Wildlife has been in the news quite a bit recently.

Some of it has been revolving around Parks Canada and worries about a suspected onslaught of visitors this summer. Then there was the good news story about the return of bison to Banff. There’s bound to be a continued focus on Canada’s national park system as Canada celebrates its 150th Anniversary since Confederation.

Moose made it to national radio one morning on ‘The Current’ (see – The show managed to mix in some cultural relevancy and worrisome declines in Canada’s moose population. It was Ontario focused, although a moose expert from British Columbia provided the western perspective and there were light ties to national implications.

The moose story got rolling when the Wildlands League, a chapter of CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society), put out a press release calling on the Ontario government to ‘ban’ the hunting of calf moose by licensed hunters (here’s a link to their site –

A slew of articles, interviews and broadcasts that followed were basically successful in discussing the fact that in Ontario, as well as some other parts of Canada, moose are in a steep population decline. Mentioned, but much less discussed, was how in other parts of Canada, moose are thriving. But whatever, there are concerns about what needs to be done to address moose decline. Exactly what should be done, though, has become the bigger problem.

Legal, but largely unregulated night hunting by Aboriginals, often called jacklighting when it’s done by poachers, also made the national news.

In this case it was mostly because the new Premiere, Brian Pallister, suggested the night hunting that has been going on in the province, particularly in the agricultural south-west, was in danger of inviting a ‘race war’. The progressive press was quick to pick that up and race and identity instantly became the story. The problem of night hunting – elk, moose and often big, trophy whitetails – was sort of lost in the kerfuffle with calls on the premiere to apologize for his incendiary, comment grabbing headlines.

Still, Dr. Vince Crichton, who’s in the midst of this milieu, tells me there are many Aboriginal people, including Chiefs, other leaders and elders, who want and know that something needs to be done. Apparently, the Premiere is also committed to finding a solution.

For the courts, using a 10 million candle power spotlight to light up a field to let one shoot game with a scoped, high-powered, centre fire rife is okay, as long as it’s done in a safe manner. That’s because they’ve made rulings that such a practice respects Aboriginal Rights as specified in the Constitution, in part because the practice is consistent with traditions and appeases spiritual needs.

Night hunting as a traditional practice is legal in most of Canada, although it isn’t allowed in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan.

In Ontario, small game hunting was in the news, but only if you looked for it. Ontario had a EBR posting on small game management proposals that ran until about the end of January, with some of the proposed ‘actions’ to be implemented as early as this fall. That’s means it was on the internet and the public was consulted by being invited to comment on the proposals.

One thing that caught my eye was a proposal that would see the whole province (every WMU) with a 10 pheasant a day limit, with no restrictions on sex, and all that during a very lengthy season.

Obviously the provincial wildlife managers have sided with the deep ecologists, and don’t want to expend time and effort trying to manage an ‘alien, invasive species’ just so hunters can pursue them. Because pheasants aren’t native, they ‘don’t belong’ here and getting rid of them, or at least making sure there’s next to no chance of having a self-sustaining population, is just the right thing to do. It’s one step towards the restoration of the landscape and ecosystem in southern Ontario that was in place in the pre-colonial days.

Not everyone agrees with that approach. But managing for hunters is unlikely to be a priority for the ruling Liberals, who are foundering in the polls, facing an election and trying to boost their popularity.

So Ontario has problems with small game as well as moose. Hard to say what they might do.

All in all, an interesting past couple of weeks; I’ll need to see what happens next. There’s sure to be at least some changes in the weeks and months ahead.


A barn swallow, not near a barn.

I’m a hunter. I spend a lot of time thinking about hunting. I think I’m from the old school of wildlifers who went to the wildlife management profession because I was and still am a hunter. There are still some of us around.

I recall learning that managing wildlife and hunting was a close tie because in general, the people who were most passionate about wildlife were hunters. If you didn’t hunt, there were better things to do than spend a career trying to manage wildlife.

The reason the people who were managing wildlife in the early days – and for a long time afterwards – is rooted in history. Lots of people knew there was a wanton slaughter of wildlife going on, but it wasn’t going to stop until hunters themselves put a stop to it. And that’s what happened.

Hunters demanded new rules and regulations, because they knew hunting was a problem.

Over time, the management of wildlife became increasingly complex. But for a long time, the focus was the management of game animals and hunters. And most Provinces and States maintained Game Departments.

Some of the first changes began a few decades ago when Game Departments started to see themselves merged with other departments or agencies with environmental responsibilities.

Once that happened, the tide turned away from hunting, hunters and game.

Hunting, though, is still a problem.

And it’s not getting the attention it needs, in part because hunters don’t have near the clout they used to have in government wildlife management circles.

The focus today is on non-game species, often species identified as a ‘species at risk’ (which suggests that unless something is done, that species could become extinct . . . go the way of the Dodo).

These days, the majority of employees in wildlife management agencies are non-hunters and many studied non-game species during their formal studies in college and university.

A consequence of having a lot of people involved in non-game management – and a lot of interest to be involved in that field – is it creates pressure for non-game departments to grow and expand their budget. That’s just the way government works.

There can be consequences. One that many of my colleagues and I see is a growing trend to identify and categorize more and more species as being ‘at risk’, even if they really aren’t.

Let’s look at the barn swallow as an example as to the point I’m trying to make.

To start, guess where barn swallows nest?

Barns! However, the kind of barns barn swallows like – big and airy with haylofts – no longer dot the countryside. They’ve been falling down for years and aren’t being replaced. Fewer barns, fewer barn swallows.

But barn swallows don’t just nest in barns – before the days of barns, they had to have been nesting in other places.

The fact is, there still are a lot of barn swallows nesting and flying around the countryside. Just not as many as there were back when barns were common..

But because the decline – in some places – was large and is still on-going, the powers that be have decided there must be a problem. In Ontario, the barn swallow is listed as being threatened with extinction. COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, also lists it as Threatened.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, though, one of the most prestigious institutions in North America in bird studies, says this about the barn swallow:

“The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world. It breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.”

Here’s the link.

As a species, the barn swallow is in no danger of extinction. True, its numbers are down – maybe precipitously in some places – but is the species really in trouble? It’s the “most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world”.

Lots of money is being spent on barn swallows, wood turtles, whip-poor-wills and many, many more non-game species. A lot of that is a ‘good thing’. But it’s not all good.

These non-game species programs cost a lot of money. Managing game costs money too, but game management also generates a lot of money. Lots. There’s not much money to be made managing barn swallows.

If we did a better job of managing game animals, there’d be more money for all sorts of wildlife management. But managing wildlife, in large part for hunters, isn’t ‘cool’. It’s ‘icky’.

There’s no doubt in my mind game species and hunters are too often getting the short shrift.

Hunters and not a small number of non-hunters, know this isn’t right, but don’t know what to do.

Better game management makes economic, environmental and social sense.

In many areas it even has the potential to improve race relations.

It’s just the right thing to do.


Shrikes seem to be fairly common where I live. That’s the northern shrike (Lánius excúbitar), one of two species found in North America. My old field guide to the birds says the northern shrike is ‘a rare robin-sized bird’; according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) they are a species of least concern, so I take it they’re a species believed to be in good shape.

The northern shrike breeds in the far north, but migrates to more southerly climes to spend the winter. Ones I see are likely both migrants and winter residents, seeing as we live well south of where they breed, but just on the northern fringe of where they winter.

This time of the year they’re feeding on small birds and rodents like mice and voles. I suspect the one I’ve seen several times over the past little while is checking out the birds that hang around the feeder; particularly the black-capped chickadees, redpolls and red-breasted nuthatches. To date, I haven’t seen it catch anything.

The other shrike species is the loggerhead shrike (Lánius ludoviciánus). My field guide calls them uncommon; the Ontario Field Ornithologists report they’re listed as Endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, although in North America as a whole they are still fairly numerous, albeit populations have declined noticeable since the 1960’s. Authorities estimate there are about 5.8 million loggerhead shrikes (breeding population); as such, they are not in imminent danger of extinction, rather they are a ‘common bird in steep decline’. A breakdown as to where they are is as follows; 82% spend some part of the year in the U.S., 30% in Mexico, and 3% breed in Canada.

In Ontario loggerheads occur mostly in two grassland habitats – the Carden Plain north of Lindsay and the Napanee Limestone Plain; both areas are in eastern Ontario.

A number of reasons have been put forward regarding the declining numbers of loggerhead shrike. One I put a lot of credence in is the loss of habitat. Much of the habitat ‘loss’, I believe, is affiliated with changing farming practices: many farmers used to graze cattle in woodlots, which led to many farms having thorn bushes, like hawthorns, become the prominent woody shrub. But farming associations said this was poor farming practice and a variety of incentives has, over time, resulted in farmers clearing the land, converting grazed woodlots into pasture.

Loggerhead shrikes liked the heavily grazed woodlots, open pasture, not so much. I suspect loggerhead shrikes in North America initially benefitted from poor grazing practices and mushroomed far over their baseline. In this context, their decline is not too alarming, at least not yet.

Interestingly, there was pressure on Ontario farmers who still had loggerhead shrikes to keep their heavily grazed woodlots as this was deemed to be ‘critical habitat’ under species at risk legislation. It caused a furor (governments telling farmers what to do!) and helped fuel the Ontario Landowners Association’s property rights movement and their slogan ‘This Land is Our Land’ , followed by the tagline ‘Government Keep Off!’.

As I said, where I live, there seems to be only northern shrikes. And no angry, shriking farmers.


I just returned from Brandon, where the 50th Annual North American Moose Conference and the 8th International Moose Symposium were combined and held. There were people from North America and Eurasia attending the meetings, but I only managed to intermingle for a short while; I was a one day attendant during a set of meetings, field trips and social events that lasted several days. I really enjoyed myself and it seemed to me that was the feeling that captured the general mood.

I heard several talks about moose and listening to those presentations was like music to my ears. I heard that as a species, moose seem to be faring well, although populations in some areas have declined precipitously. I live in one of those areas – northwestern Ontario – I was there to provide an overview of the factors driving moose and white-tailed deer populations in the Kenora District of Ontario.

I don’t think my presentation was quite as lucid as I had hoped and I know I made an error when I couldn’t see the labelling on one of the graphs I had inserted into the power point presentation. Unable to read the labels and the legend, I promptly got the deer and moose stats wrong. Oh well, that will be corrected during the final write-up and anyway,  I think the crowd got the gist of my presentation.

It’s still an emerging consensus, but it appears that in much of eastern North America’s moose range, moose populations are limited by the presence of a parasite called brain worm. In that eastern, wetter, more highly forested biome, the parasite is commonly found in populations of white-tailed deer, where it seems to affect deer minimally, if at all. However, when moose become infected with brain worm, the animal often dies.

In the western, drier and more open ranges of North America, there is little to no incidence of brain worm in deer or moose. The presence of brain worm seems to do a good job of helping to explain how moose populations are compromised by high populations of deer.

It seems that in the east, once deer densities exceed about 4 deer/km2, moose populations decline. When deer densities are low, rates of transmission of the parasite from deer to moose rarely occurs.

There’s a lot more to the stories on moose and deer dynamics, but one of the topics of interest is how moose recover from low densities. In western Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan and south-eastern Alberta – the Canadian prairies – the thinking is that moose populations have been on the rise coincident with a decline in the number of rural farmers and ranchers living on the landscape. There’s evidence that incidence of illegal, unregulated hunting wasn’t necessarily high, as moose populations were long-depressed in the prairies, but it didn’t take a lot of moose hunting to keep populations low. As people abandoned their homesteads, more and more moose managed to find refuge and survive. Today, moose populations in grain and cattle country are robust.

The eastern forest areas where moose have recently declined are the same areas where deer populations simultaneously surged. But recent winter of deep snow and cold have knocked deer populations back; if they stay low or decline further, moose populations may be poised to recover.

A growing concern is that where moose populations are lowest, recovery could be jeopardized by legal, but unregulated hunting (Aboriginals and Metis have the constitutional Right to hunt and fish; the present interpretation is this means the hunting of moose by some can be done at any time of the year and there are no seasons or bag limits on the harvest).

The moose harvest by such individuals may not have to be much to prevent severely depressed moose populations from recovery.

Unregulated hunting is certainly not the only issue regarding moose population (or other game species) recovery dynamics. But to help solve the puzzle as to how to effectively manage moose populations in particular, it’s a factor that needs a lot more attention than society at large has lately been willing to give it.


Not long ago, the Ontario government was proposing to loosen restrictions on wolf hunting, largely in response to some people in the hunting community who have some political clout and connections and who believe a higher harvest of wolves will help struggling moose populations recover. I didn’t think much of what was being proposed (the intent was OK, but I thought the proposed actions had been poorly thought through). I also thought that what was being suggested would result in a substantial backlash from anti-hunters and others, who might not be anti-hunting per se, but nevertheless wouldn’t like what they saw as a good way to manage either wolves or moose and would mount an effort to block the proposed changes. See my posts ‘A Stumble and a Fumble’ (Apr 5) and ‘Missing the Mark’ (Jan 1).

Needless to say, the initiative went down in flames. No easing up or relaxing of the regulatory framework on hunting wolves. For a while, it was status quo; but it didn’t take long before changes were again being brought forward by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), this time under a new Minister.

I suspect the MNRF Minister who was in charge when the relaxing of wolf hunting regulations was proposed was heavily chastised by his party peers for the initiative. I’m also quite certain the initiative drew the ire of a number of environmental organizations who have close ties to the Liberal party and they were ultimately the ones to tell the Premier that relaxing the rules on wolf hunting as proposed was simply ludicrous and unacceptable (to them).

Governments are never happy when they have to back down on something they have said they want to do.

Thus it didn’t surprise me that shortly after the initiative was shot down, there was a cabinet shuffle and the MNRF minister lost his job and was moved to another portfolio.

The new Minister has changed course and the MNRF is now proposing to give wolves and coyotes far more protection in Ontario, albeit not across the whole of the province, but over a substantial piece of geography in eastern Ontario. The purpose is to protect the so-called eastern wolf (and very recently renamed the Algonquin wolf), a new ‘species’ of wolf found mostly in and around Algonquin Park. The same groups who were successful in lobbying the government to not go ahead with its earlier proposals to ease up on wolf hunting and trapping regs are pushing the government to close wolf and coyote hunting in 34 Wildlife Management Units’s.

Interestingly, a recent article by Carl Zimmer of the New York Times (which was subsequently reported on by Kip Hansen in a post The Gray, Gray World of Wolves on the blog gives us this story:  DNA Study Reveals the One and Only Wolf Species in North America. (my underline)

The first large study of North American wolf genomes has found that there is only one species on the continent: the gray wolf. Two other purported species, the Eastern wolf and the red wolf, are mixes of gray wolf and coyote DNA, the scientists behind the study concluded.

The finding, announced Wednesday, highlights the shortcomings of laws intended to protect endangered species, as such laws lag far behind scientific research into the evolution of species.”

Ontario scientists, in fact, have known for a long time that the ‘eastern’ wolves and gray wolves, also commonly known as timber wolves, interbreed and produce viable offspring. Given they look similar, interbreed freely, produce viable offspring and do not owe their presence on the landscape to human meddling (i.e., none of these wolves are the result of humans transplanting wolves from one locale to another), Biology 101 would say they are not separate species.

But the use of endangered species legislation in much of North America (and who knows, likely elsewhere) is seldom about the protection of species. The legislation has been usurped by what many would call radical environmentalists to get as many not just species, but populations of animals protected, so as to stop things like hunting, trapping and infrastructure development, like roads, pipelines or whatever. In Ontario, there are thousands and thousands of gray wolves, and the species is in no danger of extinction; in fact, by any measure one wants to look at, wolves in Ontario are thriving.

So . . . . first it was going to be ‘open season’ on wolves. No need for a special wolf licence and much cheaper licensing requirements, especially for non-residents. Now the big switcheroo; let’s provide wolves with even more protection, in fact increase the area where there is an outright ban on wolf hunting and trapping. Much better!!

It’s not hard to imagine the next step is to get moose populations, at least in some parts of the province, listed as a species at risk and ban hunting of them as well.

It’s almost funny how ‘protection’, in the minds of many, automatically means ‘ban hunting’, because that’s the ‘best’ option in their minds. Surely to goodness we have the ability to manage wolves and moose (and other animals) in such a way as to continue to allow hunting (and trapping) in a manner that’s sustainable. Isn’t that what the wildlife management profession is all about?

Where’s the science that supports an outright ban on hunting and trapping of wolves? Answer; there isn’t any. It seems to me it’s mostly politicians and their environmental lackeys targeting hunters and trappers, because for many if not most of those folk, hunting and trapping, in their minds, is simply bad bad bad. By the way, it’s not an ‘outright ban’; hunting and trapping of wolves by Aboriginals and Metis will continue as usual (i.e., no changes to their rights to hunt and trap as they wish).

Regardless, the scientists who support this wolf hunting and trapping ban for licensed hunters and trappers should be ashamed of themselves. Reprehensible behaviour, in my opinion.


The big turtle still lurks in the pond out front of our house. It’s a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpintina) and she’s huge; it’s quite likely she’s also very old. It’s been in the pond, as a large adult, for several years. And like from the start of her occupation, she’s still snapping down and making off with waterfowl.

Snapping turtles eat a wide variety of things including “a surprisingly large amount of vegetation”. Sounds like an omnivore to me.  It’s no wonder snapping turtles remain rather abundant (really?) even in areas as highly populated with people and their developments as Ontario.

In Ontario, they’re classified as a ‘Game Amphibian’. If you have a valid fishing licence (either a resident or non-resident) you can catch them ‘by hand or with a box or funnel trap’, according to the hunting regulations (what?). There’s a season for Ontario residents and another for non-residents. The daily bag limit is two and as long as you’ve never caught and kept more than two in one day, you can have up to five in your possession. There are other rules and regulations (of course!) that pertain to your interactions with snapping turtles, but the point I’m making is that since you can harvest them almost everywhere in Ontario, in a season that in many Wildlife Management Units never ends (the open season is all year long), there must be a lot of them around. Right?

However, some believe the present fishing and hunting legislation and regulations don’t do a good job of managing  snapping turtles.  And, they say, at least in some places, there aren’t many snappers left. Some of these individuals and groups believe snapping turtles should be managed as a ‘Species at Risk’ (SAR); not as a ‘Game Amphibian’.

A big problem is there isn’t a lot known about Ontario’s snapping turtles and the information that’s available is limited in scope. For example, while it’s mandatory to complete a questionnaire if you actually harvest a snapping turtle, not many mandatory questionnaires are submitted. Why? Probably because:  A, I suspect not many people who live in or visit Ontario actually harvest snapping turtles (do you know anybody?); and B;  for those who do harvest a turtle, it’s unlikely they fill in the form and report it to the provincial government.

“B” is probable because the last time I looked, no one has ever been convicted of the offence of not completing and submitting a mandatory hunt report. That applies not just for snapping turtles, but all mandatory reports about ones’ hunting activities of game animals in Ontario. So even the harvest data that does exist, is suspect.

Aboriginal and Metis, with a few restictions, can harvest snappers without a license and there are no season, catch or possession limits. I suspect that harvest methods are also less restrictive than they are for others.

Still, if snapping turtle populations have declined over time, I’m certain hunting is only one of many potential factors. Because they have a relatively low reproductive rate (the survival rate of all early age classes is dismal), anything that increases the death rate among adults could spell trouble. In some places they might be getting killed because they’re viewed as as a pests and nuisance. It’s common to see them killed owing to collisions with automobiles. Developments that drain marshlands and otherwise harden the landscape don’t do turtles favors.

Probably in some places, there are lots of snapping turtles; other places, not so many. Seems logical.

But the bottom line is no one really knows how many snapping turtles there are in Ontario.  Are there a lot? Enough? Not enough? It’s an ongoing battle that has potential for serious repercussions, not only for those who harvest snapping turtles, but for all sorts of human endeavors that require permits to proceed.

It’s busy work, keeping a lot of people occupied, but I don’t think the ongoing discussions are accomplishing a whole lot. On the other hand, it is what governments do.

Meanwhile, I know where there is one really big snapping turtle that’s still up to her old tricks. Out there in the pond, sneakin’ around, snappin’ up waterfowl . . .


The title of the blog will surely ruffle a few feathers. Wildlife management for the production of trophy animals gets a lot of negative reaction because of what is believed by many to be the intent and intention of such actions. The nub of the issue is: managing for trophies conjures up the vision of growing animals with big antlers or horns, or maybe something that’s big and relatively rare, specifically so hunters looking for such trophies can shoot them. Lots of people find that abhorrent, but most shouldn’t.

The issue, I think, revolves around the word ‘specifically’. And that may not always be the exact word used to describe the intent, but the ‘specifically’ gets across the idea that many people aren’t comfortable with hunters killing trophy animals (plus many people are outright opposed to hunting). But what bothers some people even more, are the people who would take it upon themselves; or, be directed by some agency, often the government, to manage trophy animals so that hunters can shoot them.

However, managing for trophies for hunters is very seldom, if ever, the primary objective in any wildlife management program. It may, in fact be an objective, but wildlife management professionals today use holistic, ecological principles to manage wildlife, even on land or in jurisdictions where the main focus of the wildlife management program is to foster and look after how hunters are managed.

Plus, it should be acknowledged that the consensus amongst the wildlife profession is that it’s generally a good thing for a population of herbivores such as moose, white-tails, sheep, kudus and impalas to have some males who live long lives and sport large headgear.  They also believe it’s a good thing to maintain as full a complement of animals as was or is natural for the area, which might mean managing for animals like bears, wolves, lions and rhinos.

If this is what’s happening (in terms of management), then it may well be sold to hunters (whom, as a group, are a major player, or in government speak, stakeholder, in the world of wildlife management) as ‘trophy management’. Selling ‘trophy management’ might be particularly likely to happen in areas where people view hunting, for the most part, positively.

So for me, I find it unfortunate that here in Ontario, any discussion about trying to manage for big, old animals in the population, doesn’t get much traction because at some point the spectre of ‘trophy management’ is raised and if done by government managers (who are responsible for moose management in Ontario), it’s almost assuredly brought forward in a very negative light.

In my opinion, this isn’t good, particularly with respect to moose or moose management, but for other species as well.

The most respected moose biologists in the world, people like Dr. Vince Crichton and the late Dr. Anthony (Tony) Bubenik (chapter authors in the book some call ‘the moose bible’, or “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose”), believe(d) moose populations that have a wide range of age classes, including so-called ‘prime bulls’, are healthiest. Ignoring their advice is one of the problems facing moose in Ontario today.

It’s no secret moose numbers in many parts of Ontario, particularly in the northwest, have plummeted in recent years. The annual licensed harvest by hunters is only about ½ what it was 15 years ago.

Part of the problem is too much hunting of prime bulls before and during the rut. Young bull moose are not particularly adept suitors and cows in heat may rebuff their amorous advances. With few prime bulls in the population, breeding gets drawn out over the fall (instead of a short, intense rut which is what happens when there are good numbers of prime bulls around). As a result, the calving season is also drawn out, giving lots of opportunity for wolves and bears to find and even hone their calf hunting skills which results in them killing and eating a lot more calves then they could if calving was more synchronized.

That’s why biologists like Bubenik recommended hunting not occur until the tail end of the rut, which was more or less what was going on in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And moose did well.

But since then, archery hunting has gained in popularity (some WMU’s issue more archery tags than regular gun tags) and the archery hunt takes place immediately prior to, and during, the peak of the rut. Plus, Aboriginal and Metis harvest has been growing and this hunt, which is unregulated (seasons, limits, licences or tags are not a legal requirement for those who can hunt because of their Constitutional Rights) tend to occur during the rut as well (the rut is a good time to hunt – moose can be called into range rather easily when the rut on – plus there isn’t a conflict with licensed rifle hunters because their moose season has yet to open).

Of course, shooting too many prime bull moose during the rut isn’t the only issue besetting Ontario’s moose population. But it is an issue and one that isn’t being properly addressed because, at least in part, it means talking about the managing for ‘trophy’ moose.

It’s OK in Ontario government circles to talk about managing for trophy fishing opportunities, but it’s not OK to talk about managing for a trophy hunt.  Strange, but true.


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.


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.


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.