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small game

mallard-1

Spring is on its way, although the dreaded ‘Polar Vortex’ descended upon us last night, bring the temperatures well into the freezing zone. We also got a skiff of snow. Temperatures are supposed to stay cold for the next few days, but it looks like things will be on the cool side at least for 10 days or so, if you believe the weather forecast. After three days out, I think weather forecasting starts to enter the realm of science fiction . .  .

Regardless, it’s been a mild winter, which was welcome after the last two winters I can only describe as dreadful. There’s still ice on the lakes and some snow in the bush, but the sun has strength, the days are longer than the night and all in all things are looking up.

A few species of migratory birds have stated to show up, but not a lot. Crows, herring gulls, Canada geese and a smattering of robins have been spotted, along with some mallards, hooded mergansers and goldeneye ducks. The big rush should start soon.

But already there have been a few interesting observations. One is a crow that sits in the trees in our yard that coos like a pigeon. It’s the weirdest thing. Lil says it was here last year, too, and must have picked up the cooing habit from the pigeons which frequent our place.

The other neat thing we saw (Lil saw it first) is a mallard with a mostly white head (that’s it in the photo). It’s a bit grainy, as it was quite a distance away when I saw it and had to really crop the photo tightly so as to get a clear view. It’s obviously a  drake mallard (and there were a number of mallards with it and in close proximity), but for some reason the normally green head is mostly white. As the eye is dark and the rest of the bird appears to be a normal colour, it doesn’t appear to me to be a case of albinism. Maybe it had a sickness, or other near-death experience and the shock of it all caused it’s head of feathers to turn white. Or maybe it’s very old . . .

Actually, the mallard is likely to be suffering from leucism, or leukism, an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on feathers. No idea why it affected only the head, nor do I have a clue as to what might have caused the genetic mutation.

Regardless, colour variation is quite common in the animal world and white – or black – birds and animals aren’t all that uncommon. Still, it’s always interesting to see anomalies and speculate as to the cause.

If we see anything else that’s unusual, I’ll let you know.

fox-1

On the way home from a fishing trip the other day (one splake), Lil and I spied a cross fox in a field beside the road. The fox was quite cooperative, and let me stop the truck, get my camera out of the bag and take several shots. It looked like it was intent on a mouse, or more likely, a vole, but no luck (although good luck for the vole). Eventually, the fox wandered off.

A cross fox is simply a colour phase of the red fox. Across the range of the red fox different colour phases are often seen, but in this area, the common and classic bright orange red fox is actually quite rare. Most of the foxes here are crosses. They are called cross foxes because they have a blackish cross on their back, across their shoulders.

We also have a fair number of black foxes around. They aren’t completely black, as they still have the white tip on the tail, and much of the fur is silver-tipped, similar to the black fur on this cross fox.

There were a number of fox farms in this region in the middle of the last century, which I’ve been told accounts for the colour phases that continue to be prominent if not dominant in the local population. Ranch furs were selectively bred to provide colour variety, but there were escapes and I suspect that when the fur farms started to go out of business, many foxes were simply released and their genes continue to persist.

Today, wild fox are trapped across much of their range, but their fur value in this area is rather low (particularly the cross-foxes, as colours are hard to match as they vary quite a bit in the amounts of red and black fur they sport). In addition, fox are much harder to trap then more valuable furs like marten, mink and fisher, are not the easiest animal to skin and often have mange, which further reduces the value of their pelt.

Fox can also be hunted on a small game license, but hunting effort here is minimal.

Fox are great mousers (which includes voles) but will also take grouse and hare and other small birds and animals. They also do a fair amount of scavenging on wolf kill, whom they sometimes follow; at a safe distance, of course.

Bottom line – foxes are common in this area, as they are in most places. Even though, sightings are usually fleeting, and so I’m pleased this one decided to buck the trend and let me capture his image.

 

Silver-1

First: Happy New Year!  Now, back to business . . .

Ontario is proposing changes to how wolves are to be hunted, beginning in 2017. In my opinion, they’ve missed the mark.

The changes being proposed can be found on the Environmental Board Registry (EBR) – here’s the link:

http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI2OTQz&statusId=MTkxNjc2&language=en

The purpose of the posting is to inform the public of the proposed changes (a requirement) and provide the public with the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes. Comments can be received up to and including January 18, 2016.

Feel free to comment. However, I should tell you that based on my experience working for this Ministry (actually, when I worked there it was called the Ministry of Natural Resources; now it’s the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), changes suggested and posted to the EBR by the public very, very seldom result in any alterations to MNRF’s original proposals. Bureaucrats and the government itself think it’s a sign of weakness and/or incompetence if changes are made once they have been vetted to the point where they appear on the EBR.

I don’t think much of the changes being proposed.

Briefly, here’s a summary of the prosed changes:

  • the present requirement to purchase a wolf seal to hunt wolves under the authority of a small game license will be repealed, and all that will be required to hunt wolves will be the small game license itself; and
  • the yearly limit will remain at two wolves, but wolves and coyotes will be separated (that’s a good thing) and there will be no limit on the number of coyotes a hunter can harvest.

It will still be mandatory to report your wolf harvest, but seeing as mandatory reporting is not enforced (I’ve been told there has never been a charge laid in Ontario wrt failing to provide a mandatory hunt report, which are required for bear, turkey, wolf and in some instances, moose and deer), that requirement remains toothless.

It’s not clear to me whether the changes apply to non-residents of Ontario as well as residents. It’s a big deal if it applies to non-residents, since in 2015 a non-resident wolf tag cost $272.41 (similar to residents, two tags can be purchased), in addition to the $120.93 non-resident small game licence also required. By comparison, a resident wolf tag costs $11.14; the small game licence $25.15, so savings to residents are quite small. I’ll confirm whether or not non-residents are included in the change as soon as I find out myself. If it does apply to non-residents, it certainly makes wolf hunting much cheaper, potentially much more attractive, but may also reduce revenue by a substantial amount (a concern as MNRF’s budget plows all the $$ from the sale of fish and wildlife licences back into the MNRF).

According to Yolanta Kowalski, MNRF media spokesperson, the change will apply to both residents and non-residents (i.e., no one will have to buy a wolf tag, just the small game license). According to one line of thinking, this might actually increase revenue for the MNRF; apparently, lots of non-residents would like to hunt wolves, but were taken aback at the cost of the wolf tag on top of the small game license, so elected to purchase neither. Time will tell which way this goes . . . 

The changes proposed are mostly to try and increase the wolf harvest in response to declining moose populations. That will certainly raise the ire for those who like wolves, and aren’t strongly pro-hunting.

Rather than the changes proposed, I’d like to see wolves managed under the auspices of a stand-alone wolf licence and for tags to be continued to issued, rather than having wolves lumped in with ‘small game’ and a simple season limit. Managing wolves using the proposed system will make it much more difficult to estimate hunting effort and wolf harvest, since everyone who buys a small game license will be allowed to shoot wolves (the mandatory reporting requirement means that if you shoot a wolf, you have to report it; MNRF is counting on hunter cooperation, but that’s a stretch). In addition, there has been no sampling or reporting of small game hunting for years in Ontario, so how many of those small game hunters actually put some effort into wolf hunting will be a mystery.

The other stupidity of not having a stand-alone wolf license is that one can’t hunt wolves with a small game license with a high-powered rifle, muzzleloader or shotgun loaded with slugs or large numbered shot when there is an open season for deer, moose, elk or black bear (all classed as ‘big game’ and managed by species specific hunting licences), unless one possess a valid hunting licence for one of those big game species.

So if you are moose hunting and successfully fill your tag(s), (say on day 1 of a week-long hunt), you can’t shoot any wolves (because your licence(s) is/are no longer valid), even though the stated purpose of the regulatory change is to have more wolves shot to help out the declining moose population! At least not unless you have another valid big game license, or wait for all the big game seasons to close.

Given that wolves are an apex predator (meaning they are on the top of the food chain, killing and eating big game for survival ), it makes no sense to manage them as ‘small game’.

Poor policies result in poor management. It’s that simple.

BTW, I took the wolf photo just the other day when I was trying to photograph some otters. The wolf walked by within a 100 meters of me, and I was only about 30 m from Lil’s mom’s front doorstep.

 

rg-1

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.