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Monthly Archives: May 2016

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It’s the end of May and it doesn’t look like we will be getting any late season frosts this year. The last couple of years the end of May had been very cool; some nights in early June the temperature dipped below freezing.

When the spring is a cold one, the pond in front of our house is much quieter than during a warm spring, as some of the frogs and toads really don’t like the cold. Wood frogs, the first to sing in our area, sound like they are saying its “c-c-c-c-o-o-o-o-l-l-l-d-d-d-d”.  And it usually is when they start singing. One can count on hearing wood frogs.

But as I said, it has not been a cold spring (kind of cool and dry, although there have been some warm days and some timely rains). As a result, all the species of frogs and toads normally found in our pond have been quite vociferous of late.

Once the wood frogs were really into it, the chorus frogs, the leopard frogs and the spring peepers got into the act. But it needed to get much warmer to get the toads and tree frogs trilling and singing (actually, I have to say I’d describe both as trillers).

Sometimes there are green frogs here, but not many, and I only hear them on occasion. This year, to date,  I haven’t heard any. No bull frogs, either, as it’s well out of their range; although I suspect they would thrive if they were introduced (which would not be a good thing!).

It’s nice to listen to the amphibians sing; it’s really quite entertaining. But it can be overly loud. Sometimes one can’t talk on the phone or hear the TV if the door to the deck is open and the chorus is on.

A couple of days ago, a tree frog found its ways into our satellite TV dish and wow, is he loud! Maybe he’s hoping he can be heard in outer space – or at least get top billing on the pond based on volume.

I was totally amazed by the number of toads (in our pond they are all American toads) frolicking about in a reproductive frenzy the other day. The shoreline in front of the house was alive with dozens of toads not only trilling, but doing a lot of other rather naughty stuff. They really went at it for a few days. I think they finally wore themselves out. It’s mostly tree frogs doing love songs now.

After a few years of scarcity, local leopard frog populations have rebounded and for the last few years there have been good hatches. However, it seems to me that when I was a kid, young-of-the-year leopard frogs were super-abundant each summer. Maybe that was an anomaly – there is not a lot of information on what constitutes ‘normality’ with respect to population dynamics of many of Canada’s frog and toad species.

A few years back, when alarm bells were ringing suggesting that frogs and toads could be doomed because the ozone layer was thinning, and there was some indication frog populations were almost universally declining, the Ontario government put restrictions on use of frogs as bait. In case you didn’t know, anglers often use frogs to catch fish like bass, walleye and pike. The best frog is the leopard; now it’s the only frog that can be used as bait, based in part on their super-abundance (at least in the past).

I guess that’s good, but while it is legal, and leopard frogs do make good bait, I can’t use them myself; they squirm too much for me. I prefer to not use live bait at all, but sometimes I do use minnows and worms. There are no easy answers. . . .

Anyway, I do love to listen to the singing and trilling of frogs and toads. For me, their calls help make things seem right in this world.

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The aggressive gander beats off the resident gander. Aggressor goose on the nest.

For several years a pair of geese, not always the same ones, have nested on our pond in front of the house and raised young. The last few years the number of young successfully hatched and fledged has been declining. Last year, the number of goslings hatched was small (three?) and the geese and goslings did not hang around long, like they had in years past. But this year was not good at all; actually, it was by far the worst.

Things started off normal enough. The geese came early, like they usually do, with ice still on the pond. As the ice started to melt, a pair took over the pond and chose a patch of cattails to build their nest. After a few days, a cold snap hit and the pond, which had quite a lot of open water, completely froze over once again. One night, tracks in the snow on the ice indicated a fox had successfully predated on the nest and ate all the eggs. This was in early April.

The geese hung around; then left, then returned and decided to try nesting again. Several sites were examined, but in the end, they chose the same spot they had first nested. We can’t be completely sure, but Lil and I are quite confident it was the same pair. She had the new nest built and was laying eggs once again by the third week of April.

All was going well until May 11. On that day, another pair of geese, noticeably larger than the nesting pair, flew into the pond. As usual, the gander displayed aggression to them, but unlike other geese that had tried to visit the pond, these ones refused to leave. As the day wore on, the ‘new’ geese became quite bold and started to move in on the nesting female. Despite their best, at times combined efforts, the resident goose and gander could not get the aggressors to leave.

With evening approaching, the goose back on her nest and the gander guarding, the aggressor geese moved right in. A lot of fighting and honking and what not took place. Eventually, the aggressor geese took over the nest and would not let the owners of the nest back on. More fighting occurred and a lot of too and fro, but as night fell, the aggressors were still in possession of the nest. At times, the female aggressor could be seen sitting on the nest.

The next morning, the geese were still fighting. Finally – I’m not really sure what happened – the eggs (it looked like there had been four) were gone and the nest more or less destroyed. Both pairs of geese remained on the pond most of the day, occasionally yelling at one another. Tufts of down from the destroyed nest were scattered about, attesting to the intensity of the battle.

The next morning, the pair that had been nesting was still on the pond, moping, it seemed; occasionally, they’d swim by what had once (twice) been their nest. The aggressor pair of geese were not to be seen. Then around noon, honking loudly, the pair that were still on the pond flew across its full length and left.

We’re not sure why this happened. Interestingly, the aggressor geese were not very afraid of us – in fact, they were much less bothered by our presence than were the pair that had been on the pond for over a month and had interacted with at least one of us on a daily basis. Lil thinks maybe the aggressors had nested on our pond in the past, or had been raised there, and knew us. Maybe they too had lost their nest, and had decided to come to a pond they were familiar with to try and re-nest, but found the territory to be taken.

At any rate, the whole thing was fascinating, but also quite sad. For the first time in many years, it looks like no Canada geese will be hatched out on our pond.

Addendum: The geese that lost their nest came back this evening. Now what happens?

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Compared to the last couple of years, spring came early this year. Not real early, maybe just a bit earlier than normal, although April was below average in terms of temperature. El Nino has apparently dissipated and the Pacific Ocean is cooling down, so one is to assume weather patterns will move back towards ‘normal’, whatever that is.

Whatever, it’s dry now as there has not been much rain, although some is forecast in the days ahead. Most of Canada from the Great Lakes west to the mountains is dry; forest fires, including the big one at Fort Mac, are breaking out all over. There’s a lot of talk that it’s part of the climate change thing, and it might be related, but the boreal forest is a fire-dependent ecosystem and huge and frequent fires in the boreal have been the norm for thousands of years.

People who are fixated on forest fires these days don’t seem to pay attention to the fact that cities and towns and other infrastructure has been growing at a fast pace in Canada’s north over the past few decades; the population of Canada in 1965 was 18 million; it’s now double that. Lots more infrastructure to burn now than there was not long ago.

Regardless, a dry spring in western Canada might mean a good hatch of grouse and other upland game birds and, where I live, maybe a great hatch and fall flight of ducks and geese. Dry and more ducks and geese may seem to be counter-intuitive, but in much of the boreal, like where I live, there’s no lack of water. A dry spring and summer will mean lower water levels and marshlands that are actually more productive than the norm (and especially when compared to a cool and wet summer). Plus it could and should translate into a bumper crop of wild rice. Northwestern Ontario has superb wetlands that can be dominated by wild rice, but wild rice does best when water levels fall during the summer. Many years our area gets cool, wet weather in June and July, which raises water levels and drowns out the wild rice beds.

Wild rice is not only sought after by local waterfowl, it’s a great attractant for migrating flocks. It’s also picked for commercial purposes, but only Aboriginals are allowed to harvest it (no racism here).

Locally, there seems to be a lot of ducks and geese around these days. On our pond, there’s a pair of Canada gee with a nest (actually, they’re re-nesting; they lost their first nest to a fox) and I suspect there’s a mallard nest somewhere, possibly a hooded merganser and I’m hoping a wood duck. All those ducks (males and females) are on the pond every day, and usually the males are there most of the day. Green-winged teal and blue-winged teal have been visiting as well, as have a few ring-necked ducks. Ringnecks have brought off a brood on the pond in the past, as have mallards, woodies, hoodies and of course the geese, which have successfully hatched out goslings for many years now. The more the merrier.

Plus, there are several (at least three) ruffed grouse drumming within earshot of the deck. And grouse overall in the area seem to be numerous, based on my recent travels in the forest.

The downside of dry – and it’s a big one – is the heightened risk of forest fire. It’s a risk one takes when living in the woods in a fire-prone ecosystem.

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The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) recently released the number of moose tags that will be available to licensed hunters for the 2016 provincial hunt. To no one’s surprise, tags were once again reduced from the number available the previous year. Moose populations just keep declining.

This fall there will be a total of 8,389 gun tags and 2,368 bow hunting tags available. However, in 11 Wildlife Management Units (WMU’s) the gun tags available are actually a combined quota of gun and bow tags, so some portion of those 603 ‘gun’ tags will actually be allocated to archers.

In the WMU I’ve been applying for and hunting in the past several years, the 6 bull and 6 cow tags available to residents only in 2015 were reduced to . . . . 1 bull tag. Last year Lil and I had one of those 6 bull tags and did harvest a young bull. For the sake of comparison and to show just how much the moose population has declined: back in 2001, there were in WMU 6; 165 bull gun tags, 70 gun cow tags, 10 archery bull tags, 5 archery cow tags AND an allocation of bull and cow tags to the tourism industry.

This year I’m going to hunt moose in Manitoba. I can buy a tag over the counter; no draw. It’s a fly-in hunt I’ve done once before.

Things look grim for the future of Ontario’s moose and its moose hunters.

Some of the reasons for my grim prognosis are as follows:

  • Despite reducing the ‘calf season’ (the time during the moose hunting season when calves can be harvested) to two weeks over much of the province (the season otherwise is up to 10 weeks long), there is no quota on calf tags except in 4 WMU’s – out of almost 70 WMU’s where moose hunting is permitted. When moose numbers are so low in so many WMU’s (1 bull tag in WMU 6!!!), I think calf harvests should be tightly controlled and in some WMU’s, eliminated.
  • Similarly, more than 6,000 cow tags will be available, or roughly ½ of the available moose tags. Again, it doesn’t make sense to be killing cows in WMU’s where the moose population has been in a precipitous decline.
  • Even worse, hunters can shoot a cow accompanied by a calf (or calves) outside the calf season, orphaning the calves. If wolves are present (almost a guarantee), this is simply a wolf feeding exercise.
  • Gun hunts have been delayed so they now start well after the rutting season is over. However, archery hunts still occur right during the rut. When Ontario’s moose were previously in trouble back in the 1970’s and 80’s, Ontario hired moose biologists to examine the situation (including the world-renowned moose biologist Dr. Tony Bubenik), and they recommended there should be very, very limited harvest of prime bull moose until after the peak of the rut. And back then, that’s what was done. However, over time, there has been increasing pressure to have archery hunts during the peak of the rut and the MNRF has acquiesced. This year, there are over 800 archery bull tags (archery tags ad some portion of the gun/archery tag quota), which to me does not seem right.
  • Killing prime bulls before they have had a chance to breed means more breeding is done by sub-prime bulls. Sub-prime bulls are poor lovers and may not successfully liaise with a cow during the major estrus in late September, but are bred well into October and even November. That means calves will be born over a longer period of time the following spring, which results in higher rates of predation by wolves and bears who learn how to find newborn calves.
  • Wolf numbers remain high (eventually they will fall; with few moose and deer available there isn’t much to eat anymore) and the way wolves are managed remains problematic (see my post “Missing the Mark”).
  • There is no control over the number of moose (or virtually any wild animal or fish) harvested by Aboriginals and Métis. Canada’s flawed constitution has institutionalized racism and the lawyers and courts who are there to uphold laws and rail against other forms of racism are twisting themselves into pretzels to ensure Aboriginals and Métis have the ‘right’ to fish and hunt with no seasons, no limits and essentially no regulatory framework at all. This is not going to end well.

Ultimately, Ontario residents could see moose hunting regulations for licensed hunters in the not-too-distant future not unlike those in place in the US state of Minnesota. In Minnesota, moose tags are tightly controlled and if and when you are drawn, that’s it. It’s a once in a lifetime hunt.