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Monthly Archives: January 2015

lynx-1

This year there has been many lynx in the local woodlands. I saw a kit the other day when I was going into town, and almost everywhere I go I see lynx tracks. Interestingly, there are not a lot of snowshoe hare, their main prey – some – but not a lot. Maybe the lynx have been doing them in, as there were a lot of hares around last summer.

Some lynx have been on our property, but there have been more wolves than lynx. Wolves took down and ate one of the whitetails that have been hanging around the house all winter. Killed it within 150 m of the front door. Since we’ve been living here (almost 20 years), wolves have killed several deer within 200 m of the house. I must admit, I really don’t like that.

This morning, Lil and I checked out where we could hear ravens calling, suspecting they had killed a deer. No dead deer in that spot. What we found instead was where two wolves were resting. It looks like we chased them off. We suspect the ravens could see them, and were pestering them,

Anyway, the spot where the wolves were resting was almost exactly where we had picked up Neva earlier in the winter when she had run off after having escaped with leash attached (she pulled the leash from Lil’s hand, lunging after deer that were in the yard) . The leash got tangled up in some blowdown and Neva had to spend the night stuck out in the bush. We had been sick with worry the wolves would get her.

Having chased the wolves off, we trudged back to the house; now, the ravens were on the far side of the beaver pond, and it was pretty obvious something was going on. Sure enough, when we went there, we found a kill. It was a fawn, likely one of the twins that have been regular visitors all winter.

When winter began, there were at least three fawns. One, the smallest, disappeared about three weeks ago. So only one is left, unless the wolves got that one too. No sign of the doe and her remaining fawn today, and they are usually around the house every morning.

This winter is going to see a high percentage of the remaining deer killed by a wolf population that can’t be maintained by the existing food supply. That means starving, dead and dying wolves by the end of winter.

Predators need an abundance of prey to survive.

Seeing there’s few deer (and no moose at all) I’d have to say the wolves are living on borrowed time.

Might be the same for the lynx. Lots of lynx, not a lot of hares.

Although it’s been a mild winter – not too cold and not much snow –  it looks like it’s going to be a hard one for these two big predators. The cupboard is getting bare.

ruffie-1

There’s an article in the most recent Journal of Wildlife Management about Black Grouse in the Alps. Nothing earth shattering, but what struck me was that at least someone was looking at the situation (Black grouse population dynamics in the Alps).

Much different than what’s happening with ruffed grouse here in Ontario. Not much, if anything.

As long as I can remember, the bag limit on ruffed grouse has been 5 a day, 15 in possession. Long season. Oh yeah, the seasons were actually extended a few years back. More hunting ‘opportunities’.

Despite the lack of monitoring or research, it seems to me that by and large ruffed grouse are managing to do quite well in most of northern Ontario. So the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, seems to be working there,

However, I don’t think that’s the case in the southern portions of the province. From what I hear, ruffed grouse aren’t doing so well in the south, at least in a lot of places. The 10 year up and down population swings, which still seem to occur in the north, have apparently gone by the wayside. Friends tell me it’s the same sad situation in the part of Michigan they live in.

Some, like the Ruffed Grouse Society, care, but ruffies are not on the radar when it comes to wildlife management in Ontario.

Too bad. They are one of the greatest upland game birds out there and by far the best tasting,

 

beave-1

After an absence of a few years, a pair of beavers set up shop in the wetland in front of our house. In 1995, when we built the house, we had the backhoe operator – after installing the ground-source heat loop (necessary for our geo-thermal furnace) dig out a small pond. It didn’t fill in for over a year, until my spouse Lil introduced her orphaned and in-our-home raised beaver kit to it. That got the pond rocking.

I remember one evening a few years later doing the BBQ on the deck and listening to what had become the omnipresent sound of beavers chewing. Scanning the waters of the now greatly enlarged pond, I counted 13 beavers munching away. At that point, I knew the days of the beaver were limited. They were rapidly eating themselves out of house and home. A few years later, the beavers were gone, as were the poplars that used to ring most of the pond.

Even after the beavers left, one or two would always show up sometime during the summer, staying a day or sometimes longer. But they didn’t stay long, and as time passed, the pond shrank, mainly because no one was maintaining the dam.

When the pond was new, it had a lot of grass and sedge, but plant diversity overall was low. As it aged, wetland plants like cattail and duck potato began to flourish. The beavers in the pond this summer ate some alder and a few regenerating young poplar, but really slurped up the duck potato and other types of aquatic plants. So even though there isn’t the poplars there used to be, I think the changes to the plant community will let the beavers stay for at least a few years.

At least I’m hoping. We’ll see how much they chow down with what I expect to be a growing family.

Lil and I really like the beavers and their pond. Both provide hours of entertainment. Geese nest on the pond most years, and some years (like last year) mallards also have a brood or two. Ring-necks and hooded mergansers have also successfully reared young on the pond over the years, as have rails, kingbirds and many other passerines. Muskrats make the pond their home, and we occasionally see mink and otter there too. One afternoon, a pair of sandhill cranes fed on its edge, and over time, we’ve seen numerous other birds and animals using the pond. The deer make especially good use of the pond, and can often be seen in the summer in the water, up to their neck, eating rotting, smelly aquatic plants.

And lets not forget the turtles and frogs. In the spring, the frogs sing so loudly some evenings we have to have the patio door closed or we can’t talk to each other or hear the TV (which, at least as far as the TV is concerned, isn’t necessarily bad).

So I hope the beavers are doing OK in their dark little house. It sure looks cold out there.

fawn-1

It’s a New Year and the weather is definitely cold here. Woke up this morning and the thermometer read -35 C. That’s cold! Plus, it was windy. The good news, if you’re a deer, or an elk, or a number of small mammals, is that there isn’t much snow. Not like last year, when I took this photo of a fawn bounding across the field. Last year there was already around 50 cm of snow on the ground by early January, and had been for a couple of weeks.

Models suggest that when snow is deep and comes early in the north woods, deer losses will be substantial, and it appears the models were correct. The majority of deer hunters I spoke to or heard about had a hard time filling their freezer with venison in 2014 – several never did fill a tag. Not counting what I saw on our acreage, I only encountered 2 does and 1 buck (which I harvested) in more than two weeks of deer hunting. For several years previous, I saw between 80 and 150 deer over a similar time period, hunting the same general areas.

So deer numbers are down and what was even more remarkable was the dearth of big buck sign out in the woods. Many days I was hard pressed to see a deer rub, and those I did see were on ‘slaplings’. I don’t think I saw a dozen scrapes.

While the snow this year isn’t a problem as yet, and unlikely to become an issue, deer numbers are likely to be even worse next year (data here in NW Ontario suggests that when there isn’t much snow on the ground by early January, it’s highly unlikely there will be much snow accumulation for the duration of the winter, and if there is a big dump, it’s likely to be in late March or early April. The snow won’t linger or be much of a problem for the deer. And a cold winter, in the absence of deep snow, doesn’t seem to be a cause for concern).

The reason next year is likely to be even worse insofar as deer hunting is all about is over-winter loss to wolves. This winter will be hard on the wolf population, and many will starve, but not before doing a number on many of the remaining pockets of deer.

How long will it take the deer population to recover? Hard to tell. In the state of Maine, it once took 17 years for the deer herd to recover after a series of harsh winters resulted in a collapse of the population. I don’t think it will take that long, but it won’t happen overnight.

The good news is deer numbers in WMU’s to the south of Kenora seem to have held up better than they did in WMU’ s 6 and 7B.

The other good news is that with deer numbers lower (and fewer wolves), the food quality will be much improved (not so many hungry mouths to feed). That means bigger and healthier deer. And just maybe we will start to see the moose recover, and growth in our struggling elk herd.

Only time will tell.

And finally, to all my readers, have a good and prosperous 2015.