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Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter

(My February column in Maine Woodlands) Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren’t careful. Farmer’s Almanac said we’d have a lot of snow this winter, and they were right. We had more snow on the ground in December here in Talmadge than we had all last winter. Steve built a new food plot for the wildlife and the deer came. There were three bucks at various times, an older doe that’s usually without a fawn, a doe with twins and a doe with a singleton. Up the road a quarter-mile, neighbors had a doe with quadruplets eating under the apple tree most evenings. Most of the deer moved toward Grand Lake Stream to yard up together but a few stragglers have stayed behind.

The deer stopped eating the forage radish and turnip in the food plot in the last few days of December when a thick icy crust on top of 18″ of snow stopped them from pawing their way to the food. They occasionally walk through the plot and pass by the game cameras. They’re getting thin. Whitetails put on about 90 days’ worth of fat and their 90 days is running out. It’s hard to resist the urge to feed them. Deer will starve to death with a belly full of corn. You can’t change their diet, especially this late in winter without dire consequences.

feeding deer, deer eating cedarWhat you can do is drop a cedar tree for them. If the deer have eaten what they can reach you can bring the food down to them. We did this with good results in April of 2014. The deer returned from their winter yards to deep snow. Two cedar trees tided them over until the snow melted. The snowshoe hares also fed off the trees. The deer will most likely be fine without our help but if you want to give them a hand, keep the food natural.

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Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musing

mus*ing: a period of reflection or thought. I’ve been musing a lot lately, even more than normal for these quiet winter times.

I seem to be at a loss for good words here right now. I write, think it’s pretty good, and then delete. My winter writing was planned with a four-month long workshop and gathering of creative minds but that’s been cancelled. It’s disappointing but something good is coming. Hang with me until the end. I’ve been musing a lot lately, mostly about the state of the world. I’m grateful for a strong husband who takes care of us and many others, for daughters and sisters I love dearly, and to live where I do in spite of our current “leader.” The work relationships I’m developing are fun and rewarding. Lots of things spinning around in this brain of mine.

Let’s Go Outdoors

I took the dogs out for a walk to get some fresh air and clear my mind before I sat down to write. We started in the food plot. The deer have been gone for a few weeks. There are no tracks or droppings from anything, not even the over abundance of snowshoe hares. The pumpkins are still there, barely nibbled. There’s another coyote, bigger than the last.

musing, pumpkins in snow, food plot

We got enough rain this month that combined with snow melt the pond’s water level up three feet. If the trout survived the low water and early freezing that limits oxygen in the water, they now have a better chance at survival. If I weren’t a klutz I’d be skating!
musing, pond, ice skating pond, homestead pond, small farm pond

Ava, looking for a bunny trail. She didn’t find one. Zoey did her zig zag search and also came up empty.
English shepherd, musing

Red squirrels’ winter stash. I saw apples stashed in trees all around me while we were out. Putting food up is a smart thing, especially these days.
frozen apple, musing, squirrel, stash, winter food

I did a bit of collecting while we were out. Usnea, a lichen commonly know as Old Man’s beard, drops from the trees in winter. Deer eat it as a last resort in winter but since the deer aren’t here I felt free to gather quite a bit. I brought in another moss I don’t know the name of and a handful of small spruce cones. The snow was littered with tiny seeds from the cones.
musing, lichen, old man's beard, usnea, spruce cone, nature

Where and how and with the amount of freedom I have isn’t lost on me. Where and how and with the amount of hate, pain and suffering others live in also isn’t lost on me. The beauty around me, even in the dead of winter when the evergreens are dull and hardwoods bare, and there’s little for color other than the blue jays, isn’t lost on me.

On Writing

Someone good has come my way. I’ve realized this week that I need help with this book I’m writing about this life I’m living in these woods I own. I’ve started working with Brenda, the energetic, creative, encouraging editor and writing coach behind Forest North Books. I’m looking forward to spending time with her this winter. Know that if I’m not here in the blog often it’s because I’m writing “the book” and making real progress. Or I’m staring out the window at the birds in the feeding station. Writing. Yes, let’s go with writing.

I’m starting a few herb and greens seeds today! What are you doing?

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Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy Icy Icy!

Snow, sleet, freezing rain, high winds, icy everything – but minor. We didn’t lose power, dead trees are still standing, and the snowy, sleety, icy, crunchy mess isn’t too bad to walk on as long as I have cleats on my boots. WiFi is the usual lost but these days it’s out or so slow it isn’t useful (remember 28.8 on dial up? lightening fast in comparison, no exaggeration) often regardless of the weather. A few days the ground under the evergreens was bare. It looks opaque now, kind of pretty but still dull.

It’s been quiet here, hasn’t it. I’ve been writing. A lot of writing happens these days but it’s for a book. I’ve been going in circles with this book for too long. I argue and debate myself over what should and shouldn’t be included, how much detail to give, narrow or widen the focus… That’s coming to an end today when I start working with Brenda, my book coach. We’ll be working together the rest of the winter and into spring. She’ll help me find clarity and focus today, and then I’ll spend the next two weeks working away, asking for help, direction and advice when needed, and preparing for our next session.

Out of Sorts

I’m a little out of sorts without a big seed order to put together, seeds to start in a couple of weeks, no high tunnel providing fresh greens, and too little outdoors time. The amount of hate (I won’t get political) being spewed is unsettling while women who aren’t affected by certain issues attack women who are. You’ve probably heard me talk about hunter vs hunter and outdoorsmen vs outdoorsmen. That’s mild in comparison. This isn’t Right vs Left. It’s woman vs woman. Politicians had nothing on this venom.

Fun Times Coming!

With this in mind, I have fun things with good people to look forward to. Carol and I are going to snowshoe as soon as the icy trails are suitable. I’m looking forward to some girlfriend time with her, laughing and visiting outdoors. I have a weekend of ice fishing coming up and I’m planning a camping trip for early summer. I’ll be hanging out with wonderful women in July when I make the trip back to Pyramid Life Center for a poetry weekend with Cynthia that moves directly into the women’s writing retreat I’ve loved for three years.

I’m off to put away the folded laundry that’s stacked on the loveseat, push the button on the Ninja for a fresh cuppa, and gather my writing things together. The icy weather will keep me in by the fire for the rest of the day. I’ll be on the loveseat if you want to chat. Comments are open and I’ll be checking in except for 1-2 pm EST when I’m hanging out with Brenda.

Icy raspberry cane

icy, coating of ice off a tree branch
icy lichen
icy spruce
icicles, metal roof, icy

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out

I hoped the lights would stay on. If the trees didn’t drop icy branches on the power lines I’d be all set. There’s plenty to do today. We cleaned up pork trimmings last night so they’re ready to grind and season today. I gathered the grinder and its pieces, the meat and bowls, washed my hands annnnd…power’s out.

Alright then, there’s bread to bake. I scraped all of the sourdough starter minus a few tablespoons and sprinkled on a little slow-rising yeast. Left in the cool corner of the kitchen, the bread wouldn’t be ready to bake until the power came back even if it wasn’t on again until dark. I made a pot of coffee in the old fashioned perk coffee maker, gathered magazines to go through, a set of small knitting needles and skein of fine yarn, two Fedco catalogs and some paper. Cuddled up on the love seat in front of the wood stove, I started knitting an ornament for this next year’s tree. Before I got comfy on the love seat in front of the wood stove I went back to finish making bread. No bread today. The lights aren’t the only thing lacking today. Power’s out in the yeast, too. A brand new package of yeast, dead. I buy it in bulk and don’t have another one-pound package. It’s on my grocery list now. Sadly, the sourdough was already mixed with two cups of water. Ruined. I’ll start more.

The lights came on just as I started to worry about the bait fish gulping air in their tiny tank.  Back to knitting and then listening to My Antonia on Audible. Even I can take only so much silence. At least outside I could have listened to the birds and the ice crackling in the trees before it crashed to the ground. The start of melting ice meant WiFi would likely come back soon. And then…power’s out again, but this time it came back quickly. I went out to take pictures of our icy world but the cameras’ batteries are dead. Of course they are because today, the power’s out. Here are photos of  yesterday’s beautiful rime ice on white pines, and the start of the storm moving in.

rime ice, pine tree, power's out
rime ice, power's out, white pine, winter
rime ice, close up, winter, foggy morning, power's out
Storm's moving in, power's out

Hibernation in the Woodlot

Hibernation in the Woodlot

Hibernation

Hibernation is underway in our woodlots. We can let the dogs out in the evening without worrying about them bumping into raccoons, skunks, porcupines and bears. Or…can we? Sometime during the night a small animal chewed the bottom out of the mesh bag and dropped the suet to the porch floor.

Late one December I stumbled upon a soaking wet carcass.  I assumed from its black fur that a neighbor’s cat had fallen prey to a coyote or fox until I got closer. The smell wasn’t strong but it was unmistakable and I didn’t need a closer look to know that a skunk had come out of it’s den for a walk in the snow.

In elementary school, we learned these animals fell asleep in a cozy den and didn’t wake up until spring. I was in awe of the bear’s ability to give birth while sleeping, and of the cubs’ ability to find their way to nurse all winter. Should have known that was too good to be true.

Maine’s True Hibernators

There are three true hibernators in Maine. The little brown bat, struggling with white nose syndrome, went to their hibernacula in September and October to spend the winter and don’t emerge until early to mid-spring. Unless you have a cave, mine or empty building in your woodlot you probably don’t have hibernating bats. The little brown bat’s heart rate drops from one thousand beats per minute to five during hibernation.

ground hog, whistle pig, hibernation

Have you noticed the resident ground hogs giving your late-season garden a break? They’re the second of Maine’s true hibernators. Like the little brown bat, ground hogs settle in to hibernate in early to mid-fall. They dig a den that might be attached to the tunnel where they spend the rest of the year. It’s located below the frost line and above the water table. The ground hog’s body temperature drops to 38°, heart rate to four beats per minute, and breaths only ten an hour. If ground hogs are hibernating in your woodlot they’re most likely at the edge near a clearing.

Meadow jumping mice do well to survive winter, though many don’t. Unlike most animals preparing winter, jumping mice spend only two weeks fattening up. Their den is a small chamber less than two feet below the surface, often beneath logs. Once dug, jumping mice line the chamber with dry plant material, close the opening with soil, and don’t emerge until spring. Unlike other rodents that stash seeds for winter, jumping mice don’t need them. They won’t wake to eat or drink while hibernating.

We most often see our part-time hibernators, skunks and raccoons, during January thaw before the coldest part of winter sets in, and again in late February. In mild winters like that of 2015/16, both were out and about for two weeks starting on February 1 (raccoon) and February 3 (skunk) according to photos on our game cameras. We know now that bears aren’t the sound sleepers we once believed. They seldom leave the den in winter and when they do they don’t go far, and they don’t eat or drink. In the 18 winters we’ve spent snowshoeing our woodlot and surrounding woods I’ve seen bear tracks only twice. Loggers sometimes rouse a bear out of its den by moving a pile of logs, or sometimes a single log.

We’re more likely to find tracks in the snow than the part-time hibernators while we’re in the woods. Take a look around. Tracks tell part of the story of what animals were out and about when least expected.

Wooly Bear Predicts Winter – Or Does He?

Wooly Bear Predicts Winter – Or Does He?

Woolly Bear Predicts Winter?

This woolly bear predicted a cold snowy winter for 2015/16. So did Farmers Almanac. We had cold weather because this is Maine and you know…winter. We had little snow though, never enough at once to snowshoe in the woods and deep enough for the snowmobiles only one weekend. About half the normal 100 inches of snow fell. There were a few days below 0° but there were more days in the 40°s and 50°s than 0°.

Oh Woolly Bear! How did he get it so wrong?

winter predictions, 2016, 2017, woolly bear, caterpillar

Genetics and environment determine the woolly bear’s looks. The better its diet and longer it’s been eating the narrower its orange band will be. Woolly bear tells us about its diet and genetics, not the weather. The one in the photo must have been eating well. I can related to that. The more I eat the wider my middle gets.

Does Nature Predict Winter?

I love folk lore. The ground hog? I’m amused by grown men (who might be drinking heavily because why else would they do this) who pull a ground hog out of a box, shine lights in its sleepy eyes, and expect it to see or not see its shadow. Six more weeks of winter? Boooo. Same six weeks until spring? Yeah!

Are the wasp and hornet nests high or low? Find them and you’ll know how much snow we’ll have.

Are the geese heading south early? (Or have you, like I tend to do, forgotten when it is they usually leave?)

Look at the pigs. Are they gathering sticks? Heavy winter if they are, or they like to play with sticks.

Lots of pine and spruce cones in the tops of the trees tell us there’s going to be a harsh winter…or mild winter. Two winters ago the trees were loaded and winter was horrible. Last year the trees were loaded and winter was mild. Flip a cone. Or a cone.

Nature reliably predicts winter…except when it doesn’t. It’s still fun.

What folk lore stories do you enjoy?

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Autumn Walk in the Woods

Autumn Walk in the Woods

Autumn Walk in the Woods

Two or three mornings a week I take a walk to the food plot and into the woods to check the game cameras. We seldom set eyes on the animals we share our land with but get to see them in pictures the cameras provide us. We’re looking for bucks now because archery season is open and rifle season opens in a few weeks, but there aren’t any. This week the “yahoos” sauntered through – a skunk I knew was around thanks to its “aroma,” a raccoon that pushed its luck by going to the hen house, and a porcupine that left its usual trail through apple trees to cross the food plot. This morning ritual of an autumn walk in the woods is time spent taking in the beauty, studying tracks and signs, and recharging my soul.

The first stop is the beaver bog but that’s a blog of its own for tomorrow.

Waiting for Moose

The best part of the autumn walk in the woods happened with this view. (Follow the edge of the woods and veer left to get to the beaver bog.)

autumn walk, food plotI heard a bull moose grunting as I crossed the food plot so I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and waited. Scuffling through dry leaves told me he was getting closer, and then the snapping of dead saplings pushed aside during the food plot construction gave his precise location away. I knew exactly where he was and where he’d enter the food plot, further back than I hoped, but any second now… Darn it. He walked around the food plot instead of through it so I didn’t get to see him. I wonder if it was this bull moose or another.

Autumn Color

Leaving the food plot and walking toward the wood yard, the maple leaves are falling fast.

autumn walk
autumn walk, maple leaves, fall leaves
autumn walk, maple leaves on balsam
autumn walk, autumn leaves, fall leaves, red maple leaves, birch trees
autumn leaves, autumn sky, fluffy clouds, maple and birch trees in fall

After checking the last camera, one that’s out there more to see who is in the wood yard more than what is there, I cut through the woods on this trail to the pond.

autumn walk, trail to the pondThere’s never enough time to spend outdoors but a 20 minute autumn walk through the woods is a good way to spend my morning coffee break. What’s happening your yard this season?

Deer Blowing, Skunk Waddling, No Bear

Deer Blowing, Skunk Waddling, No Bear

Deer Blowing

It was a good day to be seated in a mini chair behind the pile of trees I use as a ground blind. After sitting in the rain at two sites on Wednesday my boots were soaking wet, and I’d forgotten to dry them in the sun and breeze. A middle-aged brain cramp left me sitting in the shade, in a breeze, with cold, wet feet. Cold feet make the rest of me cold. You’d think I’d learn. A deer blowing took my mind off the chill.

Rustling through woods behind me and to the right alerted me to the largest of three skunks on its way in. It always stops at the base of the same tree to potty or mark its territory, I’m not sure which. It stopped, not noticing me as usual, and then went about its merry way. A yellow bellied sapsucker drummed up a racket as it flew tree to tree to tree in search of supper. Red squirrels chased each other in another cops and robbers getaway scene.

The Doe

The doe usually walks through the woods to my left or right in the late afternoon. I waited, listening for her footsteps in the crunchy leaves and the occasional snapping of a twig. A little before 5 pm I heard her. She walks back and forth on the same trail. The ground is bare other than the duff; no grass or even ferns so I can’t imagine why she’s there so often.

I’m getting good practice at sitting stone still with this doe around. I challenge myself to let her get as close as possible before she discovers me by sight or scent or because I move. Yesterday she was 20 feet behind me before she found me. Have you ever heard a deer blowing at you? She startled me again even though I knew it was coming at some point. The combination of blowing and the sound of her hooves trampling the ground as she whirled around to storm out made me jump. I listened to her a few minutes, grinning as I thought about how close she’d gotten this time and how much progress I’ve made in this little game of mine. And then I remembered my phone and turned on the camera. You can’t see her but if you turn up the volume and listen closely you’ll hear a deer blowing.

Doe Deer Blowing

Tree Stand Life – what happens around me

Tree Stand Life – what happens around me

Tree Stand Life

Bear hunting isn’t going well. Remember when I had so many bears coming to the barrel? Except for one bear, they are gone. Blackberries are abundant but starting to dwindle as they ripen and fall off, are picked by people, and eaten by the bears and other animals. There were substantially more mushrooms than usual after decent rain in September. If hyperphagia has started the bears aren’t coming to our bait barrels to gorge on food. Chubby shows up off and on now, often walking past the barrel on his way to somewhere else. I’m living a tree stand life these days and loving it most of the time. This leaves me with a lot of time to think, plan, and observe the natural world around me.

tree stand life, observe nature, nature notes

Turkeys

I was able to watch Eastern Wild turkeys the first two days of tree stand life but after being “busted” on day two, they haven’t been back. Turkeys have excellent vision and the biggest tom spotted me in no time. One alarm call and they were off, not to be seen again so far.

Whitetail Does and Fawn

When the wind isn’t blowing I can hear what’s going on for miles around me. Early in the season I listened to two deer walking slowly up the gravel road behind me. Ten minutes later I heard cracking in the woods and feet scuffling in the dry leaves this time inside the tree line. The deer slowed its pace as it approached stand. It came out of the dense woods into a clearing that’s filling in with wild hazelnuts. Deer stomp when they’re alarmed or angry. It stood 20 feet from my stand and stomped non-stop for two or three minutes, and then blew so hard I was startled. I laughed to myself. It’s like knowing the toaster is going to pop up and jumping when it does.

A big doe, so big that if she were a buck people would say “nice buck,” blew 103 times in the first 15 or 20 minutes. She startled me twice because I thought she was done. Listening closely, I could follow her movements without seeing it. Eventually I knew she was far enough away that I could slowly turn my head to the left and strain my eyes in her direction. After bursts of 17 to 20 blows at a time, she gave up on finding what (me) she knew was there but couldn’t see. She “got” me on Monday when I was looking for a bear at the barrel instead of paying attention to all that was around me. A sudden noise made me think a bear huffed at me, and it took a second to realize it was her blowing as she ran away.

Two days later, while sitting behind the ground blind, cracking in the woods to my right caught my attention. A doe and yearling browsed 100 feet away on grass and raspberry leaves. I could see parts of them but never their entire bodies at once. This time, the deer didn’t know anything was “off.” It was easy to watch them, and good to know I could sit so still they didn’t know I existed.

Owls

Barred owls start hooting each afternoon at 4:30, give or take a few minutes. I can almost tell the time based on the owls. Steve can do the same from his stand. One or two barred owls start hooting there at 6 pm. Some days it’s only one, other days there are two. And one day, a great horned owl started to hoot leisurely at first, then frantically for quite a while. I wanted to know why but of course, sitting on the side of a tree no where near the owl, I’ll never know.

Mobbed by Birds

Chickadees mobbed me many times. Dozens of chickadees surround an offender, flying between trees and hopping among branches until their curiosity is satisfied or they’re convinced the threat is over. The mob got me in the first week of the season. It started with noisy blue jays and grew to chickadees and other small songbirds I couldn’t see without turning my head. Were bears close enough to hear the ruckus? mmmm…I don’t know. After a while I moved enough to use my phone and record the racket.

Skunks & Squirrels

tree stand life, skunkThe Three Skunkseteers keep me amused part of most days. Each skunk is different. Three sizes, three stripe patterns, three personalities, three feeding patterns. The largest skunk balls up something with its front paws and then scrambles backward, rolling whatever it is it has across the forest floor. I can’t tell what it has even after inspecting the ground where this happens.

Red squirrels are a big part of tree stand life whether you’re hunting bear, deer or something else. I’ve watched chase scenes that would make Hollywood envious, fights that make bar room brawls look like child’s play, and a little sex, too.

Imaginary Bears

Bears do show up while I’m living the tree stand life. They’re imaginary. As the sun drops and moves to the west the shadows change. I strain to see the large black spot behind the barrel, the black space that appears for a few minutes as the sun is behind a large balsam tree. As the sun fades the black space grows. Movement? A bear? No, just the breeze blowing a hazelnut bush to the right of the barrel, along the trail Chubby uses when he shows up a7 9:30 pm and again after midnight. By the time I have to climb down and make my way through the woods to gravel road the imaginary bears are gone, too dark to exist.

 

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Catch a Snapping Turtle Using Only Two Tools

Catch a Snapping Turtle Using Only Two Tools

Taylor caught a small snapping turtle in the pond while fishing one early summer day in 2000. She reeled him in but half way up the steep bank, he got away. He was small, maybe 5″ from one end of his shell to the other. We threw lines out for him the entire summer but didn’t see him again until the following year. We wondered how to catch a snapping turtle but didn’t put much effort into the task at first. That was a mistake.

The photos are of the turtle but not our pond. We let it go.
catch a snapping turtle, snapper

Snapping Turtles Can’t Live in Our Pond

We started having problems two years later when the snapping turtle started drowning mature ducks and ducklings. Our trout surfaced with bites out of them and then died a few days later. Eventually the snapping turtle was big enough to bite our 115 pound dog Sebastian’s tail and cause an infection.

Steve built traps the turtle would go into but that weren’t strong enough to hold him. A neighbor baited big hooks with rotting meat, tied them onto Hi-C containers, and tossed them into the pond. That didn’t work. I tried shooting it when it stuck its nose up to breath but couldn’t hit it. We never saw the turtle on land.

How to Catch a Snapping Turtle

So how did I catch a snapping turtle? I used two tools, the first being floating fish food we feed the rainbow trout. Grass in the water moved a few feet away. “Gawd, what happened to that fish,” I wondered. Its face was muddy and disfigured. It settled on the bottom, well hidden by the grass and mud it stirred up. I could barely see it. I wanted it out of the pond because it was big enough to breed (too many hornpout in the pond). I got the second tool, the net, from the boat.

catch a snapping turtle, turtle in a lake, turtleExcept, it wasn’t a fish. I stood sideways on the bank, left foot lower than right, right foot perched on a rock, knee bent, end of the net’s handle resting on my leg, the net out over the water, ready to snag fish. The food pellet floating above his head was tempting. He started to stretch to get it but stopped. We stared at each other. He wanted the food. I wanted him. I needed him to move six inches closer to me to be sure I’d get him. If I lunged forward to reach him I’d surely fall face first from the steep bank into the cold, cloudy water. A mosquito landed on my eyelash, and when I moved to brush it away, Turtle turned his head to the right and took a step. He was leaving.

Eight Years

Eight years of frustration kicked in. I slammed the net into the water, forcing it down until the rim hit Turtle’s shell, pinning him to the bottom. Mud swirled. I couldn’t see him but I could feel him struggling to be free of the rim. Without thinking, I reached out the extra six inches. The rim fell over the shell and landed on solid ground allowing me to brace myself. I thought I had him. I regained my balance and pulled the net across the mud toward me. It came too easily.

Suddenly, the net was heavy. I had him. Three seconds after the net slammed into the water, it was over. He didn’t fight much as I climbed the bank but half way to the house he started hissing and fighting. Expect a bit of a struggle but if your net is strong you’ve got time to get away from the water. If I have to do this again I’ll add a third tool – something to put the turtle in without having to walk 100 yards to the house!