing with animals. The city park, private land, your backyard, great places to start. If you don’t feel secure alone you should take someone with you.

Sit with the sun at your back so you don’t look into it.

Find a place to sit. Good wildlife observation calls for comfort. Bring a small folding seat or pad if you don’t want to sit on the ground, a rock or a stump. If you can sit inside the treeline at the edge of a field you’ll have cover while looking into open space.

If you’re in a spot where it’s allowed, build yourself a blind with evergreen boughs.

Now that you’re in your spot, settle in, sit still, be patient and wait. You’ve disturbed the area by showing up even if you were as quiet as possible. Birds and squirrels will return to normal first. Once you see an animal you should avoid eye contact. Don’t look it in the eye and don’t lose sight of it. On our way back from a woodcock singing ground survey last night our truck was charged by a cow moose. She’s probably pregnant and nearing the end of her pregnancy, hormonal and becoming protective. Keep an eye on animals.

Listen. Do you hear twigs snapping, leaves rustling, bleating, bird calls? What do you hear? Now look for the sound. Yes, really. Look for the sound. Where did it come from? Where did it go?

What Tools Do You Need?

I like to have a pair of binoculars, a camera or three, paper and pen, something to drink, maybe something to sit on, bug spray (you can buy unscented bug spray), sunglasses, and appropriate clothing. Avoid bright colors.

Safety

During hunting seasons you’ve absolutely got to develop and use common sense. Don’t traipse around in the woods in tan during deer season. Put on a florescent orange vest and hat. White mittens resemble a white-tailed deer’s tail. Overall, hunters are incredibly safe but just like everyone else, stuff happens.

If you pull over to observe something you’ve spotted you must be sure to pull out of the travel lane. Don’t forget to look to see what’s coming before you open the door. It’s easy to get excited and forget what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and double check your surroundings. If there isn’t a good place to pullover, forget about it. You’ll see something else in a safe place at another time.

Don’t approach animals. We know we’re not supposed to bother a sow with cubs but don’t forget the little things. People get bitten by mice and squirrels and it hurts.

If your presence is making the wildlife uneasy you need to back out safely and leave. I watched a herd of deer this morning until they spotted me and were uncomfortable. Watching me is fine. Watching me and leaving the area or approaching me isn’t alright. Wildlife observation ends when the wildlife leaves so be the first to go and let them be.

Week of Wildlife – Five on Friday

Week of Wildlife – Five on Friday

Week of Wildlife – Five on Friday

I’m joining in on Five On Friday with a week of wildlife. I’m chosen five highlights or activities of my week. If you’d like to join in you can find the information at the Five on Friday link.

My favorite month for wildlife observation is May but with an early spring this year, April is honing in. We’ve been scouting for turkeys before the season opens, not seeing many turkeys, but seeing a lot of deer and waterfowl.

One: The first set of pics are male (top) and female common merganser ducks.


common merganser, drake, merganser, week of wildlife
common merganser, duck, week of wildlifeTwo: This ant hill was nearly destroyed by something looking for grubs. My first guess is a skunk but I wouldn’t swear to it. What do you think?
ant hill, week of wildlife, Three: This is my friend Waddles the porcupine. We went for a run Wednesday morning. Or more like I spotted him when we were looking for turkeys, jumped out of the truck and ran up the road to catch up to him. I didn’t want to scare him with the truck so approaching on foot was my best chance of getting good photos. Don’t you just want to scoop him up and hug him? No? He is cute though, isn’t he.

porcupine, tree, Maine, week of wildlifeFour: I mistook these blue spotted salamander eggs for frog eggs on Monday afternoon. Maureen knew they are salamander eggs. We used one of her many field guides to figure out if they were yellow or blue spotted. My week of wildlife doesn’t usually include salamander eggs in mid-April.

Blue spotted salamander eggs, week of wildlifeFive: This (I think) buck stood long enough for me to take several photos. I think I can see bumps at the pedicle where antlers are starting to grow. Two other deer were on the side of the road. We saw eight while we were out Wednesday morning.
week of wildlife, buck on a dirt road

What wildlife is moving around you?

week of wildlife, five on friday

Gray Squirrels – Are They in Your Attic?

Gray Squirrels – Are They in Your Attic?

Gray Squirrels

It’s about that time. If gray squirrels are going to gnaw and claw their way into your home this (April) is the time of year it’s most likely to happen. I remember my father carrying the ladder from our garage to any of the peaks in the house, climbing to the second story, and working on a new hole the gray squirrels made. The nested in our attic back then the way the red squirrels like to nest in my attic now. I grew up at the edge of a mixed old-growth woods in a small town just across the Bangor city line. It was the perfect place for gray squirrels. Mum inadvertently fed them by feeding the birds.

gray squirrels, squirrelWhy the attic? The first mating season for the promiscuous gray squirrel happens in March. Most of the grays will make their nests in tree branches or cavities. It’s easy to spot a gray squirrel nest high in the tree tops. They’re dome shaped and made of leaves and twigs. Lined with shredded leaves and bark, I imagine both kinds of nests are a cozy place to raise a litter of babies. And then there are the attic dwellers that line their nests with insulation. Now is a good time to check the house for missing soffits and spots that are being chewed. Check again in July when they’re looking for a place to have a second litter. Yearling females have one litter, and older females usually have two litters a year. That’s a lot of squirrels.

Do you know when gray squirrels are most likely to move into your home?Click To Tweet

After a 40 to 44 day gestation a litter of two to seven babies are born. An average litter is two or three babies. They weigh one-half ounce, are hairless and blind. Squirrels are slow to mature. Their eyes won’t open until they are four to five weeks old. For comparison, a rabbit’s eyes open in 11 days. They won’t be weaned for eight to 10 weeks, and then won’t leave the nest for another week or two. If they make it through their first year of life their odds increase for the second year. After that, they’re likely to live around six years.

When they aren’t raiding the bird feeder and outsmarting us each time we try a new method of keeping them out, gray squirrels have a great diet. They eat a lot of fruits and berries. They favor black cherry trees, and that happens to be where I most often see the one gray squirrel that lives out here. Beech, acorns and hazelnuts are eaten as well. Their memory and sense of smell are impressive when it comes to finding those nuts months later. Maple and ash seeds aren’t a big part of the diet but in a hard winter ash seeds and tree buds can carry them through to spring. If you’ve found a pile of cones beneath a fir tree you’ve found a midden made by a gray squirrel. They stash mushrooms in trees the same way they bury nuts in the ground.

We wait for the first signs of life in early spring. Flower bulbs break through the surface one day but soon after there might be nothing left but a hole. Gray squirrels love flower bulbs. They’ll dig them up and stash them elsewhere. To slow them down you can cover your bulbs with one-inch chicken wire, then cover that with soil. The squirrels might still dig up a bulb or two but the rest should be safe.

Gray squirrels seem much bigger than they really are. From tail to nose they’re 18” to 20” but about half of their length comes from their tail. They weigh one to 1.5 pounds. The males are larger, and they’re dominate except to females that have litters. Their long lean bodies, sharp nails, and the big tail they use for balance make them built for life in the canopy.

Gray squirrels communicate through calls and body language. In March you’ll hear “kuk,” “qua” and moans from females looking for males. When startled or alarmed young squirrels let out a shrill cry that they outgrow as adults. Adults “buzz.” Along with all that noise, foot stomping and tail wagging make their displeasure known.

Hawks, owls, bobcat and lynx, coyotes and fox, weasels and minks dine on gray squirrel, and so do humans. Our hunting season for gray squirrel is October 1 through December 31, and if you’re into falconry, that season extends through February 28.

A couple of interesting facts: gray squirrels have a higher rate of albinism than any other rodent, and on the opposite end, they have a black phase. I spotted one black gray squirrel while on the interstate and wished I could stop to take a better look. And, they swim. They don’t swim often but they do swim well enough to take a dip in the ocean. I suppose with so many predators wanting to eat you, swimming comes in handy from time to time.