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Monthly Archives: July 2015

 

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It was another hot and humid day yesterday, and raining again today. Lots of rain this year, although no huge deluge, like in some years. But a lot of rain. Lake levels are up, ponds and marshes are brimming. The forest is lush.

Sometimes early summer rains wreak havoc with small game like ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare. The prevailing thoughts are that the rains result in hypothermia, and too much moisture can mean a lot of biting insects and other factors which result in poor offspring survival. This is especially true if the timing of the rains coincide with birthing dates and especially if the rains are coincident with cold.

Fortunately, the heaviest rains seemed to have been late enough to get many of the wee creatures into their second or so week of life, and weren’t associated with undue cold. Plus, after several years when the mosquitoes in particular seemed to be worse with each year passing, this year saw a dramatic fall in mosquito abundance. Oh, there were still mosquitoes, but this year I didn’t need to wear a bug net when I went outside at dawn or dusk, like I had to last year. And the numerous dragonflies seem to be keeping the lid on the deer and horse flies, which I really appreciate.

It is always difficult to foretell what’s happened with respect to reproductive success of all the creatures out in the forest, but based on a number of observations, many species appear to have had good reproductive success. I’ve seen several broods of ruffed grouse and numerous small snowshoe hares. Lots of young Canada geese, who seem to have bred early as the young are already starting to fly, which is about two weeks earlier than in some past years. I’ve also seem broods of wood ducks, ring-necks and of course, mallards.

Other species – the non-game variety – also seem to have had a good year of reproduction. Tree swallows, barn swallows and cliff swallows all seemed to bring off young. In the recent past, some years have been complete failures for the local swallows. In general, the passerines (or dickie birds) seem to have had a good year. Around the house and flitting over the pond, there are numerous eastern kingbirds, cedar waxwings and American goldfinches. I’ve also seen some young of the year ruby-throated hummingbirds over the last couple of days.

And it’s been a good year for some frogs and garter snakes. Leopard frogs seem to be everywhere, which is great, as for many years they were scarce and seemed to be headed towards oblivion. Lots of tiny spring peepers too. But I haven’t seen any small toads – last year and the year before they were numerous – and we haven’t even heard many adults trilling. Same goes for the tree frogs, although there were some adults singing earlier in the year.

Friends of mine – biologists who had a special interest in herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) – say we actually don’t know much about herptile population dynamics and what the main drivers are. It seems populations go through inexplicable ups and downs, and not in a cyclical fashion like many other species.

That’s my quick mid-summer update on the status of the local small fauna. I’ll try to get back to some more controversial topics in the weeks ahead, but summer is a time to relax, and enjoy the heat. It won’t last long.

 

 

 

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Summer has seen lush growth in the Kenora area. Rain has been reasonably plentiful; the last few days have been particularly humid as well. There was quite an outbreak of forest tent caterpillars and as a result, huge swaths of trembling aspen dominated forests were denuded by the end of June. But now, by the middle of July, the leaves on the defoliated trees have almost fully recovered.

Caterpillar outbreaks actually result in a flush of nutrients to the forest floor, by way of caterpillar droppings, leaf fall and sunlight. Under a full canopy, most of the forest floor gets very little direct sunlight, but once the leaves are off, that isn’t the case. Given June is the month of the year with the longest days and hence, potentially, the most sunlight, all that extra photosynthetic energy reaching the forest floor really helps things grow. As a bonus, most of the rain came by way of thunderstorms, with brings more nitrogen than just normal rainfall. As I said, things are lush right now.

It’s also a good year for blueberries. Really good. Looks like the wild raspberries will also be good. Strawberries weren’t good, and it looks like this recent rain coupled with the high humidity has hit the serviceberry crop hard. Most of the still ripening berries have developed a fungus over the past few days, so what was looking good last week has taken a sudden turn to the bad. That seems to be typical, as a good service or Saskatoon berry crop (same thing, just a different name) only seems to come around every few years. Last year was actually pretty good for Saskatoons, as well as pin cherries and choke cherries. Some pin cherries this year, but not many choke cherries.

With respect to big game, the blueberries, raspberries, other berries I’m sure and the general lushness of the vegetation are good news for the bears. It will also result in healthy does, good milk production and big, fast-growing fawns. It should also mean better than average antler growth for bucks. It would probably have helped the moose herd too, if there were some moose around. We’ve seen a few individuals of our little elk herd (mostly caught on our critter cams, but we did see one big bull one morning on our way to change cards in the cameras) and they look good, too. Only one cow and calf so far – the rest of the animals were bulls, which isn’t good. We know there are more cows out there, but we also know there are more bulls than cows,  Our best guess is that the poor bull to cow ratio has to do with wolf predation – cows are smaller and easier for the wolves to take down.

So moose and elk are down, and even the deer are way less abundant than they were a few years ago. But I think that’s a good thing (deer down). There were way too many deer a few years back – the population wasn’t sustainable at those levels. Many places I could see a browse line, especially the edges of fields and forest, and along lake shores where wintering deer seem to concentrate. Lots of deer also means lots of wolves, and there were a lot of wolves around. Over the past few years, I’ve seen several looking out across the field from the living room of the house.

Fewer deer and moose (elk are mostly only in one small area, so their really an insignificant player in the wolf scheme of things) should also see a decline in the the number of wolves – good news I think. Wolves are good to have around, but there can be too many of them.

I’ll give an update on the small game and non-game situation on my next post, in a week or so.