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Monthly Archives: April 2015

wduck-1

It’s spring, finally.

The ice is off our pond, although there’s been a skiff of it every morning of late, because during the night the thermometer has still been dropping below the freezing point. But, by late afternoon, the ice is mostly gone. There’s still a lot of ice covering nearby on the deeper lakes, but I suspect it too will all be gone in a week or so, as temperatures are projected to rise.

A pair of geese are nesting out front on the pond, and the gander does an admirable job of chasing off other geese, as the pond must only be large enough for a single pair. At least that’s what the gander must think. Some days there have been several mallards, accompanied by a fair bit of fighting and chasing, and I’ve seen one ‘coupling’. Judging by the preening and primping by both that followed their tryst, they seemed to be quite pleased with themselves. Although mallards are known for having a fair amount of same sex sex, I haven’t seen any of that.

During the few days of warm and wet weather  we had before it returned to cool (more normal), the wood ducks had a good go at it too. For the better part of an hour there was a lot of chasing each other by the drakes, spurred on, it seemed, by a lot of female vocalization. All to woo the fair damsel, and entertaining to watch, for sure. Afterwards, the males have seemed to become good buds, and I’ve not seen any aggression to one another again. Somehow, I doubt the good camaraderie will last for long.

There’s also been a few hooded mergansers on our pond, and they too had a bit of a tiff among the males, but they had, it seemed, bigger issues with the gander. The gander seems to make it a pont to mix it up with all the ducks, especially if they get too close to his nest mate.

This is the first year in a while the prairies haven’t been in a spring flood state, so what impact that will have on our local waterfowl will be interesting to observe. When there is plenty of water on the prairies, that’s where most of the ducks are – but if the prairies are dry, birds move out to the forest fringe (like here in extreme northwestern Ontario). It’s not as productive, but much better than a dusty slough.

But it’s still early days. The next month will make tell the tale. Waterfowl populations, overall in North America, are doing very well.

Nice to see.

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This week the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) announced changes to the moose hunt to address declining moose populations. The changes announced, as far as I could see, were exactly the changes proposed prior to posting on the Environmental Board Registry (EBR), which is there to solicit comments from the public before changes are finalized.

Having worked for the government, I know that to make changes to proposed actions once those changes are posted on the EBR is tantamount to a crime, insofar as government is concerned. It’s believed to reflect poorly on the politicians and the bureaucracy. So needless to say, I wasn’t in the least surprised to see nothing had changed as a result of ‘public consultation’. According to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), most hunters were supportive of change, but most of the comments did not support the changes being proposed by the MNRF. OFAH certainly didn’t.

I don’t like the changes proposed either, for a number of reasons I’ve already discussed (see my post ‘New Moose Regs Proposed’, on Feb. 08). I think the changes don’t go far enough, are misdirected and ignore a number of factors. Not good news for moose, especially, nor good news for anyone who appreciates moose, including hunters. FYI, I did provide comments.

What is going to occur this fall is a change to the timing and length of the ‘calf hunt’, as well as an overall reduction in adult tags by 15% across the province. Changes to the numbers of adult validation tags is nothing new, as it’s been part of the way moose have been managed for more than 20 years. The change to the timing of when moose hunters can harvest a calf, is a real change. During the approximately 10 week long moose regular gun season, hunters this fall will only be allowed to harvest calf moose for the 2nd and 3rd week of the season, instead of all season long, as before. Next year, the opening of the gun hunt will be a week later, effectively eliminating the chance for gun hunters to hunt by calling in an amorous bull.

Provincially, moose numbers have been in decline for more than 10 years. Recently (2013-15), according to the MNRF, moose populations surveys were done in 59 of the 67 Wildlife Management Units (WMU’s) where moose are hunted. Surveys done this past January noted declines in 15 WMU’s, 1 had an increase, 10 had stable populations and 1 survey couldn’t be completed. That’s been the trend and similar to what’s been going on in neighboring Minnesota and Manitoba; but even Vermont has documented a big decline in it’s moose population over the past number of years.

The MNRF says the next phase of it’s moose management program is going to look at climate change and it’s effect on moose, and related factors like habitat management and predation. Meaningful change will likely continue to occur as slow as the movement of molasses in January.

Moose management is not rocket science and it seems to me the process of management in Ontario, and in some other jurisdictions, proceeds at a snail’s pace. If management of hunted species like moose is to be ‘successful’ (what success is can be vague), the management process has to be far more nimble than it is today. Plus, in my opinion, there is way too much political interference in wildlife management (this is not unique to Ontario, but it’s much, much worse here, I think, than in Manitoba and Minnesota, where steps to manage declining moose have already occurred). And in Alberta, a province I hunt in (a lot), it  seems to me they have a system that lets managers manage with much less political interference.

As a result, biologists here can’t do the job they are trained to do. It’s a major reason why I discourage young people from pursuing a career in wildlife management.

In Ontario, it’s not a career that brings a lot of job satisfaction. Not just me talking, either.

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On Easter Sunday we had a big gathering at our house. Two guests reported seeing a large timber wolf on the road about 2 km from the house. Clint tried to get a photo on his phone, but the animal slinked into the woods before he could get a snap. It didn’t appear to be too afraid. I’m sure it was one of the two that I’ve been seeing tracks of near the house all winter.

The next day, I went ice-fishing with my buddy Deryk, and we spotted two wolves crossing the ice at a spot about 500 m down the lake from where we were, and where we had seen a deer cross several days earlier. One rolled around on the ice for quite a while near some old ice-fishing holes, likely in some fish guts. Soon after, a trapper and his son came out from their cabin and told us they had seen a deer cross the ice, followed by a wolf. It wasn’t clear whether the two wolves Deryk and I saw were different wolves. While we were talking, a wolf came out of the woods, again at the same spot, and crossed back to where we had seen the two other wolves come from. Later, after the trappers had left, another wolf, or the same one, crossed back on the ice.

There are not many deer in the area where we were fishing so I imagine once the wolves get on one, they will be relentless in their pursuit and simply run it down, even if it takes a day or more. As I said in an earlier post, it sure looks to me as if the wolves are cleaning up the remaining deer in these low density deer areas. Some places where the deer are more numerous, I think the deer have a better chance of survival, as they can ‘lose’ themselves from the wolves in the mix of tracks and scent.

Although the winter is almost over, as there is not much snow cover left, I think the wolves had a good time of it and that’s not good news for deer and deer hunters. Personally, I think deer numbers in much of northwestern Ontario outside the agricultural areas around Fort Frances, will continue their downward trend until the next spruce budworm epidemic , which is scheduled to begin sometime around the year 2020. Spruce budworm kills off balsam forests, and as the trees begin to die they get colonized by the arboreal lichen Usnea, commonly called Old Man’s Beard. Lichen laden forests provide abundant and nutritious winter food for deer, and the evidence suggests deer numbers surge in the aftermath of budworm epidemics. But once the lichens are gone, as they are now, deer don’t have access to the quantity or quality of food to get them through winter.

Yesterday I went fishing (yes, again; this time for crappies) and on the drive to Gary’s, there were tracks of 4 or 5 wolves in the fresh snow on the road. Gary told me 7 wolves had been taken this winter from near his place, but obviously there were still many wolves around.

Beavers have just started coming out, but most of the small ponds are still frozen, so it will be a few more days before the beavers can emerge. That will give the wolves an alternate prey (no moose at all in the area; none!), perhaps providing some relief for the deer. Not great for beavers, though.

Fishing, by the way, has been great. Plenty of fresh perch, walleye and crappie in the fridge.